September theatre round-up

A quick round-up of the rest of September’s shows

Mary Said What She Said, aka how far I will go for Isabelle Huppert
The Provoked Wife, aka how far I will go for Alexandra Gilbreath
A Doll’s House, aka if we must have more Ibsen, at least it is like this
Falsettos, aka finding the right way, for me, to respond
The Comedy Grotto, aka a sneaky peak at Joseph Morpurgo
The Life I Lead, aka something really rather sweet
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, aka well why not go again Continue reading “September theatre round-up”

Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre

Neil Austin’s lighting design in Rosmersholm at the Duke of York’s Theatre is a thing of beauty and Hayley Atwell is excellent but Ibsen is still Ibsen…

“You see, this is what happens when the general public becomes engaged in politics — they get duped into voting against their own interests”

Chances are if Helen McCrory can’t make me like a play, then few others will be able too either. I first saw Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm with Anthony Page’s production for the Almeida which was…eek…more than 10 years ago now. It didn’t click with me then and in the assured hands of Ian Rickson here, it still leaves me cold. 

You do have to admire the bravado of producer Sonia Friedman, opening a play like this cold into the West End without resorting to any hint of stunt casting.And creatively, this is a triumph. Neil Austin’s hauntingly perfect lighting of Rae Smith’s austerely grand designs is a thing of pure beauty as it evolves throughout the show. Continue reading “Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre”

Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre

Robert Icke adapts Ibsen to create a vividly powerful The Wild Duck at the Almeida – stunning work

Henrik Ibsen wrote The Wild Duck in 1884

The Wild Duck may be a nineteenth century play but this is most definitely at twenty-first century adaptation, Robert Icke continuing his astonishing strike-rate of Almeida successes with yet another. This time it is Ibsen under the microscope but a mark of Icke’s seemingly endless invention is that his approach here repeats little of what he’s done before.

So a scalpel-sharp play about truth and lies becomes refracted through the truth and lies in Ibsen’s own life, the parallels between his own illegitimate issue and Hedwig’s situation brought into the light. The first half sees this done through meta-theatrical interjections, house lights up and actors commenting on the action as much as acting itself.  Continue reading “Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre”

Review: Ibsenhuis, Stadsschouwberg Amsterdam

“Hollanders bouwen altijd in baksteen”

Simon Stone’s track-record with Ibsen is strong – his adaptation of The Wild Duck was extraordinarily powerful – and so despite my normal reservations with this playwright, I happily booked myself in for his Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam. The play is a new piece of writing but one which takes minor characters from a range of the Norwegian’s dramas and puts them into their own new ensemble, set in the house that Solness built for Hilde Wangel in The Master Builder.

So over three generations, from the 60s to the current day, new cycles of Ibsen-esque family drama play out – lies and loneliness, isolation and infidelity, passion and pain, all the pain of loving and being loved. It’s a dizzying combination, literally so as Lizzie Clachan’s set spins on its axis, and as the shattered narrative is presented to us in fragments. Visually it is clever, especially as it allows for the smoothest of scene changes to be almost cinematically imposed as the focus slides from room to room. Continue reading “Review: Ibsenhuis, Stadsschouwberg Amsterdam”

Production shots for Ibsen Huis

“Moeten we hier als op de Wallen in lingerie gaan zitten?”

Time pressures (and priorities) being what they are, when one is on holiday celebrating one’s birthday, my review of Simon Stone’s Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam won’t be ready for a couple of days. So in the meantime, follow the lovely Hans Kesting’s gaze past the break and feast your eyes on some of the production photos from Jan Versweyveld.

(c) Henri Verhoef
 

Continue reading “Production shots for Ibsen Huis”

Review: Hedda Gabler, National

“I’ve never felt at home”

With Hedda Gabler, the ever prolific Ivo van Hove is making his National Theatre debut, so you can forgive him returning to a production which he has launched twice before – with the exceptional Dutch actress Halina Reijn in Amsterdam and with Elizabeth Marvel in New York. This time however, he’s working with a new version of Ibsen’s play by Patrick Marber and has the equally extraordinary talents of Ruth Wilson leading his company. And as with his revelatory A View From The Bridge, this is a contemporary reworking of a classic that will frustrate some with its froideur but left me gasping at its gut-wrenching rawness.

As ever, van Hove’s spatial intelligence lends itself to a re-appreciation of the theatrical space in which he’s working. He’s invited audiences onstage at the Barbican, and backstage too and here in the Lyttelton, the wings are closed off by Jan Versweyveld’s gallery-like white box and so characters make their entrances and exits through the same doors that we use – Judge Brack even arrives via the rear stalls at one point. And van Hove keeps things off-kilter onstage too, often pushing the action out to the far edges, focusing the eye on unexpected details like the eloquent sweep of Hedda’s back, the tapping foot of a nervy ever-watching Berthe. Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, National”

Review: Hedda Gabler, Salisbury Playhouse

“Every so often a dark impulse takes hold of me”

Brian Friel’s translation of Hedda Gabler was first seen at the Old Vic in 2012 when Sheridan Smith took on the lead role but Anna Mackmin’s production struggled somewhat with the humour that the Irish playwright introduced. A few years later though, Gareth Machin takes the same adaptation for his Salisbury Playhouse with greater success, finding an ideal balance of tragicomedy that might not always feel entirely Ibsenesque but remains convincing nonetheless.

Matters are also helped by casting the excellent Kirsty Bushell as Hedda, present on the not-inconsiderable list of actresses I really rate but well worthy of the place. With a whip-smart wit that lacerates too easily (her husband’s ageing aunt and their servant bear the brunt of this) and a sensuality that she deploys on seemingly every man but the one she’s wed to, Bushell gives us a real woman with a real sense of all the capricious vivacity that she believes will no longer be a part of her humdrum married life. Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, Salisbury Playhouse”

Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida

“Is it just road-making that’s put you in such a good mood?”

Richard Eyre’s revelatory take on Ibsen’s Ghosts was a deserving multiple Olivier winner last year so it is little surprise to see the Almeida asking him back for more, this time taking on one of his later plays Little Eyolf. And as with Ghosts, the play has been coaxed and condensed into interval-free intensity, the perfect frame for its arresting modernity.

And it is surprising, as though written in 1894, its portrayal of fraught sexual tension in a marriage is as direct and frank a exploration of female sexuality (and sexual desire) as any playwright has come up with since. In the cooling calm of Tim Hatley’s set, Rita Allmers is a wife and mother but finds those roles in conflict as she resents son Eyolf for distracting husband Alfred’s attentions away from her. Continue reading “Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida”

Review: The Wild Duck, Belvoir Sydney at Barbican

“There are things not everybody needs to know”

You’ve got to love an adaptation that ruffles a few feathers and Simon Stone and Chris Ryan’s take on The Wild Duck for Belvoir Sydney certainly does that, quite literally in one case as the show features a live duck that paddles the stage in a striking opening image. Part of the Barbican’s International Ibsen festival, this is a startlingly contemporary look at the Norwegian classic which strips it to its spine (as Stone says in a programme note) and reimagines it significantly as a modern fable about secrets and lies (and a duck).

Encased in the confines of Ralph Myer’s clear perspex box and dramatically illuminated by Niklas Pajanti’s utterly complete lighting design, the family drama of the Ekdals and the Werles play out to levels of intensity normally associated with Greek tragedy. And under this scrutiny, there’s nowhere for them, or us, to hide – the private grief of Anita Hegh’s catatonic Gina is exposed like a raw wound for nigh on 20 minutes, the uncontrollable anger of Brendan Cowell’s Hjalmar literally bounces off the walls, the target for Hedwig’s shotgun practice is quite simply the audience.

Continue reading “Review: The Wild Duck, Belvoir Sydney at Barbican”

Review: Ghosts via Digital Theatre (plus thoughts on the filming of theatre more generally)

“You have no idea what this has cost me”

There’s something a little ironic about the fact that many of the people who write about the filming of theatre shows are precisely those who need it the least, myself included. I am in the fortunate position that all the shows I’ve wanted to see that have been broadcast in cinemas through NT Live or captured on Digital Theatre have been shows I was able to see live. To poke at too easy a target, Shenton’s assertion that these are for people who are “not organised enough or connected enough or rich enough to get your hands on a ticket” feels misguided in light of the news that the recent live showing of Billy Elliot topped the UK box office; the audience is clearly there, just not necessarily in London’s IMAX screens.
It can be easy to forget that for people who do not live in London, the expense incurred in sorting out a trip to the theatre, especially for a high-demand show, verges on the ridiculous. Train timetables now work against anyone hoping to catch an evening show, the steady rise in ticket prices means taking a family to see something is increasingly expensive, etc etc. So the option of going to the local picturehouse offers something of a solution, not a replacement but a widening of the opportunity (as Shenton does acknowledge before the above quote).
As for those of us who more habitually spend most evenings in theatres, the gnashing of the teeth about filmed versions replacing the live experience of sitting in a playhouse equally feels wrong. I don’t think anyone is suggesting at all that these innovations are in place of the ‘real thing’ but rather an accompaniment, something to enrich that very experience. I’ve always felt this – having seen many a show from the cheap seats in the larger West End theatres, the chance to see things up close offers a completely new take on the show as well as the joy of revisiting something you enjoyed that otherwise would just live in the memory.
These thoughts ran through my head again as I watched Digital Theatre’s production of the multi award-winning Ghosts, recorded during the show’s transfer to the Trafalgar Studios after an extraordinary run at the Almeida where Richard Eyre’s adaptation completely won me over. The Trafalgar is a notoriously uncomfortable theatre and you can end up paying a ton to still be far away so I didn’t go back to the show there but now, one has the opportunity to watch it again from the comfort of, well, wherever one chooses.
And yes, there are aspects that are lost in viewing it this way. The majesty of Tim Hatley’s translucent design never really comes across and the perspective is always dictated by the camera crew. But trusting them to make good decisions, it is easy to turn that frown upside down as the frequent close-ups on Lesley Manville’s Mrs Alving offer a unique opportunity to observe the finer details of a truly magnificent performance – the way the word “whoring” catches in her mouth, the trembles as she speaks of “the right thing to do”, the agony on her face as she hears that her son has not escaped “the sins of the father”.
The thought that this performance has been captured for posterity if nothing else is a thrilling one and I was recently pointed to the 1987 film (that can be seen on YouTube here) which features Judi Dench in a stunning, if slightly more stagey production. And this feeds into the idea of a rich theatrical archive being built up, in far more democratic a fashion than usual, so that maybe in another 25 years we’ll be able to compare and contrast another spell-binding turn from an actor in her fifties (Phoebe Fox or Vanessa Kirby would be my prediction).
There’s also the other pleasures contained here, the chance to see the late lamented Natasha Richardson work for one and the freshness of a youthful Kenneth Branagh for another, he probably comes out about equal with the excellent Jack Lowden for my money, as the ailing Oswald. Really, I can’t see why people get so het up about the idea of filmed theatre.
Ghosts, along with five other shows on Digital Theatre, is now available with the option of StageText captioning; that’s the sound of another barrier being broken down as the choices open to those who rely on captioning in theatres are limited and being able to make the precious few performances that are covered often requires planning of military precision. Adding this option here is therefore a real boon and shows that this is a company thoughtfully considering what their role in the capturing of live theatre really means. Well worth the investigation.