Review: Oslo, National Theatre

“The Americans cannot stand it when others take the lead”

What does it take to get peace in the Middle East? Some determined Norwegians and a plate or two of tasty waffles apparently… At a leisurely three hours in length and set around the Oslo Peace Accords, JT Rogers’ Oslo might not on the face of it seem like theatrical gold but it won a Tony on Broadway and such was the confidence in this production that a West End run was booked in to follow its short engagement at the National before a ticket had even been sold.

And it is a confidence that has paid off handsomely. Bartlett Sher’s direction has an epic sweep to its depiction of world affairs but Rogers’ writing shines through its focus on the intimate detail, on the personal struggle, sacrifice and success of the individuals who managed to break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and work towards the unimaginable – a lasting peace. History has shown us the reality of that, something acknowledged in a coda here, but it is still thrilling to watch. Continue reading “Review: Oslo, National Theatre”

Review: Persuasion, Royal Exchange

“We cannot all live in a fairytale”

 
I’ve been looking forward to Jeff James’ reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion ever since it was announced, James having worked with Ivo van Hove as an associate director and the evidence of his work that I’ve seen thus far (in La Musica) really impressing. The influence from the Belgian master is palpable but it is manifesting itself in fascinating ways, interrogating notions of adaptation and theatrical experience in ways that we too rarely see in the UK.

You see it in the ways that he uses the relatively inflexible space of the Royal Exchange (IMHO van Hove rarely gets the credit he deserves for the way in which he reinvents theatrical space) and the way he positions his actors, saying so much about relationships and their dynamics without a word. And Alex Lowde’s supremely contemporary design boldly situates this Regency drama in the here and now, shifting even within itself in showing us Anne Elliot’s world. Continue reading “Review: Persuasion, Royal Exchange”

Casting news for Persuasion and Anatomy of a Suicide

 

 
I’ve already written of my excitement for the forthcoming Persuasion  and the announcement of the cast hasn’t lessened the thrill at all. Lara Rossi takes on the role of Austen’s heroine Anne alongside Samuel Edward-Cook as Captain Wentworth. The cast is completed by Geraldine Alexander, Antony Bunsee, Helen Cripps, Cassie Layton, Caroline Moroney, Dorian Simpson and Arthur Wilson. 
 
Directing them is Jeff James, “one of the UK’s most original young theatre makers”, who has adapted and is directing this bold retelling of Jane Austen’s final masterpiece at the Royal Exchange Theatre. Designed by Alex Lowde this contemporary production of Austen’s beautifully crafted novel discards the bonnets and trappings of formal life for a startlingly modern vision of Austen. Developed in collaboration with dramaturg James Yeatman and with sound design from the award-winning Ben and Max Ringham, Persuasion runs from 25 May to 24 June 2017.

 

Continue reading “Casting news for Persuasion and Anatomy of a Suicide”

Review: In Skagway, Arcola

“I want some nice tasty salty-in-the-mouth cheese. CHEEEEEEEESE!!!”

One of the reasons I like going to the Arcola is that the Sainsburys nearby stocks one of my favourite cheeses in the world – Grandma Singleton’s tasty Lancashire if you’re interested – and so I duly made my trip to the Kingsland Shopping Centre before making my way over to the Arcola for In Skagway. So it was quite amusing to hear one of the characters talk about wanting cheese during the play – if only it had been amusing in a good way.

For I really didn’t enjoy the play at all. Karen Ardiff’s story of four women stuck in the Alaskan town of Skagway at the tail end of the gold rush failed to grab me from the start, her characterisations simultaneously thinly drawn and utterly predictable, her dialogue so full of cliché as to be laughable. Throw in a lead character who has had a stroke and so communicates via voiceover, numerous flashbacks and dreamlike sequences and there’s something close to an unholy mess. Continue reading “Review: In Skagway, Arcola”

Review: Amygdala, Print Room Balcony

“I should imagine perspective plays a part”

Geraldine Alexander’s last stage outing in The Empty Quarter was pretty astoundingly good so I was intrigued to see how her debut as a playwright would turn out in Amygdala, tucked away in a found space at The Print Room. Hermione Gulliford plays Catherine, a successful lawyer with a busy family life who finds herself unravelling when a chance encounter on a bus leads to a heady affair with a handsome young man, Alex Lanipekun’s Joshua, but one with terrible consequences.

