Review: The Early Bird, Finborough

“You don’t just disappear. You don’t just vanish into thin air.”

The Early Bird at the Finborough should probably come with some kind of health warning, this is some seriously disturbing dark stuff. With a missing child at the centre of this play though, one should not really be expecting an easy time of it. Performed by real-life husband and wife Alex Palmer and Catherine Cusack (half-sister to Sinéad, Niamh and Sorcha and more excitingly, played Carmel the psycho nurse from Corrie!) as Jack and Debbie, the couple struggling to deal with the disappearance of their daughter Kimberley one morning on the way to school. We then follow them as they try and recreate the events of that morning but the aftermath reveals the cracks below the surface and things become increasingly, incredibly creepy.

The design by takis is sensational: the actors are enclosed in a clear perspex cube and surrounded by piles of ash, with just a toy chest inside. Lit harshly from fluorescent tubes below, it is clear they are trapped, both physically and emotionally in their horrific experience, but as the seats are arranged around the box in the round, it is clear that we the audience are also trapped, with nowhere to hide from the unfolding action and the unflinching, coruscating stares of the actors. Continue reading “Review: The Early Bird, Finborough”

Review: Waiting for Godot, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Let us not waste our time in idle discourse”

Waiting for Godot was one of the huge hits of the theatrical calendar last year, starring as it did the heavyweight talents of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, running for most of the summer at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and has been reinstated there again now Breakfast at Tiffany’s has finished.

There’s clearly a business case for bringing this production back as it was so successful and keeping as stellar a name as Ian McKellen to get the bums on seats again, but surely the main draw was seeing the combination of McKellen and Stewart and I do find the recasting decisions a little curious, part of me thinks they should have gone the whole hog in order to create an entirely new production. Continue reading “Review: Waiting for Godot, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: The Hostage, Southwark Playhouse

“I was court-martialed in my absence, and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence”

After having one of the hottest tickets in London in January with The Rivals, the Southwark Playhouse had quite an act to follow and it has done so by reviving Brendan Behan’s play The Hostage, the first new production in the UK for 16 years. Opening with a song and dance routine as The Rivals did not really help to stop comparisons instantly being made, we soon moved onto to both a naked man appearing and characters addressing the audience, both of which have been in incredibly plentiful supply this year already.

Behan’s play is incredibly hard to define: it’s set in a brothel in 1960s Dublin where a young British soldier is being kept hostage by the IRA in reprisal for the planned execution of a young IRA member in a Belfast jail. The hostage is forced to share the space with the resident prostitutes both male and female, their customers, and a random selection of crazy individuals, but finds a connection despite everything with a young innocent housekeeper. It’s comic but tragic, it’s farcical but political: as I said, hard to define! Continue reading “Review: The Hostage, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Richard III, Riverside Studios

“Oh thou well skilled in curses, stay awhile
And teach me how to curse mine enemies”

So after a nice break away from London, and seven whole days without a play, 2010’s theatregoing resumed with a trip to Richard III at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Part of a season of plays entitled Desire and Destruction presented by the Love and Madness company, an ensemble of 10 actors are covering 3 plays around these ever-resonant themes, of which Richard III is the second to start (Fool For Love opened last week).

One of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works, Richard III is the story of the physically deformed Duke of Gloucester, a fiercely ambitious prince of the House of York whose hunger for the throne leads him down a Machiavellian path of endless murder, betrayals and general naughtiness as nothing will stop him from gaining what he so desires, even though it lays so far from him. Shakespeare played fast and loose with history in writing this play and so it lends itself to interpretation quite nicely (this production is presented in modern dress), being much more a study in uncontrolled ambition and the power of ‘spin’ in order to manipulate situations both publicly and privately to one’s own good. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Riverside Studios”

Winners of the 2010 What’s On Stage Awards

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Rachel Weisz – A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse (24.8%)
Alison Steadman – Enjoy at the Gielgud (12.8%)
Fiona Shaw – Mother Courage & Her Children at the NT Olivier (9.4%)
Helen Mirren – Phedre at the NT Lyttelton (21.60%)
Juliet Stevenson – Duet for One at the Almeida & Vaudeville (7.60%)
Lesley Sharp – The Rise & Fall of Little Voice at the Vaudeville (23.80%

THE CAPITAL BREAKS BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jude Law – Hamlet, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s (40.80%)
David Harewood – The Mountaintop at Theatre 503 & Trafalgar Studios 1 (6.00%)
Dominic West – Life Is a Dream at the Donmar Warehouse (13.60%)
Ken Stott – A View from the Bridge at the Duke of York’s (14.90%)
Mark Rylance – Jerusalem at the Royal Court Downstairs (13.90%)
Samuel West – Enron at the Royal Court Downstairs (10.80%)
Continue reading “Winners of the 2010 What’s On Stage Awards”

