Review: The Convert, Young Vic

Danai Gurira’s The Convert is a Christmas treat of a different order at the Young Vic Theatre

“Gracious to goodness”

There’s all sorts of lovely connections here. Danai Gurira’s play The Convert was first seen in the UK at the Gate last year, a theatre where her earlier drama Eclipsed was produced in 2015. That play starred Letitia Wright in an astonishing performance and Wright now appears in this new version of The Convert at the Young Vic – Wright and Gurira having starred in some little arthouse film called Black Panther in the meantime…

It’s a cracking good play too, worth the attention of this second production. Set in 1896 Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe), it looks at the ways in which colonial rulers sought to erase African cultural identities through any means they saw fit. Culturally, religiously, linguistically, their tools of ‘progress’ were wielded with considerable force and Gurira counts up the cost with a slow-building dramatic flair. Continue reading “Review: The Convert, Young Vic”

Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

News: Cast for the West End transfer of The Inheritance announced

All but one of the original cast of The Inheritance will make the transfer into the West End at the Noël Coward Theatre

The ensemble cast of The Inheritance at the Noël Coward Theatre is now confirmed and will include: Hugo Bolton, Robert Boulter, Andrew Burnap, Hubert Burton, John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H Levine, Syrus Lowe, Michael Marcus, Vanessa Redgrave, Jack Riddiford, Kyle Soller and Michael Walters. The main change is that Jack Riddiford joins the company in place of Luke Thallon who is going to be appearing in Chichester’s revival of Mike Bartlett’s Cock instead.

I absolutely adored The Inheritance when I saw it at the Young Vic and am glad that the brave decision to transfer this major new work into the West End has been made. It certainly deserves a bigger audience and I sincerely hope that they come – and why wouldn’t they, when you look at this lovely set of blossom portraits of the new cast by Johan Persson.

 

All photography by Johan Persson

 

Review: Fun Home, Young Vic

As exciting as musical theatre can get – Fun Home becomes a must-see production at the Young Vic

“Caption—My dad and I were exactly alike

Caption—My dad and I were nothing alike”

It’s fitting that Fun Home should open in Pride month, not least because it is an all-too-rare show that focuses on the L in LGBT+. But as stirring and gratifying and significant as it is to have a lesbian protagonist, this musical works because it is straight-up fantastic – an unabashedly bold queering of the form that reins back any notion of excess to reveal the simple truth that beneath it all, we all hurt the same.   

Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s memoir of the same name, a graphic novel musing on her experiences in coming out and later discovering her father is a closet homosexual, yearning for a deeper understanding about how he could have, maybe, possibly, taken his life while she was still a teenager. Lisa Kron’s book adopts a non-linear approach, using an adult Alison as a narrator to recall fragments of memory from her childhood and from her early university days, the bruising experience of her own life facilitating a deeper reflection.  Continue reading “Review: Fun Home, Young Vic”

Review: The Inheritance, Young Vic

An epic gay play for the 21st century – Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance is a must-see at the Young Vic

“A chain of gay men helping each other, loving each other, hurting each other, understanding each other”

It would be easy to focus on the fact that The Inheritance is long and yes, its two parts total up to nearly seven hours in the thankfully comfortable seats of the Young Vic. But they also sum up to a brave and epic piece of new writing from Matthew Lopez, taking a scalpel to contemporary gay life in New York, asking what does it mean to be a gay man today and just how much of that is owed to an inherited (and neglected) cultural legacy.  

Structurally, the play owes a curious debt to EM Forster’s Howard’s End, using it as a considerable inspiration for plot but also as a device to launch into its storytelling, which has an occasional tricksiness to it, pulling at the thread of the stories we wish we could tell rather than the ones we have to. That main story centres on Eric and Toby, a gay couple who have the foundations of their relationship rocked when the tenancy of their amazing apartment is terminated. As their lives reshape around new realities, new experiences, new challenges, they come to see how little of the world they really know. Continue reading “Review: The Inheritance, Young Vic”

Not-really-a-Review: The Inheritance Part One, Young Vic

“Holy shit, Meryl Streep is here?”

I’m just going to write the one review to cover both parts of the The Inheritance but I wanted to flag up that if, for some crazy reason, the full seven hours of Mathew Lopez’s epic didn’t appeal, then you could do worse than sticking with Part One. For though it may not have any Vanessa Redgrave, it does contain a moment of pure transcendent beauty that left me weeping on the bus journey home, and so how could you possibly now resist?! Continue reading “Not-really-a-Review: The Inheritance Part One, Young Vic”

Review: Yellowman, Young Vic

“Don’t marry nothing dark”

As part of winning the Genesis Award, a programme supporting creatives in the “early stages of their professional lives”, the Young Vic offers winners the chance to put their talents to work in its smaller places. This year, it is the turn of director Nancy Medina who is mounting a short run of Dael Orlandersmith’s 2002 play Yellowman in the intimate space of the Clare, though without an official press night.

It’s a brutal but fascinating look at racism within the black community, as Eugene and Alma grow up in 1970s South Carolina, negotiating the difficulties that come from having parents with different skin tones. The darker-skinned Alma is firmly on the wrong side of the tracks whist Eugene, lighter-skinned but derogatorily referred to as ‘yellow’, has a wealthier family, but one who experiences no less prejudice. Continue reading “Review: Yellowman, Young Vic”

Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Young Vic at the Apollo

“The human animal is a beast that dies but the fact that he’s dying don’t give him pity for others”

Whatever the reasons behind the decision to open Benedict Andrews’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof directly into the West End, a first for the Young Vic, you can’t help suspect that it has been informed by the extraordinary success of their 2014 collaboration on A Streetcar Named Desire. Equally, it is tempting to feel the play would be better off on The Cut, the better for its intimacy to really sizzle.

There’s certainly the attempt to raise the temperature – Andrews has his leads Jack O’Connell and Sienna Miller in various states of undress for large swathes of the play – but for all the skin exposed, there’s little sexuality between Tennessee Williams’ central couple, the reasons for which are painstakingly revealed later on. And ultimately it is a disconnect that reads better than it plays. Continue reading “Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Young Vic at the Apollo”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic

“On the dank and dirty ground…”

Joe Hill-Gibbins’ idiosyncratic 2015 take on Measure for Measure filled the Young Vic with inflatable sex dolls so it should come as little surprise that for his A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he and designer Johannes Schütz have transformed the stage into a muddy paddock. With just a mirrored back wall to add to the set, the scene is thus set for an exploration of the “subconscious” of this most oft-seen (particularly in the year gone by) of Shakespeare’s plays. 

There’s some great work, delving into the murkiness of the relationships here. Far from spirits “of no common rate”, these royal fairies feel like a real married couple in the throes of having to work things out yet again, Michael Gould’s Oberon’s manipulations as much as anguished as angry, and Anastasia Hille’s Titania relishing the removal of the ball and chain as she plays sex games with Bottom, roleplaying the attending fairies in a witty twist. The intensity of their connection repeats itself later in another clever connection.  Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic”