Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, Barbican

“The play’s the thing”

See, after all the kerfuffle and an insane (and irresponsible) amount of press scrutiny during its three week preview period (I hope all the hit chasing was worth it for everyone concerned), there’s still a regular piece of theatre at the heart of it. A company of cast and creatives trying to make art under the most trying of circumstances, a simple truth but one that seemed to have been largely forgotten in the rush to tap into the self-perpetuating frenzy around this production of Hamlet directed by Lyndsey Turner.

Visually it is undoubtedly stunning, you can see where at least some of the inflated ticket price has gone (and whilst I’m on, £65 for stalls seats with a restricted view about which there was no warning, shame on you Barbican and Sonia Friedman Productions). Es Devlin’s opulent set has an enormous palatial grandeur about it which is latterly, spectacularly, crumbled in ruin, Jane Cox’s lighting carves out performance space beautifully from the stage, and Luke Hall’s video work is impressive too. But the play’s the thing remember, not just the production. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Barbican”

Can’t Be Fecked With A Review: Man and Superman, National Theatre

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”

Not gonna lie, the prospect of Man and Superman has had me vacillating between

and

after ill-timed illness meant we couldn’t use our £15 seats in the front row. Some stalking of the website got me another cheap seat but this time up in the circle slips which is somewhere I never want to sit again – it may be a bargain but you sacrifice an awful lot to tucked away up there (although the individual seats are quite nifty themselves).

The play itself isn’t bad, not as good as I’d hoped in all honesty given how lovely and sunny it was outside, and I rarely felt that inspired by it (a consequence of being much farther away than I’m used to I think). So for this one, I’m abdicating my blogging responsibilities and you’ll have to look elsewhere for a review…

 

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th May

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

(P)review: King Lear, National Theatre

“We cry that we are come to this great stage of fools” 

One of the hottest tickets of the New Year is undoubtedly Sam Mendes and Simon Russell Beale tackling King Lear for the National Theatre, a show which has now started previews in the Olivier. I saw it tonight but as press night is a week away next Thursday, I’m opting to preview the show rather than reviewing it per se, offering tasters and teasers about what to expect whilst trying my best to avoid spoilers.First up, you can read an interview here with Simon Russell Beale about how he got his hair did. I assume more features and things are due this weekend as this was the only one I could find about this production. The show currently comes in at a shade under 3 hours 30 minutes and though my initial reaction was along the lines of

Continue reading “(P)review: King Lear, National Theatre”

Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace

“Art can’t be made into a spectacle; you can’t put it in a box”

There’s something quite remarkable about the boldness with which Blanche McIntyre has reinterpreted Chekhov’s perennial classic The Seagull for Headlong. Gone is the stuffy country house to be replaced by Laura Hopkins’ expressionistic, open space and the formality of the Russian’s words has been supplanted by John Donnelly’s fresh new version which refocuses the play’s centre away from melodrama to something sharper, funnier, more powerful even. This is an interpretation that genuinely makes the play feel new. 

McIntyre introduces notes of meta-theatre to push home the exploration of the nature of art and artists that now sits at the heart of the play – the house lights come up as characters direct their soliloquies straight to the audience, the blank rear wall becomes the page of a notebook complete with significant changing scribbles, the stark simplicity of the set allowing for a deeper intellectual excavation of the issues of art and love and creativity and sex. And it is a compelling mixture, all pushing along the vital narrative and driving these familiar characters to their predestined fates with a fresh new verve.  Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace”

Review: The Captain of Köpenick, National Theatre

“Laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made”

‘Released after fifteen years in prison, trapped in a bureaucratic maze, petty criminal Wilhelm Voigt wanders 1910 Berlin in desperate, hazardous pursuit of identity papers. Luck changes when he picks up an abandoned military uniform in a fancy-dress shop and finds the city ready to obey his every command. At the head of six soldiers, he marches to the Mayor’s office, cites corruption and confiscates the treasury with ease. But still what he craves is official recognition that he exists.’

It is probably cheating to use the official synopsis of a play wholesale like this but to be honest, I couldn’t care less after suffering the bloated self-satisfaction of The Captain of Köpenick at the National Theatre. An adaptation by Ron Hutchinson of a 1930s German satire by Carl Zuckmayer, it is a heavy-handed, ploddingly-laboured, fatally-misjudged confection which throws everything plus the kitchen sink into the Olivier but for shockingly low returns. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th April 

Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre

“I don’t like it when he calls it a movie”

Perhaps I am more ignorant of Jewish terminology than I ought to be, but I do find it a little surprising that the blurb for Nicholas Wright’s new play for the National Theatre, Travelling Light, simply states that it takes place in “a shtetl in Eastern Europe”. I’d no idea what a shtetl was, didn’t notice any explicatory reference in the text and over the last couple of days have asked a few people, none of whom knew either. The internet informs me it is a small town with a largely Jewish population, but it does seem an odd assumption of knowledge to make (or perhaps it is just indicative of how few Jewish friends I actually have…) In any case, that this is the detail that sticks most in my mind after seeing the show is indicative of how little I cared for it.

Set in the early 1900s, the play – still in previews – centres on Motl Mendl, a young Jewish photographer whose dreams and ambitions as he discovers the burgeoning art form of motion pictures set him on a path that will see him end up in Hollywood. But before he makes it big, he needs to extricate himself from domestic village life and that is easier said than done as they are a group of real ‘characters’ one and all. Chief among these is Jacob Bindel, an illiterate timber merchant who is so enthused about the potential of film-making that he stumps up the money needed to keep Motl from emigrating (for the time being at least) and to make a movie in their very own village. Or shtetl. Continue reading “Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre”

Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre

“What is there more?”

The Kitchen was one of Arnold Wesker’s first plays and follows on from the Royal Court’s well-received (if not by me) Chicken Soup with Barley in a year which has been something of a revival for Wesker. Written in 1959 and inspired by his own experiences of working in the catering industry, it is set in 1957 in the basement kitchen of a large London restaurant, the Tivoli. The dynamics of a swirling multi-cultural mass of chefs, waitresses and kitchen porters are exposed as they slowly build to the mad rush of a huge lunchtime service. Playing in the Olivier at the National Theatre, this was a late preview performance.

Director Bijan Sheibani has assembled a cast of 30 who rush about Giles Cadle’s circular kitchen set with increasing fervour as prep turns into service and the banter with all its personal enmities, tribal groupings and rivalries between kitchen staff and dining-room staff becomes increasingly fraught, and of course largely forgotten as the rush passes and the calm of the afternoon allows for a more reflective atmosphere. The less intense evening service provides a final act is no less dramatic though as slow burning stories finally explode. Continue reading “Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre”