Sunday 29 May 2022

Theatre review: Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare's Globe)

2022's ubiquitous Shakespeare is the much-loved but problematic Much Ado About Nothing, and for my second major production of the year (and the first I've actually managed to get to in person) it's Lucy Bailey's return to Shakespeare's Globe. And groundlings will be pleased to know that this time she's embraced the venue's tradition of gently teasing and playing with the standing audience members, rather than actively trying to kill them. Joanna Parker's design keeps the Italian setting and moves it to 1945; the company's regular singing of "Bella Ciao" reassures us the soldiers at the heart of the story were anti-fascist rebels (or just big Money Heist fans.) After their victory, Don Pedro's (Ferdy Roberts) battalion retire to the estate of Leonata (Katy Stephens,) where two of Pedro's soldiers will find romance with major obstacles: In Benedick's (Ralph Davis) case a classic love/hate rom-com, but in Claudio's (Patrick Osborne) something more sinister.

Friday 27 May 2022

Theatre review: Legally Blonde

The Open Air Theatre launches its 2022 season with one of its trademarks, a hit Broadway/West End musical reinvented for the space; but both the choice of musical and the kind of reinvention feel like a big step forward for what can traditionally be an old-fashioned, tourist-courting venue. Laurence O'Keefe & Nell Benjamin (music & lyrics) and Heather Hach's (book) Legally Blonde is based on a novel by Amanda Brown, but more famously the Reece Witherspoon-starring film adaptation. Elle Woods (Courtney Bowman) is a wealthy Malibu girl who likes tiny dogs and the colour pink; from the start, Bowman's take on Elle is no dumb blonde, but neither has she done much to dispel the stereotype. She did graduate from UCLA, but she mainly seems to have gone there to join a sorority and nab herself a future husband.

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Theatre review: The Father and the Assassin

Despite, or perhaps because of, the amount of extra-long shows I've seen recently, I seem to be in the mood to see something epic at the theatre lately - in scope if not necessarily in length. The Olivier is a natural home for that kind of event, and the latest premiere there seemed like it might deliver. The good news is that Anupama Chandrasekhar's The Father and the Assassin does that in spades, and in a subtler way than the huge stage might suggest. The Father of the title is Mohandas Gandhi (Paul Bazely), but the play's real focus is on the man who killed him, Nathuram Godse (Shubham Saraf.) Godse narrates his story, and begins by running his own childhood in parallel with the rise of Gandhi to political prominence with his Ahimsa philosophy of non-violent resistance.

Monday 23 May 2022

Theatre review: The Breach

In the mid 1970s in Louisville, Kentucky, a construction worker fell off scaffolding and died. Faulty equipment was to blame, but the company managed to get away with paying the family the bare minimum compensation, so by the time we meet his teenage children in 1977, they're struggling to keep their heads above water, and the younger child is being badly bullied at school. Acton (Stanley Morgan) might be small, asthmatic and awkward, making for an easy target, but he's also very smart, so soon he finds a pair of protectors: Two older boys will keep him safe if he helps them prepare for their exams. Naomi Wallace's The Breach takes place entirely in the basement of his small house, which the well-off Hoke (Alfie Jones) and his sidekick Frayne (Charlie Beck) think would make a great clubhouse for the trio. But first they need permission from Acton's older sister Jude (Shannon Tarbet.)

Saturday 21 May 2022

Theatre review: Wars of the Roses (RSC / RST)

I'm back in Stratford-upon-Avon for the Empire Strikes Back of Shakespeare's York v Lancaster trilogy: Originally titled Richard, Duke of York, most commonly (and confusingly) known as Henry VI Part 3, the RSC have opted for the blindingly obvious title that both Shakespeare and the First Folio editors managed to miss, Wars of the Roses. Following straight on from Rebellion, the gloves are off and so are any masks hiding who's behind the threats to Henry VI's reign. The Duke of York (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) makes his challenge known, and begins to muster forces, supported by his sons Edward, later Edward IV (Ashley D Gayle,) George (Ben Hall) and Richard (Arthur Hughes.) When the "kingmaker" Warwick (Nicholas Karimi) pledges his allegiance to the Yorkist cause as well, their victory seems assured.

Thursday 19 May 2022

Theatre review: The House of Shades

Anne-Marie Duff returns to the stage, bringing with her the usual trepidation over what her generally questionable taste in plays will serve up this time. Beth Steel's The House of Shades isn't among the dodgier shows I've seen Duff in (I made it to the end of this one,) but it does suggest that if you asked her if she wanted a side of subtlety with her political commentary, you'd get a firm "no thanks!" Blanche McIntyre directs a family saga of a Nottinghamshire mining town, spanning from 1965 to 2019 - from optimism about what the trade unions and the Labour Party could do to help the country, all the way to the fall of the "red wall." Duff plays Constance, who fled an abusive father in the only way available to a woman in her position: By marrying the first man who came along. But starting her own family with Alistair (Stuart McQuarrie) soon just turned into a different kind of trap.

