Review: Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

“We have just elected our first African-American President
‘Let’s see what happens in the long run…'”

It is tempting to think that this revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s 2009 play Apologia was mooted simply so that the above line could get the laughs it richly deserves for its prescience. As it is, Jamie Lloyd has fashioned it into the vehicle that has tempted Stockard Channing back into the West End for the first time in 25 years or so (although she did make it to the Almeida in for Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing). 

Perhaps the word should be refashioned, as the play has been subtly adapted to make its central character an American (I find myself entirely intrigued about the process of this happening – rewrites over accents) but what a character she is. Kristin Miller is celebrating both the publication of a memoir about her career as an eminent art historian and her birthday but gathering folk around the dinner table proves far from a game of happy families. Continue reading “Review: Apologia, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National

“Something Greek sounds good”

It’s the ideal isn’t it, shipping off to a Greek island to escape grey clouds in June and point-settling about plus ones, and its what Charlotte and Theo have done in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play Sunset at the Villa Thalia. He’s a playwright seeking inspiration, she’s an actress who loves him very much, and so they’re renting a cottage on the idyllic isle of Skiathos. But the year is 1967, a momentous year in Greece’s political history, and the American couple they’ve bumped into at the port aren’t quite as benign as they might seem.

Harvey and June are swiftly invited over for drinks on the terrace and as tongues are loosened on the ouzo, we discover that he works for the US government in a shadowy role. With these heavy hints of the CIA, we discover what Kaye Campbell is up to as it was American intervention – in aid of stifling the threat of Soviet expansion – that arguably partly facilitated the military coup that’s about to happen. And it’s not just nations he’s manipulating but the people around him, as he convinces Charlotte and Theo to buy the cottage from its desperate owners who are emigrating to Australia. Continue reading “Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National”

Review: Outbox – Snapshots, Arcola

“If we use my poster, the gays will come”

All-gay theatre company Outbox put together Snapshots, an evening telling the untold and forgotten stories of the LGBT community which, in a nutshell, sum up as the gays are obsessed with sex, lesbians overcommit and Tom Wells remains the best chronicler of small-town gay life. Bringing together new and experienced writers, actors and directors, 5 short plays were featured in this particular programme which sold out the main room of the Arcola on a chilly February Sunday night.

The main reason for booking was to see Tom Wells’ My Number 1 Favourite Lesbian. No one could ever manage Simon Stephens’ level of ubiquity but Wells is giving it a damn good try with three short plays appearing in London over the next month or so. This one was a monologue, excellently delivered by Tim Jackson, set on a New Year’s Eve gone awry where Mark reflects on a difficult few months after moving to London from his hometown has ended up full of disillusionment. Full of rueful humour and wry observation, a lovely thing indeed. Continue reading “Review: Outbox – Snapshots, Arcola”

Review: The Pride, Trafalgar Studios

“What is the point of this stupid, painful life if not to be honest? If not to stand up for what you are in the core of your being?” 

In a bolder step than one might have expected, Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Studios residency has revived Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, stepping it up from the Royal Court to the West End to provide a welcome dose of thoughtful drama that should appeal to all. In 1958, closeted estate agent Philip is irresistibly drawn to Oliver, a colleague of his wife Sylvia; in 2008, Philip has just left Oliver due to his addiction to anonymous sex and best friend Sylvia is left to pick up the pieces. Kaye Campbell expertly weaves the two timelines together to explore how much and how little things have changed – attitudes towards homosexuality may have liberalised some but it hasn’t provided an instant passport to happiness, relationships are still as messy and complex as they ever were.

It’s a play I have loved for a long time now and so it is hard for me to be objective about it. The earlier sequences are reminiscent of Rattigan at his best, every line weighted with repressed emotion as the men surrender to their illicit (and illegal) attraction. And the modern day story speaks of the struggles of identity in today’s hyper-sexualised culture, at a Pride festival where the only real battle being fought is to get to the front of a long bar queue and where the main threat to happiness appears to be Grindr. In both worlds too, the presence of Sylvia is infinitely moving – in the 50s she’s just as trapped by society’s rules as her gay husband and as the contemporary best friend, she has to fight just as hard to live her own emotional life due to Oliver’s clingy nature.  Continue reading “Review: The Pride, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS, Greece – Royal Court via YouTube

There are no Greek islands left, they’ve all been bought up at knockdown prices by the Qataris”

The Greek iteration of The Big Idea had a rather distinct character, mixing the ruminative quality of Andreas Flourakis’ I Want A Country with the more absurdist bent of Mr Brown, Mrs Paparigopoulou and the Interpreter by Alexi Kaye Campbell. And perhaps with an abiding feeling that Greece has borne the brunt of the European financial crisis, watching these plays felt less enjoyable and rooted in a greater seriousness, a weight which it didn’t always manage to pull off. 

I Want A Country worked better, its lament for a homeland gone awry, for the security of the past to return and envelop the three characters in home comforts, is a delicately persuasive one and Flourakis laces the bittersweetness with occasional laughs to ensure the tone never gets too mordantly dark. Alexi Kaye Campbell – himself a Greek expat – fared less well for me, trying to find a more overtly humourous angle on the nightmare of unwanted bureaucracy being imposed on an entire nation. Continue reading “Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS, Greece – Royal Court via YouTube”

Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle

“I think most of us are walking around in a sort of slumber really”

With a revival of The Pride just announced as the next production in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Studios residency, it seemed like a good time to visit Alexi Kaye Campbell’s latest play Bracken Moor at the Tricycle. That said, I have to admit to not being the greatest fan of this ambitious mash-up of political/economic drama and ghost story which is co-produced by Shared Experience and directed by their own Polly Teale. In the midst of the 1930s financial crisis, Yorkshire landowner Harold and his wife Elizabeth are still shell-shocked by the ghastly death of their young son Edgar ten years since and only now are they acquiescing to an extended visit from their old friends Vanessa and Geoffrey. But as they retrace their old friendship, the presence of the visitors’ son Terence awakens something more sinister.

Terence was Edgar’s boyhood best friend and within a few nights, appears to become possessed by Edgar’s restless spirit. This provokes his parents to finally start to deal with their buttoned-up grief but in hugely different ways. Helen Schlesinger’s extraordinarily affecting Elizabeth clings to every possible shred of hope that she could actually be communicating with her lost son and the rawness of her grief is spell-binding. And the much more pragmatic Harold, Antony Byrne in classically old-school English mode, finds himself questioning the decisions he has to make about a dispute over pit closures, his capitalist certainties challenged by this brush with the unknown. Continue reading “Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle”

Review: The Faith Machine, Royal Court

“Certainty is a state of mind, faith is a state of heart. There’s a marked difference, I believe.”

I wavered about the status of this review/not-a-review as the performance of the Royal Court’s The Faith Machine that I saw had to be delivered under house lights without any of Neil Austin’s lighting design since a heavy downpour in the afternoon had put the lighting rig out of action which was a shame as Mark Thompson’s design looks intriguing. Indeed, the rain continued to drip onto the stage throughout the show and so the actors had a fair amount to contend with whilst still working things out in this preview. We did still pay full price though so I am not feeling totally forgiving: so I’ve called it a review, but the focus will mainly be on the play itself rather than the production.

Alexi Kaye Campbell scored a massive hit with his first play The Pride back in 2008 and the play recently had its regional premiere which I was able to catch in Sheffield and I was vastly impressed by the maturity of the writing and its refusal to settle for easy answers. Thus the anticipation for The Faith Machine was quite high, especially with a cracking cast like the one put together here for Jamie Lloyd’s production. Continue reading “Review: The Faith Machine, Royal Court”

Review: The Pride – Studio, Sheffield

Directed by Richard Wilson and starring Artistic Director Daniel Evans, the regional premiere of Alexei Kaye Campbell’s The Pride takes place in the small Studio at Sheffield. The play looks at love and relationships in both modern day-ish 2008 and in 1958, contrasting the two eras to see how attitudes to gay identity and also sexual freedom of all kinds have changed, and how the experiences of an older generation have influenced the decisions we make now. This is done with a trio of characters: Philip, Oliver and Sylvia and a structure that constantly jumps back and forth between the two times and not always in chronological order, so that the two stories become one overarching narrative about the necessity of knowing and loving yourself before you can truly love others.

Dramatically speaking, the 1958 strand is the more intriguing: layers of Rattigan-esque repression make these scenes crackle with the unspoken. Sylvia and Philip are rather unhappily unmarried and when she introduces her colleague Oliver, it becomes clear to us why as the sexual chemistry sparks between them. As Philip struggles to come to terms with his repressed feelings and Sylvia comes to a growing awareness of why he is acting like he is, this story is pursued to its heartbreaking end with all three actors giving stunning performances. Jay Simpson also does sterling work in a number of small roles across both time periods. Continue reading “Review: The Pride – Studio, Sheffield”