Review: The Sewing Group, Royal Court

“This is what we call a safe space”

When I was at primary school, we did a thing in needlepoint where we sewed seemingly random shapes in a line and only when we’d finished and Mrs Holcroft (I think it was) told us to look at the spaces inbetween, did we see that we’d made a handicraft tribute to Jesus. That’s still the first thing I think of when I think of sewing and there’s a tenuously similar link of ‘do you see what it is yet’ to The Sewing Group, EV Crowe’s new play for the Royal Court.

Stewart Laing’s production opens in the bare timber of a log cabin where two women are sewing. Enigmatically short scenes, sometimes containing just a single glance, interspersed with total blackouts offer tantalising threads to follow – an outsider joins this rural community but her mere presence in the group soon becomes a disruption, leading to more than just dropped stitches in the slow and increasingly strange unfolding of the story. Continue reading “Review: The Sewing Group, Royal Court”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre

“Is it not strange…”

The Faction weren’t kidding when they said they were breaking out of the rep model that has characterised their output for the last few years. Earlier this summer saw them take Vassa Zheleznova to the Southwark Playhouse and now they’re appearing at the reFASHIONed Theatre. What’s that I hear you cry, why it’s a pop-up space on the lower ground floor of Selfridges just past the luggage where a newly commissioned version of Much Ado About Nothing is paying its own tribute to Shakespeare400.

Director Mark Leipacher and co-director Rachel Valentine Smith have slimmed the play down to a neat 90 minutes, without too much damage (unless you’re a big fan of the Watch) and with a nod to the sleekly contemporary surroundings of the reFASHIONed space, introduced digital cameos to supplement their 9-strong cast. So Simon Callow and Rufus Hound pop up on CCTV footage as Dogberry and Verges, and Meera Syal appears regularly onscreen as a reporter for Messina News, filling us in on the breaking news whether on TV or on Twitter-streams. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre”

Review: Incognito, HighTide

“Imagine how liberating it would be not to remember who you were”

If you saw the mega-hit that was Nick Payne’s Constellations, then the fragmented structure of his new play Incognito will come as little surprise. Here, he has deconstructed three stories loosely connected around the theme of neurology and woven them back together in a searching meditation on the vital importance memory plays in our lives and also in the construction of our very selves and touching on how little we truly understand about it.

Payne riffs off historical events for two of the three strands – the bizarre theft of Albert Einstein’s brain by the man who performed the autopsy on him, and the pioneering experiences of Henry Maison who underwent experimental brain surgery and thus helped shape the future of neuroscience. Along with extended and embellished versions of both stories is the tale of Martha, a present-day clinical neuropsychologist also caught in a moment of mental fragility. Continue reading “Review: Incognito, HighTide”

Review: Boys, Soho Theatre

“You want to believe someone will catch you whatever happens, but they won’t”

In a hot Edinburgh summer with the binmen on strike and riot police on a knife edge, four young men approach a major milestone. For two of them, it is graduation from university; for the others, it is the end of being able to piggyback on their flatmates’ hedonistic student lifestyle; for all of them, it is the unavoidable realisation that they have to face up to the future, however unfriendly it may seem. This is the central premise behind Ella Hickson’s newest play Boys, a HighTide/Nuffield/Headlong co-production now playing at the Soho Theatre, which I suppose will strike fear into the hearts of many about to graduate from university themselves.

In the somewhat blinkered world of Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam, the focus remains squarely on partying until the last possible moment with alcohol, drugs and sex and stories of the same to be found in great abundance. But beneath  the bravado lies fear, different kinds of fear for each boy and these slowly play out as the reality of the situation finally begins to hit them and the import of the big questions facing them, as the entry into adulthood lies straight ahead, weighs heavily in the air. Continue reading “Review: Boys, Soho Theatre”

Review: Yerma, Gate Theatre

“Does his breath make you want to feel his tongue in your mouth”

Outgoing Artistic Directors Natalie Abrahami and Carrie Cracknell have made the Gate Theatre into quite the powerhouse of small-scale international drama and Abrahami has turned her hand one last time with this production of Federico García Lorca’s Yerma, a co-production with Hull Truck, in a new version by Anthony Weigh. Having never seen it before, I couldn’t tell you anything about how it compares to the original (indeed I often wonder how many reviewers have real experience that they refer to rather than meticulous research) so I’m not even going to try.

The play centres on Yerma, a young peasant wife who is increasingly distraught at her childlessness in a community where fecundity is everything. Her sheep farmer husband Juan is more interested in tending his flock than tending to her needs and as she resorts to increasingly desperate measures to get a baby, she edges closer to the dark secret that haunts her marriage. In the ochre-heavy set of harsh sand and rusted corrugated iron – beautifully realised by Ruth Sutcliffe – the intensity is wound further and further until the spring breaks. Continue reading “Review: Yerma, Gate Theatre”