“They kicked us out
And knocked our house down
And shipped us here to the arse end of nowhere”
I learned to swim in Skelmersdale, known as Skem to anyone who has ever been there. A couple of miles from the village where I was born, the drive to the Nye Bevan Swimming Pool was always a fascinating one visually due to the whims of the 1960s town planners who designated the place a ‘new town’ – sheets of grey concrete dominated the architecture and the roads were full of roundabouts after roundabouts, barely a traffic light to be seen among the network of subways. It was also a strange feeling though, as it was crossing the invisible borderline from Woollyback territory (your more typical Lancastrian accent) into the land of the Scousers (the inimitable sound of Merseyside).
I bring you this insight into the early years of Clowns because Years of Sunlight, a new play by Michael McLean, is set in Skem and whilst it had an undeniable nostalgic charge (I’m almost certainly the only reviewer there who got excited at the sight of the ‘Connie’, or Concourse shopping centre in a video clip), the play also had the unexpected result of making me think of the place in a new light. This particular ‘new town’ was designed to rehouse the overspill population from the poorer parts of Liverpool but the forced creation of new communities is rarely so simple as that, and it is this impact that McLean explores here, by following the thread of a 30 year friendship. Continue reading “Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503”
“All we can do is what feels right”
There’s been something really quite moving about the second series of Humans, the Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley Channel 4 drama which has just wound to a close. In a world that started off examining the diametrically opposed differences between humans and synths (series 1 review), the stark black and white palette of the show has moved markedly to a murky shade of grey on both sides, complicating the actions of both parties to make us really appreciate the difficulties in deciding right and wrong.
So where the renegade synth Niska (a brilliant Emily Berrington) has decided to subject herself to human justice in order to try and find some common ground, newly awakened Hester goes fully rogue in defining humans as the absolute enemy, to brutal effect in a chilling performance from Sonya Cassidy. And questions of identity are no less complex on the human side, as the show toys with ideas of humans opting to live life as a synth and experimenting even further with technology. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 2”
“That’s why there’s a God; otherwise anything can happen”
Arthur Miller’s titanic All My Sons has been well served in recent years – the late Howard Davies reviving his National Theatre production to stunning effect in 2010 and Michael Buffong illuminating it anew for Talawa Theatre in 2013 – so any new production has big boots to fill. And though seasoned director Michael Rudman comes with quite the track record (including a Tony for his work on Death of a Salesman in 1984), this production doesn’t quite howl with the anguish it could.
Part of the problem lies in Michael Taylor’s design which, whilst superficially impressive, works against the idiosyncratic space of the Rose Kingston and Rudman’s pacing negates far too much of the inherent tension in Miller’s depiction of the souring of the American Dream. So much comes from its slow-burning intensity that it is hard to believe that so many key moments get fudged, their drama fudged into melodrama or in some cases, just missing the beat entirely. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Rose Kingston”
“I am a spirit of no common rate”
The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.
And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”
“Somewhere there’s a woman and
Nina Segal’s debut play In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) begins with a couple bursting free out of shrink-wrapped confines, plastic film their amniotic sac from which they emerge with their tales of new-born woes. The problem is their new-born though, a baby daughter who just won’t stop crying and over the duration of one long, long night, they have their certainties well and truly rocked by the realisation of exactly what they have taken on as new parents in today’s world.
As Man and Woman recount the story first of how they met, then how they moved in together and soon found themselves expecting, we’re introduced to Segal’s poetic writing style of almost duelling narratives (“A woman and a man meet in a street/ A woman and a man meet in a bar”), a storytelling game to amuse their infant and whose rhetoric is designed to make connections for the audience. For the angst they’re feeling in the nursery is amplified by a sense that the horrors of the world outside are seeping in – baby’s first existential crisis. Continue reading “Review: In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises), Gate”
“Sight may distinguish of colours, but suddenly to nominate them all, it is impossible”
First things first for this is too important an issue to be brushed under the carpet, too vital a conversation to not too have because a press release has been summarily issued, the “historical verisimilitude” justification for Trevor Nunn’s decision to cast an all-white company for his Wars of the Roses play cycle is just pure bunkum. At one point in Henry VI, a Norwegian man and a British woman appear on a balcony playing French characters but it’s OK because we’re in a theatre, they’re acting, the natural suspension of disbelief kicks in.
Similarly later on, the four sons of Richard of York appear, three played by adults and one by a boy. Historians might point out that the son played by the boy was the second oldest of York’s surviving issue but again it’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things, theatrical license is granted and it allows for more poignant drama given his ultimate fate. So the historical accuracy argument clearly has little merit, lest we need reminding that Shakespeare is fiction, and the notion that the audience couldn’t connect family trees unless everyone is the same colour is frankly insulting. Continue reading “Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)”
“Every tale condemns me for a villain”
Undoubtedly the best known of the constituent plays of The Wars of the Roses, Richard III appears in a slightly shortened version to wrap up nearly nine hours of theatre. And as such it is solid rather than spectacular, not hugely notable in its own right but slotting perfectly into place as the final piece of this epic trilogy. The culmination of over half a century of internecine conflict, several lifetimes of ruthless ambition and no little amount of pitiless bloodletting, the end is brutal but welcomed.
Robert Sheehan’s Richard dances darkly across the stage, quick as you like in vicious word and bloody deed, and gives forth enough charisma to suggest he could hold many in thrall. Aided by the Mandelson-like spin from Alexander Hanson’s Buckingham and any number of factotums willing to carry out dastardly requests, he is able to effectively play on the sense of a ruined society that has been built over the preceding two plays. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”
“Work thou the way – and thou shalt execute”
Edward IV was my favourite of the three The Wars of the Roses plays, comprising the latter half of 2 Henry VI and an abridged 3 Henry VI. I might be biased towards it as the middle child of the trilogy but it encapsulates much of what is impressive about the whole enterprise. Its heart lies in two of the crucial grand narratives – the epic sweep of Margaret of Anjou’s rise and fall and the arrival on the scene of Richard of Gloucester as he begins the long con that’ll take him so far – and I actually found there to be an exciting sense of pace about the whole play, right up to its cheeky cliff-hangerish ending.
With civil war raging across the country and death and destruction and betrayal and battles round every corner, Henry VI decides to retreat into pacifism leaving Margaret to assume the mantle of leader as her vendetta against Richard of York becomes increasingly vicious as supremacy swings between the two houses. Clad in chainmail, Joely Richardson radiates a malevolent determination that is well-matched by Alexander Hanson’s fervently committed duke, their tussling over the Iron Throne (well this one is stone…) complicated by multiple machinations from supporters constantly defecting from one side to the other. Continue reading “Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”
“Between the red rose and the white
A thousand souls to death and deadly night”
Of the three plays of The Wars of the Roses, Henry VI was my least favourite. Taking all of I Henry VI and about half of 2 Henry VI, Trevor Nunn’s production takes an awful long time to really get going, largely hamstrung by one of Shakespeare’s weaker plots. Henry V has died, Henry VI isn’t proving to be much cop and so trouble starts brewing in the rival camps that emerges, the Houses of Lancaster and York. But they brew slowly and for a long time as there’s all sorts of business to deal with in France, including Joan of Arc.
And that business just isn’t that entertaining here, despite Imogen Daines’ committed work as the Maid of Orléans. The importance of the loss of French territory is never keenly felt and though the build-up to the collapse of English political order instinctively registers more significantly, it never feels more than a prelude as we know there is so much more to come (about seven hours). For me, Alex Waldmann’s petulant Henry VI was a disappointment, leaving no real mark on the role amidst a bunch of angry bearded white men shouting a lot. Continue reading “Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”