Immersive theatre done right in a completely reconfigured Playhouse, The Jungle is thought-provoking beyond belief
“No one wants to stay here”
Following on from an enormously successful run at the Young Vic last year, The Jungle has made the move to the Playhouse Theatre in one of the unlikeliest but most significant West End transfers in recent history. Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy’s play was born out of their experiences in setting up the Good Chance theatre in the Calais refugee camp that gives it its name and accompanied by an extraordinary (re)design of the space by Miriam Buether, becomes a genuinely unforgettable theatrical experience.
Buether’s design recreates the Afghan restaurant that was part of the camp where audiences can sit at the table (which becomes a thrust stage) surrounded by the heady scent of warming spices and baking bread. It’s a useful reminder that even in the midst of a crisis state, life has to continue and food is an enduring common bond. And this anti-doom-and-gloom approach is symptomatic of The Jungle. No tragedy porn here, but rather a portrait of flawed humanity – people doing good, people screwing up, people just trying their damnedest in face of a shameful international emergency. Continue reading “Review: The Jungle, Playhouse”
“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”
David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).
Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”
“Solly Shimshillewitz? Why didn’t they just call you “Jewie-jew-jew-jew-jew” and be done with it?”
Not having seen the film of The Infidel before catching the musical adaptation at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, I quickly rectified that with a cheeky online rental on my new iPhone 6+ (plug!). Written by David Baddiel and directed by Josh Appignanesi, it was a moderate success in 2010 although watching it now, I was struck by how comparatively muted the humour was and impressed that Baddiel and co saw musical theatre as the best way to translate the story for the stage as it isn’t immediately obvious.
Omid Djalili takes on the role of Mahmud, the British Muslim whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he is in fact adopted and is Jewish by birth to boot, and impresses in the everyman part of the role, emphasising the story’s point about how we all wear our beliefs differently but no less strongly. He’s a little more restrained than I was expecting though and Archie Panjabi, good as she is, feels miscast as his wife, their relationship improbably imbalanced and so lacking the deep-seated connection that ought to be holding them together even during the most strained times. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Infidel (2010)”
“Haven’t you got better things to do?”
After finally being able to catch up with Series 1 of WPC 56 and loving it, I was looking forward to Series 2. The BBC1 afternoon drama about the experiences of the first WPC in a fictional West Midlands constabulary really captured my attention with its mix of the personal and the policing but almost from the word go, this second series failed to live up to its predecessor.
First up was the saddening decision to have Kieran Bew’s DI Burns leave but not only that, have him appear in the first scene as if nothing had changed, all bearded up most handsomely indeed, and then snatching the rug from under us. His relationship with Jennie Jacques’ WPC Gina Dawson was one of the stronger parts of the show so I was genuinely sad as well as gutted on a more shallow basis. Continue reading “TV Review: WPC 56, Series 2”
“There is a way to be good again”
The final moments of this rendering of Khaled Hosseini’s epic 2003 novel The Kite Runner
are really something special indeed, capturing the quiet ecstasy of redemptive hope with the subtlest of performances and a theatrical elegance that is gently breath-taking. But Giles Croft’s production, first seen in Nottingham and making its way next to Liverpool, takes a long time to get there, hobbled by a pedestrian adaptation by Matthew Spangler which exploits little of the storytelling possibilities within and lacks the excitement to really make it soar into the sky alongside the multi-coloured kites that play such a vital role in this tale of two young Afghan boys, Amir and Hassan, and their unlikely friendship.
It’s improbable because Hassan is the son of Amir’s father’s servant and belongs to a different ethnic group yet despite their differences, a strong bond exists between the pair, typified by the way they work together in the kite flying competitions that enliven their Kabul childhood. A brutal incident involving Hassan sets in chain a tragic turn of events though and as the heavy tide of history starts to turn, forcing Amir and his father to flee the war that erupts as the incoming Taliban take over Afghanistan, not even decades and continents can prevent the need for Amir to seek redemption.
The sweep of the story is certainly grand but Spangler’s script is mired in the prosaic and banal, overly focused on the descriptive and rarely delving into the rich emotion beneath the surface. Ben Turner’s Amir perfectly epitomises this dilemma, only intermittently able to bring the necessary depth of character to this conflicted young man as he constantly has to duck in and out of scenes to give us the next segment of narration, but he is good at showing us the boyish cowardice that Amir struggles to grow out of. For those able to stay in the scenes though, there’s much more compelling work, especially from Farshid Rokey as the fiercely loyal Hassan and latterly as Hassan’s son, he of the enigmatic smile, Nicholas Karimi as the sociopathic Assef who finds his spiritual home in the harsh regime of the invaders and from Emilio Doorgasingh as Amir’s father, who never loses his pride even as he is forced into menial work when they start their new, very different life on the west coast of the USA.
But though the cast are effective, the sense of unused potential pervades this production, exacerbated by the moments that do flare into gorgeous life. The kite flying scenes are mesmerising in their simplicity, the moonlit escape across the mountains most effective, the first meeting with the attractive daughter of a fellow ex-pat. Hanif Khan’s onstage table-playing adds an authentic rhythm to many of the scenes, but Barney George’s design is largely too polite to ever suggest heat and dirt and real life, whether in Kabul’s back streets or San Francisco’s flea markets. What it does provide is cool elegance and a chimerical ability to quickly shift, aided by William Simpson’s projections, ensuring a fluid journey throughout.
Whilst the story will move you – surely only the hardest of hearts could remain unaffected – this production rarely transports you. It is undoubtedly somewhat entertaining and the near-complete standing ovation is testament to that, but The Kite Runner is seldom exciting enough to fully exploit its theatrical potential and really involve us with the grandly epic emotion of its storytelling in a presentation that invents and inspires such as in that glorious final scene.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 25th May, then playing Liverpool
“Such is the breath of kings”
After nearly a decade as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage is bowing out to let Josie Rourke take up the reins and his final production for this theatre is Shakespeare’s Richard II, most notably starring Eddie Redmayne. As the audience enter the auditorium, Redmayne is already poised in high state on his throne, the air heavy with incense in Richard Kent’s gilded Gothic set but we soon see how this regality is but a superficial veneer on a deeply flawed character.
This Richard is a petulant, nervy presence – a little prone to over-gesturing, acting out too many of the lines for my liking “make pale our cheek” is the example that sticks in the mind – as he is more effective in the subtle characterisations, the intensity of his eyes that nervously twitch throughout. This capriciousness is aired most perfectly in the reluctant coronation scene but as a whole but it ends up being rather one-note and missing some complexity, therefore it means that this isn’t a Richard that engenders much sympathy. Only in his final scenes, bereft of crown, sceptre and trappings of state, does he really fly and give beautiful voice to the verse. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse”
Directed by Michael Attenborough who is clearly looking to throw the light on lesser known playwrights here in the UK, Clifford Odets is regarded as a modern great and as important as Eugene O’Neill in the development of modern drama yet arguably remains relatively unknown here.
Awake and Sing is set in the Depression era and following the fortunes of a Jewish family living in the Bronx, it centres around the huge matriarchal figure of Bessie, played by no other than Rizzo herself, Stockard Channing. She keeps her family close around her but they are a motley crew: her husband is a depressed failure, her father is a revolutionary dreamer, her son is disillusioned with life and her daughter has got herself knocked up. In economically incredibly difficult times, Bessie has to make tough decisions to secure the future she desires for everyone, even if it means over-riding their own wishes and desires. Continue reading “Review: Awake and Sing!, Almeida”
William Shakespeare’s As You Like It has been given quite the makeover here at the Wyndhams Theatre in a new production. The action has been relocated to 1940s France which makes for a great visual aesthetic with the appropriate costumery and scenery (I loved the Parisian café), and a strong Gallic flavour to the music that permeates this entire production, with newly composed ballads by Tim Sutton livened by some onstage accordion action from Lisa-Lee Leslie.
A large ensemble play, it broadly speaks of redemption and resolution after conflict and suffering and is stuffed full of squabbling brothers, dukes, cross-dressing women, lovesick men and quadruple weddings in the Forest of Arden, falling under the pastoral comedy genre but with hints of darkness in there too which suit this post-WWII setting. But David Lan’s production has focused mainly on the burgeoning relationship between Rosalind and Orlando, desperate to be together but forced apart by her banishment from court. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Wyndhams”