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: People, National Theatre

“People spoil things”

Were I watching Alan Bennett’s new play People at home on DVD, I would probably make it a drinking game, with a shot to be taken every time the title appears. Except it wouldn’t last very long at all, no matter how strong your liver, as it is repeated, repeated and repeated in this lament for the fading fortunes of the English aristocracy. Dorothy Stacpoole, a former model who now lives a semi-reclusive life with her companion Iris, is being forced to decide the fate of her near-decrepit South Yorkshire stately home: should some of the contents be sold on to private investors, who are also interested in buying the whole house, or should it be given to the National Trust, who Bennett has decided to take aim at with this piece of writing.

In an incredibly slow-moving opening 30 minutes or so, it becomes apparent that Dorothy – Frances De La Tour oozing hauteur – favours the former option, whilst her Archdeacon sister June is determined that it should be the latter. Bennett rails against the commodification of history and the creation of ‘experiences’ but curiously he makes Dorothy the mouthpiece with her fears of having people traipsing through her home and disrupting her life. Quite why we’re expected to feel sympathy for this poor little (formerly) rich girl whose inability to take responsibility has left the house, and her life, in the state it is in, I’m not sure. Continue reading “Review: People, National Theatre”

Review: Lay Down Your Cross, Hampstead Downstairs

“Fancy a pork pie?”

The Hampstead Downstairs has attracted an interesting range of creative talents since opening and with perhaps fortuitous timing, welcomes Nick Payne’s newest play Lay Down Your Cross. Payne is coming off the huge sellout success of Constellations upstairs at the Royal Court, but this is a much different piece of work – more akin to Wanderlust, my other experience with him as a playwright. We’re in Tony’s poky new flat in Luton where he is waiting for the arrival of his daughter Dawn, who has emigrated to Australia, as it is the funeral of his soldier son Adam. As we also meet his scatty ex-wife Grace, who’s all too keen on a box of wine or two, and Adam’s girlfriend Raph who is worrying about delivering the eulogy, Dawn gets to find out some uncomfortable truths about home, and her brother’s death.

Payne excavates this troubled family dynamic extremely well: the emotional distance between them all, Tony’s struggle to shake his ex-wife’s dependence, his bluff demeanour having to hide his disappointment at the choices that his children have made, his lashing out when things get too much, all is excellently portrayed in Andy De La Tour’s persuasive performance. His quiet heartbreak is set well against the blinkered disintegration of Grace, Susan Wooldridge in fine form, but the play suffers a little with the shift into the blame game which comes with Dawn’s relentless pursuit of the truth. Lucy Phelps does well at signifying the righteous liberal anger but Payne absolves her, too easily for my liking, from the familial responsibility from which she has divorced herself and I wanted more resolution in this father/daughter relationship. Continue reading “Review: Lay Down Your Cross, Hampstead Downstairs”