Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic

A brilliant cast shine in this striking revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic

“Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person”

The American dream hasn’t often looked like this. Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman reaffirms the Young Vic as the place to go to shake up these American classics (qv A View from the Bridge) with a startling revival that seems destined to go far.

Elliott has recent form of course in reinterpretations and Cromwell was the Associate Director on Company too. And if Death… might not go quite as far, it still emerges as a thoughtful reconsideration with a decidedly psychological bent, trapping us as much as Willy in his troubled mind. Continue reading “Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic”

Review: All My Sons, Old Vic

Some titanic acting performances from Sally Field, Bill Pullman and Colin Morgan in this superb All My Sons at the Old Vic Theatre

“We all got hit by the same lightning”

You do wonder how new playwrights are ever going to get a look-in when Arthur Miller can dominate London theatres without it even being a significant anniversary year for him. That said, the Old Vic’s second Miller in a row sees a Headlong co-production of All My Sons (with Death of a Salesman imminent at the Young Vic, he’ll have the run of The Cut) that gives an enviable target to aim for.

I’ve seen a handful of All My Sons since starting the blog, from the sublime and superb to the somewhat less impressive, and it is remarkable how it stands as a play that really needs little doing to it for its quality to shine through. And so it is with Jeremy Herrin’s production here, a relatively straightforward one for Headlong all told, but all the more effective for it. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Old Vic”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: All My Sons, Rose Kingston

“That’s why there’s a God; otherwise anything can happen”

Arthur Miller’s titanic All My Sons has been well served in recent years – the late Howard Davies reviving his National Theatre production to stunning effect in 2010 and Michael Buffong illuminating it anew for Talawa Theatre in 2013 – so any new production has big boots to fill. And though seasoned director Michael Rudman comes with quite the track record (including a Tony for his work on Death of a Salesman in 1984), this production doesn’t quite howl with the anguish it could.

Part of the problem lies in Michael Taylor’s design which, whilst superficially impressive, works against the idiosyncratic space of the Rose Kingston and Rudman’s pacing negates far too much of the inherent tension in Miller’s depiction of the souring of the American Dream. So much comes from its slow-burning intensity that it is hard to believe that so many key moments get fudged, their drama fudged into melodrama or in some cases, just missing the beat entirely. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Rose Kingston”

Review: The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre

“I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder 

I heard the phrase avant-garde mentioned several times in reference to Ivo van Hove whilst in New York and every time I bristled – the connotations in my head leaning towards a dismissive pretentiousness aimed at someone who I think is one of the most exciting theatre directors currently working. And it did make me wonder, especially in light of the reports of Katie Mitchell being booed at the Royal Opera House last week, about what feels like an instinctive resistance to ‘change’ from established audiences that just feels a bit sad.

Granted, with Broadway ticket prices you may well want to minimise the risk but it would be hard to get excited about another traditional production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible even with big names like 2-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in the cast. As it was, I was just as excited at the prospect of seeing Sophie Okonedo and Jenny Jules – both too rarely on the London stage in recent years – and of course, the chance to see van Hove at work once again was irresistible, especially since I’d let Lazarus pass me by. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre”

Review: No Villain, Old Red Lion

“The trick is to deliver when it’s hard”

It seems scarcely believable that as well regarded a playwright as Arthur Miller could have unproduced work lying around but director Sean Turner has played a blinder in unearthing his first ever play No Villain from the University of Michigan archive. Written for a playwriting competition there, it languished unpublished until Turner’s well-researched discovery and so now the Old Red Lion have quite the coup on their hands – a bona fide Arthur Miller world premiere.

And befitting the occasion, Turner’s creative team have produced some genuinely transformative work in the intimate space of this pub theatre, Max Dorey’s ingenious design doubling most effectively as a cramped New York apartment and the claustrophobic office of a failing garment company. The switch between the two is elegantly facilitated by Jack Weir’s lighting and both sets conjure living, breathing environments that work brilliantly as an extension of the drama.  Continue reading “Review: No Villain, Old Red Lion”

Review: Death of a Salesman, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Certain men just don’t get started ‘til later in life”

To criticise an RSC production of being traditional seems a little bit beside the point, especially under this artistic directorship, but that’s how I felt on leaving this production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It is undoubtedly impressive but it rarely feel inspired, it just doesn’t do enough to convince that the sobriquet “greatest American play of the 20th century” (as Doran labels it in the programme) is well-deserved, especially in the light of such revelatory work being done on one of Miller’s other plays even as we speak.

