Not-a-review: The Effect, Boulevard Theatre

The effect of coronavirus on The Effect at the Boulevard Theatre, is robbing us of what was sure to be a striking revival of Lucy Prebble’s play

“We are facing an everyday epidemic”

With lines like the above, you wonder how Lucy Prebble’s The Effect would have gone down at the Boulevard Theatre, especially directed by Anthony Neilson at this moment in time. Sadly, we won’t get to find out any time soon and though the current crisis isn’t good for any theatre, it feels particularly cruel on a new venue still finding its feet in the London theatre ecology.

I’d wager this production would have gone some way to establishing the Boulevard’s dramatic credentials. Prebble’s play was a huge hit at the National in 2012, and got even better in its regional premiere in Sheffield a few years later. And with a cast as talented as Eric Kofi Abrefa, Christine Entwisle, Tim McMullan and the ever-excellent Kate O’Flynn, I hope this doesn’t wind up a case of what might have been. 

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Review: The Twits, Royal Court

“It means, Mrs Twit, we’re going to have some fun” 

Truth be told, I wasn’t really a fan of The Twits when I was a kid – the tales of worm spaghetti grossed my sensitive little soul out and I was much more at home reading about the delirious pleasure of the mixing of George’s Marvellous Medicine. So the news of the latest Roald Dahl adaptation to hit a London stage wasn’t one that necessarily filled me with the greatest of glee, especially since this version of The Twits is coming to the Royal Court via a “mischievous adaptation” courtesy of Enda Walsh, a playwright with whom I’ve had mixed experiences, and director John Tiffany.

And predictably, it is a curious confection that they’ve cooked up alongside the plate of wormy spaghetti which sent shivers down my spine once again. Aimed at “brave 8 year olds and their families”, it makes little concession to being a traditional family show and mines a rather dark and twisted approach – one suspects Mr Dahl might well have approved – but one which didn’t always seem to connect with the youngsters in the audience at this final preview before press night. The first half in particular saw mostly fitful adult laughter in a tale that is rather stark in its cruelty and political leanings. Continue reading “Review: The Twits, Royal Court”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”

Review: Hope, Royal Court

“It’s the trouble with being so overwhelmingly Labour”

The plot for Jack Thorne’s Hope could be lifted from the newspapers right now – a cash-strapped Labour council is faced with impossible choices as austerity continues to bites hard and £22 million has to be trimmed from this year’s budget, £64 million over the next three years. In Newcastle, the figure is actually £90 million despite having already lost £151 million over the last four years, and the decisions about what essential services are to be cut are those that plague Hilary and Mark, the Leader and Deputy Leader respectively, of Thorne’s unspecified local government.

Stella Gonet’s Hilary is determined to make it work, a New Labour pragmatism already drawing up the list of priorities – Sure Start centres versus swimming pools, daycare for the disabled versus personal safety in rough areas to give but a couple of examples – but Paul Higgins’ Mark is cut from much more traditional cloth and his protesting colleagues coalesce around him. Eventually, he reluctantly spearheads a rebellion and a refusal to set an amended budget but though this is described as a fable, it is no fairytale, and the consequences of defying government are all too real. Continue reading “Review: Hope, Royal Court”

Review: Narrative, Royal Court

“Don’t internalise it, tell us your story”
 

‘Form is broken’, so the publicity for Anthony Neilson’s new play Narrative tells us, so here goes. Simply described as a new play about stories, it has been devised by Neilson and his company of seven  and brings together a blend of characters and scenes and songs and poems and scripts and video to diagnose something of the modern condition, the world in which we find ourselves today.  Continue reading “Review: Narrative, Royal Court”

Review: As You Like It, Digital Theatre

“If my uncle, thy banished father, had banished thy uncle, the duke my father…”

Against my better judgement, I bought the RSC’s As You Like It ages ago when a special offer came up for it but it has languished on my hard-drive ever since as I have serious AYLI fatigue and no real desire to watch it again. It is one of those Shakespeares that seems to pop up with unfailing regularity and I’ve grown tired of it to be honest – occasionally a production will surprise with a stunning central performance as did Cush Jumbo at the Royal Exchange but usually I’m left weary by the lack of inventiveness in productions which end up blurring into one another in my mind.

