Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: Network, National Theatre

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”

 With Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale – a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston – has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he’s going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling ‘prophet’.

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers – as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers’ box…the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. Continue reading “Review: Network, National Theatre”

Review: My Mother Said I Never Should, St James

“I don’t know if you’ll ever love me as much as I love you but one day you’ll understand why I’ve done this to you”

It’s perhaps rather telling that a play that can claim the sobriquet “the most performed play by a female playwright” yet still be receiving its first London revival since its premiere here at the Royal Court in 1989. Fortunately, newly formed production company Tiny Fires are here to rectify that by mounting My Mother Said I Never Should at the St James Theatre (in its self-acknowledged first all-female production since opening three and half years ago – the clues are there…).

The fractured narrative of Charlotte Keatley’s play may not confound modern audiences more used to such theatrical playfulness but it was a novel enough concept that it was rejected several times by key theatres when first written. Which makes it all the more impressive that its structure still holds up beautifully today, complex without being confusing, as it takes its time to lay out all random pieces of a jigsaw which ultimately combine to tell the story of four generations of women from a single family from the North-West.  Continue reading “Review: My Mother Said I Never Should, St James”

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me
I can’t ever die”

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it. Continue reading “Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: Luna Gale, Hampstead

“I just want to know that it’s not that I don’t want you to get help, because I do, it’s just that there’s not any help out there”

There’s a moment towards the end of Rebecca Gilman’s 2014 play Luna Gale, directed by Michael Attenborough at the Hampstead, that is just breath-taking. Put-upon social worker Caroline finds herself pressured into praying in her office with a visiting pastor and her religious boss and as the minister lays his hand on her shoulder and offers a deeply seductive account of God’s love, Sharon Small’s deeply conflicted Caroline seems to teeter on the edge of something monumental in an extraordinarily charged moment of drama.

I’d describe it as a shocking moment but that reveals my own prejudices, a distrust of fundamentalist-tinged religion and a sense that such movements prey on easy targets, but in turn that reflects a larger point that Gilman makes in her play. Caroline is dealing with the case of 2 year old Luna Gale, born to teenage meth addicts and though rehousing the child with her grandmother seems the easy option, when she reveals she is deeply religious during a case meeting, Caroline’s instinctive reaction is to roll her eyes and offer a dry remark. Continue reading “Review: Luna Gale, Hampstead”