Review: The Height of the Storm, Wyndham’s

Such pleasure in watching Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins onstage plus The Height of the Storm at the Wyndham’s Theatre is great for post-show reconstruction of this deconstructed story 

“What would I do without you?
What would become of me without you?”

As Florian Zeller returns to the London stage with his latest play The Height of the Storm, you get something of the sense that British theatre is patting itself on the back saying ‘look, we do do European theatre’. But as with Ivo van Hove’s continued presence here, there’s a risk that familiarity will breed contempt as the risk of employing European theatremakers is mitigated by picking the same ones over and over.

Which is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that, whilst I enjoyed this immensely, I wonder if we’re approaching diminishing returns territory with Zeller. The Father was an extraordinary piece of storytelling in its disorientating structure and The Height of the Storm occupies a similar territory as we join long-married André and Madeleine and their two daughters and try to work out who is alive, who is dead, and just how many mushrooms there are onstage. Continue reading “Review: The Height of the Storm, Wyndham’s”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

Review: Torn, Royal Court

“What you don’t know doesn’t harm you”

Not for the first time, Ultz’s design disarms you. You enter the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs to find it done up like a community centre, a circle of functional, grey plastic chairs in the middle of the room, a tea and coffee station off to the side. So begins Nathaniel Martello-White’s new play Torn and as Adelle Leonce’s Angel opens up the family meeting that she has called to work through some particularly pressing issues, you think you’ve got a handle on it.

You haven’t. For though it is stripped back, Torn is a fantastically knotty and complex piece of writing: full of fragmented flashbacks; verbose, overlapping dialogue; actors switching characters, sometimes mid-scene. It’s clear Martello-White has been using his time as a writer on attachment at the Royal Court well, for this is brave and ambitious work, both thoughtfully demanding and thought-provoking, it digs deep into the lengths families will go to to protect their own. Continue reading “Review: Torn, Royal Court”

Review: I’m With The Band, St James Theatre

“If rock and rolling means perforating your testes, then I’ll stick to just playing guitar thank you very much”

Between recent plays on Wikileaks and Scottish independence at this year’s Edinburgh festival, Welsh playwright Tim Price has shown himself to be utterly unafraid of tackling some of the more pressing topical subjects of our time. The well-received Radicalisation of Bradley Manning has finished for now but I’m With The Band has transferred to the St James Theatre for a two week run. Four piece indie-rock band The Union are riding high on critical and commercial success but a devastating piece of news about their finances leaves them millions in the red and prompts the departure of their lead guitarist Barry. With the original structure broken, the remaining members have to recalibrate and decide what, if any, future remains.

That the key creative relationship in the band is between the Caledonian Barry and the English keyboard player Damien adds piquancy, setting up this allegorical study of what the effects of Scottish independence might be. But he cleverly expands the picture to include Welsh bassist Gruff and Ulsterman Aaron on drums, who has an additional tortured relationship with Irish girlfriend Sinead with whom he shares a house which is divided by a chalk line they never cross, reminding us all that though the focus may be nearly exclusively Anglo-Scottish, there are two more countries involved in the wider question of separation. Continue reading “Review: I’m With The Band, St James Theatre”

Review: Blue Surge, Finborough

“I thought I could pay for something a little extra…”

Opening with a pair of botched raids on a massage parlour suspected of offering additional services, the Finborough’s latest UK premiere – that of Rebecca Gilman’s Blue Surge – bustles with relationships between cops and hookers, discussions about the American class system and exploring whether you can ever truly escape your past. Set in a mid-sized Midwestern city in the recent past, Curt is a hard-working honourable cop, who with his doofus of a partner Doug was responsible for ballsing up the raids and thus potentially jeopardising a promotion. They both find themselves drawn to two of the workers they encountered there though and whilst Doug falls into a relationship with the ditzy Heather, Curt tries to play the knight in shining armour and rescue Sandy, with whom he feels a great affinity, putting both his job and his relationship with fiancée Beth severely at risk.

For Beth is middle-class and choosing to slum it as an artist and Curt finds it impossible to really connect with her as he is from a solidly working-class background , his upbringing close to the poverty line and continuing, he believes, to shape his life even now. Connecting with Sandy, who reveals a similarly broken childhood which has directly resulted in her career choice, he sees a kindred spirit despite the 20 year age gap and a quirky relationship of sorts starts to grow between them. But whilst he wants to rescue her, she doesn’t actually want rescuing and so good-intentioned as he is, Curt’s actions threaten to jeopardise everything. Continue reading “Review: Blue Surge, Finborough”

Review: Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, Old Vic Tunnels

“The mind of man is less perturbed by a mystery he cannot explain than by an explanation he cannot understand”

I’ve had something of a varied history in the Old Vic Tunnels since it opened early last year: exciting immersive experiences and one of the worst productions conceivable – I still can’t look at a watering can the same way… And since opening last year, it continued to develop as a performing space, making varied use of the atmospheric arches, and they have now opened up The Screening Room, a brand-new 125-seater space both programmed and run by a team of volunteers to showcase the ‘new’ and offer training and experience in all aspects of theatre creation. The first show mounted here is a double bill of David Mamet radio plays, Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, presented by Theatre6 and MokitaGrit.

The first, short, piece is a one-man-show, David Burt starring as a radio show host playing at agony uncle, reading out letters and dispensing frank advice to his listeners’ personal problems. Silhouettes on the bookshelves behind him enact some of the scenes which adds an extra layer which isn’t strictly necessary as Burt’s sonorous voice and expressive face are more than plenty to guide us through the tangled concerns with a soft but matter-of-fact humour. Continue reading “Review: Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, Old Vic Tunnels”