And that’s how I felt in the end about this 2010 Michael Boyd-directed production featuring the Long Ensemble. It is undoubtedly well-performed: Katy Stephens’ bright intelligence is perfectly suited to the determined Rosalind and well matched with Jonjo O’Neill’s passionate Orlando, Richard Katz’s wild-haired Touchstone is well observed and having become accustomed to this group of actors, I liked the smaller parts played by the likes of Christine Entwisle, Dyfan Dwyfor and Charles Aitken. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Digital Theatre”

Review: Silence, RSC at Hampstead

“It’s me…I don’t know how to be free”

My continued failure to resist booking plays I don’t really fancy but with members of the RSC Ensemble in the, resulted in this trip to the Hampstead Theatre to see Silence, their collaboration with Filter, a company whose work I haven’t really enjoyed in the three shows of theirs that I have seen. And even the assertion that it was the Ensemble members I was keen to see is stretching it a little (although Katy Stephens and Christine Entwisle were both people I wanted to see again) as it was the opportunity of gazing at Jonjo O’Neill and Oliver Dimsdale onstage that finally won me over: as Monica Geller once said, ‘homina homina’.

At its simplest, Silence follows two main narratives as a married couple pursue different paths: Kate travels to Russia to find Alexei, a man with whom she had a passionate affair more than 20 years ago; and her documentary filmmaker husband Michael with a sound technician colleague is investigating a mysterious Met Police unit whom they suspect of committing misdeeds. But this is a far from simple show as we flow seamlessly between both time and place, some scenes overlapping and even being intercut with one another. Continue reading “Review: Silence, RSC at Hampstead”

Re-review: Romeo & Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“If love be rough with you, be rough with love”

So having managed to stand through King Lear and partake of a lovely dinner, the evening saw a second visit to Rupert Goold’s highly entertaining Romeo & Juliet. I haven’t got a huge amount to say about this that I didn’t already say in my original review, it really is as fresh and exciting an interpretation of this play that you will ever see, it feels like it could have been written yesterday, so persuasive is the pulsing heart of this production with its innovative immediacy.

I’d actually decided not to see the show again when it came to the Roundhouse in the winter as I thought I didn’t want my happy memories of seeing it at the Courtyard to be affected. But talking to people who did go persuaded me it might be a good thing and I am so glad that I did go again as I felt the production has matured into something richer and stronger. And knowing what the directorial flourishes were meant that I was able to focus more elsewhere, on the subtleties, the little touches that passed me by and enjoying the sheer quality of the performances, especially from the great seats we forked out for, on the front row of the circle facing the stage. Continue reading “Re-review: Romeo & Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“…the fearful passage of their death-mark’d love”

 

Rupert Goold’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Courtyard in Stratford marks his first foray there since 2006, now he’s an Associate Director and directs a well-established ensemble here at the RSC in tale of a Montague and Capulet whose love for each other in a hostile world defies a long-held bloody family feud with the most tragic of consequences.

 

Mariah Gale and Sam Troughton may seem like unconventional casting, but they work perfectly together as Juliet and Romeo. She’s a sulky teenager, rebelling at the marital fait accompli presented to her by her overbearing father (a terrifyingly chilling Richard Katz); he’s a hooded brooding soul, initially almost nerdily obsessed with Rosaline, both alone in their respective tribes but their first meeting awakens something deep inside of both of them and their chemistry together is just electric. He comes to life, dancing jigs of ecstatic joy, and she becomes alive to the possibilities of romantic and indeed sexual fulfilment. We never forget though that their’s is a tragic story, and Gale in particular is painfully strong in displaying the deepening realisation that their situation is not one that is tenable. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC via Digital Theatre

“Are my discourses dull? Barren my wit?”

Digital Theatre specialises in providing recordings of plays, captured as-live and available to watch either online or to download onto your computer. They have established links with some top theatre companies and so is building up an interesting collection of plays for viewing. I became aware of Digital Theatre back at Christmastime, and downloaded my first play (Far From The Madding Crowd). It has however remained on my hard-drive unwatched for a number of reasons. But with the offer to get a free download of the RSC’s The Comedy of Errors through the Times newspaper, I decided to revisit the site and actually get round to watching something.

There’s been a lot of debate about the merits of videoed theatre over live theatre: my personal view is that there’s ample room for both in the world. The recordings are there to supplement the live experience, not replace it, something that seems to be lost on much of the commenters in the press. These kind of initiatives, along with the National Theatre’s cinema showings of some plays, offer a great opportunity to expand the audience for these shows, and whilst the frisson of live performance may be lost, I can guarantee that whoever saw Phèdre at the cinema would have had a much better view of the faces of the actors than I did from the circle of the Lyttleton. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC via Digital Theatre”