Review: Yerma, Young Vic

“We used to have a life. 
We have each other and my empty womb”

It’s Yerma yes, but not as you know it. Australian auteur Simon Stone (best known in the UK for The Wild Duck but whose Medea in Amsterdam was just masterful) has revised, reshaped, rewritten Lorca’s 1934 tragic poem into an all-too-contemporary lament that throbs with the painful intensity of Billie Piper’s stunning performance here at the Young Vic.

Encased in a glass box, the audience in traverse (designer Lizzie Clachan doing some extraordinary work), Piper plays Her, a woman in her mid-30s with a successful career as a blogger (I KNOW!) and happily married to the slightly older John. As the societal narrative goes, they buy a house and then decide to start a family but despite the fecundity of those around them, they struggle to conceive. Continue reading “Review: Yerma, Young Vic”

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”

Review: Reptember – Triple Bill A, New Diorama

“Can we discuss what makes great art”

The Faction theatre company have now become well established with their yearly rep season at the New Diorama so it was something of a pleasant surprise to see them pop up with something extra – Reptember, another rep season but this time made up of single-person shows. Over the next few weeks, they’re presenting three diverse triple bills, featuring new adaptations of some well-known works as writers and actors alike put a Faction-able spin on the world of solo performance. It’s a challenging evening to be sure, closer to three hours than two, but there’s wonderful variety within the programme as the three performances inhabit completely different aesthetics.

First up is Kate Sawyer and Rachel Valentine Smith’s modern take on Lorca’s Duende, an “interactive lecture” on the profound forces that drive the soul of true artists. Its presentation (acted by Sawyer, directed by Smith) is ingeniously conceived and comes as a marvellous surprise. Suffice to say, it demands an expressively physical performance from Sawyer and she fully delivers, vividly entertaining but with a tragicomic note that blooms beautifully late on. Lorca may not have referenced Penélope Cruz, Simon Cowell or Nick Cave directly in his work but the updating is beautifully done and makes great artistic sense. Continue reading “Review: Reptember – Triple Bill A, New Diorama”

Radio review: Blood Wedding

“You have already thrown me away”

Ted Hughes’ reworking of Blood Wedding first aired in 2008 and won awards that year. It was re-broadcast as part of Radio 3’s season covering Lorca’s Rural Trilogy – this play, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Productions of Lorca’s work often search for the elusive spirit of the duende, that magical ingredient that brings out the chills, and that is markedly present here due to Pauline Harris’ astute direction. 

Rather than try and create a taste of Spain, Hughes and Harris focus on the rural, evoking the timeless spirit of folkloric traditions that transcends nations. So the tale of two feuding families, locked in a death spiral of conflict even as they celebrate a marriage that should be uniting their houses, could be anywhere, not just the Almerian mountains where Lorca set it, and a multitude of British accents thus don’t sound out of place. Continue reading “Radio review: Blood Wedding”

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba (Radio 2014/ DVD 1991)

 “To be born a woman is the worst punishment” 

The ominous funeral bell tolling throughout the opening of this Radio 3 version of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba is a brilliant scene setter, and a telling reminder that so much of the world of this play is actually only ever heard making it ideal for radio adaptation. Fearsome matriarch Bernarda Alba has declared eight years of mourning after the death of her second husband and orders her daughters to remain barricaded inside the family home with her. The younger women bristle at the restraint, especially as the sounds of the world beyond their gate let them know what they’re missing, and the family trait for stubbornness proves enduringly tragic. 

Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata’s translation sacrifices little of Lorca’s striking poetic imagery but impressively manages to keep a convincing colloquiality to the speech. It helps of course to have a strong cast – Siân Thomas’ Bernarda prickles with venom, Brigit Forsyth’s kindly housekeeper Poncia is achingly good and Kate Coogan and Elaine Cassidy as the oldest and youngest daughters battle excellently for the hand of a man and more importantly, for the freedom it represents.  Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba (Radio 2014/ DVD 1991)”

Review: Bloedbruiloft, Frascati

“Dingen die zo diep aankomen die krijgt geen mens eruit”

I knew that the main show I booked for my stay in Amsterdam would be surtitled in English but in the hunt for something to do the night before, I couldn’t help but be a little adventurous (crazy) and book for a piece of Dutch theatre in Dutch in the Netherlands. So I went for Bloedbruiloft (Blood Wedding) as it’s a play I know and was being produced by the new directors scheme at Toneelgroep Amsterdam. Plus the thought of seeing a piece of theatre entirely in a foreign language had a definite thrill about it, and one which was borne out in some of the most exciting, crazy, intense theatre I’ve seen all year. 

