News: The RSC launch Sonnets in Solitude

The Royal Shakespeare Company have announced Sonnets in Solitude, a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets self-recorded by RSC actors while in lockdown. 

Many of the actors were working with the RSC at the time of the theatre’s temporary closure on 17 March and have been unable to perform or rehearse since.

RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran said,

“The sonnets are so intimate, confidential and direct, and watching them being performed in this way captures that immediately. Perhaps after 400 years, the form has finally found its ideal format”.

The RSC will release 90 of the 154 sonnets over the coming weeks which will be available to view via the RSC’s You Tube channel Miles Jupp, Alexandra Gilbreath, Antony Sher, Emma Fielding and Rosie Sheehy are just some of the actors involved in Sonnets in Solitude. Continue reading “News: The RSC launch Sonnets in Solitude”

Review: Yerma, Young Vic

“We used to have a life. 
We have each other and my empty womb”

It’s Yerma yes, but not as you know it. Australian auteur Simon Stone (best known in the UK for The Wild Duck but whose Medea in Amsterdam was just masterful) has revised, reshaped, rewritten Lorca’s 1934 tragic poem into an all-too-contemporary lament that throbs with the painful intensity of Billie Piper’s stunning performance here at the Young Vic.

Encased in a glass box, the audience in traverse (designer Lizzie Clachan doing some extraordinary work), Piper plays Her, a woman in her mid-30s with a successful career as a blogger (I KNOW!) and happily married to the slightly older John. As the societal narrative goes, they buy a house and then decide to start a family but despite the fecundity of those around them, they struggle to conceive. Continue reading “Review: Yerma, Young Vic”

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 Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: Medea, Almeida

“I don’t think you realise how extraordinary your anger is”

So Rupert Goold closes his #AlmeidaGreeks season by directing Kate Fleetwood, who just happens to be his wife, in the title role of Medea. And as with Oresteia and Bakkhai, a new version has been commissioned from an unconventional source, this time novelist Rachel Cusk. So we leave ancient Greece for modern-day London, Medea becomes a writer whose actor-husband Jason has left her for a model and the chorus becomes a garrulous gaggle of pashmina-wielding yummy mummies as concerned with the calories in croissants as the parenting of their peer.

Cusk frames her play essentially as a series of conversations by which Medea finds herself pummelled, in search of a self she hid for 15 years of marriage and is struggling to relocate post-divorce and where Fleetwood excels is in showing the range and depth of her despair. Lacerated into silence by Amanda Boxer’s caustic nurse, lambasted by children who won’t leave her alone (Louis Sayers and Guillermo Bedward both excellent at this performance), left behind by Justin Salinger’s Jason with whom she argues thrillingly viciously, the intensity is immense and Fleetwood sustains it throughout. Continue reading “Review: Medea, Almeida”

Review: Deluge, Hampstead Downstairs

“The world’s gone all strange”

For better or for worse, the aspect of Fiona Doyle’s new play Deluge that lingers most in the mind is Moi Tran’s design. Continuing a trend of adventurous transformations of the downstairs space at the Hampstead, she has flooded the stage calf-deep – appropriately so for a drama so preoccupied with adverse weather conditions – with platforms at either end and a table and chairs perched on a box placed in the middle of the water. A striking choice but not one without its trials as soon became clear once the audience had taken their place in the traverse seating.

For there’s a fair amount of stomping about from one end to the other, especially in the earlier stages of the play, and consequently splashing galore, given how intimate this theatre is. A little advance warning might have been appreciated – given a couple of the disgruntled faces I suspect a stern letter of complaint or two might well be on the way! – but more significant than any amount of damp patches on your handbag is how distracting the noisy reality of wading through the water proves to be throughout the play. Continue reading “Review: Deluge, Hampstead Downstairs”

Short Film Review #54

 
A full-on Irish history epic, Tom Waller’s Eviction is an unflinching look at the difficult relations in 19th century Ireland with fearsome English landlords putting the frighteners on their Irish tenants and pushing them to ever more desperate measures. It’s really quite shocking but very well done and the production values are excellent – Gay Hian Teoh’s cinematography and Eddie Hamilton’s editing are top notch and a cast that includes Cillian Murphy and Rupert Vansittart make this well worth watching.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #54”

Review: Birdland, Royal Court

“I literally have enough money to buy anything”

It was Scarlett Johansson wot did it. My over-riding thought as Simon Stephens’ Birdland built to its destructive climax was that the alien for Jonathan Glazer’s recent film Under The Skin had somehow infiltrated affairs. The viscous black liquid that surrounds Ian MacNeil’s set slowly rises to encroach on the ever-twisted world of tortured rockstar Paul, threatening to swallow him in its total embrace, an oblivion the man might truly welcome. But it is just a coincidence, although perhaps rooted in some conceptual similarity, there are no aliens here. Or Hollywood superstars.

