Review: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre

Strong performances from Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane make the challenging When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other worth the effort at the National Theatre

“A woman would never say that
‘A woman did just say it'”

It is bracingly refreshing to see the kind of artistic decisions that drive Cate Blanchett’s theatrical career, so often complex, contemporary takes on classic work which show a performer never content to rest on her laurels. Which leads us to her National Theatre debut in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – 12 Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, written and directed respectively by noted iconoclasts Martin Crimp and Katie Mitchell. 

And as such, it certainly is something of a challenge. Played for its two hours without interval, Blanchett and co-star Stephen Dillane act out a series of psychosexual, sado-masochistic role-playing games and that’s about it. There’s strap-ons and shaving foam, backseat shenanigans and boxes of cherries, and an untold amount of portentous chat which sometimes, sometimes, sears through to the soul. Continue reading “Review: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre”

News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference

All sorts of goodies were announced today for the upcoming slate of productions at the National Theatre, including Small Island, Peter Gynt, and Top Girls 

Olivier Theatre

Small Island, a new play adapted by Helen Edmundson from Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning bestselling novel, will open in the Olivier Theatre in May. Directed by Rufus Norris, the play journeys from Jamaica to Britain through the Second World War to 1948, the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Small Island follows the intricately connected stories of Hortense, newly arrived in London, landlady Queenie and servicemen Gilbert and Bernard. Hope and humanity meet stubborn reality as, with epic sweep, the play uncovers the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK. Hundreds of tickets for every performance available at £15. Small Island will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as part of NT Live. Continue reading “News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference”

#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage

Such amazing casting news came our way yesterday, with not one but two of my absolute faves returning to the London stage in the coming months. The starrier of the two is Cate Blanchett, who will appear with Stephen Dillane in a brand new play by Martin Crimp’s directed by Katie Mitchell at the National Theatre in January 2019. The play is enigmatically entitled When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – Twelve Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. (The torture presumably being the absolute scrum there’ll be to get tickets, as the show is going into the NT’s most intimate space, the Dorfman.)

But matching Blanchett in my personal pantheon in Lucy Cohu, an actor whom I’ve longed admired since she broke my heart in the double whammy of Torchwood – Children of Earth on the TV and Speaking in Tongues on the stage. She’s joining the cast of Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm, alongside Anna Madeley and Amanda Drew. And given that the cast already contains the previously announced Jonathan Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins, this ought to be a good’un. That shows arrives at the Wyndham’s Theatre in October after a brief tour of Richmond, Cambridge and Bath. Continue reading “#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage”

Review: In the Republic of Happiness, Royal Court

“Go into a theatre and there would be whatever…”

Martin Crimp’s new play for the Royal Court is likely to become as divisive a work as we have seen this year if initial responses are anything to go by. Subtitled a ‘three part entertainment’, In the Republic of Happiness starts off rather traditionally as an invective-filled Christmas dinner potboiler, which then shifts entirely into a freeform confessional exploration of modern society’s preoccupations and then lastly into a two-hander of strange intensity as two of the first scene’s characters returns. And there’s songs, lots and lots of songs from Roald van Oosten. It’s a rum mixture to be sure but it has a heady, intoxicating power which is quite unlike anything else in London’s theatres at the moment.

The unconventional nature of the show means that will undoubtedly provoke strong reactions – our performance saw about a half a dozen walkouts and friends declare it the worst thing they had ever seen as we stumbled out into the bar and already, amusing reviews have popped up from other bloggers such as Sans Taste’s skewering of the dialogue here. But in some ways it’s a shame to go for the easy laugh (as well written as it is) as he doesn’t engage with what Crimp is actually doing. Much of the play is deliberately non-naturalistic, the contrast thrown into especially stark relief given the opening scene and in its layered density, constant interplay and poetic echoes requires perhaps a little more consideration and reflection than a kneejerk reaction will allow. Continue reading “Review: In the Republic of Happiness, Royal Court”

Review: Big and Small, Sydney Theatre Company at the Barbican

“Lotte doesn’t know what Lotte is talking about”

Anticipation can be a killer, but from the moment last year that the Barbican announced Cate Blanchett would be part of their contributions to the London 2012 Festival, I’d been über-excited to see one of my favourite film actors onstage for the first time, so much so that I spent rather a fair amount on my ticket in order to get as close as I could in the Barbican’s large theatre. Blanchett and husband Andrew Upton have spent the last three years as Artistic Directors of the Sydney Theatre Company and it is one of their productions, co-commissioned by the Barbican and other partners, that is now stopping in London as part of an international tour.

