Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street

Excellent creative work makes About Leo, the debut play from Alice Allemano a real success at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“I have never, in my life, for one moment, been anyone’s muse. I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist”

What does a woman have to do to be appreciated on her own merits? Be a leading surrealist painter? Be a founding member of the women’s movement in the country where she lives? Write several successful books?  Leonora Carrington may not be the best known of names but she deserves more than being known someone who had an affair with Max Ernst.

Such is the set-up for Alice Allemano’s impressive debut play About Leo. Wannabe journalist Eliza Prentice rocks up at Carrington’s Mexico City residence in order to secure an interview for a retrospective of Ernst’s work but is soon disabused of the notion that she was a mere ‘muse’. And over a long night, as tea turns into tequila, stories of love and loss and art and aspiration reveal a hugely fascinating figure.  Continue reading “Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:1

“Oh for…fucking internet”

On the first day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…a politician fucking a pig.

Can Charlie Brooker ever have conceived that four years after The National Anthem aired, the theme of his first episode of Black Mirror would actually come horrifically to life as Lord Ashcroft’s biography of David Cameron alluded to unsavoury acts with a pig’s head. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:1”

Review: Don Quixote, Swan

“We are all gathering dust here, none of us have much to do”

It’s a tough job being an actor junkie. Even whilst trying to cut down on the amount of theatre I see, I find it immensely hard to turn down the opportunity to watch long-admired actors in the flesh, hence dragging myself to see A Christmas Carol for Jim Broadbent, overriding my Pinter-averse instincts to book for Timothy Spall in The Caretaker, and heading to Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Threlfall return to the RSC, over 35 years since he was last there.

Drawing him back is a new adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote by poet James Fenton (pulling the focus a bit in marking the 400th anniversary of someone else’s death) that is filled with mayhem and music and madness and melancholy. Determined to translate the world of chivalry of which he has read so much, Don Quixote sets out on his own quest to become a wandering knight, carrying out acts of derring-do with his hapless squire but finding that fictional romantic ideal increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote, Swan”

Review: After Electra, Tricycle

“How long was it supposed to go on – this mother thing?”

On the one hand, it’s rather flipping marvellous to see a play that places multiple older female characters at its heart, continuing the stirring efforts of Indhu Rubasingham’s artistic directorship at the Tricycle Theatre to continue to broaden the scope of the stories it tells, far beyond the white male dominance we often see on our stages. And its themes of individual expression versus maternal love fit neatly into an emerging trend that we’ve seen in contemporary plays I’ve really loved like Love Love Love and The Last of the Haussmans.

On the other hand, I’m not too sure that I really liked April De Angelis’ After Electra, a Theatre Royal Plymouth production directed here by Prince Caspian himself Samuel West. It has a sparky beginning as uncompromising artist Virgie decides to celebrate her 81st birthday with family and friends by declaring that she’s going to take her own life while she’s still compos mentis enough for it to be her decision. Notions of what longer life expectancy really means and how that impacts on familial relationships suggest something intriguing lurking in Michael Taylor’s handsomely appointed set. Continue reading “Review: After Electra, Tricycle”

Re-review: Visitors, Bush

“I wish I could put a pin in my life and say, this is the moment I became myself. This is the scene my life was about”

A last cheeky visit to the theatre before the Christmas break and hardly the most festive, given the subject matter at hand. But whilst a play about dementia might not seem like the most joyous of fare, Barney Norris’ Visitors – first seen at the Arcola earlier this year – is hugely life-affirming, joy-inducing and yes, tear-jerking in its sheer beauty. Linda Bassett and Robin Soans deliver what feel like career-best performances as an elderly couple coming to terms with her failing mind and Eleanor Wyld and Simon Muller complement them well as her carer and their son, also dealing with their own dilemmas in a world stripped of certainties. My original review says it all here, I highly recommend you book now.

Review: Visitors, Arcola

“If I could choose any life, I don’t think I’d have things very different from this”

Angela Lansbury may be getting audiences on their feet on Shaftesbury Avenue but for my money, you should be racing over to the Arcola to catch some of the most intensely fantastic acting currently happening. Visitors is Barney Norris’ first full-length play, for the Up In Arms theatre company he co-founded with Alice Hamilton (who directs here), and as a piece of restrained – though hugely affecting – realism, it is an absolute cracker.

Norris examines the corrosive impact of dementia on a Wiltshire farming family with huge skill, deftly exploring the ways in which people make their way through such situations, with love, compassion, comedy, fear, confusion, denial. Both in their 70s, Arthur and Edie are perfectly attuned to each other after many happy years of marriage but though they would happily continue as they are, her declining condition is proving impossible to ignore. Continue reading “Review: Visitors, Arcola”

Review: Unscorched, Finborough

“You go through life thinking there’s a limit to the things people will do to each other. But there’s not. There’s just not”

The Papatango New Writing Prize is now in its fifth year and continues its excellent working relationship with the Finborough Theatre in offering a month’s full run to the winning play. And following on from such interesting works as Dawn King’s Foxfinder and Louise Monaghan’s Pack, Luke Owen’s Unscorched feels a worthy winner, an intriguing debut play which navigates its intensely serious subject matter with a supremely deft touch.

That subject is child abuse, but specifically how it impacts those whose job it is to investigate the images and films that are flagged up as crimes against children. Owen’s play follows Tom as he starts a new job in such a digital analysis team and explores how the pervasive effects of what he has to watch permeate into every aspect of his life. Echoes of what he sees and hears taint his sense of normality, the challenge to his faith in human nature threatening his burgeoning relationship with the sweet Emily.  Continue reading “Review: Unscorched, Finborough”

Review: Dances of Death, Gate

“My nature may be flawed but I struggle to overcome it”
Is there anything more annoying than someone else having the same good idea as you at more or less the same time. Given the length of time it must take to actually commission a new version of a play and bring it to the stage, who knows when or whether these two coincided but either way, London now has its second new adaptation of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death in six months. Conor McPherson refreshed the play as part of the Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 but here at the Gate Theatre, Howard Brenton has taken a slightly different tack, incorporating the lesser seen second part to create Dances of Death
The play, as with much of Strindberg’s work, is a barrel of laughs. Edgar and Alice live on a remote Swedish island which is dominated by a military barracks but though they have been married for nearly 30 years, their relationship has deteriorated into a bitterly toxic mess as their disappointments in each other and the world around them has poisoned them to the point where it is this very hatred that sustains them. So much so, that the arrival of Kurt, a figure from their past, merely offers a new dimension to their war games as opposed to a potential exit strategy. It is vicious, bitter stuff, and in the intimacy of the Gate, ought to be near-unbearable.

But it never quite got under my skin and convinced me of its raw animosity. Michael Pennington and Linda Marlowe, excellent actors both, felt a little mannered in Tom Littler’s production, not quite surrendering entirely to the bleakness of Strindberg’s worldview. Why this is becomes more apparent with the introduction of a new generation in the second half, as we visit the children of our trio and see how the enmities of the past continue to shape the present but also get a hint of redemptive hope that just doesn’t feel entirely earned.
I liked both Edward Franklin and Eleanor Wyld (still one of my ones to watch) as the next generation but the way in which Edgar and Kurt’s rivalry trundled on lost much of the venom of the sustained onslaught of the first half – just how dense is Kurt…the play doesn’t benefit from giving him more exposure at all. Maybe I would have enjoyed this more had I not seen The Dance of Death so recently but I can’t help but feel that this production doesn’t quite live up to the considerable reputation of this theatre and the fierce emotion that it often provokes. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval) 
Playtext cost: £5
Booking until 6th July

Review: Antigone, Southwark Playhouse

“Tyranny has many ways of prospering, since it can do and say what it will”

Productions of Greek tragedies have now been running for literally thousands of years due to the enduring relevance of much of their content, especially in the corrupting influence of holding power. Using Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1991 translation, Primavera’s production of Sophocles’ Antigone for the Southwark Playhouse places the action squarely in a modern-day Middle East, full of political turmoil and regime changes.

Thebes has suffered years of war and oppression but when a final bloody battle leaves the two brothers battling for the throne dead, the new leader, Kreon makes moves to impose his rule. One brother will be buried with full honours, but the rebel one will be left to rot in the sand, the greatest punishment imaginable. His decision shocks many, in particular the dead brothers’ sister Antigone, whose determination to see the correct funeral rites observed leads to tragic conclusions. Continue reading “Review: Antigone, Southwark Playhouse”