Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”

Review: Hir, Bush

“We don’t do cupboards anymore. 
We don’t do order”

Taylor Mac’s Hir comes loaded with worlds of contemporary resonances, particularly in its exploration of the disaffection of the American working class and its probing into multiple layers of gender politics. And in this blackest of black comedies, getting its UK premiere at the Bush, it is – initially at least – vigorously, startlingly effective as an reinvention of the archetypal dysfunctional family drama.

We open with Isaac’s return to his small-town California home having been dishonourably discharged from the Marines. Working in the mortuary during a tour of Afghanistan has shattered him but he soon finds the home comforts he’s been dreaming of remain as far away as ever. His father has had a stroke, his mother is enacting vicious revenge on him for their abusive relationship by shattering the patriarchal order in the household, and he also discovers that his sibling is transitioning. Not quite the welcome home he was expecting. Continue reading “Review: Hir, Bush”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Over in Canary Wharf, The Space Theatre might not necessarily be one that is on the radar of many London theatregoers but the announcement of their summer season ought to tempt the theatrically curious out East as it is full of goodies, not least a revival of Mike Bartlett’s excellent Contractions.

Find a selection of some of productions that have caught my eye below

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

Review: Shopping and Fucking, Lyric Hammersmith

“The getting is cruel, is hard, but the having is civilisation” 

Shopping and Fucking. Shopping and fucking. Fucking fucking fucking. Even the venue staff at the Lyric Hammersmith have to buy into the censorship that sees Mark Ravenhill’s 1996 play coyly renamed Shopping and F***ing, referring to it as Shopping and Effing. Which makes it all the more ironic that Sean Holmes’ production places the emphasis firmly on the former part of that title.

From the minute you take your seat in the radically reconfigured auditorium (design by Jon Bausor and Tal Rosner), the cast are hawking merchandise and seat upgrades – they even need a coin for the slot machine to get the play ‘started’. It’s a whole lot of extraneous business, which continues into the production itself, which with the frantic use of green screen and multiple cameras proves most distracting. Continue reading “Review: Shopping and Fucking, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: The Suicide, National

 “Everything was free”

A late jaunt to the National to The Suicide, Suhayla El-Bushra’s fiercely contemporary updating of Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 play, before it closed. Though I have to say I wasn’t entirely convinced by it, Nadia Fall’s production is visually hugely ambitious, retooled for the world of YouTubers and hipsters, but ultimately feeling as shallow as the societal trends that it is trying to satirise.

Javone Prince’s Sam Desai is long-term unemployed and newly bereft of benefits, so disillusioned with the world is he that he decides to top himself but when a film clip of him making that decision goes viral, he’s swept along for the ride as all of society try to co-opt him for their own ends. To publicise a café, to get a music deal, to highlight the lack of adequate mental health care. Continue reading “Review: The Suicide, National”

Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre

“There’s an end of outward preaching now. An end of perfection. There may be a time.”

Between this and Rules for Living, that’s two consecutive openings at the National Theatre that have been written and directed by women. Coincidence that it comes at a moment of regime change, who knows? Those more inclined to actual research might possibly tell you it’s more common you’d think but I doubt it. In any case, it’s pleasing to see Caryl Churchill getting a major production of one of her lesser-performed works at the hands of the talented Lyndsey Turner, who will soon be turning her hand to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.

And it is an ambitious mark she has made here with Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, exploding the original six-strong casting of the show to a company of nearly twenty actors, supported by a community company of forty-odd supernumeraries. She needs the bodies too, to fit around an audacious design feat from Es Devlin which is best experienced with fresh eyes if possible, so no spoilers here. It is an inspired choice though, that both sets the scene perfectly for this world of political debate but also deconstructs meaningfully as the full scope of that debate becomes increasingly clear.  Continue reading “Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre”

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”

‘Sharon Rooney and the Henrys’ release their cover of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’

“Right now I’m too young to know
How in the future it will affect me when you go”

One of the most striking moments in Phyllida Lloyd’s recent production of Henry IV for the Donmar Warehouse was Sharon Rooney’s extraordinary take on Lady Percy, skewering previous notions of the character to make her a vibrant and passionate equal to her husband. And as she bade him farewell, a lament struck up to the tune of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’, capping off a performance provoked as much thought about Shakespearean gender roles as did the overall all-female casting.
It’s a really lovely tune in its own right but this rendition did feel like something special so it was great hear that it has been recorded under the name of Sharon Rooney and the Henrys and it is now available to download from iTunes here. Profits will benefit organisations that the company have been working closely with like Clean Break Theatre Company and Justice for Women, as well as the Donmar’s outreach work to help women and girls find their voices, exemplified by the company performing Henry IV at the Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets next week.
It’s a cracking tune enlivened by Rooney’s Glaswegian accent, it’s for a cracking set of causes and remember, you don’t want to be the lonely one sitting on your own and sad… Here’s the link again.

Review: Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse

“What manner of man is he?”

Every time Harriet Walter speaks as the eponymous character, she utterly justifies (not that it needs any justification, mind) the all-female casting of the Donmar Warehouse’s Henry IV, such is the achingly rich poetry that she brings to the verse. Coming in second in what is being loosely termed a ‘prison trilogy’ after a cracking take on Julius Caesar back in 2012, the production reunites director Phyllida Lloyd with Walter and some others from that company to impose their institutional stamp on another of Shakespeare’s works (and yes, it does mean those chairs are back in the stalls!).

Here, the scope of Henry IV Part I and II has been telescoped down to just two hours and in reality, could well be called Henry IV Part I+ as it focuses mainly on a raucously rendered take on that play and throws in excerpts from Act IV Scene V and Act V Scene V from its sequel to round off the stories of Henry IV, Prince Hal and the bounteous Falstaff. It’s an audacious approach but one that really pays off, suggesting that maybe Shakespeare could have done with an editor after all – others may disagree but there’s little that’s really lost in jettisoning a whole heap of supporting characters and their scenes in this instance. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Home, National Theatre

“You don’t know whether to go out and say something…or…or not”

Returning to the Shed after a successful run last year, Nadia Fall’s Home is a compelling piece of verbatim theatre, stitched together by an exciting company – many of whom have returned from the original cast – who guide us through the changing, complex world of Target East, a refuge for young homeless people in London. The centre may be fictional but the issues and incidents raised here are anything but.

The need for security, a place where they can feel protected, is common to all the residents here, some just passing through, others destined to stay a bit longer and the staff committed to their thankless tasks just as long as the funding holds out. Fall deliberately crashes narratives into each other, the chaos of life for many of these people reflected in the way their stories get told, echoes of similar experiences creeping through just as much as the stark differences. Continue reading “Review: Home, National Theatre”