Review: Avalanche – A Love Story, Barbican

Maxine Peake is magisterial at the Barbican in this heart-breaking monologue Avalanche – A Love Story

“Is any of this connecting with you?”

I could listen to Maxine Peake read the phone book. A voice so full of warmth and character and unexpected texture, it somehow allows you to both sink into its soothing depths yet retain the capacity to catch you off-guard at any given moment.

That dual capacity is powerfully deployed in Avalanche – A Love Story, Julia Leigh’s adaptation of her own memoir about her experiences in going through IVF. Over a 90 minute running time that simply flies by, Peake fills the stage of the Barbican magnificently.  Continue reading “Review: Avalanche – A Love Story, Barbican”

Review: Medea, Barbican

The incomparable Marieke Heebink astonishes in Simon Stone and ITA-ensemble’s production of Medea at the Barbican Theatre

“I remember us
That’s that I do now”

I first saw Simon Stone’s Medea in Amsterdam, in Dutch, without surtitles, and it was a revelatory experience which has lingered long in my memory as one of the best classical adaptations I’ve ever seen. So the chance to revisit it at the Barbican, once again anchored by the incomparable Marieke Heebink in Bob Cousins’ stunning design was unmissable.

And it did not disappoint in its ferocious retelling of Euripides’ classic, as Stone makes it feel urgent and chilling and all-too-appalling believable in its depiction of a woman pushed to the edge. Poleaxed by the revelation of her husband’s affair with his boss’s daughter, her extreme actions saw her committed to a psychiatric institution. A year later on her release, she craves a fresh start but finds the world has moved on without her. Continue reading “Review: Medea, Barbican”

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 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

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”

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: After The Rehearsal / Persona, Barbican

“Als ik, heel even maar desnoods, mijn masker zou afzetten en zou zeggen wat ik voelde of dacht, zouden jullie je razernij tegen mij keren”
 

Toneelgroep Amsterdam have made the Barbican their base pretty much every time they’ve visited London, so it was little surprise that is where their 2017 residency was announced. We say residency, the peripatetic nature and ferocious workrate of this Dutch company meaning that it contained three shows spread over six months (Roman Tragedies, Obsession, and this Ingmar Bergman double bill) all of which have managed to provoke strong opinions.

I’d be fascinated to know the reason behind choosing After The Rehearsal / Persona out of all of the shows in their considerable repertory (it also tours to Santiago, Chile and Washington DC). Created in 2012, it brings together two pieces written for the screen by the Swede into a long haul of an evening, close to three hours of occasionally impenetrable Swedish existential angst. It contains some of the directorial flourish that has made van Hove’s name, plus it stars the remarkable Marieke Heebink but there’s no denying I found it a challenge.  Continue reading “Review: After The Rehearsal / Persona, Barbican”

Review: Obsession, Barbican

 

“There’s more to this magical life than the love of the ladies”

It has been impossible to ignore the reception of Ivo van Hove’s Obsession, the slight sense of glee (from some) at being able to dole out a critical drubbing to the feted director. And so I went into the Barbican with a slight sense of defensiveness – I’m only human after all – albeit with the knowledge that no-one is infallible. And whilst Obsession isn’t necessarily van Hove at his best (and lord know we’ve been spoiled there), it still makes for a fascinating piece of theatre.

Based on Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film, adapted by Jan Peter Gerrits and crucially, having its English version written by Simon Stephens, this is an altogether more abstract and expressionist affair than perhaps some were expecting. A tale of sex and murder, whose muscularity and moodiness sprawls over the vast stage with stylish languour, there’s a brooding beauty to the intensity here, captured excellently by two striking lead performances from Jude Law and Halina Reijn. Continue reading “Review: Obsession, Barbican”

Notes on a second viewing of Roman Tragedies

“I arm myself with patience and await the higher powers”

Whilst sitting in the audience for Roman Tragedies on Friday night and before it had even finished, I took advantage of the free wifi and booked myself into Sunday’s show, knowing I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see this most extraordinary of shows again. And instead of writing another review in which I’d just end up repeating myself, I thought I’d just jot down some of the thoughts that came to me both whilst rewatching and on reflection afterwards. Continue reading “Notes on a second viewing of Roman Tragedies”