Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead

“What does one do with the pickled walnut?”

 The Hampstead’s failure to engage properly with issues of female creative representation on its main stage (out of seven shows for 2017, only one was written by a woman and none were directed by women) has meant it has dropped off my must-see list of theatres. But on reading the synopsis of Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude – adapted by Nicholas Wright, directed by Jonathan Kent, designed, lit and sounded out by men too natch – with its lead female protagonist, I was persuaded to revisit my stance.

And in some ways, I’m glad I did. For that leading character, Miss Roach, is played by the ever-marvellous Fenella Woolgar and she’s partnered by Lucy Cohu, another favourite actress, and there are moments in this gently played Second World War-set story that shimmer with effectiveness. Bombed out of her home by the Blitz, Miss Roach (“I do have a first name, but I don’t encourage people to use it”) finds herself swept up in a different type of conflict at the Henley-on-Thames boarding house where she now resides. Continue reading “Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 
South London based site-specific theatre company Baseless Fabric are presenting David Mamet’s rarely performed short plays Reunion and Dark Pony in libraries across South London as part of National Libraries Week 2017. The plays are two of David Mamet’s earliest work, first produced in the US in 1976 and 1977 respectively and both feature David Schaal and Siu-see Hung in their casts.
 
Both of the plays explore father and daughter relationships and the audience will be immersed in the worlds of these plays in the unique and atmospheric library environments during National Libraries Week 2017 to raise awareness of exciting events happening in local libraries and bring theatre to people in their local library space. Artistic Director Joanna Turner directs with Set & Costume Designer Bex Kemp, creating a site-responsive design in each library space.
 
Performance Locations:
Mon 9th Oct 7.30pm – Durning Library, SE11 4HF (nearest station: Kennington)
Tue 10th Oct 7.30pm – John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Wed 11th Oct 7.30pm – John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Thu 12th Oct 7.30pm – Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Fri 13th Oct 7.30pm – Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Sat 14th Oct 3pm – Earlsfield Library, SW18 3NY (nearest station: Earlsfield)
Sat 14th Oct 7.30pm – Battersea Library, SW11 1JB (nearest station: Clapham Junction)
Sun 15th Oct 6pm – Clapham Library, SW4 7DB (nearest station: Clapham Common)
Tickets: £9/£7

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Review: Sunspots, Hampstead Downstairs

“Am I supposed to take abuse from people who don’t know how to fasten a herring?”

I hadn’t clocked I’d seen one of David Lewis’ plays before – Seven Year Twitch at the Orange Tree back in 2013 – and to be honest, if I had, I might not have gone to see his latest one. His writing is very much in the style of television sitcoms that I don’t watch and so whilst they have a definite appeal for some, his plays don’t instinctively rock my world. And so it was with this trip to the Hampstead’s downstairs theatre to see Sunspots.

Described as an offbeat romantic comedy (with the emphasis on ‘off’), there’s actually as much of a family drama here too as adult siblings are reunited in the family home after their father’s death. Recently out Joe has come back from California, Clare only ever moved a short distance away whilst the youngest, Tom, had already moved back due to crises of employment and passing the time watching attractive neighbour Lola through his dad’s telescope. Continue reading “Review: Sunspots, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Prick Up Your Ears, Comedy

Despite its name, Prick Up Your Ears is actually billed as a new play by Simon Bent, which uses Joe Orton’s diaries and John Lahr’s biography to take a closer look at the private lives of the playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell. Starting in 1962, the play follows the journey of the two men who dreamt of dominating the literary world together and how their paths took wildly differing turns, culminating in a brutal and tragic end.

The action here takes place solely in the Islington apartment that Orton and Halliwell shared, with occasional interjections from their landlady Mrs Corden. Bent’s take on the story is that as Orton’s star rose he was more than ably helped by Halliwell, indeed his success was dependent on him, and that formed the crux of their relationship, giving extra meaning to Halliwell’s subsequent depression and Orton’s treatment of him. I’m not sure that this interpretation worked for me and to be honest, I remain to be convinced. Continue reading “Review: Prick Up Your Ears, Comedy”