Review: A Small Family Business, National Theatre

“Everybody else works little fiddles, because that’s what the system is designed for”

Who knows what hold Alan Ayckbourn has over the theatrical establishment but by heavens, it is a strong one. As prolific a playwright as they come, the appetite for his plays is seemingly insatiable with what must be a constant stream of productions – I imagine one would be hard-pressed to find a week where there isn’t at least one of his plays being performed somewhere in the country. But his charms have never really worked on me, it is with a heavy heart that I hear there’s a new Ayckbourn somewhere with a cast I can’t resist (although I did only see one of his plays last year) and this time round, it is all Nigel Lindsay’s fault.

A Small Family Business is a 1987 play that was hailed as a searching examination of how Thatcherite values eroded societal links through the experience of one man realising that the family furniture business he has inherited is rife with corruption. But in 2014 it feels a little neutered, what once might have appeared daring has been nullified by a quarter century of rapacious capitalism and so what is left is the well-trodden farcical shenanigans that Ayckbourn loves so much, accompanied by an attempt at a darker side that sits very awkwardly indeed with the dated comedy. Continue reading “Review: A Small Family Business, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2

“Fools tell the truth”

Where success lies, so sequels inevitably follow and after the success of Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, a second series following a different case through the legal system was commissioned and broadcast in 2009. Maxine Peake starred as Juliet Miller, the central figure of the show, a housewife and mother thoroughly cowed by an intensely and secretly abusive relationship whose entry into the criminal justice system commences when she finally stabs her husband, a neatly counter-intuitive piece of casting in Matthew Macfadyen.

I enjoyed the first Ben Whishaw-starring series a huge amount and found it a fresh take on the crime genre so a re-run of something similar was never going to have quite the same impact. But although it is a different take on the model, it didn’t grip me in quite the same way, lacking that sense of relatability that came from having a young male protagonist. For this is a much more female-centric drama – domestic violence, mother-and-baby units, work/life balance are just some of the issues at hand as Peake’s Juliet reels from the impact of her actions, the suspicion with which she is treated, the stresses leading up to and during the trial.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2”

Review: Misterman, National Theatre

“Do you know what I’d do if I didn’t have my senses?”

There’s something to be said for a set design that can take your breath away at a theatre that one has visited many, many times, and Jamie Vartan has achieved it here with his cavernous transformation of the Lyttelton’s stage for Enda Walsh’s Misterman. It’s an effect to take in for yourselves as the safety curtain descends, so I won’t ‘spoil’ it, but it really is excellently done. And given that Walsh has written a one-man show, for friend and previous collaborator Cillian Murphy, it is a brave move but one that largely pays off as Murphy produces a performance that more than fills the space.

Thomas Magill is a disturbed young man from the small Irish town of Inishfree who is seeking sanctuary in an isolated warehouse for reasons unknown. Hyped up on vast amounts of Fanta and Jammie Dodgers that literally fall from the sky, he’s a would-be preacher who sees angels, a tortured soul who can’t deal with real life, a storyteller who takes us through the assorted characters of the local villagers whose morality, or lack thereof, he is determined to correct, as it emerges he’s telling us about the events of a particular single day. Continue reading “Review: Misterman, National Theatre”

Review: Polar Bears, Donmar Warehouse

“Where’s Kay, is she in Oslo? No, she’s in the cellar.”

Polar Bears is quite a coup for the Donmar Warehouse, being the first play written by celebrated novelist Mark Haddon. After the huge success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which featured a lead character with Asperger’s Syndrome and its follow-up A Spot of Bother, Haddon has now turned his hand to the theatre.

If you can, I would recommend going into this play with as little knowledge of it as possible, as it really does enhance the whole effect of it to no end. The review that follows does not contain any plot spoilers per se but it does discuss the nature and structure of the play which in itself is a bit spoilery, so if you’ve not seen it yet and you intend to, look away now! (But do come back afterwards xx) Continue reading “Review: Polar Bears, Donmar Warehouse”