Review: Medicine, Hope Theatre

Rightfully tough to take in its exploration of mental illness, Meghan Tyler’s Medicine impresses at the Hope Theatre

“You taught me the wrong things”

It’s a real gift to be able to write the kind of dialogue that manages to both leave you breathless with laughter and yet feel entirely rooted in believability. And as Ma bickers delightfully with her daughter Moira-Bridget over whether she’ll catch her death without a sweater, or the quality of the wine she’s nicked, or what they should drink that wine out of (I think this is the first play I’ve seen to mention Mooncups…), it is clear that Meghan Tyler has such skill.

But Medicine is far from just fun and games and banter, the full complexity of mother-daughter relationships is explored here, right down to everything that they share. Which includes a tendency to severe depression. We first meet the pair on Warrenpoint Pier in Northern Ireland, where Ma discovers Moira on the edge – quite literally – but though every part of her wants to do something, sometimes it is just impossible to help. Continue reading “Review: Medicine, Hope Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, National

“A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man”

There’s nowt so queer as folk, at least not in Simon Godwin’s version of Illyria here. A gender-swapped Malvolia longs after her mistress Olivia, hipster-fop Sir Andrew Aguecheek is entirely smitten by a flirtatious Toby Belch, Antonio follows up his snog with Sebastian by inviting him to a rendez-vous at local drag bar The Elephant. And that’s before we’ve even dealt with the sexual confusion that Shakespeare himself engineered in Twelfth Night, as shipwreck survivor Viola disguises herself as her presumed drowned twin brother and wreaks havoc on the libidos of Olivia and Orsino alike.

It’s a mark of the success of Godwin’s production that it wears this all so lightly. It’s a modern-dress version for a modern sensibility (if not for the audience member who gasped audibly at the first gay kiss) and one that is rooted in a real sense of playfulness, as an expertly cast ensemble just have a huge amount of fun with it. Phoebe Fox’s delicious Olivia, who gives new life to the phrase ‘dance like nobody’s watching’; Oliver Chris’ Chelsea playboy of an Orsino, in the throes of a mid-life crisis having just turned 40; Tim McMullan’s swaggeringly confident Sir Toby ever accompanied by Niky Wardley’s spirited Maria and the comic masterpiece that is Daniel Rigby’s Sir Andrew.  Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, National”

Review: The Plough and the Stars, National

“Choke a chicken”

Gruelling Irish dramas seem to pop up with some regularity at the National and Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars is just the latest to test my patience. The play is considered O’Casey’s masterpiece but given that I didn’t last past the interval of Juno and the Paycock here a few years ago, I didn’t enter the Lyttelton with the highest of expectations.

And nor did it meet them. Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin’s revival may possess poignant resonance in marking the centenary of the crucial event it builds up to – the Easter Rising of 1916 – but it also feels like it takes a century to get round to it. A large ensemble populate the tenement building at the heart of the community featured here and they all get their chance to have their considerable say. Continue reading “Review: The Plough and the Stars, National”

Review: Flare Path, Richmond Theatre

“Supposing there is an ‘after the war’”

One of the unexpected highlights in the raft of productions that marked Terence Rattigan’s centenary year in 2011 was Trevor Nunn’s Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Previously unheralded, it emerged as an understated masterclass in repressed emotion, wonderfully enlivened by Sheridan Smith’s Olivier-winning supporting role. The Original Theatre Company’s touring version of the show, directed by Justin Audibert, thus has a lot to live up to to equal its success.

And sadly, it never quite manages it. Part of this lies in the fact that it isn’t the most thrilling piece of writing. Set exclusively in a 1942 hotel lobby close to an airbase, it follows a group of fighter pilots as they wait to be called onto the next raid with their loved ones watching on anxiously. Naturally, their loved ones aren’t always the ones they’re married to and the emotional crux of the play centres on a love triangle between Patricia, her airman husband Teddy and her Hollywood star ex Peter. Continue reading “Review: Flare Path, Richmond Theatre”

Downloadable dramas – Lampedusa and Elegy

“We live with unspeakable losses, and most of us move on”

A bit of a treat for you, with audio adaptations of two recent hard-hitting plays available to download.

Marking Refugee Week and the end of a four year journey for this play, Douglas Rintoul’s Elegy can be downloaded both high and lower quality from this very webpage and there’s a digital programme and the text available for you as well to make a comprehensive little package. This Transport Theatre production is a devastating piece of documentary theatre, charting the horrendous experiences of gay Iraqi refugees as they were forced to flee their homeland. I saw it back in 2012 and it has stayed with me ever since, I definitely recommend giving this a listen. 

And as something of an accidental companion piece, Lampedusa blew me away at the Soho Theatre back in April this year, hitting a shocking vein of synchronicity as news of boatloads of refugees dying in the Mediterranean suddenly dominated the front pages. HighTide’s production of Anders Lustgarten’s play will be returning to the Soho at the end of the month but you can listen to an adaptation of it now on the Guardian website or download it as an mp3 and partake of it at your leisure. Again, it is often brutal but remains a powerful piece of theatre that speaks so much to our current time.

