Monday 30 October 2023

Theatre review: The Confessions

A British / Australian / Luxembourgish co-production, Alexander Zeldin's The Confessions, which he also directs at the Lyttelton, is based on conversations with his mother and her peers, and follows one woman's life from Australia in 1943 - when, as a child, she meets her father for the first time returning from the war and is confused because she thought the portrait of him on the wall was her father - to London in 2021, when she finally tells her son, who's been quizzing her just like the real author, to stop poking around for more details of her life. For the most part Amelda Brown narrates the story as the older Alice, while Eryn Jean Norvill plays her younger self in the scenes, but they occasionally trade places at particularly critical moments; perhaps Alice is so shaken by these events she steps out of her body, and can only confront them with the benefit of time.

Friday 27 October 2023

Theatre review: To Have and to Hold

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: To Have and to Hold was meant to be well into its run by now, but following the cancellation of its preview period this is now a review of the second public performance.

So yes, a shaky start for the divisive Richard Bean's new comedy-drama To Have and to Hold; no official announcement has been made about why its opening was put back, but the show was originally slated to be directed by Richard Wilson, who's now credited as co-director with Terry Johnson. You can see why an octogenarian director might have been a good fit for a story revolving around a couple in their nineties: Jack (Alun Armstrong) and Florence (Marion Bailey) have lived in Wetwang in Yorkshire for 70 years of married life, and both their children have long since moved away. Now, with it becoming apparent that Jack at least is very ill and nearing the end, mystery novelist Rob (Christopher Fulford) and private medicine entrepreneur Tina (Hermione Gulliford) are visiting to convince their parents to sell the house, and move in with Tina's family where they can be looked after.

Thursday 26 October 2023

Theatre review: Owners

I talk about Caryl Churchill being an outlier among playwrights, in that the older and more venerated she becomes, the shorter and more succinct her work gets. Does that mean going back to one of her first-ever plays will find her at her most rambling and unfocused? Well, yes as it turns out, but Owners, which Stella Powell-Jones revives at Jermyn Street, also shows her not only commanding some great dialogue, but also occasions when she seems decades ahead of her time. Right from the comic opening scene in fact, where Clegg (Mark Huckett) closes the doors for the last time on the butcher's shop he inherited from his father and hoped to pass on to his son. But his wife can't have children, and is such a high-flying success that she'll be the one supporting both of them from now on.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Theatre review: Portia Coughlan

One of those instances where I probably should have trusted my instincts, rather than booking everything at the Almeida to make the most of my membership, I definitely had a feeling Marina Carr's Portia Coughlan might not be my thing. As it turns out the only thing I can find fault with in Carrie Cracknell's production is the choice of play itself - Carr's 1996 tragedy certainly has some things to say about the expectations for women even at the end of the 20th century, but the way it does so is so relentlessly grim it qualifies for this year's occasional theatrical meme of misery porn. It follows the titular Portia (Alison Oliver) on the day of her thirtieth birthday, a day she spends the same way as the previous 15 years: Haunted, metaphorically and perhaps literally, by her twin brother Gabriel, who drowned himself the day after their 15th birthday.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Theatre review: The Nag's Head

I guess I don't really have anything Hallowe'en-themed this year if Felix Grainger & Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson's The Nag's Head was meant to fulfil that role: This three-hander about a haunted pub proves more spoofy than spooky. Siblings Sarah (Cara Steele,) Connor (Fogarty-Graveson) and Jack (Grainger) have returned to rural Shireshire for their father's funeral, and to take over the titular failing pub he's left them. On the evening after the wake, as they first bicker then reconnect with family inside jokes, a package gets delivered for them, they assume per their father's wishes: A creepy painting of a naked demon in the woods, which they hang behind the bar. As they search for a USP that'll make customers come back, they chance upon a ghost tour of the area. Between the painting and the various unfortunate smells coming from the neglected building, they decide to relaunch the Nag's Head as the most haunted pub in Britain.

