20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

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”