Review: Othello, Crucible

“Men should be what they seem; Or those that be not, would they might seem none!”

Forming part of the 40th anniversary season at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre is a production of Othello which continues their ability to attract top-notch televisual talent: last year saw John Simm taking on Hamlet and here we find both Dominic West and Clarke Peters. But for all the draw of these stars of The Wire, the reason that I actually booked in the end was the casting of Alexandra Gilbreath, one of the few actresses for whom I would travel just about anywhere to see, indeed I’ve not actually got round to watching any of The Wire yet (I was all about Battlestar Galactica y’see).

It is actually the first time I had seen this play on stage, it wasn’t one I ever studied and held little interest for me since then if I’m honest, but I thought I would give this one a try and the decision paid dividends for this was a truly superb production. Directed by Daniel Evans, it is a traditional rendition but far from old-fashioned as this tale of deep betrayal pulses with life and energetic drama on the wide open stage of the Crucible. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Crucible”

Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva

“You’re 14 and you know what effeminate means, this does not bode well for you Blakemore.”

There have been quite a few revivals of Terence Rattigan shows in theatres across the country to mark his centenary year but leading them all has been Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer season which has paid tribute to the dramatist by both putting on productions of his plays and commissioning new works that have been inspired by his writings. This double bill incorporates both of those by pairing Rattigan’s one-acter The Browning Version with David Hare’s South Downs, newly written as a response to the former.

Both plays take place inside public schools, dealing with issues of insecurity and identity in such institutions and the loneliness that can strike whether through failing to fit in or losing oneself so thoroughly in dry academia. South Downs takes the pupils as a starting point, John Blakemore being a precocious 14 year old on a scholarship who doesn’t fit in with his upper-class contemporaries and whose budding intellectualism and refusal to abide by convention rattles his teachers: a nicely irascible Andrew Woodall and a kindly Nicholas Farrell. Continue reading “Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva”

Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre

“The English vice is that we don’t own up to our emotions…we think they demean us”

Rattigan’s Nijinsky is something of a companion piece to the production of The Deep Blue Sea with which this is playing in rep at the Chichester Festival Theatre and sharing much of its cast. Looking to make their own unique tribute in the centenary year of Rattigan’s death, new pieces have been commissioned to play alongside his plays and here, Nicholas Wright has embroidered a story around the mystery of Rattigan’s 1974 unproduced and unpublished screenplay about ballet dancer Nijinsky and his passionate affair with Ballets Russes impresario Diaghilev.

Having been able to examine images of the original work, Wright has incorporated scenes into his own play, so we get to see Rattigan’s version of the tumultuous love affair between the older Diaghilev and his protégé, the man often cited as one of the greatest dancers ever, and the strain it was placed under due to Nijinsky’s mental fragility, something exacerbated (or even caused by?) falling into marriage with a woman. These scenes are interspersed with a modern-day (1974) narrative with an ailing Rattigan sequestered in his suite at Claridges and having to deal with Nijinsky’s widow, Romola, who is virulently objecting to his version of the events of her earlier life. Continue reading “Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: The Syndicate, Minerva

One is constantly learning when going to/reading /writing about theatre, there’s just so much of it to take in! Unknown to me, Eduardo Di Filippo is apparently a giant of Italian theatre but even this, The Syndicate – a version of Il Sindico Del Rione Sanità by Mike Poulton – is receiving its British premiere here, indicating that my ignorance is perhaps a little forgivable. Playing at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, it boasts a healthy cast of 20 headed by Sir Ian McKellen, on a break from filming The Hobbit.

McKellen plays Antonio Barracano, a man smuggled to New York by the local Godfather after murdering a man in his native Naples. After many years accumulating wealth and reputation by working for the mob there, he returns to his hometown as a man of standing amongst the criminal classes who look to him to dispense his own individual brand of justice and one particular case, intervene in a vicious dispute between a son and his father, the son’s murderous urges reminding Don Antonio of his own youthful indiscretion. Continue reading “Review: The Syndicate, Minerva”

Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Be a clown, be a clown, the whole world loves a clown”

I’m often asked what my favourite genre of theatre is and I usually make vague noises about liking all of it (farce and puppetry aside obviously) but there is no denying that the shows I truly love the most are big old-school musicals stuffed full of show-tunes and tap-dancing: sheer escapism wrapped up in cosy familiarity. I’m not entirely sure where this came from as these weren’t the shows (or films) of my childhood but this is turn has brought its own pleasures as I’ve been able to see shows like Hello, Dolly!, Salad Days and On the Town for the first time in amazing stage productions without knowing what to expect and consequently being blown away. Earlier this year, the Crucible’s Me and My Girl planted a strong marker for musical of the year but having now seen Singin’ in the Rain at the Chichester Festival Theatre, the competition is definitely hotting up.

There are similarities: the open thrust stage here, as in Sheffield, is just perfect for big expansive dance numbers, especially when they are this well-choreographed, and also able to play on an intimacy with the audience that most London theatres would kill for; and Daniel Crossley is in both, he may be in a supporting role here but to my mind, he is one of our best all-rounders, I could watch him dance for days; and they’re both ‘out-of-town’ shows, I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes, but it is hard to shake the feeling that had they originated in London, they’d be less ensemble-oriented, less fun and more cynically post-modern. Continue reading “Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: The Deep Blue Sea, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Moderation in all things has always been my motto”

Whereas productions celebrating Sondheim’s 80th birthday lasted all the blessed year long, the flurry of Terence Rattigan plays, marking the centenary year of his birth, seems to have died out in London at least. But in Chichester as their season moves into full swing, the first of a number of Rattigan productions starts with The Deep Blue Sea, a preview of which I caught on my first ever trip to the Chichester Festival Theatre.

