Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“Keith, KEITH, it’s just two fellas kissing”

There was a moment towards the end of this performance, as Ferdy Robert’s burly roadie of a Puck launched into his epilogue, that perfectly encapsulates just how brilliant Filter are and also what magical power theatre can weave over even the rowdiest teenagers. Roberts began “if we shadows have offended” and was interrupted by loud, almost nervous, laughter. He looked up, gently but unflinchingly at the young woman and her friend until they quietened down, and then continued, addressing them directly at first and then widening out to the auditorium as a whole, our entire attention rapt.

It’s no mean feat to keep a theatre full of schoolkids hooked in silence (I attended the final preview), especially when the nature of this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so raucous and riotous. It played the Lyric Hammersmith back in 2012 and if it doesn’t have quite the same multiple surprise element as before, it is still highly amusing second time round. Co-directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll have condensed the play right down with the company and reconstructed it in their own image, at once deeply respectful of Shakespeare yet also utterly anarchic in the way it is presented here. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”

I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.

Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

Review: Plaques and Tangles, Royal Court

“It’ll be bad for other people”

Like a Rubik’s Cube forever going wrong, Megan’s memory – ravaged by early onset Alzheimer’s – keeps shifting and reforming itself in endless configurations that don’t quite work. And so in Nicola Wilson’s Plaques and Tangles, we see her at different ages, skittering from 21 to 47, juddering between 32 and 27, her very sense of self fractured by a cruelly progressive disease which in her darkest moments, leaves her unaware if she is even awake or hallucinating in the traverse cocoon of Andrew D Edwards’ set design.

This is made more poignantly powerful by the fact that she has a family, two kids and a husband who suffer alongside her but more often isolated from her as the wife and mother they love becomes harder to find. And with the disease having a high genetic propensity, Wilson’s play probes into the messy ethics of early diagnosis – we first meet Megan on the day she discovers she has a 50-50 chance of developing it – which just happens to be on her hen night – but becomes ambivalent once given the chance to find out for sure. Continue reading “Review: Plaques and Tangles, Royal Court”

Downloadable dramas – Lampedusa and Elegy

“We live with unspeakable losses, and most of us move on”

A bit of a treat for you, with audio adaptations of two recent hard-hitting plays available to download.

Marking Refugee Week and the end of a four year journey for this play, Douglas Rintoul’s Elegy can be downloaded both high and lower quality from this very webpage and there’s a digital programme and the text available for you as well to make a comprehensive little package. This Transport Theatre production is a devastating piece of documentary theatre, charting the horrendous experiences of gay Iraqi refugees as they were forced to flee their homeland. I saw it back in 2012 and it has stayed with me ever since, I definitely recommend giving this a listen. 

And as something of an accidental companion piece, Lampedusa blew me away at the Soho Theatre back in April this year, hitting a shocking vein of synchronicity as news of boatloads of refugees dying in the Mediterranean suddenly dominated the front pages. HighTide’s production of Anders Lustgarten’s play will be returning to the Soho at the end of the month but you can listen to an adaptation of it now on the Guardian website or download it as an mp3 and partake of it at your leisure. Again, it is often brutal but remains a powerful piece of theatre that speaks so much to our current time.

Photo: Jonny Birch

Review: Lampedusa, Soho Theatre

“Blaming ‘fucking migrants’ for every single thing we don’t like about ourselves”

There’s something rather ingenious about Lucy Osborne’s design for Anders Lustgarten’s new play Lampedusa. It’s the type of set that invites descriptors like ‘bare’ and ‘minimal’ (cf the Guardian’s reduction of Jan Versweyveld’s Olivier-nominated work to “there is no set”) when you walk into the upstairs space at the Soho Theatre, there appears to be nothing but circular, backless benches on which we must gather around. But even the act of taking a seat becomes charged with something more as the collective gaze of the audience is turned in on each other, even before the play has started.

That’s the point that Steven Atkinson’s production skilfully but pointedly makes, and that Osborne’s design in all its ostensible simplicity never lets us forget, that – to coin a phrase – we’re all in this together. As the voices of an Italian coastguard and a Yorkshire payday loan collector speak out from in among us, you realise there but for the grace of God – the people forced to flee persecution or government crackdowns, those who suffer the indignities of derogatory language spat at them or ATOS’ risible assessment procedure, those left with no choice but to make desperate, desperate decisions – it could be us, it is us.  Continue reading “Review: Lampedusa, Soho Theatre”

DVD Review: What You Will

“It’s brilliant not to be me”

On my way to Bristol to see Filter take on Macbeth, I thought I would take the opportunity to watch What You Will, a mockumentary that follows an innovative theatre company as they put on a touring production of Twelfth Night. It comes off a little like the behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques as actors play actors who are in turn acting, so Ferdy Roberts plays a guy called Greg who plays Malvolio in the show – it’s a disarming and discombobulating approach which never quite settles in my opinion.

This devised approach clearly has great appeal for the Filter company and the way they work but it is hard not to think that it overcomplicates the matter somewhat. For when it just plays out, it is really very amusing. The trials of a touring theatre company – the precious egos, the heavy drinking, the thwarted ambitions, the strained relationships, the poor ticket sales, the last minute crises, all are played out as they travel the country touring their show professionally but barely holding it together personally. Continue reading “DVD Review: What You Will”

Review: Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

“What kind of man would you be without the theatre”

I can’t lie – I had rather low expectations when it came to the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, not helped by rewatching the film recently and marvelling at how it managed to win 7 Academy Awards back in 1999. But I equally have to admit to being swept away by Declan Donellan’s production of Lee Hall’s adaptation which is set to open this week at the Noël Coward Theatre, it managing to find an identity of its own (after a relatively slow start) to try and recapture the hearts of audiences anew.

Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay saw Shakespeare as a jobbing playwright, tussling for commissions with friendly rival Kit Marlowe and dealing with a particularly sticky case of writer’s block. With his unhappily married wife and kids sequestered in Stratford-upon-Avon, he embarks on a forbidden affair with noblewoman Viola de Lesseps, who has her own battles to face in being denied the career on the stage that she craves and being married off to the obnoxious Wessex. Their romantic strife thus provides the creative spark for Will to write Romeo and Juliet.

Where the film did work for me was in the overload of Shakespearean puns worked into the script, often wittily suggesting that the bard took inspiration from all around him; where it did not was with the central romance which lacked any real sense of passion for me. Funnily enough, the converse was pretty much true here. Tom Bateman’s freshly appealing Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s hugely characterful Viola have enormous chemistry and theirs is a romance to root for.

Instead, the repeated gags of references to other Shakespeare plays prove to be something of a hindrance, occasionally interrupting the flow of the show –(the ‘out damned spot’ bit takes way too long of a set-up although the payoff is fun) – and often falling flat. Without them being cleverly worked in (like ‘tomorrow’ ‘and tomorrow’), they lose their impact, Will just declaring ‘oh brave new world’ as he schtups Viola doesn’t really mean anything at all. Equally, the delayed John Webster joke flew over the heads of the majority of this particular audience!

Fortunately there’s much more to the production as well. Paddy Cunneen’s highly atmospheric music is sung and played live onstage, Nick Ormerod’s inventive design allows for both the intimate and the grand, and the brightness of the supporting cast – David Oakes’ twinkle-eyed Marlowe, Ferdy Roberts’ Fenniman, David Ganly’s Burbage and Paul Chahidi’s Henslowe just to name a few, give real life to the Elizabethan theatrical world.

And this is where the show really works, a Noises Off-esque sequence that takes place backstage as a play goes on is really well put together, combining great humour and pathos, and the rivalries and relationships between the playwrights and theatre managers give rise to a wonderful sense of community, ending up as a love letter to the theatre as much to Shakespeare himself.

Photos: Johan Persson
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 25th October

Review: Talk Show, Royal Court

“I am sure you can all tell we’re going to have a great show tonight”

‘The show must go on’. Rarely can the oft-glibly offered aphorism have possessed such poignant resonance as at the Royal Court over the past week. Alistair McDowell’s Talk Show should have marked the end of the hugely ambitious weekly rep season, with a company of fourteen actors working their way through six new plays with just a week’s rehearsal for each. But instead, the news that company member Paul Bhattacharjee had gone missing during rehearsals, being followed by the discovery of his body a week later cast the most tragic sheen over the show.

The company opted to continue, initially recasting his (relatively small) role and then dedicating the remainder of the run to him. An incredibly tough decision at the best of times but sitting through the play and realising it touched so deeply on the emotional inarticulacy of generations of men, to the point where suicide becomes a viable option, there’s an almost incomprehensible poignancy about the determination to honour a colleague’s memory. Continue reading “Review: Talk Show, Royal Court”

Review: Pigeons, Royal Court

“Shit that went wrong right wrong (again)”

Spin number three on the Royal Court’s weekly rep wheel focuses on a new British writer Suhayla El-Bushra. Much of her previous work has been teen-focused, including Hollyoaks, and so it is little surprise that her play Pigeons centres on two childhood friends as they make the difficult transition into manhood in a world that dreams of multiculturalism. Through the haze of casual drug use, furtive blow-jobs under the counter, bunking off schools and listening to some bangin’ choons, Ashley and Amir find their lives inexorably pulled apart on different paths yet fatefully destined to clash together again. 

El-Bushra has fractured her timeline so that her play starts at the end and then moves back and forth in time to show the boys in the various stages of their relationship. A product of the care home system, Ashley loves playing the Sarf London wideboy with Ryan Sampson affecting some wonderfully vivid street speak, but he finds a kind of contentment in Amir’s family home. And along with Nav Sidhu’s Amir, they both enjoy the teenage rites of passage – Angela Terence’s Leah delivering their sexual awakenings – and the journey into something darker as the spectre of racial prejudice rears its ugly head.  Continue reading “Review: Pigeons, Royal Court”

Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court

 “Do you know what is going on in Georgia?”

In a bold move as her opening salvo as incoming Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone has reimagined the way in which theatre is consumed in this venue with a range of innovative approaches suggested by a group of over 140 writers. The biggest of these is probably the Weekly Rep, a company of 14 actors and 4 directors performing 6 plays by new writers over 6 weeks, which started tonight with Georgian playwright Lasha Bugadze’s The President Has Come To See You, previously seen here as a rehearsed reading earlier in the year.

Knowing my all-or-nothing tendencies, I had hoped that the ensemble would be full of actors I did not care for so that I’d be able to resist booking, but it was not to be with the likes of a re-bearded Ferdy Roberts, Ryan Sampson, Laura Elphinstone and Siobhan Redmond luring me to Sloane Square, even though the prospect of the play itself did not really appeal. And it was that inner voice nagging away that I ought to have paid more attention to, as the bizarre twists and turns of this post-Soviet surrealist adventure left me cold. Continue reading “Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court”