Review: Bodies, Royal Court

“As soon as we have our little girl, everything will make sense. As soon as you hold her in your arms, it will all make sense.”

Between this and Yerma, theatreland would have us firmly believe that to be a childless woman in her 30s, or rather a woman wanting a child, is to be on the precipice of madness. I have liked, nay loved, much of Vivienne Franzmann’s work (Mogadishu, The Witness, Pests) but with Bodies, her sure touch in delving into the trickier aspects of human nature doesn’t quite feel as insightful.

Clem has tried several times to carry a child to term but sadly miscarried on every occasion and so, with husband Josh, has turned to surrogacy. Finding the right, white Russian egg donor and the perfect Indian surrogate womb does not come cheap and as Franzmann explores, it is a cost that is as much moral and emotional as it is financial – the ethics of this ‘business’ murky indeed. Continue reading “Review: Bodies, Royal Court”

Review: Oil, Almeida,

“I left a man I loved so much, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t die. It makes you strong”

I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it along to Oil – my original date being derailed by travel chaos and a busy Autumn schedule meaning I could barely find space. But space I found eventually and whilst I’m glad that I got to see Ella Hickson’s new play, for me it didn’t quite live up to the (admittedly high) expectations that had been built up over its run at the Almeida. It’s still good, and often very good, especially in its lead performances from Anne-Marie Duff and Yolanda Kettle, but I just didn’t connect with the play at large.

There’s no doubting the scale of the ambition here, the epic form tackled with gusto as the play’s timeline stretches over 150 years with mother and daughter May and Amy playing out their five scenes ranging from the late nineteenth century to the near future. And whilst society’s connection to and reliance upon oil is under the microscope, so too is the evolving role of women in that society, its changes explored by the time-travelling nature of the writing and the visionary production by Carrie Cracknell. Continue reading “Review: Oil, Almeida,”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3

“There’s a line. It’s called right and wrong and I know which side my duty lies”

Well, that’s what you call a series finale! After the brilliant fake-out of Danny Waldron not being the new Tony Gates or Lindsay Denton, Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty took us further than we ever could have dared into the murky world of police corruption, weaving together story strands from all three series into an overarching conspiracy thriller that has to rank as one of the televisual highlights of the year so far.

My Episode 1 review can be found here and I won’t say much more here than to recommend you buy the DVD boxset now.

 

Review: Hamlet, Citizens

“One may smile and smile and be a villain”

It was with a little hesitation that I went to another Hamlet so soon after the extraordinary (and criminally under-rated) efforts of Maxine Peake and co but work circumstances conspired to land me in Glasgow (city of my alma mater) and so I made my first trip to the Citizens Theatre. And though Dominic Hill’s creative vision has its own unique stamp, it was interesting to note the parallels that emerged in these two re-envisionings of Shakespeare’s work.

The personal rather than the political was foregrounded (it’s been a rough year for budding Fortinbrases) as the sphere of the play became a domestic one once again and I have to say I love Hamlet as a family drama. The spin on the relationships possess a real power when the scope of the play is thus reduced and their dynamics gain in intensity. Pushing it as far as they do here in Glasgow, one could even argue that the play is transformed into an ensemble drama. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Citizens”

Review: Adler & Gibb, Royal Court

“You’ve confused the story

And so once again, theatres lead where critics are not inclined to follow… After the divisiveness of the extraordinary Mr Burns at the Almeida, the Royal Court now turns its hand to something a little different in the form of Tim Crouch’s Adler & Gibb. A(nother) distinctly lukewarm reception from the print critics is hardly surprising but it does feel a shame that there isn’t more of a groundswell of support for the diversity of programming we’re so lucky to have here in London. In a West End where Coward revivals are two a penny and there are actually two Importance of Being Earnests queued up to go into theatres, I for one am grateful that these opportunities are being presented to me. 

A New Jersey art student Louise gives a presentation about Janet Adler, a conceptual artist who retreated from the world with her partner Margaret Gibb and died a mysterious death. Onstage, an older woman is researching and rehearsing a role for a biopic film with a colleague before a location shoot. Around them, two children in headphones are stage-managing the show, incrementally increasing our understanding about just what it is that we’re watching. Continue reading “Review: Adler & Gibb, Royal Court”

Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court

There’s something special about being allowed to take part in something unique and though Unusual Unions actually took place twice on the same day, it still counts as a one off in my book. Part of the Royal Court’s convention-busting The Big Idea stream of work, this was a collection of 5 short plays all responding to the ideas raised by Abi Morgan in her main house show The Mistress Contract, taking place in unexpected nooks and crannies of the theatre in wonderfully small groups.

