Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
Believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in London and I only saw a handful of shows a month, actually making considered decisions about what I wanted to see. And I have to say the musical of Lord of the Rings did not make the cut (obvs I wasn’t aware of who Rosalie Craig was at that point, or else I would have gone!). The show lasted just over a year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and probably lost a shit-ton of money (it allegedly cost £12 million to make) but we do have a cast recording to remember it by.
And what a rather odd-sounding show it is, little surprise really when you consider that producer Kevin Wallace brought on three different composers to complement the book and lyrics by Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna. So Bollywood supremo A. R. Rahman, Finnish folk group Värttinä and Lloyd Webber-wannabe Christopher Nightingale all contributed to an altogether epic score, but one which sprawls in an unwieldly manner as these three strands struggle to cohere into an effective whole.
This was actually the first time I’ve been to the cinema to see some theatre, this being a rare example of the production in question being one that I hadn’t seen. Polly Findlay’s production ofThe Merchant of Venice for the RSC suffered a little by following a most striking one at the Globe and the reviews said as much. But with a little distance, the comparison was much less fresh in my mind and the novelty of this screening – cabaret tables, a bar, interval food from Wagamama – made it a rather fun experience.
Findlay adjusts the balance of her interpretation so that Antonio becomes its centre as well as its titular character, his presence dominates the stage at the beginning and end, his relationship with Jacob Fortune-Lloyd’s Bassanio so often merely homoerotic made explicitly homosexual. In the midst of Johannes Schütz’s anonymous golden-hued set, their passion is made manifest from the beginning and becomes a driver throughout, marriage to Portia and the commitments it entails take second place. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, RSC at East WinterGarden”
It is seriously impressive how sparklingly fresh Jonathan Mumby has managed to make Twelfth Night in his production for English Touring Theatre which I caught at Richmond Theatre this week. The familiarity, even overfamiliarity, which many have with Shakespeare’s work means it can often be hard to get too excited about yet another production but Mumby’s work here has all the hallmarks of a successful and subtle reinvigoration.
Colin Richmond’s artfully distressed design and an original suite of songs from Grant Olding locate this version of Illyria in the folky fancies of Brian Protheroe’s Feste, a move which pays dividends in extending its oft-melancholy mood to all and sundry. So Hugh Ross’ Malvolio is more tragi than comic, a deep sadness apparent under the prickly exterior. Milo Twomey’s Aguecheek is a rueful soul indeed and Doña Croll’s Maria has a marvellous pragmatism.
Like many things in this country, the National Health Service is something that we all love to complain about – long waiting lists, jam-packed A&E departments, staff without any time to pay enough attention. But it is also an institution that many of us have cause to give huge thanks for, so to see it gradually decimated from within by insidious Coalition politics is a bitter pill indeed to swallow, though it is one which we have taken without too much complaint. Stella Feehily’s This May Hurt A Bit marries her own recent experiences of our health service with an overtly political study of how it has gotten into its current state and how we have let this happen.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the personal inflections to her writing produce the most effective part of the play. Her partner, who just happens to Max Stafford-Clarke who directs here, suffered a stroke a few years ago and from their interactions with the NHS, comes the story of the elderly Iris and her family who are sucked into the system when she falls ill with a suspected stroke. Stephanie Cole brings a hugely affecting dignity to the role, laced with a cutting sense of humour, as she tolerates the mayhem of a modern overstretched hospital ward and her two adult children (Brian Protheroe and Jane Wymark) bicker by her bedside about whether they should go private or not. Continue reading “Review: This May Hurt A Bit, St James”
Series 1 of Suburban Shootoutwas something of a pleasant surprise, a rather mental British TV series set in the idyllic country village of Little Stempington which is the scene of secret gang warfare between two rival groups of housewives. The first season finished on something of a cliff-hanger and that is where things pick up, with Joyce Hazeldine having to pick up the mantle of leader of the ‘good’ group after Anna Chanceller’s utterly fierce Camilla framed her bitter rival Felicity Montagu’s Barbara Du Prez.
