Friday 30 November 2018

Stage-to-screen review: I and You

Portrait (orientation) of the artist as a young woman.

One of the shows I had a ticket to but had to skip when I was ill last month was Hampstead Theatre's latest imported US hit, Lauren Gunderson's I and You. Sometimes unexpected second chances do come up though, and while the run's now ended the theatre has decided to stream a recording of it for free for 72 hours. Not quite a unique occurence, but the platform's an unusual one, as Gunderson's teen tragicomedy will have attracted a younger audience than usually frequents Swiss Cottage, and accordingly its new home is Instagram and its IGTV service for longer-format videos. What's immediately notable about this is that although of course it can be accessed on a PC, IGTV's optimised for phones and can only be shot in portrait. Which means if nothing else, Edward Hall's production is going to look different to any other stage-to-screen adaptation I've seen before.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Theatre review: Hadestown

It would be unfair to say it left me cold, but the latest American musical to be heralded as the next big thing certainly left me a bit nonplussed. Anaïs Mitchell’s 2010 concept album Hadestown has been steadily gaining a following as a musical in the last couple of years, and having been performed off-Broadway and in Canada it’s due to open on Broadway next year. This is the production, directed by the show’s co-creator Rachel Chavkin, which opens first in the Olivier for what is essentially a big-budget try-out. A meandering rewrite of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hadestown takes its musical style from New Orleans folk and jazz, and has accordingly transplanted Greek mythology to something like Depression-era Louisiana and a bar run by narrator Hermes (André De Shields.) The seasons are determined by the movement to and from the Underworld of its queen Persephone (Amber Gray,) but in recent years something’s gone wrong, leaving the world mostly in winter, with occasional bursts of summer but no autumn or spring.

Sunday 25 November 2018

Theatre review: Ralegh: The Treason Trial

Shakespeare's Globe dip their toe into verbatim theatre, although as befits the venue there's no recent politics or songs about serial killers - actor Oliver Chris has turned playwright and director by editing together the equivalent of court transcripts from 1603. The second of Michelle Terry's Ambitious Fiends is Sir Walter Ralegh (his preferred spelling, although like most of his contemporaries he doesn't really seem to have cared much either way,) a man who like most people I associate with Elizabeth I (and tobacco, and potatoes,) but whose later life I don't remember ever hearing much about. This gap in my knowledge might not be an accident, as once Elizabeth's reign was over Ralegh seems to have been a bit of an inconvenience to have around, and her successor's regime was keen to sweep him under the carpet as much as possible. As the title Ralegh: The Treason Trial suggests, this didn't happen in the subtlest of ways.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Theatre review: Macbeth (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Michelle Terry’s summer season at the Globe was the first time the venue didn’t have an official overall theme for the year, but for her first winter at the Swanamaker she has two: She’s split her season into two themed “festivals” starting with “Ambitious Fiends,” looking at power and corruption, with an optional supernatural element. That option is taken and really played with in the opening production: The candlelit playhouse has been open for a few years now so I find it a bit surprising that this is its first Macbeth, a play thought to have been written with this kind of theatre in mind. Indeed, given it’s notoriously an enthusiastic rimjob on James I, there’s a popular theory that the mirror that displays the line of kings in Act IV scene 1 would have once ended up reflecting the actual king in an intimate setting. Robert Hastie doesn’t have any royalty to play with, unless you count the theatrical royalty of Terry herself as Lady Macbeth, with real-life husband Paul Ready as her on-stage husband.

Friday 16 November 2018

Theatre review: Pinter Four - Moonlight / Night School

For only the second time so far in his Pinter at the Pinter season, Jamie Lloyds hands the directing reigns to someone else for Pinter Four, with one big established name and one up-and-comer each taking one of the plays in this double bill. Just how generous a move this actually was is a bit of a different story, as apart from having one of the least ostentatiously famous casts in the whole season Pinter Four is made up of a couple of the more dubious entries in the writer's canon. This has been the installment I've least looked forward to in the whole season, because it opens with Moonlight which, when I saw it seven years ago at the Donmar Warehouse, was the single worst Pinter experience I've had, a 75-minute performance I remember as having lasted hours. Lyndsey Turner is the director who's been put in charge of this one, and on the plus side not only does she shave a few minutes off that running time but it actually feels just over an hour long this time as well.

Monday 12 November 2018

Theatre review: White Teeth

A definite case of déjà vu walking into the Kiln, as Tom Piper’s perspective set for the musical White Teeth is reminiscent of Robert Jones’ street for the Young Vic’s Twelfth Night. Except instead of Notting Hill this is set right outside the theatre’s doors in Kilburn High Road; in fact I can think of no reason other than scheduling clashes for this not being the opening show of the renamed theatre’s season, given how much fuss has been made about the Kiln tying into the local community and its identity. Zadie Smith’s novel, adapted here by Stephen Sharkey with music by Paul Englishby, is something of a twisted love letter to Kilburn and its multicultural community with all its clashes and contradictions, through a convoluted intergenerational family epic. It’s predominantly the story of Irie (Ayesha Antoine) growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s alongside identical twins Millat (Assad Zaman) and Magid (Sid Sagar.)

Sunday 11 November 2018

Theatre review: Bury the Dead

Back in 2014 theatres were falling over themselves to stage seasons built around 100 years from the start of the First World War, but the Finborough took a slightly different approach: Calling the strand THEGREATWAR100, they committed instead to revisiting the theme sporadically over the whole five years from the centenary of war breaking out, to the centenary of the Armistice. Which brings us very neatly to today and the concluding part of the series, and after a number of different approaches to the legacy of the trenches we get 1930s American Expressionism in Irwin Shaw’s Bury the Dead. That’s what the soldiers are trying to do at the start of the play, 48 hours after a failed advance left six of their friends dead, and they’re in a hurry to get on with it as the bodies are starting to smell. But while the men are indisputably dead they don’t act like it, rising from their graves and refusing to get back into them.

Friday 9 November 2018

Theatre review: The Funeral Director

I try to catch the Papatango playwrighting award winner every year, and this year's offering doesn't lack for ambition in its subject matter: Iman Qureshi's The Funeral Director takes on the line where different marginalised groups' human rights clash. Ayesha (Aryana Ramkhalawon) and her husband Zeyd (Maanuv Thiara) run a funeral home specialising in Muslim funerals in "a small divided town in the Midlands." Married for five years they seem to be ticking along with their lives well enough but clearly aren't actually happy - Zeyd is just about comfortable enough to confront the fact that his wife is completely uninterested in sex, but she always dodges the conversation. An unexpected crisis comes to their lives in the form of Tom (Tom Morley,) who comes into the funeral parlour in a state of shock after his Muslim boyfriend dies of an overdose that may or may not have been suicide.

Thursday 8 November 2018

Theatre review: Pinter Three - Landscape /
Apart From That / Girls / That’s All / God’s District / Monologue / That’s Your Trouble / Special Offer / Trouble in the Works / Night / A Kind of Alaska

If there’s a running theme to Pinter Three, the hendecuple* bill that continues Jamie Lloyd’s collection of the playwright’s short writings to mark ten years since his death, it’s a kind of bittersweet romance. It’s something that becomes most apparent in Night, the penultimate piece in which Meera Syal and Tom Edden play a long-married couple whose love seems to remain genuine and strong, but whose memories of their relationship differ entirely: They each remember their first date completely differently, and may in fact be recalling encounters with different people - but does it even matter? The evening is bookended by the longest plays, and Night’s miscommunication somewhat mirrors the opener, Landscape, in which Beth (Tamsin Greig) and Duff (Keith Allen) have a conversation consisting of two entirely different threads – he recounting his day, she remembering stories from the early days of their relationship.

Monday 5 November 2018

theatre review: ear for eye

et tu, debbie?

ideally, if coming back to the theatre after over a week sick, i’d choose something short and fairly fluffy to ease myself back in. things don’t always work out that way though, and with an acclaimed new debbie tucker green play in my diary fluffy was never going to be on the cards; you’d have thought short would at least be a given with the usually concise tucker green at the helm, but ear for eye plays out as a two-and-a-quarter hour epic with no interval. told in three distinct parts, each of which could have been a show in its own right but which feed into each other in subtle ways, the play is a look at the black experience in both america and the uk, one of its themes (and i wouldn’t want to pretend i can unpick every layer the writer’s built into her deceptively pared-down dialogue) being the way that even though we don’t have the epidemic of police shootings that plagues african-americans, this side of the pond doesn’t necessarily have the moral high ground, and black british people feel many of the same pressures.