Review: Boots, Bunker Theatre

Boots at the Bunker Theatre is affectingly done but tries to pack in too much to its short running time

“The walk to the tills afterwards was like I was the Christmas tree and he’d just turned the fairy lights on”

Sacha Voit and Jessica Butcher’s Boots was seen as the VAULT Festival last year, so it’s rather neat that a new incarnation of the play opens at the Bunker Theatre while this year’s festival is running, a sign of the progress possible for all those theatre companies plugging away under the arches of Waterloo.

Directed by Nadia Papachronopoulou, Boots is an affecting and effective two-hander which probes interestingly at intergenerational friendships. Tanya Loretta Dee’s Willow and Amanda Boxer’s Liz meet at a Boots pharmacy counter as Liz applauds Willow’s tirade against a misogynistic customer. And from there, something grows. Continue reading “Review: Boots, Bunker Theatre”

Review: Mosquitoes, National Theatre

“I can be anything I want. 
I can be a Hufflepuff if I want.”

Just a quickie for this as it closes this week (I had the unfortunate accident of being in Vienna for its press night). Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes has been a sell-out success for the National, packing out the Dorfman perhaps initially for its deluxe casting of two Olivias – Colman and Williams – but latterly due to some superb word of mouth as well. And given that this is largely a play about two sisters who can’t help but bicker all their lives, it is brilliantly well cast.

Williams is Alice, a scientist working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and Colman is Jenny, a medical sales rep living in Luton. Nominally, the former is a success, the latter a fuckup, an idea reinforced by Jenny arriving in Geneva to recuperate from a devastating personal loss. But Kirkwood’s writing is far too nuanced to let that be all, she thoroughly interrogates our preconceptions as she whirls through a universe-ful of ideas including anti-vaxxers, revenge porn, society’s inherent misogyny, science and religion and much more besides. Continue reading “Review: Mosquitoes, National Theatre”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Christine Edzard will be writing and directing a new version of The Good Soldier Schwejkbased on the satirical Czech novel by Jaroslav Hašek, and creating a daring theatrical and filmic experience.  

Published in serial form, The Good Soldier Schwejk became an instant success. Hažek died in 1923 leaving the novel unfinished. By 1926 it was translated into German and spread across Europe, acquiring cult status. Since then, the good soldier has appeared in many forms across the world, as a powerfully comic symbol of anti authoritarianism, anti militarism and resistance.

Edzard will present a contemporary ‘take’ on Hašek’s original, in an unconventional, rule-breaking adaptation. The subject of Edzard’s film is in fact a play, a comedy, which she has scripted as a live, cabaret style performance. Her Schwejk will be filmed from curtain up to curtain down as performed over the course of a week in the intimate wooden theatre at Sands Studios in Rotherhithe. The compression of Hažek’s sprawling novel into cabaret form will add bite and contemporary relevance to the satire. The Cabaret form also reflects the background of Schwejk’s original creator – Jaroslav Hašek was a frequent performer of politically engaged cabaret in Prague.

A small cast:
Alfie Stewart 
Joe Armstrong
Kevin Brewer
Sean Gilder
Michael Mears
Aaron Neil
Andrew Tiernan
and
Michele Wade 

will take on multiple roles and there will be live music and (partially scripted) audience participation. Editing will take place after the shoot in the normal way

It all sounds very intriguing indeed (follow their Twitter here for more info) and I’m pleased to be able to share some rehearsal images for Good Soldier Schwejk with you below. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: Medea, Almeida

“I don’t think you realise how extraordinary your anger is”

So Rupert Goold closes his #AlmeidaGreeks season by directing Kate Fleetwood, who just happens to be his wife, in the title role of Medea. And as with Oresteia and Bakkhai, a new version has been commissioned from an unconventional source, this time novelist Rachel Cusk. So we leave ancient Greece for modern-day London, Medea becomes a writer whose actor-husband Jason has left her for a model and the chorus becomes a garrulous gaggle of pashmina-wielding yummy mummies as concerned with the calories in croissants as the parenting of their peer.

Cusk frames her play essentially as a series of conversations by which Medea finds herself pummelled, in search of a self she hid for 15 years of marriage and is struggling to relocate post-divorce and where Fleetwood excels is in showing the range and depth of her despair. Lacerated into silence by Amanda Boxer’s caustic nurse, lambasted by children who won’t leave her alone (Louis Sayers and Guillermo Bedward both excellent at this performance), left behind by Justin Salinger’s Jason with whom she argues thrillingly viciously, the intensity is immense and Fleetwood sustains it throughout. Continue reading “Review: Medea, Almeida”

Review: Uncle Vanya, St James

“This is starting to get offensive”

Proving herself once, twice, three times a lady Chekhov adapter, Anya Reiss now finds herself in the slightly odd position where (I think) she’s had more of her adaptations produced than her original writing – it’s certainly one way of casting off the mantle of ‘saviour of new writing’ with which she has often been blessed/cursed. I didn’t catch her well-received take on Spring Awakening for Headlong earlier this year but it is reimagining the work of Chekhov that has really fired her mojo – recent versions of The Seagull and Three Sisters are now followed by an equally modern Uncle Vanya for the St James Theatre.