It’s actually my second The Deep Blue Sea of the year, the first I travelled to the West Yorkshire Playhouse for to see Maxine Peake play the lead role and though several people had said to me that they thought she was too young for the role, as it was the first time I’d seen the play, it didn’t really affect me that much: having seen this production I see how that skewed the whole dynamic of the show. Here, director Philip Franks has stayed closer to the original intent by casting an older actress as Hester, in this case a stunning Amanda Root, which made the tangled nature of the relationships around her make more sense. Continue reading “Review: The Deep Blue Sea, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Music Review: Björk – Biophilia – Campfield Market Hall

“Ekkert tekur. Ég tekur því. Náttúra!”

Ever the innovator, Björk’s latest project Biophilia has seen her take up a short residency at Campfield Market Hall as part of the Manchester International Festival to play a set of live shows which will be accompanied by educational workshops, documentaries, unprecedented internet presence, newly invented musical instruments and an album release which will feature the world’s first app-album. Biophilia is an attempt to explore the relationship between music, nature and new technology on a grand scale, necessitating something more than just a 10-track cd, and hence requiring a truly unique, genre-confounding revelatory experience.

When I saw Take That a couple of weeks ago, I remarked to my friend as we watched a group of women collapse in rapture as they started to play Pray that gigs are so much better when you have that personal connection to the music. I didn’t have that with Take That despite being lucky enough to be given a ticket, but I do have that with Björk, one of the artists who has truly soundtracked my life, and sure enough I had my moment of rapture as she launched into ‘Hyperballad’ at the end – I may even have shed a joyous tear or two. Continue reading “Music Review: Björk – Biophilia – Campfield Market Hall”

Review: As You Like It, Royal Exchange

“Were it not better…that I did suit me all points like a man”

As You Like It is one of those Shakespeare plays that seems to pop up most regularly at the moment, so much so that its mere mention makes my heart sink a little. I quite like the play but it is not one of my favourites and so had been intending to give the many productions appearing all over the show a miss this year. The best intentions etc etc no willpower blah blah meant that I couldn’t resist popping into the Royal Exchange to take in this modern-dress version.

Chief of my reasons was the casting of Cush Jumbo as Rosalind: she was a highlight in the Pygmalion I saw at the same venue last year and I suspect she is an actress destined for big things. She is excellent here, at her best when disguised as a street-smart Ganymede, peppering her lines with hip-hop slang and becoming terrifyingly convincing as an awkward teenage boy. A terrific performance and definitely one to watch. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Royal Exchange”

Review: The Pride – Studio, Sheffield

Directed by Richard Wilson and starring Artistic Director Daniel Evans, the regional premiere of Alexei Kaye Campbell’s The Pride takes place in the small Studio at Sheffield. The play looks at love and relationships in both modern day-ish 2008 and in 1958, contrasting the two eras to see how attitudes to gay identity and also sexual freedom of all kinds have changed, and how the experiences of an older generation have influenced the decisions we make now. This is done with a trio of characters: Philip, Oliver and Sylvia and a structure that constantly jumps back and forth between the two times and not always in chronological order, so that the two stories become one overarching narrative about the necessity of knowing and loving yourself before you can truly love others.

Dramatically speaking, the 1958 strand is the more intriguing: layers of Rattigan-esque repression make these scenes crackle with the unspoken. Sylvia and Philip are rather unhappily unmarried and when she introduces her colleague Oliver, it becomes clear to us why as the sexual chemistry sparks between them. As Philip struggles to come to terms with his repressed feelings and Sylvia comes to a growing awareness of why he is acting like he is, this story is pursued to its heartbreaking end with all three actors giving stunning performances. Jay Simpson also does sterling work in a number of small roles across both time periods. Continue reading “Review: The Pride – Studio, Sheffield”

Review: The Day We Sang – Opera House, Manchester

“I’ll never have a box of sex tricks
Or be made to hum like a Scalextric”

It’s part of the unwritten contract of being a Northerner (by birth at least in my case) that you love Victoria Wood. Her status as national treasure is sometimes debated as her particular style of retro-comedy doesn’t always appeal to everyone and is met by not a little snobbery, but it has never bothered me as I find her genuinely hilarious. I have never come so close to having to leave a theatre because of laughing so much as I did in Acorn Antiques The Musical, me and the gentleman next to me (who I didn’t know) were in hysterics pretty much throughout that show and I still love watching it today. Wood has now written a new show, The Day We Sang, as one of the pieces premiering at the Manchester International Festival and though it didn’t quite reach those same giddy heights, I still loved it.

Wood has taken a real story as her starting point, that of the Manchester Schools Children’s Choir joining forces with the Hallé orchestra to record a highly successful version of Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds at the Free Trade Hall in 1929, and whilst we see the kids gearing up to this momentous occasion, she has spun off her own narrative to create the show. Some members of that ensemble gather to make a documentary to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the recording and whilst there’s much amusing snobbery at a reunion where people’s lives have taken vastly different turns, a relationship starts to form between two of them, Tubby and Enid, as they reflect on how disillusioned with life they have become since that early high point. Continue reading “Review: The Day We Sang – Opera House, Manchester”