Tuesday 28 February 2023

Theatre review: Akedah

Named after a Biblical term from Abraham's fakeout sacrifice of Isaac, Michael John O’Neill's Akedah follows two sisters who grew up in a turbulent household - their father was abusive, their mother a prostitute who abandoned her youngest daughter in a crackhouse and was never seen again. Gill (Amy Molloy,) the oldest, was 15 at the time and tried to look after her much younger sister for a while, but after their father died Kelly was taken into care, and the sisters rarely communicated after that. One night Gill gets a cryptic phone call from her sister asking her to come to her, and she manages to track down Kelly (Ruby Campbell,) now 18, living at a Pentecostal megachurch on the Northern Irish coast, where she's been since leaving her foster home two years earlier. Gill thinks she's there to rescue her sister from being groomed, but the truth may be more personal.

Monday 27 February 2023

Theatre review: The Walworth Farce

After many delays Southwark Playhouse finally opens its new, permanent main house, a few minutes' walk away from its other venue on the other side of Elephant and Castle. Southwark Playhouse Elephant has staged a couple of community shows as a warm-up, but its first professional production is an overt reference to its new location: Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce takes place around the corner, in a 15th-floor council flat some years before the recent redevelopments that include the current building. Dinny (Dan Skinner) lives there with his two adult sons, and as the play begins Sean (Emmet Byrne) returns from his daily trip to Tesco, just in time for them to begin a performance: They will act out the day Dinny had to leave Ireland, fleeing to the flat that used to be his brother's before the events of that day.

Thursday 23 February 2023

Theatre review: Women, Beware the Devil

James VI & I's legacy for Britain included a paranoid obsession with witchcraft which would long outlast his own reign; his son's mainly boiled down to a bloody Civil War, the temporary overthrow of the monarchy itself, and Charles I suddenly finding himself shorter by one head. Both of these dark elements of 17th century history feature in Lulu Raczka's new play at the Almeida, although Rupert Goold's slick production never quite gets to the bottom of why Women, Beware the Devil is doing any of this. In rural England in 1640, Agnes (Alison Oliver) has been accused of witchcraft, and accusation would usually be enough to get her hanged. The local lady of the Manor, Elizabeth (Lydia Leonard,) offers her protection and a job as a maid, but there's a catch: She wants Agnes to use the demonic powers she swears she doesn't have to help secure a wife for her brother: If Edward doesn't have a legitimate male heir before he dies, Elizabeth could lose her ancestral home.

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Theatre review: Phaedra

Australian writer-director Simon Stone's calling card appears to be classical adaptations that keep the original title but very little else; at least his take on Phaedra, after a couple of hours that are unrecognisable even as radical adaptation of the original myth, end up in a place that deals with the same kind of actions and consequences. The play is credited as being "after Euripides, Seneca and Racine." I haven't seen the Seneca version because nobody stages Seneca, but there's certainly no initial link to the story told in the other two. Helen (Janet McTeer) is a high-profile opposition MP, her husband Hugo (Paul Chahidi) a diplomat who grew up in Britain after his parents fled the Iranian Revolution. As a family they don't seem too big on boundaries, and if Helen is going to develop a fixation on a younger man, the initial candidate seems to be her son-in-law Eric (John Macmillan,) with whom she has an awkwardly flirtatious relationship.

Friday 17 February 2023

Theatre review: Sylvia

Sometimes theatre rewrites history; for instance, the official line on Kate Prince (book & lyrics,) Priya Parmar (book), Josh Cohen & DJ Walde's (music) Sylvia is that it got a short work-in-progress run in 2018, whereas the way I remember things it was sold as part of the regular season, and only had its entire run reclassified as previews when it lost its leading lady early on. In any case, when I saw it the first time I thought there was a lot about it that was promising, but that it certainly still needed a lot of work before you could call it finished. Four and a half years later enough of that work's been done for Prince's production to return to the Old Vic for its official premiere, largely with a new cast but keeping a couple of its original stars, most importantly the powerhouse Beverley Knight as the title character's mother, legendary suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

Thursday 16 February 2023

Theatre review: Graceland

Upstairs at the Royal Court, Ava Wong Davies' Graceland offers up a monologue about a relationship that slowly, almost imperceptibly turns abusive; perhaps too slowly and imperceptibly to fully bring the story to life. Sabrina Wu plays Nina (although neither her name nor that of her boyfriend are mentioned until very late in the play,) who addresses her speech to the man she met at a barbecue at her friends' house, and had an instant spark with: She doesn't believe in love at first sight, but can't think of a better way of describing it. She's the daughter of Chinese immigrants who doesn't want to take over their restaurant, and has ended up in an office job with a handsy boss and no real career ambitions. He's a poet, which needless to say means he's actually a trust fund baby who doesn't need a day job to pay the bills.