And whilst I’d love to say these adaptation are going from strength to strength, for me it is much more a case of diminishing returns. Moving The Seagull to a contemporary Isle of Man chimed well but Three Sisters suffered a little (well, a lot) in the shift to a modern British embassy and so too does Uncle Vanya here, relocated to a Lincolnshire farm in the modern day. The sense of crippling stagnation, of an entire way of life on the precipice is present but none of the deep emotion or eternal tragedy of the characters that should elevate its concerns to the universal. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, St James”

DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)

“We can get him online”

After watching The Nether at the Royal Court, a chat with a colleague about other plays that effectively depict the internet threw up Enda Walsh’s Chatroom which played at the National Theatre a few years back (and featured both Doctor Who (Matt Smith) and Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) in its cast. It was slightly before my time of insane theatre-going so I was glad to see that I could catch a film version, adapted by Walsh himself and directed by Japanese maestro Hideo Nakata.

The story concerns five teenagers in various states of unhappiness who find succour in online chatrooms. Disillusioned model Eva, anti-depressant taker Jim, unhappy daughter Emily and inappropriately flirtatious Mo are swept up by highly-functioning sociopath and self-harmer William in a room he’s created called Chelsea Teens! At first they just talk smack about those they don’t like but William soon manipulates them into acting on their feelings, with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)”

Review: Relative Values, Richmond

“I know nothing and just pretend to know a great deal”
I think I might be falling out with Noël Coward, or rather producers’ insistence on frequently remounting the same plays of his, so I had to be persuaded to go and see this production of Relative Values making a short tour to Richmond after a well-received run at Theatre Royal Bath. And it was nice to see a Coward play that I had never seen before, even if it was Trevor Nunn directing – running time is 2 hours 45 minutes and you do begin to feel it – even if it doesn’t really offer much new either in plot or characterisation.

Where it is strongest is in satirising the class hang-ups of post-war Britain as the stately home of Marshwood House tries to deal with the news of the impending nuptials of the son of the house to a flighty Hollywood actress. Not only that, it turns out the beloved maid has a particular connection to his wife-to-be that makes her position untenable. So in order to keep her companion, the Countess decides to elevate the reluctant Moxie from member of staff to family friend, something made more difficult by her sister’s reinvention of her past and the arrival of an old suitor who wants to stop the wedding.

The TV name-friendly cast also serve better than one might have expected. Patricia Hodge brings genuine depth and warmth to the typical battleaxe role, giving us a real sense of a woman struggling to come to terms with change but determined to do so, Caroline Quentin’s Moxie is a comic delight and stage debutant Rory Bremner also fares as the observant butler, full of bon mots as if it has all been seen before.


For the more theatrically inclined, Katherine Kingsley is a hoot as the would-be Hollywood star and Ben Mansfield as the man pursuing her and Stephen Boxer’s louche nephew Peter are both strong. But the ensemble are good across the board and there’s a tightly honed comic precision that keeps the show pointedly sharp and light on its feet, keeping away – for the most part – from too farcical a mood. It looks superb in Stephen Brimson Lewis’ swish design and one can well imagine it resurfacing soon in the West End.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 13th July

Review: The Painter, Arcola

“The fashionables…they just want to know if a painting’s hot…”

As their premiere production in their new premises at the Colourworks in Dalston, the Arcola theatre have commissioned The Painter, a play about the well-known artist JMW Turner which plays on the historical links of the building, a former paint factory actually frequented by Turner. And to write it they returned to Rebecca Lenkiewicz, a playwright whose first play was the first to be staged at the old Arcola. It follows other plays about artists which keep popping up at this theatre, The Line and Reclining Nude with Stockings (the title of which has skewed my hit count something chronic) but it is not always easy to translate the aura around an artist and his work to the stage without a genuinely interesting story and I am not convinced that Lenkiewicz has managed that here.

The Painter covers the middle period of his career and centres around the key relationships with women in his life, his mother who is slowly succumbing to dementia, his fertile lover and the prostitute who becomes his model and confidante. This is contrasted with his steadily growing professional success as a painter despite difficult relationships with his contemporaries and as an intellectual who frequently lectured students at the Royal Academy on his views on art despite being of ‘lower’ birth. But to be honest, there’s no real insight offered here beyond that of the superficial biographical. Continue reading “Review: The Painter, Arcola”