Review: Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack

“The art of investigation is…um…freeform”

God, Russia, booze, ghosts, vomit, legacies, tables, blood, metal, tears, redemption, hatred, cruelty, love, sex – the programme notes couldn’t capture Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment any more succinctly if it tried. So it is remarkable then, that in Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’s 90 minutes-straight through adaptation presented here by Arrows & Traps, there’s a second distillation of the Russian epic that similarly captures so much of what has made it an enduring literary classic.

This it does by fashioning something new, something theatrical, out of the narrative. You could while away the hours pointing out what has been ‘missed out’ from the book but at over 600 pages long, your bum will be thanking you for exactly that. For it speaks to what makes a good adaptation, a version that is canny enough not to attempt to slavishly recreate every detail of every page, but rather embody something that is undeniably of its spirit but takes a bold step or two of its own as well. Continue reading “Review: Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack”

Review: Othello, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“O god that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”

Playing in rep with Twelfth Night at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre, Arrows and Traps’ Othello sees them take a slightly different approach to the tragedy, one which is closer to the way in which they reimagined Macbeth earlier this year. Modernised and musicalised, Will Pinchin’s movement plays a key role in the elegant tenor of Ross McGregor’s visually stimulating production.

Much less of an ensemble show than Twelfth Night, Othello offers an interesting contrast in featuring leading performances, even if they are somewhat uneven. Spencer Lee Osborne’s Othello is fascinatingly insecure which offers a route into his emotional journey, if not quite convincing that he could ever become a general. And Pippa Caddick’s Desdemona responds well to this intensity, playing up her innocence but never cloyingly so. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

Review: Twelfth Night, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“If music be the food of love then play on”

It may be music that feeds love according to Shakespeare but it is lust that drives Arrow and Traps’ interesting production of Twelfth Night, playing in rep with Othello at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre in Highgate. Sebastian and Antonio have been shagging for three months, Feste is pining for Maria, Olivia’s loins are thrustingly on fire for Cesario, Orsino and Cesario all but do it on the bed and on the floor – what country friends is this? Well it’s a most libidinous Illyria.

Ross McGregor’s production thus puts sex firmly on the table, a bold move and one which pays off in the first half, upping the stakes in familiar relationships and teasing insights into lesser explored ones. So whilst it is no surprise that Olivia and Orsino want to get laid, it’s good to see it acknowledged so explicitly for once. But it’s also intriguing to see the depth of Malvolio’s feelings for Olivia as shown here and to consider the dynamics of a homosexual relationship between Sebastian and Antonio. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”

Review: Macbeth, New Wimbledon Studio

“Who could refrain that had a heart to love”

Theatre company Arrows & Traps came belatedly onto my radar with their rather stunning rendition of Anna Karenina earlier this year so I was keen to check out what they’d do next, which turned out to be Macbeth in the similar black box space of the New Wimbledon’s Studio. Adapted and directed by Ross McGregor, this modern Macbeth continually builds on its interesting choices to deliver a final 10 minute sequence that is as achingly affecting as any version of the play I’ve ever seen.

And they are strong choices for the most part too. Arrows & Traps’ commitment to gender equality sees them offer up a company that has 6 women to 5 men, casually flipping Duncan (Jean Apps) and Banquo (an excellently badass Becky Black) into female roles and having the witches double up as murderers and soldiers. In some ways its a small thing but in others, it still feels radical; as pointed out, majority-female fight scenes as those seen here are few and far between.  Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, New Wimbledon Studio”

Review: Anna Karenina, Brockley Jack

“What happens if you can’t stop?”

Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Anna Karenina really is a clever thing. Taking the huge scale of Tolstoy’s Russian epic novel and translating it into something genuinely theatrical, and new, is no mean feat. Last seen in London at the Arcola (where I think I underestimated it a tad), Arrow & Traps Theatre Company have brought it to the intimacy of Brockley Jack’s black box studio and it’s an impressively mounted production. 

Edmundson’s major innovation is to reframe the story as an existential conversation between its two main characters Anna and Levin, whose lives are inextricably interlinked through their family connections (she’s his sister-in-law’s sister-in-law, I think) but actually only ever intersect once. Thus they relate tales of their experiences while debating faith and freedom, responsibility and love, what it means to really live. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Brockley Jack”