Review: The Antipodes, National Theatre

Annie Baker returns to the National Theatre with The Antipodes – she does not change my mind about her

“We don’t feel like we have to self-censor and we can all just sit around telling stories. Because that’s where the good stuff comes from”

I’ve tried with Annie Baker, I really have. And Circle Mirror Transformation did it for me, both times. But the plaudits rained on The Flick and John baffled me as both left me extremely cold and her latest play to premiere in the UK, 2017’s The Antipodes, is very much in that latter mould, creeping naturalism that seems to defy the laws of time themselves.

Insomuch as a Baker play is about anything, The Antipodes is about storytelling, kind of. A group of people sit in a conference room telling stories and pulling them apart, looking for inspiration but for what, we never really know. And as any kind of leadership offers by the chairman-ish Sandy fades away, something apocalyptically dark looms outside. Continue reading “Review: The Antipodes, National Theatre”

News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020

So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.

Olivier Theatre 

Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years.  Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”

2017 BroadwayWorld UK Awards Shortlist

Best Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Andrew Polec, Bat Out of Hell, London Coliseum
John McCrea, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Sheffield Crucible
John Partridge, La Cage Aux Folles, UK Tour
Jon Robyns, The Wedding Singer, UK Tour
Michael C. Hall, Lazarus, King’s Cross Theatre
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris, Dominion Theatre

Best Actor in a New Production of a Play
Andrew Scott, Hamlet, Almeida Theatre
Arinzé Kene, One Night in Miami…, Donmar Warehouse
Brendan Cowell, Life of Galileo, Young Vic
Conleth Hill, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Harold Pinter Theatre
Lucian Msamati, Amadeus, National Theatre
Nicholas Woodeson, Death of a Salesman, UK Tour Continue reading “2017 BroadwayWorld UK Awards Shortlist”

Re-review: The Glass Menagerie / Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

“Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested”

“It’s an honour just to be nominated…” Come award season, these words are often heard but you do have to wonder what it feels like to be the only member of a four person ensemble that isn’t up for an Olivier Award. Such is the fate for Michael Esper in The Glass Menagerie just now, as Cherry Jones, Kate O’Flynn and Brian J Smith all find themselves deservedly up for acting prizes on Sunday while he’s had to put his game face on. Continue reading “Re-review: The Glass Menagerie / Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf”

Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter

“Do you want me to say it’s funny, so you can contradict me and say it’s sad? Or do you want me to say it’s sad so you can turn around and say no, it’s funny”

The irony of the not unreasonable (don’t @ me) ‘no eating during the performance’ request blowing up around Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is that a far more egregious act is being waged in the bars of the Harold Pinter Theatre where no ice is served in drinks purchased after 7.20pm. Imagine paying theatre prices for a G&T with no ice…the tears of George and Martha just wouldn’t stand for it.

Not that there’s much they don’t stand for in Edward Albee’s excoriating play, receiving an exemplary production here from James Macdonald. Over late night drinks with an unsuspecting younger couple, George and Martha release themselves from the fustiness of East Coast academic life by drinking hard and playing harder, twisted games making the black comedy darken into abject despair as the state of the marriages here are laid bare, warts and all. Continue reading “Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter”

TV Review: That Day We Sang

“We want all the spirit of Lancashire, but not the accent” 

One of the most anticipated bits of TV this Christmas was surely Victoria Wood’s adaptation of her musical That Day We Sang, featuring a Sweeney Todd reunion with Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball taking on the lead roles of Enid and Tubby. The show is a wonderfully heart-warming tale of extraordinariness coming out of the ordinary as Wood does so well, following two lonely middle aged Mancunians who dare to dream of love when life offers them a second chance.

They’re initially brought together at a special event in 1969 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Manchester Children’s Choir recording Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds (a real life event). Having lost touch and been ground down by the drudgery of life, each puts a long awaited sparkle in the other’s eye though as ever, the path of true love ne’er did run smooth. And Wood contrasts this story with a 1929 narrative that follows the experiences of the choir as they build up to their momentous day. Continue reading “TV Review: That Day We Sang”

Review: Quartermaine’s Terms, Wyndham’s

“I don’t want them dripping their filthy compassion over me”

Lonely teachers seem to be a bit of a recurring theme for Simon Gray – after Dominic West’s grizzled turn in Butley, we now get Rowan Atkinson slipping into obscurity in Quartermaine’s Terms. The play stretches over a couple of years at a dodgy English language school for foreign students in 1960s Cambridge and follows the relationships between the seven teachers as they all deal with their various crises that leave them feeling alone. The play carries a melancholy weight as understated tragicomedy is the dominant theme here but it is so muted, so low-key that it never really accrues the dramatic heft to make it matter.

Part of the problem lies in the constant referencing to Chekhov and his plays – aiming for Chekhovian depths sets a very high bar and for me, it just never reaches that level. It’s not a matter of acting – the company is full of some excellent actors and the way Gray has structured the play means that most of them get their moment to shine as their issues come to the fore. But their characters are all such social misfits that it is hard to really gain an interested foothold in their lives, even the main thrust of the play – Quartermaine’s increasing social isolation – somewhat works against this sort of engagement. Continue reading “Review: Quartermaine’s Terms, Wyndham’s”

Review: The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre

“Everything that people say is so much fluff and nothing”

The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekhov’s final play and although the Old Vic saw Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project tackling it a few years back with a version by Tom Stoppard, it was last seen at the National Theatre a decade ago with Vanessa and Corin Redgrave. This production though sees director Howard Davies reuniting with Andrew Upton with whom he worked on Philistines and The White Guard as they continue to explore 20th century Russian theatre writing and also with leading lady Zoë Wanamaker after their wildly successful collaboration on last year’s All My Sons.

Telling of the terminal decline of the Russian ruling classes at the beginning of the twentieth century, Chekhov’s play is presented in a new version by Andrew Upton which provides a straightforward directness to the text, which is at time effective but also intermittently problematic. For me, it was just too modern for its own good, laced through with random words, colloquialisms and phrases that kept jolting me out of the period setting with some really strange choices, the Nina Simone song lyric being a particularly jarring example. When Upton imposes less on the writing, beautiful and powerful moments arise, it would just be nice if they were allowed to flow better. Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre”

Review: The White Guard, National

“Negativity be damned”

Maintaining a strong record of reviving Russian plays (Burnt By The Sun was a highlight of last year for me), Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard takes up residence in the Lyttleton in a version by Andrew Upton (I saw a preview, it opens officially on 23rd April). Stalin was famously a fan of this play but it should be noted that Bulgakov was no Stalinist and was pretty much a dissident, writing as anti-Soviet works as he dared whilst forbidden to leave the country and suffering much from censorship, a theme visited in another of his plays, Molière or the League of Hypocrites seen in London late last year at the Finborough.

The White Guard is a look at the price that is paid by people during wartime: both on the grand political scale, but also on the personal and family lives. Set in the Ukraine in 1918, we follow the Turbin family as they struggle to maintain their lives in a Kiev ravaged by the just-ended First World War, yet flung headlong into the Russian Civil War which ensued immediately after. The Turbin’s apartment is presided over by the luminous Lena, around whom a coterie of assorted characters gravitate, as the tumultuous sequence of events and invaders threaten to irrevocably change to everyone’s way of life. Continue reading “Review: The White Guard, National”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, National

All’s Well That Ends Well is one of Shakespeare’s so-called ‘problem plays’, not easily classified as a comedy or a tragedy, but this production a part of the Travelex season at the National Theatre, posed no problems for me. This is a confidently-acted, stunningly-mounted, assured production which really confirms to me that the NT have hit the ground running with this season of plays.

The programme describes the play as ‘Shakespeare Noir’ which is quite an apt description for it. The comedy, and there is lots of it, is often underscored by the darker turns of the plot, and there is little frivolity of the ‘hey nonny no’ type, which can sometimes seem quite glib. The play opens with a girl of little consequence save the knowledge passed down from her physician father, arriving at the court of the King of France and healing him of his ailment. Her reward is to marry the man of her choice, but her chosen nobleman, Bertram, objects to such a lowly match and sets Helena a seemingly impossible challenge to win his heart and subsequently heads off to war in Italy, but Helena is hot on his heels in order to try and fulfil the deal. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, National”