Review: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre

Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya featuring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage at the Harold Pinter Theatre is so good you can forgive the “wanging on”

“I mean what I mean when I say what I say”

Above everything, the thing that stands out most about Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Chekhov’s evergreen Uncle Vanya is his use of the phrase “wanging on”, twice. It’s such a random thing but it rings out like a bell, both times, more so than any of the usages of contemporary language that pepper the script. Running it a close second though, is just how vital and vibrant Ian Rickson’s production proves.

From stacking his cast with real, proper talent (imagine your bit players being of the ilk of Anna Calder-Marshall, Peter Wight and Dearbhla Molloy) to reuniting with Rosmersholm designer Rae Smith, this is a finely tuned piece of theatre which ultimately, doesn’t do too much that is radical (though the fourth wall breaking-bits are smashing), but rather distils its Chekhovian spirit just so. Or maybe that it’s the first production of the play I’ve seen since turning 40 and its midlife crises suddenly have new resonance…! Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre”

My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

Review: Three Sisters, National Theatre

Inua Ellams’ relocation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters to the Biafran Civil War proves devastatingly effective at the National Theatre

“I don’t understand all this suffering…when we die we will find out but I wish we knew now”

A cracking cast heralds the return of Uncle Vanya to the West End early next year but even with Conor McPherson and Ian Rickson on adaptation and directorial duties respectively, it’s hard to get too excited about what – on the face of it – looks to be a fairly conventional interpretation (I could well be proven wrong, and hope I am…). For me, there’s something much more appealing, and thrilling, about people willing to grab Chekhov by the scruff of the neck and yank him way out of the familiar. Robert Icke and Simon McBurney replanting The Cherry Orchard in the Netherlands, or Inua Ellams and Nadia Fall relocating Three Sisters to 1960s Nigeria.

In the latter case, the result is a challenging but exhilarating reworking, set against the backdrop of the Biafran Civil War but retaining much of the Chekhovian structure, so that we feel the weight of all the tragedy that has to come. The skill of Ellams’ writing – this is dubbed a new play, after Chekhov – is knowing when to dovetail with his source material and when to allow his own choices to flourish, bringing with them a raft of glinting surprises that break through the familiarity (that some of us have). Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, National Theatre”

Review: De Kersentuin, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

Of course a British director doing Tsjechov in the Netherlands makes The Cherry Orchard as watchable as it has ever been – Internationaal Theater Amsterdam’s De Kersentuin proves a real success

“Als ie echt verkocht moet worden verkoop mij er dan bij”

It’s not often that Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival make their way into Chekhov but it is precisely this kind of refreshing approach that makes this production feel so alive in a way that is rarely achieved (in the UK at least). So it is somewhat perverse that it is a British director responsible, as Simon McBurney directs Internationaal Theater Amsterdam in De Kersentuin, in an adaptation by Robert Icke.

Shifted to the Netherlands in the 1970s, a real sense of liberation permeates the production, and crucial details shine anew to substantively alter the emotional palette. I’ve never felt the presence of Amanda’s drowned son so strongly, which really makes you consider her feelings towards her former home. And as Miriam Buether’s design discards conventional representation, the focus falls as much on the relations of people as it does on property. Continue reading “Review: De Kersentuin, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam”

July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020

So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.

Olivier Theatre 

Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years.  Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”

Review: Three Sisters, Brockley Jack

The ever-inventive Arrows and Traps company return to the Brockley Jack Theatre with a beautifully acted interpretation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters

“We know too much”

Now in their fifth year, Arrows and Traps have been building quite the reputation as a shining example of how to do fringe theatre. Cultivating relationships with theatres (they’re once more at the Brockley Jack) and creatives (beyond notions of repertory, it is pleasing to see familiar names pop up in production after production and not just as actors) and above all, producing theatre that people want to see. 

And Chekhov’s Three Sisters, presented here in a new version by Ross McGregor, continues that strong tradition, paring back the starch to locate a real emotional directness to the trials of the Prozorov sisters. Trapped in the cultural desert of the provinces, far from the beloved Moscow of their childhood, the rise and fall of their hopes and dreams are traced over four crucial years. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Brockley Jack”

Full cast announced for Michael Boyd’s The Cherry Orchard

Cherry Orchard Bristol Old Vic with Kirsty Bushell and Jude Owusu

Full casting for Michael Boyd’s much anticipated production of The Cherry Orchard is announced today as rehearsals begin for the Bristol Old Vic and Royal Exchange Theatre co-production. Rory Mullarkey’s brand-new translation will be directed by Boyd, celebrated former Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Having studied Russian and trained as a director in Moscow, extraordinarily, he will be directing Chekhov – the literary love of his life – for the first time. Continue reading “Full cast announced for Michael Boyd’s The Cherry Orchard”