Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 

 

The race to declare the most exciting show for 2018 has well and truly been declared by Complicite with Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a new production based on the award-winning novel by Max Porter. Directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy, it is a moving story of a widower and his young sons which becomes a profound meditation on love, loss and living.
 
And if only dates for Galway and Dublin have been announced thus far , a glance at the co-producers – the Barbican, Cork Opera House, Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Playhouse, St Ann’s Warehouse and Warwick Arts Centre – gives a little hope that we might not have to travel the Irish Sea if we don’t want to (although don’t quote me on that!)

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National

“It’s not about the word, it’s the context in which it’s used and who uses it”

A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer (here’s my review from then) and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.

That it is sold out shouldn’t stop you from trying to get tickets – there’s Friday Rush and there’s refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani’s production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance – which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for – is charged with the significance of these stories being told. Continue reading “Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National”

Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre

“Men, sometimes…I don’t know”

The hugely convivial pre-show entertainment for Barber Shop Chronicles is such good fun that I thought to myself I could easily just watch this for an hour. As it turned out, press night delays meant that it was extended by about thirty minutes, during which you really got to appreciate how quietly radical it is. In designer Rae Smith’s hands, the Dorfman has been transformed into a barbershop in the round, into which we’re volubly greeted by the cast and if you’re lucky, you get to sit in the barber’s chair and “get your hair popped” while you wait for the show to start. What I really loved though was the way in which the company so enthusiastically greeted friends, family, loved ones, shattering conventions and fourth walls alike, setting the tone for a truly joyous experience.

Crafted by Inua Ellams, Barber Shop Chronicles puts black masculinity in all its multiplicities under the spotlight. by examining the crucial role that barber shop plays in their communities. From Peckham to Lagos, Johannesburg to Accra with Harare and Kampala inbetween, we’re treated to a glimpse into a world that is more, so much more, than just a place to get an “aerodynamic” haircut. It’s a place to find chat, companionship, chargers, to confess to deeper truths than might otherwise be acknowledged in the outside world, even to find surrogate father figures and positive male role models. Across these six countries, we eavesdrop on these conversations and in gaining an appreciation for the diversity in the African diaspora, Ellams also traces the common threads. Continue reading “Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre”

TV Review: Fleabag

“I have a horrible feeling that I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist”

I left it a little while to watch Fleabag on television, for though Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ascension to the ranks of hugely buzzworthy writer has been pleasing to watch, I haven’t – dare I say it – always been the hugest fan of her work. For me, the effectiveness of her writing hasn’t always matched with the audacity of its frankness and so in her plays and TV shows like Crashing, I’ve admired the path she’s taking without hugely enjoying it.

Her breakthrough piece Fleabag equally didn’t hit my buttons in the way that it did for many others, thus my delay in getting round to watching it. And as is often the case with lowered expectations, it actually surprised me by being a very effective adaptation of the play. Its world has been expanded, both physically and personally, a whole cast of supporting characters now appear but crucially, there’s the thing I was missing most at the Soho – direct eye contact.

Fleabag rides on its confessional style and on screen, Waller-Bridge and director Harry Bradbeer nail it, direct asides giving us piecemeal insight into the trials and tribulations of this young woman struggling to make life in London work. Afraid of being a bad feminist and unafraid of her sexuality, desperately damaged by the death of her best friend and unable to connect with her family in a meaningful way, the piece is thoroughly enlivened and enriched by its treatment on screen. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag”

Review: The Merchant of Venice, Almeida

“You know someone said that’ the world’s a stage”

One almost wishes that Rupert Goold had gone the whole hog and renamed this The Merchant of Vegas – Portia’s Turn, so complete is the re-envisioning of Shakespeare’s work here that it almost deserves the new title. The Merchant of Venice is commonly considered one of the problem plays and so it is not too unusual to see grand concepts imposed upon it and that is certainly what Goold has delivered here in this modern-day Sin City-set adaptation. Naturally it doesn’t solve all the issues about the play and it does introduce some problems of its own but with its verve and vision, it is a breath-taking experience.

Much of this comes from a genuinely sensational performance from Susannah Fielding as Portia, who is in many ways at the centre of this interpretation, the character foregrounded in a way I’ve never seen before. In this gaudy world of all-night casinos, Elvis impersonators and reality TV, she is the star and ultimate prize of a gameshow called Destiny, caskets remaining in situ as no-hopers compete for her hand. But once the cameras are off and she aims squarely for Bassanio’s heart, the complexity deepens considerably as Fielding lays this woman bare in all her insecure vanity and condescending cruelty – there’s no doubting how this Portia feels about Jews as she patronises Jessica and vilifies Shylock. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, Almeida”

TV Review: The Secrets 3 – The Visitor

“…something inside of me, it’s just been missing”

Ben Ockrent’s contribution to The Secrets is the rather tender The Visitor, the third in the series, where Dean’s life in his adoptive home is rocked when a young woman tracks him down and claims to be his sister. The cosy domesticity of his middle-class existence is thus challenged by the revelations that spill from her mouth but is her desperation rooted in complete honesty or something more calculating.

Ockrent explores the tension at the heart of Dean’s life beautifully, torn between the present and the past, questioning the strength of blood ties, and layering in the aspects of class and race that figure into the equation. Paige Meade’s Cassie is a Southend girl through and through and her rough edges clearly ruffle the liberal well-to-do consciences of Helen Baxendale and Anthony Flanagan’s parents Julie and Nigel. Continue reading “TV Review: The Secrets 3 – The Visitor”

Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake

“Literature doesn’t teach us anything”

Juan Mayorga’s The Boy At The Back turned out to be one of my favourite radio dramas that I’ve listened to this year so far. A canny choice for producer/director Nicolas Jackson as Mayorga is one of Spain’s most highly renowned contemporary writers (which makes me a little sad that this is the first I’ve heard of him) and this play proved to be a most effective psychological drama as a precocious pupil and deluded teacher play out a dangerously voyeuristic pas-de-deux that threatens many people around them.

