Thursday, 14 February 2019

Theatre review: Edward II

The second winter mini-season at the Swanamaker takes the theme of kings who were deposed, opening with Christopher Marlowe’s take on the subject; later in the season we’ll have Shakespeare’s response to it, as well as a more modern take. But first Edward II, the 1592 play that Ian McKellen is praising on his current UK tour as the first English play with an openly gay protagonist. It’s something that productions in more prudish eras must have tried to downplay – I imagine the whole LOOK THEY JUST DON’T LIKE FLATTERERS, OK? thing would have been made a big deal of – but it must have been a stretch, because it’s hardly subtext. Nick Bagnall’s production certainly doesn’t leave much room for doubt as to why, as soon as Edward II (Tom Stuart) takes the throne, his lords and ministers immediately take so violently against him.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Theatre review: The Price

I’m not aware of any particular Arthur Miller milestone this year (both his centenary and the tenth anniversary of his death would have been in 2015) so maybe it’s just a case of everyone having the same idea that’s led to so many theatres staging his work this year. In a couple of months’ time two of his most famous works will be back in London but first a couple of lesser-known pieces; and while at times The Price justifies its comparative obscurity, for most of its lengthy running time Jonathan Church’s production makes a strong case for the revival. Both written and set in the 1960s, the story is nevertheless rooted in the Depression of the ‘30s. The Franz family were children of New York millionaires who lost everything in the Crash except for their house; their mother having died around the same time, they moved everything into the attic so they could let out the rest of the building.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Theatre review: Ian McKellen on Stage - With Tolkien, Shakespeare, others...and you!

A couple of years ago Ian McKellen did a series of gala shows as a fundraiser for the Park Theatre, and with 2019 marking his 80th year he’s decided to revive that performance for a wider audience. This time around he’s doing 80 performances, each on a different stage across the country, with the proceeds going to the theatres or to a charity or community project associated with them. A couple of the venues have a few seats whose prices don’t break the bank, so I caught up with the awkwardly-titled Ian McKellen on Stage - With Tolkien, Shakespeare, others...and you! at the Arts Theatre. Many of the theatres on the tour have a personal connection to McKellen, and in the case of the Arts it’s where he made his amateur West End debut in a University show, and where he decided (after a particularly glowing review) to try it professionally. He says he can show you the exact paving stone outside the theatre where he made the decision.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Theatre review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist

I don’t harbour any particular illusions that my reviews make much difference to what anyone does or doesn’t go to see at the theatre, but there’s certain shows where what I, or anyone else for that matter, thinks is going to have even less influence on people’s decisions than usual: A play in which Tom Lenk from Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays Tilda Swinton is something you either want to see or you don’t. For me it’s an automatic yes, and I’m glad it is because Byron Lane’s Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist might be the funniest, silliest comedy I’ve seen since Bears in Space. In Tom DeTrinis’ production, writer Lane also plays Walt, who’s reacting badly to a breakup, and when his hamburger is delivered with pickles he didn’t ask for it’s the final straw that leads him to attempt suicide. It’s only the fact that he’s tried to overdose on hair-restoration pills that means he fails, and is alive to discover that when his ex-boyfriend moved out, he advertised the spare room on Craigslist.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Theatre review: Wild East

The Young Vic's Clare Studio continues to be the home for the Genesis Future Director Award Winners, and 2019's first production sees Lekan Lawal take on April De Angelis' absurdist take on the job interview from Hell format, 2005's Wild East. Frank (Zach Wyatt) is a socially inept anthropology graduate applying for a job at a company that collates and analyses data from people in emerging markets, for use in product marketing. It seems an unlikely match for him but it would involve spending a lot of time in Russia, a country he's always felt a strong connection to, and where a girl he likes lives. So he's keen to impress his interviewers, but even if his lack of social skills didn't trip him up, the fact that Dr Pitt (Lucy Briers) and Dr Gray (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) start imploding in front of him will.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Theatre review: Pinter Seven - A Slight Ache /
The Dumb Waiter

In what was originally meant to be the season’s finale before one more show got added to the end, Pinter Seven is the busiest I’ve seen the theatre during this run, probably due to the combined star power of Martin Freeman and Danny Dyer you slag. They appear together in The Dumb Waiter, and the double bill also stars Gemma Whelan and John Heffernan, the latter of whom has previously played one of Dyer’s ancestors. Although I don’t suppose Dyer brings that royal connection up much. As well as the casting, two of Pinter’s more accessible short works have to be part of the draw; although given who we’re talking about “accessible” still means a lot of very dark humour and an almost indescribable sense of existential menace. This menace gets personified in A Slight Ache, the 1957 radio play which forms the first act you slaag.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Theatre review: Superhoe

It’s about time someone wrote a play about a really terrific gardening implement, but writer-performer Nicôle Lecky’s monologue Superhoe is about the other kind of hoe. She plays 24-year-old Sasha, living at home with her mother, half-sister and stepfather in East London and harbouring dreams of being a singer-songwriter and rapper. She’s written a lot of songs and spent an inheritance from her grandmother on recording them, but apart from regularly announcing on Instagram that her EP is about to drop she doesn’t actually seem to be trying to promote her music. Instead she spends her days passed out in her bedroom and her nights out with her long-term boyfriend or getting stoned. But when the boyfriend suddenly ghosts her – for reasons that are never revealed but can probably be inferred – she sets fire to his front garden.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Theatre review: Cost of Living

Time to take a risk on another Pulitzer winner at the Hampstead; it’s a combo that should sound promising but on past evidence is to be approached with caution. Martyna Majok’s Cost of Living does come with a couple of selling points though: Adrian Lester is usually worth catching on stage; and at a time when the film industry is once again taking flak for casting able-bodied actors in disabled roles, theatre gets to show how it’s done, as Edward Hall’s production casts two actors with disabilities. Usually seen as rather suave characters, Lester plays against type as Eddie, a former long-distance trucker who lost his job after a DUI. He’s also in the middle of a separation from his wife of 20 years Ani (Katy Sullivan,) when Ani has a car accident that leaves her quadriplegic. As she sets herself up in a tatty New Jersey apartment he initially decides to hold fire on divorce proceedings so she can keep using his health insurance; before volunteering to be her carer himself.