TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3

Episode 3 of Unprecedented proves a bleak and brutal one-two of hard-hitting Covid drama

“I don’t see what good it does to worry, sitting around panicking”

Due to the (presumably intentional) programming, Part 1 and Part 2 of Unprecedented – Headlong and Century Films’ creative response to Coronavirus – found a sense of balance in their collections of short plays, tragicomic probably being the watchword. Episode 3 however goes all in on the tragedy, making it a pretty bleak half hour.

First up is Duncan Macmillan’s Grounded, directed by Jeremy Herrin, which takes aim at the generation gap and how that has dictated people’s response to the crisis. Katherine Parkinson’s event planner is wracked with job worries and concerns over her ability to home-school. But what really drives her over the edge is the casualness with which her retired parents are taking the whole affair, screaming into the ether as they amble on as if life hasn’t changed but at all. Alison Steadman and Michael Elwyn are excellent as the slightly daffy, devoted couple belatedly coming round to the seriousness of it all. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3”

News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation

Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”

Full list of 2019 UK Theatre Awards winners

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And looking at this list of winners, it was a great day for Sheffield Theatres!

Best New Play
WINNER LIFE OF PI adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti from the novel by Yann Martel – a Sheffield Theatres production
THE WATSONS by Laura Wade – a Chichester Festival Theatre production
ULSTER AMERICAN by David Ireland – a Traverse Theatre Company production at Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Best Musical Production
THE COLOR PURPLE
directed by Tinuke Craig – a Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome co-production
WINNER STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE directed by Robert Hastie – a Sheffield Theatres production
WEST SIDE STORY directed by Sarah Frankcom – a Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester production Continue reading “Full list of 2019 UK Theatre Awards winners”

Nominations for the 2019 UK Theatre Awards

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have just announced the nominations for the 2019 awards, the results of which will be revealed at a ceremony on Sunday 27th October. It’s always interesting to see a different perspective on award season, particularly one that doesn’t focus on London productions, but it does make me wish I’d could have taken in a few more of these UK-wide shows from this year.

Best New Play
LIFE OF PI adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti from the novel by Yann Martel – a Sheffield Theatres production
THE WATSONS by Laura Wade – a Chichester Festival Theatre production
ULSTER AMERICAN by David Ireland – a Traverse Theatre Company production at Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Best Musical Production
THE COLOR PURPLE
directed by Tinuke Craig – a Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome co-production
STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE directed by Robert Hastie – a Sheffield Theatres production
WEST SIDE STORY directed by Sarah Frankcom – a Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester production Continue reading “Nominations for the 2019 UK Theatre Awards”

Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre

A characterful slice of seedy Soho life,  Absolute Hell is anything but at the National Theatre

“You won’t call the police, I’ll call the police”

We’ve all got a history, a bit of a chequered past and Rodney Ackland’s play Absolute Hell is no exception. Premiered in 1952 under the title The Pink Room, it received an enormous critical drubbing which led to a 40 year near-silence from the playwright. But as time passes, trends shift and plays eventually get rewritten, a new version of the drama emerged in the late 1980s to considerably more success.

It is that version that is being revived here by Joe Hill-Gibbins with the kind of luxury casting that National Theatres are made for. And with the world of this slice-of-life play being made up of a vast ensemble of characters, it’s a great fit. Absolute Hell is set in a Soho members club in the period between the end of WWII and the Labour general election win and follows its patrons as they retreat from the social (and physical) upheaval of wartime into a fug of drink, drugs and debauchery. Continue reading “Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre”

Review: The Beaux’ Stratagem, National Theatre

“A man dare not play the tyrant in London, because there are so many examples to encourage the subject to rebel.”

It may be The Beaux’ Stratagem but it is Mrs Sullen’s play. The most striking thing about Simon Godwin’s production of George Farquhar’s final Restoration comedy is its determinedly proto-feminist stance as Mrs Sullen – an independently wealthy woman now desperately unhappily married – is given surprising agency to express herself in a meaningful way and attempt to extricate herself from her situation. And in Susannah Fielding’s superbly silken performance, she’s exquisitely played as an almost tragicomic figure, endlessly entertaining in the raucous romping around but as Jon Clark’s lighting picks her out at the end of each act, capable of holding the entire Olivier theatre’s hearts in her hands.

