Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre

Antony and Cleopatra is a lengthy evening at the National Theatre but one which pays rich rewards, particularly in Sophie Okonedo’s majestic performance

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me”

Or Cleopatra and Antony as it turns out. Ralph Fiennes is plenty good in Simon Godwin’s modern-dress production of Antony and Cleopatra for the National Theatre, but Sophie Okonedo is sit-up, shut-up, stand-up amazing as she holds the ancient world and the entirety of the Olivier Theatre in her hand (and then wipes it clean with a look of disdain, as she wittily does after a messenger slobbers kisses all over it at one point). It is often acclaimed as one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles for women but an actor still has to do great things with it and here, Okonedo more than delivers.

In the opulent cerulean blue of Hildegard Bechtler’s design with its sunken pools and luxury, and in the magnificent array of statuesque costumes by Evie Gurney (such capes!!), her Cleopatra is a figure of immense poise. Even in her most capricious moments, there’s a knowing, performative quality to her that demonstrates just how much she’s controlling the narrative here, even when left alone by her Antony. And when together, there’s a palpable, mature connection between them – made all the more tragic by a prologue that presents a tableau of the final scene – their destinies entwining even as they’re increasingly doomed. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre”

Review: The Greatest Wealth, Old Vic

Paying tribute to the NHS in its 70th year, the specially-commissioned monologues of The Greatest Wealth made for a great night at the Old Vic

“It’s a wonderful idea
It’s a marvellous idea
It’s such a very good idea”

It’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be here but for the NHS – it changed my life as a young boy, it saved my life as a teenager who didn’t look both ways. A story I imagine which finds resonance with so very many of us in the UK but as this venerable institution marks its 70th birthday, it finds itself under siege more than ever. So what better time to reflect on what has been, what is and what yet might be for our National Health Service.

Curated by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Adrian Lester, The Greatest Wealth took the form of a series of specially-commissioned world-premiere monologues, each responding to a particular decade of the NHS’s existence. Exploring the myriad ways in which it has become an integral part of the social and economic fabric of the nation, it proved a varied and thoughtful evening.

Continue reading “Review: The Greatest Wealth, Old Vic”

News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

So much goodness announced here in the National Theatre’s near future – particularly excited for Nine Night’s transfer, what looks like a leading role for Siân Brooke and the prospect of Joanna Riding’s ‘Losing My Mind’. 

National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

Nine Night, Natasha Gordon’s critically acclaimed debut play transfers to the West End following a sold-out run at the NT

Further cast announced for Antony and Cleopatra alongside Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, playing from September

Cast confirmed for world premiere of David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running, including Siân Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire

Peter Brook returns to direct at the National Theatre for the first time in 50 years with The Prisoner, co-directed with Marie-Hélène Estienne

Following the acclaimed Consent, Nina Raine returns to the NT with her new play Stories starring Claudie Blakley

Anthony Neilson makes his NT debut with new play The Tell-Tale Heart, based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe

Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding to join the cast of Follies alongside Janie Dee and Peter Forbes, returning to the Olivier Theatre in February 2019

War Horse returns to the NT marking the centenary of Armistice Day

Antony and Cleopatra and I’m Not Running to  broadcast to 65 countries worldwide as part of NT Live

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in the UK gaining the right to vote, the NT stages Courage Everywhere; a series of rehearsed readings, talks and screenings Continue reading “News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019”

Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic

Fancy three and a half hours of Ingmar Bergman? At least the Old Vic’s seats are comfortable for Fanny and Alexander with  a marvellous Penelope Wilton 

“I’d really like to know what anyone else thinks”

I can’t think of Fanny and Alexander without thinking of the phrase sweet Fanny Adams (which, sidebar, has quite the horrific origin). But more to the point, I have to say the idea of another adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film didn’t quite fill me with enough joy to be rushing to the Old Vic (the extraordinary Scenes From A Marriage aside, I’ve not had the best of times with him).

So with Stephen Beresford (he of The Last of the Haussmans) adapting and Max Webster (he of The Lorax) directing, it was with a little reluctance that I devoted a swathe of my Easter Saturday to this drama. And while I’d love to say that it was totally worth it, as a way to wait for the Resurrection it left me feeling a little like Pontius Pilate must have done way back when. Continue reading “Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic”

Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar

“Any suggestion of a correlation between the leader of a certain nation and the homicidal gangsters we depict is something that the management must strictly disavow”

There’s something special in the timelessness of some pieces of theatre, their themes and arguments as relevant to audiences today as they were when they were written years, decades, even centuries ago. Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui falls into the middle category, written in 1941 as an allegorical response to his nation’s fall to Nazism, and was magisterially revived at Chichester a few years back.

