Friday 28 September 2018

Theatre review: Antony & Cleopatra (National Theatre)

Ralph Fiennes has a tendency to use his fame to get himself cast in roles he's always wanted to play - his Richard III was something he himself pitched to the Almeida, and this time it's the National staging a huge production at his request. This one's a bit more of an unusual bucket list role though, as he's always wanted to star in Antony & Cleopatra - and not as Cleopatra. Instead Fiennes is Antony, a male lead notorious for being completely overshadowed by his female counterpart (Nothing Like A Dame even features a whole conversation about how none of the Dames know an actor who didn't hate playing him.) Instead it's Sophie Okonedo who gets the plum role of Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen who'd already taken Julius Caesar as her lover before doing the same with his successor. The affairs might have been motivated by politics as she sought to keep the powerful Roman Empire on her side, but as Shakespeare sees it at least, the relationship with Antony turned into something real.

Thursday 27 September 2018

Theatre review: Pinter Two - The Lover / The Collection

Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season continues with a double bill that he’s directed before, in this same theatre ten years ago when it was still called the Comedy. If Pinter One was bleak and timeless, Pinter Two is more broadly comic, while Soutra Gilmour’s design places it firmly in the early 1960s when the one-acters were both written. In The Lover a cheesily domestic married couple prepare for their day; Richard (John MacMillan) is off to work, wishing Sarah (Hayley Squires) a fun afternoon with her regular lover. He’s not jealous – it would be hypocritical, since he’ll be taking the same afternoon off to spend with a whore. After the interval comes The Collection in which the same actors play another married couple, whose complex sex life takes in unsuspecting outsiders when James (MacMillan) barges into Bill’s (Russell Tovey) house and accuses him of sleeping with his wife.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Theatre review: Foxfinder

Last seen in London in 2011 when it was the Papatango award winner, Dawn King's Foxfinder is, on the face of it, a canny revival for 2018 when its paranoia and scapegoating can be repackaged as a Brexit play. But something's gone wrong in the execution of Rachel O'Riordan's production, and it’s left a play that can be genuinely creepy and atmospheric floundering. Samuel (Paul Nicholls) and Judith Covey (Heida Reed) own a farm somewhere in a dystopian England where food is scarce, so farmers like them are under immense pressure to live up to – seemingly quite unrealistic – crop quotas. Some months earlier, the couple’s four-year-old son drowned, and Samuel retreated into a long depression. Between this and bad weather they’re struggling to live up to their targets so the government has sent an investigator to determine if they’ve mismanaged the farm, or worse: If there’s a fox on their land.

Monday 24 September 2018

Theatre review: The Prisoner

Some creatives are rightly lauded for revolutionising their fields but, if they stay in their job long enough, almost inevitably go from the person creating theatre's future to a relic of its past. For most of my theatregoing life the legendary Peter Brook has been based in Paris, so I've only seen the odd example of his later work. I have no doubt his status in the theatre world is justified, but works like The Prisoner can't help but make me feel they're getting staged because of that status and not their own merits. Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne write and direct the short (but still very slow) fable of a man sitting outside a prison, technically able to walk away at any time but evidently trapped there by something more powerful than walls.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Theatre review: Tamburlaine

The RSC's "T" season opens with the return of former Artistic Director Michael Boyd, and his edit of Christopher Marlowe's two Tamburlaine the Great plays into a single bloodthirsty epic. Mycetes, King of Persia, is played by Mark Hadfield in the performance that Mark Hadfield gives, meaning his brother Cosroe (David Sturzaker) sees him as a joke who should be replaced - by him. Cosroe joins forces with Tamburlaine (Jude Owusu,) a Scythian shepherd's son and bandit with a growing reputation as a soldier, to overthrow his brother. This they do easily, but Cosroe has underestimated his new ally, who promptly betrays him, kills him and takes the throne for himself. But all this gives him is a taste of the kind of power he wants - kings seem to be ten-a-penny and Tamburlaine wants to be above them all, Emperor of as much of Asia Minor, Africa and Eastern Europe as he can manage in his lifetime.

Friday 21 September 2018

Theatre review: Sylvia

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The entire run of Sylvia has been reclassified as work-in-progress previews.

The actual reason for this is that the already-short run of Kate Prince, Priya Parmar, Josh Cohen and DJ Walde's suffragette musical was cut even shorter by cast illness, with the need to rehearse understudies meaning a number of performances were cancelled - including the one I was initially booked to see. As it turns out, the work-in-progress label is also justified, as there's clearly an outstanding evening at the theatre here somewhere - it's just struggling to get out of what's actually made it onto the stage. Whether it was a rush to get this on stage for the centenary of (some) women getting the vote, or to remind people that the Hip-Hop musical didn't start and end with Hamilton, Sylvia has arrived in front of an audience before it's quite ready. Sylvia Pankhurst (understudy Maria Omakinwa, excellent,) was part of the legendary family of women fighting for the vote, but her beliefs on non-violence and the inclusion of working-class women in their demands put her at odds with her mother and sister.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Theatre review: Eyam

It's long been a truism that Shakespeare's Globe is a very hard place to write new plays for - Howard Brenton and Jessica Swale are the only playwrights to have succeeded there multiple times - but Michelle Terry started her tenure there well when Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's Emilia was a popular hit. Any hopes she might have helped the venue lift that curse for good are dashed by the final show in her debut season though: Matt Hartley's Plague drama Eyam suffers from many of the classic problems that afflict new writing here. In 1665, with England still feeling the aftereffects of the Civil War, shit vicar William Mompesson (Sam Crane) and his wife Katherine (Priyanga Burford) are sent to the Derbyshire village of Eyam, not being told that the reason they need a new minister is because the villagers lynched the last one. This is a place divided by the wealthy Phillip Sheldon's (Adrian Bower) attempts to claim the common land as his own OH GOD NOT A PLAY ABOUT THE LAND ENCLOSURES ACT, ABORT, ABORT!

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Theatre review: Every Day I Make Greatness Happen

Launching Hampstead Theatre's autumn season Downstairs is a play by high school teacher and comparatively new playwright Richard Molloy. Sticking to the tenet of writing about what you know and reaping the results, he sets Every Day I Make Greatness Happen in a little-used, leaky-roofed classroom in a North London school, where students are not allowed to join the Sixth Form unless they've passed their English GCSE. For three students who failed it, the Head of English, Miss Murphy (Susan Stanley,) has agreed to coach them through a re-take while they also take their AS-level classes. They have six weeks to make their second chance count and be allowed to stay on. Iman (Josh Zaré) is timid and nerdy but a bit slow, and has spent the last five years at school being relentlessly bullied by Kareem (Moe Bar-El.)

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Theatre review: Pinter One - Press Conference / Precisely / The New World Order /
Mountain Language / American Football /
The Pres and an Officer / Death / One for the Road /
Ashes to Ashes

Preview disclaimer: Pinter One invites the critics in next week.

Pinter One is the collective name being given to a nonuple bill of short writing by Harold Pinter that launches Pinter at the Pinter, the Jamie Lloyd Company's ambitious project to stage all of Harold Pinter's one-act plays at the Harold Pinter Theatre. I'm going to be using the word "Pinter" a lot over the next few months, is what I'm saying. Originally announced as a quadruple bill, other poems and sketches have been gradually getting added so that the evening's full title should now be Press Conference / Precisely / The New World Order / Mountain Language / American Football / The Pres and an Officer / Death / One for the Road / Ashes to Ashes. Which may explain why they renamed it Pinter One. Lloyd directs the first eight playlets and poems in a selection linked by an overtly political theme.

Monday 17 September 2018

Theatre review: Holy Shit

After a couple of years closed for major redevelopment the Tricycle Theatre has reopened with a controversial (for reasons that elude me) rebranding. Kiln is, admittedly, quite a hard word to say if you've got a cold, but I don't know that I'd call that reason enough to have protests in the street on press night, which actually happened because people... I don't know, needed a reason to get out of the house? Why have a certain group of old white men taken offence at everything this theatre's done ever since an Asian woman took over as Artistic Director, WE MAY NEVER KNOW. Slightly-awkward-to-say venue names aside, I liked the redesign of the building, which keeps the basic structure of the old Tricycle but with a bit more café space, and toilets you're not instantly convinced you'll get murdered in. The auditorium also keeps the same structure (including the old proscenium arch visible in the background) but with more comfortable seating and what looks like decent sightlines (though quite a few rows near the front of the stalls now seem to require looking quite far up to the stage.)

Saturday 15 September 2018

Theatre review: Losing Venice

Will the Orange Tree's 2018-19 season have an overarching theme? I only ask because they'll shortly be staging some Martin Crimp, and following Losing Venice that could end up signaling a theme of complete impenetrability. Jo Clifford's 1985 play has been revived by Paul Miller with the strong implication that it's gained a new Brexit-related significance, dealing as it does with a fading Empire that's not quite grasped the fact that it no longer holds the sway it once did, and so engages in an arrogant international display of regaining control that's doomed to failure. In practice this proves a bit of a stretch of what the play's actually about, its blustering imperialism more about the macho posturing of a couple of impotent men than anything wider.

Friday 14 September 2018

Theatre review: Wasted

"Fuck off, I'm writing Jane Eyre."

