Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)

Who needs Shakespeare when you have William Oldroyd and Alice Birch to give us a chillingly excellent Lady Macbeth

“I’d rather stop you breathing than have you doubt how I feel”

Based on the book Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a ferocious debut film and written by Alice Birch (no stranger to theatregoers but also making a feature debut here), it is a remarkably forward-thinking piece for that old hoary chestnut that is the British period drama.

Layering in intersectional notions of race and class, not shying away from domestic abuse and violence, it is probably safe to say it is unlike any other film you’ve seen that is set in 1865 England. Trapped into a stifling marriage with a disinterested man with a domineering father and a dour isolated estate in the North East, Katherine resolves not to let this be the sum total of her life. Continue reading “Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)”

Review: Anatomy of a Suicide, Royal Court

“I’ll stay
I will try to stay
For as long as I possibly can

I promise”

Beautiful yet undeniably brutal, Anatomy of a Suicide has all the shimmering disquiet of a half-remembered dream, a blurred imagining of people, places and things that coalesce into something deeply profound. Constructed by playwright Alice Birch and director Katie Mitchell, it revels in a hugely exciting formal inventiveness (even the playtext is stunning to look at) but is also filled with a repressed emotionality that is often bruising to watch.

The play contains three narrative strands, set in different times, which are performed simultaneously on the same stage. Across the decades from the 1970s to the 2030s, the lives of Carol, Anna and Bonnie play out with strange echoes and motifs recurring until we realise how interconnected they are. Anna is Carol’s daughter, Bonnie is Anna’s and it is more than blood that they share, Birch suggests a shared legacy of severe depression.

It’s an uncomfortable (depressing, even) premise but one which pays rich dividends as it provokes in us something primal, something elemental about the truths and conventions we cling onto. The thought that motherhood isn’t always considered a blessing but a trial, the idea that we can easily outrun familial legacies, the notion that what is so, so good for ourselves isn’t necessarily so great for another. As words and actions trickle down through the ages, reverberating back again, shaping and reshaping these lives, something vastly moving occurs.

Hattie Morahan, Kate O’Flynn and Adelle Leonce are simply stunning as the three generations of women at the heart of this story, each meticulously detailed in their performance and painstakingly accurate in the different ways in which mental illness has hollowed them out. And the way in which the intergenerational echoes pop up is unbearably moving, the precision of Mitchell’s direction in complete service of fully fleshed-out storytelling producing something astonishing, especially in the agonising poignancy of one of the final tableaux. An absolute triumph.

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
Booking until 8th July

Review: Little Light, Orange Tree

“All of life’s tragedies folded up into those briefest of moments where your face will be an abiding memory”

Critics went cock-a-hoop for Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again at the RSC yesterday but my first experience of her writing came with Many Moons at Theatre503 in 2011 and a fantastic one it was too. Little Light, which forms part of Paul Miller’s reinvigorating opening season at the Orange Tree, was actually the first play she ever wrote and directed here by David Mercatali, receives a startling premiere which confirms Birch’s status as one to watch.

Little Light starts strongly as a disturbed domestic drama. There are strains evident in Teddy and Alison’s relationship from the start, as they prepare for a special meal in their seaside converted barn, tension crackling as the rituals they have always observed end up slightly off-kilter. They’re waiting for her sister Clarissa but she arrives heavily pregnant and followed unexpectedly by her bedraggled lover Simon, a further deviation from which the occasion spirals out of control into a vortex of grief-fuelled chaos. Continue reading “Review: Little Light, Orange Tree”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”

Review: Midsummer Mischief A, The Other Place

In the spirit of the mischief for which it is named, my coverage of the two Midsummer Mischief programmes which mark the reopening of Stratford’s The Other Place will be told through the medium of Rupaul’s Drag Race gifs (borrowed with love from here). Now don’t fuck it up.

Four playwrights have been asked to respond to the provocation “well behaved women seldom make history” and in the first double bill, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Ant and the Cicada and Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again take on the challenge.

First things first, The Other Place has been reconstructed on the stage of the Courtyard theatre with some unforgiving, and unforgivable seating.

I mean it is hard-going to say the least and put me in mind of the body-destroying experience of sitting in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It is not good.

But back to the theatre. Wertenbaker’s Greek-set drama strains a little hard to incorporate its multitudinous themes and explore them sufficiently. I’d put this up for elimination no doubt.

But Alice Birch’s piece sparkles with much more eleganza, extravaganza and revolutionary spirit in a fiercely argued set of scenes which look at where feminism is and where it might end up. It represents.

It has all the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent that you could hope for and feels much more successful than the recent Blurred Lines in evoking the urgency of the debate.

So if these two were lip-syncing for their lives, it would most definitely be Alice Birch getting the ‘shantay you stay’ whilst Wertenbaker scrawls on the mirror with her lipstick.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th July and then playing the Royal Court 15th-17thJuly

Review: Many Moons, Theatre503

“I looked into her big big eyes. And found one hundred moons in amongst the blue.”

Set over a hot summer’s day in Stoke Newington, Many Moons is Alice Birch’s debut play showing at the Theatre503 in Battersea. Following four people whose isolated metropolitan existences circle round each other, their stories threatening to collide in the scorching heat of a village fête in Abney Park with potentially devastating effects. Birch is a graduate of new writing schemes at both the National and the Royal Court and with her first full-length production marks herself out as a talent to watch with a highly witty yet poetic play of great maturity and dramatic intrigue.

Edward Franklin’s nervy, nerdy Ollie is a bundle of barely-socialised but still endearing energy as a young man trying to break free from a life of dull Oxford academia and dark matter to try and find something new in London. In the flat next door, Esther Smith’s effervescent Juniper is an irrepressible perma-smiling ball of positivity, newly moved down from the Midlands and unshakeably sure that love and life have great things in store for her. Jonathan Newth’s Robert is preoccupied with caring for his Parkinson’s-suffering wife but he still has deep desires of his own. And in a house across the road, Esther Hall’s heavily-pregnant and unhappily-married Meg is wrestling with her feelings of unfulfilment and channelling her time and energies into dealing with a world of suspicions. Continue reading “Review: Many Moons, Theatre503”