The 2009 Clarence Derwent Awards

UK – Best male in a supporting role
Clifford Rose as The Judge in The Chalk Garden

UK – Best female in a supporting role
Phoebe Nicholls as Frances Trebell in Waste and Helen Seville in The Vortex

US – Most promising Male
Aaron Tveit – as Gabriel Goodman in Next to Normal

US – Most promising female
Quincy Tyler Bernstine– as Salima in Ruined

Critics’ Circle Awards 2009: the winners in full


Best New Play
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
Spring Awakening

Best Actor
Mark Rylance in Jerusalem

Best Actress
Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Jude Law in Hamlet

Best Director
Rupert Goold for Enron

Best Designer
Christopher Oram for Red

Most Promising Playwright
Alia Bano for Shades

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
Tom Sturridge in Punk Rock

 

Review: Really Old, Like Forty Five, National Theatre

“You’re not that old, you just look it”

Really Old, Like Forty Five is a new play from Tamsin Oglesby which looks at the challenges that an increasing ageing population is having on society. We see a government thinktank come up with strategies to deal with them, and we also witness 3 siblings are dealing with old age and the effect it has on their extended family. This dual perspective is effectively shown by use of a split level stage: the government bods are perched on a balcony on top and we see how their decisions affect the general population in the form of the family who occupy the main lower part of the stage, with its mini-revolve allowing for quick scene changes.

I found it to be highly amusing and also highly moving: it’s wittily written, with funny lines popping up all over the place, we’re often laughing at our own prejudices against old people but then quickly forced to confront them as we see just how far this government is willing to go to provide a ‘final solution’ in witnessing the trials of Alice, Lyn and Robbie with their families. Gawn Grainger as Robbie gamely dresses up in more and more ridiculous ‘street’ outfits as he chases a long-gone youth and Marcia Warren has a wonderful twinkle-eyed charm as the ever chipper Alice, with a beautiful speech about the vagaries of the human memory in response to her sister’s distressing decline and jumbled up recollections of their shared youth. Continue reading “Review: Really Old, Like Forty Five, National Theatre”

Review: Daisy Pulls It Off, Arts Theatre

“This is a dismal business, isn’t it”

I rather suspect that Daisy Pulls It Off at the Arts Theatre is an old-fashioned a tale as you’ll ever see, it is certainly the one of the most odd. It’s a jolly old hockey sticks boarding school romp with Daisy Meredith, a poor scholarship girl, having to prove herself at Grangewood School for Young Ladies in the face of some absolutely beastly bullies who just don’t like her. It helps of course that she is exceptionally intelligent, plays a mean game of hockey and writes lovely poetry.

There’s some good performances here, Joanne Gale and Emma Scholes as the older girls shone for me, but some really painful ones too. There’s little real connection between the characters, such limited interactions, that it is hard to get much sense of a company here, and it is just unclear what the tone of the piece really is. Is it a spoof? Is it a comedy? Is it a straight-up play? I’m not sure, and I don’t think the actors were either, such was the variance in the way they played their roles. Plus my bete noire of the year so far raised its head again, with Daisy narrating random sections of the play which stilted the rhythm of the piece horribly. Continue reading “Review: Daisy Pulls It Off, Arts Theatre”

Review: Rope, Almeida with Q+A

“People argue about the queerest things nowadays”

Perhaps an odd choice for a festive show, Rope at the Almeida Theatre is a dark tale of murder, abusive relationships and a dinner party (which I guess is what Christmas is about for some people…) Two Oxford students, Brandon and Granillo murder a third for the existential thrill of committing the ‘perfect murder’, they then invite people, including the dead boy’s father, round for supper, which is served on the chest where the body is stashed. Only one guest begins to suspect something is amiss, Rupert Cadell, a WWI veteran now a world-weary Nietzschean and over the course of the evening, the men try to argue the case for their intellectual superiority and play the dangerous game of trying to get away with murder.

The most arresting thing about this production upon entering the theatre is that it is presented in the round. This is a first for the Almeida and it is highly effective. It gives the real sense of being in the room with the protagonists and also has the visually pleasing effect of placing the chest in the centre of the action, both physically and metaphorically. This worked beautifully in the scenes which had several of the characters on stage, but I felt that when there was just two or three of them, more could have been done to utilise this format: the final face-off scene in particular was very static and played as if on a normal stage. This worked fine for us in our central seats but people to the side would have just seen the back of one or other of the main characters for the final 20 minutes of the play.

Continue reading “Review: Rope, Almeida with Q+A”