Friday, 5 March 2021

Rehearsed reading review: Girl on an Altar

Alongside the more finished works that have been appearing online during the last year of lockdown, it's perhaps surprising that more rehearsed readings haven't also been on the menu - perhaps theatres have been too busy trying to ensure they can eventually reopen their doors, to spend much time trying out the shows they hope to put on when they do. But if the latest in a long line of promises actually turns out true there might be light at the end of the tunnel, and Marina Carr’s new play Girl on an Altar is one Indhu Rubasingham hopes to add to a future Kiln season. So she and Susie McKenna direct a one-off reading that was live-streamed tonight from the Kiln stage, and in a companion piece to her Hecuba, Carr returns to the aftereffects of the Trojan War to look at the Greek side of the story. The play focuses on the first major murder of the Oresteia, but like Robert Icke she first looks back ten years to the inciting event: The sacrifice of Iphigenia.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Intended as Southwark Playhouse's first big show of 2021, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice went the way of... everything else in recent months, although Richard Hough (book and lyrics) and Ben Morales Frost's (music and orchestrations) musical was among the luckier ones, in that the production got to finish rehearsals and actually perform in The Large. To no live audience, of course, but for a recording that's streaming "as-live" on the platform for the next few weeks. It's based on the Goethe poem that is of course best-known for its adaptation in DisneyTM's Fantasia©, and little suggestions of Paul Dukas' music do find their way into Morales Frost's compositions. But this is essentially a new treatment of the material, starting with a new story that expands on Goethe's simple fable about not trying to run before you can walk.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Hymn

Another play that had hoped to be part of the first wave of theatres reopening has instead had to be reimagined for live streaming at home: Lolita Chakrabarti's new play sees her once again, nine years after the international success of Red Velvet, team up with her husband Adrian Lester; in Hymn he plays another charismatic character, although perhaps not this time with quite the same depth to back it up. We meet Lester's Gil giving the eulogy at his father's funeral, a family man who built up a small business empire of dry cleaners and stationers. Whether the father Gil describes was quite the open book he thought is put into question immediately after the service though, with the revelation that Benny (Danny Sapani,) only six days younger than Gil, may be his half-brother: It was only when she saw the death notice in the paper that Benny's mother admitted the identity of the married man who got her pregnant then abandoned her.

Monday, 15 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Good Grief

An intimate piece of theatre, created specially for streaming at home: Nearly a year into lockdown, can a one-act two-hander feel too different from a one-off TV drama? Natalie Abrahami has some ideas on how to make this feel, if not quite like theatre, like a hybrid of the two mediums as she directs Lorien Haynes' tragicomedy Good Grief for the screen. Adam (Nikesh Patel) has lost his partner Liv after eight years of cancer. Their friend Cat (Sian Clifford) is the last one left at his house after the wake, and one of the people who it seems best understands, if not entirely approves of, his eccentric ways of grieving. These include compartmentalising Liv's belongings around a house that's now far too big for just him in rooms like "the sad room" and "the boring room," and a lot of inappropriate humour, like opening the eulogy by mentioning Liv's extraordinary promiscuity before they got together.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare's Globe / Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank)

I mentioned recently that after 2020's overload of Romeo and Juliets failed to materialise for obvious reasons, it was due to turn up in 2021 in largely digital form. But before a rather odd-looking green screen affair and the National's repurposing of the Lyttelton into a TV studio turn up, there's a version already available on YouTube, and free to view (as ever, donations are encouraged,) until the end of next month. Last year I had my first experience of the Globe's Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank strand of shows for schools with the 2020 production of Macbeth, and now for their 2019 offering, and a 90-minute edit can't be a bad call for a play I tend to lose my patience with, can it? Certainly playing the story at speed can only accentuate the way Romeo (Nathan Welsh) and Juliet (Charlotte Beaumont) decide they're in love with each other having barely met.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Among the many instances of time seeming to move unpredictably lately is the realisation that the National's production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was exactly five years ago; the fictional story of the real-life "Mother of the Blues" who weaponised diva behaviour feels much more recent to me than that. The 1920s instalment of August Wilson's Century Cycle (better known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, except for the fact that this one play isn't set there) has been one of the more notable stage adaptations for the screen in recent months, unfortunately notable in large part for being Chadwick Boseman's final onscreen role. He plays Levee, horn player for the superstar singer, and the most cocky, vocal and jumpy member of the four-strong band waiting in a rehearsal room for her to arrive and begin recording an EP of some of her most famous songs. This includes the one which gives the play its title, and for which Levee has prepared a new arrangement.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Radio review: The Two Noble Kinsmen

Even speaking optimistically it'll be a while before any live Shakespeare productions come along in 2021 (although multiple competing Romeo and Juliets are on their way digitally,) but in the meantime the BBC Sounds app offers an alternative: The Shakespeare Sessions podcast features, alongside various Bard-related documentaries and interviews, some of the Radio 3 adaptations from recent years. So with me not fancying another lockdown night in front of Netflix, one of the most obscure plays in the canon and the last one I ticked off my "seen onstage" list, but one which I've become more familiar with in the last few years, was an option. A candidate for the title of his final (collaborative) work, Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen is an eccentric, tragicomic adaptation of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Northern Ballet's Dracula

Regular readers of this blog will both know that ballet/dance in general isn't something I know anything about, but it is something that will very occasionally creep into my theatregoing. Often as a gift for my mum or sister, but sometimes for myself when the choice of subject matter is eccentric enough to grab my interest: Matthew Bourne's tendency to tell unlikely stories like Edward Scissorhands and Lord of the Flies through the gift of dance for example, or Drew McOnie turning Jekyll & Hyde into Sexy Sexy Little Shop of Horrors. So with my theatregoing still of the virtual variety, and both the BBC and Sky Arts having had a lot of ballet in their scheduling over the last few months, Northern Ballet's take on Dracula, still available on iPlayer, seemed to fit the bill. This is very much David Nixon's vision for Bram Stoker's story as he directs, choreographs and designs the costumes for the classic vampire tale.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Phèdre

A new year starts much as the old one ended, in lockdown and with theatres trying their best to remain not only above water financially, but alive in the public's minds. Most high-profile has been the National Theatre, which late last year launched a major new international streaming platform, NTatHome. Of their initial selection of shows available, I've already seen everything except their kids' offering I Want My Hat Back, but if I was going to revisit one I'd already seen and reviewed, Nicholas Hytner's Helen Mirren-starring production of Phèdre would seem the obvious choice: It dates from 2009, making it the oldest recording currently on the service, which means that with over a decade since seeing this live I can treat it more or less with fresh eyes (all I really remembered was that Dominic Cooper's attempt to give "Phèdre" the correct French pronunciation ended up with him repeatedly calling the leading lady "veg.")