Not-a-Review: ANNA, National Theatre

Created by playwright Ella Hickson (The Writer) and sound designers Ben and Max Ringham, ANNA is directed by Natalie Abrahami with real ingenuity, as individual audio headsets are used to give us a unique perspective on a play, directly from the viewpoint of Phoebe Fox’s Anna. It didn’t work for me.

Running time: 65 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
ANNA is booking at the National Theatre until 15th June

Review: Pinter Four, Harold Pinter Theatre

Pinter Four serves up something of a difficult double bill at the Harold Pinter Theatre, but Bríd Brennan and Janie Dee are there to help us through the dark times

“Rationality went down the drain donkey’s years ago and hasn’t been seen since”

Thing about blogging is you can’t hide from the past, or your past opinions, so the fact that the first time I saw Harold Pinter’s Moonlight was one of the most torturous hours I’d spent in a theatre up until then is no secret. So the fact that it was included along with Night School in the double bill that makes up Pinter Four gave me significant – Pinteresque even…  pause.

But that was seven years ago, people change, as do tastes, and the luxury casting of the Pinter at the Pinter season made it an attractive enough proposition to revisit. And am I a now Moonlight convert? Not exactly, but it did prove a less painful experience, even if it does still maintain a power to elongate time which is exacerbated by its coolly distant demeanour. Continue reading “Review: Pinter Four, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Review: Machinal, Almeida

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 expressionist play Machinal receives an extraordinary production from Natalie Abrahami at the Almeida Theate

Your skin oughtn’t to curl – ought it – when he just comes near you- ought it? That’s wrong, ain’t it? You don’t get over that, do you – ever, do you or do you?

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal may be the story of one woman battling societal pressure but Natalie Abrahami’s production for the Almeida Theatre teases out a more elemental struggle, one which stretches over the majority of the twentieth century and by extension, even further.

The story is rooted in its ordinariness. Emily Berrington’s Young Woman gets by at a job she doesn’t like, marries the first guy who shows an interest, gives birth to a child she scarcely wants – expectations check check checked. But as she learns that she wants more, can want more, the weight of societal pressure comes to bear. Continue reading “Review: Machinal, Almeida”

Review: One Night In Miami…, Donmar

“I’m way too pretty not to be in the movies”

Just a quickie for this, as it has now closed. Kemp Powers’ One Night In Miami… takes place on 25th February 1964 in the aftermath of Cassius Clay’s prize-winning fight with Sonny Liston. In a Floridian hotel room, he marks the occasion by hanging out with his friends Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and sports star Jim Brown as they reflect on the momentous point in the US civil rights movement that they variously find themselves involved in. And what could have been a dry debate is brought wonderfully to life by Powers’ script, Kwame Kwei-Armah’s direction and a great cast.

Sope Dirisu’s Clay is on the cusp of converting to Islam and changing his name but Dirisu finds the man behind the myth most delightfully, David Akala’s Brown is genially laidback, and Arinzé Kene sings wonderfully as Cooke whose integrationist views contrast strongly with Francois Battiste’s Malcolm X who is advocating a more militant course of action. There’s also Dwane Walcott and Josh Williams as the two wary guards from The Nation of Islam, adding tension and unpredictability, and altogether it proved a most fascinating and illuminating piece of drama. 

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd December

Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

“This revolt of thine is like another fall of man”

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn’t newsworthy in and of itself but we don’t and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles – the intrigue of Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter’s Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.

Insofar as Robert Hastie’s modern-dress production has a conceit, it’s of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell’s Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role – and it’s hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry’s head. And from then, it’s a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle’s square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross’ movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Iphigenia Quartet, Gate Theatre

“We all make – sacrifices”

And still the Greeks come. The Gate Theatre have taken Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis and asked four playwrights to react to it with short plays from varying viewpoints, giving us The Iphigenia Quartet. Split into two double bills, we thus get Caroline Bird’s Agamemnon and Lulu Raczka’s Clytemnestra, and Suhayla El-Bushra’s Iphigenia and Chris Thorpe’s Chorus, two strong pairings that crack open the Greek tragedy and offer a kaleidoscope of responses.

Such is the enduring resilience of the original that it can take diverse treatments – to wit, the trio of Oresteias that graced British stages last year – and packed into this studio intimacy and seen on the same day (as I saw them) or not, the impact is visceral and considerable. From the raw anguish of Bird’s duelling parents to Raczka’s academic debate spun on its head, from El-Bushra’s family of Marines to Thorpe’s babbling chorus of commenters, the shifting focus is at once enigmatic and entertaining.  Continue reading “Review: The Iphigenia Quartet, Gate Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, Barbican

“The play’s the thing”

See, after all the kerfuffle and an insane (and irresponsible) amount of press scrutiny during its three week preview period (I hope all the hit chasing was worth it for everyone concerned), there’s still a regular piece of theatre at the heart of it. A company of cast and creatives trying to make art under the most trying of circumstances, a simple truth but one that seemed to have been largely forgotten in the rush to tap into the self-perpetuating frenzy around this production of Hamlet directed by Lyndsey Turner.

Visually it is undoubtedly stunning, you can see where at least some of the inflated ticket price has gone (and whilst I’m on, £65 for stalls seats with a restricted view about which there was no warning, shame on you Barbican and Sonia Friedman Productions). Es Devlin’s opulent set has an enormous palatial grandeur about it which is latterly, spectacularly, crumbled in ruin, Jane Cox’s lighting carves out performance space beautifully from the stage, and Luke Hall’s video work is impressive too. But the play’s the thing remember, not just the production. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Barbican”

Review: The Twits, Royal Court

“It means, Mrs Twit, we’re going to have some fun” 

Truth be told, I wasn’t really a fan of The Twits when I was a kid – the tales of worm spaghetti grossed my sensitive little soul out and I was much more at home reading about the delirious pleasure of the mixing of George’s Marvellous Medicine. So the news of the latest Roald Dahl adaptation to hit a London stage wasn’t one that necessarily filled me with the greatest of glee, especially since this version of The Twits is coming to the Royal Court via a “mischievous adaptation” courtesy of Enda Walsh, a playwright with whom I’ve had mixed experiences, and director John Tiffany.

And predictably, it is a curious confection that they’ve cooked up alongside the plate of wormy spaghetti which sent shivers down my spine once again. Aimed at “brave 8 year olds and their families”, it makes little concession to being a traditional family show and mines a rather dark and twisted approach – one suspects Mr Dahl might well have approved – but one which didn’t always seem to connect with the youngsters in the audience at this final preview before press night. The first half in particular saw mostly fitful adult laughter in a tale that is rather stark in its cruelty and political leanings. Continue reading “Review: The Twits, Royal Court”

Review: Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse

“Most dangerously you have with him prevailed”

This is truly a Coriolanus for our times. Josie Rourke’s intimate chamber production for her Donmar Warehouse made ripples by casting Tom Hiddleston in the title role, a rare return to the stage for an actor now catapulted into Hollywood’s hotlist, but in so many other ways, it is an intelligent reading of the text that subtly recasts Shakespeare’s tragedy into something if not exactly relatable, then certainly recognisable.

Roman general Coriolanus is viciously successful on the battlefield but when he is urged to move into a political career, he faces a whole new set of challenges. Enormous pressure from his domineering mother that has stunted his lifelong emotional growth, a disdain for the very same ‘great unwashed’ whose votes he needs, and an establishment gunning for him from the word go. Rourke ensures huge clarity in her adaptation of this most brutal of tragedies which proves most compelling. Continue reading “Review: Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse”