Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me
I can’t ever die”

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it. Continue reading “Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream”

Re-review: Oresteia, Almeida

“This cannot be a place where the woman is less important”

There was no chance I wasn’t going to book for Robert Icke’s Oresteia again, I came out of it first time round quite sure that I’d seen one of the shows of the year and on second viewing, I am still firmly of that view. My original review can be read here and there isn’t too much more to be said aside from reiterating wow, wow, wow – how exciting it would be if this heralded just a handful more productions looking towards Europe for their inspiration and succeeding so thrillingly.

So the gauntlet has been laid for the Oresteias yet to come – at the Globe and at Manchester’s HOME, but also for the rest of the Greeks season. Bakkhai may already be sold out with Medea to follow and the anticipation could not be higher.

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 18th July, sold out but returns possible and well worth queuing for

Review: Oresteia, Almeida

There isn’t one true version. There isn’t. There isn’t one story — a line of truth that stretches start to end.”

I saw Robert Icke’s extraordinary new version of Oresteia on the same day that I watched episode 9 of series 5 of Game of Thrones [here be spoilers] and gods alive, that was a brutal day of dead children. It was also a day of some sensational acting – Stephen Dillane and Tara Fitzgerald both doing excellent work in the North, and Angus Wright and Lia Williams in blistering form in North London in the first show of the Almeida’s Greeks season which on this evidence, looks set to be a thrilling highlight of the year.

Described as an adaptation by Icke of Aeschylus’ trilogy of plays detailing the fall of the House of Atreus, the reality feels more all-encompassing, a transfiguration of the drama(s) into something genuinely new that really examines the nature of Greek tragedies in light of contemporary theatre. Appropriately, Ivo van Hove was in the audience having spoken on a panel discussion earlier in the day, and it was clear to see that Icke is in part paying homage to the Belgian with influences both specific and more general clear to see in the direction here.

Continue reading “Review: Oresteia, Almeida”

Review: 1984, Headlong at Richmond Theatre

 

 
“You may as well say goodbye”

For a novel written in 1949, it is remarkable how much of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 has seeped into our consciousness. Not just in the phrases we have adopted – Big Brother, thought crime, Room 101, double speak – but also in the world it depicts, of constant surveillance, of the all-controlling state, of the erosion of individual liberties. From Wikileaks to Edward Snowden, David Miranda’s detention even to Paul Dacre’s indignation, the consequences of going up against the establishment, in whatever form, are never far from the headlines and it is clear that Headlong’s audacious re-interpretation of 1984 is an apposite choice.

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation takes an unusual starting point – the epilogue-like Appendix which offers a whole new level of complication to the narrative of the novel – and uses it to present a dual layer of storytelling. Winston Smith’s trials at the hands of Big Brother as he rebels against the totalitarian state for whom he works are contextualised by a futuristic scenario in which a book group are reading about the trials of Winston Smith. We slide between the two timeframes – as Winston thinks a thought, the book group discuss it – each inextricably linked with the other as we watch this single man, this tiny act of rebellion, being obliterated. Continue reading “Review: 1984, Headlong at Richmond Theatre”

Review: Mare Rider, Arcola

“I’m a legendary woman my dear, and as you know, the legendary women never die”

Leyla Nazli co-founded the Arcola with Mehmet Ergen in 2000 and it was here that her first play, Silver Birch House, was directed by Ergen to considerable acclaim in 2007. And with her new play Mare Rider, her writing returns to the Dalston theatre, directed by Ergen again and featuring a highly seductive cast including Kathryn Hunter and Anna Francolini. The Mare Rider is full of mystery, a bad spirit named Elka, reputed to haunt new mothers and as Selma goes through a troublesome birth at Homerton Hospital, the two women take a journey of haunting revelation that hinges somewhere between fantasy and tragedy.

Elka is the kind of role Hunter revels in inhabiting. A mythical figure from Turkish fairytales, there’s a strong vein of mordant humour in her stories of her own rebellious long-gone past in which her struggle for independence was subverted to make her an enemy of her own society and thus a monstrous legend was born. She’s also a highly fantastical figure and her tales of adventure frequently possess a magical quality, something conjured excellent by Richard Williamson’s lighting and video design from Ben Walden and Dick Straker and of course, Hunter’s own sinuous physicality, whether stamping out a tribal dance, aggressively flipping beds or riding a horse across the Anatolian plain. Continue reading “Review: Mare Rider, Arcola”

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, Almeida

“They are women without men, that’s all”

The list of actresses whom I adore is forever growing and changing but certain women remain constant on it, and one of them – who I never thought I would get to see on stage – is Shohreh Aghdashloo. She completely broke my heart in the film House of Sand and Fog (for which she was Oscar-nominated) and then toyed with our loyalties with a brilliant duplicitous turn in series 4 of 24. So when she was announced as taken on the titular role in the Almeida’s new version of The House of Bernarda Alba, I was ecstatic.

Emily Mann’s adaptation relocates Lorca’s Spanish story to rural Iran and changes a few of the names, but largely keeps the architecture of the play intact (although compressed into 95 minutes here). It is a relocation which is extremely successful, the oppression and repression of female sexuality sadly fitting in as easily here as in Catholic Spain and class issues are common across the world, making this a powerfully affecting, beautifully staged and haunting production that lived up to my every expectation. Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, Almeida”

Review: Britannicus, Wilton’s Music Hall

“She loves my brother – I’ll have to console myself with his pain”

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new translation of Racine’s Britannicus updates the action to the modern day even though the story remains centred on a day in the life of Roman Emperor Nero. His power-hungry mother Agrippina manipulated things so that the succession passed to her favourite son Nero rather than rightful heir Britannicus after the death of Emperor Claudius, but her lust for power has passed down the bloodline. Rome shudders as Nero establishes himself politically, leaving Agrippina feeling increasingly marginalised, made worse by setting his gaze on his brother’s lover Junia.

Wilton’s Music Hall is such an atmospheric and idiosyncratic venue that I always want productions there to utilise it to its best potential so I have to admit to being a little disappointed by Chloe Lamford’s design which feels too modern and out of place. But Irina Brown’s direction makes inventive use of the space and also does make sense of the updating, Siân Thomas’ Agrippina channelling Thatcher vibes throughout as a woman battling in a male-dominated arena and the political intrigue that dominates everyone’s life whether they want it or not is immediately recognisable, no-one knows who to trust in this world of slippery political double-speak. Continue reading “Review: Britannicus, Wilton’s Music Hall”