Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner gives us an utterly inspired take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre, with Gwendoline Christie in stupendous form

“Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have”

You can tell a lot about a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the way it treats its Hippolyta. Possessed of so few words, her presence is nevertheless vital for setting the tone of the play and from the moment you walk into the Bridge Theatre, you just know Nicholas Hytner has got it right. This conquered queen is caged in a glass box, as if an artefact in some grotesque museum and as an impassive Gwendoline Christie fixes us with her  stare, it’s a definitive commentary on the gender politics here before we’ve even started.

But even once the play starts, her power is no less unremarkable. As Hermia claims she knows not by what power she is made bold, one look at Hippolyta’s hand against the glass leaves you in  no doubt of the source of her new found confidence. Small but powerful changes that set the scene perfectly for Hytner’s most striking innovation which, as it reveals itself in the following act, proved to be one of the most thrilling ways to re-infuse excitement into this oft-performed classic. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner finally directs a play by a woman but Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of novel Alys, Always is a disappointment for me at the Bridge Theatre

“I’m going to bake a cake”

In well over 30 years of being a director, it seems scarcely credible that it is only now that Nicholas Hytner is turning his hand to directing a play written by a woman. For all of his considerable contributions to the British theatre ecology, it is a startling and sobering statistic that demonstrates the scale of the problem faced by those who would (rightfully) change the status quo.

The play in question here is Alys, Always, written by Lucinda Coxon from Harriet Lane’s 2012 novel. And it proves a serviceable psychological thriller of sorts that sits a little too cosily in the middle class-baiting madeleine-scented air of the Bridge Theatre. It is glossy and magazine-spread chic, undoubtedly shinily cast (Joanne Froggatt, Robert Glenister) but rarely essential. Continue reading “Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre

“You hunt them where they live”

There’s something interesting about a community that can simultaneously urge the need to talk constructively about failure and also gloat endlessly about the its possibility. Where the National Theatre is concerned, the stakes feel considerably heightened and following a summer that contained the divisive Salomé and Common, sadly you could almost feel the knives being sharpened in advance for Saint George and the Dragon.

Two contrasting viewpoints from two contrasting people, to be sure, but you wonder how open-minded people are being, particularly when the start to this press night was delayed by 30 minutes or so adding fuel to certain people’s fire. But all this dancing around is doing, is delaying the inevitable, in that I found Rory Mullarkey’s new play really quite tough-going and had it not been for an effortful performance from John Heffernan keeping it afloat from the front, it would have been worse. Continue reading “Review: Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre”

Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon

 
A village. A dragon. A damsel in distress.
 
Into the story walks George: wandering knight, freedom fighter, enemy of tyrants the world over. One epic battle later and a nation is born. As the village grows into a town, and the town into a city, the myth of Saint George, which once brought a people together, threatens to divide them. Rory Mullarkey creates a new folk tale for an uneasy nation.

Continue reading “Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon”

Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)

“It’s been fun hitchin’ up with a psycho like you”

Caroline Sheen is one of those performers you feel ought to be better known, having starred in some pretty major shows throughout her career yet never quite managing that breakthrough moment – no matter, she’s thus one of British musical theatre’s secret pleasures. Her debut album Raise the Curtain saw her capitalise a little on her bigger gigs – Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick – but it also pleasingly gives plenty of airtime to new musical theatre writing too.

In fact there’s no less than 5 tracks which received their first ever recordings here, Sheen opting to use her talent to really shine a light on the contemporary scene, showcasing the music she clearly loves. So the likes of innovative composer Conor Mitchell gets his striking ‘What Did You Want From Love?‘ featured, Richard Taylor (now represented in the West End with The Go-Between) gets a beautiful song called ‘Higher’ on there, so too Grant Olding with ‘Carrie Makes A Decision’ from his show Three Sides. Continue reading “Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)”

Pictures of Jekyll and Hyde, Old Vic

Truth be told, I don’t review much dance because I don’t feel qualified to comment on it. And because I don’t feel qualified to comment on it, I don’t see much dance…and so the vicious cycle continues. I was able to get a ticket to the last night of Drew McOnie’s re-imagining of Jekyll and Hyde though, it having been recommended to me by several people, but knowing that I wouldn’t be writing about it, I might have had a couple of sherbets pre-show. So aside from saying that I really enjoyed it, I won’t be commenting any more to say that Manuel Harlan took these lovely pics.