In the aftermath, Jasper Britton’s psychiatrist Simon is charged with trying to fix the emotional wreckage, the damage done to the ‘amygdala’ – the part of the brain where emotion and memory reside – but in delving into her psyche, he unwittingly stirs part of his own. It is a simply drawn play – although one full of densely complex thoughts and writing – but one in which both of Catherine’s key relationships feel curiously unrealistic – the therapist’s couch unleashes a high degree of unprofessionalism and the affair feels a little convenient.

That said, there is no doubting the quality of the acting in Alexander’s production (she directs too) particularly from Gulliford in the intense later stages of the play. Britton is strong too as he tries to suggest why such a seasoned worker might be tempted to cross a crucial boundary and Lanipekun plays off his handsome looks most effectively. The awkwardness of the space means that the production always seems like it is struggling against something but given the nature of the writing, it almost seems appropriate.


Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 14th December

Review: The Empty Quarter, Hampstead Downstairs

“It’s easy to get carried away here, it happens to everyone”

Alexandra Wood’s The Empty Quarter may find itself the victim of slightly unfortunate timing – a play about tough working conditions in the oil-rich Gulf States would lead many, who have seen recent headlines, to thoughts of the horrendous plight of migrant workers in Qatar. That the play is actually about a much higher grade of worker in Dubai, housed in palatial flats and raking in a healthy tax-free income, may initially throw you, but the story it tells of the strictures of life on the Arabian Peninsula has its own compelling drama.

From the outset, it is clear that mid-twenties couple Greg and Holly haven’t quite taken to Dubai like the proverbial duck to water. What seemed attractive in the brochures seems unreal and hollow in the flesh, the comparative social isolation is particularly hard for Holly who isn’t working and an ill-advised jaunt into the desert resulted in something like second-degree burns. But when Greg takes matters into his own hands and quits his job, they discover that the rules are entirely different out here and that they’re in for the long haul whether they like it or not. Continue reading “Review: The Empty Quarter, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Strange Interlude, National Theatre

“What am I doing here?”

When a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude was first announced as part of the National Theatre’s summer programme, the five hour running time of the original struck a note of fear in many a heart of those who are used to the cheap seats in the Lyttelton Theatre. And though it has been trimmed down to 3 hours 20 minutes in Simon Godwin’s production, it still proves something of a considerable challenge – not least because I could not see for the life of me why it has been revived.

Due to its length and winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1928, it is no surprise that it ticks the ‘rarely performed classics’ box and featuring an absolute doozy of a central female role in Nina Leeds, it is no typical piece of theatre. Sadly, its main innovation – characters speaking their many, many internal thoughts out loud as asides – is one which felt far too similar to last week’s Passion Play to really impress. And it also makes what ought to be more seriously considered drama into an unexpected campfest that feels more like an American soap opera like Dynasty or Sunset Beach but with none of the schlocky enjoyment. Continue reading “Review: Strange Interlude, National Theatre”

Review: For Once, Hampstead Downstairs

“Perhaps this is what everyone else does, perhaps this is what adults do. I can just act happy.”

The Michael Frayn Space downstairs at the Hampstead Theatre has become something of a hot venue. A space for more experimental fare than one might be accustomed to in Swiss Cottage, it has not been a place where press critics have been invited to, instead encouraging audience feedback as plays are developed there. But in a change of policy, the doors to Pentabus Theatre’s For Once were opened and deservedly so, as it is a beautifully written, powerfully affecting play.

It is playwright Tim Price’s debut work, though he is one to watch with an upcoming play forming part of this year’s Donmar at Trafalgar Studios season and another commission for National Theatre Wales appearing next year. And with this three-hander about a family recovering from the aftermath of a terrible car accident that has sent shockwaves through the isolated rural community in which they live, he demonstrates a real skill for sensitive storytelling, resonating with a genuine understanding of the emotional interplay of people struggling to return to everyday life. Continue reading “Review: For Once, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre

From where preconceptions come I am not entirely sure, but I’ve never been a fan of Ibsen’s plays even when they come as highly recommended as this production of Pillars of the Community at the National Theatre. The play marks the centenary of Ibsen’s death and is apparently one of his lesser performed works, something that doesn’t always inspire the greatest of confidences.

The play centres around Karsten Bernick, an avaricious and deceitful man who has climbed the greasy pole to become something of a bigwig in his small Norwegian town and managed to create an allure of benevolence and good standing in the community. But skeletons in the closet have a way of re-emerging and when two members of his extended family, who know all of his dirty secrets, return from America, Bernick is challenged to discover just how far he is willing to go to protect his reputation and continue to ignore his conscience. Continue reading “Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre”