June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National

“It’s not about the word, it’s the context in which it’s used and who uses it”

A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer (here’s my review from then) and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.

That it is sold out shouldn’t stop you from trying to get tickets – there’s Friday Rush and there’s refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani’s production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance – which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for – is charged with the significance of these stories being told. Continue reading “Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National”

Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre

“Men, sometimes…I don’t know”

The hugely convivial pre-show entertainment for Barber Shop Chronicles is such good fun that I thought to myself I could easily just watch this for an hour. As it turned out, press night delays meant that it was extended by about thirty minutes, during which you really got to appreciate how quietly radical it is. In designer Rae Smith’s hands, the Dorfman has been transformed into a barbershop in the round, into which we’re volubly greeted by the cast and if you’re lucky, you get to sit in the barber’s chair and “get your hair popped” while you wait for the show to start. What I really loved though was the way in which the company so enthusiastically greeted friends, family, loved ones, shattering conventions and fourth walls alike, setting the tone for a truly joyous experience.

Crafted by Inua Ellams, Barber Shop Chronicles puts black masculinity in all its multiplicities under the spotlight. by examining the crucial role that barber shop plays in their communities. From Peckham to Lagos, Johannesburg to Accra with Harare and Kampala inbetween, we’re treated to a glimpse into a world that is more, so much more, than just a place to get an “aerodynamic” haircut. It’s a place to find chat, companionship, chargers, to confess to deeper truths than might otherwise be acknowledged in the outside world, even to find surrogate father figures and positive male role models. Across these six countries, we eavesdrop on these conversations and in gaining an appreciation for the diversity in the African diaspora, Ellams also traces the common threads. Continue reading “Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

Review: Boy, Almeida

“I want to go to Sports Direct”

The august surroundings and let’s face it, the regular clientele of the Almeida wouldn’t immediately make you think it but Islington – the London borough in which it is situated – has the second highest level of child poverty in the nation. The wealth of somewhere like Barnsbury is barely a stone’s throw from deprived areas like the Bemerton Estate and its an issue which simply isn’t getting any better as evidenced by the horrendously out-of-touch approach to wealth of the current administration – “I obviously can’t point to the source of every bit of money…”

Someone who has no choice but to know exactly where every penny is coming from is Liam, the protagonist in Leo Butler’s Boy. Aged 17, he’s got no job, no cash, no motivation and worst of all in this digital age, no smartphone. Emotionally constrained by his teenage inarticulacy, he opts to wander out from his native South London to set off on a journey to try and connect with an old schoolfriend and en meandering route, he encounters a city at its coldest, finding painful isolation even in the most crowded of streets. Continue reading “Review: Boy, Almeida”

The 2015 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Actor In A Leading Role
Colin Connor in A View From The Bridge at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Rob Edwards in An Enemy Of The People at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Jonjo O’Neill in The Crucible at the Royal Exchange
Sam Swann in Pomona at the Royal Exchange

Actress In A Leading Role
Scarlett Brookes in Educating Rita at Oldham Coliseum
Barbara Drennan in A View From The Bridge and The Family Way at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Kathryn Hunter in Kafka’s Monkey at HOME
Maxine Peake in The Skriker at the Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2015 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: Henry the Fifth, Unicorn

“This is a story about a king”

The Unicorn’s A Winter’s Tale, written by Ignace Cornelissen from Shakespeare, was something unexpectedly brilliant last year, and powerfully moving – unsure of what to expect, I didn’t think that I’d be crying for a good while after at what was ostensibly a children’s show. So you’d think I’d be pre-warned going into Henry the Fifth, likewise an adaptation of, or more accurately a response to, Henry V, but once again, I found myself weeping, most likely scaring the children around me and even now, I’m unable to look at a balloon without welling up.

Cornelissen, translated by Purni Morell, re-envisages the war at the heart of the play as a playground struggle and in Ellen MacDougall’s lucid production, we see that the actions of those concerned are as impactful whether on a school field or a battlefield. The power games of climbing to the top and grabbing it all apply equally in both scenarios but more tellingly, the effect that they have on the people around them can be absolutely devastating. It is such a simple technique but one which is spellbindingly effective. Continue reading “Review: Henry the Fifth, Unicorn”