Review: The Jungle, Playhouse

Immersive theatre done right in a completely reconfigured Playhouse, The Jungle is thought-provoking beyond belief

“No one wants to stay here”

Following on from an enormously successful run at the Young Vic last year, The Jungle has made the move to the Playhouse Theatre in one of the unlikeliest but most significant West End transfers in recent history. Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy’s play was born out of their experiences in setting up the Good Chance theatre in the Calais refugee camp that gives it its name and accompanied by an extraordinary (re)design of the space by Miriam Buether, becomes a genuinely unforgettable theatrical experience.

Buether’s design recreates the Afghan restaurant that was part of the camp where audiences can sit at the table (which becomes a thrust stage) surrounded by the heady scent of warming spices and baking bread. It’s a useful reminder that even in the midst of a crisis state, life has to continue and food is an enduring common bond. And this anti-doom-and-gloom approach is symptomatic of The Jungle. No tragedy porn here, but rather a portrait of flawed humanity – people doing good, people screwing up, people just trying their damnedest in face of a shameful international emergency. Continue reading “Review: The Jungle, Playhouse”

Review: A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville

“The world is made for men, not for women”

Does the world really need more Oscar Wilde? A whole season’s worth? One of the less inspiring decisions of the year was this takeover of the Vaudeville by the Classic Spring Theatre Company. Perhaps aware of this, Dominic Dromgoole has identified something the world really does need more of – Eve Best in our theatres (and later in the season, Kathy Burke directing). But is that enough to mitigate the resuscitation of this lesser-performed work.

Well almost. There’s no pretending that A Woman of No Importance is a particularly great play which has been languishing unfairly in the doldrums. But it does have the bonus of being a women-heavy play and one with an intriguingly strong thread of feminist thought to it. After a dalliance that resulted in a child, Mrs Arbuthnot’s social ruin is contrasted with Lord Illingworth’s consequence-free escape but 20 years down the line with their son all grown up, their paths cross again. Continue reading “Review: A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville”

Full cast of A Woman of No Importance announced

Despite having little interest in a season of Oscar Wilde plays, the predictably excellent cast for A Woman of No Importance means that my resistance will be utterly futile as the full cast joining the previously announced Eve Best from 6th October at the Vaudeville Theatre has now been announced.

Joining Best is Anne Reid, Eleanor Bron and William Gaunt, and now completing the cast is Emma Fielding, Dominic Rowan, Crystal Clarke, Harry Lister-Smith, Sam Cox, William Mannering, Paul Rider and Phoebe Fildes.


Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the play is the first in his new company’s year-long season celebrating the work of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and it has also been announced that a series of talks will take place before certain performances of A Woman of No Importance. Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland will give the first pre-show talk on 14th October, offering an insight into Wilde’s life and work. On 19th October, Stephen Fry will reflect on his time plying Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film Wilde. On 11th November, Frank McGuinness will consider Wilde alongside Ibsen and Strindberg in ‘Wilde the European’, and on 7th December, Franny Moyle will explore “Wilde’s women.”


Review: Stepping Out, Vaudeville

“I just popped into Pineapple for this”

There may be few real surprises to be had at Stepping Out but what Maria Friedman’s production here at the Vaudeville does, is to conjure a marvellously congenial atmosphere which is ideally suited to the play. Written in 1984 by Richard Harris and set the year before, to call this period comedy dated is beyond stating the obvious, its female characters wafer-thin, its gender politics non-existent.

But if it isn’t feminist with a capital F, there’s certainly lower-case feminism at work here, not least in the fact that it offers up 8 out of its 9 roles to women – bucking the male:female ratio that is stubbornly persistent in the West End. We follow this group of women, and the solitary man, as they muddle their way through a weekly tap class, building to the inevitable performance that they have to pull off. Continue reading “Review: Stepping Out, Vaudeville”

Review: Winter Solstice, Orange Tree

“A new world which will last for ever…”

I’m pretty sure every time a German production is mounted in the UK, it is slapped with the mantle of ‘most popular contemporary German playwright’ (see Franz Xaver Kroetz’s The Nest from late last year) – a sign that audiences here still have to be led gently by the hand towards European drama with whispered encouragements of ‘well he is the best they have, you know’.

This time, it is Roland Schimmelpfennig’s turn, as his 2013 play Winter Solstice receives its British premiere at the Orange Tree in this Actors Touring Company production directed by Ramin Gray. And it is well worth the effort as though it may flirt with the experimental, it also cuts through to the elemental – as piercing an insight into the rise of the far right as we’ve seen on any stage. Continue reading “Review: Winter Solstice, Orange Tree”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #7

Love’s Labour’s Lost



Gemma Arterton and Michelle Terry (almost) in the same play, how my heart doth beat. Sam Yates’ Love’s Labour’s Lost combines Arterton and David Dawson dashing delightfully through the corridors of the Royal Palace of Olite of Navarre, Spain as Berowne and Rosaline, whilst drawing in elements from the gorgeous 2009 production at the Globe – one of my favourite clips from the whole Complete Walk.
Measure for Measure



Queer as Folk hits Austria (I suppose I’m showing my age, the more contemporary reference would be Game of Thrones) as Aidan Gillen takes on Measure for Measure at Vienna’s Burg Liechtenstein. Last year’s production at the Globe gets a look in too and reminds me that I think it was much maligned for trying a more comic take on the play for once. 

The Two Gentleman of Verona


A slightly different take from Christopher Haydon here as he has location footage – filmed at the Scaligero di Torri, Verona with Meera Syal and Tamara Lawrance – but opts to explore the play’s dramatic links to the rest of the canon. So we get clips of 10 of Shakespeare’s other plays and are shown how devices and plots are reused time and time again. 


Othello


Possibly one of my most favourite potential productions in the making here, as James Dacre takes David Harewood and John Heffernan to Othello’s Tower in Famagusta, Cyprus where they nail it. Please make this happen somehow.

Timon of Athens


Timon of Athens sees Dromgoole go for the similar star wattage of Dominic West in Coriolanus, opting to focus on Simon Russell Beale wandering through atmospheric parts of Athens with no other actors or productions to distract. And it works wonders again, even if I’m not sure I need to see the play again in a hurry. 

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #6

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Dorney Court, Berkshire
I’m becoming less and less tolerant of men taking women’s roles, especially when there’s no reciprocity, and as much as I like Paul Chahidi – I don’t see why he gets to be one  of the titular merry wives here opposite Mel Giedroyc. Rebecca Gatward’s fourth-wall smashing direction is very much in keeping with the Globe’s often broad sense of comedy but for me, it lacks any subtlety at all.


CymbelineAs the world’s newest country, there’s something special about the South Sudan Theatre Company forming especially for the Globe 2 Globe Festival, so it’s a bit harsh that they were then lumbered with CymbelineSam Yates splices their show with his newly-filmed clips in a Welsh forest somewhere near Milford Haven but as talented as Hayley Atwell is and Kevin Harvey too, it’s a rather dull experience – I remain unconvinced about the play.

Henry VIII

There’s no doubting that Henry VIII is one of the less-exciting plays in the canon and though Mark Rosenblatt ventures into the beautiful gardens of Hampton Court Palace with Danny Sapani as his monarch, struggling to come to terms with his longed-for heir being a girl (Pauline McLynn delivering the news well), it’s never that compelling. Even the clips of the 2010 Globe production remind more of its inertia than anything else.

Coriolanus

There have been some pretty sweet gigs on the Complete Walk and Dromgoole’s roadtrip to Rome with Dominic West for Coriolanus has to rank up there. A stylishly shot film that comes close to a perfume ad in its luxuriousness and moody glances, it’s nonetheless most effective.

Review: Giving, Hampstead Downstairs

“There seem to be a lot of people out there with a lot of money who don’t quite know what to do with it”

I’m pretty sure that in 30 or so years time, we will be talking about Sinéad Matthews with the hushed reverence accorded to the likes of Dame Judi as she’s surely a shoo-in for a similar ennoblement. And I’ll be telling everyone about the times I got to see her in the intimacy of the Hampstead Theatre’s downstairs space. Last year saw her star in the The Wasp and this year she returns there in Hannah Patterson’s Giving, directed by Bijan Sheibani, giving us another opportunity to see one of the finest actors in the country up close and personal. 

She plays Laura in Patterson’s new play, a journalist tasked with profiling leading British businesswoman Mary Greene for her current affairs magazine. Greene is of interest because she has decided to give away huge amounts of her wealth in a newfound burst of philanthropy. But as Laura investigates further, she finds that there’s a whole industry that’s grown up around giving, organisations who act as brokers between the millionaires and the charities, and its these motives that she decides to interrogate, regardless of the consequences. Continue reading “Review: Giving, Hampstead Downstairs”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me!
Well I didn’t really waste time, I just prioritised. Over the many ways in which Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary was celebrated and fitting in something of a social life, the Globe’s Complete Walk – specially commissioned bitesize films of each of his 37 plays – just felt like a step too far, plus there was always the assumption (or should that be presumption) that the films would resurface in a more accessible way. And so it seems to be coming to pass, with three of them now available on the BBC’s iPlayer.

   

My favourite of these three was Antony & Cleopatra Starting with a plethora of snippets from both Rome and Egypt from Jonathan Munby’s 2014 production starring Eve Best and Clive Wood, leading up to a stunning adaptation of Cleopatra and Iras’ final moments filmed at the Red Pyramid at Dahshur in Egypt. Beautifully shot with real restraint from Mark Rosenblatt and gorgeously spoken by Eleanor Matsuura and Katy Stephens respectively, the superb musical accompaniment written and performed by Norwegian violinist Bjarte Eike with his baroque ensemble Barokksolistene combine to spine-tingling effect.


Another film to combine Globe productions with the new was Richard II, Bill Buckhurst getting to film inside Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament for its added piquancy. There we find uber-present James Norton’s monarch surrendering his crown to Dominic Rowan’s Bolingbroke, spliced with Simon Godwin’s 2015 production at the Globe with Frederick Neilson and Charles Edwards as the monarch at the beginning and end of his reign. I could watch Norton and Rowan for days, this only faded a little in comparison with the wonders from the Pyramids.



Oddly enough, the most formally interesting of the trio – Hamlet – was the one that stirred me the least. Though filmed at the Danish castle at Kronborg, Elsinore itself, the location didn’t actually bring too much to the table for me. And the format from Dominic Dromgoole, passages from the play fragmented into 4 voices, didn’t spark as much as I thought it would, even though those voices belonged to Michelle Terry, Alex Jennings, Nikesh Patel, and Ashley Zhangazha. 


Review: Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Which is the wiser here, Justice or Iniquity?”

You don’t get many Measure for Measures for the pound, in the grand scheme, so Outgoing Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole probably thought he was onto a winner in choosing it to be part of his final summer season and indeed the last play he’ll direct as AD. But these things come in threes and we’ve been blessed with two other major productions – Cheek by Jowl’s Russian-language version shook the rafters of the Barbican earlier this year and Joe Hill-Gibbons promises to do the same at the Young Vic with Romola Garai in the Autumn.

But no matter, we can be assured of diverse interpretations – for the first two at least – and Dromgoole’s version for the Globe does precisely what he does best, unfussily traditional productions blessed with a striking clarity (best evidenced by his superlative 2013 A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Here, we get to see Mariah Gale, one of our finest young Shakespeareans, deliver a stunning account of one of Shakespeare’s more complex female characters in Isabella and we also bear witness to Dominic Rowan ascending to the leading man status (with which he has arguably merely flirted before) as Vincentio. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s Globe”