Review: Network, National Theatre

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”

 With Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale – a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston – has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he’s going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling ‘prophet’.

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers – as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers’ box…the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. Continue reading “Review: Network, National Theatre”

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre

 
“Darling, shall we dance?”
 
Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn’t cover last time, suffice to say it’s just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton’s icy bitterness in ‘Losing My Mind’! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

 

Review: Follies, National Theatre

 

An utterly majestic production of Sondheim’s Follies is a masterpiece for the National Theatre

“All things beautiful must die”

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer’s set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley’s musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a ‘huh?’ from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).

Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman’s (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke’s production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch. Continue reading “Review: Follies, National Theatre”

Review: Queer Theatre – Bent, National

 

#4 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
 
“I love you… What’s wrong with that?”
 
Perhaps one of the better known of these plays but still a new one to me, I really wasn’t prepared for the emotional trauma of Martin Sherman’s Bent whether I was hungover to fuck or not. Harrowing is barely the word to describe this dramatisation of the way in which the Nazis persecuted gay men in Germany before and during World War II and with this reading, directed by Stephen Daldry, taking place on Pride weekend, its impact was all the more emotional. 
 
Russell Tovey (continuing his graduation into a properly fine actor) and George Mackay took on the lovers Max and Rudy, their coming together in the hedonism of Weimar Berlin shattered by the dawning of the Night of the Long Knives, the realisation of just how insidious the Third Reich is, and the astonishing lengths that people will go to in order to protect themselves at the expense of all they hold dear.

Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Bent, National”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things – Pride special!

2017 marks 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 was an Act of Parliament that decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men.

50 years later the lives of queer people are perceived to be very different – equal age of consent, equality law and equal marriage are all heralded as progressive markers in LGBTQIA* equality but has the UK become a queer friendly nation or are homophobic prejudices just as prevalent?

Belonging is a public debate with poncy performance chaired by Scottee. Together with a committee of prominent queers he will explore where queer people sit in our society. A boozy, loose-tongued version of Question Time with less middle aged, middle class white men. Come and mouth off on the eve of London Pride.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things – Pride special!”

Re-review: Medea, National Theatre

“I choose to take back my life.

My life.”

Booking a return trip to anything Helen McCrory is starring in is something of a reflex action now but I was more pleased than usual to be able to revisit Medea as conversations with numerous of my friends who were not fans had left me questioning whether I had maybe over-rated the show on first viewing. And it was equally nice to find out that I had not. I can see why elements of Carrie Cracknell’s production might have been polarising but for me, the synergy between the different disciplines is alchemical.
 
From jerky dancing to Goldfrappian swells of music, luxury cameos through to an actor magisterially making her mark on an oft-played role to dominate the vast auditorium of the Olivier, it’s a Medea for our time and so it was entirely correct that this performance should be part of the NTLive programme and be broadcast to cinemas across the world. Spine-chillingly remarkable stuff and that’s all I really have to say!

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 4th September

Review: Medea, National Theatre

“Terrible things breed in broken hearts”

Euripides’ Medea has long been considered one of the greatest roles for a woman to play so it is a little surprising (or perhaps not) that it hasn’t been performed at the National Theatre before. But the winds of change blow even on the South Bank so it makes great sense that one of our finest living actresses, Helen McCrory, should take on the part in a production by Carrie Cracknell, herself responsible for making some of that change with recent shows like A Doll’s House and Blurred Lines.

Ben Power’s new version relocates the betrayed Medea in a blasted contemporary setting (another ingeniously cracking design from Tom Scutt, evocatively lit by Lucy Carter) where she and her two children anxiously await news of the husband and father who has abandoned them for a newly politically expedient marriage. Trapped in a foreign land, having severely burned her bridges with her homeland, we watch helplessly along with a hefty Greek Chorus as grief inexorably transmutes into anger.  Continue reading “Review: Medea, National Theatre”

Review: Blue Remembered Hills, Richmond Theatre

“That is the land of lost content”

You’d be forgiven for going with Beatrix if someone started talking about a story about children written by someone called Potter. But Blue Remembered Hills is the work of Dennis Potter, an altogether different proposition and indeed, Squirrel Nutkin would fear for his life even more than usual if he were present in this Forest of Dean setting. For this is no idyllic treatise on the joys of childhood but rather an acutely observed portrait of how brutal a time it can be and how difficult it is to cling to innocence.

Potter’s innovation here is to have his cast of seven 7-year-old characters played by adult actors. Spending a hot summer’s day in 1943 running up and down the grassy bank, playing at mummies and daddies or being aeroplanes, barely a care in the world one would think. But from the opening scene, any hint of a rose tinted glow is stripped away as the playwright lays bare a stark vision of society in all its viciousness, complexity and relentlessness – the group continually jostling for position to avoid the ignominy of being the last to be picked.


The way in which childhood games turn on a dime and become life or death situations; the fastest of friends becoming the bitterest of rivals in the blink of an eye; the shadow of wartime rationing making a battle over a simple apple into something visceral and vital. And that it is adults playing all of this reinforces the persuasive idea of how much of the people we become is formed in these early days and also how their games mirror the actions of society at large. The freewheeling patterns the children trace on the hillside evoke military aircraft ducking and weaving as much as a swooping flock of carefree birds.


On Ruari Murchison’s simple but highly evocative set, director Psyche Stott encourages a wonderful physicality from her company, a fearless energy that is filled with joy – it genuinely looks great fun to be running up and down that slope – but one which lets the creeping darkness build most effectively, the inexorable slide towards something ominous gradually ratcheting up the tension. At just under an hour, Blue Remembered Hills packs in an enormous amount of thought-provoking substance, reminding us that though we may like to think childhood was just fun and games, it is full of spite and brutality, as well as a measure of blithe tenderness. Soaring, exciting, challenging stuff.

Running time: 55 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 22nd June, then goes to Derby

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Danger: Memory!, Jermyn Street

“What you can’t chase, you’d better face or it’ll start chasing you”

Danger: Memory! is a double bill of Arthur Miller one-act plays showing at the Jermyn Street Theatre, offering the first chance to see these short works in London for over twenty years. Written in 1987 when he was in his 70s, the two pieces investigate the varying significance of memory and how we can use it to both comfort and protect ourselves.

I Can’t Remember Anything is the first play, a two-hander featuring a pair of elderly New England neighbours meeting for dinner as is part of their routine. Routine has become important as Leo, a retired engineer, is beginning to lose some of his mental sharpness, but Leonora’s memory is failing much more dramatically. Played by real-life husband and wife David Burke and Anna Calder-Marshall, there’s a really touching brittleness to the way in which they play off each other, constantly at odds and unable to agree on anything as their vibrant lives as are touched back on with varying degrees of lucidity, fading memory unable to destroy their beautifully easy rapport. Continue reading “Review: Danger: Memory!, Jermyn Street”