Tuesday 30 November 2021

Theatre review: Manor

The world may be far from out of the pandemic woods yet, but in some parts of the theatrical landscape nature is healing: After a few months' honeymoon period, the papers have gone back to announcing that Rufus Norris has scheduled a show that will single-handedly bring down the National Theatre (a feat even Damned by Despair couldn't manage, calm down.*) The latest recipient of this dubious honour is Manor, Moira Buffini's new topical - perhaps too broadly topical - play that sets a political crisis against the backdrop of the climate crisis. Diana (Nancy Carroll) is the heir to a crumbling manor house somewhere near the coast, where she lives with her ageing rocker husband Pete (Owen McDonnell) and their daughter Isis (Liadán Dunlea). As a catastrophic storm destroys the area and threatens to flood the grounds, a number of unexpected guests seek shelter - not great timing, as Diana's just accidentally pushed Pete down the stairs during an argument, killing him.

Sunday 28 November 2021

Theatre review: Yes So I Said Yes

David Ireland's plays see modern-day Northern Ireland as a place suffering from an identity crisis and collective PTSD from the Troubles; his viciously dark comedy takes on a Kafkaesque surreal journey in this English premiere of an earlier play, Yes So I Said Yes. Alan "Snuffy" Black (Daragh O’Malley) was a loyalist paramilitary in his youth, and spent some time in prison for an unspecified, but according to him fairly trivial, number of terrorist killings. Released into a country that no longer defaults to violence, he's a lonely old man who feels marginalised, depressed, and unfamiliar with the world around him, a situation which comes to a head when his neighbour's dog starts waking him up every night at 3am with his barking. But his neighbour (Owen O’Neill) insists there is no dog and, no longer sure if he's imagining things, Snuffy hopes a doctor can help him. Or, if not a doctor, Eamonn Holmes.

Friday 26 November 2021

Theatre review: Measure for Measure
(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: I can't easily tell from the Globe website when the press night is due, but as I had a member of the creative team sitting next to me making notes I'm guessing we're still in the preview period for this one.

I'm going to get a big grumble out of the way first this time, because I have a lot of good things to say about Blanche McIntyre's production of Measure for Measure, and don't want them to be overshadowed by something that's a regular irritation. But you know, if it's a regular irritation at one particular theatre that's because they just keep doing it, namely underselling how long a show is. I know I often say I like short shows, so can understand why saying a show isn't that long is good marketing, but if it's not true the advertised running time is useless at best, a lie at worst. I use the info to figure out when and how is the best way to get home, especially when, like tonight, a Tube strike makes that more complicated. So as seems to happen every time I go to the Globe now, I spent the last half-hour wondering if the play would overrun by 15 minutes (can still catch my train) or 20 (1 hour 15 minute gap until the next one for some reason, not getting home until after midnight) instead of paying attention to the show*.

Thursday 25 November 2021

Theatre review: Moulin Rouge!

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: This is one of those Broadway-style long preview periods, with the official press being invited in on the 8th of December.

I often get songs stuck in my head when I look at what shows are coming up in my diary, and lately I've just been hearing "Moulin Rouge! Aha! Take it now or leave it, now is all we get, nothing promised no regrets!" Which is ironic, because that's more or less the only song from the last 150 years not to make its way into John Logan's jukebox musical, which puts the much-loved Baz Luhrmann film on stage with a few twists on the soundtrack. The original Moulin Rouge! gave Bohemian 19th century Paris and the titular burlesque club a doomed love story set to incongruous, anachronistic music that mainly consisted of relatively recent pop hits, and Logan's stage version does the same: Many of the most popular numbers from the film remain (so it opens with an energetic "Lady Marmalade" from the club's chorus girls,) but it's been 20 years since the original, so a lot of newer hits also get a look-in.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Theatre review: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Another example of American and British tastes often differing, Christopher Durang's uneven comedy-drama Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike won a Best Play Tony in 2012, but didn't make it to the UK until this 2019 Theatre Royal Bath production, which was further delayed in transferring to London by... the usual*. As the title suggests, Durang throws together characters and situations from Chekhov in different configurations, with modern-day rural Pennsylvania standing in for turn-of-the-last-century remote Russia. Here three siblings in their fifties grew up, and two of them still live: Vanya (Michael Maloney) and his adopted sister Sonia (Rebecca Lacey) looked after their elderly parents, and following their deaths have stayed there, with no jobs and little to do with their time. They're supported by sister Masha (Janie Dee,) who sees herself as a classical actress but has made her fortune in a slasher movie franchise.

