Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre
“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”
Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.
It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”
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
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”
“I’m walking down the street and there’s a door in the fence open and inside there are three women I’ve seen before”
There’s something delicious about seeing the Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone return to the Royal Court before heading out to New York and then a UK tour. It’s also testament to James MacDonald’s production that the quartet of actors who originated their parts have all returned – Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson, marvels every one.
I ranked the play as the fourth best thing that I saw last year and though I don’t always like to go back to things I enjoyed (in case it sullies the memory), I wanted to treat myself to this again. And I’m glad I did, for the layered complexity of Churchill’s writing allows for re-appreciation and indeed re-interpretation. My original review holds true but given the way the world has lurched closer to apocalypse (literally so, apparently), the play’s contrast between Doomsday and the domestic feels ever more poignant and pertinent.
Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 11th February, then touring 15 – 26 Feb BAM, New York; 7 – 11 March The Lowry, Salford; 14- 18 March Cambridge Arts Theatre; 22 – 26 March Bristol Old Vic
Next week sees the 9th Gay Art Festival GFEST start, an eclectic showcase of art, films, and performance work by LGBTQI artists from London, UK and beyond. There’s all sorts to choose from – full details here – with this year’s theme being OUT [in the Margins] and some of the things piquing my interest are European films Jonathan and Brothers of the Night, at Rich Mix and Arthouse Crouch End respectively, and trans documentary The Pearl on at Rich Mix on 15th November. You might be interested in their performance night at the RADA Studio on the 19th November too, a 2 hour double bill of LGBTQI music and dance narratives. Visit their website at www.gaywisefestival.org.uk. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”
“I have to believe them
It has to be someone I believe
I have to believe they’re not just saying it
I have to believe they know…”
After the divisive triptych of Here We Go, we now get a second brand new play from Caryl Churchill in the form of Escaped Alone. And rather brilliantly for a venue now unafraid to shake the rafters about received notions about women in theatre (and society) under Vicky Featherstone’s leadership (cf this interview, outgoing play Linda), it stars four women of great experience, their combined acting on stage and screen adding up to over 170 years – a fact that shouldn’t be remarkable in itself but sadly, still is.
Trying to come up with a précis of ‘what happens’ is difficult at the best of times with Churchill’s plays and Escaped Alone is no different. Suffice to say, Sally (Deborah Findlay), Lena (Kika Markham), and Vi (June Watson) play three friends enjoying a cup of tea in Miriam Buether’s highly naturalistic back garden set when neighbour Mrs Jarrett (Linda Bassett) pops along to join them. What follows is a sharing of stories, personal and political, private revelations and public address. Continue reading “Review: Escaped Alone, Royal Court”
“Are those the pearly gates?”
Almost like buses, you wait for a new Caryl Churchill play and two come along – Escaped Alone will play at the Royal Court in the New Year but up first is Here We Go at the National, directed by Dominic Cooke. Described as “a short play about death”, it clocks in at 45 minutes but depending on how you fare with it, it may seem like longer…
Churchill has split her musings on mortality into a triptych of distinct but related scenarios. The first scene sees the playwright deploy her characteristic linguistic playfulness on a group of mourners at a funeral, their fragmented chit-chat skirting around the larger issues, their individual asides to the audience riffing beautifully on the coda to Six Feet Under’s magisterial finale (of all things). Continue reading “Review: Here We Go, National Theatre”
“No mistake no mister no missed her no mist no miss no”
As my dear Aunty Mary used to say, by the crin! Sarah Frankcom’s production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker is a properly gobsmacking piece of work, the kind of theatre that leaves you reeling from its sheer audacity, its free-wheeling inventiveness and a general sense of what-the-fuckery. Maxine Peake’s acting career has been far too varied for a peak to ever be declared (though for me, Twinkle ftw) but it is hard to imagine her any more hauntingly, viscerally, intense than she is here, wrapping every sinew of her body around the often bafflingly complex wordplay and utterly owning it with an authoritative otherworldliness.
There’s a plot. Kind of. Though it is literally, and physically, hard to follow. Frankcom has lavished huge amounts of creativity onto the show and empowered her creatives to be daring, so that it becomes akin to an art installation in how densely visual it becomes. Imogen Knight’s choreography haunts every scene as an ensemble of 12 keep a strange and kinetic energy coursing through the theatre, Jack Knowles’ artistically inspired lighting playfully pulls the perspective one way then the other, and Lizzie Clachan’s reinvention of the physical space of the auditorium has to be seen to really be believed (book the stalls, seriously) as it rewrites the rules of engagement. Continue reading “Review: The Skriker, Royal Exchange”
“There’s an end of outward preaching now. An end of perfection. There may be a time.”
Between this and Rules for Living, that’s two consecutive openings at the National Theatre that have been written and directed by women. Coincidence that it comes at a moment of regime change, who knows? Those more inclined to actual research might possibly tell you it’s more common you’d think but I doubt it. In any case, it’s pleasing to see Caryl Churchill getting a major production of one of her lesser-performed works at the hands of the talented Lyndsey Turner, who will soon be turning her hand to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.
And it is an ambitious mark she has made here with Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, exploding the original six-strong casting of the show to a company of nearly twenty actors, supported by a community company of forty-odd supernumeraries. She needs the bodies too, to fit around an audacious design feat from Es Devlin which is best experienced with fresh eyes if possible, so no spoilers here. It is an inspired choice though, that both sets the scene perfectly for this world of political debate but also deconstructs meaningfully as the full scope of that debate becomes increasingly clear. Continue reading “Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre”
“The cats have come in on the side of the French”
Blinking ‘eck, she’s a rum one that Caryl Churchill and having now seen Far Away, it is easy to see why we haven’t seen much of the play since its debut in 2000 despite Churchill’s reputation as one of (if not the) pre-eminent living British playwrights. It is perhaps a statement of intent then from Kate Hewitt, the most recent winner of the JMK Award (given to allow practical learning opportunities for young theatre directors of thrilling vision and promising ability), to turn to Far Awayfor her production funded by the proceeds.
Short but anything but sweet, and tucked away into the Young Vic’s studio space, the play encompasses five scenes that show a world heading for the brink as grim atrocities and warmongering become second nature. Samantha Colley stands out (she really has taken The Cut by storm this year after a stunning debut in The Crucible down the road) as Joan – first seen as a young girl blighted by nightmares that her aunt (Tamzin Griffin) can’t quite dispel as they’re rooted in a terrible truth. Continue reading “Review: Far Away, Young Vic”
“Are you my father?”
After the Menier’s version which starred Timothy and Sam West, the Nuffield uses a similar conceit to cast another father and son duo in Caryl Churchill’s A Number. This time, it is John and Lex Shrapnel who delve into the murky world of cloning, medical ethics and paternal responsibility but it is Tom Scutt’s unique set design that proves to be the most striking thing about Michael Longhurst’s production.
Divided into four, the audience are seated around an observation chamber – the mirrored glass of which allows us to see in but not the actors to see out. Furthermore, they are reflected multiple times, echoing the themes of splintered self and inescapable examination. For all its technical brilliance though, it is a design which sterilizes an already clinical exercise, leaving one impressed rather than amazed. Continue reading “Review: A Number, Nuffield”