Review: The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, Hampstead

“The best thing I ever did was the worst thing I ever did. And it all came to nothing. It makes no sense to anyone, what we did, it’s written in a language no one reads anymore, it’s… incredible”

Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures has been given the moniker #iHo for short, though quite why that impulse has kicked in now is not clear, for the play is a hard-going three and a half hours full of wordily complex pontifications. The mechanics of social media aside, to suggest that it can be encapsulated in a three letter hashtag feels crudely reductive.

The play centres on the Marcantonio family, a brood of Italian-Americans summoned back to their Brooklyn brownstone by patriarch Gus who has decided to commit suicide. He says it is because of encroaching Alzheimer’s but it is his ideals that this former Communist has lost rather than his marbles, and it is this crisis that sparks off lengthy debate after lengthy debate about faith and politics, socialism and America with his three adult children and their motley collection of partners. Continue reading “Review: The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, Hampstead”

Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)

“Part of me is saying I should go”

Like many others, I imagine, I did not leave Stephen Ward thinking I particularly want to hear this score by Andrew Lloyd Webber again anytime soon and so three years later, this is the first time I’ve revisited this musical. And as the strange melody of opening number ‘Human Sacrifice’ started, I began to wonder if I’d been overly harsh, Alexander Hanson’s story-telling experience imbuing this prologue of sorts with real interest and setting me up for a potential reimagining of my opinion.

But then track number 2 ‘Super Duper Hula Hooper’ kicks in, that title makes me die a little inside every time I hear it, and you soon begin to realise why the show barely managed 4 months in the West End. Lloyd Webber may have been a teenager in the 60s but he’s looking back at them like a man in his sixties, the air of rose-tinted corrective lenses and musical tweeness proving fatal to conjuring any kind of authentic sense of the period. Continue reading “Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre

“There’s an end of outward preaching now. An end of perfection. There may be a time.”

Between this and Rules for Living, that’s two consecutive openings at the National Theatre that have been written and directed by women. Coincidence that it comes at a moment of regime change, who knows? Those more inclined to actual research might possibly tell you it’s more common you’d think but I doubt it. In any case, it’s pleasing to see Caryl Churchill getting a major production of one of her lesser-performed works at the hands of the talented Lyndsey Turner, who will soon be turning her hand to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.

And it is an ambitious mark she has made here with Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, exploding the original six-strong casting of the show to a company of nearly twenty actors, supported by a community company of forty-odd supernumeraries. She needs the bodies too, to fit around an audacious design feat from Es Devlin which is best experienced with fresh eyes if possible, so no spoilers here. It is an inspired choice though, that both sets the scene perfectly for this world of political debate but also deconstructs meaningfully as the full scope of that debate becomes increasingly clear.  Continue reading “Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre”

Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre

“Governments fall, wars break out – there’ll be nothing left of this country”

Recent Croatian history forms the fascinating backdrop to Tena Štivičić’s 3 Winters, a multi-generational family drama that stretches across nearly 70 years and endless drama, both political and personal. From the 1945 establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that replaced the monarchy and promised a bright future, to its collapse in 1990 presaging both independence and the bitterly fought Balkan conflicts of that decade, and then on again to a 2011 that heralds another form of confederacy as Croatia enters into EU accession talks. Štivičić’s focus remains on a single household throughout but it can’t help but be influenced by the turbulence of the times.

That household is the Zagreb home of the Kos family, a plush place passed into their hands during the nationalisation of property at the end of the Second World War. So the residence that Monika previously served in becomes the house her daughter Rose moves into with her daughter Masha. Masha grows up to be a forthright wife and mother of two and as the clan gathers to celebrate the wedding of one of those daughters Lucia, years of frustrations and secrets and history and lies begin to uncoil as past events catch up with present actions. Štivičić takes her time to set up the play in a languorous first half but the pay off is intensely wielded after the interval. Continue reading “Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre”

Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych

“Manipulation, that’s the technique, 
This conversation must not leak” 

It’s a curious thing, to take a relatively obscure figure, base a musical on him that is then named after him, yet leave a vacuum where his central presence ought to be the driving force. For all that Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton place the character of Stephen Ward at the centre of Stephen Ward the Musical, he remains far too inscrutable, far too unexplored for us to buy into the main premise of the show which is that Ward, who committed suicide after being made the scapegoat for the Profumo scandal of 1963, is a tragic victim of Establishment hypocrisy.

But for all Alexander Hanson’s sterling efforts as the osteopath-turned-social fixer who engineered the first meeting of Secretary of State for War John Profumo and wannabe showgirl Christine Keeler, the show suffers from making him narrator as well as protagonist. So he is lumped with huge swathes of exposition, made increasingly worthy due to a slavish attention to real-life events, as a huge cast of characters flash by momentarily in the service of telling a story, but leave us none the wiser as to what Ward was like as a person, what motivated him, what moved him. Continue reading “Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych”

Preview: Stephen Ward The Musical

“I invented a new way of lie, some might call it unconventional,
All that stuffy post-war Englishness, I liked something more consensual”

With such a busy couple of weeks, I’ve only just gotten round to having a listen of the sneak preview of four songs offered at the launch of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s new musical Stephen Ward. I was prompted by an offer to download two of them for free (for a limited time only) but you can also listen to them online and/or watch the videos below. The story is undoubtedly a little niche, exploring the 1963 Profumo scandal from the point of view of Ward who was smack bang in the middle of it, he being the one who introduced MP John Profumo to Christine Keeler and setting in motion events that rocked the government.

As for the music, there’s something rather endearing about Lloyd-Webber’s continued contributions to British musical theatre, he could so easily have decided to retire yet he carries on writing to the beat of his own drum, safe in the knowledge that a devoted fanbase will lap it up. Unsurprisingly, the four songs previewed do not reveal any major change in direction and so it will be interesting to see if the show is able to transcend the attentions of musical theatre devotees and appeal to a wider audience. Joanna Riding’s simple ballad ‘Hopeless When It Comes To You’ is the pick of the bunch but Alex Hanson, playing Ward himself, runs her close with the sinuous storytelling of ‘Human Sacrifice’. Continue reading “Preview: Stephen Ward The Musical”

Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle

“I think most of us are walking around in a sort of slumber really”

With a revival of The Pride just announced as the next production in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Studios residency, it seemed like a good time to visit Alexi Kaye Campbell’s latest play Bracken Moor at the Tricycle. That said, I have to admit to not being the greatest fan of this ambitious mash-up of political/economic drama and ghost story which is co-produced by Shared Experience and directed by their own Polly Teale. In the midst of the 1930s financial crisis, Yorkshire landowner Harold and his wife Elizabeth are still shell-shocked by the ghastly death of their young son Edgar ten years since and only now are they acquiescing to an extended visit from their old friends Vanessa and Geoffrey. But as they retrace their old friendship, the presence of the visitors’ son Terence awakens something more sinister.

Terence was Edgar’s boyhood best friend and within a few nights, appears to become possessed by Edgar’s restless spirit. This provokes his parents to finally start to deal with their buttoned-up grief but in hugely different ways. Helen Schlesinger’s extraordinarily affecting Elizabeth clings to every possible shred of hope that she could actually be communicating with her lost son and the rawness of her grief is spell-binding. And the much more pragmatic Harold, Antony Byrne in classically old-school English mode, finds himself questioning the decisions he has to make about a dispute over pit closures, his capitalist certainties challenged by this brush with the unknown. Continue reading “Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle”

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse

“Such is the breath of kings”

After nearly a decade as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage is bowing out to let Josie Rourke take up the reins and his final production for this theatre is Shakespeare’s Richard II, most notably starring Eddie Redmayne. As the audience enter the auditorium, Redmayne is already poised in high state on his throne, the air heavy with incense in Richard Kent’s gilded Gothic set but we soon see how this regality is but a superficial veneer on a deeply flawed character.

This Richard is a petulant, nervy presence – a little prone to over-gesturing, acting out too many of the lines for my liking “make pale our cheek” is the example that sticks in the mind – as he is more effective in the subtle characterisations, the intensity of his eyes that nervously twitch throughout. This capriciousness is aired most perfectly in the reluctant coronation scene but as a whole but it ends up being rather one-note and missing some complexity, therefore it means that this isn’t a Richard that engenders much sympathy. Only in his final scenes, bereft of crown, sceptre and trappings of state, does he really fly and give beautiful voice to the verse. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre

“Words and thoughts are just as important as deeds”

Though Ibsen is reputed to have described Emperor and Galilean as his ‘major work’ which took nine years to complete, it has never previously been staged in English and little is known about it given how often his other works are revived. This may well be because it was not actually written for the stage but to be read, consequently the original epic spreads over ten acts and is allegedly over eight hours long. Never one to shirk a challenge though, the National Theatre commissioned a new adaptation by Ben Power which condenses it down to about 3 hours 20 minutes yet still employs over 50 performers to bring this version of Ibsen’s epic to life. This was a preview performance on Monday 13th June.

The play spans 351 to 363AD, following the life of Julian, nephew of the Roman emperor, an intelligent erudite man even from his teenage days which were spent exploring his faith and studying the Bible with his friends. But chafing against the constraints of the imperial household which isn’t altogether sympathetic to his existence, he escapes to a carefree existence in Athens where he is seduced by the exotic lure of the worship of the ancient pagan Gods. His eventual rise to Holy Roman Emperor thus saw him try to abolish Christianity as the state religion and replace it Paganism, returning back to the values of old, but conflating his own personal struggle with faith with the trials of ruling a fading empire is an awful lot for one man to take on. Continue reading “Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre”