Saturday 23 April 2022

Theatre review: Henry VI: Rebellion (RSC / RST)

After a couple of years kept away from Stratford-upon-Avon by Miss Rona, followed by a further delay caused by Miss Eunice, it is at least apt timing that I should return to the RSC on Shakespeare's birthday. And, leading up to the end of Gregory Doran's tenure there and the conclusion of his staging the Complete Works (some exclusions apply, the amount of plays we say Shakespeare wrote may go down as well as up) that began with Richard II, the inevitable end point was the series of Henry VI plays leading up to Richard III. The play usually known as Henry VI Part 1 is probably Shakespeare's least-loved work and the company must have been dreading having to convince people to come see it, so they used the excuse of lockdown to present it as a streamed rehearsed reading, aka Let's Not Stage It And Say We Did. Which does have the added advantage of being able to skip ahead and present a trilogy of plays that were actually intended as such.

Thursday 21 April 2022

Theatre review: The Corn is Green

Future Dame Nicola Walker gets the top billing she's always deserved as the Lyttelton revives The Corn is Green, Emlyn Williams' semi-autobiographical play about escaping the narrow constraints put on the people of a remote Welsh village by class, poverty, and the simple expectation that things will always be as they have always been. Somewhere in North Wales, the locals are sent down the coal mines from the age of ten, most never learn to read or write, and nobody can imagine a future where the next generation doesn't do exactly the same dangerous work as their fathers. It's certainly not a thought the local landowner, referred to only as The Squire (Rufus Wright) would want to encourage - as the majority shareholder in the mines, a steady supply of cheap, uneducated labour suits him well. So he's unimpressed when Miss Moffat (Walker) arrives, having decided to spend a recent inheritance on opening a school in the village.

Tuesday 19 April 2022

Theatre review: Wolf Cub

Ché Walker wrote Wolf Cub in Atlanta, in the aftermath of Donald Trump's election in 2016. While people around the world wondered how it could have happened, for Walker it seemed obvious the seeds were sown decades earlier, by another Republican President who was a celebrity before he was a politician, who used polarising language to turn Americans against each other and demonise the poor and minorities. Crucially for this story, Ronald Reagan also survived an international scandal, in which in order to interfere with a foreign nation's election results, both arms sales to Iran and an influx of drugs into the US were fair game as fundraisers. Wolf Cub tells the story of the Reagan (and Bush) years through the experiences of Maxine (Clare Latham,) who when Reagan first comes to power is a nine-year old living with her father in the rural South. Her mother having apparently fled years earlier, she's left alone to deal with her father's physical and emotional abuse.

Friday 15 April 2022

Theatre review: Anyone Can Whistle

Following Stephen Sondheim's recent death, I'm sure we're going to be getting a whole slew of new revivals commemorating a legendary songwriter whose work is rarely off the stage at the best of times. If they haven't materialised yet it's probably because high-profile producers are fighting over the rights to his most beloved works, so I guess in that context it makes sense that the first new production in London since his death is a fringe take on a show most famous because, even in the 1960s, critics and audiences weren't stoned enough to think it was any good: I imagine that at any given time the rights to Anyone Can Whistle are very much available. In a former industrial town whose only remaining business seems to be a psychiatric clinic known as The Cookie Jar, the nonspecifically corrupt mayor Cora Hoover Hooper (Alex Young) orders her lackeys to revive the town's fortunes by any means necessary.

Thursday 14 April 2022

Theatre review: Scandaltown

All of a sudden we're getting to see everything Mike Bartlett kept himself busy with during lockdown, with his second premiere in the space of a week. I hadn't quite registered that I'd booked them two days apart from each other, but they do show a contrast in a playwright who likes to experiment with style, and has grown fond in recent years of using familiar classic theatrical genres to reflect on the present day. So if The 47th was a tragicomedy so dark it bordered on the apocalyptic, Scandaltown, opening at the Lyric Hammersmith in a production by Rachel O'Riordan, goes for much less ambiguous laughs, applying the convoluted plots and stock characters of Restoration comedy to 21st century concerns. Phoebe Virtue (Cecilia Appiah) and her twin brother were raised in the country, and are considerate, environmentally conscious and unselfish.