By comparison, Melissa Murray’s Chiwawa might have felt a little bit tame, but its tale of a self-important author trolling around on the internet, leaving anonymous reviews slagging off his rival’s work and bigging up his own, has a deliciously biting contemporary feel. Michael Bertenshaw’s writer is lots of pompous fun but the real joy comes from Fenella Woolgar as his manipulative wife and current RSC darling Pippa Nixon as the PA she forces to shoulder the blame for the mishaps, with unpredictable consequences. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake”

Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4

“The only thing is to grin and bear it”

Timing is everything and the anti-war message of Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play For Services Rendered failed to gain any purchase on contemporary audiences, making it something of a failure. But listening to Lu Kemp’s adaptation for Radio 4, it strikes as an extraordinarily prescient piece of work, more so given the eventual declaration and devastation of the Second World War, and it surely due for a substantial theatrical revival. As it is, this version will more than do for now as its tale of how the impact of the First World War lingered perniciously on in the lives of the nation is embodied in the trials of the Ardsley family and their friends.

Leonard and Charlotte Ardsley have four children and though superficially their lives in the Kent countryside are going well, there’s much trauma and difficulty just beneath the surface. Only son Sydney was blinded in the war and sister Eva has devoted herself entirely to his care, much to the expense of her own situation and youngest daughter Lois also finds herself unmarried due to the lack of prospects. Ethel is the one that did manage to secure herself a husband but the upheaval of wartime blinded her to his eminent lack of suitability and now in peacetime, she is left to repent at leisure. With so much bubbling away as the social order decays, it isn’t long before changes start to force themselves upon this group. Continue reading “Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4”

Review: Lower Ninth, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2

“Can you actually name a livin’, breathin’ hermaphrodite?”

Lower Ninth is the first play in a new season of plays that Michael Grandage, the recently announced now outgoing head honcho at the Donmar Warehouse, has put together to showcase the work of its Resident Assistant Directors in a 12 week residency of three plays at the 100-seater Trafalgar Studios 2 basement theatre. Grandage has done wonders in working with the Donmar brand: before this, we had the West End season at the Wyndhams with Ivanov, Twelfth Night, Madame de Sade and Hamlet allowing for much bigger audiences to witness Donmar productions and various in-house shows have been exported to other countries meaning that whoever takes over has quite the act to follow.

The first play in this season though is Charlotte Westenra’s take on Lower Ninth by American Beau Willimon, a tale of two men trapped on a rooftop with the body of a friend and waiting for rescue after some catastrophic unspecified event. But as the title refers to a less-than-salubrious neighbourhood of New Orleans, I think it is safe to infer the play is set just after Hurricane Katrina wound its destructive way through that part of the world in 2005.

It is at its best when it is the story of the relationship between the two men and the ways in which they kill time, there is though an amusing take on the story of Noah’s Ark with a hysterical rationalisation of how there’s both black and white people in the world if we’re all descended from Adam which one could easily believe is told by many an old-school evangelist. But Willimon is determined to shoehorn in a whole raft of issues despite a running time of just over an hour. There’s pointed digs at the George W Bush administration’s slow response, he also touches on the brutal reality of gang life, drug running and the important role of father figures in young Black America, but fails to say anything of real value about these things. And given the realism of this play, it stretches credulity to think that the absence of Dubya would have been noticeable to them, never mind in their thoughts whilst slowly dehydrating on a roof.

Anthony Welsh as E-Z and Ray Fearon as the older Malcom (I’ve used the programme spelling) are mesmerising. Their relationship percolates and develops beautifully as they try to kill time in their endless wait and struggle to keep their spirits up and the desperation out of their eyes and we discover the true nature of the connection between these two characters. They each bring their own strengths, Fearon’s warm-eyed paternalism almost hiding the dark violent past of his character and Welsh’s edgy but impassioned energy of a teenager desperate to be a man particularly impressing and as things get worse, the sacrifice and strength in adversity that emerges is just beautiful to watch. And there’s also a demonstration of amazing endurance (you will see what I mean) from Richie Campbell as Lowboy.

Westenra’s direction is nicely unobtrusive, teasing great performances from her actors and allowing for the effective passage of time as the hours pass by. But she does need to get a stronger grip on the limitations of the space before opening night: one particular moment which should be extremely powerful was ruined for me as I was convinced that an actor was going to fall onto me and my predicament made people around me and across from me giggle somewhat inappropriately (although my facial expressions did not help as I was told in the bar afterwards!) And more care needs to be taken to hide the stagehands controlling the lights from the sides, it ruins the illusion somewhat to see exactly how they made the theatre so dark.

Ben Stones’ design is simple but starkly effective: one battered, shingle-covered rooftop with hints of the detritus following such a calamity like the corner of a submerged car just poking up off to one side and Hartley T A Kemp’s lighting subtly suggests the passage of time and the star-lit night-time sequence was beautifully atmospheric. So an affecting little of theatre that does not outstay its welcome and despite the limitations of the writing nevertheless manages to pack quite a punch due to the quality of the production and the acting.

Running time: 65 minutes (without interval) This was a preview performance
Programme cost: £2.50 (it must be said that it is poor quality, shoddily produced and content wise has one short piece by a New Orleans writer and biogs and that is it, no mention of the Donmar @ Trafalgar season or what it is trying to achieve: very disappointed and a bit of a rip-off)
Booking until 23rd October