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Theatre review: Macbeth / Partners of Greatness
The Faction / Wilton's Music Hall & Tour

The Faction are another established Fringe company whose work I've been following for many years - predating this blog, so I'm kind of going on memory to say I think I first encountered them with an all-male Macbeth. Director Mark Leipacher's new take on the Scottish Play goes for gender parity, although that's mainly because it uses only two actors: Macbeth / Partners of Greatness cuts down the cast to just the titular character and his wife, telling the story entirely from their perspective. The latter has been renamed Bellona, after the line early on calling Macbeth "Bellona's bridegroom," so perhaps the idea is to posit her as the more bloodthirsty of the pair, as a literal Roman war deity. Either that or it's a reference to Lidl's own-brand version of Kinder Bueno, given some of the things that happen later on in the show I'm not sure we can discount anything entirely.

Monday 13 February 2023

Theatre review: Linck & Mülhahn

Not that there seem to be a lot of great times for the trans and non-binary community lately, but we're in the middle of some particularly bad days at the moment, so it's fitting timing for a historical drama about a pioneering gender-bending couple. Linck & Mülhahn may be a tragicomedy that delivers on the tragic side as much at the comic, but it's also undeniably triumphant, celebratory, and optimistic that, while not enough has changed between 1721 and 2023, the day is coming. It's inspired by real people and events, but Ruby Thomas' play does add its own caveats about what exactly constitutes a true story - is it the story as interpreted by the laws and mores of the time, or the truth as felt and experienced by the people at the heart of it? In 18th century Prussia, Anastasius Linck (Maggie Bain) is a well-liked soldier in his regiment and as much known for his debauchery and female conquests as any of them.

Saturday 11 February 2023

Theatre review: The Tempest (RSC / RST)

2023 marks the 400th anniversary of the First Folio's publication, and both the RSC and the Globe are using that as the theme for their seasons, predominantly programming plays that don't exist in quarto form, so wouldn't have survived if they hadn't been included in the OG collected works edition. This means there's going to be a bit of overlap between the two major Shakespeare venues, and Stratford-upon-Avon kicks off the year with one of those that's getting multiple productions, and the one that got the opening slot in the Folio itself: Elizabeth Freestone's production of The Tempest uses the titular bad weather as a prompt to theme the play around the climate crisis, and attempt a carbon-neutral, waste-free production - Tom Piper and Natasha Ward's designs reuse props and costumes from past productions, upcycle a lot of plastic rubbish, and rescue a huge distressed mirror from Indhu Rubasingham's bins.

Friday 3 February 2023

Theatre review: Titus Andronicus
(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Going into the Swanamaker's tenth year, creatives haven't yet got over the novelty of the candlelit playhouse and the idea of using it as a theme in their productions. Usually it's the unique way light and darkness work in there that provide the inspiration, but in Jude Christian's new production it's the physical candles and wax that take on a new significance. And the play is Titus Andronicus so that significance is, obviously, connected to death and maiming. In the first production I saw, Katy Stephens played Tamora, Titus' nemesis. In this all-female cast she gets to switch places to the title role: In this completely invented chapter of Shakespeare's Roman plays, Titus is a decorated general, most of whose 25 sons have died defending Rome. The remainder, as well as his sole daughter Lavinia (Georgia-May Myers) become collateral damage in a more personal battle, after he sacrifices the eldest son of defeated Goth queen Tamora (Kirsten Foster.)

Thursday 2 February 2023

Theatre review:
Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons

Fresh from an As You Like It that leaned heavily on sign language, Josie Rourke directs a play that investigates communication and what happens when its methods are severely limited. I missed Sam Steiner's Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons when it first premiered in 2015, and have felt left out having seen it mentioned in so many lists of best recent plays. But as it gets a starry West End production I'm left wondering what the fuss is about, in a play with a fascinating premise that sets the stage for a lot of interesting ideas - but runs out of things to do with them very quickly. Bernadette (Jenna Coleman) and Oliver (Aidan Turner) are a couple living in a dystopian world where Parliament has passed a law forbidding anyone from using more than 140 words, spoken or in writing, in any 24-hour period.