Monday 22 November 2021

Theatre review: Rare Earth Mettle

Like every other industry at the moment, London theatre can't seem to let a year go by without a scandal; and since "getting to run the National despite presiding over the Spacey years at the Old Vic" apparently isn't troubling anyone, it's fallen to the Royal Court instead, and Al Smith's Whoops I Done An Antisemitism binfire surrounding Rare Earth Mettle. The furore surrounded Smith giving a stereotypically Jewish name to the morally dubious millionaire at the centre of the story, which is ironic because this could all have been avoided if he'd just called him something like Melon Husk - it's not like the inspiration is subtly concealed. Instead he's been renamed Henry Finn (Arthur Darvill,) a man who's made a fortune in tech and has ploughed it all into an electric car company (called Edison, because like I say... not subtle.)

Sunday 21 November 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Constellations
(Anna Maxwell Martin/Chris O'Dowd cast)

I doubt regular readers of this blog (either of them) will be particularly shocked to see me make one last return to the 2021 West End casts of Constellations in the final week of their availability online: Having watched three out of four casts it would have felt like unfinished business not to complete the set. And it's no slight on Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O'Dowd that they were last on my list, but with the first and second London casts of Nick Payne's play having been straight white couples in their thirties, a straight white couple in their early forties weren't as much of a stretch when Michael Longhurst's consciously diverse season also offered a black couple in their twenties, an interracial gay couple and a pair in their sixties and seventies. But Payne's love story with infinite possibilities across the multiverse has also proved to take on almost as many possibilities with different casts, so another one always seems to be worth the time.

Friday 19 November 2021

Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors
(RSC / Barbican)

The RSC reopened last summer with the production that was in rehearsals when it had to close in 2020, minus its original star cast, and in a temporary venue designed to make the audience feel confident that they were getting adequate airflow: Phillip Breen's The Comedy of Errors premiered at an outdoor theatre in the RSC's gardens. This very different origin feels relevant as the production transfers to London and the sometimes unforgiving Barbican stage. This is the one with the two pairs of identical twins: Antipholus of Ephesus (Rowan Polonski) and his servant Dromio (Greg Haiste) have lived in Ephesus since they were babies, unaware that they arrived there shipwrecked, and that they each have an identical twin brother in Syracuse, coincidentally with the same names. The Syracuse pair were raised by their father Egeon (Antony Bunsee), so they do know about their brothers, and have been searching for them for some years.

Thursday 18 November 2021

Theatre review: The Wife of Willesden

Given an extra push by the announcement, a couple of years ago, that Brent would be the London Borough of Culture*, the Kiln Theatre continues to commission hyper-local shows that celebrate the diversity and big personalities of the area. Indhu Rubasingham's latest production sees novelist Zadie Smith turn playwright, and adapt "The Wife of Bath's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, into a raucous modern-day version - The Wife of Willesden. The venue's recent major refurbishment has given it a very flexible auditorium, and designer Robert Jones takes the opportunity to more or less strip out the Stalls seats, replacing them with pub tables and benches that reach right up to the edges of the stage. In keeping with the theme of staying close to home, the design is based on the Sir Colin Campbell pub, right across the road from the theatre.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Theatre review: Straight White Men

If Straight White Men are the demographic who've historically held all the power and are still trying to ensure things stay that way, Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee's play of the same name is an outsider's perspective on what it might look like to have that power, or at the very least the assumption that it's a deserved birthright, eroded. In many ways Straight White Men is That American Play Where An Extended Family Gets Together After A Long Time, Preferably At Thanksgiving But That’s Optional, complete with the must-have accessory of a character who's a writer with one reasonably successful book under his belt, who teaches at a university for his day job and is struggling to write the second. Instead of Thanksgiving the occasion for this reunion is Christmas, and widower Ed (Simon Rouse) is excited to have all three of his adult sons back at home with him for a few days.

Sunday 14 November 2021

Radio review: The Oresteia - The Furies

When I started listening to and reviewing Radio 3's 2014 Oresteia earlier this week, I suggested a couple of practical reasons why we don't really see theatres staging it as three separate plays, instead usually getting a playwright to create a single epic out of them. Getting to the end of the trilogy, it also suggests how on an artistic and storytelling level it would make quite an unusual experience for modern audiences. Of course one reason the jump from one play to the next is quite jarring is that this production took the idea of treating them as separate plays to its natural conclusion, entrusting each to a different writer. Rebecca Lenkiewicz takes over for The Furies, with Sasha Yevtushenko directing as Orestes (Will Howard,) who was last seen fleeing the titular ancient goddesses because he murdered his mother (in revenge for her murdering his father, in revenge for him murdering their daughter,) arrives at Apollo's temple in Delphi for sanctuary.

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Radio review: The Oresteia - The Libation Bearers

I'm continuing to fill this live theatre-free week with the 2014 Radio 3 adaptation of Aeschylus' Oresteia, which saw the cast continue in their roles but the writing and directing duties pass to Ed Hime and Marc Beeby respectively for the middle play in the trilogy, The Libation Bearers. Some years after the murder of Agamemnon, his son Orestes (Will Howard) secretly returns from exile to leave an offering at his father's tomb. There he's reunited with his sister Electra (Joanne Froggatt,) who along with the titular Chorus of slave women (Sheila Reid, Amanda Lawrence, Carys Eleri) is also there to leave a tribute. But this is on the behalf of their mother Clytemnestra (Lesley Sharp,) who's acting in fear after having a prophetic dream - these offerings are a paltry attempt to make up for murdering her husband.

