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.
Much to admire technically in [BLANK] at the Donmar Warehouse but it doesn’t quite land the emotional hit it aims for
“Have you ever felt like you were standing exactly to the left of your life?”
On the face of it, [BLANK] has all the makings of an outright success. With Alice Birch writing and Maria Aberg, this Donmar Warehouse and Clean Break co-production is a powerful indictment of how the vicissitudes of our criminal justice system hit women, and their families, the hardest by far.
And in terms of a text, it is undoubtedly an audacious undertaking, consisting of 100 scenes from which directors can craft their own narratives. Here though is where the production doesn’t quite click, Aberg trying her best to form some, any, kind of flow but the form just doesn’t allow for it. Continue reading “Review: [BLANK], Donmar Warehouse”
Robert Icke adapts Ibsen to create a vividly powerful The Wild Duck at the Almeida – stunning work
“Henrik Ibsen wrote The Wild Duck in 1884”
The Wild Duck may be a nineteenth century play but this is most definitely at twenty-first century adaptation, Robert Icke continuing his astonishing strike-rate of Almeida successes with yet another. This time it is Ibsen under the microscope but a mark of Icke’s seemingly endless invention is that his approach here repeats little of what he’s done before.
So a scalpel-sharp play about truth and lies becomes refracted through the truth and lies in Ibsen’s own life, the parallels between his own illegitimate issue and Hedwig’s situation brought into the light. The first half sees this done through meta-theatrical interjections, house lights up and actors commenting on the action as much as acting itself. Continue reading “Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre”
I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.
Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferrymanfor a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five – here’s my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.
The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!
The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.
Oooft. No remedy for the January blues this, but one of the most brutally affecting pieces of theatre you could ever bear to see. Alezander Zeldin’s Lovefollows what life can be found in the anonymous surroundings of a halfway house, a hostel run by the council for people in need of temporary accommodation. People are only meant to be there for a maximum of six weeks but with the system in meltdown, some have been there for over a year, living beyond what anyone could ever call reasonable.
It is tempting to see this as the failure of Big Society but really it is society in general that is being held to account here. The blind eye that we continually turn to those less fortunate than ourselves, the bureaucratic nightmares that we read Guardian thinkpieces about and then never consider again, the consequences of the collapse in the social responsibility of social security, the brutal reality of how desperately foodbanks are needed and the desperation that people feel in needing to use them. Continue reading “Review: Love, National”
“You’re asking me all these questions and they’re all,
And it’s not – It doesn’t mean anything”
True story – every time someone raves about Pomona, a new fan of Miss Saigon is born. The determination to force a new world order from the unlikely starting spot of the Orange Tree Theatre has meant that Alistair McDowall now has that unfortunate albatross of hype firmly attached to his neck and thus his new play X, opening at the Royal Court, comes burdened – a little unfairly – with the weight of expectation.
And I have to say for me, it’s hard to tell whether they’ll be met or not. Perhaps predictably, X is a curious, slippery beast that wilfully toys with notions of audience satisfaction, in that it really doesn’t care whether you ‘get’ it or not. Set on Pluto, the crew of a small research base have lost contact with Earth and are left waiting. For what exactly, they don’t know. And after two and a half hours or so of Vicky Featherstone’s production, neither do we. Continue reading “Review: X, Royal Court”
“And still we’re only dreaming for change, change, change…”
Any semi-regular reader will know the love I had for the latelamentedmusical of Made in Dagenham so my pleasure at a live cast recording being released was boundless indeed as I always thought that David Arnold’s score was one of the more under-rated parts of the production. And it is so nice to have this kind of full reminder of a much-beloved show although I have to say the first couple of times I listened to this soundtrack, I was still too filled with sadness at its early closing.
But now I’m fully in the appreciating stage and there’s lots to love here. This recording really emphasises the female voice(s) and picks out the sophistication of much of the harmony that wasn’t always immediately apparent at the Adelphi. The spit-wielding mothers of ‘Busy Woman’, the wary onlookers of ‘Storm Clouds’, the weary strikers of ‘We Nearly Had It All’, the depth of the female ensemble just sounds like a dream. Continue reading “Album Review: Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording 2015)”
So here we have it, barely six months after opening, the machinery at Ford Dagenham has ground to a halt for the last time and Made in Dagenham has played its final performance. To say I’m gutted is putting it mildly, this was a piece of shining musical theatre that I took to my heart from the first time I saw it and again on my subsequent two revisits. You can read Review #1Review #2 and Review #3. But the opportunity to see it one last time was one I couldn’t resist and if a show has to shutter, then the special energy of a closing night is probably the time to do it.
And I’m so glad that we went back for more (this is the first show I’ve ever dayseated twice and you can count the number of times I’ve dayseated on one hand!) as it was a truly special night. The occasion aside, it was a genuine pleasure to see and hear the show again and the cast were on fire to a (busy wo)man. Adrian der Gregorian has never sounded better than pouring all his heart and soul into ‘The Letter’, Sophie-Louise Dann tore up the stage and her colleagues’ tear ducts in ‘In An Ideal World’, Mark Hadfield’s Harold Wilson went even further over the top (if such a thing were possible), and Heather Craney’s goofy Clare became almost unbearably heart-breaking with such emotion on show. Continue reading “Review: the final night of Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”