Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama

“You can’t slaughter what you cannot kill”

In amongst everything else that the Faction do, they’re also steadily working their way through Friedrich Schiller’s plays with the aim of staging the complete canon of his work. I’ve seen them take on Mary StuartFiesco and The Robbers in recent years but their 2015 rep season features Joan of Arc, a free adaptation of The Maid of Orleans which was one of his most frequently performed plays during his lifetime. Its fiercely militaristic tone speaks to its popularity back then but the Faction, playing very much to their strengths in this thrilling and thoughtful version, make a sterling case for its pertinence today.

The play tells its own variation on Joan’s life – one could hardly argue it is historically inaccurate – which repositions La Pucelle as a defiantly active warrior in the Dauphin’s forces as the French Crown struggles against the combined forces of the Duke of Burgundy and Henry VI of England. That she was a peasant girl who received religious visions only added to her allure when her talismanic presence proved decisive in turning the military tide but the natural suspicion of anything different, combined with Joan’s internal dilemmas about the validity of her spirituality, allows the seeds to be sown for her downfall (even if it plays out in an unexpected manner). Continue reading “Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama”

Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama

“Do you like our new refrigerator?”

For an ensemble company that is so focused on, well, the ensemble, The Talented Mr Ripley seems a curious choice for The Faction to include in their 2015 rep season. Patricia Highsmith’s tale of homoerotic obsession, impersonation, murder and swanky new fridges features a tour-de-force performance from Christopher Hughes as Tom Ripley at its heart but in the final analysis, it doesn’t always feel like a show that really plays to the strengths and artistic potential of this group of actors and creatives.

Part of the issue seems to flow from the literalness of Mark Leipacher’s adaptation which runs at nearly three hours with the interval coming at the first hour mark. As you can imagine it thus retains much of the integrity, and detail, of Highsmith’s novel but it also consequently lacks theatricality. So many key story points are endlessly repeated – the day trips where Ripley gets ever closer to the luminous DIckie Greenleaf, the highly symbolic luggage that he carries with him, the various policemen who chase him through Italy – to little cumulative impact. Continue reading “Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, New Diorama

“What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?”

The Faction return to the New Diorama for their now customary annual repertory season, having seriously shaken up their line-up for the first time – just two core ensemble members remaining along with directors Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith. What remains though is an equally serious streak of inventiveness that marks them as one of the more adventurous and exciting theatre companies out there. And it is that sense of innovation that sustains their fresh and spiky Romeo and Juliet which clocks in at a healthy three hours and fifteen minutes.

It may seem like a strange combination – such fidelity to the fullness of the text yet such exploratory theatre-making as led by Valentine Smith – but it provides some lovely moments such as the setting of the Act II prologue to music which is sung beautifully by the full company. Keeping the majority of the company onstage at all times allows for some fascinating, and wordless, extratextual exploration of relationships – the sex and violence of Capulet and Lady Capulet’s tempestuous marriage is compelling to watch and the genuine affection, love even, between the Nurse and Peter makes perfect sense.

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Review: Pedal Pusher, Theatre Delicatessen

“I’d forgotten how beautiful it was, riding a bicycle”

First performed in 2009, Theatre Delicatessen’s Pedal Pusher took a searing look at a crucial five year period in the Tour de France when a doping scandal threatened this most noble of events but the sport managed to find a saviour to take them into the brightest of futures – a cyclist by the name of Lance Armstrong… With subsequent real life proving to be more theatrical (or soap opera-like tbh) than anyone could ever have foreseen, the production has been “reworked and re-imagined” to more fully explore the lengths people will go to in order to succeed.

The focus falls on three cyclists who all had the potential to become legendary but ended up infamous due to their various demons. Marco Pantani suffered career-threatening injuries after being hit by a car, Jan Ullrich experienced crippling depression, Lance Armstrong battled pervasive testicular cancer and as we’ve come to see, all three used performance enhancing drugs to carve their niche in a sport riddled with the practice. Conceived and scripted by Roland Smith from a variety of found texts, it fashions a most compelling story that is gripping in its intensity.’ Continue reading “Review: Pedal Pusher, Theatre Delicatessen”

Review: The Picture of John Gray, Old Red Lion

“We are living in an age of unrivalled beastliness” 

The life of Oscar Wilde has been much explored, not least in the theatre with De Profundis and The Judas Kiss just two recent examples, but CJ Wilmann’s new play The Picture of John Gray takes a different angle on the familiar events by focusing on others who were in his circle and how they were affected by the scandal that engulfed the writer and eventually claimed his life. The fresh-faced and devout poet John Gray was one of those men, a lover of Wilde’s and reportedly the inspiration for the character of Dorian Gray, and Wilmann’s play adroitly explores this slice of gay life anew.

Though Wilde is oft mentioned, he never actually appears here, his presence is merely felt and as Patrick Walshe McBride’s youthful Gray burns brightly and briefly in Oscar’s life, he spends more and more time in The Vale, the artist’s studio of couple Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon that formed the salon for the group. There, his head is turned by the French Jewish literary critic Marc-André Raffalovich and an intense relationship forms between the two, right at the moment that the Bosie-led scandal explodes and lands Wilde in court and then in jail. Continue reading “Review: The Picture of John Gray, Old Red Lion”

Short Film Review #42

How To Get Mugged 

 


 

At barely 3 minutes long, Cecilia Fage’s How To Get Mugged is a brilliant example of how to do a comic short, focusing hard on getting the concept right and then exploring it without exploiting it. Too often, comedy stretches out a joke far too thinly but there’s no such fear here as two new Hackney residents are accosted by a mugger but react in a far different way to what you might expect. And given that that mugger is played by the luscious Philip McGinley, I know a good few people who would have reacted in yet another way to being accosted by him 😉

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Review: Cover Her Face, Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club

“In what a shadow or deep pit of darkness doth womanish and fearful mankind live”

Gemma Arterton may have the part of the willowy ingénue down pat in The Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse just now but over in the earthier environment of the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, something much more radical is happening. Cover Her Face is a new version of John Webster’s 1613 work which relocates the play to the queer subculture of 1950s London, Malfi being the club at the centre of the scene, and third gender writer/performer La JohnJoseph its transgender Duchess.

Daniel Fulvio and Martin Moriarty’s reworking for Inky Cloak is a bold move but one which pays richly evocative rewards. The shifting of the narrative onto a trans focus possesses an aching urgency – JohnJoseph’s Duchess longing for love and marriage and the freedom to live as a woman, yet cruelly constrained by the conservatism of her two brothers – malevolent twin Ferdinand and the closeted Minister. Their uneasy arrangement is shattered though by arrival of the handsome Antonio. with predictably tragic consequences. Continue reading “Review: Cover Her Face, Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club”

Review: King Lear, Almeida

“This is the excellent foppery of the world” 

Considered one of the defining roles for actors, there never seems to be a lack of King Lears on our stages and in 2012, it is Jonathan Pryce’s turn to wear the crown in this Michael Attenborough production for the Almeida. Such is the potential for great quality at this North London theatre that when they get everything right, there’s a beautiful marriage between the epic and the intimate (as advertised) and this is largely what we get here.

Pryce’s Lear is a father first and foremost, and losing some of the distance that accompanies an overly regal bearing results in a rather effective focus on the emotions of the man rather than the monarch. Thus the rage, the tenderness, the regret, the pain that he feels – elucidated with some masterful re-readings of the text – is always accessible and persuasive. The look in his eye during ‘I know thee well enough…’ cuts to the very core; his bantering relationship with his Fool borne of a genuine connection between the pair, Trevor Fox’s native Geordie accent a perfect fit to the riddle-me-dees and sharp observations and really demanding full attention. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Almeida”

Review: Henry V, Theatre Delicatessen

“Straining upon the start, the game’s afoot”

There’s something a little perverse about the most striking moment in Theatre Delicatessen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V being one of no words, but in the anguished looks of two military medical staff waiting in the bunker as conflict rages noisily above them, there’s a flash of genuinely powerful theatre. The horrors of war are sadly timeless and that is something that Roland Smith’s modernisation, loosely redolent of the 1980s, is intent on demonstrating in this tale of a young King Henry wrestling with the burdens of leading men to war.

The company have adopted an old BBC building on Marylebone High Street as their new home, and after winding our way through its winding corridors, escorted by firm-handed soldiers, we arrive in a gloomy subterranean bunker with seating scattered around (choose wisely, it’s a long play…). And at times, the production works beautifully. The claustrophobia of the setting and the conflicting emotions of patriotism versus fear sometimes calls to mind the excellent Journey’s End; the scene in which the princess and her lady-in-waiting practise their English is excellently re-interpreted as a time-killing device which almost, but not quite, hides their nerves as conflict rages around them; and a deftness of touch which allows the company to effortlessly double and triple up, often from one scene to the next. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Theatre Delicatessen”

Review: A Place at the Table, Tristan Bates

“Oh, my opinions are only worth hearing if I’m ‘someone’?”

Simon Block’s A Place at the Table first played London at the Bush Theatre in 2000, but is only receiving its first revival in the capital now with this production by Signal Theatre Company at the Tristan Bates Theatre near Cambridge Circus. Adam is a playwright who is highly excited when a meeting is set up with a television executive to discuss options for his latest play. But what editor Sarah has in mind is a boundary-pushing, and possibly taste-defying, leap which will put the disability of its lead character at the centre of the situation comedy she is proposing. Adam’s own disability factors into his decision-making in unexpected ways as the general insanity of the television industry swirls around him, threatening to swallow him whole.

There’s a great deal of sharp wit contained in here. Block has a riotous way of skewering the pretension of so much of the media-speak that trips off the tongues of the fiercely ambitious TV types as they circle Adam – best exemplified by the amusing redefinition of ‘broad’casting and the gag about the mooted title for a gay charity shop sitcom ‘Charity begins at homo’. But he does tend to rely a bit too much on this as a default mode for the play: a considerable proportion of the dialogue exists at this level which is ultimately quite distracting in its verbosity – yet managing to say precious little – and furthermore in its repetition, it also loses some of its impact as the show progresses. Continue reading “Review: A Place at the Table, Tristan Bates”