Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines

“Open your eyes, what do you see?”

It may well have had much to do with the fact that I was knackered after the previous six but I have to admit that the seventh final session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was probably my least favourite of the day. The 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines programme saw writers respond to headlines of the moment to create rapid response plays – none of which really lived up to the quality of the programmed works that had preceded them.

There were lots of interesting ideas floating around – Rebecca Lenkiewicz and director Anna Ledwich’s scorching take-down of Vogue’s declaration that the cleavage is out of fashion probably worked the best, interleaved with a young woman’s desperate search for adequate healthcare and the inadequacy of male responses to a serious discussion about breasts. And Charlene James’ kidnap drama with a twist gave Maggie Steed a cracking part to play, directed by Alice Hamilton. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines”

Review: The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre

“The state of monarch and the state of lunacy share a frontier”

Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III is perhaps better known under its film moniker of The Madness of King George which featured a superlative performance from Nigel Hawthorne who originated the role on stage which was then later immortalised on film and criminally overlooked for an Oscar: a certain Mr Hanks winning instead for Forrest Gump. This Theatre Royal Bath production, starring David Haig as the eponymous monarch, is touring the country for the next couple of months, marking a rare outing for the play.

The year is 1788 and fresh from defeat in the American War of Independence, George III is increasingly afflicted by a mysterious ailment as he slides into mental decline. He is then subjected to the vagaries of 18th century medical practices which were only slowly making advances towards a more modern understanding of the body and mind and whilst undergoing treatment, power struggles rage between opportunistic politicians on both side and more crucially, his fiercely ambitious son and heir who has his eyes on an early assumption of power. Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre”

Review: That Almost Unnameable Lust – Charged, Soho Theatre

Part of the Charged season at Soho Theatre

“You think it’s a mad idea…that prison might give some women just time on their own”

Keeping the same trio of actresses from Part 1, director Caroline Steinbeis gets to work in the main theatre for her second offering which is probably the strongest piece of writing, That Almost Unnameable Lust by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Two lifers are visited in prison by a writer who is trying to carry out research for a book as she discovers that all sorts of women can end up inside.

Beatie Edney’s Liz movingly talks of the regular spousal abuse that finally resulted in her putting an end to it, but it is Janet Henfrey’s haunted Katherine that is unmissable. She does not speak, yet through her subconscious tells us of happier times in her youth though the hints of darkness around the edges are never far away and made explicit with her propensity for self-harming. Continue reading “Review: That Almost Unnameable Lust – Charged, Soho Theatre”

Review: Taken – Charged, Soho Theatre

Part of the Charged season at Soho Theatre

“Do you know what you done to me?”

In what was the final play of the first day for me, Winsome Pinnock’s Taken looks at how three generations of a family are each affected by the decision to give up a child. Fresh out of rehab and coming to terms with the damage she caused as a drug addict, Della has returned to her mother’s council flat to help care and clean for her as she is struggling to manage on her own. When she is paid a visit by a young woman claiming to be the daughter she gave up, she is forced to confront the painful realities of her decision.

Beatie Edney was very good as Della, the woman barely able to acknowledge that she was so deep in her addiction that she can’t really recognise whether it really is the daughter she gave up. Rebecca Oldfield uses a manipulative edginess well as the could-be daughter and Janet Henfrey is painfully moving as Nane Nola, suffering from some dementia-like affliction but still able to have moments of startling revelatory acuity that pierce to the truth of what really happened. Continue reading “Review: Taken – Charged, Soho Theatre”