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”

Review: The Robbers, New Diorama

 
“He’s the apple of your eye but if that apple do offend, then pluck it out” 

The final piece of The Faction’s 2014 Rep Season 2014 is a revival of their 2011 successful take on Schiller’s The Robbers, which slots in along Hamlet and Thebes in playing through February at the New Diorama. As Schiller’s first play, it has something of a rawness about it in the way that brings together a surprisingly mature (for the 1780s) debate about state versus revolution, intervention versus anarchy, with the kind of histrionic family drama that at times recalls Shakespeare at his most bafflingly obtuse.

The play bounces between antagonistic siblings, Franz and Karl von Moor. The devilish Franz has hoodwinked their father into disinheriting the older Franz and so is allowed to grasp for power and money in court, whereas Karl flees to the forest where he becomes the head of a vicious band of robbers who are determined to start the revolution. Interestingly, the two never meet but their actions impact strongly on those around them as class, religion and society are indicted in melodramatic style. Continue reading “Review: The Robbers, New Diorama”

(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: Edward II, National Theatre

“I will have Gaveston, and you shall know what danger ’tis to stand against your king”

Now this is what I want my National Theatre to be like – creative, bold, fresh, fearless. There’s no pretending that Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Marlowe’s Edward II is flawless perfection, its modern ambition sprawls over the Olivier’s vast stage and up onto the walls as screens either side relay live video footage, but the energy at hand from both cast and creatives is wonderfully galvanising and points defiantly towards the possibilities of the future when Nicholas Hytner finally stands down in a couple of years. Traditionalists may balk, especially in some of the more challenging sections of the first half but for this institution to thrive, it has to be allowed to experiment and expand its remit and that ought to be supported by all. 

Under the cruel yoke of his father, Edward suffered his lover Gaveston to be exiled but on ascending to the throne to become Edward II, he restores him to England and lavishes him with jewels and titles. But their overt hedonism riles up the powerful barons of the realm as they take up the cause of his neglected queen Isabella in an audacious power-grab, setting up the kind of conflict that leaves no-one unscathed. John Heffernan ascends to his first major London lead role with all of the subtlety and aching depth that has long made him a favourite around these parts. His Edward is a capricious fidget, pathetically desperate to please Kyle Soller’s cockily assured Gaveston and their headlong lustful passion is one that you believe he would fight tooth and nail for, yet he also possesses an innate grace under pressure – his abdication speech is profoundly moving, the desperation of his exile near-impossible to watch. Continue reading “Review: Edward II, National Theatre”

Out-of-Office

I won’t be posting for a few days so I thought I’d leave you an out-of-office message so you’d know nothing was wrong – I have coping strategies in place to manage six days without theatre (though celebrating my birthday in Florence with friends will certainly help…!).

And as a birthday present to you, my readers, I’ve selected some of my favourite current videos for your viewing pleasure.   Continue reading “Out-of-Office”

Review: Miss Julie, Faction at New Diorama

“I have to get down but I don’t have the courage to jump”

Miss Julie is the third iteration of the Faction rep season at the New Diorama, though there’s been a bit of a gap for me between seeing this and the brilliant first two –Twelfth Night and Mary Stuart. And I’m not sure if it was the gap, my feelings that night or perhaps the company stretching themselves just a little bit too far, but I did not take to Strindberg’s play half as much as I did the others.

Part of it came from the feeling that this was more of an afterthought than an integral part of the rep season – it seems an odd choice for the company to choose with an ensemble at work as the play is a three-hander at heart. Miss Julie is a Count’s daughter but rather than attend the formal ball being put on by her father, she opts to go to the party being held by the servants where she embarks on a dangerous flirtation with footman Jean. Continue reading “Review: Miss Julie, Faction at New Diorama”

Review: Mary Stuart, Faction at the New Diorama

“Who could look at these naked walls and say that majesty lives here”

When I booked in for the first show in the Faction’s rep season, Twelfth Night, I knowingly said ‘I hope this isn’t good’ as I knew that if it were, then I would be suckered into seeing their other two shows. But it was, exceedingly so, and so I found myself back at the New Diorama for the opening of the second show, Schiller’s 1880 play Mary Stuart in a new version by Daniel Millar and Mark Leipacher.

One of my big theatrical regrets of pre-blogging times was missing the Donmar’s production of this play and so this was my first time of seeing it, though I’m fairly familiar with the history, it being an era I’ve always liked. Schiller depicts the final days of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Catholic cousin and rival to the throne of Elizabeth I, as she is held under house arrest in England whilst the queen decides on her fate. The intrigues of the Elizabethan court are vividly captured as noblemen’s loyalties remain murkily hidden with religion and politics playing off against each other and double-dealing being the order of the day. Continue reading “Review: Mary Stuart, Faction at the New Diorama”

Review: The Crash of the Elysium, Punchdrunk at MediaCity Salford

“When I say ‘run’, we run”

Despite being a big Doctor Who fan and having a few days leave booked up in the North-West to visit family and become a godfather to the lovely Samuel Luke, I hadn’t intended to go and see The Crash of the Elysium, immersive theatre company Punchdrunk’s take on the long-running BBC sci-fi phenomenon. It is a family show, designed for kids aged 6-12 and when first announced, unaccompanied adults were no being let in. But more importantly, my first Punchdrunk experience, The Duchess of Malfi last year, was distinctly underwhelming and so there wasn’t quite the must-see aspect to this, even once a set of evening performances for adults were hastily added. A serendipitous alignment of some esteemed company making the trip possessing a spare ticket and me having a free night (plus absolutely no willpower to resist in the end!) combined to get us along to MediaCity near the Lowry complex in Salford for a Saturday night of Time Lord-related antics but with no sofa to hide behind…

Written by Tom MacRae, a scriptwriter from the Doctor Who team, the story starts with the group, 12 or so of us, being invited to look at an exhibition about the mysterious disappearance of the 19th Century steamship the Elysium, but there’s barely time to look at the exhibits before SAS-type troops burst into the room, declaring an alien spaceship has crash-landed and we’re all needed to help the investigation. A brief military training exercise once we’ve all suited up in decontamination suits and protective masks sees us assigned numbers and roles within teams and then the serious business of alien investigation is started. Continue reading “Review: The Crash of the Elysium, Punchdrunk at MediaCity Salford”

Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Why did you make me?”

Perhaps one of the less-successful decisions I have made this year was to revisit Frankenstein at the National Theatre. There was a number of reasons: the opportunity to see Jonny Lee Miller take on the role of the Creature and directly compare and contrast him with Benedict Cumberbatch; it was the final performance of the run; it was actually the third time I had a pair of tickets to see the windy Miller – I’d passed on the other tickets to more receptive friends but given one last chance, I ended up biting the bullet in the spirit of perhaps finding something new in the production.

For I did see it much earlier in the run, you can read the review here, and I found it a most problematic play. And my opinion of it still holds firm after a second viewing, I find it simply astounding how forgiving the official reviews were of this show. For sure, the production values are at times sensational and a welcome shot in the arm for National Theatre stagings which will hopefully inspire more creativity in future productions. But the play itself is so terribly weak that to close one’s eyes to its many problems feels like an absolute crime and try as I might, I could not ignore them and try to focus on having a ‘good time’ as my companion attempted to admonish me. Continue reading “Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”