Review: Holding the Man, Trafalgar Studios

“I may have killed the man I love”

Importing the two main leads and the director from the highly successful Australian production, Holding the Man makes its UK debut at the Trafalgar Studios. Written by Tommy Murphy but based on Tim Conigrave’s 1995 memoir of the same name, it is a love story charting the high and lows of the relationship between Tim and John Caleo, the captain of the football team at their high school no less, over 15 years. It has garnered much acclaim in its native country, but added to that with this transfer is the UK stage debut of comic genius Jane Turner, Kath out of Kath and Kim, as you will not have failed to notice if you’ve seen any of the advance publicity for this show!

I went to see this play without knowing anything about it or the circumstances in which it was written and so therefore, its impact on me was phenomenal. If you don’t know anything about it either, then I have to say I would recommend coming back here at a later date to read this review, but rest assured that this is probably the first stone-cold must-see play of the year. Continue reading “Review: Holding the Man, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Pressure Drop, Wellcome Collection

“Because that’s what we’re fighting for, innit…our roots”

In dealing with the rise of far right politics in East London, Pressure Drop could be just one of many similar plays, A Day at the Racists and Moonfleece both dealt with related themes very recently, but this is really is something special, bringing together Mick Gordon’s writing, songwriting from Billy Bragg and the unique venue of the Wellcome Collection, their first foray into theatre, as part of their Identity project.

Describing it as a ‘part-gig, part-concert, part-installation’ is somewhat unnecessary, it’s a promenade play with some songs in it, but it is a carefully judged production, balancing each of the elements well into a most satisfying whole. It looks at three generations of the Clegg family, white and working class in a rapidly changing East London, and how they struggle to maintain their identities even as everything familiar alters around them. Continue reading “Review: Pressure Drop, Wellcome Collection”

Review: Women Beware Women, National Theatre

Women Beware Women is a cautionary tale of the consequences of the pursuit of wealth, power and lust in the 16th Century Florentine court written by Thomas Middleton. It takes up residence at the National Theatre, in the Olivier, as part of its Travelex season, so lots of £10 tickets should become available when the new season opens for booking to the general public on 30th April.

The plot goes a little something like this: Bianca, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian family, elopes to Florence with a poor merchant’s clerk Leantio. While he’s away on business the Duke of Florence sees Bianca and is determined to seduce her. Bianca leaves her husband when the Duke offers her a life of luxury. In a separate plot line, Isabella is faced with going into a loveless marriage with a rich yet stupid ward. She’s appalled when her uncle Hippolito confesses his love for her. But her aunt Livia, Hippolito’s sister, cunningly persuades Isabella that she isn’t related by blood, so she’s tricked into an incestuous relationship with her uncle. That’s clear, right? Continue reading “Review: Women Beware Women, National Theatre”

Review: Ruined, Almeida

“People come here to leave behind whatever mess they made out there”

Working in partnership with Amnesty International, the Almeida theatre gives us the European premiere of Ruined, the Pulitzer Prize winning play from Lynn Nottage. It is set at Mama Nadi’s, a bar and brothel in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mama runs her bar with a rod of iron, serving anyone who will pay, no matter what side they are fighting for, along as they leave their weapons and their politics at the bar. As the civil war encroaches ever nearer and two new arrivals who have suffered particularly badly at the hands of soldiers, she is forced to reassess her life of providing women and whiskey without question and decide if it is enough.

As Mama Nadi, Jenny Jules is excellent. She’s rarely off-stage and holds the whole play together with her irrepressible hostessing, able to charm any customer yet possessed of an indomitable spirit, no soldier, no matter how threatening, gets past her with a weapon and she rules over her girls with a rod of iron. Starting off like Brecht’s Mother Courage, a similar profiteer from wartime chaos, her motivations remain mostly ambiguous but as events catch up with her, she becomes much more emotionally engaged. Jules is supported extremely well by Pippa Bennett-Warner as Sophie, bright and beautiful yet ‘ruined’ by a bayonet, Michelle Asante as Salima, gang-raped by soldiers but then even more painfully, shunned by her husband and Kehinde Fadipe as Josephine, the most sexually confident of the three but just as damaged. Together, they form an uncompromising group of women, scarred both inside and out by rebel soldiers, government soldiers, even their own families, and only able to dream of what might be in the (relative) safety of each other’s company. Continue reading “Review: Ruined, Almeida”

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”

Never mind ‘the Scottish play’, it appears that it’s the role of Mark Antony that has some kind of a curse attached to it. Last year saw the Dutch Hans Kesting break a leg before The Roman Tragedies arrived at the Barbican (he delivered a barnstorming performance from his wheelchair), and now Darrell D’Silva is having to perform with his left arm in a sling after suffering severe injuries to his hand after a prop firearm malfunctioned during the technical rehearsal. He has now rejoined the cast after surgery, but press night has been postponed to try and make up some rehearsal time. So my first trip to the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC in Stratford which should have been to one of the final previews actually ended up being earlier in the run than planned.

This is a modern-dress Antony and Cleopatra, featuring guns and suits to tell this great tragic love story of two powerful individuals brought together yet unable to escape their circumstances. Rome is ruled by a triumvirate (what a great word!) after Julius Caesar’s assassination, yet all is not well. Mark Antony has had his head and heart captivated by the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and is spending more of his time there than in Rome. Taking advantage of this is the ambitious Octavius Caesar who turns on the third triumvir Lepidus, setting the scene for an almighty showdown between the two rivals. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”

Review: The Last Five Years, Barbican

“I think you’re gonna really like this show, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t suck”

Performed by actors and musicians from the adjoining Guildhall School, this production of The Last Five Years has set up in the Barbican Pit for a week, after two successful performances earlier this year. I saw this show last year when it was produced by the Notes from New York company, starring the incandescent Julie Atherton and I absolutely loved it. Of all the actresses that I love (and God knows there’s lots of them) Ms Atherton is close to the top of my list, I saw her in Avenue Q maybe 5 or 6 times which resulted in all my subsequent viewings of that show somewhat underwhelming as no matter how hard they tried, her replacements suffered from NJA Syndrome (not-Julie-Atherton…) So I was clearly a little trepidatious as I travelled down into the depths of level minus 2 at the Barbican.

The Last Five Years is a modern musical written by Jason Robert Brown, telling the story of a marriage in breakdown between Jamie, a novelist on the rise and Cathy, an actress struggling to make her mark. The twist is that Cathy tells her story starting at the end of the marriage working backwards whilst at the same time, Jamie begins at their first meeting and moves forward. Continue reading “Review: The Last Five Years, Barbican”

Review: Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna, Sadler’s Wells

“Come on Régine “

I’m not much of an opera-goer it must be said, but I have been a fan of Rufus Wainwright for a long time now and I have huge respect for people who fearlessly stretch their creative boundaries: names come to mind like Juliette Binoche taking on Akram Khan and dance in in-i, Damon Albarn’s own opera Monkey and even Graham Norton assuming the role of Zaza in La Cage aux Folles, these are artists willing to take risks in the face of harsh critics and a judgemental public, and I applaud them for following their creative instincts. To add to this list now is Rufus Wainwright, whose opera Prima Donna plays at Sadler’s Wells for four shows after its premiere in Manchester last year. It arrives in London though with a new director and a substantial redesign.

Prima Donna follows a day in the life of an opera singer, Régine Saint Laurent, who was the grande dame of Paris opera yet has not sung a note in six years after a crisis when performing Aliénor d’Aquitaine, a piece written for her especially. Sequestered away in a reclusive life with just a long-serving butler Philippe and a new maid Marie for company, she is struggling to face the demons that haunt her, yet a journalist André coming to interview awakens her desire to recapture her life on the stage. Continue reading “Review: Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna, Sadler’s Wells”

Review: Oscar’s World, Above the Stag

“No-one ever reaches the end wishing they hadn’t done things differently”

Born in France and brought up on Sartre and Beckett, Alex Fiori’s new play Oscar’s World is an existential treat A married couple and their son spend day after day sat on their deckchairs looking out at the ocean, eating tinned rice pudding and searching in vain for the spirit of adventure that sent them away from civilisation in the hope of something more. They talk of leaving, but never quite get round to it despite Oscar’s dreams of the world beyond the horizon.

Carol Robb and Peter Saracen as Rose and Nono are very good as the ill-suited married couple who constantly “find themselves on the wrong side of the pond” and with Steven Serlin as the titular son form the dysfunctional family unit at the centre of the play, their character traits becoming more and more pronounced as the years roll by and eccentricities abound. But it is when Teresa Jennings’ French outsider joins the party that sparks begin to fly and the way in which Jennings plays the slow slide of Ziberline into the regular routine is excellently done, the emotion she brings to the final scene is remarkable. Christopher Mark completes the cast with a nice but tiny role. Continue reading “Review: Oscar’s World, Above the Stag”

Review: The Real Thing, Old Vic

“There’s something scary about stupidity made coherent”
 

Consistency or stuck in a rut? Once again, the Old Vic presents a play set firmly in the 80s and advertised by posters featuring giant up-close portraits of its leading stars. Not knowing anything about The Real Thing did not prevent me from eagerly booking tickets when it was announced though, especially since I had loved Arcadia last year and the early casting news of Toby Stephens and Hattie Morahan filled me with joy. Described on the promotional material as an examination of the complex nature of love, art and reality and also as a modern classic, you’d think you couldn’t go wrong here, but how wrong I was to think that this would be the real thing for me though.

Set in London in the (early?) 80s, Henry is a successful playwright, married to his current leading lady but having an affair with another actress for whom he leaves his wife. He then ends up questioning whether this new marriage is indeed the ‘real thing’ but these issues extend to his professional life too as the question is continually posed about what is the most real, experiencing it for oneself or being able to write beautifully about it, even if it is happening to other people, ‘it’ ultimately being interchangeable for both art and love. It’s a bit tricksy in its format as one might expect from Mr Stoppard so you do need to pay attention from the outset. Continue reading “Review: The Real Thing, Old Vic”

Review: 1936, Arcola

“6 million unemployed cannot be gainfully employed in Greco-roman wrestling”

Taking place in an East London which is changing face, due in part to the arrival of the 2012 Olympics Games, 1936 is a well-timed production, running at the Arcola Theatre for most of April. Bookended by scenes set in the Berlin Olympic Stadium in 1948, the play is narrated by real-life journalist William Shirer as we cover events from 1931-1935 leading up to the Berlin Olympics in 1936 as the news about the burgeoning anti-Semitism under the Nazi regime began to spread throughout the world, forcing the American sporting community to make a stand against what they saw as a betrayal of the Olympic ideal.

Following threads both in Hitler’s regime as figures such as Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels tried to persuade the Fuhrer that the Games were an opportunity to promote Nazi Germany to the world, and in the US sporting administration as more principled people argued for a boycott in the face of bureaucratic resistance. Counterpointing these discussions are the experiences of two athletes, Gretel Bergmann a German Jewish high jumper and Jesse Owens the black American sprinter. Continue reading “Review: 1936, Arcola”