Review: Macbeth, Big Telly Theatre

Not quite ‘when shall we three Zoom again’, Big Telly Theatre’s imaginative online version of Macbeth has some impressive moments

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings”

With its cast members scattered across Belfast, Deal, Deptford, Dublin and London, it’s a remarkable achievement in and of itself that this production of Macbeth can exist at all in these Covid-19 times. But founder and artistic director of Big Telly Theatre Zoe Seaton has been quick off the mark to explore the creative opportunities of these constraints and this marks her fifth lockdown production.

And you can see how deftly experienced hands are shaping this new kind of experience. An inspired bit of pre-show business brilliantly skewers the government’s daily Covid briefings as it introduces its own version of track and trace which is implemented on some unsuspecting audience members. It also frames the world of this production as a plaything of the weird sisters, the ones who are truly in charge here. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Big Telly Theatre”

Review: Alice – A Virtual Theme Park

Doing the Macarena with the Queen of Hearts? But of course. Alice – A Virtual Theme Park does an excellent job of blending technical innovation with live theatre

“There ought to be a book written about me”

There’s rarely a dearth of opportunities to visit Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s ever-popular source material a frequent presence in theatres but with Alice – A Virtual Theme Park, there’s a very much 21st century take which works surprisingly well. And given Covid-19, it isn’t a play but rather a multiplatform, multiple choice experience.

Let the Cheshire Cat guide you through your Zoom settings and listen to Leda Douglas’ inquisitive Alice as she takes us down the rabbit hole, and the scene is then set for an inspired, interactive and family-friendly journey with these familiar characters, effectively curated by Creation Theatre. Continue reading “Review: Alice – A Virtual Theme Park”

Review: Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker

“Fear no more the frown o’ the great”

You wait for a production of relatively little-performed Shakespeare play and then three come along in the same year. Melly Still is doing Cymbeline for the RSC in the summer, Emma Rice is reclaiming and renaming it Imogen for her inaugural season at the Globe and inside at the same venue, it is being performed as part of a run of the Bard’s late plays in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, directed by Sam Yates.

Ah yes, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I’ve not been much of a fan of this theatre, for purely practical reasons rather than artistic ones, but with this programming that has allowed me to tick off Pericles and see Rachael Stirling, Niamh Cusack and John Light onstage, I’ve succumbed to a rash of bookings. With that, I’ve opted to be brutally honest about the experiences as a paying customer. Continue reading “Review: Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker”

Review: Albion, Bush Theatre

“They killed your sister. They took over your karaoke night”

Chris Thompson had a big success with his first play Carthage at the Finborough Theatre which was a… WHY WHY WHY DELILAH. And now his follow-up play Albion has opened at the Bush…. SWING IT SHAKE IT MOVE IT MAKE IT WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE. It’s a bit of a challenging work as it plays with traditional structure to incorporate the fine art of karaoke as a storytelling device…HERE COMES THE HOTSTEPPER, MURDERER…(well, sometimes, and then sometimes it is just karaoke)…NAA NANANANAA NANANANAA NANANAA NANANAA NANANANAAA into its tale of how an extremist right-wing group takes root in an East End boozer.

In an interview about the show, dramaturg Rob Drummer speaks of how “the rise of the far right needs to be understood now more than ever” but it is never abundantly clear how this chosen format is an appropriate or effective one to enable such understanding. As you can see from the opening paragraph, it can be a little disarming to have characters break out into song in the middle of conversations, especially when there is a tenuous link at best but more frustrating is the lack of consistency in the way in which music is used. The interpolation of ‘The Rose’ into a key scene is a genuinely moving moment and with its verses scattered through the company, ‘Seven Nation Army’ becomes a brutally effective rallying call. Continue reading “Review: Albion, Bush Theatre”

Review: The Bodyguard, Adelphi

“I know in my heart you’d find a girl who’s scared sometimes”

My first thought when I heard that they were making a musical version of 1992 film The Bodyguard supplemented by songs from Whitney Houston’s back catalogue was how on earth are they going to work my favourite of her songs, ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, into that story. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, but more of that later. Taking on the lead role in which Whitney made her acting debut is American import Heather Headley, although at this performance in the month of previews before it opens officially, we saw the alternate Gloria Onitiri (a familiar face from Avenue Q days) who made a sterling case for the vital importance of supporting Great British talent. 

For those not familiar with the film, Rachel Marron is a superstar pop singer-turned-actress who, unbeknownst to her, is receiving threats from a stalker and when her entourage employ ex-Secret Service agent Frank Farmer as a new bodyguard for her, sparks fly as the undeniable attraction between them threatens his professional distance and effectiveness. Several years in the making, Alexander Dinelaris’ book adapts Lawrence Kisdan’s original screenplay with a few changes: Rachel’s sister Nicki has a greater role; the identity of the stalker is handled differently and there’s a little modernisation to reflect a more tech-savvy and social-media friendly world.  Continue reading “Review: The Bodyguard, Adelphi”

Review: As You Like It, Digital Theatre

“If my uncle, thy banished father, had banished thy uncle, the duke my father…”

Against my better judgement, I bought the RSC’s As You Like It ages ago when a special offer came up for it but it has languished on my hard-drive ever since as I have serious AYLI fatigue and no real desire to watch it again. It is one of those Shakespeares that seems to pop up with unfailing regularity and I’ve grown tired of it to be honest – occasionally a production will surprise with a stunning central performance as did Cush Jumbo at the Royal Exchange but usually I’m left weary by the lack of inventiveness in productions which end up blurring into one another in my mind.

And that’s how I felt in the end about this 2010 Michael Boyd-directed production featuring the Long Ensemble. It is undoubtedly well-performed: Katy Stephens’ bright intelligence is perfectly suited to the determined Rosalind and well matched with Jonjo O’Neill’s passionate Orlando, Richard Katz’s wild-haired Touchstone is well observed and having become accustomed to this group of actors, I liked the smaller parts played by the likes of Christine Entwisle, Dyfan Dwyfor and Charles Aitken. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Digital Theatre”

Review: American Trade, RSC at Hampstead Theatre

“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”

Re-review: Romeo & Juliet, Royal Shakespeare 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”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“…the fearful passage of their death-mark’d love”

 

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”