Tuesday 17 May 2022

Theatre review: House of Ife

After her tenure running the Bush got interrupted soon after she took over, Lynette Linton continues to put her stamp on the venue by directing House of Ife, Beru Tessema's drama about three Ethiopian-British siblings and the family tensions that come to a head when their brother dies. Twins Ife and Aida (Karla-Simone Spence) moved to England when they were just about old enough to remember something of living in Ethiopia; Tsion (Yohanna Ephrem) and Yosi (Michael Workeye) were both born in London. The three siblings we meet are combative but pretty well-adjusted, but around the age of 16 Ife went off the rails in ways we gradually find out more about; the play opens after his funeral, as they try to celebrate their brother's memory while their mother Meron (Sarah Priddy) tackles the competitive mourning of the ladies from church in the next room.

Thursday 12 May 2022

Theatre review: Two Palestinians Go Dogging

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Press Night for this is next week. This may mean the running time issue I mention later in this review may have been improved a bit by then.

The Royal Court isn't afraid to tackle the political issues that most steer clear of, so it's perhaps not entirely surprising that their latest premiere tackles the conflict between Israel and Palestine - from the Palestinian perspective that's generally shied away from, and largely through the medium of black comedy. Sami Ibrahim's Two Palestinians Go Dogging has a title that's meant to sound like the setup to a joke, but we're also assured many times that public sex is literally something its indefatigable leading lady has been known to indulge in; it's also the setting for a couple of unlikely Israeli-Palestinian encounters on a more intimate level. The story begins in 2043, although apart from the fact that the Prime Minister of Israel is the reanimated corpse of Benjamin Netanyahu there's nothing much to differentiate it from 2022.

Tuesday 10 May 2022

Theatre review: Oklahoma!

Regular readers of this blog will both know I traditionally have certain reservations about musical theatre pioneers Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II - namely that if it weren't for the famous and beloved tunes, their work would fall somewhere between "horribly dated" and "nightmarishly distressing" and not get staged anymore. One of their shows I hadn't seen before - I don't think I've even seen the film - is their original, genre-defining hit Oklahoma! But Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein's production, which transfers to the Young Vic from New York, promised to come with a radical, twenty-first century reimagining of the musical Western about farmers trying to squeeze a bit of singing and dancing in between the relentless dry-humping. Because Fish and Fein's approach to the show is to dispense with any euphemisms and cuteness, and strip it down to a story about people who just want to have sex with each other (whether or not the other party is entirely consenting, because Hammerstein.)

Sunday 8 May 2022

Theatre review: Age of Rage

Six Greek tragedies in four hours, told through the medium of Dutch Doom Metal? Ivo van Hove must be in town. And given what he deposited on the stage the last time he was here, that's not necessarily the most reassuring thought, but at least Age of Rage comes to the Barbican courtesy of van Hove's regular ensemble at Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, with the promise of following in the footsteps of past epics like Roman Tragedies and Kings of War. In fact, now that Robert Icke has joined the company as a resident director, with shows like The Doctor joining their repertoire, it's surprising that this show was created instead of Icke's Oresteia doing likewise, because in terms of story if not style, Age of Rage follows the same cycle of Greek mythology: The Oresteia, but expanded to take in the beginning of the family feud with the sacrifice of Iphigenia in Aulis.

Friday 6 May 2022

Theatre review: Jerusalem

Just as there are a lot of actors who get forever identified with one role, there are also roles that get identified strongly with one actor. But I've never seen so many people insist that it's unthinkable for anyone other than the original star to take over a role, as I have with Mark Rylance and Rooster John Byron in Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem. It's a theory the latest West End revival has no intention of challenging as, 13 years after first playing the role, Rylance returns to Ian Rickson's production. He brings with him some more of the original Royal Court cast, including Mackenzie Crook as Rooster's hapless sidekick Ginger, an unemployed plasterer who insists he's actually a DJ. What he mostly is is off his face, as what brings him to the dilapidated caravan on the edge of a Wiltshire wood is the same as brings most people there: Rooster is the village's resident drug dealer.

Thursday 5 May 2022

Theatre review: Middle

After what was meant to be a busy couple of weeks of theatregoing got derailed by me catching Covid, my first show back since testing negative again is the second in a loose trilogy about relationships: Beginning, the hit play about the first couple of hours of a brand-new relationship, was intended as a one-off, until writer David Eldridge decided during previews that it could in fact live up to its title, and begin a cycle of plays about relationships at different stages. So five years later we get a different couple whose marriage is, the title tells us, somewhere in the Middle. Although that's not how it initially feels when Maggie (Claire Rushbrook) gets up in the middle of the night to make herself a hot drink because she can't sleep, and husband Gary (Daniel Ryan) follows her downstairs, asking what's wrong. Her reply doesn't beat around the bush: "I'm not sure I love you any more."