Monday 23 October 2023

Theatre review: Clyde's

Lynn Nottage is having a fairly high-profile year in London - we've had The Secret Life of Bees, and hot on the heels of Mlima's Tale at the Kiln, it's back to the Donald and Margot Warehouse where Sweat was staged in 2019. Clyde's takes place in a shared universe with the latter play, as well as sharing a director in Lynette Linton, and while it shows the American playwright to have lost none of her enthusiasm for tackling a heavy subject, it also displays much more of a light touch. The titular establishment is a truck stop diner run by ex-con Clyde (Gbemisola Ikumelo,) who exclusively hires other former inmates who can't find work anywhere else. Although to what extent this is her attempting to help them is a different story, as her managerial style is full supervillain - she likes to keep them terrified of her and remind them that if they don't toe the line and she fires them, nobody else will give them a job.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Theatre review: Meetings

Trinidadian couple Jean and Hugh are living the 1980s dream: Chain-smoking Jean (Martina Laird) has never wanted to be a domestic goddess, instead becoming a successful businesswoman who's just taken on a contract marketing a new American cigarette brand to the island's poor villagers. Hugh (Kevin N Golding) has a plumbing supplies company, and has struck a deal to sell pipes at inflated prices to a government crony. Yes, there might have been the odd topical connection that helped put Mustapha Matura's Meetings on the list of potential revivals for this year's JMK Award. But while Jean doesn't seem to want anything to change, Hugh is on the verge of a midlife crisis prompted by food: With no time or inclination to cook or eat together, the couple have largely depended on restaurants and takeaways.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Theatre review: Jock Night

Not quite a verbatim play but apparently based on interviews with Manchester's LGBTQ+ community (well... Manchester's G community, anyway,) Adam Zane's Jock Night takes place over six months in the bedroom of 45-year-old Ben (David Paisley,) who's been a fixture of the city's gay village for decades and is still very popular on the scene - he's entered his Daddy phase, although he's not particularly happy with people calling him that. He, the acidic Kam (Sam Goodchild) and muscle jock Russ (Matthew Gent) have been fuck-buddies for a while, usually finding others on the apps to join them. On the night we meet them, they're joined by two new faces: At the start of the evening likeable and naïve AJ (Levi Payne) has to duck out early after the cocktail of drugs the older men are used to proves too much for him.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Theatre review: Sunset Blvd

I often grumble about the work of His Excellency The Rev. Dr Baron Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Lord Webber BA (Hons) MEng, QC, MD, P.I, FSB, but have a soft spot for Sunset Boulevard - one I've never been entirely sure how much to credit to Lloyd Webber (music,) Don Black and Christopher Hampton's (book and lyrics) 1993 musical itself, and how much to my fondness for Billy Wilder's original 1950 film. Well, this should settle some of that at least, as the latest West End revival comes courtesy of director Jamie Lloyd and designer Soutra Gilmour, whose signature style inevitably strips away the usual trappings of faded Hollywood glamour so associated with film and musical alike. But their monochrome style does make for a different kind of link to the age of black and white movies. 

Monday 16 October 2023

Theatre review: The White Factory

Created by Russian Jewish theatremakers who've been targeted because of their opposition to the war in Ukraine, Dmitry Glukhovsky's The White Factory looks back at the Second World War, and a group of people whose story I don't think I've seen foregrounded before: You sometimes hear of the Jewish collaborators who helped the Nazis control and eventually round up their own people, in the hope that they and their families might get favourable treatment. They tend to be offered up as a cautionary tale, as their stories generally ended in the concentration camps like everyone else's, but Glukhovsky offers - if not an unquestioningly sympathetic view - a more nuanced one. The story of Yosef Kaufman (Mark Quartley) is equally charged with a steely survival instinct, and crippling survivor's guilt.

Friday 13 October 2023

Theatre review: Dead Dad Dog

John McKay's short play Dead Dad Dog was a hit in Edinburgh in 1988, leading to a quick London transfer to the Royal Court. Liz Carruthers' revival at the Finborough was meant to be the opener in a double bill, as McKay has written a present-day sequel, but due to cast illness the latter has had to be cancelled, leaving us with just the original, a slight supernatural comedy in which 22-year-old Alec (Angus Miller) is preparing for a big day: An interview for an apprenticeship as a BBC Scotland producer, followed by a hot date. But his preparations are interrupted by the arrival of his father Willie (Liam Brennan,) who died 12 years earlier. The ghost has been sent back from heaven for a short while to spend time with his son - he didn't request the visit and doesn't know why he was granted it. Alec is saddled with a ghost who to all intents and purposes seems alive - everyone can see him, and he'll need feeding.