The success of Hamilton on both sides of the Atlantic means musical theatre throwing distinctly anachronistic musical styles at historical figures are all the rage, so it's a pleasure to report that even with all that going on Wasted feels pleasingly original - and bonkers. The Brontës were a quartet of troubled artists who didn't fit into the world they were born into, faced romantic problems and drug addiction, but briefly became a popular sensation (and hugely controversial because of the bad influence they might have on their fans) before fizzling out and dying young. At least that's how Carl Miller (book and lyrics) and Christopher Ash (music) see them, framing their show as a Behind the Music documentary about a band who barely made it past one-hit-wonders, and interviewing Charlotte - the last left alive, having given up writing and married a dull curate - about what went wrong.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Theatre review: The Woods

A fairly common thing on film, the ability to create the feel of a dream - or particularly a nightmare - on stage is rarer, and something I always find impressive and quite transfixing when someone gets it right; so Lucy Morrison's production of The Woods kept my attention even as it became apparent that Robert Alan Evans' play itself was going to be a frustrating affair. Shuffling around in a dirty summer dress, Future Dame Lesley Sharp's nameless Woman is simultaneously a young mother and an ancient crone of the wilderness, who comes across a Boy (Finn Bennett) unconscious in the woods and drags him to safety in a shack that she gradually has to pull apart to feed a fire to keep him warm. Nursing him back to health and feeding him, she's desperate to keep the boy safe while also resenting him; and somewhere in the trees lurks a charismatic Wolf (Tom Mothersdale,) who tries to tempt her away in various guises (including that of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, for some reason.) Possible spoilers after the text break, although personally I felt a lot of what I discuss was laid out too early in the play to really be considered much of a twist.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

Theatre review: An Adventure

It may only have a cast of six, rarely putting more than three of them on stage at the same time, but coming in at nearly three and a half hours and spanning three continents An Adventure fits the bill if Vinay Patel was aiming to create an epic. Inspired by his grandparents’ journey to the UK, it begins in India where Jyoti (played initially by Anjana Vasan, later by Nila Aalia,) has to pick between four suitors. She doesn’t particularly want to get married but her father wants her out of the house and the only choice she’s getting in the matter is whose arm she’ll be walking out on. Turning up in a borrowed suit and bumbling his way through his interview with her, Kenyan-born Rasik (Shubham Saraf, later Selva Rasalingam) seems an unlikely candidate, but the quick-witted Jyoti has a quip and an answer for everything, and Rasik’s willingness to try and keep up with her verbal sparring puts him at the top of the pile.

Monday 10 September 2018

Theatre review: The Humans

Stephen Karam’s The Humans was a Pulitzer nominee and Tony winner; if your preconception of plays that New York critics go crazy for means you’re picturing a family sitting down to a lavish Thanksgiving dinner, only to have all their problems, secrets and lies exposed, and the family’s finances turn out to be in dire straits nobody suspected, then shame on you for stereotyping: The dinner isn’t actually all that lavish. Brigid (Sarah Steele) has just moved into a split-level basement apartment in New York’s Chinatown with her boyfriend Rich (Ariyan Moayed,) and although they’re still in the process of unpacking they’ve invited her Irish-American family to visit from Scranton, Pennsylvania for the holiday. Her father Erik (Reed Birney) has been working at a Catholic private school for 28 years, part of his benefits package being that his daughters could study there for free, so they’ve had an education that allowed Brigid to become a musician and her sister Aimee (Cassie Beck) a lawyer.

Saturday 8 September 2018

Theatre review: The Merchant of Venice
(Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

This year's tiny tour returns to the Globe for its final performances, and following the #VotersChoice gimmick of this season I wonder how many times The Merchant of Venice has actually been played in front of an audience before this final scheduled performance - my suspicion was always that Twelfth Night would win most often, and a review of Press Night I read suggested it wiped the floor with the competition then. Having seen the first two shows in the touring company's repertory before they set out, I left for last the story of Bassanio (Luke Brady,) who needs funds to travel to a distant land and take part in a fairytale competition for the hand of the wealthy Portia (Jacqueline Phillps.) His friend Antonio (Russell Layton,) the titular merchant, takes out a loan on Bassanio's behalf, but when he's unable to pay it back a bloody clause inserted into the loan agreement comes back to haunt him.

Thursday 6 September 2018

Theatre review: Dance Nation

Concluding a season of work by female playwrights at the Almeida is Clare Barron’s Dance Nation, a funny, touching and sometimes devastating look at what it’s like to be a pre-teen girl, all framed within a national dance competition. The bullying Dance Teacher Pat (Brendan Cowell) rules the roost over a class of girls no older than 13 (all played by actors from their twenties to their fifties,) and as the trophies surrounding Samal Blak’s set can attest, has masterminded wins in dance competitions across America. Right from the start, when one girl is injured and never seen or heard of again, it’s obvious that failure is not an option, and this year’s crop of girls can either join the hall of fame – perhaps even becoming a legend like the one alumna who got into the chorus of a Broadway show – or be forgotten.