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Review: Don Quixote, Swan

“We are all gathering dust here, none of us have much to do”

It’s a tough job being an actor junkie. Even whilst trying to cut down on the amount of theatre I see, I find it immensely hard to turn down the opportunity to watch long-admired actors in the flesh, hence dragging myself to see A Christmas Carol for Jim Broadbent, overriding my Pinter-averse instincts to book for Timothy Spall in The Caretaker, and heading to Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Threlfall return to the RSC, over 35 years since he was last there.

Drawing him back is a new adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote by poet James Fenton (pulling the focus a bit in marking the 400th anniversary of someone else’s death) that is filled with mayhem and music and madness and melancholy. Determined to translate the world of chivalry of which he has read so much, Don Quixote sets out on his own quest to become a wandering knight, carrying out acts of derring-do with his hapless squire but finding that fictional romantic ideal increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote, Swan”

Review: Twelfth Night, ETT at Richmond Theatre

“For women are as roses…”

It is seriously impressive how sparklingly fresh Jonathan Mumby has managed to make Twelfth Night in his production for English Touring Theatre which I caught at Richmond Theatre this week. The familiarity, even overfamiliarity, which many have with Shakespeare’s work means it can often be hard to get too excited about yet another production but Mumby’s work here has all the hallmarks of a successful and subtle reinvigoration.

Colin Richmond’s artfully distressed design and an original suite of songs from Grant Olding locate this version of Illyria in the folky fancies of Brian Protheroe’s Feste, a move which pays dividends in extending its oft-melancholy mood to all and sundry. So Hugh Ross’ Malvolio is more tragi than comic, a deep sadness apparent under the prickly exterior. Milo Twomey’s Aguecheek is a rueful soul indeed and Doña Croll’s Maria has a marvellous pragmatism.

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Album Review: Annalene Beechey – Close Your Eyes

“What do you see, you people gazing at me, you see a doll on a music box”

Annalene Beechey is one of those performers whom I have seen a fair bit but never actually on the stage in a show, instead she has been a regular on the cabaret scene, supporting fellow ‘Christine’ Rebecca Caine or showcasing new musical theatre writing in theatres and on boats. So I thought I’d give her album Close Your Eyes a spin to see how it stacked up and it came up good!

What works so well for me is her song selection, she steers clear from too much rehashing of familiar standards and instead chooses to highlight the work of the composers with whom she has built up a connection whether personally or just through their music and it shows. From the newbies like Grant Olding – the gorgeous ‘Hannah’s Dream’ and Scott Alan – the fragile beauty of ‘Always/Goodnight’ to the more seasoned hands of Stephens Sondheim and Schwartz –an Into the Woods medley and ‘Lion Tamer’ from The Magic Show respectively, Beechey’s love of the genre shines through with insightful interpretations that dig deep into these songs and what they mean to her. Continue reading “Album Review: Annalene Beechey – Close Your Eyes”

Review: Summer with the Composers, Battersea Barge via britishtheatre.tv

The Battersea Barge has seen quite a few cabarets over the summer but the producers behind the latest – Summer with the Composers – have taken things a step further and offered a live-streaming service of the show, completely free of charge, with which it could be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. I’m not technologically minded enough to know whether it was my laptop being slow or the recording itself that wasn’t the clearest quality, but it feels churlish to complain that it wasn’t crystal clear considering it was all free and in any case, the sound quality was excellent.

The evening was focused on four leading lights of new British musical theatre writing: Grant Olding, Dougal Irvine, Laurence Mark Wythe and Tim Sutton and showcasing their work in a variety of ways from shows that have made it onto the stage, shows that are still in development, some which never made it out of the rehearsal room and a few one-offs, including one written especially for the Dress Circle Benefit gig a couple of weeks ago. Special guests Samantha Barks, Annalene Beechey, George Ure and Stephen Ashfield sang a selection of the songs but the composers themselves also had a go at singing each other’s songs. Continue reading “Review: Summer with the Composers, Battersea Barge via britishtheatre.tv”