Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Tartuffe, National Theatre

Denis O’Hare shines as Tartuffe in Blanche McIntyre’s directorial debut at the National Theatre

“We don’t have orgies here, this is Highgate”

The lure of the guru is one which has always been strong for the rich and powerful and from Rasputin to Steve Hilton, there’s always some long-haired, barefoot chancer to ready step in. This partly explains why Molière’s Tartuffe remains so popular today and also why it is so ripe for adaptation, as it done here in this new version by John Donnelly, directed by Blanche McIntyre in her National Theatre debut (and how to marvellous to see her here, I’ve been a fan since her days at the Finborough).

Relocated to a hyper-rich, modern-day Highgate – Robert Jones’ opulent design is full of the type of wonderful pieces of furniture you normally only see in shop windows on the King’s Road – Orgon’s family have become concerned at his increasing devotion to his new guru figure Tartuffe. And in Denis O’Hare’s hand, you can see why – he’s quite the charismatic chancer, he spends the pre-show roaming the auditorium giving out flowers and affirmations even though it may, at first glance, just look like someone has come in off the street. Continue reading “Review: Tartuffe, National Theatre”

Review: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre

Strong performances from Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane make the challenging When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other worth the effort at the National Theatre

“A woman would never say that
‘A woman did just say it'”

It is bracingly refreshing to see the kind of artistic decisions that drive Cate Blanchett’s theatrical career, so often complex, contemporary takes on classic work which show a performer never content to rest on her laurels. Which leads us to her National Theatre debut in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – 12 Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, written and directed respectively by noted iconoclasts Martin Crimp and Katie Mitchell. 

And as such, it certainly is something of a challenge. Played for its two hours without interval, Blanchett and co-star Stephen Dillane act out a series of psychosexual, sado-masochistic role-playing games and that’s about it. There’s strap-ons and shaving foam, backseat shenanigans and boxes of cherries, and an untold amount of portentous chat which sometimes, sometimes, sears through to the soul. Continue reading “Review: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre”

Review: The Tell-Tale Heart, National Theatre

Edgar Allan Poe via Anthony Neilson might not seem the typical recipe for your festive fare but The Tell-Tale Heart proves a gory and gothic delight

“I will do anything to make you happy”

Edgar Allan Poe via Anthony Neilson might not seem the typical recipe for your festive fare but The Tell-Tale Heart proves a gory and gothic delight. Marking Neilson’s National Theatre debut, it is a typically free-wheeling affair, a playfully post-modern take on Poe.

The Writer wins a major playwriting award but declines it publicly and to escape the outrage caused, decamps to Brighton to write her second play. She’s looked after there by a delightfully offbeat Landlady who, while she keeps half her face hidden with a mask, opens up her heart and home.  Continue reading “Review: The Tell-Tale Heart, National Theatre”

Review: Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios

The first play by a black British female playwright to make it into the West End is an absolute corker in Nine Night booking now at the Trafalgar Studios

“Breast milk at nine months?
Poor thing must be longing for a nice piece of chicken”

One day – you hope – we won’t have to comment on such things, but not now, not yet. So we celebrate the fact that Nine Night is the first play by a black British female playwright to make it into the West End, as Natasha Gordon’s debut play makes the move from the National’s smallest space in the Dorfman Theatre to the Trafalgar Studios in one giant leap.

And it does so with a wonderful, well-earned sense of confidence that ought to see the play thrive. I adored it in its run at the National Theatre (where I even predicted the West End transfer) and Roy Alexander Weise’s production has lost none of its power here. Indeed it has even gained some, as Gordon now joins the cast replacing Franc Ashman as Lorraine. Continue reading “Review: Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Hadestown, National Theatre

Way down in Hadestown at the National Theatre is one of the best musicals of the year

“Damned if you don’t. Damned if you do.
Whole damn nation’s watching you”

I loved Hadestown so much that I had booked to see it for a second time before I even got home from the first. Read more about that trip here, including me trying the National’s new smart caption glasses, and read on for a review that focuses properly on Anaïs Mitchell’s brilliant musical here. An adaptation of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, developed with director Rachel Chavkin, it riffs on the myth by relocating the action to a dive bar in the Deep South and redefines hell for our capitalist age. And they fill the Olivier with music, such music, that transforms Hadestown into the kind of experience that lingers long in the mind. 