From dressing rooms to stairwells, the space under the stage to meeting rooms with a view, it was a brilliant way of exploring a building which isn’t normally so open (Wilton’s Music Hall’s promenade version of Edmund fulfilled a similar purpose). And even if the subject matter seemed to veer off what one might have expected, given the sexual nature of Morgan’s play, it was still compelling stuff looking at the ways in which we connect (or not) with those around us.  Continue reading “Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court”

Review: Money the game show, Bush

“We’re going to add a bit more risk and therefore potential reward into the game”

On picking up one’s ticket for Money the game show at the Bush Theatre, a raffle ticket is placed in the hand and instructions given to wait in the bar where the show will begin as we’re divided into teams. Leading the groups are Casino and Queenie, former hedge fund managers in gaudy suits, who are here to take us on an illuminating journey through the machinations of the stock market and how such gambles played their part in creating the financial crash of 2008. And they do it with £10,000 in real pound coins piled on the stage in front of us, though a security guard and CCTV are in place to avoid any smash and grab attempts.

Written and directed by Clare Duffy as a co-production with Unlimited Theatre, the show is part interactive gameshow, part play, part performance piece. And if it perhaps succeeds more on the former two points than the latter, it is not for lack of enthusiasm or ambition from all concerned. Lucy Ellinson’s Queenie (for whose team I batted) and Brian Ferguson’s Casino do a remarkable job slipping between the roles of team captain – as they cajole and encourage audience participation in a series of games based on economic principles (much more fun than it sounds – you get to play with the pound coins after all) – and their characters – as those principles are located in the real-world context of the financial system that they try to manipulate to their gain.

And it comes across as both an amusing and explanatory piece of theatre. There’s lot of fun in the demonstration and explanation of betting long and short, though I was a little unclear as to just how hedging worked as I was engaged in the middle of that particular exercise. And though it may be easy to get lost in the fun and games, the structure of the show means that we’re constantly pulled back to the sobering reality of how these concepts were used and abused by financiers, even as they spotted that a crash was imminent, the eye always on the profit that could be made. There’s also a sense of genuine interactivity as the outcomes of the games that we play have a real bearing on how the final section of Money plays out and Ellinson and Ferguson take on different roles according to whose team wins or loses.

This certainly must keep the pair on their toes and it definitely adds a certain frisson, especially as they’re also having to deal – remarkably well I might add – with establishing and maintaining a rapport above and beyond that which normally exists between actor and audience. We naturally saw more of Ellinson and she was just excellent with the right level of encouraging warmth to get us thoroughly engaged, so it was pleasing to see the ending that we got as it gave her chance to stretch some dramatic muscle too. 

Personally, I wasn’t much of a fan of the brief, late deviation into performance art which can only really be characterised as tomato-zombie-time which felt an unnecessary inclusion, even if it speaks to Unlimited Theatre’s origins as a company. But it’s not a major quibble – I came out of the theatre satisfied, enlightened about (some) financial jargon and thoroughly charmed. 

Running time: 105 minutes (without interval)

Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 2nd March

Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court

Court Shorts is part of the Royal Court’s Rough Cuts season, where works-in-progress and experimental pieces are performed in front of audiences as part of their development. Three plays were performed as rehearsed readings which were Permafrost by Brad Birch, Buried by Alia Bano and Hard Gravity by DC Jackson. This is just a quick recap of the plays for my reference really, as these aren’t being presented as things to review.

Brad Birch’s Royal Court debut, Permafrost, is a meditation on the grieving process set in a Northern town, charting the growing relationship between widowed Mary and Michael, a factory colleague of the deceased man, as she seeks a solace that he can’t quite provide and edging closer to a more meaningful connection as she seeks to maintain the link between them. James Macdonald directed this, stepping in at the last minute as Sam Taylor Wood had to withdraw due to prior commitments which was a shame as it would have been really interesting to see where she was thinking of taking the piece. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court”

Review: Earthquakes in London, National Theatre

“This room is significantly different because you’re in it”

And boy is it different! The first thing that strikes you as you enter the Cottesloe for Earthquakes in London is not the light jazz elevator music, but the complete reconfiguration of the auditorium inside. An inverted S-shaped catwalk-stage dominates, with bar stools either side for the audience, two raised letterbox stages at either end and a DJ in the corner.

A new play from the pen of Mike Bartlett (he of Cock and also Bull) and a co-production with Rupert Goold’s Headlong company. With a timeline switching around from 1968 to 2525 (though predominantly in the present day), it deals with the threat of climate change and impending planetary collapse by looking at the impact on a family of three sisters each with their own issues and the same estranged father. Continue reading “Review: Earthquakes in London, National Theatre”