Review: The Stock Da’Wa, Hampstead Downstairs

“What is the real truth of our lives?”

The Stock Da’Wa by David Eldridge was perhaps a surprising choice for me to go to given how strongly I reacted against his other play in London at the moment, The Knot of the Heart at the Almeida, but I do try to keep an open mind and be willing to have it changed. Plus, the downstairs at Hampstead Theatre season has been an interesting mix, featuring another strong cast here and the directorial return of the marvellous Kathy Burke.

Paul, a young heavily bearded man has returned to the village of Stock where he went to school. He’s reunited with his old English teacher Mr Wilson and Joan, the woman who was his unofficial foster mother, at her house and they are surprised to see him, not least because it is the dead of night but also because his nose and shirt is covered in blood. But this is no ordinary reunion, as we soon find out that it is 20 years since Paul was last here and he has changed a lot, there’s unresolved issues around the death of Joan’s son and everyone’s recollections of the past vary slightly on crucial details and are less rose-tinted than fractious and rancorous. Continue reading “Review: The Stock Da’Wa, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Stockholm, Network Theatre

“He likes her intensity.
‘She likes that he likes her intensity; it’s something she’s been working on.’”

The Network Theatre occupies another one of the seemingly endless railway arches in the Waterloo area that have been converted into performance spaces and is currently playing host to 3P Entertainment’s debut production of Bryony Lavery’s 2007 play Stockholm. A two-hander about the potentially destructive power of a passionate relationship, directed here by Bronwen Carr, this marks the first time this show has returned to London since the original run at the Hampstead Theatre.

At first sight, Todd and Kali’s relationship seems picture-perfect. They have a great sex life, a dream apartment, sneaky afternoon trips to the cinema to see Ingmar Bergman films and they just ooze intimacy and chemistry wrapped up in their own world. But such insularity comes at a price and whilst the dark clouds that start to show themselves are initially amusing – Todd’s anxiety manifests itself with a preoccupation with interior design even whilst receiving oral sex from Kali – the way in which her jealousy threatens to spiral out of all control indicates that things are evidently much darker and more serious. Continue reading “Review: Stockholm, Network Theatre”

Review: Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, Arcola

“They say fuck in direct proportion to how bored they are”

Continuing the rather scattershot programming that is going on at the Arcola since its move closer to Dalston Junction, a David Mamet double bill of two rarely performed short plays, Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, from early in his career is playing in the smaller Studio 2, whilst Studio 1 is dark until Uncle Vanya arrives from Coventry.

Lakeboat is set on an ageing cargo ship somewhere out of Chicago on the Great Lakes as English Lit student Dale joins the grizzled, heavy-swearing crew for the summer to replace the missing night chef, tales of whose disappearance are whirling around the ship. On the face of it, there’s perhaps not much to the play, but as a series of male character studies and the different ways in which men talk to each other, with all their braggadocio, masculine swagger, tales of sexual conquest and exertions of power where possible, it is highly illuminating. There’s some moments of great humour, usually concerning the most mundane of subjects, egg sandwiches or Clint Eastwood for example, but there’s also hints of darker places, sexual violence and intense loneliness. Steven Webb as Dale serves as the straight man for all the other characters with a brilliantly light wry touch and though everyone did well in the ensemble, Nigel Cooke’s plaintive Joe and particularly Rory Keenan’s handsomely beardy and fantastically filthy Fred were standouts. Continue reading “Review: Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, Arcola”

Review: Precious Little Talent, Trafalgar Studios 2

Ella Hickson’s second play Precious Little Talent comes with something of a millstone of huge critical expectation as she has already been lauded one of the major new writing talents in this country, a shorter version of this play being a big success in Edinburgh two years ago. It has been expanded from 50 minutes to just under 90 and is receiving a London showing at the tiny Trafalgar Studios 2 with a cast of three, including the marvellous Ian Gelder who was the main reason I booked to see the show.

The story revolves around George (Gelder), an English academic in his early 60s living in New York and suffering from early onset dementia. His estranged 23 year old daughter Joey comes to visit unexpectedly, unable to get work in England and espying perceived opportunities in Obama’s ‘new’ USA, but with the help of his carer, 19 year old American Sam, he tries to hide the truth of his deterioration from her. But hiding his symptoms is easier said than done and when Sam falls head over heels for Joey though she does not know his real relationship to her father, the truth about the connections between these people and how far apart they really are comes to light. Continue reading “Review: Precious Little Talent, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: The Coronation of Poppea – London’s Little Opera House at King’s Head

“I gave you all my love and this is my reward?”

Monteverdi’s opera The Coronation of Poppea is one of the first that was ever written and this new version by Mark Ravenhill and Alex Silverman marks the continuation of OperaUpClose’s rebranding of the King’s Head pub theatre in Islington as London’s Little Opera House. They were responsible for the Olivier award-winning La Bohème which was judged the best new opera of 2010, for its reinvention and modernising of Verdi’s classic and a similar blast of imagination has been aimed here.