Antony Sher’s Willy Loman, the American Dreamer who never quite gets there, has been done in by life. Business as a travelling salesman has dried up, his older son has severely disappointed him and ghosts of the past plague his mind so virulently that they seem real. Miller weaves in scenes of the Lomans’ past most ingeniously into Willy’s current day affairs but though Sher gives us all of the abrasiveness of a frustrated would-be patriarch, his performance lacks the psychological intensity to really pull you into his thought processes.  Continue reading “Review: Death of a Salesman, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: A View From The Bridge, Wyndhams

 

“Eddie Carbone. Eddie Carbone. Eddie Carbone.”

What more is there to say about a play that was my undoubted favourite production of 2014 (out of more than 380 lest you forget!) and which did more than I could have possibly imagined to finally introduce the spectacular creative force of Ivo van Hove to a wider audience. Not much as it turns out! The Young Vic’s extraordinarily successful A View From The Bridge has now transferred into the West End, setting up shop in the relative intimacy of the Wyndham’s and remains one of the most highly recommended shows that I could urge you to go and see. 

My original review is here and I stand by everything in it, van Hove’s recasting of Arthur Miller’s classic still burns with its unstoppable, slow-building tragic force and even in this larger space, maintains the same level of punishing emotion. I hadn’t intended to revisit in all honesty, having seen the original run twice but the announcement of onstage seating – to replicate something of the feel of Jan Versweyveld’s original staging – hooked me back in. When the pricing was finally announced, I balked but the simultaneous release of a new date, complete with tickets for the front row of the balcony (one of the best West End bargains for my money), meant I was helpless to resist. Continue reading “Review: A View From The Bridge, Wyndhams”

Review: The Crucible, Old Vic

“An everlasting funeral marches round your heart”

On paper, this latest incarnation of The Crucible at the Old Vic may seem everlasting – early previews hit four hours and with no change to the 7.30pm starting time, it may feel like an endurance test in the making. But settled in at just under 3 hours 30 minutes, Yaël Farber’s production emerges as a slow-burning success, much in the vein of the Streetcar up the road in being utterly unafraid to take its time to build up the requisite atmosphere of horrifying suspicion and fear that renders Arthur Miller’s play a striking and timeless triumph.
 

And creatively it really is a triumph – Soutra Gilmour utilising the in-the-round setting perfectly whilst Richard Hammarton’s pervasive music and sound wriggle under the skin and Tim Lutkin’s lighting creates as much shadow as it does light, all combining to heighten the increasingly nightmarish scenario as the action snowballs to the terrible climax we know must come. The immediacy and intimacy that comes from being much closer than usual (for the vast majority in this theatre anyway) is almost unbearable but completely justifies keeping the theatre in this configuration for a while longer.

Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Old Vic”

Review: All My Sons, Open Air Theatre

“This thing – this thing is not over yet….”

Ivo van Hove’s revelatory approach to Arthur Miller’s work has set the bar almost impossibly high for other directors and so it’s perhaps a little unfortunate that Timothy Sheader is first up with All My Sons, the opening production in this year’s season in the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. It’s not that it’s a bad production, not at all, but rather it just feels a little pedestrian, too traditional to really make the heart beat faster in the way brilliant theatre should, and in the way previous productions have done.

There are elements that work well – the span of the play over a day is perfectly suited to the night that slowly falls over the park, the planes that fly noisily overhead add a piquancy of their own and the well-cast company are excellent. Tom Mannion’s Joe Keller is the patriarch whose collusion in a terrible fraud hangs ominously like a cloud over his family, Charles Aitken and Amy Nuttall are moving as son Chris and his intended (with strings) Ann and Bríd Brennan is fearsomely fantastic as the delusional Kate. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Open Air Theatre”