Friday 30 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Tarantula

If the last year has seen culture put on pause nobody remembered to tell Philip Ridley - Tarantula is his seventeenth premiere since March 2020. Granted, some of those barely came in at two minutes, but he's given Georgie Henley the monologue equivalent of a marathon, an epic that comes closer to two hours. You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a teenage rom-com from the opening, if you didn't know who'd written it, and if narrator Toni didn't abruptly freeze mid-sentence whenever she says her boyfriend Michael's name (and I'm not sure if director Wiebke Green entirely thought out how this would come across on a live stream, or maybe making the audience think the feed had frozen was intentional.) After a meet-cute at a school charity event, the self-conscious and scholarly teenager goes on her first-ever date with a charming boy. Until she looks the wrong way at a man with a spider tattoo and the rom-com abruptly turns into horror.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Lights Up - Pale Sister

The second episode in the BBC's virtual theatre festival Lights Up appears to be a TV original - no co-producing theatre is credited and I can't find any reference to Trevor Nunn's production having been seen on stage before, although Lisa Dwan has played this role before - so it's ironic that it feels a particularly uncomfortable stage-to-screen transition. The role in question is Ismene, Antigone's timid sister from Sophocles' play, finally given a voice in Colm Tóibín's Pale Sister. An opening caption that hastily takes us through the basics of Antigone's story suggests this won't be ideal for those completely unfamiliar with the original, but Ismene does (after a lot of preamble) get to witnessing the war between her two brothers that leaves both dead but only one buried: Her uncle, King Creon, decrees that the body of Polyneices, who fought against him, should be left out for the vultures and jackals. Antigone defies him and the entire family crumbles under Creon's petty rage.

Saturday 24 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Lights Up - Adam

I'm one dose of vaccine down and restrictions are due to ease again, so all being well (something I'm still very much treating as an "if" rather than a "when," given last year's false starts,) I'm just over a month away from seeing theatre in person again. Until then, the BBC has provided another stage-to-screen season, Lights Up, this time highlighting new writing. I haven't looked at the full season in detail yet but I think it's a combination of completely new works and screen adaptations of recent stage shows - like the opener, Frances Poet's Adam, from the National Theatre of Scotland. Poet's play is based on the true story of Adam Kashmiry, an Egyptian trans man who sought asylum in Glasgow, and the real Adam plays himself in Cora Bissett and Louise Lockwood's production. In part narrated to a Mental Health Nurse (Stephen McCole) who's friendly but very limited in the practical help he can give, the focus is split between the life he needed to leave, and the red tape-filled contradictions of trying to prove his case for asylum.

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Cruise

Actors writing monologues for themselves to show off both their writing and acting skills is nothing new, and no doubt many more of them will be on their way soon, written in lockdown. Jack Holden has got in ahead of the pack by using one of the streaming platforms,, for the premiere of his play Cruise, but this particular "stage-to-screen" presentation is actually more like "screen-to-stage," as before the filmed version had been seen online a live production at the Duchess was announced. I'd already booked to watch online before I knew there was the option of seeing it live, but having now watched it I can see why producers might think it was worth a punt as one of the shows to reopen the West End with: Not only is it in the top flight of actor-written monologues, but after the huge TV success of It's A Sin this taps into a similar vein; not just in the subject matter of London's 1980s gay society being ravaged by AIDS, but also in balancing grief for the lives lost with a celebration of the hedonism that was its flipside.

Thursday 15 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: OUTSIDE

Well, we can add another authentic theatre experience to the streaming equivalent: Those times a show has to be interrupted due to a technical hitch (and you're not sure how long it'll take to fix, should you go to the loo in case the show overruns a lot, or will you be out of your seat when it starts again?) Following last month's INSIDE, the Orange Tree live stream returns with a second trio of new short plays - this time all written by people who've worked at the venue before, if not necessarily as a writer. Unsurprisingly the theme this time is OUTSIDE, and Sonali Bhattacharyya's Two Billion Beats interprets this as a school playground, where star pupil Asha (Zainab Hasan) is uncharacteristically having to clean up graffiti as detention, while her little sister Bettina (Ashna Rabheru) loiters, not wanting to get on the bus alone and get bullied. Unfortunately I can't critique Two Billion Beats as Hasan's microphone failed just as we were getting to the crux of the play, so I didn't hear most of her dialogue from that point on; but the start did seem promising, with Asha comparing her school essay-writing technique to clickbait that gets her teacher hooked.

Friday 9 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: The Beast Will Rise -
Cactus / Rosewater

The last time I caught up with The Beast Will Rise, the fourteenth play in the series, Cactus, had had its online premiere postponed, taking the opportunity of one of last year's brief returns of live performance to debut in front of an audience instead. I hadn't looked at Tramp's YouTube page for a while, but with Philip Ridley's first new work of 2021 coming soon I had a look, and it seems that Cactus had quietly arrived online a few months ago, along with a new fifteenth instalment. Ridley's monologue cycle for Zoom, directed by Wiebke Green, was something of an underrated epic of the first lockdown - you can read my reviews of the first, second and third sets of monologues I watched, and I think this fourth one will be the last... but with a playwright as prolific as Ridley you never know when something else might pop up.

Monday 5 April 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Romeo & Juliet
(National Theatre / Sky Arts)

Another very literal interpretation of the phrase "stage to screen" saw the Lyttelton Theatre's stage and wings turned temporarily into a film studio late last year. Among the many Romeo & Juliets cancelled or postponed in 2020 (what's the collective noun? Soutra Gilmour's design here certainly makes a case for "a vial" of Romeo & Juliets,) was Simon Godwin's at the National. Instead of getting put on the back burner or cancelled entirely the NT came up with a third option, teaming up with Sky Arts in the UK and PBS in the US to come up with a TV movie special. What this loses in nearly half the running time it gains in star power - Pirate Jessie Buckley as Juliet, Josh O'Connor as Romeo and Fisayo Akinade as Mercutio had already been announced before the lockdown scuppered the stage production, but I don't know that we'd have necessarily got Lucian Msamati as Friar Laurence, Tamsin Greig as Lady Capulet, Deborah Findlay as the Nurse and certainly not Adrian Lester in essentially a cameo role as the Prince, in a full live run.