Ravenhill has translated the work into English, modernised and colloquialised it – the first line, sung, is perhaps predictably ‘what the fuck’ reworking – and trimmed it down considerably to 2 hours 15 minutes. But perhaps the biggest change is with the music which has been re-scored and re-arranged for a jazz ensemble of saxophone, double bass and piano by musical director Alex Silverman and on top of that, Michael Nyman has been drafted in to compose a new aria which has been added into the mix. The opera follows the rise of Poppea, mistress of the Roman emperor Nero, as she fights her way to fulfil her dream of becoming empress, not letting his advisers or either of their spouses to get in the way. Continue reading “Review: The Coronation of Poppea – London’s Little Opera House at King’s Head”

Review: Moonlight, Donmar Warehouse

“You are the proper target for a cat’s derision”
 
Pinter has never really been one of those playwrights that has held much appeal for me, despite how well regarded he is. The only of his plays that I’ve ever seen is the Almeida’s production of The Homecoming but by and large, I’ve tended to avoid his work. But the Donmar is usually good value for money and always pull together stellar casts and so I duly booked for his 1993 play Moonlight, with Bijan Sheibani making his Donmar directorial debut, sneaking in for a £10 seat at the last preview. Little was I know that time could so slowly as it did here.
 
A ruminative meditation on a dysfunctional family, Moonlight focuses on the dying Andy and his estranged family: his emotionally distant wife Bel tends at his bedside, his two sons refuse to see him and verbally spar with each in a grubby bedsit and the ghostly presence of his daughter that haunts his house. In their own spheres, they all talk about the things they have lost, or rather talk around them, as it is clear that the breakdown in communication between that has caused the rifts, still persists and they are all unable to surmount it.

Continue reading “Review: Moonlight, Donmar Warehouse”

Not-a-review: Pagans, Royal Court

“What’s an agnostic?”

Last up in the set of rehearsed readings for the International Playwrights Season was the play Pagans by Ukrainian Anna Yablonskaya. This reading was overlaid with great sadness when it was revealed that the playwright was killed in the Moscow Domodedovo Airport bombing on 24th January 2011 on her way to collect a prize for the screenplay of this very play. It had been scheduled well before her tragic death and the decision was never in doubt to continue with it as a beautiful tribute to her life and work.

Directed by Simon Godwin and translated from the Russian in which she wrote by Rory Mullarkey, Pagans follows the impact of the return of Natalya Stepanovna, long-estranged from her son Oleg, on his family, in particular his over-worked wife Marina and awkward university-dropout daughter Kristina, and other people in their life. They are all non-believers but she is fervently religious and though they are initially sceptical of her desire to bring Jesus into their lives to save them, they soon find out that the Lord (or is it Natalya) works in mysterious ways. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Pagans, Royal Court”

Nominations for 2010-2011 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award
Matthew López, After the Revolution
Matthew López, The Whipping Man
Kim Rosenstock, Tigers Be Still
David West Read, The Dream of the Burning Boy

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can
Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon
Daniel Radcliffe, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Tony Sheldon, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Aaron Tveit, Catch Me If You Can
Continue reading “Nominations for 2010-2011 Outer Critics Circle Awards”

Review: Wastwater, Royal Court

“There are things which you’ll have done or which you’ll do which live with you for ever and ever”

You know you’re in trouble when a play describes itself as ‘an elliptical triptych’, making a virtue of your own obscureness sets up a challenge from the off and such is the case here with Simon Stephens’ new play Wastwater, directed by Katie Mitchell for the Royal Court (‘wast’ rhyming with cost in case you’re unsure). Three scenes, three locations on the edge of Heathrow Airport, three different couples all on the cusp of life-changing decisions, no interval. (This is a review of the final preview FYI)

Given Katie Mitchell’s penchant for mixing things up, her direction here is relatively straightforward. There’s no infuriating running across the stage, wrapping things up in plastic bags or her video work here, indeed the only notable innovation is a pair of seriously impressive set changes in Lizzie Clachan’s design which creates three strikingly different sets for the three scenes. And they need to be different as the scenes are self-contained, each couple appears just the once as their stories unfold and then Stephens moves us onto the next. Continue reading “Review: Wastwater, Royal Court”

Nominations for 2011 Lucille Lortel Awards

Outstanding Play
In the Wake – Produced by The Public Theater; Written by Lisa Kron.
Other Desert Cities – Produced by Lincoln Center Theater; Written by Jon Robin Baitz.
Peter and the Starcatcher – Produced by New York Theatre Workshop; Written by Rick Elice, Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.
The Coward – Produced by Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3; Written by Nick Jones.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity – Produced by Second Stage Theatre; Written by Kristoffer Diaz

Outstanding Musical
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – Produced by The Public Theater and Center Theatre Group in association with Les Freres Corbusier; Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman, Book by Alex Timbers.
In Transit – Produced by Primary Stages, the Baruch/Viertel/Routh/Frankel Group, Jane Bergere, Jodi Glucksman, Ken Greiner, Chip Meyrelles, Christina Papagjika, and Janet Rosen; Music, Lyrics and Book by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, Sara Wordsworth.
The Burnt Part Boys – Produced by Playwrights Horizons and Vineyard Theatre; Music by Chris Miller, Lyrics by Nathan Tysen, Book by Mariana Elder.
The Kid – Produced by The New Group; Music by Andy Monroe, Lyrics by Jack Lechner and Book by Michael Zam.
We the People: America Rocks! – Produced by Theatreworks USA; Book by Joe Iconis, Songs by Brad Alexander (Music) and Kevin Del Aguila (Lyrics), Eli Bolin (Music) and Sam Forman (Lyrics), Joe Iconis (Music and Lyrics), Tommy Newman (Music and Lyrics), Ryan Scott Oliver (Music and Lyrics), Adam Overett (Music and Lyrics), Mark Weiner (Music) and Erik Weiner and Jordan Allen-Dutton (Lyrics). Continue reading “Nominations for 2011 Lucille Lortel Awards”