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”

Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National

“It’s not about the word, it’s the context in which it’s used and who uses it”

A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer (here’s my review from then) and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.

That it is sold out shouldn’t stop you from trying to get tickets – there’s Friday Rush and there’s refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani’s production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance – which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for – is charged with the significance of these stories being told. Continue reading “Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National”

Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre

“Men, sometimes…I don’t know”

The hugely convivial pre-show entertainment for Barber Shop Chronicles is such good fun that I thought to myself I could easily just watch this for an hour. As it turned out, press night delays meant that it was extended by about thirty minutes, during which you really got to appreciate how quietly radical it is. In designer Rae Smith’s hands, the Dorfman has been transformed into a barbershop in the round, into which we’re volubly greeted by the cast and if you’re lucky, you get to sit in the barber’s chair and “get your hair popped” while you wait for the show to start. What I really loved though was the way in which the company so enthusiastically greeted friends, family, loved ones, shattering conventions and fourth walls alike, setting the tone for a truly joyous experience.

Crafted by Inua Ellams, Barber Shop Chronicles puts black masculinity in all its multiplicities under the spotlight. by examining the crucial role that barber shop plays in their communities. From Peckham to Lagos, Johannesburg to Accra with Harare and Kampala inbetween, we’re treated to a glimpse into a world that is more, so much more, than just a place to get an “aerodynamic” haircut. It’s a place to find chat, companionship, chargers, to confess to deeper truths than might otherwise be acknowledged in the outside world, even to find surrogate father figures and positive male role models. Across these six countries, we eavesdrop on these conversations and in gaining an appreciation for the diversity in the African diaspora, Ellams also traces the common threads. Continue reading “Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre”

Review: Amadeus, National Theatre

“It would make angels mourn”

Perhaps fittingly, on an evening when beautiful tribute was paid to the late Howard Davies, whose invaluable contribution to the National Theatre (36 productions over 28 years) will sorely be missed, there’s a sense of the passing of the guard with director Michael Longhurst making his main stage debut in the South Bank venue. Longhurst has been establishing himself quite the reputation (Constellations and Linda at the Royal Court, Carmen Disruption at the Almeida, A Number at the Nuffield, an extraordinary Winter’s Tale earlier this year, and the brilliant The Blackest Black at the Hampstead, to name just a few) and his graduation here feels entirely earned.

He makes his bow with Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, a play that premiered at this very theatre in 1979 (another sad loss, as Shaffer passed away this summer) and with the enviable resources to hand here, mounts an excellent production. The play depicts a largely fictionalised version of the intertwined lives of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri and their rival careers, and the Southbank Sinfonia are on hand to provide live orchestral accompaniment. So that when The Marriage of Figaro is premiered, we get an excerpt; when people read the sheet music, we don’t have to imagine the notes of the page, we hear them out loud. Continue reading “Review: Amadeus, National Theatre”

Review: The Threepenny Opera, National

“There will be no moralising tonight”

Whatever you think a national theatre should be for, I bloody love that Rufus Norris seems to determined to keep diversity near the top of the billing. Whilst it is curious that he’s only committed to ensuring gender equality in terms of the directors and living writers the National Theatre uses by 2021 (I’m sure there’s a reason it takes 5 years), there’s also change happening now in this new production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera.

The first actors we see and hear are George Ikediashi and Jamie Beddard. So what you might say? But they are respectively a cabaret artist better known as Le Gateau Chocolat and a wheelchair-using director, writer, actor, consultant, trainer and workshop leader who has worked across the arts, educational and social sectors (his website). And you begin to see one of the ways how Norris is opening up this venue in an important and hopefully lasting manner. Continue reading “Review: The Threepenny Opera, National”

Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“Keith, KEITH, it’s just two fellas kissing”

There was a moment towards the end of this performance, as Ferdy Robert’s burly roadie of a Puck launched into his epilogue, that perfectly encapsulates just how brilliant Filter are and also what magical power theatre can weave over even the rowdiest teenagers. Roberts began “if we shadows have offended” and was interrupted by loud, almost nervous, laughter. He looked up, gently but unflinchingly at the young woman and her friend until they quietened down, and then continued, addressing them directly at first and then widening out to the auditorium as a whole, our entire attention rapt.

It’s no mean feat to keep a theatre full of schoolkids hooked in silence (I attended the final preview), especially when the nature of this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so raucous and riotous. It played the Lyric Hammersmith back in 2012 and if it doesn’t have quite the same multiple surprise element as before, it is still highly amusing second time round. Co-directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll have condensed the play right down with the company and reconstructed it in their own image, at once deeply respectful of Shakespeare yet also utterly anarchic in the way it is presented here. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic

“I have a motion much imports your good”

They say things come in threes and as with Oresteias, so too with Measure for Measures. After Cheek by Jowl’s brutally contemporary Russian interpretation and Dominic Dromgoole’s comic version for the Globe, it is now Joe Hill-Gibbins’ turn to put his inimitable stamp on the play for the Young Vic. And from the industrial techno rave that opens the show to the awkward freeze-frame of the Duke’s happy ending – all done in a smidge under two hours – this is very much a modern take on Shakespeare that is bound to ruffle certain feathers whilst stimulating others.

With the licentiousness of Viennese society being represented by scores of inflatable sex toy dolls, the image of which recur throughout this whole production, and the Duke using live video relays to speak to the city, the modern-day feel is overt but non-specific, the point being we could be in any major city where a conservative regime is free to impose its puritanical fervour. And in this mise-en-scène, curated by dramaturg Zoë Svendsen and artfully framed in Miriam Buether’s box-frame set with hidden rear compartment, the story unfolds. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic”

Review Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith

“How long have you wanted to be a singer?
‘Since I was a kid’” 

I don’t think even now I really believe that the kids in the film of Bugsy Malone aren’t actually singing – like with Father Christmas and the future for Wigan Athletic, I choose to believe. Fortunately, there’s no such doubt in Sean Holmes’ production of the show, written by Alan Parker with music and lyrics by Paul Williams, a mammoth run of which has been chosen to inaugurate the newly refurbished Lyric Hammersmith. It’s the first professional production in over a decade of this inimitable Chicago gangster classic and Holmes and children’s casting director Jessica Ronane have pulled together a group of exceptionally talented youngsters who sing live, dance, act and fire splurge guns aplenty

Having seen the show twice now, it is remarkable how different the energy was between the two sets of child performers I got to see, they’ve clearly been encouraged to establish their own mark on their roles and it’s a joy to behold. Max Gill’s Fat Sam is an absolute scene-stealing delight, absolutely nailing the comic timing and slapdash slapstick of this hapless boss whereas Sasha Gray captured more of the attention as a supremely confident Bugsy in his group; Thea Lamb’s achingly soulful voice fills her Blousey full of longing, compared to a perkier turn from Zoe Brough; and I couldn’t pick between Asanda Jezile and Samantha Allison as Tallulah, both shining as this most sardonic of songstresses. Continue reading “Review Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith”