News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference

All sorts of goodies were announced today for the upcoming slate of productions at the National Theatre, including Small Island, Peter Gynt, and Top Girls 

Olivier Theatre

Small Island, a new play adapted by Helen Edmundson from Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning bestselling novel, will open in the Olivier Theatre in May. Directed by Rufus Norris, the play journeys from Jamaica to Britain through the Second World War to 1948, the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Small Island follows the intricately connected stories of Hortense, newly arrived in London, landlady Queenie and servicemen Gilbert and Bernard. Hope and humanity meet stubborn reality as, with epic sweep, the play uncovers the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK. Hundreds of tickets for every performance available at £15. Small Island will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as part of NT Live. Continue reading “News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference”

Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar

“Any suggestion of a correlation between the leader of a certain nation and the homicidal gangsters we depict is something that the management must strictly disavow”

There’s something special in the timelessness of some pieces of theatre, their themes and arguments as relevant to audiences today as they were when they were written years, decades, even centuries ago. Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui falls into the middle category, written in 1941 as an allegorical response to his nation’s fall to Nazism, and was magisterially revived at Chichester a few years back.

For their own new production, the Donmar Warehouse has turned to Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park, The Low Road) who doesn’t quite trust the material in the same way, updating it in the most heavy-handed of manners by directly substituting Trump for Hitler. It’s an arresting move and indubitably pertinent in the way in which it expounds on the exploitation of a particularly toxic brand of populist politics. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar”

Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre

“Some would say change is inevitable”

It was fascinating to go back to Bruce Norris’ multi-award-winning play Clybourne Park more than five years after its London debut both at the Royal Court and then in the West End, particularly since I’d finally gotten round to seeing the play that it riffs on in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Daniel Buckroyd’s Made in Colchester production originated at the Mercury there last month and pleasingly will tour the UK throughout May, significantly extending the reach of this sharp comedy/

Clybourne Park is the Chicago suburb to which Hansberry’s Younger family intend to move in her 1959 play, its residents committee reacting by trying to buy them off to preserve what they call their ‘common background’ when what they mean is its all-white racial make-up. Norris explores both sides of this by setting his first half in the house the Youngers are trying to buy in 1959 but then skipping forward 50 years after the interval to reveal a changed neighbourhood, riven by the same problems. Continue reading “Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre”

Review: The Low Road, Royal Court

“You do compete for the good opinion of society, do you not?”

*This review is a bit spoilerific so don’t read on if you don’t want aspects of the play, and others, to be revealed to you* 

When people ask me to describe the plot of a play, I almost always end it with “…and then the aliens arrive” because that’s the way my mind works and generally speaking, it’s a safe assumption that the playwright won’t have gone there. So imagine my surprise when they actually arrived in the second act of Salad Days, it was like all my Christmases at once and because of the daffy silliness of the whole shebang, it was able to pull it off. Working in similarly offbeat surprises into straight drama is perhaps a more difficult job though and one which arguably has to work harder to make a success of it.

The scope of Bruce Norris’ new play The Low Road would seem to preclude the need for such an approach. A sprawlingly epic trawl through the growth of our (western) economic system told through the fable-like tale of Jim, an entrepreneurial young man roaming through an 18th century America whose single-minded financial knowledge and ambition prefigures the capitalist mind-set that is so familiar to us today. A post-interval modern-day interlude draws explicit parallels and connections between the actions and attitudes of now and then to reinforce its main thesis about the triumph of individualism. Oh, and there’s an epilogue. Continue reading “Review: The Low Road, Royal Court”

Review: Purple Heart, Gate Theatre

“Why would I need to hurt myself?”

The scabrous humour of Bruce Norris’ last play Clybourne Park was a huge success seeing a West End transfer from the Royal Court and a clean sweep of drama awards on both sides of the Atlantic. He returns to the Royal Court very soon with The Low Road but the Gate Theatre has mounted a revival of his 2002 play Purple Heart. Set in an anonymous Midwestern city, a family struggles to rebuild their lives after the death of Gene, a soldier in the Vietnam War, the impact of such a terrible loss affecting his mother, his wife and his son in different ways.

Norris dissects the complexity of grief on the different members of this family with his customary excoriating insight, challenging what society deems to be the correct emotional responses with the unconventional Carla. Rejecting the conventional tropes of mourning, the generic platitudes and proffered casseroles from oppressively well-meaning neighbours, she lounges in her dressing gown, swigging as much booze as she can. But there’s little escape at home – her son Thor is acting out on his increasingly violent imagination and mother-in-law Grace is relentless with her forced good cheer barely masking a concern or propriety. It is takes the arrival of a stranger at the door, a veteran with his own agenda and a box of doughnuts, to really shake up the broken dynamic of this family. Continue reading “Review: Purple Heart, Gate Theatre”

Re-Review: Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s

“That’s not the joke I was thinking of…”

Maintaining an excellent record of transfers for the Royal Court, Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park is the latest play to make the leap from Sloane Square to the West End, in this case the Wyndham’s Theatre. Robert Innes Hopkins’ design seems to have transferred almost exactly as it was at the Royal Court, seemingly at the same size and still undergoing such a great transformation in the interval. All but two of the original cast have transferred with the show, directed by Dominic Cooke, which has already won Best Show plaudits from the Evening Standard, South Bank Sky Arts and the Critics Circle and looks set to continue that success.

I saw the show early in its run at the Royal Court and though not originally intending to revisit the show, the opportunity arose and I became quite intrigued by the idea of seeing the production again in a new home. The play takes a dual look at racial prejudice in America, starting in 1959 as a white family try to sell their house in a white neighbourhood to a black family despite pressure from the locals, then switching to 2009 where the tables are turned as the demographic of the area has switched completely and it is the black community resisting the ideas of a white couple who want to buy the same house. It looks at how people rarely say exactly what they mean, especially where race is concerned and though things would seem to have improved by 2009, the events of the second half show us that that progress could be seen to be quite superficial. Continue reading “Re-Review: Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s”

Critics’ Circle Awards 2010: the winners in full


Best New Play
Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris 
 
The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
Matilda, A Musical
 
Best Actor

David Suchet in All My Sons  

Best Actress
Jenny Jules in Ruined

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Derek Jacobi in King Lear 

Best Director
Michael Grandage for King Lear

Best Designer
Bunny Christie for The White Guard

Most Promising Playwright
Anya Reiss for Spur of the Moment

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
Daniel Kaluuya in Sucker Punch

 

Winners of the 2010 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Play
WINNER Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris (Royal Court)
Cock by Mike Bartlett (Royal Court)
Sucker Punch by Roy Williams (Royal Court)

Best Director
WINNER Howard Davies for The White Guard (National’s Lyttelton) & All My Sons (Apollo)
Nicholas Hytner for The Habit of Art (National’s Lyttelton) & London Assurance (National’s Olivier) & Hamlet (National’s Olivier)
Laurie Sansom for Beyond the Horizon and Spring Storm (National’s Cottesloe)
Thea Sharrock for After the Dance (National’s Lyttelton) Continue reading “Winners of the 2010 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: Clybourne Park, Royal Court

“Fitting into a community is what it really all comes down to”

Clybourne Park is the latest play to open downstairs at the Royal Court, written by Bruce Norris whose The Pain and the Itch also played here a few years ago. This play opens in 1959 with Russ and Bev who are selling their house in Clybourne Park, Chicago for a quick move, thereby enabling the first black family to move into the neighbourhood. This is not going down well with their friends and neighbours and tensions of all sorts are brought to the fore as threats are issued and secrets unfolded. We then flip forward to 2009 where young couple Lindsey and Steve want to buy the same house but knock it down and build from scratch. These plans also do not go down well with the neighbourhood and whilst change has occurred, the same tensions begin to emerge.

Norris wrote this play partly as a reaction to A Raisin In The Sun as a way of looking at how white Americans have dealt with issues of race in the past and how in this post-Obama world, whether anything has really changed. And he does it with such style and acerbic wit, it makes it easy to overlook the slight weaknesses in the plotting. One I cannot reveal because it is too spoilerish but waiting four years, really? Another was spotted by someone cleverer than I, with inconsistencies about US behaviour in the Korean War and the last I go into more detail about later in the review. I flag these up now because otherwise this would be a purely rave review as it is fantastic. Continue reading “Review: Clybourne Park, Royal Court”