“We’re all in the same boat…”
One of the shrewder observations of recent weeks has been the puncturing of the declamatory announcements that the UK has become impossible to live in and that emigration was now necessary after just a few days of turmoil. For when you compare that to the issues that cause immigration now, for example more than five years of civil war, huge swathes of towns and cities – even Syria’s largest city Aleppo – literally bombed out, then you see the sense of perspective that is sorely needed.
Issues like this ran around my head as I sat down to watch Tess Berry-Hart’s new play Cargo (a snippet of which I was able to see at the excellent Refugees Welcome event in May). Among the many strings to Berry-Hart’s bow is her role as a key co-ordinator for Calais Action and so this is clearly a writer who knows of what she speaks when it comes to refugees. But taking a different spin on the subject, Cargo imagines (or should that be slightly embellishes…) a near-future dystopian Britain that is the land people are trying to flee.
It’s an effective technique, one which tumbles the audience directly into the experience of those forced to flee the sanctity of their homeland. Max Dorey’s design reconfigures the Arcola’s studio into a shipping container and we’re plonked on crates and rubbish bags for seats, straining to hear the whispered beginnings of the play which opens in darkness as three young people stowaway in hope of reaching the welcoming security of Europe. But have they leapt from the frying pan into the fire, as the desperate measures they’ve taken continue to threaten them. Continue reading “Review: Cargo, Arcola”
“We’re privileged to welcome you here”
Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.
For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year’s news because we’re not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from. Continue reading “Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse”
“I decided who would be saved and who would be condemned. I took that responsibility for others and now I take it for myself”
The investigation of war crimes in Africa has already had one intriguing exploration on London’s stages this year in the excellent A Human Being Died That Night at the Hampstead but where that play focused on South Africa, Anders Lustgarten’s Black Jesus looks at contemporary Zimbabwe, the damage that Robert Mugabe’s regime has inflicted, and the possibilities of reaching any kind of resolution when the scars of conflict cut so deep.
It is set in the near future, where a Truth and Justice Commission has been set up to explore the crimes of the past. Eunice Ncube (the excellent Debbie Korley) is tasked with interviewing Gabriel (Paapa Essiedu, in a rich vein of form at the moment) one of the key members of a brutal youth militia movement called the Green Bombers, who crushed untold enemies with violence and remains a thoroughly intimidating figure. Continue reading “Review: Black Jesus, Finborough”
“I don’t even know what you are speaking of but I sense it’s dirty, underhanded and plain illegal”
And so to complete the set… Having initially declared that I was fine with not seeing any of the RSC new commissions at the Hampstead Theatre when they were announced, I’ve now seen all three of them, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s American Trade following on from Little Eagles and Silence in what has been, to be completely honest, a rather underwhelming season. Billed as a contemporary Restoration comedy, this is an ultra-modern, breakneck 90 minutes of multi-coloured, multi-racial, multi-sexual shenanigans, which also happens to mark Jamie Lloyd’s RSC directorial debut. This was a preview performance on the evening of Saturday 4th June.
Insofar as the plot is concerned, young New York hustler Pharus is offered a golden chance to escape his increasingly tricky situation when an unexpected offer from his unknown English Great-Aunt Marian to run a new modelling agency as part of her PR firm comes through. So he crosses the ocean and make a good impression but ends up finding he is best at what he knows and so the model agency becomes a cover for a prostitution racket. But his cousin Valentina, heir presumptive to the business, is not happy with the new arrival and the threat he poses, so she sets about trying to uncover his murky past whilst trying to work her PR spin on a children’s film star who has gone seriously off the rails. Continue reading “Review: American Trade, RSC at Hampstead Theatre”
“If love be rough with you, be rough with love”
So having managed to stand through King Lear and partake of a lovely dinner, the evening saw a second visit to Rupert Goold’s highly entertaining Romeo & Juliet. I haven’t got a huge amount to say about this that I didn’t already say in my original review, it really is as fresh and exciting an interpretation of this play that you will ever see, it feels like it could have been written yesterday, so persuasive is the pulsing heart of this production with its innovative immediacy.
I’d actually decided not to see the show again when it came to the Roundhouse in the winter as I thought I didn’t want my happy memories of seeing it at the Courtyard to be affected. But talking to people who did go persuaded me it might be a good thing and I am so glad that I did go again as I felt the production has matured into something richer and stronger. And knowing what the directorial flourishes were meant that I was able to focus more elsewhere, on the subtleties, the little touches that passed me by and enjoying the sheer quality of the performances, especially from the great seats we forked out for, on the front row of the circle facing the stage. Continue reading “Re-review: Romeo & Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”
Rupert Goold’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Courtyard in Stratford marks his first foray there since 2006, now he’s an Associate Director and directs a well-established ensemble here at the RSC in tale of a Montague and Capulet whose love for each other in a hostile world defies a long-held bloody family feud with the most tragic of consequences.
Mariah Gale and Sam Troughton may seem like unconventional casting, but they work perfectly together as Juliet and Romeo. She’s a sulky teenager, rebelling at the marital fait accompli presented to her by her overbearing father (a terrifyingly chilling Richard Katz); he’s a hooded brooding soul, initially almost nerdily obsessed with Rosaline, both alone in their respective tribes but their first meeting awakens something deep inside of both of them and their chemistry together is just electric. He comes to life, dancing jigs of ecstatic joy, and she becomes alive to the possibilities of romantic and indeed sexual fulfilment. We never forget though that their’s is a tragic story, and Gale in particular is painfully strong in displaying the deepening realisation that their situation is not one that is tenable. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”
“Are my discourses dull? Barren my wit?”
Digital Theatre specialises in providing recordings of plays, captured as-live and available to watch either online or to download onto your computer. They have established links with some top theatre companies and so is building up an interesting collection of plays for viewing. I became aware of Digital Theatre back at Christmastime, and downloaded my first play (Far From The Madding Crowd). It has however remained on my hard-drive unwatched for a number of reasons. But with the offer to get a free download of the RSC’s The Comedy of Errors through the Times newspaper, I decided to revisit the site and actually get round to watching something.
There’s been a lot of debate about the merits of videoed theatre over live theatre: my personal view is that there’s ample room for both in the world. The recordings are there to supplement the live experience, not replace it, something that seems to be lost on much of the commenters in the press. These kind of initiatives, along with the National Theatre’s cinema showings of some plays, offer a great opportunity to expand the audience for these shows, and whilst the frisson of live performance may be lost, I can guarantee that whoever saw Phèdre at the cinema would have had a much better view of the faces of the actors than I did from the circle of the Lyttleton. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC via Digital Theatre”
Based on a well respected (although I’d never heard of it, let alone seen it) film, A Matter of Life and Death sees Cornish theatre company Kneehigh take the cavernous Olivier theatre by storm with a highly inventive and physical reinterpretation of this story. Peter, a World War II pilot is shot down whilst on a mission but doesn’t die because the angel sent to collect him gets lost in the fog. Instead, he meets and falls in love with June, the radio operator who tried to help him down. Peter is then forced to plead his case in the court of Heaven to see how his future will play out.
As the romantic leads, both Tristan Sturrock as Peter and Lyndsey Marshal as June seemed a little overwhelmed by the production, not really able to give us much of a sense of the relationship between the two and too often required to do something gymnastic or wacky instead of focusing on the emotion of the moment. In the more light-hearted characters, like Douglas Hodge’s Frank and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s gymnastic Conductor, there’s more freedom and opportunity for fun, but by and large this wasn’t a production about strong acting. Continue reading “Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre”