Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre

Much of the talk about Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play Her Naked Skin has focused on the rather shameful fact that it is the first play by a female writer to be staged on the main Olivier stage at the National Theatre. Which whilst true and a definite achievement in itself, should not detract from the fact that this is a really rather sensationally good play.

Set in the Suffragette Movement in London in 1913 with excitement in the air as victory can be tasted, but times have never been more frenzied or dangerous as militant tendencies are at their strongest and many women are experiencing jail time on a regular basis. Lenkiewicz pitches the continuance of this struggle against the more personal story of Lady Celia Cain, bored in life and with her traditional marriage and family, who launches into a passionate lesbian love affair with a much younger, much more lower-class seamstress whom she shares a cell with and soon much more. As the affair hots up, so too does the political climate as emancipation comes closer to becoming a reality. Continue reading “Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre”

Review: in-i, National Theatre

in-i marks a remarkable collaboration between dancer/choreographer Akram Khan and actress Juliette Binoche in which they dared each other to push personal and professional boundaries and create a work of art stretching over both their disciplines. The result is in-I, an 70 minute piece of intriguing dance theatre.

It purports to take us through the 14 different words that the Greeks have for love, but for me it felt like one could trace the turbulence of one relationship throughout. Taking us on a journey through this relationship, heavily influenced by his religious upbringing, her fears of domestic violence, as the couple come together, clash, separate, reunite and over again as they both struggle to deal with their innate fierceness. Continue reading “Review: in-i, National Theatre”

Review: The Lion King, Lyceum

It took a long time for me to be convinced that going to see The Lion King at the Lyceum was worth it despite it being one of the longest-running shows in the West End and having finally made it there, I’m really not sure that it was worth it for me. Elton John’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics work with Roger Allers and Irene Meechi’s book which takes the familiar plot and adds in several new scenes with a couple of notable changes (i.e. Rafiki becomes a female character) but the story is essentially the same: young lion Simba is robbed of his father and his throne by his wicked uncle Scar and only by learning about friendship and family and growing up and facing challenges, can he hope to return and claim what is his by birth.

It is often difficult to watch shows that are based on well-loved films, especially when you’re the one that loves the film in question, and so predictably it turned out here that I was disappointed. There is an odd tension between replicating familiar scenarios, as in the glorious opening scene which is stirringly rendered here and making its own mark on the material, Scar is re-envisioned as a camp villain stripping away any of the evil or menace that is associated with his character. Continue reading “Review: The Lion King, Lyceum”

Review: Piaf, Donmar Warehouse

I’m not one for standing ovations really, a show has to be beyond superb and really move me before I get on my feet, so imagine my surprise as I found myself standing and cheering before Elena Roger had even finished her final note of ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’! This is a truly amazing production of a show that I would bet the house on winning at least one Best Actress award for Ms Roger by the end of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Piaf.

A reworking of Pam Gems’ 1978 play which sketches the tragic and tragically short life of French street singer Edith Piaf, it doesn’t actually feature too much by the way of biographical detail as it places the songs for which she is so rightly famous full square and centre. And this is why it is such a success. Continue reading “Review: Piaf, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Avenue Q with Daniel Boys, Noël Coward

As you may be able to intuit from its regular appearance here, I have become more than a little obsessed with Avenue Q over the past couple of years as it fast became one of my favourite musicals and probably the best new musical I’ve seen full stop. I’ve taken many people, friends and family alike, to see it to near universal acclaim and the soundtrack is often on my iPod, although it has particularly been the London cast that has won my heart.

Change always encroaches though and a major overhaul of the cast meant that this visit, the first for a while, was filled with a little trepidation at how these changes would affect the show that has become so dear to me. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q with Daniel Boys, Noël Coward”

Review: The Revenger’s Tragedy, National Theatre

The Revenger’s Tragedy is a Jacobean revenge play of dubious authorship but these day, attributed to Thomas Middleton. It is set in a decadent Italian court full of moral decay but in Melly Still’s new production here at the Olivier auditorium in the National Theatre, it has taken on a whole new lease of life.

