Review: Linda, Royal Court

“What does getting older mean for a woman?”

There was a point in this performance of Linda where Noma Dumezweni’s eponymous character made an actual risotto, and a bowl of pasta and a sauce for her fussy daughter, all whilst performing script in hand and still somehow ruling the stage of the Royal Court. She was on-book because she was a very last minute replacement for Kim Cattrall (who withdrew on medical advice with just two rehearsals left) but even in this short space of time, there’s a magisterial sense of character brimming from this finest of actors (who’s also preparing for her directorial debut early next year in the upstairs theatre!)

And demonstrating just how capable she is fits in perfectly with Skinner’s larger themes – Linda Wilde is a 55 year old determined not to slip quietly into the background as society suggests, and expects, older women should (apart from Helen Mirren that is…). A marketing guru at a top beauty firm, married to the pleasant Neil and mother to two daughters Alice and Bridget, she’s been spinning the various plates of her life successfully for some time now but the centre of gravity in her world has shifted imperceptibly, forcing a reckoning all around. Continue reading “Review: Linda, Royal Court”

Review: Eigengrau, Otherplace at the Basement: The Pit – Brighton Fringe

“I think you need to believe in something”

The metropolitan loneliness epitomised by Penelope Skinner’s Eigengrau seems as appropriate in London-by-the-sea as it does in the London where it is set, indeed one can feel this alone anywhere. Cassie’s passion for her political activism continues to set her apart from others her own age, Mark has got money but is struggling to hold onto his mates, Tim is using his grief for his nan to avoid getting on with life and Rose, well she’s just struggling to reconcile her dream of true love in a world full of bastards and bills.

As their paths variously intersect, they all reach out in the hope of connection, of finding something tangible in a city that never stops moving past them but life is never quite as easy as all that, especially when sex is thrown into the equation. And so begins the whirl of Skinner’s extremely funny play, given a solid production here by Hannah Joss which focuses on just how sharp the writing is as brutal truths follow amorous deceptions, and hopeless fancies turn into desperate actions. Continue reading “Review: Eigengrau, Otherplace at the Basement: The Pit – Brighton Fringe”

Review: Rough Cuts – Bytes, Royal Court

“It’s on the internet…”

Just a quickie for this as the Royal Court’s Rough Cuts season is a space for short plays, experimental readings and works in progress and so I’m just including it here for the completeness of my theatregoing records. It has previously taken place in the upstairs theatre but as this is currently occupied, they have converted the Wilson rehearsal studio – right next to the main building – into a public performance space for this group of four pieces, all based on the theme of our relationship to the internet.

This year’s cohort of writers made this a must-see from the moment it was announced, featuring as it does Alia Bano, DC Moore, Penelope Skinner and Nick Payne, and with an ensemble of six actors including Sarah Woodward and Al Weaver, I was confident of enjoying the performances too. And it was an agreeable evening from start to early finish – such a rarity to be home well before 9pm on a theatre night – and a pleasing indication of the vibrancy and variety in new theatre writing in the UK.  Continue reading “Review: Rough Cuts – Bytes, Royal Court”

Review: The Sound of Heavy Rain, Roundabout season at Shoreditch Town Hall

“You can’t always plan for the route ahead”

Technical problems meant that my original trip to see The Sound of Heavy Rain at Shoreditch Town Hall as part of a three show day, encompassing the whole Roundabout season of new writing engineered by Paines Plough, was scuppered. Fortunately the other two plays – Lungs and One Day When We Were Young – more than made up for the disappointment and I was able to squeeze in Penelope Skinner’s play later in the run to make up the full set.

In some ways, it seems a curious addition to the programme in that both stylistically and thematically, it felt quite distinct from the yearning, emotional intimacy of the other two plays. The Sound of Heavy Rain is a world apart with its film noir pastiche and cabaret leanings as grizzled private detective Dabrowski is approached by Maggie Brown to find her bar-room singer friend Foxy O’Hara who has gone missing. But instead of the boulevards of LA, we’re in the dark streets of Soho where it never stops raining.  Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Heavy Rain, Roundabout season at Shoreditch Town Hall”

Review: Fred’s Diner, Theatre on the Fly Chichester

Whereas Chichester Festival Theatre should most definitely be applauded for stretching its artistic remit with the construction of the temporary Theatre on the Fly to give it a much-needed shot in the arm of contemporary drama, it could still do with a look at the scheduling. By putting shows on at 8pm, especially ones which run for nearly 2 hours 30 minutes, they’ve instantly nixed any chance of people coming to see it via public transport unless they make it to a matinée performance. As it was, I was headed this way(ish) en route to Brighton Pride and I love me some Cush Jumbo so I was willing to make the effort to see Penelope Skinner’s latest play Fred’s Diner.

Fred’s is a 50s-themed motorway restaurant, a failing slice of Americana in the West Midlands in which acts as a cul-de-sac for troubled souls. On the staff, Heather is an ex-con desperate for the opportunity to prove herself, Chloe’s a bit of a drifter even at 30, work-shy and only really there to pay off her debts and the bills from her late ‘gap-year’ to Thailand, and Melissa dreams of studying law at Oxford. But Melissa is the daughter of Fred, and as the play evolves, we see the horribly tense dynamic that exists between father and daughter and realise how trapped all the women, but particularly Melissa, are beneath their matching uniforms. Continue reading “Review: Fred’s Diner, Theatre on the Fly Chichester”

Winners of the 2011 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Play
WINNER The Heretic by Richard Bean (Royal Court)
WINNER One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean (National’s Lyttelton)
Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo (Almeida)
Tribes by Nina Raine (Royal Court)

Best Director
WINNER Mike Leigh for Grief (National’s Cottesloe)
Rob Ashford for Anna Christie (Donmar)
Dominic Cooke for Chicken Soup with Barley (Royal Court)
Edward Hall for Richard III & The Comedy of Errors (Propeller at Hampstead) Continue reading “Winners of the 2011 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

The 2011 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Play
The Heretic by Richard Bean (Royal Court)
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean (National’s Lyttelton)
Becky Shaw
 by Gina Gionfriddo (Almeida)
Tribes by Nina Raine (Royal Court)

Best Director
Mike Leigh for Grief (National’s Cottesloe)
Rob Ashford 
for Anna Christie (Donmar)
Dominic Cooke for Chicken Soup with Barley (Royal Court)
Edward Hall for Richard III & The Comedy of Errors (Propeller at Hampstead) Continue reading “The 2011 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: The Village Bike, Royal Court

“You think I’m this respectable married teacher person”

Penelope Skinner makes her Royal Court debut upstairs with The Village Bike, having previously been a member of their Young Writers Programme and being the recipient of the 2011 George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright (assumedly given before she co-authored Greenland…). It’s an unsettling portrait of a just-pregnant woman, Becky, recently moved to the country and struggling to come to terms with her new life and the restrictions placed on her both by her condition and her do-gooder husband who has taken to the role of father-to-be with great gusto but rather neglecting the role of husband, leading Becky to deal with her frustrations in ever-reckless ways.

It is a very frank play, dealing with female sexuality in a way which is rarely seen (at least by me) onstage as Becky turns first to her husband’s furtive stash of p*rn films and then to a heady set of illicit liaisons with local bad boy Oliver Hardcastle, from whom she keeps her pregnancy secret, as she lives out her (and his) wildest sexual fantasies in the oppressive atmosphere of the heatwave that affecting just about everyone in the village. For no-one is particularly happy, especially the married people: fertility issues, dealing with continued absences due to work travel, difficulties of parenthood, sexual frustration, all these issues reverberate around the populace of the village, all underscored by the overbearing fear of loneliness that Skinner argues characterises rural living here. Continue reading “Review: The Village Bike, Royal Court”

Review: Greenland, National Theatre

“It’s like we’re conducting a big, massive experiment…”

Pulling together narratives and investigative work from four playwrights, Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne around the ever-current issue of climate change, Greenland is the latest play at the National Theatre to tackle this issue, following on from Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London last year. Based on interviews with scientists, politicians, money-makers and philosophers, woven together by dramaturg Ben Power and directed by Bijan Sheibani, this is a highly ambitious, challenging piece of work and though this was the first preview, it seems that some of these challenges might be a little too much.

Predictably, multiple strands of story run parallel, some explored and revisited more than others as the narrative shifts around, there are occasional intersections but these are perfunctory rather than integral to the stories. Amongst everything, there’s a young woman moved to drop out of university to become a climate change activist; two women in a therapy session (there was division in the group as to whether they were mother/daughter or a lesbian couple, but it really isn’t that important) who are being driven apart by the strident ‘green’ views of one of them; two guys bird-watching in Greenland, one of whom has been doing it for 40 years; a Labour politician struggling to make a difference leading up to and at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. All are trying to make sense of the conflicting viewpoints around the issue and figuring out who to trust and what, if anything, can be done. Continue reading “Review: Greenland, National Theatre”