20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida

Simon Russell Beale and Leo Bill shine in Joe Hill-Gibbins’ perfectly reimagined The Tragedy of King Richard the Second at the Almeida Theatre

“Thus play I in one person many people”

It’s tempting to think of this production of Shakespeare’s Richard II as specifically designed to rile up Billington and sure enough, he fell into the trap and reviewed the show he wanted to see rather than what was presented to him. He sees what Shakespeare should be; here, Joe Hill-Gibbins shows us what Shakespeare can be. 

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second is undoubtedly a consequential adaptation. Compressed to 100 minutes without interval, spoken at speed and set entirely within a grey-walled cell, it is disarming and disruptive. But it also works beautifully once you’re attuned to its rhythms as it makes the blind pursuit of power its central thesis, underscored by the desperation of the elite to cling onto their political influence. Continue reading “Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida”

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC at the Barbican

In the spirit of the season, I’m not commenting too much on the RSC’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Barbican

“I hope we shall drink down all unkindness”

Fiona Laird’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is the third of the RSC’s show to open at the Barbican this winter and whilst it is certainly an eye-catching revival with its Only Way is Essex tendencies, it really wasn’t the one for me.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes ((with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Merry Wives of Windsor is booking at the Barbican until 5th January

Film Review: Twelfth Night (2018)

With Sheila Atim playing both Viola and Sebastian, this film of Twelfth Night has many a highlight even if it is ultimately overlong

“You will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard”

As a debut for both Shanty Productions and Adam Smethurst as screenwriter and director, this Twelfth Night is an intriguing thing. At a more than healthy 2 hours 45 minutes, its slavish adherence to the text can feel like a bit of a challenge as it occasionally feels like it is moving at a glacial pace. On the other hand, it has Sheila Atim doing double duty as shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian and so it proves a great showcase for her.

Filmed over a single month in West Sussex on an economical budget, this contemporary imagining of Shakespeare’s tale of mistaken identities and affections gone haywire benefits from some astute casting. Shalini Peiris’s Olivia is younger than the average but it’s a choice that makes sense of her impetuous nature, and leaning into Antony Bunsee’s experience makes for a compelling Malvolio, the unlikeliness of any relationship between them all the more stark for once. Continue reading “Film Review: Twelfth Night (2018)”

Review: The Moors, Tara Theatre

The Moors proves a fascinating look at Shakespeare and race at Tara Theatre

“I never get cast in Ibsen or Chekhov”

It’s almost like a pub quiz kinda question – how many black characters did Shakespeare actually write? The answer’s three (Othello, Aaron from Titus Andronicus and the Prince of Morocco from The Merchant of Venice) and even with that number, they’re often far too uninterrogated (the last two in particular) as representations of migrants on stage.

It is this kind of thinking that drove Tonderai Munyevu to write The Moors, a Two Gents Productions running at the Tara Theatre. A freewheeling two-hander that poses some really big questions about integration and representation, it follows two African men on the hunt for Shakespeare and coming up hard against the realities for actors of colour. Continue reading “Review: The Moors, Tara Theatre”

Review: Romea and Julian, Bread and Roses

A gender-swapped Romea and Julian at the Bread and Roses Theatre lacks the specificity to really make you root for these star cross’d lovers

“Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads.
Take it in what sense thou wilt”

It’s a bold move to open the same show in the same week as the RSC. Erica Whyman’s contemporary Romeo and Juliet is a slick success but Purple Ostrich’s interpretation certainly matches, if not exceeds, it in ambition with its gender-swapped Romea and Julian here at the Bread and Roses tucked away off Clapham High Street.

Directed by Laura Kressly, there’s much to admire in this gender-bending free-wheeling adaptation. An all-female company of three take on all the supporting roles with a fresh and ferocious sense of fun – the performative disinterest of Acushla-Tara Kupe’s mike-wielding Lady Capulet being a real standout, alongside Elham Mayhoub’s Nurse. Continue reading “Review: Romea and Julian, Bread and Roses”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Barbican

A modern and moving take on Romeo and Juliet from the RSC at the Barbican

“I am too young. I pray you, pardon me”

It’s sometimes a little difficult to take seriously how old everyone is meant to be in Romeo and Juliet but Erica Whyman’s modern-day production for the RSC, playing in rep now at the Barbican, never lets you forget. She fills the stage with kids for a cacophonous prologue, Karen Fishwick’s Juliet rightfully feels like a child and in turn, Mariam Haque’s Lady Capulet (“I was your mother much upon these years that you are now a maid”) is a convincing 26, closer to her daughter in age than her husband, but emotionally distant from both. 

It’s a pattern Juliet seizes the first chance to break when she meets Bally Gill’s charismatic Romeo, a young man very much still coming into his own. And you feel that it is the running away that appeals to her just as much as the running away together. For she’s all too aware that there are cycles of violence that the young’uns of this Verona can’t hope to escape – indeed what chance do they have when even all the adults around them carry and use knives to resolve even the smallest slight.  Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Barbican”

Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: Macbeth, RSC at the Barbican

Despite a cast including Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack, this proves another disappointment of a Macbeth as the RSC start their Autumn residency at the Barbican

“Better health attend his majesty”

Its enduring popularity on school curricula means we will probably never be free of it but in a year when both the National Theatre and the RSC have swung and missed with modern takes on Macbeth, surely it is time to give it a rest. Rufus Norris’s post-apocalyptic production felt unmoored and lacklustre in the unforgiving Olivier and now taking up residency at the Barbican, Polly Findlay’s interpretation for the RSC similarly lacks clarity and intent.

There’s plenty of ambition here and it is tempting to see the influence of a certain Dutch auteur (barefeet actors, clocks counting down to deaths…). But the over-riding aspect of Findlay’s direction is its headlong speed as it hurtles through a cut-down version of the text. Too much has been sacrificed here in the name of accessibility with precious little time given to allow emotional beats to play out, for motivations to be understood, the hurly-burly rules. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, RSC at the Barbican”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Katzplace

A youthful and enthusiastic Much Ado About Nothing from Exploding Whale in the Katzpace Studio Theatre in London Bridge

“Is not that strange?”

A new theatre for me is always a treat and one tucked away under a bierkeller even more so (I still don’t know how I resisted some pre-show spätzle to go with my lovely Rosarda beer…). Katzpace has been open for a year in the basement of the wittily named Katzenjammers and it even has its own theatre company in residency – Exploding Whale – who are currently mounting a revival of their 2015 production of Much Ado About Nothing.   

In this quirky little 50 seater studio, a quirky little adaptation emerges, wittily directed by Mischief Theatre’s Ellie Morris. Relocated to a modern office setting, its first half is full of delightful little twists. Office politics in place of military tensions, work parties in place of masquerade balls, and the consequent tangled inter-relationships as suited to strip-lighted open plan rooms as they are to Sicilian sunshine. It’s a surprise they haven’t gone the whole hog and have war break out because someone used the microwave to reheat fish!   Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Katzplace”