Review: The Iphigenia Quartet, Gate Theatre

“We all make – sacrifices”

And still the Greeks come. The Gate Theatre have taken Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis and asked four playwrights to react to it with short plays from varying viewpoints, giving us The Iphigenia Quartet. Split into two double bills, we thus get Caroline Bird’s Agamemnon and Lulu Raczka’s Clytemnestra, and Suhayla El-Bushra’s Iphigenia and Chris Thorpe’s Chorus, two strong pairings that crack open the Greek tragedy and offer a kaleidoscope of responses.

Such is the enduring resilience of the original that it can take diverse treatments – to wit, the trio of Oresteias that graced British stages last year – and packed into this studio intimacy and seen on the same day (as I saw them) or not, the impact is visceral and considerable. From the raw anguish of Bird’s duelling parents to Raczka’s academic debate spun on its head, from El-Bushra’s family of Marines to Thorpe’s babbling chorus of commenters, the shifting focus is at once enigmatic and entertaining.  Continue reading “Review: The Iphigenia Quartet, Gate Theatre”

Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith

“Your last meal – what would it be?” 

Where shows #1 and #2 of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season maintained complete radio silence about their content (even if certain critics weren’t able to hold off revealing titles at the interval…), it seems that the efforts of keeping things mysterious have gotten a little too much. Secrets are still thrillingly in store for other aspects of the show but clues are being offered for #3 right up front on the website, strongly hinting that the death penalty is something to do with the production.

And so it proves, Caroline Bird’s new play Chamber Piece is an unremittingly dark piece of writing, set in a near-future where capital punishment has been reintroduced to Britain. But Bird wants to look at what happens when it goes wrong, as we witness an execution that doesn’t follow through and the ethical and practical mess that emerges in the aftermath. Can the state try again to kill someone for whom they have a death warrant? Should they? Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith”

2013 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

BEST MALE PERFORMANCE
Jasper Britton in Mother Adam at Jermyn Street 
Louis Maskell in The Fix at Union Theatre
Thomas Coombes in Barbarians at Tooting Arts Club
William Houston in Uncle Vanya at The Print Room

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE 
Aysha Kala in Khadija is 18 at Finborough Theatre
Eileen Atkins in All That Fall at Jermyn Street
Lucy Ellinson in Oh, The Humanity at Soho Theatre
Matti Houghton in Brimstone and Treacle at Arcola Theatre

BEST NEW PLAY
Lot and his God by Howard Barker at The Print Room 
Lungs by Duncan Macmillan by Paines Plough (Shoreditch Town Hall) 
Shivered by Philip Ridley at Southwark Playhouse Continue reading “2013 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: The Trojan Women, Gate Theatre

“A pregnant woman is a Trojan horse”

After Mike Bartlett’s inimitable slant on Euripides in his contemporary version of Medea for Headlong, it is now the turn of poet Caroline Bird to reimagine the world of Ancient Greek tragedy for modern times with her take on the same playwright’s The Trojan Women, directed by the Gate’s own AD Christopher Haydon. Set in the mother and baby ward of a prison in the fallen city of Troy, the mothers, wives and sisters of the destroyed army await their fate as the marauding Greek invaders decide how to divide their spoils of war, chief among them Hecuba, the former queen and Helen, the woman in whose name the Greeks fought their bloody war. (FYI I attended the final preview, courtesy of their bargaintastic Gatecrasher offer).

Bird’s prose clearly has a keen poetic edge, especially in conjuring up the desolation of a defeated nation, and perhaps surprisingly it also opens a vein of bleak humour, at times a blessed relief from the sheer harshness of it all but also sometimes feeling dangerously close to a glibness that feels wrong and best embodied by Jon Foster’s blokey Talthybius who is frequently very close to this line. Lucy Ellinson’s excellent one-woman Chorus negotiates the balancing act with much more skill, her very pregnant tragicomic countrywoman shackled to the bed and thus an unwitting witness to everything, passing incisive comment, asking pertinent questions, bitterly relating the very human toll of the conflict to those normally protected by palace walls. Continue reading “Review: The Trojan Women, Gate Theatre”