Photo: Jonny Birch

Preview: Elegy at the VAULT Festival and Brighton’s Pink Fringe

“Some stories are more powerful than others”

I’m not normally one for doing preview pieces but for this show, I’m making the exception. Douglas Rintoul’s Elegy was one of the best shows I saw in 2012, making my top 25 for the year and inspiring a rather rapturous review. So I was glad to hear that a) it has had a successful time of it since then, winning an RNT Foundation Playwright Award and touring internationally (indeed the show is currently enjoying a critically acclaimed Spanish language run in Madrid) and b) it is returning to the UK for dates here in London and in Brighton.

This one-man-show is brilliant but brutal, a searing insight into the LGBT refugee experience as a gay Iraqi man is forced on the run when the ‘liberation’ of the post-Saddam regime takes a decidedly more conservative turn, It’s the type of subject that one sadly imagines will never not be resonant somewhere somehow and with the rise of Islamic State in the Middle East, certainly now more than ever. Adam Best will be taking on the unnamed role and Rintoul directs in what will be one of the more haunting productions you’ll see all year long. Continue reading “Preview: Elegy at the VAULT Festival and Brighton’s Pink Fringe”

Review: Hamlet, Citizens

“One may smile and smile and be a villain”

It was with a little hesitation that I went to another Hamlet so soon after the extraordinary (and criminally under-rated) efforts of Maxine Peake and co but work circumstances conspired to land me in Glasgow (city of my alma mater) and so I made my first trip to the Citizens Theatre. And though Dominic Hill’s creative vision has its own unique stamp, it was interesting to note the parallels that emerged in these two re-envisionings of Shakespeare’s work.

The personal rather than the political was foregrounded (it’s been a rough year for budding Fortinbrases) as the sphere of the play became a domestic one once again and I have to say I love Hamlet as a family drama. The spin on the relationships possess a real power when the scope of the play is thus reduced and their dynamics gain in intensity. Pushing it as far as they do here in Glasgow, one could even argue that the play is transformed into an ensemble drama. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Citizens”

Review: The Silver Tassie, National Theatre

“There’s no more to be said
For when we are dead
We may understand it all”

Commemorating the start of the First World War has turned into something of a full-time business for the nation’s theatres but in reviving the rarely-seen 1927 Sean O’Casey anti-war piece The Silver Tassie, the National Theatre has hit on something special. The play is structurally extraordinary in the difference of its four acts – a vaudevillian take on an Irish household transforms memorably into the visceral horror of a battlefield haunted by music hall songs, after the interval a hospital-set comedy eventually turns into stark realism, as the shattering effects of war on society are laid bare. Howard Davies’ epic production forges through blood and noise to find a most painful truth.

The cumulative effect may challenge some and is certainly disorientating at times but it also has a form of progression that feels natural, like feeling a way through what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Opening in the Dublin tenement home of the Heegans, the play riffs on Irish stereotypes through the clownish figures of Sylvester and Simon and the neighbourhood archetypes they teasingly mock but soon allows young gun Harry Heegan to take centre stage, boasting the trophy – the Silver Tassie – he and his teammates have won playing soccer, just before they head off to join the British war effort.  Continue reading “Review: The Silver Tassie, National Theatre”

Review: Public Enemy, Young Vic

“We want people who know what must change and why”

The phrase ‘timely revival’ is one much abused by reviewers and theatre marketers alike but it is genuinely amazing how strongly the resonances of a piece of writing from 1882 chime in today’s world. Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, retitled here as Public Enemy in a terse new version by David Harrower, rails against government corruption, the treatment of whistle-blowers, unscrupulous clothing factory owners and foretells a world of growing ecological and environmental calamity. It is a powerfully compelling tale, cheekily updated to the 1970s here, and one which wriggles uncomfortably beneath the skin.

Stockmann is a principled doctor in a provincial Norwegian town famed for its spa baths but when he discovers that the waters are poisonous and need to be shut down and announces this to the town at large, he is not met with the gratitude and acclaim he expects but rather is ostracised and demonised by the leaders of the town’s society. Chief among these in the mayor but as is often the way in small-town politics, he just happens to be Stockmann’s brother. The battle for public opinion that ensues is then bitterly fought as Stockmann, Ibsen thinly veiling his contempt for the frosty reception of his previous play Ghosts, reacts to becoming the enemy of the people. Continue reading “Review: Public Enemy, Young Vic”

Review: Our Country’s Good, Rose Kingston

“A play’s a world in itself”

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1988 play Our Country’s Good achieved the status of a mnodern classic, making it into the NT’s list of the top 100 plays of the twentieth century. Which truth be told was the main reason that Mr @pcchan1981 and I made the journey over to the Rose Theatre in Kingston to go and see it. This production is by the Original Theatre Company with Anvil Arts and will be touring the country extensively over the coming months.

The play is set in a newly colonised Australia in 1788, where a ship full of transported convicts accompanied by a troupe of soldiers are forced together in this foreign land to forge a new society. Based on a true story, it tells of a benevolent governor who looked beyond the contemporary standpoint on crime and punishment to a more modern view of rehabilitation and used the power of theatre to try and offer an alternative to the unruly mob, much to the displeasure of his officers. Continue reading “Review: Our Country’s Good, Rose Kingston”