Monday 8 November 2021

Radio review: The Oresteia - Agamemnon

In the last couple of years when there's been months of theatre downtime I've tried to help replace with BBC Sounds' archive of radio plays, one positive that's come out of it is that I've enjoyed those times when audio drama can do things I'd like to see on stage, but am unlikely ever to because of practical reasons. It could be something like the recent Doctor Faustus, where having John Heffernan play both leading roles for the whole play would technically be possible but probably end up being awkward. Or, as is the case with Aeschylus' Oresteia, a proposition too risky for a venue to programme: Usually heavily edited into a single epic play, it is of course a trilogy of individual tragedies that I've never seen presented on stage separately. Much like Shakespeare's second* Henriad, which even the Globe and RSC tend to ignore as much as humanly possible, it's a big ask to hope audiences will either book in their droves for one part of a larger story, or take a punt on booking an entire trilogy.

Sunday 7 November 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Constellations
(Sheila Atim/Ivanno Jeremiah cast)

Do you know why you can't lick your own elbow? I certainly do, given the amount of times I've heard the opening lines of Nick Payne's Constellations, and Marianne's eccentric pick-up line that, depending on how she delivers it and what kind of Roland she meets, either falls flat on its arse or begins a complex relationship that'll be a major part of both their lives. I've previously seen the roles played by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall (twice,) Joe Armstrong and Louise Brealey, Peter Capaldi and Zoë Wanamaker, and most recently Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey. When Michael Longhurst's production returned to the West End this summer as the Donmar's response to the challenges of Covid-safe theatre, it was with four alternating casts, and I was tempted to see all of them. But I thought after a year without live theatre, the same play four times in a couple of months might blow my mind, so I gave myself the rule of sticking to two - the casts I considered furthest from what I'd seen before.

Thursday 4 November 2021

Theatre review: Old Bridge

There are a few theatrical tropes I really should start putting money on: For example if a playwright says his play "is about hope, really," it's a pretty safe bet that just outside the theatre there'll be a trigger warning longer than your arm, to tell you it's a play about war, murder, suicide, prejudice, sexual assault and wound detail, really. Having moved from the Finborough to Southwark Playhouse's Little space, the annual Papatango playwrighting prize continues to upgrade to bigger venues, and its new home is the Bush's main house. Igor Memic's professional debut is actually the overdue 2020 winner; Memic comes from a Yugoslavian family, in the sense that that country still existed when they moved to the UK. And the play's setting is the town of Mostar, now in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but in 1988 a good example of Yugoslavia's many ethnic groups unsuspecting of the coming division: The Old Bridge of the title technically separates the Christian and Muslim parts of town, but in reality they, as well as a few Jews and people from a variety of other backgrounds, basically coexist quietly.

Tuesday 2 November 2021

Theatre review: Indecent Proposal

Of all the musicals to be based on an unlikely source, Michael Conley (book and lyrics) and Dylan Schlosberg's (music) Indecent Proposal is definitely the latest. Best known for the Robert Redford / Demi Moore / Woody Harrelson film, it's probably fair to say this doesn't quite fit into the category of recent shows cashing in on beloved movies - it's unlikely the first thing that attracted the creatives was that sweet, sweet 35% Rotten Tomatoes score. Instead they went back to the original source, Jack Engelhard's late-Eighties novel, and have stuck with both the time period and the grubby Atlantic City casino setting. Jonny (Norman Bowman) works as a musician in various dingy casino rooms, while his wife Rebecca (Lizzy Connolly) also juggles multiple jobs. It's still barely enough to keep them in hot dogs, let alone pay college tuition for Jonny's daughter from his first marriage.

Monday 1 November 2021

Theatre review: 'night, Mother

Marsha Norman's 1982 play is called 'night, Mother, because one of the cast is called Night, and the other one's Alicia Florick's mother. Its return to Hampstead Theatre, where it received its UK premiere, makes for another piece of evidence in my ongoing thesis that the Pulitzer is a booby prize as, despite the efforts of Roxana Silbert's production and its cast, it remains baffling to think the play itself is ever staged, let alone got singled out for a prestigious award. Set in a remote farmhouse, Jessie (Rebecca Night) moved back in with her mother after her divorce, supposedly to help look after her. But Thelma (Stockard Channing) seems very sprightly and capable, and as her daughter is very much aware, caring for her is essentially an excuse to try and keep her busy - Jessie has epilepsy which seems to have dominated her life, and the recent problems in her personal life have only made her retreat further from the world.