Not-a-review: Botticelli in the Fire, Hampstead Theatre

Blanche and Britney ought to be a winning combination bur Botticelli in the Fire at the Hampstead Theatre is a damp squib

“They’re going to kill you. They’re going to worship you, don’t get me wrong. But they are going to kill you”

I’ve long been a fan of Blanche McIntyre and so appreciate any opportunity to see her direct away from the RSC. Jordan Tanahill’s knowingly chaotic Botticelli in the Fire is full of all kinds of riotous energy and queer representation but for me, it just wasn’t the one.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Botticelli in the Fire is booking at the Hampstead Theatre until 23rd November

June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Review: Oslo, National Theatre

“The Americans cannot stand it when others take the lead”

What does it take to get peace in the Middle East? Some determined Norwegians and a plate or two of tasty waffles apparently… At a leisurely three hours in length and set around the Oslo Peace Accords, JT Rogers’ Oslo might not on the face of it seem like theatrical gold but it won a Tony on Broadway and such was the confidence in this production that a West End run was booked in to follow its short engagement at the National before a ticket had even been sold.

And it is a confidence that has paid off handsomely. Bartlett Sher’s direction has an epic sweep to its depiction of world affairs but Rogers’ writing shines through its focus on the intimate detail, on the personal struggle, sacrifice and success of the individuals who managed to break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and work towards the unimaginable – a lasting peace. History has shown us the reality of that, something acknowledged in a coda here, but it is still thrilling to watch. Continue reading “Review: Oslo, National Theatre”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith,

“Merry Hammersmith-mas”

As panto season goes full steam ahead, it is the Lyric Hammersmith who make the early running in London with a new version of Jack and the Beanstalk by playwright du jour Tom Wells, who takes over writing duties from Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. The pair have established the Lyric as one of the go-to venues for modern panto in the capital, their irreverent humour bringing the classic stories bang up to date and locating them in the borough itself, so that audiences can experience a genuine Merry Hammersmith-mas. That is, if the evil giant in the sky Nostril doesn’t ruin Christmas for everyone by stealing everything good. 

And true to form, Wells’ script is full of contemporary and local references: Nando’s, library closures, Lyric Square, Miley Cyrus and the inevitable twerking all make appearances as does a friendly jab at the Hackney Empire’s panto, And the young playwright’s gift for character peeks through with a pairing of a Jack and a Jill you won’t be expecting, Joshua Tonks’ Jill is the kind of bashful young man we’ve come to expect from him and Rochelle Rose’s Jack is a confident and pragmatic hero whose determination seems set to save the day when those pesky magic beans give rise to an impressively green beanstalk. Continue reading “Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith,”

Re-review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Apollo

“I like maths, and I like outer space. And I also like being on my own”

One of the most successful plays of 2012 (and indeed my personal fourth-best play of the year) was the National Theatre’s adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time so it was little surprise to hear that it would transfer into the West End, albeit a little belatedly. So from the immersive in-the-round staging of the Cottesloe, it has now graduated to the much larger proscenium of the Apollo but where one might argue it has lost a little something of what made it so intimately special first time round, the transfer expands the physical and visual language of Marianne Elliott’s production to great effect to create something even more theatrical.

Mark Haddon’s novel was inescapable as it rose to cult status and it is impressive that Simon Stephens’ adaptation manages to create something new, albeit entirely recognisable, out of the story. I still remain unconvinced by the touch of meta-business of the characters putting on a play of the story that is largely narrated by Niamh Cusack’s achingly kind Siobhan, but otherwise it is a sensitive and witty re-telling of the tale of Christopher Boone, a teenager who sees the world in an entirely different way to many of us and who is swept up in a personal odyssey spearheaded by his discovery of the body of his neighbour’s dog with a garden fork through him. Continue reading “Re-review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Apollo”

Re-review: The Changeling , Young Vic

“Let me feel how thy pulses beat”

Joe Hill-Gibbins’ raucous production of The Changeling first played the intimate Maria studio at the Young Vic earlier this year and encouraged by its success there, it has now transferred into the main theatre to provide a Gothic pre-Christmas treat. Middleton and Rowley’s Jacobean tragedy which spirals around spoilt rich girl Beatrice-Joanna’s schemes with her malevolent lackey De Flores has been mostly recast, just two people return, but its intense atmosphere, playful spirit and copious quantities of jelly, jam and trifle remain.

Sinéad Matthews takes on the role of wilful Beatrice-Joanna, determined to replace the man to which she finds herself engaged with the ones she has the hots for, and willing to do anything to get Zubin Varla’s disfigured De Flores to carry out her dastardly wishes. It’s a fascinating casting choice, the melancholy musicality of Matthews’ voice initially seems a difficult fit but the contrast of her doll-like frame against the wiry masculinity of Varla becomes highly effective as she attempts to manipulate all around her, forced to use her intelligence and wiles to ensure that Harry Hadden-Paton’s appealing Alsemero ends up with her. Continue reading “Re-review: The Changeling , Young Vic”

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, National Theatre

“People don’t want to hear the answer to a maths problem in a play”

Back in 2003, Mark Haddon’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was somewhat inescapable. A murder mystery told from the perspective of Christopher, its quasi-Asperger’s Syndrome-suffering main protagonist whose investigations open up further mysteries that irrevocably change his neatly ordered life, it charmed many a reader with its quirky format and unique voice. It didn’t seem an automatic choice for a theatrical adaptation it has to be said but Marianne Elliott and the National Theatre have turned their hand to it regardless, employing a playwright who has had a ridiculously prolific year so far – Simon Stephens – to adapt it. 

I caught the first preview, as I wanted to see it before I went on holiday, and as I missed out on tickets in the first round, I ended up in the ‘pit’, essentially a row of seats at ground level around the Cottesloe which has been reconfigured into the round by Bunny Christie in a design which is always visually arresting and endlessly surprising. Paule Constable’s excellent lighting design works beautifully with the swirling projection work, sequences of numbers tumbling all around, and Elliott has brought in Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly to lend their inimitable style to some of the movement. It is a production that is overflowing with ideas, perhaps a few too many at the moment and the preview period will help refine this a little, but the way in which they combine to powerfully affecting effect cleverly stretches our sensory experience to suggest how differently some see the world. Continue reading “Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, National Theatre”

Review: A Walk On Part, Soho Theatre

“It’s fashionable to believe that all politicians are useless”

On paper, the theatricalisation of a set of political diaries from a former Labour backbencher featuring a veritable multitude of characters from the corridors of power ought not to have worked. But the 13 years covered by A Walk On Part document the journey of New Labour from fresh-faced idealists to brow-beaten petty squabblers and our chronicler, Chris Mullin, is an insightful, frank and often brutally honest narrator who offers an illuminating view from the insider perspective of life as a working politician.

A fiercely independent mind, Mullin served as the MP for Sunderland South and skirted around the edges of power in a number of junior ministerial positions, even occupying the post of Africa minister at one point, despite being a vocal objector to the war in Iraq. But being so frequently ‘off-message’ with the powers-that-be meant his journey in Westminster was one of ups and downs. We get a taste of life too as a constituency MP in an area of the country decimated by the decline of the manufacturing industry and haunted by the endless queues of asylum-seeker cases as well as snapshots of his personal life and the impact of his career on his family. Continue reading “Review: A Walk On Part, Soho Theatre”

Review: The Changeling, Young Vic

“Resolve me this question”

And the question is do designers ever actually sit in the seats that surround the sets that they create. I ask because Ultz’s design for The Changeling, currently playing in the Young Vic’s Maria studio, stretches the seating round all four sides as well as into a set of nooks and crannies and wheelchairs downstairs. This is fine on two sides with the usual red seating but with the others, a single row of seats has been placed behind a heavy thick rampart meaning that visibility of a third of the stage is compromised and only partly rectified by leaning forward.

Combined with the dreaded unreserved seating and the sheer arrogance of the audience members who refused to budge up like everyone else did in order to maintain ‘their’ spot and forcing some extraordinary contortions in order to allow many people to pass them, I couldn’t help but feel this was a configuration that had its audience too far back in its mind than is truly acceptable. Continue reading “Review: The Changeling, Young Vic”