It is just an extraordinary reworking (tekstbewerking being the fabulous Dutch word for adaptation) of the text that takes the frame of Lorca’s writing but utterly shifts the context. The focus falls squarely on the family, the community of people in this village and the intensity of emotion it provokes between its inhabitants – whether the mother and her beloved son, or his intended bride and the forbidden fruit that is neighbour Leonardo. This approach also plays up when these relationships are inequal – the disdain between Leonardo and his devoted and constantly fretting wife, the fatal mismatch between bridegroom and bride. Continue reading “Review: Bloedbruiloft, Frascati”

Review: Blood Wedding, Courtyard Theatre

“There’ll be blood again”

Lorca’s writing is suffused with the heat and passion of his Spanish homeland and his 1932 play Blood Wedding is one of his most famous and oft-performed works. Aria Entertainment’s production uses Tanya Ronder’s recent translation but director Bronagh Lagan often struggles to combine the lyrical poetry and brutal realities of this play, introducing a too-wide range of elements that crowd the essential simplicity of the story.

The show is at its best when it allows simple but striking images to emerge – Miles Yekinni’s Death – a presence haunting the action from the off – appearing unexpectedly from behind a door; the true desire of the Bride breaking free in the middle of a densely choreographed wedding dance; the erect pride with which the Mother conducts herself at all times. And in these moments , this tragic tale of love and betrayal captures the right level of magic realism. 

Continue reading “Review: Blood Wedding, Courtyard Theatre”

Review: Blood Wedding, New Diorama

“They washed their hands of blood”

The world of Lorca is naturally imbued with the essence of his native Andalusia, the aching sense of duende that characterises much of his work and at first sight, The Faction’s version of Blood Wedding inhabits a similar realm. Martin Dewar’s lighting casts a warmly Mediterranean haze, guitar strings are plucked from afar and the design is stripped back to a border of sand around the edge of the New Diorama’s stage which has been reconfigured into the round. And in the earthen tones of the costumes, the Cassandra-like Mother foretells a tale of woe between two long-feuding families which are soon to be joined in matrimony in an attempt to force a happy ending.

But the heady scent of sexual desire lingers between the wrong people, vengeance lies heavy in the air and there’s a price that must be paid as fate winds its unwieldy way across all concerned. And in their ensemble-led physicality, The Faction – directed here by Rachel Valentine Smith – cultivate the sense of hermetically-sealed community in all its inescapable oppressiveness, ever-present observers from the sidelines and participants in the rituals of marriage. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle, lead performances come shining through. Continue reading “Review: Blood Wedding, New Diorama”

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, Almeida

“They are women without men, that’s all”

The list of actresses whom I adore is forever growing and changing but certain women remain constant on it, and one of them – who I never thought I would get to see on stage – is Shohreh Aghdashloo. She completely broke my heart in the film House of Sand and Fog (for which she was Oscar-nominated) and then toyed with our loyalties with a brilliant duplicitous turn in series 4 of 24. So when she was announced as taken on the titular role in the Almeida’s new version of The House of Bernarda Alba, I was ecstatic.

Emily Mann’s adaptation relocates Lorca’s Spanish story to rural Iran and changes a few of the names, but largely keeps the architecture of the play intact (although compressed into 95 minutes here). It is a relocation which is extremely successful, the oppression and repression of female sexuality sadly fitting in as easily here as in Catholic Spain and class issues are common across the world, making this a powerfully affecting, beautifully staged and haunting production that lived up to my every expectation. Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, Almeida”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”