Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

Review: Home, I’m Darling, Duke of York’s Theatre

A return visit to Home, I’m Darling at the Duke of York’s Theatre just confirms how good a play this is and how exceptional Katherine Parkinson is

“You’re 38 and like cleaning behind cupboards”

I don’t think she’ll win but I reckon Katherine Parkinson deserves the Best Actress in a Play Olivier just for the way that she holds her head. The first act in particular is an absolute delight as she tells us crystal clear exactly how she is feeling just by the angle at which it is tilted – cringing at bad language, sussing out competition for her husband’s attention, listening to her mother…   

Parkinson is far from the only reason to book for Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling, maintaining the National’s track record of leveraging sell-out runs in the Dorfman into West End transfers (Beginning, Nine Night…).  Anna Fleischle’s design is a thing of wonder (and I liked getting to see it from above from the upper circle here as opposed to the Dorfman’s stalls) and every single detail is perfectly observed, right down to the milk bottle tops. Continue reading “Review: Home, I’m Darling, Duke of York’s Theatre”

Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”

The 2018 Ian Charleson Awards nominees announced

I remain unconvinced we should be rewarding classical roles over the breadth of the theatre out there but hey ho, it’s not my award! A good selection of performances nominated here nonetheless – winner to be announced in May.

Daniel Burke for Diomed in Troilus and Cressida at RSC
Bally Gill for Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at the RSC
Heledd Gwynn for Katharine and Dauphin in Henry V by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory 
Tyrone Huntley for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Watermill, Newbury
Martins Imhangbe for Bagot and Aumerle in Richard II at the Almeida
Toheeb Jimoh for Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Crucible
Hannah Morrish for Octavia in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre
Luke Newberry for Malcolm in Macbeth at the RSC
Aaron Pierre for Cassio in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe
Ellora Torchia for Emilia in Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe
Helena Wilson for Mariana in Measure for Measure at the Donmar Warehouse

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”