Mitchell’s score succeeds so much because it establishes such an identity for itself that it dares you not to be seduced into the world of the gods, or at least New Orleans. At its best, its simply elemental – ‘Way Down Hadestown’ has the kind of tune that sounds like it has always existed and will not quit your brain anytime soon. And as you collect the influences – hints of Jason Robert Brown on ‘All I’ve Ever Known’, the Johnny Cash-esque call and response of ‘Why We Build The Wall’, the straight up musical theatre emotion of ‘Wait For Me”s chorus, to name but a few – you realise a new form of Americana has evolved here. Continue reading “Review: Hadestown, National Theatre”

Review: Hadestown, via smart caption glasses at the National Theatre

I try out the new smart caption glasses while watching Hadestown at the National Theatre and am blown away both by the show and the frankly amazing technology 

Eurydice knew how to survive
Orpheus…knew how to live”

The exceedingly kind folk of the National Theatre allowed me to go and see Hadestown a few days after the press night, as I was most keen to have a try of the Smart Caption Glasses which were brought into circulation on Friday. Acclaimed as “a revolutionary new way for people with hearing loss to enjoy performance”, for once the blurb more than lives up to its billing as I found them to be truly innovative and potentially life-changingly good. 

Without wishing to open a whole can of worms about access and diversity within the critical community, it has to be said that as a (deaf) reviewer, I never get to go to captioned performances. If and when they’re scheduled, the timetables just don’t allow for it, so – as in most of my daily life – I make do. I hear what I hear and guess the rest. So the idea of this facility becoming available was one I was most keen to investigate at the earliest opportunity.  Continue reading “Review: Hadestown, via smart caption glasses at the National Theatre”

Review: Stories, National Theatre

Sam Troughton and Claudie Blakley are excellent in Nina Raine’s new play Stories at the Dorfman in the National Theatre

“This isn’t crowdfunding”

What a difference a few years makes: at 35, Bobbie hasn’t decided on pretty much anything in her life; at 39 however, Anna is resolute that she wants to make big changes in her life. Specifically, in the aftermath of a messy break-up with someone who didn’t want one, she’s determined to become a mother. Such is the world of Nina Raine’s new play Stories and as with Company, there’s so much more layered in here than the headlines might suggest. 

The focus does indeed first seem to be on fertility, as Claudie Blakley’s Anna debates, with her family, the ethics of sourcing sperm donors online and then rifles through her little black book to see if any of her exes would be up for donating a few of their best swimmers. But the scope is always wider than that, probing at the stories we are told stretching from bedtimes tales to the societal myths that we are sold and what that does to a mindset over the years. Continue reading “Review: Stories, National Theatre”

Review: I’m Not Running, National Theatre

Not even the excellent Siân Brooke can do much to save David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running at the National Theatre for me

“Jesus says don’t get too fond of anything because one day you’re going to lose it”

I’m Not Running is David Hare’s 17th new play to be presented at the National Theatre but for a playwright known for espousing the state of the nation in his work, there’s a frustrating vagueness that leaves him feeling just a little out of touch. Perhaps real-life events overtook him but for a play about contemporary left-wing politics in the UK, there’s little here that rings with profound resonance.

Rather, there’s a story about a woman, a doctor, swept up into the world of politics when her heading of a campaign to save a local hospital from closure springboards her into winning a seat as a single-issue MP. And it’s not long before she’s ostensibly lured by the prospect of becoming the Labour Party’s first female leader, an issue complicated by the presence of an old boyfriend high in the party ranks. Continue reading “Review: I’m Not Running, National Theatre”

News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference

All sorts of goodies were announced today for the upcoming slate of productions at the National Theatre, including Small Island, Peter Gynt, and Top Girls 

Olivier Theatre

Small Island, a new play adapted by Helen Edmundson from Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning bestselling novel, will open in the Olivier Theatre in May. Directed by Rufus Norris, the play journeys from Jamaica to Britain through the Second World War to 1948, the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Small Island follows the intricately connected stories of Hortense, newly arrived in London, landlady Queenie and servicemen Gilbert and Bernard. Hope and humanity meet stubborn reality as, with epic sweep, the play uncovers the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK. Hundreds of tickets for every performance available at £15. Small Island will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as part of NT Live. Continue reading “News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference”