News: Jermyn Street Theatre’s 15 Heroines announces a truly heroic cast

Jermyn Street Theatre are thinking big once again, as their previously announced 15 Heroines project, in collaboration with Digital Theatre, reveals a titanic cast of actors to join the 15 female and non-binary playwrights commissioned to retell the stories of the women of classical myth. And not just that, Adjoa Andoh will be co-directing alongside Tom Littler and Cat Robey. Hook. Me. Up!

Full casting comprises Gemma Whelan, Jemima RooperAnn Ogbomo, Rebekah Murrell and Sophia Eleni in The War
Indra Ové, Rosalind Eleazar, Nicholle Cherrie, Eleanor Tomlinson and Martina Laird in The Desert and 
Olivia Williams, Nadine Marshall, Doña Croll, Nathalie Armin and Patsy Ferran in The Labyrinth. Continue reading “News: Jermyn Street Theatre’s 15 Heroines announces a truly heroic cast”

News: Jermyn Street Theatre and Digital Theatre join forces for 15 Heroines

Jermyn Street Theatre has joined forces with leading internet theatre platform Digital Theatre for a major new online project to be produced this autumn. 

15 Heroines sees fifteen female and non-binary playwrights re-telling the stories of the women of classical myth. Inspired by Ovid’s The Heroines (Heroides), a collection of fifteen fictional letters written in the first century BCE, the project is produced and directed by Jermyn Street Theatre’s Artistic Director Tom Littler. The writers comprise April De AngelisStella DuffySamantha EllisLorna FrenchJuliet Gilkes RomeroNatalie HaynesCharlotte JonesHannah KhalilBryony LaveryIsley LynnLettie PreciousSabrina MahfouzChinonyerem OdimbaTimberlake Wertenbaker and Abi Zakarian. Continue reading “News: Jermyn Street Theatre and Digital Theatre join forces for 15 Heroines”

Review: Winter Hill, Octagon

“Heroism is danger and risk, and frankly, until now, it’s been male”

Plays set in places I knew well as a child unexpectedly looks like it might be one of the theatrical memes of the year – Years of Sunlight explored the history of the neighbouring town where I learned to swim and now we have Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new drama Winter Hill, named for the West Pennine peak that was the location of many a childhood walk. 

Wertenbaker’s play is set on the Winter Hill of the near future, as opposed to the not-so-near past, where a chunk of the land has been sold to developers who are constructing a luxury skyscraper hotel there, set to completely alter the way that the hill dominates the landscape and the town of Bolton below it. As a local women’s reading group sneaks onto the building site to have their meetings, hidden agendas bubble to the surface to make matters a little more serious than whether they’ve got enough wine to get through the evening. Continue reading “Review: Winter Hill, Octagon”

Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse

“We’re privileged to welcome you here”

Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.

For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year’s news because we’re not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from. Continue reading “Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Jefferson’s Garden, Watford Palace

“We have to ask you to be gender-blind, colour-blind, age-blind, shape-blind, but in all other ways perceptive”

I actually saw a reading of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play Jefferson’s Garden in 2013 when it formed part of the extracurricular activities surrounding the run of Out of Joint’s Our Country’s Good at the St James and blogged quite extensively about it as it was a play that really struck me as one to look out for. Less than two years down the line, it has now received its first production at the hands of director Brigid Larmour and the Watford Palace Theatre where it runs until 21st February and doesn’t appear to have any life anticipated beyond that.

Which is a shame as I do think it is a fine piece of writing. Wertenbaker’s history play takes place during the American War of Independence but makes a sterling case for how the compromises in the creation of a society then have echoed throughout time to become the issues that still blight the USA today. She also plays with the way in which historical narratives are constructed (theatrical ones too) through the voice of a Chorus who stalk the action, identifying the difficulties of converting the dreams of idealism into the practicalities of the real world. Continue reading “Review: Jefferson’s Garden, Watford Palace”

Review: Midsummer Mischief A, The Other Place

In the spirit of the mischief for which it is named, my coverage of the two Midsummer Mischief programmes which mark the reopening of Stratford’s The Other Place will be told through the medium of Rupaul’s Drag Race gifs (borrowed with love from here). Now don’t fuck it up.

Four playwrights have been asked to respond to the provocation “well behaved women seldom make history” and in the first double bill, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Ant and the Cicada and Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again take on the challenge.

First things first, The Other Place has been reconstructed on the stage of the Courtyard theatre with some unforgiving, and unforgivable seating.

I mean it is hard-going to say the least and put me in mind of the body-destroying experience of sitting in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It is not good.

But back to the theatre. Wertenbaker’s Greek-set drama strains a little hard to incorporate its multitudinous themes and explore them sufficiently. I’d put this up for elimination no doubt.

But Alice Birch’s piece sparkles with much more eleganza, extravaganza and revolutionary spirit in a fiercely argued set of scenes which look at where feminism is and where it might end up. It represents.

It has all the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent that you could hope for and feels much more successful than the recent Blurred Lines in evoking the urgency of the debate.

So if these two were lip-syncing for their lives, it would most definitely be Alice Birch getting the ‘shantay you stay’ whilst Wertenbaker scrawls on the mirror with her lipstick.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th July and then playing the Royal Court 15th-17thJuly

Review: Our Ajax, Southwark Playhouse

“Now I know war makes men lose all sense of themselves”

Like Caroline Bird last year for the Gate, Timberlake Wertenbaker has looked to tales of Ancient Greece to create a new play that speaks of the unique trials of modern warfare and the demands it places on soldiers from “Troy, Flanders, Basra, Helmand” and beyond. Our Ajax draws on Sophocles’ Ajax as well as dialogues with people serving in the armed forces right now, but as with Bird’s The Trojan Women, there are difficulties in combining the Hellenic elements – not least the presence of divine power – with the all-too-real scenario of modern-day desert combat.

In a world where the acronym PTSD is chillingly familiar, this Ajax is a decorated Lieutenant Colonel who flips over the edge when he is passed over for a promotion to Brigadier which goes to rival Odysseus instead. But though his devoted battalion recognise what is happening, there are no structures in this version of the military to deal with such crises and so as Wertenbaker unpicks the varied reasons for Ajax’s mental collapse, there’s an inexorable slide towards tragedy that spans from the personal to the institutional. Continue reading “Review: Our Ajax, Southwark Playhouse”

Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre

“I wonder how I will make the potatoes understand”

Just a quickie to cover the last of Out of Joint’s rehearsed readings to accompany Our Country’s Good at the St James Theatre which was a world premiere of a new play, Jefferson’s Garden. As a work-in-progress, the convention is not to say too much but I have to say that this will be a play to look out for in the future because I found it an incredibly accomplished piece of work, even at this early stage, and it made for a highly enjoyable afternoon. 

Starting in the midst of the American revolution and stretching from a Quaker farm in Maryland to a politicised Philadelphia to the Virginian gardens of Monticello, Jefferson’s Garden looks at the birth of a nation in all its huge political and social upheaval and examines the price paid by people on all levels, from the statesmen pushing through new laws to the slaves praying for emancipation.  Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre”

Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre

“In my own small way, in just a few hours, I have seen something change”

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good was first produced 25 years ago by Max Stafford-Clark and his Out of Joint company and as it has remained an evergreen success, in no small part due to regular appearances as a set text for students, a revival makes good sense. And with Stafford-Clark taking on directorial duties once again, it makes for a fascinating chance to see an impresario revisiting a work with which he is inextricably linked.

Much of the appeal of Wertenbaker’s work lies in its celebration of theatre as a cultural medium but also as something more, something that can heal and restore the soul. And so as a group of convicts newly transported to Australia are convinced to put on a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – by an officer of reformist tendencies, we see the transformative power of drama and a subtle shift in the way that punishment is viewed as the idea of rehabilitation comes into play. Continue reading “Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre”

Review: Our Country’s Good, Rose Kingston

“A play’s a world in itself”

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1988 play Our Country’s Good achieved the status of a mnodern classic, making it into the NT’s list of the top 100 plays of the twentieth century. Which truth be told was the main reason that Mr @pcchan1981 and I made the journey over to the Rose Theatre in Kingston to go and see it. This production is by the Original Theatre Company with Anvil Arts and will be touring the country extensively over the coming months.

The play is set in a newly colonised Australia in 1788, where a ship full of transported convicts accompanied by a troupe of soldiers are forced together in this foreign land to forge a new society. Based on a true story, it tells of a benevolent governor who looked beyond the contemporary standpoint on crime and punishment to a more modern view of rehabilitation and used the power of theatre to try and offer an alternative to the unruly mob, much to the displeasure of his officers. Continue reading “Review: Our Country’s Good, Rose Kingston”