Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

News: Casting for 2018 Donmar season

It looks like Josie Rourke is getting a little demob happy at the Donmar, as her penultimate season as artistic director sees a fresh twist on gender swapping that feels like a genuine first. Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden will star in a new production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in which they will alternate the roles of Isabella and Angelo, midway through the show. Heaven knows how it will work but Lord knows I can’t wait to find out.

Brian Friel’s Aristocrats, directed by Lyndsey Turner, is also added to the slate, and this will be Turner’s fourth staging of a Friel play after Faith Healer, Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Fathers and Sons. The cast includes Elaine Cassidy, Daniel Dawson, David Ganley, Emmet Kirwan, Aisling Loftus, Ciaran McIntyre and Eileen Walsh. Continue reading “News: Casting for 2018 Donmar season”

Review: Touched, Nottingham Playhouse

“The world’s changing. It’s not going to go back to the way it was”

There’s something admirable in actors who remain loyal to their roots – I’m thinking of the likes of Maxine Peake who has established a good deal of her stage career in her native North West and now Vicky McClure, who is making her professional stage debut in Nottingham, the town of her birth. Riding high on sterling TV credits like This is England and Line of Duty, she likely had opportunities aplenty in London theatres so it is salutary that it is to Nottingham Playhouse she has turned.

And not only that, it is to a local play by a local writer, Stephen Lowe’s Touched, which lends the 1977 play a real sense of authenticity (and more exposure to Nottingham dialect than I’ve ever had before!). Set in 1945 in the 100 day period between VE Day and VJ Day, it focuses on the lives of the women left holding the country together in this time of great upheaval, which shows no signs of slowing down as a new Labour government look set to win the election and nuclear bombs about to fall. Continue reading “Review: Touched, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: The Hotel Plays, Langham Hotel

“The world is a circle, and everything comes back to where it started”

A soldier on leave, a lover in the cupboard, an actress in her dotage; newlyweds, mistresses, hucksters; satin pyjamas, warm croissants, endless liquor. Such is the stuff of many a hotel and in the plush surroundings of the Langham, London, all of the above and more can be found in Defibrillator Theatre Company’s revival of The Hotel Plays, a suite of three Tennessee Williams short plays performed in three suites in the hotel itself.

Site-specific performances are sometimes guilty of square peg round hole syndrome but here, the marriage of material and setting is perfect. The seating may not always be the most comfortable but that’s only right as we’re the ones eavesdropping on the private affairs unfolding in these most intimate of surroundings, flies on the wall of Williams’ mini-universes full of heartbreak, hedonism and heists. Continue reading “Review: The Hotel Plays, Langham Hotel”

DVD Review: Page Eight

“There’s a fine line between calculation and deceit”

A rare foray into television for David Hare as both writer and director, Page Eight was broadcast on the BBC in 2011 but as ever, I missed it at the time – most likely I was in the theatre. On it went to my lovefilm list and up it came just in time for my little spy-fest. Career intelligence analyst Johnny Worricker has his life turned upside down when his MI5 boss and best friend dies suddenly of a heart attack, having revealed the explosive contents of a file which threatens the UK/US alliance and the future of MI5 itself. His artist daughter has something important to tell him, his strikingly attractive neighbour Nancy Pierpan has suddenly appeared on the scene with a (not-so) hidden agenda and the well-oiled wheels of the slippery government are determined to oust him whilst keeping its secrets. Old-school to his core, Worricker is confronted with a series of dilemmas, political, moral, personal, as he faces up to this contemporary world and his place within it.  

Aside from the obvious thrill of a new piece of writing from David Hare, Page Eight also contained some utterly luxurious casting and an exceptional, tailor-made central role for Bill Nighy as Worricker. Ineffably cool as only Nighy can be, the art-collecting, jazz-listening, women-seducing figure at the centre of the story was a perfectly convincing presence but the real star was Hare’s writing. Though undoubtedly a contemporary spy story, it eschewed the glossy thriller territory of Spooks for a no less compelling, intelligently intertwining yet thoroughly believable sequence of events. Shocks and surprises still came, but from people and actions rather than exploding helicopters or extended chase scenes and so it had a deeply satisfying quality that demanded, and rewarded, the attention. Continue reading “DVD Review: Page Eight”

Review: Noises Off, Old Vic

“Oh God, I can’t believe we’re opening tomorrow”

Sondheim once posed the question “Don’t you love farce?” which given the name of this blog is rather apt for me, and I can safely say that it is not a genre of which I have proven fond. I’ve given it several tries but I really wasn’t a fan at all of A Flea In Her Ear, Once Bitten or One Man Two Guvnors, though the Orange Tree’s Three Farces did hint at the possibilities within the form that I did actually find funny. Billington reckoned in his last review of One Man Two Guvnors that one “would had to have had a humour by-pass not to enjoy it” which seems a bit harsh – I’m not against people finding farce funny but senses of humour are individual and so different things make different people laugh.

So you’d be quite right to think there was little chance of me going to see Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, the Old Vic having apparently decided that farce is their Christmas go-to. But I’m a theatre addict, and I love Celia Imrie, so I plonked down £20 for a restricted view seat (which happened to have several empty seats next to it, which I would never recommend that you could sneakily upgrade yourself to…) and gritted my teeth in readiness. Continue reading “Review: Noises Off, Old Vic”