Instead, Irish legend-in-the-making Andrew Scott plays a hugely successful musician who is on top of the world and coming to the end of going round the world on a huge tour. Whipped into a constant fervour by the corrosive side of celebrity, his personality has become so warped that he can, and does, demand anything he wants, and by and large gets it. Aside from making him a total f*cktard, especially where his best friend and bandmate’s girlfriend is concerned, it also symptomizes the deeper societal malaise of a corrupted capitalist mindset in all its exploitative ugliness. Continue reading “Review: Birdland, Royal Court”

Review: The Lyons, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Some people are happy and some people are lonely, mean and sad. You strike me as the second kind”

Families – who’d have ‘em? Not Ben Lyons that’s for sure, as in his upscale New York private hospital room where his terminal cancer has reached crisis point, the cacophony that arises when his wife and two children are around his bed is enough to make anyone reach for the morphine button. Nicky Silver’s Broadway hit The Lyons, transferred here to the Menier Chocolate Factory, is one of the most vicious and spikiest dark comedies you’ll see all year – this isn’t so much a family united in tragedy as further shattered by it.

It’s occasionally cruel, it’s sometimes funny, more often than not it is cruelly funny – audacious in the jabs that these people make towards their ‘nearest and dearest’. Isla Blair’s Rita is sat by the bed planning how to redecorate the living room and the sibling rivalry between Charlotte Randle’s daughter Lisa, in an alcohol-recovery programme with a turbulent relationship history, and Tom Ellis’ son Curtis, shunned by his father due to his sexuality and with his own unique relationship problems, starts from the minute they arrive at the hospital, warring over the size of their respective gifts.

What Silver shows is how wrapped up people get in their own personal tragedies, how the wounds that cut one’s own flesh will always hurt more than someone else’s, even if theirs are fatal. So despite being the reason that they have all convened, Nicholas Day’s Ben is often just a spectator in the war of attrition between all four of them – dark secrets being dragged out, deeply held frustrations being aired, a brutal sense of scores being settled in a lifelong struggle. But for all the darkness, glimmers of light are allowed to shine through in a slightly more reflective second half.

The theatrical ancestry of the show feel directly drawn from plays like Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but what director Mark Brokaw brings is a televisual feel that also makes it cousins with something like Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. It’s not that the Lyons start to gain our sympathies but rather that once the atmosphere subsides a little, the characters, and the actors, are allowed to flourish more and suggest their depth. 

Randle’s Lisa is transformed by the prospect of a simple kindness towards a man, Ellis’ Curtis has a late Damascene where he realises the change he needs to make to his life, even Blair’s sharp Rita offers something of a clue to her demeanour. It’s not enough to really create an emotional connection to the characters, but that would recast the play into more of a tragedy and shift the balance right off-kilter whereas right now, they are few things funnier playing in London. Not a play for those of a delicate disposition, but a bracing piece of blistering comic writing that deserves to be seen.


Running time: 2 hours (with interval) Booking until 16th November
Photos: Nobby Clarke

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Public Enemy, Young Vic

“We want people who know what must change and why”

The phrase ‘timely revival’ is one much abused by reviewers and theatre marketers alike but it is genuinely amazing how strongly the resonances of a piece of writing from 1882 chime in today’s world. Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, retitled here as Public Enemy in a terse new version by David Harrower, rails against government corruption, the treatment of whistle-blowers, unscrupulous clothing factory owners and foretells a world of growing ecological and environmental calamity. It is a powerfully compelling tale, cheekily updated to the 1970s here, and one which wriggles uncomfortably beneath the skin.

Stockmann is a principled doctor in a provincial Norwegian town famed for its spa baths but when he discovers that the waters are poisonous and need to be shut down and announces this to the town at large, he is not met with the gratitude and acclaim he expects but rather is ostracised and demonised by the leaders of the town’s society. Chief among these in the mayor but as is often the way in small-town politics, he just happens to be Stockmann’s brother. The battle for public opinion that ensues is then bitterly fought as Stockmann, Ibsen thinly veiling his contempt for the frosty reception of his previous play Ghosts, reacts to becoming the enemy of the people. Continue reading “Review: Public Enemy, Young Vic”