What follows is essentially more of the same, except it just isn’t quite as funny as before, certainly not as compelling now that the novelty has worn off and the writing sadly just feels largely uninspired. The major storyline follows the attempt to get a supercasino built on some treasured wetlands, Barbara’s trials in prison and the struggles of Camilla and Joyce to keep control of their respective situations. But it’s over in six quick episodes and to little real impact. And worst of all, Ruth Wilson is hardly in it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suburban Shootout Series 2”
Suburban Shootoutought to have ticked all the boxes to become one of my guilty pleasures when it was shown on TV in 2006, a black comedy featuring Anna Chancellor as the fierce leader of a gang of murderous housewives. But as it was shown on Channel 5, who also produced it, it got lost somewhere along the way and I have to admit to not even having heard of it at the time. It lives on on DVD though and actually provides a highly amusing opportunity to see not just Ruth Wilson early in her career, but also a fresh-faced Tom Hiddleston before he was swept up by Hollywood.
Set in the fictional small town of Little Stempington, smack in the middle of the Home Counties, Joyce Hazeldine and her policeman husband Jeremy move into a new house, seeking respite from hectic London life, and are very much looking forward to their new quiet life. But the premise of the show, created by Roger Beckett and James Gary Martin, is that the village is secretly controlled by two opposing gangs of housewives – both determined to keep village life crime-free, but deadly rivals into the bargain and both keen to co-opt Joyce into their crew. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suburban Shootout”
“You know, Aslan, I’m a little disappointed in you”
Aiming to be one of the theatrical events of the summer (although it has always seemed more of a Christmassy story to me), Rupert Goold has turned his customary directorial flair to his own adaptation of CS Lewis’ quintessential English classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But in choosing to mount this production in the threesixty theatre in the grounds of Kensington Gardens, a rather unforgiving purpose-built circular tent, the show faces an uphill struggle from the start to try and create the sense of theatrical magic and wonder that is needed to transport us through the wardrobe along with the four Pevensie children. NB this was a preview performance.
The show is clearly aiming to be a family-friendly spectacular, the varied inhabitants of Narnia are evoked through a cross between Lion King puppetry and Cirque du Soleil physicality – imaginatively done if that’s your sort of thing, though readers of this blog will know it is not mine, at all – but the soulless atmosphere of the space leads to a rather sterile feel which the cast rarely overcome. Even Adam Cork’s music fails to get the pulse racing (the website says ‘the production is a play but does feature some live music and a pre-recorded fully orchestrated soundtrack’ so we’re clearly in “play with songs” territory rather than fully fledged “musical”) as the rather anodyne songs make little lasting impression and the muddy sound design meant there was precious little lyrical clarity. Continue reading “Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre”
“If you’re alive, you’re afraid…but how you deal with fear, that’s what counts”
Broken Glass is one of Arthur Miller’s later works and so has often suffered by association from the weaker tail-end of Miller’s output, but this production at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, cast to the hilt, certainly makes the case for this play. Set in Brooklyn in 1938, Sylvia has lost the use of her legs after being traumatised by images in the newspaper from Kristallnacht and the news filtering through about the ever-growing extent of anti-Semitic activity in Europe under the Nazis. Her doctor diagnoses a hysterical paralysis but as he begins to investigate her life, he discovers that the problems may lie closer to home, in the truth behind her relationship with her fastidious husband, Phillip.
The Holocaust connections are actually secondary to the real storytelling here which is entirely about the Gellburgs’ marriage. And it is this point which has informed director Iqbal Khan’s interpretation: although ostensibly set in a specific time and place, the emotion involved is timeless and so rather than being a period piece, this production takes a metaphysical, ruminative approach. To ensure the contemplative mood, the interludes between the scenes are filled with Laura Moody’s expressive cello-playing, beautifully composed short solos from Grant Olding which are explosive with emotion and counterpoint the repression evident on stage. Continue reading “Review: Broken Glass, Tricycle”