Tuesday 12 April 2022

Theatre review: The 47th

Mike Bartlett has played around with pastiche in the past, never more successfully than when King Charles III took Shakespearean themes and language and applied them to an imagined future of the British Royal family. Later this week he'll be premiering his take on Restoration Comedy, but for The 47th he returns to blank verse, also reuniting with director Rupert Goold, and Lydia Wilson on Lady Macbeth duties, although the venue changes to the much larger Old Vic, befitting a lead character who's fond of a rally: As with the previous production, most of the fictionalised characters aren't played as impressions of the real people, but Donald Trump's mannerisms are so pronounced and familiar that it would be odd not to recreate them. And after a few years of TV work where you could actually tell what his face looked like, Bertie Carvel returns to his days as a theatrical chameleon with a comic but creepily uncanny impersonation of the 45th President of the United States.

Saturday 9 April 2022

Stage-to-screen review: Much Ado About Nothing

After Covid kept me away from Stratford-upon-Avon for two years, the aftermath of 1990s Gladiators winner Storm Eunice kept me away a bit longer when I was due to see the RST reopen with Roy Alexander Weise's take on Much Ado About Nothing. The BBC has come up with another chance to catch it though, with a filmed performance that's now available on iPlayer. Much Ado is set to be this year's most ubiquitous Shakespeare play, and another 2022 meme it's contributed to is the understudy having to permanently take over a lead role: Michael Balogun, himself the beneficiary of a sudden promotion, dropped out just before opening and Luke Wilson (not that one) got the plum role of Benedick. And he makes the most of the opportunity, easily becoming one of the best things in a frankly bizarre production whose high concept design overwhelms it.

Thursday 7 April 2022

Theatre review: "Daddy" A Melodrama

It's hard enough trying to keep up with everything going on in London theatre without adding Broadway to the mix, but even so I can't help but know that Slave Play was causing a stir in New York before Covid. So far I haven't heard any suggestion of it making the transatlantic trip but Jeremy O. Harris' earlier play "Daddy" A Melodrama has, after a lockdown delay of its own, now landed at the Almeida complete with its original creative team. Franklin (Terique Jarrett) is a young, gay black artist who moved to California a couple of years ago to pursue his career. His collections of doll versions of himself are slowly building a following, and while he's not quite got to the stage of making big money from his creations yet, he's got an enthusiastic supporter in gallerist Alessia (Jenny Rainsford,) who's about to host his first high-profile exhibition. A few weeks before it opens, he meets wealthy, white, fifty-something Andre (Claes Bang.)

Monday 4 April 2022

Theatre review: The Fever Syndrome

Hampstead Theatre may now be run by Roxana Silbert but some things don't change, and it remains London's main home for That American Play Where An Extended Family Gets Together After A Long Time, Preferably At Thanksgiving But That’s Optional. Silbert herself directs the latest iteration of a play every American playwright seems, for some reason, to be legally obligated to write and just change the character names. The twist is Alexis Zegerman isn't even American so The Fever Syndrome is... a tribute act maybe? It does tick every other box, including the ever-popular Asshole Genius add-on feature, as the excuse for bringing three siblings and their partners to the New York brownstone they grew up in is their father receiving a lifetime achievement award. Richard (Robert Lindsay) is an obstetrician and IVF pioneer, who still bears a grudge against the Republicans for delaying his research on religious grounds, meaning Britain beat America to the first test tube baby.

Saturday 2 April 2022

Theatre review: Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe / Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank)

A familiar annual feature at Shakespeare's Globe has been the Playing Shakespeare With Deutsche Bank production created specially for schools, which gives away thousands of free tickets to students. Its popularity has seen it become increasingly open to general audiences, and after a couple of past productions were made available online during lockdown, this year's has been given an additional few weeks' run after the school parties have seen it. The fact that the shows are heavily edited meant that for the first time ever I felt able to risk a standing ticket among the groundlings without too much fear of putting my back out, so after over a decade seeing most shows at the Globe I finally got to be right at the front of the action, where Rose Revitt's design has added a deep thrust into the yard. As these shows are tied to the school curriculum I don't remember it ever being anything other than Macbeth or Romeo & Juliet, and the fact that this thrust is a blasted heath is a clue as to whose turn it is.