The vehicle chosen is perhaps a bit of a surprise, given that the likes of Uncle Vanya and A Streetcar Named Desire preceded it, but it proves to be an inspired choice.Gross und Kleinis a 1978 play by (West) German playwright Botho Strauss and Martin Crimp was commissioned to create a new English adaptation simply entitled Big and Small. And as the play focuses on the epic journey of Lotte as she struggles to make sense of her place in the world, we are treated to an immense performance from Blanchett as she rarely leaves the stage for the 150 minute duration. Continue reading “Review: Big and Small, Sydney Theatre Company at the Barbican”

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”

Review: The Country, Arcola

“People don’t stand for anything; they just exist”

The Country, by Martin Crimp is another collaboration between the Arcola Theatre and Iceni Productions (last year saw them do Mamet’s The Shawl) but actually marks the first time I have seen a Crimp play. I have seen plays that he has translated but never one of his original works so I was intrigued to see how I would react to this rather polarising playwright in his own words. But there was another reason I wanted to go, as the building is being converted (into luxury flats, what else) and so the Arcola is on the move. Although not too far, to the Colourworks building (which is next door to the Printhouse where I used to work) right by the new Dalston Junction station, but change is most definitely afoot and I wanted to make sure I make the most of its current set-up as it has been one of my favourite venues to visit in the last couple of years.

The play follows a middle class family as they relocate from an urban lifestyle to one in the countryside. Richard is a doctor and Corinne a housewife but their domestic quiet is shattered when he brings home an unconscious young woman late at night. For Rebecca, as we find out her name to be, is much much more than just a stranger and her arrival provokes an unravelling of secrets from the past and uncertainties in the present as her presence forces a reassessment of the turmoil that we now see in beneath the paper-thin façade of this marriage. Continue reading “Review: The Country, Arcola”

Review: The Misanthrope, Comedy

“Jesus Christ, you wonder why
I want to curl up and just die”

Try as I might, I was hoping not to be too misanthropic about this production of The Misanthrope, but all the talk of misanthrophy has left me somewhat of a misanthrope myself. It was one of those difficult experiences where it was hard to work out whether I really hadn’t enjoyed the play or if it was just the general experience of the most fidgety couple in the world in front of us forcing a constant search for a decent view, the realisation that we’d actually got quite poor seats despite being expensive (£35 for 3rd row of Royal Circle) and the feeling that we were the only sober people at the party, such was the raucous laughter at every other line. Either way, I was perilously close to leaving at the interval, but stuck it out to the end.

Molière’s Le Misanthrope has been translated and updated to modern-day here by Martin Crimp and follows Alceste (Damien Lewis) a disenchanted playwright whose resolution to reject society and all its hypocrisy and shallowness, is challenged when he falls in love with Jennifer (Keira Knightley), a fame-hungry American filmstar. A timeless enough story, but one made problematic by the unlikeability of Alceste and Lewis’ performance which I found at times to be insufferable. Part of the problem is also in the script though: this is an incredibly self-aware translation, stuffed full of cultural references and one particularly galling joke about people paying £50 to see any old shit on the stage. For me, this just led to a form of mugging on the stage, Lewis might have well have just said ‘nudge nudge wink wink!’ at times. Continue reading “Review: The Misanthrope, Comedy”

Review: Pains of Youth, National

“People should just shoot themselves at 17. Everything after is a disappointment.”

Written by Ferdinand Bruckner, the alias of the German Theodor Tagger, in 1929, Pains of Youth enters the rep at the Cottesloe Theatre and is the latest play to be directed at the NT by Katie Mitchell, known for her interpretative style and creative use of multimedia techniques, but only the former is in evidence here. It is presented in a new version by Martin Crimp, thereby renewing the creative partnership with Mitchell which has seen recent productions of works like The Seagull and Attempts on her Life, both also at the NT.

It is described as shocking and erotically-charged, which instantly means that it is neither of these things. Set in a Viennese boarding-house in 1923, a group of medical students negotiate the trials and tribulations of their sexually entangled lives, against the backdrop of the recently ended First World War. With an ever-revolving carousel of relationships and interactions, all are struggling to escape the disillusionment of their existence, but choose wildly different paths in order to achieve this. Continue reading “Review: Pains of Youth, National”