Thursday 12 October 2023

Theatre review: What It Means

American screenwriter, journalist and novelist Merle Miller became a major figure in the gay rights movement largely - if this adaptation of his most famous essay and subsequent memoir is to be believed - by accident. A decorated World War II veteran who'd been blacklisted by McCarthyites and returned his medals in protest at the Vietnam War, he'd been a fervent but understated kind of radical. When James Corley’s What It Means first joins him, he’s holed up in his rural New York State house on the day of one of the first post-Stonewall gay rights marches in Manhattan: It’s close enough for him to join easily, but he doesn’t think that’s his kind of activism. But in 1970 Harper’s Magazine, of which he’d been editor before getting, he implies, pushed out, publishes a lengthy article about sexuality by a straight writer.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Theatre review: Octopolis

Seafood enthusiast Marek Horn follows up a play about tuna with a play about an octopus, and the people whose fascination with the molluscs becomes indistinguishable from love. In Octopolis George (Jemma Redgrave) is a scientist grieving her husband and research partner, with whom she developed theories about whether the notoriously solitary cephalopods might have a previously unknown social side. Since her husband's death, she's retreated into her living room with Frances, the octopus in a tank they were studying, and had made some potentially extraordinary discoveries on; she's not entirely unaware that she treats Frances as a way of still feeling connected to him. The house George lives in belongs to a University, and she's been too preoccupied to wonder why they've let her stay there since she stopped her teaching and research.

Monday 9 October 2023

Theatre review: Imposter 22

In Vicky Featherstone's final year at the Royal Court, getting a group who aren't generally represented on stage to unleash chaos in the Downstairs theatre seems to be a recurring theme: Earlier this year it was the underground drag scene that took over the stage, now it's the culmination of a five-year project to have neurodiverse and learning disabled creatives develop and perform a new piece. Created by Kirsty Adams, Cian Binchy, Housni Hassan (DJ), Dayo Koleosho, Stephanie Newman, Lee Phillips and Charlene Salter, written by Molly Davies and directed by Hamish Pirie, Imposter 22 announces itself as a murder mystery. The credited creators (plus Anna Constable, who’s normally Newman’s alternate but tonight read in for an indisposed Adams,) start pretty close to reality, playing a neurodiverse and learning disabled drama group.

Saturday 7 October 2023

Theatre review: Vanya

For the third play Simon Stephens has written specifically for Andrew Scott to perform, they've turned to Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, here retitled Vanya. If that suggests a laser focus on the title character it's actually quite the opposite: Stephens has turned it into something between a monologue and a one-man show, with Scott playing all the roles. I say monologue because there's more speeches being delivered straight to the audience than in the original, but the actor also has to interact with himself a lot: He plays Ivan (the character names have been mostly anglicised - he's only referred to by the eponymous nickname once,) who's been running his late sister Anna's farm most of his life; as well as his niece Sonia, and Michael, the alcoholic doctor she's unrequitedly in love with.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Theatre review: The Changeling

Ricky Dukes is a fun director, but he does seem incredibly keen on filling small stages with huge furniture, then letting his casts loose to try and manoeuvre their way around it: In last year's Doctor Faustus it was a maze of big wooden desks that everyone was banging their shins against; for this year's return to The Little with The Changeling they're trying to squeeze around a boardroom table, with Colette O'Rourke's Beatrice-Joanna at one point getting stuck when her hooped wedding dress swallowed an office chair. I haven’t seen Succession (it’s not on any of my streaming services, I’m not being a hipster about it,) but I assume that like a lot of recent shows that’s the visual reference that Sorcha Corcoran’s design is making.

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Theatre review: Operation Epsilon

I've talked before about how similar, highly specific ideas seem to crop up on different stages around the same time, but this is a whole new level of specificity: Alan Brody's Operation Epsilon is the true story of the German nuclear scientists who were captured by Allied forces near the end of the Second World War, and held at an English country pile so that the British and Americans could ascertain just how close the Nazis had come to developing nuclear weapons. And yes, this is based directly on the men's actual conversations, recorded by the military in secret. If I sound like I'm repeating myself it's because that was also the premise of Katherine Moar's Farm Hall, which I was a big fan of when it premiered about six months ago. I guess you can blame Oppenheimer for everyone deciding the other side of the story would hook audiences.

Monday 2 October 2023

Theatre review: anthropology

After a quiet summer Hampstead Theatre kicks off its new season with anthropology, Lauren Gunderson's play that takes the very topical subject of AI and... well, it's not particularly clear what, if anything, it does with it. Angie (Dakota Blue Richards) has been missing, presumed dead, since she disappeared at college a couple of years ago in a suspected kidnapping. Her sister Merrill (MyAnna Buring, as opposed to YourAnna Buring) is a Something Something Computers, who is processing the loss by creating an algorithm that's been fed all the digital information Angie left behind, and as the play begins she switches it on for the first time, finding that - apart from being a bit nicer than the real thing - the digital version is an uncannily accurate representation that seems to know her sister in ways even her programmer doesn't.