The story is full of backstabbing intrigue and intricate plotting which required a lot of attention. Vindice is our hero of sorts, but he is determined to be revenged on the Duke, as whilst he’s seemingly a fine upstanding type, actually raped and pillaged the fiancée of Vindice a few years back. His home life is a little eventful too, his Duchess is a narcissistic, sexually voracious, hedonist who is lusting after her husband’s bastard son; and their other sons are a motley crew of bad’uns. One of them, the handsome Lussurioso, has decided to buy a lovely young woman from her mother, but she turns out to be the sister of Vindice. Thus, the scene is set for a strange mix of tragedy and comedy as we hurtle to the oh so very bloody climax. Continue reading “Review: The Revenger’s Tragedy, National Theatre”

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking, National Theatre

Based on the memoir of the same name by Joan Didion, recounting a year in the life of the author after the sudden death of her husband and during which her daughter was also taken seriously ill and eventually died, The Year of Magical Thinking is a searching examination of grief and the mourning process

It is painful and at times oddly emotionless: this is mainly due to the analytical nature of the writing. This is no self-indulgent exercise in wallowing but rather a detached examination of the effects of grief. Only occasionally do glimpses of the grieving widow escape, and they are all the more effective for their rarity. Continue reading “Review: The Year of Magical Thinking, National Theatre”

Review: Rosmersholm, Almeida

Rosmersholm is one of Ibsen’s lesser performed plays and is presented at the Almeida Theatre in a new version here by Mike Poulton. It is also notable for marking the return to the stage of the wonderful Helen McCrory, an Islington local, and one of my favourite actresses.

Rosmer, a former pastor, is oppressed by a whole series of factors: his conservative ancestry, guilt over his wife’s suicide and loss of religious faith. But, aided by his companion, Rebecca West, he believes he can set out on a new path of missionary idealism. This, however, turns out to be a fantasy as he is not strong in his new path, society turns against him and his new democratic ideals, his closeness to West makes them become a subject of scandal, and as Rebecca has her own demons too, sets them on a path where the weight of the past threatens everything.

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Review: random, Royal Court

debbie tucker green’s one-woman show random is a 50 minute tale of an everyday black family whose lives are torn apart by a random act with tragic consequences. Performed by Nadine Marshall on the Royal Court’s main stage, she holds the attention effortlessly with a stunning performance of great intensity.

Marshall takes us through all the family members, Brother, Sister, Mum and Dad, in a witty opening sequence full of domestic idiosyncracies, finding much humour in the mundane and fleshing out all four characters well before tragedy hits and the ugly spectre of knife crime rears its head. From here, Sister comes to the fore as the voice of grief, stricken with emotion at the brutality of the crime the injustice of the world that keeps on turning despite their loss. Continue reading “Review: random, Royal Court”

Review: His Dark Materials, Theatre Royal Bath Young People’s Theatre

Established as probably my favourite theatrical experience ever when it played the National Theatre, when I heard that the Young People’s Theatre company at the Theatre Royal Bath were putting on a production thanks to the Guardian’s Guide, tickets were booked to take in the day’s entertainment. The translation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy into two plays is one of the most sympathetic adaptations of literature to theatre I can remember and they are amongst my favourite books, yet the way in which they’ve been edited really works, slicing out the more obtuse threads of the final novel and focusing on the harrowing journey that the young protagonists have to make.

Even without the magnificent set that utilised the drum of the Olivier Theatre to its full extent, this is an ambitious project for any theatre to take on, never mind a youth group but they have risen to the challenge pulling together a cast of over 150 10-18 year olds with more than 300 costumes and 100 puppets created especially for this production. The story takes us on a thrilling journey with Lyra and Will, 12 year old kids who live in parallel worlds who are thrown together by destiny on a huge quest which takes them from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the frozen wastes of the North to the darkest of all places as they both search for something precious to their hearts, facing a range of challenges: rebellious angels, soul-eating spectres, child-catching Gobblers and the armoured bears and witch-clans of the Arctic. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials, Theatre Royal Bath Young People’s Theatre”