Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
After being pleasantly surprised by how much fun Nativitywas, it seemed only natural to watch the sequelNativity 2 – Danger in the Manger when it appeared in the festive TV schedule too. Sad to say it didn’t live up to its predecessor, its attempts to replicate the formula losing much of the charm that made the first movie something of a real treasure. Writer and director Debbie Isitt returned to the improvised style that saw her company of kids and adults work without a script or advance knowledge of how the plot would unfold, but the problem lies in that uninspired narrative.
We’re still at St Bernadette’s, but Martin Freeman’s Mr Maddens has been replaced by David Tennant’s Mr Peterson, the school nativity has been replaced by a national ‘Song for Christmas’ competition and Marc Wootton’s irrepressible teaching assistant Mr Poppy remains very much in situ. And it is the nonsense that his actions provokes that proves the tipping point here – from purloined babies and donkeys to reckless child endangerment and the very fact that he’s teaching a class alone, Poppy’s character is a huge ask even when not taking it too seriously and for me, he was too grating too often. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger”
“There’s no more to be said For when we are dead We may understand it all”
Commemorating the start of the First World War has turned into something of a full-time business for the nation’s theatres but in reviving the rarely-seen 1927 Sean O’Casey anti-war piece The Silver Tassie, the National Theatre has hit on something special. The play is structurally extraordinary in the difference of its four acts – a vaudevillian take on an Irish household transforms memorably into the visceral horror of a battlefield haunted by music hall songs, after the interval a hospital-set comedy eventually turns into stark realism, as the shattering effects of war on society are laid bare. Howard Davies’ epic production forges through blood and noise to find a most painful truth.
The cumulative effect may challenge some and is certainly disorientating at times but it also has a form of progression that feels natural, like feeling a way through what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Opening in the Dublin tenement home of the Heegans, the play riffs on Irish stereotypes through the clownish figures of Sylvester and Simon and the neighbourhood archetypes they teasingly mock but soon allows young gun Harry Heegan to take centre stage, boasting the trophy – the Silver Tassie – he and his teammates have won playing soccer, just before they head off to join the British war effort. Continue reading “Review: The Silver Tassie, National Theatre”
It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Adam Wimpenny’s film Roaris a slow-burning look at what happens when a customer gives a well-meaning key-cutter the brushoff. Jodie Whittaker’s Eva has just had a dodgy experience picking up her dry cleaning from Tom Burke’s salacious Mick and Tom, Russell Tovey, who works in the same shop follows her to make amends. But she understandably doesn’t want to know and J.S. Hill’s story turns its gaze onto Tom and the loneliness of his life. It’s Christmastime and so his estrangement from his father cuts particularly hard but as his attempts at contact are rebuffed, something breaks inside of him… Wimpenny builds the tension of the film excellently, giving us a sense of how desolate watching others’ festive joy can make a person and finding genuinely chilling moments to make us jump. Not one to watch on your own in the dark.
In some ways, it might be best to come to Theatre O’s version of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent with some fore-knowledge of that classic novel to help guide you through this expressionistic interpretation. But in others, it might be better to know nothing as this adaptation proves sometimes problematic in its marriage of physical theatre with the conventions of narrative storytelling. Devised for the Edinburgh festival ahead of a national tour, and now revised, the show lands at the Young Vic where its delights and frustrations can be sampled over a short run.
The company make their intentions clear from the start, a vaudevillean whirl of stylised Victoriana strikes a bold pose and it isn’t long before there’s audience participation, puppets aplenty and a definite air of parodic comedy. But as the silliness subsides, a clearer sense of Conrad’s story emerges and one is struck by how remarkably prescient his writing from 1907 is to our day and age. His world of insurgent terrorism, dark shadows tearing families apart, is told via the story of Adolf Verloc, a hapless would-be spy given with the onerous task of bombing the Greenwich Observatory.
The main problem with this is that having started off with a light-hearted, almost jovial tone, asking the audience to then take these characters so deadly seriously feels like a big ask and one not necessarily deserved. But as the play winds to its violent climax, it does eventually start to strike a more apposite tone with performances shining through the pandemonium – Helena Lymbery’s Professor a chilling presence, Carolina Valdés’ anguished sister – suggesting the hints of what could have been with a more cohesive approach to the story or the style.
Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Playtext cost: £5
Booking until 21st September, then tours to West Yorkshire Playhouse, Warwick Arts Centre, Northern Stage and Theatre Royal Plymouth
Lucy Cohu has the dubious pleasure of being one of the few women I would probably turn for, she radiates an old-school glamour and sensuality that I find near-irresistable and I’ve loved the few stage performances of hers I have been able to catch (Speaking in Tongues, Broken Glassand A Delicate Balance). So I was quite happy to take in the Channel 4 television movie The Queen’s Sister, in which she took the lead role of Princess Margaret, in the name of the Jubilee Weekend 😉
It’s a semi-fictionalised account of her life by Craig Warner (although knowing so little of the reality, I couldn’t have told you what was real and what wasn’t) which focuses on her struggles against the establishment as she followed a life of largely wanton hedonism and leaving a trail of paramours behind her. Whether her previously married lover whom she was forbidden from wedding, the long-suffering husband prone to infidelity, the young pop singer who offers a faint hope of redemption, her relentless partying, fondness of always having a drink in her hand and general spoiltness consistently makes life difficult for herself. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Queen’s Sister”
Another of those random charity shop bargains was this double DVD sets of modern Shakespeare adaptations – ShakespeaRe-Told (I bet that was a smug day when that title was revealed!). The first disc features rewrites of Much Ado About Nothing by David Nicholls and Macbethby Peter Moffatt shifting the plays to a modern context and employing starry ensemble casts.
Much Ado About Nothinghas been relocated to a local news station in Dorset where Sarah Parish’s Beatrice is reunited with former colleague Benedick, Damian Lewis sporting an epic moustache – who never quite got round to getting together when they worked together before – on the news desk of Wessex TV. Hero is the weather girl, daughter of the station manager, newly engaged to Claude on the sports desk though Don from Visual Effects has been nurturing an epic crush on her too and so sets about a dastardly plan to break up the engagement. Continue reading “DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth”
“There is a destiny that shapes our ends…rough-hew them how we may”
Edmond saw a couple of firsts: my first promenade production and my first ever trip to Wilton’s Music Hall, the oldest and last surviving grand music hall in the world apparently: it is a venue that has only recently come to my attention with some interesting programming, indeed Fiona Shaw will be performing The Waste Land there next month. Sadly though, the hall is semi-derelict and fighting a losing battle to secure the funds to be able to keep it open and serviceable, a shame as it really is an interesting place.
Marking Elliot Cowan’s directorial debut, this site-specific production of Edmond, David Mamet’s 1982 play, makes the most of its venue, utilising varying locations within the Wilton’s complex. Telling the story of a regular white-collar American chap whose meeting with a fortune-teller, who tells him “you are not where you belong”, sets him off on a journey through the seedy underbelly of New York city life, Edmond’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as less palatable sides of his character rise to the fore, in his search for self-discovery and redemption for his actions. Continue reading “Review: Edmond, Wilton’s Music Hall”
Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadiafirst played at the National Theatre in 1993, and this is the first revival of it since then. It takes place in a country house in England, but in two different time periods: the early 1800s and modern-day 1989. It is an extremely difficult play to try and summarise but I will try and give it a shot.
In 1809, a precocious teenager, Thomasina, is studying with her tutor, Septimus Hodge who is a colleague of the poet Lord Byron, and it is apparent that her knowledge is vastly superior to his, especially in the field of mathematics where her musings show her to be well ahead of her time. In 1989, a writer is looking into the life of a hermit who apparently lived in the grounds of the stately home, when a visiting academic stops by looking for help with his investigations into a period of Byron’s life about which little is known. Painstakingly, and with the help of the current residents of the house, including Valentine Coverley who is a student of advanced mathematical biology, pieces of evidence are recovered and we slowly begin to find out what really happened nearly 200 years ago.