The beaux ain’t too bad either. Farquhar’s plot centres on their attempts to marry into money after squandering their fortunes in London. Hoping news of their disgrace hasn’t reached the provinces, they head north and stop off in Lichfield, pretending to be master and servant, where their attentions fall on a rich young heiress and her unhappily married sister-in-law. Samuel Barnett’s Aimwell and Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Archer are a witty pair of fellows indeed, with a cracking line in beautifully cut overcoats too, as their avaricious adventures are soon overturned by amorous attentions as they can’t help but fall head over well-turned heel for their marks. Continue reading “Review: The Beaux’ Stratagem, National Theatre”

Review: Dara, National Theatre

“I am Muslim, but my humanness is shared with anyone and everyone. If we choose to love one special person, does it mean that they are the only person worth loving? ‘To you, your religion, to me, mine’. ‘There is no obligation in religion’ – straight from the Quran. We cannot force our religion upon others.”

For all the gnashing of teeth about how ‘national’ Rufus Norris’ newly announced debut season as AD at the NT is or isn’t, there’s actually something much more significant happening right now as part of Nicholas Hytner’s finale. The press attention may be on Tom Stoppard’s return to the stage but over in the Lyttelton, the first South Asian play to run at this South Bank venue is doing that most idealised of theatrical practices – reaching out and engaging with new audiences.

I saw a late preview of Shahid Nadeem’s Dara and I was blown away at how mixed a crowd I was taking my seat with – there’s undoubtedly a more sophisticated debate to be had about people wanting to see stories they can directly connect with rather than being more adventurous but still, it felt like a significant enough matter that I wanted to make mention of. And as critics will be seeing the show with a more than likely traditional press night audience, it isn’t something they’ll necessarily pick up on. Continue reading “Review: Dara, National Theatre”

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre

“The world doesn’t work in our favour”

Rufus Norris is set to take over the artistic directorship of the National Theatre in April next year but makes an admirably bold move in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Adapted by David Hare from the 2012 non-fiction work of the same name by Katherine Boo, who spent three years living, investigating and writing about life in the Indian slum of Annawadi which lies in the shadow of Mumbai airport, it’s sprawling and scrappy yet epic and enlightening as it elucidates something of what it means to be this far below the poverty line. It is rarely comfortable viewing but its unflinching and unsentimental approach feels essential.

Whether accurate or overemphasised, a strongly matriarchal societal structure emerges in this version of Annawadi as wives and mothers seize the initiative in the face of feckless husbands and sheer necessity. Which results in the pleasing preponderance of excellent female roles – Stephanie Street’s Sikh Asha is the fixer for the entire neighbourhood, putting work at the expense of even a special birthday party her kids have put on; Thusitha Jayasundera’s crippled Fatima is a cyclone of malevolent anger that dominates her household; and Meera Syal’s practical Zehrunisa looks set to secure her family’s future out of the slum with some canny deal-making. Continue reading “Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre”

Review: From Morning to Midnight, National Theatre

“Well, that was a bit odd”

Sometimes, one knows from the first moments of a show that it just isn’t going to be your cup of tea. And so it was with the opening montage of Melly Still’s new production of From Morning to Midnight, a landmark of German expressionism apparently but for me, a hugely ambitious piece of stagecraft that indulges far too much overt theatricality at the expense of dramatic integrity. It is worth noting ‘twas a preview that I saw and one in which understudy Jack Tarlton had to step in for the injured Adam Godley in the lead role.

Georg Kaiser’s 1912 play uses an episodic form to tell the story of an everyday clerk who is jolted from the mundaneness of his existence when a sultry Italian wanders into his bank, inspiring him to seize the day and make a change to his dull family life. That he does by stealing 60,000 marks from the bank with the intention of eloping with this woman but when she rejects him, the clerk delves into a journey of the soul – both actual and metaphysical – that lasts for a day but feels like a lifetime. Continue reading “Review: From Morning to Midnight, National Theatre”