Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

Thoughts on a visit to the Bridge Theatre

Good things come to those who wait! I hadn’t booked for Young Marx at the brand new Bridge Theatre for a couple of reasons. I was still hoping that I might get a response to my email to the PR and despite a cast that includes the splendid Nancy Carroll and the delicious Oliver Chris alongside lead Rory Kinnear, Richard Bean just really isn’t my cup of tea. ‘Don’t you love farce?’ Not much my dear…

So when an email popped into my inbox offering a sneak preview of the show and an opportunity to be the first ever audience in the theatre for a pre-preview test run of the new venue and its facilities, then I knew it was meant to be. Turns out I do love a farce, at £7.50 a ticket. Continue reading “Thoughts on a visit to the Bridge Theatre”

Full cast announced for Young Marx

 
1850, and Europe’s most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho. Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.

Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures. His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway. But there’s still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx. Continue reading “Full cast announced for Young Marx”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4

“No Lib Dem leader has ever had this kind of exposure and opportunity”

James Graham definitely seems to be having a moment – the noted playwright has been branching out into film and TV and with some serendipitous timing, is showcasing his talent in all three avenues. The Vote will soon be hitting the Donmar, X&Y is in cinemas as we speak, and his television film Coalition aired on Channel 4 last night. I’ve yet to catch X&Y but if Coalition is anything to go by, then there’s absolutely no fear that he is overstretching himself as it was a cracking bit of telly.

One of the reasons it worked so well for me was its basis in more-or-less contemporary events. His play This House was a sterling piece of political theatre but for someone who had no knowledge of the 1970s politicking it portrayed, there was always a sense of catch-up whereas the more august members of the audience could enjoy the nuances of Graham’s skilful writing and observations without the niggle of also trying to work out just what was going on.  Continue reading “TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4”

Film Review: Anna Karenina

 

”I’d rather live life wishing I hadn’t rather than wishing I had”

Today I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Joe Wright’s new film, Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role, which is certain to be divisive with its unique approach. Tom Stoppard has been employed to distil Tolstoy’s weighty tome into something more manageable and his adaptation clocks in at a shade over 2 hours. Remaining largely faithful to the novel, Stoppard’s focus is on exploring different kinds of love, and so whilst the focus is mainly on Anna herself as she negotiates the tumultuous affair with a young cavalryman that sets her against her husband and the might of Russian society, he also ensures that the subplot featuring the agrarian Levin’s attempts to woo the object of his affections is kept in to provide a neat counterpoint.

Presented with a classic of literature and wanting to avoid predictability as far as period dramas are concerned, Wright’s main conceit has been to reconceptualise the whole thing in a deeply theatrical manner, literally. He treats the story as a piece of theatre, sometimes being played out in front of an audience, sometimes as backstage drama, but always with a defined fluidity and through-line. This exceedingly stylised and highly choreographed approach has a huge cinematic sweep which I adored, but it does soon calm down into something more measured and at key moments, it opens out with some breath-taking transformations.  Continue reading “Film Review: Anna Karenina”

Re-review: London Road, National Theatre

Begonias, and… petunias, and… um, impatiens and things”

Technically speaking this is a re-re-review of London Road, which has made a belated transfer from the Cottesloe to the considerably larger Olivier at the National Theatre, as it is the third time that I’ve seen it. I saw it when it first opened and was blown away by its inventiveness and genuine originality as a piece of musical theatre, and then made a return trip when the show extended its initial run, a visit which coincided with the summer riots here in the UK last year, a time which magnified one of the key messages of the show, of the importance of community. The decision to remount this award-winning and critically acclaimed show, even after a considerable gap of nearly a year, may have seemed like a no-brainer but for those who were able to catch it in the Cottesloe like me, I suspect there may be a little disappointment as something of the magic has been lost in the move.

A strong element to this could well be my own snobbery. As the ticket purchasing was up to someone for once, I ended up in the circle – for the first time in years! – and whilst it wasn’t as bad as I had first feared, the distance does make it a completely different theatrical experience. And ‘experience’ is the right word, for this is such a unique show in its hybrid of verbatim theatre, which replicates the speech patterns and intonations of interviewees, and freestyling atonal music, which forms an additional structure and texture as it layers, repeats and counterpoints the speech into something strangely hypnotic and beautiful. Continue reading “Re-review: London Road, National Theatre”

Review: The Changeling, Young Vic

“Resolve me this question”

And the question is do designers ever actually sit in the seats that surround the sets that they create. I ask because Ultz’s design for The Changeling, currently playing in the Young Vic’s Maria studio, stretches the seating round all four sides as well as into a set of nooks and crannies and wheelchairs downstairs. This is fine on two sides with the usual red seating but with the others, a single row of seats has been placed behind a heavy thick rampart meaning that visibility of a third of the stage is compromised and only partly rectified by leaning forward.

Combined with the dreaded unreserved seating and the sheer arrogance of the audience members who refused to budge up like everyone else did in order to maintain ‘their’ spot and forcing some extraordinary contortions in order to allow many people to pass them, I couldn’t help but feel this was a configuration that had its audience too far back in its mind than is truly acceptable. Continue reading “Review: The Changeling, Young Vic”

Album Review: London Road cast recording

“Begonias, and… petunias, and… um, impatiens and things”

Capitalising on the unexpected runaway success of London Road, the National Theatre have now released a cast recording of the verbatim musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork. I revisited the show last week – review can be read here – and so it was quite nice to be able to get this more permanent reminder. It is such an unconventional suite of music but as with anything, repeated exposure brings about a kind of familiarity and so the musical vocabulary used here has now been assimilated, its complexity less bamboozling now and a greater appreciation easier to reach.

The show looks at the sense of community that is built up amongst the residents of London Road in Ipswich as the impact of the murder of 5 prostitutes flows out around them: the road had been where the prostitutes touted for business and it eventually turned out that the murderer, Steve Wright, had recently moved into a house on their street. But the play avoids sensationalism and focusing on the murders and murderer by centring on this group of residents and how they felt as the murders were happening and then their lives turned upside down by the revelation that Wright was living in their midst and the media furore that surrounded the ensuing trial. Continue reading “Album Review: London Road cast recording”

Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)

 

“If you make your house look nice, if you feel good about where you live, you’ll en- you’ll enjoy life a whole lot better”

I hadn’t intended to revisit London Road at the National Theatre even as it scored a much-deserved extension to its run: I adored its daring invention and its deep empathy for its protagonists when I first caught the show at the Cottesloe, but when a ticket on the ultra-bargainous row T popped up on the website (seriously, this is one of the best theatre tips you will get) I just couldn’t resist returning. And it was well worth it. It is such a unique show with surprising levels that it was a real pleasure to take it in a second time, from a different seat too, to soak in some of the details that had passed me by first time round and gain a slightly different perspective on it too.

My original review can be read here and it is interesting looking back at what stood out for me about it on first viewing and how much my opinion was reinforced second time around. Kate Fleetwood and Clare Burt broke my heart all over again with their portrayals, but I really did notice how good everyone is in the show, Rosalie Craig too but particularly the men whom I previously neglected a bit, Hal Fowler struggling to get a word in edgeways, Paul Thornley’s handsome normality, Duncan Wisbey’s blokiness. And having heard the music once, it was interesting to see how much familiarity there was given how untraditional the score is, the repetition of key phrases having earwormed their way into my brain, combined with some just beautiful harmonisation: London Road in bloom is probably the prime example of the quirkiness and emotional power of the music and highly effective in demonstrating early on the potential of this verbatim musical artform.

Continue reading “Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)”