Review: Small Change, Donmar Warehouse

Partly based on his own experiences as a boy in Cardiff, Small Change is one of Peter Gill’s earlier plays, revived here at the Donmar Warehouse. It covers the efforts of two boys in 1950s Cardiff to remove themselves from their mothers’ apron strings, but also with the complex relationship between the two, struggling to grasp their true feelings for each other in a world where homosexuality is incomprehensible and illegal. But as it is a memory play, we also see the characters later in life and the action flits around the timeline showing how the past and present are inextricably linked and indeed their impact on the future.
The extremely simple staging, just four chairs at random angles, a floating shelf on a brick wall at the back and an unadorned red raked stage means that the focus is squarely on the prose which is heavily poetical. But whilst there is no doubting the quality of the acting onstage and the obvious emotion invested in the depiction of unresolved homosexual yearning and the drudgery of housewifery, it rarely fully captivated the attention as it is just so very lyrical and Gill’s writing often veers to the elliptical and obtuse.

This is partly due to the structure: the play constantly shifts around in time with repeated lines and recurring motifs echoing around but instead of being moving, I found myself getting increasingly irritated with the repetition. And there seemed something a little artificial about the evocation of working class language, a romanticism which was a little too rose-tinted for my liking.
The acting is predictably strong, led by the incomparable Sue Johnston with her stoic and strong Mrs Harte contrasted with Lindsey Coulson’s much more nervous and despairing Mrs Driscoll, struggling under the weight of a large family and brutal husband. Matt Ryan and Luke Evans had a lovely chemistry as the two boys who never quite managed to chase the dream of love between the two, each following their own paths. On the one hand it was nice not to see full-blown ‘pretending to be children’ acting from these two but equally, the subtlety with which it was played meant that it was never abundantly clear just when we were in the storyline.
Dull and uninvolving feels too harsh a description for this production given the strength of the acting, but I would struggle to recommend this to people as it ended up being quite a difficult play to like.

Review: Rent Remixed, Duke of York’s

Many a musical has received a facelift, but none quite so dramatic or misguided as Rent Remixed, setting up shop at the Duke of York’s. William Baker (director) and Steve Anderson (musical arranger) are perhaps better known as part of the creative team behind Kylie Minogue but are responsible here for reinterpreting Jonathan Larson’s much loved Rent for a younger generation.

The original itself is a rough reworking of La Bohème, celebrating the lives of a group of sexually ambiguous, bohemian New Yorkers, eking out a living on the breadline and devastated by the arrival of HIV and AIDS. And whilst this is ostensibly the same show, the process of ‘remixing’ has ended up with curious results. Continue reading “Review: Rent Remixed, Duke of York’s”

Review: Cloud Nine, Almeida

Every year, my sisters and I are treated to a Christmas show by our Aunty Jean and with the scheduling difficulties and train timetables (they all live in the North-West), our choice ended up being Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine at the Almeida, a somewhat different choice to our usual fare, but one which proved to be enjoyable nonetheless.

The first act is set in a nineteenth century British colony somewhere in Africa where all manner of subversive behaviour threatens the traditional Victorian moral code, which with its male colonisation of women is hardly a bed of roses for everyone. Then the second half shifts to Clapham Common and the sexually liberated 1970s, but we retain the same characters, 25 years down their personal timelines. So the contrast in their behaviour is huge and a range of sexual and gender politics issues explored. Continue reading “Review: Cloud Nine, Almeida”

Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward Theatre

From the moment the posters went up advertising Avenue Q as Sesame Street for adults, I have been eagerly anticipating its arrival at the Noël Coward Theatre. And as it turns out, that description could not be more apt.

It plays as a coming-of-age story for young adults, poking fun at but also addressing semi-seriously the issues of leaving university and entering the daily grind, the anxieties of finding someone to love and also being comfortable in one’s own skin. It is sexually explicit in the funniest possible way and occasionally foul-mouthed but that just adds to the charm and the sense of realism that drives the show forward, even though it is puppets we are dealing with. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse

A study of memory and identity and how truth is often just relative, Luigi Pirandello’s As You Desire Me is one of his lesser performed works, but presented in a new adaptation by Hugh Whitemore and directed by Jonathan Kent, it has quite the casting coup with both Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins as part of the company.

We first meet Scott Thomas as Elma, a singer in a sleazy 1930s Berlin night-club and living in a sado-masochistic relationship with a man Salter and his lesbian daughter Mop who is also attracted to her. A man appears and tells her that she is, in fact Lucia, the wife of an Italian aristocrat. She was the victim of an appalling assault during the First World War and, as a result, lost her memory. But when she goes to Italy to pursue this dream new life, she finds unexpected problems and disappointments. Continue reading “Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse”

Review: Gaffer! Southwark Playhouse

Gaffer! at the Southwark Playhouse is the story of George, a star footballer-turned-manager of Northbridge Town, a struggling League Two side whose fortunes look set to change with a takeover from an ex-record producer and a great run in the FA Cup. But change isn’t always for the best and when he is caught in a compromising situation with the new young team hero and the certainties of his world begin to crumble.

As a black comedy, in describing the trials of managing a football team from the lower divisions and the randomness that George has to deal with in its collection of peculiar characters around the ground and in the dressing room, it is extremely funny, as it is when replicating the bizarre touchline antics of football managers. And it is also good at depicting the clash between the thoroughly old-school George who is all about the football and the new chairman with his modernising ways and vision of the club as a money-making machine. Continue reading “Review: Gaffer! Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Edward II, Shakespeare’s Globe

So my second trip to the Globe took me to Edward II, a play by Christopher Marlowe which was another all-male production and actually carried over almost the entire cast from Richard II which was a nice touch I hadn’t realised until I got there. I like the idea of a company doing more than one play as it means that the bonds within the group have time to really develop and become something more special than if just for a short run.

Covering most of the key events of Edward II’s reign, the play hooks around the relationship between the King and his favourite, Piers Gaveston who was showered with love, gifts, lands and titles by his royal lover. Though interestingly, the shock value from the play would originally have come from the social/class barriers that were breached rather than the sexual ones, as the barons and lords of the court would have been outraged at the fact that Gaveston was of lowly birth rather than the fact that he was a man. For at the heart of this play is a debate about politics and the lengths to which the establishment will protect what they see as theirs by right.

The relationship between Edward and Gaveston is perfectly played and completely unafraid of being physical. Gerard Kyd as the favourite brings a fabulous energy and a freedom to his movement and behaviour which instantly sets him apart from the rest of the staid court. And with Liam Brennan’s touching King matching him for passion, their’s was a moving, believable relationship. The rather refreshing liberal take on homosexuality both in the play and this production was negated somewhat by the giggling tourist-heavy audience of the Globe though.

But there is much else to the play, with the viciousness that spurned wife and Queen Isabella pursues the downfall of her errant husband’s lover and then the King himself as she takes her own lover, the fiercely ambitious baron Mortimer. Justin Shelvin was convincing as the tyrannical baron, but I wasn’t too sure about Chu Omambala as the Queen, not really hitting the emotional depths of either despair or vengeance, literally being outshone in every sense by Gerard Kyd’s Gaveston. The all-male casting actually didn’t make that much of a difference in the end, which I suppose is the point, it felt natural and worked with the material.

I loved being a groundling again, even with a show that was over three hours, as it was very musical with lots of drums, tribal dancing to represent battles and being up close to the actors makes me feel a little sorry for the people who are sat down on the hard wooden benches!