For their own new production, the Donmar Warehouse has turned to Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park, The Low Road) who doesn’t quite trust the material in the same way, updating it in the most heavy-handed of manners by directly substituting Trump for Hitler. It’s an arresting move and indubitably pertinent in the way in which it expounds on the exploitation of a particularly toxic brand of populist politics. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ is internationally one of the most instantly recognisable songs of all time. Written by Bruce Woolley, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, the original Buggles music video is famous for being the first ever shown on MTV when it launched in 1981. This weekend saw a new version of the song released by Bruce Woolley and The Radio Science Orchestra featuring British singer-songwriter Polly Scattergood which is already receiving rave reviews in the music press.  Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: The Wild Party, The Other Palace

“Blame it on the gin”

There’s no doubting the visual flair that choreographer Drew McOnie is able to conjure in his work – In The Heights and Jesus Christ Superstar being just two recent examples – and so it is no coincidence that his move into directing has begun with dance-heavy pieces. Strictly Ballroom lit up the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before Christmas and now The Wild Party opens up the programming at The Other Palace, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rebranded St James Theatre.

Michael John LaChiusa’s musical version is not the first adaptation of Joseph Moncure March’s epic poem to hit London this year – that title goes to the Hope Theatre’s two hander from last month. But it does have its own tunes presented as a vaudeville, a real mish-mash of every 1920s style you can think of and more, which makes for a bold and brash evening – especially as performed by this lavishly assembled ensemble – but ultimately, one of little staying power.  Continue reading “Review: The Wild Party, The Other Palace”

Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

“In you, I found all the pleasure and pain I could ever hope to feel”

All the best birthday celebrations go on for a while and Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary programme has been no exception, featuring productions from each of the four centuries of the theatre’s life. I took in the Lesley Manville opus Long Day’s Journey Into Night earlier in the year and returned to the South West with great anticipation for the 21st century strand of work, which is the macabre, and excellent, new musical The Grinning Man

Based on the Victor Hugo novel L’Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs), the show tells the dark tale of Grinpayne, a young man mutilated as a child who scrapes a living as part of a carnival troupe with his adopted family. Grinpayne keeps the lower part of his face covered but the highlight of the fair comes when he reveals his scarred ‘smile’, a sight that moves people in unpredictable ways, not least the royal family in whose intrigues Grinpayne finds himself increasingly embroiled. Continue reading “Review: The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

“Could you ask as much from any other man?”

Andrew Lloyd Webber sure doesn’t make it easy – for his support of new musical theatre in taking over the St James Theatre to making a transatlantic dash to the House of Lords to vote in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor, it’s hard to know where to stand. His status in the British theatrical establishment remains largely unchallenged though and it is to the 46-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar that the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park have turned for their big summer musical, directed this year by Timothy Sheader. 

And how do you play a 70s rock opera for today? You bring onboard shit-hot creatives like Tom Scutt and Drew McOnie to reinvent it for 2016. Scutt’s design choices make a virtue of the timeless iron structure that edges the stage. The company arrive in luxury sportswear, its loose silhouettes and muted earth tones akin to a Kanye West fashion show with which McOnie’s contemporary choreography meshes perfectly. Later scenes feature the glitter-covered muscularity of something like a late night Brighton Pride, a smattering of Xerxes from the film 300 and all out Sink the Pink excess during the whipping sequence. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Hired Man, NYMT at St James Theatre

“What would you say to your son?”

Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man probably has to be one of my favourite musicals, British or otherwise, so going to see any production of it is something of a no-brainer, especially in a year that marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War that plays such a strong part here. But performed by the National Youth Music Theatre of Great Britain, this one has the added bonus of featuring people who we are bound to be seeing on our stages for years to come, emerging as an astonishingly accomplished piece of work, not least in the lead performances of Amara Okereke and Dominic Harrison.
 

Bolstering the sterling efforts of the cast though is some superb creative work under Nikolai Foster’s hands. Matthew Wright’s design really opens up the stage most effectively, allowing for his beautiful set to evoke the unforgiving terrain of the turn-of-the-century English countryside; Nick Winston’s choreography reflects a similar muscularity that felt utterly true; and Sarah Travis’ musical direction is just inspired, marshalling the voices of her 30+-strong company to spine-tingling effect and also employing actor-musicianship to add real texture to the music. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, NYMT at St James Theatre”