News: National Theatre at Home final phase

The National Theatre has announced a further five productions that will be streamed as a part of the National Theatre at Home series. Established in April to bring culture and entertainment to audiences around the world during this unprecedented period, National Theatre at Home has so far seen 10 productions streamed via the NT’s YouTube channel, with over 12 million views to date. These will be the final titles to be shared for free via YouTube in this period. However, future digital activity to connect with audiences in the UK and beyond is planned, with further details to be announced soon. 

The productions will be broadcast each Thursday at 7pm BST for free and will then be available on demand for seven days. Titles added to the programme today include A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bridge Theatre, alongside Small IslandLes Blancs, The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus from the National Theatre.  Continue reading “News: National Theatre at Home final phase”

June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo

“I hate her being the mistress of a rich, old voluptuary”

I wasn’t intending to revisit Love In Idleness, newly transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a limited 50 performance run, as first time round, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I got a little caught up in the strange genesis of the show and the fact that I was half-remembering the plot of Less Than Kind in real time, which proved to be rather distracting. But there’s no denying the sheer star quality of Eve Best and who am I to turn down any chance to see her.

And I’m glad I returned as I found myself enjoying the play a lot more second time round. Taking it for what it is, which is a Rattigan curiosity rather than a revelatory (re)discovery, this light-hearted comedy is actually an interesting addition to the West End’s early summer. Its main joy remains the relaxed but realistically palpable chemistry between Best and Anthony Head, as widow Olivia and government minister Sir John Fletcher whose relationship comes under strain when her son Michael returns from four years evacuated to Canada. Continue reading “Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo”

Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory

“There’s no situation in the world that can’t be passed off with small-talk”

Overlord of all that is authentic in British theatre, Trevor Nunn is now further redefining authenticity by presenting us with a Terence Rattigan premiere, cobbled together from two pre-existing versions of the same play. Love in Idleness was originally known as Less Than Kind (which itself was seen at the Jermyn Street back in 2011) but was rewritten at the behest of its stars, a commercially minded decision which proved fatal to Rattigan’s reputation. And rather than choose one or the other, Nunn has fashioned something new (but assumably still authentic), named for the later version.

Sadly, that sense of compromise lingers strongly here. Fans of Rattigan were utterly spoiled by pitch-perfect interpretations of After the Dance and Flare Path (also by Nunn) at the beginning of this decade and again last year with an excoriating The Deep Blue Sea, so knowing the emotional force with which he can devastate us can only leave you disappointed at the tonally strange and inconsequential comedy of sorts with which we’re presented here. Only the long-awaited return of the marvellous Eve Best to the London stage imbues the evening with the quality it scarcely deserves. Continue reading “Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: The Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre

“My God, how I hate getting tangled up in other people’s emotions.”

For such a enduringly magnificent play and a lead part considered “one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama”, it’s then a little surprising (and sad) that it has been a good while since we’ve seen a major production of The Deep Blue Sea, especially given the number of Hamlets and Lears we continually get. 2011 saw Maxine Peake and Amanda Root take on Hester in Leeds and Chichester respectively but now, Helen McCrory stakes her claim as one of the finest living British actors in playing the part at the National Theatre. 

The production sees her reunite with director Carrie Cracknell after their striking Medea, and their collaboration similarly heightens the blistering emotion of the drama. Terence Rattigan’s story of shattered lives in a shattered post-WWII society drew heavily on his own tumultuous romantic life, homosexual subtext thus coded into the tale of a woman unable to maintain the veneer of respectability to a judge she does not love, instead opting to plunge into the instability of an affair with a troubled former RAF pilot. Continue reading “Review: The Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre”

Review: French Without Tears, Orange Tree

“If I’m left alone with her for a minute, I shudder to think what might happen”

You wait years for a production of a rarely produced Rattigan comedy and sure enough, two come along at once. Kenneth Branagh has revived Harlequinade in the West End as part of his takeover of the Garrick but nipping in first was Paul Miller, putting on French Without Tears at Richmond’s Orange Tree. As with Harlequinade, one can see why these plays haven’t been produced more often and certainly more recently, they’re definitely old-fashioned in many ways but with the care they receive here, enlightening too.

French Without Tears was actually Rattigan’s first major hit, set at a private language school where five bright young things are crash-learning French in order to meet the requirements for entering the diplomatic service. But the only thing on their mind is matters of the heart as the boys find their head completely and utterly turned by femme-fatale-in-the-making Diana and this putative tussle between the sexes is literally about it as the boys find solace in each other’s company as they struggle to control their urges in the face of flirtatious women. Continue reading “Review: French Without Tears, Orange Tree”

Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick

“Which text are you using?”

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo as his year-long residency at the Garrick begins is the Terence Rattigan double header of Harlequinade and All On Her Own. When originally performed, Harlequinade was paired up with another of Rattigan’s short plays The Browning Version to beef up the bill and the same thinking has been applied here. Taking advantage of Zoë Wanamaker’s presence in the company, Branagh has introduced one-woman 30-minute play All On Her Own (also known as Duologue) to the programme, playing directly before Harlequinade with nary an interval between them.

One can see the theoretical case for the decision, ensuring West End prices can still be charged but providing a much more slimline companion piece to the three hours of The Winter’s Tale but in reality, it’s an odd pairing that demonstrates little complementarity (apart from for Rattigan completists). All On Her Own is a grand showcase for Wanamaker, as her widow returns from a party somewhat tipsy and begins to reminisce about her dead husband, even talking to him. It’s a little bit funny, it’s a little bit sad, but it’s a little bit perplexing too, especially as it has no connection to the ensuing HarlequinadeContinue reading “Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick”

Review: Flare Path, Richmond Theatre

“Supposing there is an ‘after the war’”

One of the unexpected highlights in the raft of productions that marked Terence Rattigan’s centenary year in 2011 was Trevor Nunn’s Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Previously unheralded, it emerged as an understated masterclass in repressed emotion, wonderfully enlivened by Sheridan Smith’s Olivier-winning supporting role. The Original Theatre Company’s touring version of the show, directed by Justin Audibert, thus has a lot to live up to to equal its success.

And sadly, it never quite manages it. Part of this lies in the fact that it isn’t the most thrilling piece of writing. Set exclusively in a 1942 hotel lobby close to an airbase, it follows a group of fighter pilots as they wait to be called onto the next raid with their loved ones watching on anxiously. Naturally, their loved ones aren’t always the ones they’re married to and the emotional crux of the play centres on a love triangle between Patricia, her airman husband Teddy and her Hollywood star ex Peter. Continue reading “Review: Flare Path, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Variation on a Theme, Finborough

“I suppose the truth is, if you need somebody enough it doesn’t seem to matter much what they do to you, or what they turn out to be”

It is Variation on a Theme that a young Shelagh Delaney saw and was inspired to write her iconoclastic A Taste of Honey, playing her own part in shaking up a British theatre scene that had Terence Rattigan as a fusty figurehead and whilst her play went on to become a classic, his slipped into obscurity and hasn’t been seen on stage for fifty years. Rattigan has of course undergone a serious re-appreciation since his recent centenary year with many of his works being staged, including a rehearsed reading of this play, which has blossomed into a full production at West London’s Finborough Theatre. The run has already sold out so we snuck into a preview.

Variation on a Theme is loosely based on La Dame aux Camélias, set in the 1950s on a sun and booze-soaked French Riviera where the taut charms of a handsome ballet dancer named Ron catch the eye of Rose, a much-married socialite and they tumble headlong into a passionate affair. But the path ne’er did run smooth – she’s suffering from a serious condition and has a powerful fiancé, and it’s not altogether clear that his motivations lie much beyond wanting a sugar mama. As her health continues to decline and his career hits the bumpers though, it becomes apparent that emotions run extremely deep but sadly, so too does the British predilection for repression.  Continue reading “Review: Variation on a Theme, Finborough”

Review: The Winslow Boy, Old Vic

“Which of us knows the truth about himself?”

Following the huge success of his centenary year in 2011, it seems safe to say that Terence Rattigan has now been fully rehabilitated back into the theatrical fold, somewhere near the top of the list of twentieth century British dramatists. One of his major plays that did not appear in London that year was The Winslow Boy so it is to that 1946 work that the Old Vic has turned, with Lindsay Posner directing a quality cast including Henry Goodman and Deborah Findlay. 

The Winslow boy himself is Ronnie, a 14 year old cadet at the Royal Naval college at Osborne who is expelled in shame after being accused of the theft of a five shilling postal order. His father, retired banker Arthur, takes up the mantle of defending his son’s honour but the huge legal case that snowballs out from this affair has ramifications far beyond whether Ronnie is actually guilty or not.  Continue reading “Review: The Winslow Boy, Old Vic”