Review: Eastern Star, Tara Arts

Real life events in Myanmar cast a strange tinge of Guy Slater’s play Eastern Star at Tara Arts in Earlsfield

“I just happened to be there when a revolution broke out”

With the recent imprisonment of two Reuters journalists – U Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – for ‘violating a state secrets act’ in Myanmar, Guy Slater’s new play Eastern Star gains the kind of unsettling resonance that sits uneasily like a knot in the stomach. It introduces such a note of despair into proceedings, but also one that encourages us to look at the world as it really is, rather than the neat and tidy way we would like revolutionary politics to be tidied up.

Eastern Star revolves around the 1988 ‘Students’ Revolution that ushered in Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and introduced the figure of Aung San Suu Kyi to widespread international acclaim. Caught up unexpectedly in events was cub reporter Christopher Gunness, working for the BBC World Service and connected to an impeccable source, lawyer U Nay Min. But whereas Gunness was able to go home and go on to have a long and lauded career, Nay Min paid a terrible price for the huge risks he decided to take. Continue reading “Review: Eastern Star, Tara Arts”

Review: The Great Wave, National Theatre

Fascinating but shocking history, and beautiful theatre. Don’t miss The Great Wave at the National Theatre

“It doesn’t mean…It doesn’t mean, that”

Francis Turnly’s new play The Great Wave explores a fascinating but shocking slice of history, severely underexplored in this country. And Indhu Rubasingham’s production thereof is one which puts East Asian experience, and actors, front and centre, a pleasing but too-rare sight to see in any of our theatres, never mind the National.

Its history covers the tense relationship between North Korea and Japan, notably in the late twentieth century when the former carried out a series of abductions of citizens of the latter, but all concerned hushed up the story. Turnly focuses down to the micro through the experience of one family but also amps up the macro, as past Japanese imperialism and the grotesqueries of the North Korean regime are also placed under the microscope. Continue reading “Review: The Great Wave, National Theatre”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 2

“People died.
And now people are dying again and what the fuck are they doing about it”

Series 1 of Fortitude was one of those genuinely unexpected dramas which unveiled its genre-spanning ways with some proper jaw-dropping moments, so Sky Atlantic’s decision to commission a second series wasn’t entirely unexpected (though you do wonder what viewing figures are like over there). Though having revealed itself as a sci-fi/horror/psychological thriller/serial killer murder mystery with political and environmental themes thrown in for a good measure, creator Simon Donald was faced with a decision about which way to go to continue the story.

Or, as it turned out, he didn’t make the decision but rather decided to pursue them all once again. And as is proving a recurring theme with shows I’ve been catching up on (Fearless, The Halcyon), the desire to develop multi-stranded complex dramas falls short once again with the writing ending up serving a jack of all trades and master of none. There’s just so much going on in so many of the episodes that it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of exactly what is what, who knows what, who is doing what to whom, and where we are in any of the stories. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 2”

TV Review: Fortitude Season 2 Episode 1

“The reason we can’t find the head in the snow is that someone has taken it away”

Just a quickie for this as I’m way behind (the series premiered at the end of January). I only caught up with Fortitude’s first season over New Year and I have to say I kinda loved the way it went from interestingly good to genuine batshit wtfuckery. It wasn’t necessarily calling out for a second series though and from the evidence of the first episode, it’s not immediately clear that it’s strictly necessary, even if you throw Dennis Quaid and Michelle Fairley in there as a new family. 

A new crime has been committed hence layering in all sorts of new mystery but in a town where they’d previously boasted of never having had any crime, it kinda feels like overkill. And the writing feels caught between referencing previous events and starting completely anew, anthology-style, ie Luke Treadaway’s return for what appears to be a single episode versus the new Quaid/Fairley family unit. Sofie Gråbøl and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s chemistry as the first couple of Fortitude remains a thing of joy though (so is probably doomed) and I’m more than happy to give the show the benefit of the doubt, despite a slightly shaky start.

 

Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court

There’s something special about being allowed to take part in something unique and though Unusual Unions actually took place twice on the same day, it still counts as a one off in my book. Part of the Royal Court’s convention-busting The Big Idea stream of work, this was a collection of 5 short plays all responding to the ideas raised by Abi Morgan in her main house show The Mistress Contract, taking place in unexpected nooks and crannies of the theatre in wonderfully small groups.

From dressing rooms to stairwells, the space under the stage to meeting rooms with a view, it was a brilliant way of exploring a building which isn’t normally so open (Wilton’s Music Hall’s promenade version of Edmund fulfilled a similar purpose). And even if the subject matter seemed to veer off what one might have expected, given the sexual nature of Morgan’s play, it was still compelling stuff looking at the ways in which we connect (or not) with those around us.  Continue reading “Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court”

Review: Yellow Face, Park Theatre

“Nowadays, it’s so hard to tell”

London’s newest theatre opened its doors in Finsbury Park last week but the Park Theatre also has a more intimate studio and it is the UK premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face that christens that space. Hwang was the first Asian-American to win a Tony for Best Play and so was a predictable figurehead for the 1990 protests against the casting of Jonathan Pryce in a Eurasian role in the Broadway production of Miss Saigon and it is this that forms the starting point for his play Yellow Face which questions ideas of race and identity and whether any such thing as a multicultural society can really exist when prejudices continue to weigh in from all sides.

Hwang uses his own experiences but also weaves elements of fiction into the play – the version of himself who is the lead character is (barely) renamed DHH – to create something of a fantasia, which allows him to heighten the absurdity of many of these situations whilst simultaneously maintaining the chilling realisation that most of it is not too far from reality. It’s a heady mixture and one which frequently pays off. The trickiness of dealing with the sensitive subject of race is tackled head on and with no little humour – trite aphorisms about tolerance and looking beneath the skin are constantly rehashed and recycled, even borrowing lyrics from an En Vogue song at one point, as the difficulties of verbalising what racial identity really means and just how important it actually is are thrown under the spotlight. Continue reading “Review: Yellow Face, Park Theatre”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“There are over 200 countries in the world and only 8, maybe 9 have nuclear weapons”

The second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is named Second Blast: Present Dangers and focuses its attention on where the nuclear threat lies now, i.e. in the Middle East and North Korea. Alongside the five plays, there’s more of the verbatim reportage, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, in this section, effectively deployed to demonstrate the almost ridiculousness of the way in which the debate about Iran and nuclear capability has been framed the US and Israel, and later on to remind us of the official political positions of many of our own leaders in the UK.

Altogether I was a tiny bit disappointed with this half of the day (I’d’ve given it 3.5 stars as opposed to 4 for Part 1) as First Blast: Proliferation had cast its net far and wide to cover five different aspects of the history of the bomb but Second Blast returned time and time again to Iran (3 times in fact) in terms of the present day. Obviously it’s a massive part of where we are in terms of potential instability, but I felt that a more useful eye could have been cast elsewhere as well – in a savage indictment of those countries like Israel and Pakistan who still refuse to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or indeed a more damning look at those countries that have signed yet show no signs of reducing their stockpile. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: Axis

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – Second Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

 

“Hungry as they are, they are proud to be North Korean and not American puppets”

Even within the constraints of a short piece of drama, playwrights often think and write big, but not always to the greatest effect, and so it felt a little bit with Diana Son’s Axis, one of the plays making up the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history. Starting off in a White House strategy room, two advisers try to come up with a sexy soundbite that will help sell Dubya’s aggressive post 9/11 strategy, we then flip ten years into the future in North Korea where two members of the government discuss what things might be like under their new inexperienced leader Kim Jong-Un.

Both sections have their merits: the idea that something as powerful and definitive as the ‘Axis of Evil’ rhetoric is something that could have been whipped by speech-writers and spin doctors has a horribly persuasive currency but it felt a lost opportunity for the revelation that this policy threw away the considerable diplomatic efforts of the previous administration who had come close to buying out the North Koreans’ nuclear programme in exchange for aid to just be used as a post-script caption. And where the 2012 discussion of the huge uncertainty around their untried new leader does look at the repercussions of this hardening of the position on both sides, especially on worsening the poverty in North Korea, there’s an almost slapstick tone which undermined the seriousness of the subject. Continue reading “Review: Axis”

Review: Talk Talk Fight Fight

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – Second Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

 

“We need to find a wrecking ball”

Ryan Craig’s Talk Talk Fight Fight emerged as one of the better pieces of the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history for me. An intelligent look at life in the negotiations rooms at the United Nations as an EU delegation prepare to try and consult on nuclear non-proliferation with an Iran who are being less than upfront about their nuclear development. Their determination to remain reasonable and diplomatic is then challenged with the arrival of a brash CIA agent with an Iranian nuclear scientist in tow, but whose reliability is questioned in different ways by different people.

Craig captures perfectly the frustrations of bureaucrats and activists having to dance around the obfuscations of the Iranians, deflect the determination of some to make a case for war, and all the time ensure they are observing international law down to the very last clause. Shereen Martin and Daniel Rabin excel here as two workers each passionately devoted to the cause, as does Belinda Lang who was almost unrecognisable as a Baroness Ashton (of UpHolland, the village of my birth doncha know)-like figure who has to skip from meeting to meeting, from nuclear disarmament to trade debates about fish at the drop of a hat. Continue reading “Review: Talk Talk Fight Fight”