Review: Richard III, Old Vic

“I thank God for my humility”

Something of a rarity for me in visiting the final show of a run, here the final iteration of the three year transatlantic Bridge Project this time taking in just the single show, Richard III. The reason I left it so late was mainly because I hadn’t got a huge amount of will to actually go and see it, Propeller’s anarchic and inventive interpretation being so fresh in my mind especially after revisiting it just as this production opened at the Old Vic, and though my Aunty Jean was most keen to see it, by the time I got round to it, it had predictably sold out. Sod’s law dictates that tickets for a couple of shows in the final week emerged last minute but she couldn’t make it, but I snapped up a £15 bargain in the dress circle to go and see what all the fuss was about.

The big selling point of Sam Mendes’ production was clearly Kevin Spacey in the title role and Spacey rises to the challenge to provide the grandest of performances. So much so that I was initially rather turned off by the overemphatic nature of his opening scenes, it felt akin to being hit by a sledgehammer of acting and left me wondering where on earth he was going to go from this grandstanding. Fortunately, he did calm down a bit to allow the depth of his portrayal to emerge: a malevolent spirit but not one born evil, but twisted that way by life and still able to keep a black humour about him, Spacey excelling with a sardonic rapidfire delivery. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Old Vic”

Review: Welcome to Thebes, National Theatre

“If you intend to f*ck with the god of power, then make sure you don’t fall asleep besides him”

Any play that can use the epithet “your mother-f*cking brother” with complete accuracy has to be worth your attention and sure enough, Welcome to Thebes, a new play by Moira Buffini opening in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre, is more than equal to the challenge. The play is quite huge in scope, it looks at the role of women in politics, the state of Africa, the aftermath of war, the relationship between Africa and the West, the tragedy of child soldiers and it tells of them through the prism of Greek mythology, but relocated to the modern day and an unspecified (West) African state.

So we have the story of a female president-elect, Eurydice, struggling to exert herself in both her domestic situation in a country reeling from years of civil war, but also in the male-dominated world of international relations as she needs to establish links with global superpower Athens for much needed aid and investment by engaging with its charismatic leader, Theseus. The clearest analogy to make is with Liberia, the only African state to have an elected female leader of state in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who came to power after the concerted efforts of a mass movement of women hungry for peace after years of civil war. And if Thebes equates to Liberia, then Athens becomes the United States, the superpower and apparent bastion of democracy but unwilling to provide assistance without considerable caveats; Theseus being an Obama-like leader with a touch more arrogance. Continue reading “Review: Welcome to Thebes, National Theatre”

Review: The Misanthrope, Comedy

“Jesus Christ, you wonder why
I want to curl up and just die”

Try as I might, I was hoping not to be too misanthropic about this production of The Misanthrope, but all the talk of misanthrophy has left me somewhat of a misanthrope myself. It was one of those difficult experiences where it was hard to work out whether I really hadn’t enjoyed the play or if it was just the general experience of the most fidgety couple in the world in front of us forcing a constant search for a decent view, the realisation that we’d actually got quite poor seats despite being expensive (£35 for 3rd row of Royal Circle) and the feeling that we were the only sober people at the party, such was the raucous laughter at every other line. Either way, I was perilously close to leaving at the interval, but stuck it out to the end.

Molière’s Le Misanthrope has been translated and updated to modern-day here by Martin Crimp and follows Alceste (Damien Lewis) a disenchanted playwright whose resolution to reject society and all its hypocrisy and shallowness, is challenged when he falls in love with Jennifer (Keira Knightley), a fame-hungry American filmstar. A timeless enough story, but one made problematic by the unlikeability of Alceste and Lewis’ performance which I found at times to be insufferable. Part of the problem is also in the script though: this is an incredibly self-aware translation, stuffed full of cultural references and one particularly galling joke about people paying £50 to see any old shit on the stage. For me, this just led to a form of mugging on the stage, Lewis might have well have just said ‘nudge nudge wink wink!’ at times. Continue reading “Review: The Misanthrope, Comedy”

Review: The Observer, National

My latest trip to the National Theatre took me to The Observer which is premiering at the Cottesloe Theatre (although strictly speaking it was a preview). I had not intended to see this play but I was seduced by the offer of cheap tickets, and I was extremely glad that I did since it gave me what I think is the strongest acting performance I have seen so far this year.

Anna Chancellor is quite simply astonishing, she’s on stage for practically the whole thing and is entirely believable as Fiona, the brittle, uptight observer of an election in an unspecified African country (though the parallels are clearly drawn with the recent Zimbabwean election). The play follows the processes around the first democratic elections in this country and how the impartial monitoring committee that Fiona works for interacts with the situation that they find themselves in. With her translator aiding her, Fiona finds herself drawn closer and closer to crossing the boundaries imposed by her position, as she realises the potential influence that she has on the election result. Chancellor plays this awakening, this blossoming so astutely, it is a thing of wonder to watch, and one is just swept up in the journey that Fiona is forced to take. Continue reading “Review: The Observer, National”