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”

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre

Antony and Cleopatra is a lengthy evening at the National Theatre but one which pays rich rewards, particularly in Sophie Okonedo’s majestic performance

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me”

Or Cleopatra and Antony as it turns out. Ralph Fiennes is plenty good in Simon Godwin’s modern-dress production of Antony and Cleopatra for the National Theatre, but Sophie Okonedo is sit-up, shut-up, stand-up amazing as she holds the ancient world and the entirety of the Olivier Theatre in her hand (and then wipes it clean with a look of disdain, as she wittily does after a messenger slobbers kisses all over it at one point). It is often acclaimed as one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles for women but an actor still has to do great things with it and here, Okonedo more than delivers.

In the opulent cerulean blue of Hildegard Bechtler’s design with its sunken pools and luxury, and in the magnificent array of statuesque costumes by Evie Gurney (such capes!!), her Cleopatra is a figure of immense poise. Even in her most capricious moments, there’s a knowing, performative quality to her that demonstrates just how much she’s controlling the narrative here, even when left alone by her Antony. And when together, there’s a palpable, mature connection between them – made all the more tragic by a prologue that presents a tableau of the final scene – their destinies entwining even as they’re increasingly doomed. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre”

Review: Pericles, National Theatre

Combining with the joyous feel of carnival with the sincerity of the most serious of dramas, this musical  Pericles proves a heart-lifting triumph at the National Theatre for their Public Acts programme

“Pericles likes to play
Pericles likes to woo
Pericles never pauses to think things through”

What is a national theatre for? You’d be forgiven for answering ‘complaining about’ given the amount of sniping regularly aimed at the institution. But with the launch of Public Acts, the National Theatre’s new national initiative, you feel that they’ve alighted on the answer. The desire to “create extraordinary acts of theatre and community” by collaborating with a range of organisations whose community reach is second to none, the first result of which is this production of Pericles which brings over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier Theatre.

Emily Lim’s production is thus a huge endeavour but one whose heart swells effortlessly to accommodate the full scope of its representation. The choice of Pericles is a canny one and Chris Bush’s adaptation loses none of its essentially random character, the introduction of music from Jim Fortune further democratising it and adding opportunities for participation. So as the titular Prince of Tyre is forced on a character-building journey for the ages, Tarsus becomes a land of kazoos and cheerleaders, Pentapolis rain macs and wry humour (“it’s a man-fish” ‘or a fish-man, it’s unclear’), Mytilene a party island presided over by a drag queen.  Continue reading “Review: Pericles, National Theatre”

Review: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre

Katharine Parkinson is simply superb in Laura Wade’s excellent new play Home, I’m Darling at the National Theatre

“That’s what a feminist looks like?”

What price a domestic goddess? When the chance of voluntary redundancy came up, finance worker Judy took it and with her husband Johnny, chose to indulge their mutual passion for all things 1950s by becoming a period-perfect housewife. She’s soon whipping up devilled eggs and chocolate chiffon cakes to have dinner on the table when he gets in, running his baths, pouring his drinks, getting his slippers, an idyllic picture of what marriage used to be like.

But pictures can conceal the truth and as Judy decants supermarket-bought milk into glass bottles, shoves letters into the cupboard under the sink and fixes a rictus grin on her face, it isn’t clear that picture-perfect doesn’t exist. Such is the world of Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling, a co-production between Theatr Clywd and the National Theatre, which probes incisively away at domestic politics, female choice and the wisdom of gin and lime. Continue reading “Review: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre”