Review: Racing Demon, Crucible

“What would be the proper Christian thing to do?”

Having hardly any willpower at all is not a good thing for a theatre addict trying to cut down and having decided that I would forego the David Hare season in Sheffield, all it took was one pint after Snake in the Grass and a casually whispered suggestion to sneak a day off work and off we popped to the Crucible to see Racing Demon. It is a play focused on the redoubtable institution of the Church of England and the battles it faces in remaining relevant to a modern society and what effective help can they provide in times of tangible hardship. It also whips through the pressures of the ordination of women and the acceptance of gays in the Church through looking at a team of ministers in a South London parish.

Daniel Evans has assembled a truly top-notch cast here, fully fleshing out the expertly characterised clergymen whether it was Jamie Parker’s evangelical but passionate young curate who stirs things up from the moment of his arrival, Matthew Cottle’s kindly Streaky who plods on with an appealing honesty or Ian Gelder’s superb Harry, being hounded out of the closet by a rapacious tabloid journalist. But even the bishops, perceived as the ‘enemy’ here, played by Jonathan Coy and Mark Tandy are powerfully persuasive as we come to understand the larger pressures they feel in a Church under threat from all angles. But it is Malcolm Sinclair’s central Lionel whose dilemma dominates proceedings and he is never less than utterly convincing as a man who is determined to do great good even whilst his faith wavers. Continue reading “Review: Racing Demon, Crucible”

Review: Lingua Franca, Finborough

“They can have us spooning and forking any time between breakfast and bedtime”

Continuing the 30th anniversary celebrations at the Finborough Theatre is the world premiere of a new play by Peter Nichols, Lingua Franca. The play is set in 1950s Florence, where Flowers gets a job teaching English at Lingua Franca, a shambolic language school housing a ragbag collection of individuals from across the globe, all struggling to come to terms with a new society in a Europe no longer at war, whilst luxuriating in the Florentine cultural bounty all around them. The programme informed me that the lead character Steven Flowers is also in one of his earlier plays, Privates on Parade, it made no difference to me not having seen that but there’s a neat bit of casting in that Ian Gelder who appears here in a different role, played that character in the original RSC production.

At the centre of the story is a love triangle of sorts: once Stephen has become accustomed to his new way of living, he throws himself into a life of gay abandon, whipping his classes up into a raucous frenzy of singalongs and chants as a different way of learning and having already caught the eye and rapt attention of repressed and depressed English Peggy, launches headlong into a passionate, physical affair with German Heidi. As Stephen, Chris New brings a wonderfully warm charm which makes it easy to see why so many women fall for him and plays the darker, crueller streak that comes as he ruthlessly pursues his sexual urges at the expense of all else equally well. Continue reading “Review: Lingua Franca, Finborough”

Review: The Power Of Yes, National

“The people who have to pay the price are never the ones who benefit”

Commissioned by the National Theatre to respond to the recent financial crisis, David Hare’s latest work arrives at the Lyttleton in an attempt to try and cast some light on the global meltdown and how it was allowed to happen. The Power Of Yes is subtitled ‘A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis’ and is the result of a series of interviews carried out with key players from a range of institutions.

Anthony Calf plays the playwright himself in a quirky set-up as we are instantly informed that this is less of a play and more of a story-telling exercise, and guided by a Financial Times journalist played by the lovely Jemima Rooper, starts to ask the necessary questions to get down to the roots of the crisis and try to apportion culpability. The rate at which these questions are asked, and answered by a sometimes bewildering array of characters, leaves you breathless, but Hare has a knack for anchoring the flow of information to tangible markers. So when one feels in danger of getting lost in the financial jargon, we are hooked right back in with the kind of statistics that bring home the true scale of sums that were involved. Continue reading “Review: The Power Of Yes, National”

Review: The Crucible, Gielgud

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible about the witchcraft trials that took place in Salem in the seventeenth century but at a time when America was gripped in the McCarthyite Communist hunt of the 1950s so much of its message was an attack on the contemporary situation thinly disguised with the veneer of historical parallel. This RSC production which has transferred to the West End after a very successful run is directed by Dominic Cooke.

A group of drunken women dancing naked in the woods late one night starts off rumours of witch-craft and devil-worshipping in the little village of Salem and so begins the witch hunt that ultimately leads to the torture and the execution of innocent men and women as hysteria takes over some and cold political survival dominates the elite’s response even at the expense of human life. It’s quite grim, but its power comes from the resonance that it still has today with the political situation in the USA. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Gielgud”

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”

Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre

Forming a six hour epic, Nicholas Hytner’s productions of Henry IV Part I and Part II take up residence in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. You can see them on the same day if you so desire (and your bum can take it) but we went on different days as a small thing called work got in the way!

The plays deal with the troubled reign of King Henry IV as he deals with rebellion and civil war, while his son and heir, Prince Hal, prefers to hang around East London with small-time criminals led by the aged, corpulent alcoholic Falstaff. They cover the whole breadth of English society at the time they were written, from aristocratic infighting right the way down to sleazy prostitution. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre”

Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre

Most of what I wanted to say about His Dark Materials have been made in the earlier review of Part I, but I wanted to separate the reviews out as they are treated as separate plays although I can’t imagine anyone would just see Part I, especially with its cliff-hanger ending, and I know I couldn’t have waited any longer than the couple of hours that we did to see Part II on the same day.

This part is where some of the more obvious changes to the original books are more evident. Much of the third book has been excised, the character of Mary Malone not used here and the amber spyglass becomes less important as a result. But the story still works nonetheless, and the trip to the Land of the Dead has to rank as one of the most beautifully realised pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, haunting and incredibly moving. Likewise, the ending to the whole story was devastatingly done, leaving me crying for a good 10 minutes after we had left the theatre even though I knew what was coming. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre”

Review: His Dark Materials Part I, National Theatre

The National Theatre revived their adaption of His Dark Materials for a second run in answer to my prayers, or so I like to believe, in order to let me see it. The novels by Phillip Pullman are among my all-time favourites and though the idea of translating them to the stage caused me a little trepidation, I was immensely glad of the opportunity of the chance to see the shows.

Adapted with love and precision by Nicholas Wright who has been daring enough to make the judicious cuts necessary to create a workable piece of theatre out of the at-times-sprawling works of literature that form Pullman’s trilogy, the story that is told here is strong and cohesive and told with a sensitive clarity (although I can’t be sure how clear it actually is to anyone who hasn’t read the novels, truth be told). We follow the coming-of-age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry and their adventure across a set of parallel universes as they search for answers to huge questions they both have, a journey that causes them to cross paths with polar bears, angels, witches, Texan explorers and in one of the most contentious of the strands of Pullman’s work, the organised might of the Church. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part I, National Theatre”