Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference

All sorts of goodies were announced today for the upcoming slate of productions at the National Theatre, including Small Island, Peter Gynt, and Top Girls 

Olivier Theatre

Small Island, a new play adapted by Helen Edmundson from Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning bestselling novel, will open in the Olivier Theatre in May. Directed by Rufus Norris, the play journeys from Jamaica to Britain through the Second World War to 1948, the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Small Island follows the intricately connected stories of Hortense, newly arrived in London, landlady Queenie and servicemen Gilbert and Bernard. Hope and humanity meet stubborn reality as, with epic sweep, the play uncovers the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK. Hundreds of tickets for every performance available at £15. Small Island will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as part of NT Live. Continue reading “News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference”

Review: Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Lie down madam and legs apart
Now brace yourself for this may smart”

Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne played a well-received run at the RSC the winter before last and it has now transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a summer season. It contains two excellent performances from Romola Garai as Sarah Churchill (stepping into the role created by Natasha McElhone) and Emma Cunniffe as the titular monarch and you can read my four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets right here.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September

Review: Anna Karenina, Brockley Jack

“What happens if you can’t stop?”

Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Anna Karenina really is a clever thing. Taking the huge scale of Tolstoy’s Russian epic novel and translating it into something genuinely theatrical, and new, is no mean feat. Last seen in London at the Arcola (where I think I underestimated it a tad), Arrow & Traps Theatre Company have brought it to the intimacy of Brockley Jack’s black box studio and it’s an impressively mounted production. 

Edmundson’s major innovation is to reframe the story as an existential conversation between its two main characters Anna and Levin, whose lives are inextricably interlinked through their family connections (she’s his sister-in-law’s sister-in-law, I think) but actually only ever intersect once. Thus they relate tales of their experiences while debating faith and freedom, responsibility and love, what it means to really live. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Brockley Jack”

Album Review: Zorro (Original Cast Recording)

“Djobi djoba
Cada dia te quiero mas”

2008 musical Zorro lasted nine months in the West End, which may not seem a fantastic run but in retrospect, it lasted longer than From Here To Eternity, Stephen Ward, I Can’t Sing…any number of big musicals. Written by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson from Isabel Allende’s origin story, the tale positions the pulp legend as a folk hero and romantic lead, and is aided in the task by a highly atmospheric score from the Gipsy Kings and John Cameron.

Recorded live, the score has a slight feel of probably being much more fun to experience live than simply listening to in your living room. the flamenco rumba of the instrumentals impressively played but would be unquestionably improved with its accompanying choreography. So too the set pieces of pre-existing Gipsy Kings tracks Bamboléo and Djobi Djoba – both led by a fiercely charismatic Lesli Magherita – being exhorted to “baila, baila” just doesn’t quite work on record.  Continue reading “Album Review: Zorro (Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Thérèse Raquin, Theatre Royal Bath

 
“I am yours. Do what you want with me”

It is clearly the moment for Thérèse Raquin– a stage adaptation in Bath (and touring to Malvern and Cambridge), the Finborough’s musical version transferring to the Park Theatre, and a film of the story also hitting our cinemas recently. Émile Zola’s 1867 novel heralded a new world of naturalism in literature in its focus on mood rather than character and has remained an enduring classic, hence this confluence of versions now and a cheeky trip to the penultimate show of the run at the gorgeous Theatre Royal Bath.

Reflecting Zola’s intent, Jonathan Munby’s direction is highly theatrical and brings a powerful lyricism to the stage, bringing in Ann Yee to provide a fluid movement style that is near-balletic and which captures the yearning spirit perfectly – in a world where so much is unsaid, body language becomes ever more eloquent. And Helen Edmundson’s version emphasises Thérèse’s elemental connection to the water and the fevered eroticism that takes her over, unutterably disrupting her world as sex, murder and self-destruction come a-knocking to liven up her dull life forcibly married to her cousin in the Parisian backstreets. Continue reading “Review: Thérèse Raquin, Theatre Royal Bath”

Review: Swallows and Amazons, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Better drowned than duffers”

Originally a big success for the Bristol Old Vic last Christmas, Swallows and Amazons was revived for this festive season and has just spent a month in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre ahead of an extensive UK tour. Starting off here in Chichester, Arthur Ransome’s 1930 novel has been adapted by Helen Edmunson, sprinkled with songs from The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and directed by Tom Morris, it emerges as a delightfully inventive and highly imaginative production.

It works so well because it captures a long-lost spirit of play so very genuinely. From beginning to end, the show exudes a joyous playful spirit that almost immediately makes us forget we’re watching adults pretending to be kids. As the four Walker children set off to set up camp on an uninhabited island near their holiday home, they are whisked into a thrilling adventure beyond their wildest imagination and we are there with them for every beautifully-realised step. Continue reading “Review: Swallows and Amazons, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Anna Karenina, Arcola

“If you only knew what I would give to love you freely”

This production of Anna Karenina at the Arcola Theatre is a revival of one from 1992 by Shared Experience, presented here by The Piano Removal Company, a new company formed out of a recently graduating group from the Birmingham School of Acting, whose final show there was this. Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel reworks the story into a conversation between the two central characters of Anna and Levin as they debate freedom versus duty whilst their stories are told in rapidly-played episodes, hers of pursuing an illicit love at the expense of her son and her position in society and his of trying to find meaning in life, even if it means losing the chance to love.

Director Max Webster wears his previous connections to Complicite on his sleeve and the resulting visual aesthetic therefore feels quite familiar: the swift scene changes and multiple role-playing, the exaggerated physicality of much of the movement and moments of striking imagery through simply used props. It works well, creating some elegant scenes of candlelit beauty, spotlit conversations and paper snowfalls as well as working in a wry sense of humour with Vronsky’s omnipresence. But there is just so much of this physical staging with its relentless changes which doesn’t always add value to the production and pad out the running time unnecessarily. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Arcola”

Review: Life is a Dream, Donmar

“Is the craft of our mind’s eye so skilful in its artistry, the fake becomes the thing itself?”

Written in 1635 by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La Vida Es Sueño is considered one of the most significant plays in Spanish literature and enjoys a stature similar to Hamlet. It is presented here at the Donmar Warehouse in a new translation and version by Helen Edmundson and entitled Life is a Dream. Despite being nearly 500 years old, its central issues of the nature of reality and the possibilities of freedom in a cruel world have a remarkably current feel.

Set in Poland, the play focuses on Segismundo, played here by Dominic West, the young heir to the throne who has spent his life imprisoned in a tower because omens foretold that he would one day overthrow his father, the king. Given the chance to prove fate wrong and released into court, the prince lives up to his savage reputation and so is swiftly returned to jail where he is persuaded that all he thought he saw was a dream, hence the title. When he is then released a second time, events take a different turn as Segismundo has matured and learned about the consequences of his actions, especially as a future king, but also he realises that if indeed life is a dream, then it should be lived to the full. Continue reading “Review: Life is a Dream, Donmar”