Review: Hedda Gabler, Salisbury Playhouse

“Every so often a dark impulse takes hold of me”

Brian Friel’s translation of Hedda Gabler was first seen at the Old Vic in 2012 when Sheridan Smith took on the lead role but Anna Mackmin’s production struggled somewhat with the humour that the Irish playwright introduced. A few years later though, Gareth Machin takes the same adaptation for his Salisbury Playhouse with greater success, finding an ideal balance of tragicomedy that might not always feel entirely Ibsenesque but remains convincing nonetheless.

Matters are also helped by casting the excellent Kirsty Bushell as Hedda, present on the not-inconsiderable list of actresses I really rate but well worthy of the place. With a whip-smart wit that lacerates too easily (her husband’s ageing aunt and their servant bear the brunt of this) and a sensuality that she deploys on seemingly every man but the one she’s wed to, Bushell gives us a real woman with a real sense of all the capricious vivacity that she believes will no longer be a part of her humdrum married life. Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, Salisbury Playhouse”

Review: Anything Goes, New Wimbledon Theatre

“If love affairs you like 
with young bears you like

why nobody will oppose”

Sheffield Theatre’s production of Anything Goes is launching on a simply mammoth tour of the UK – over 30 venues in 10 months – so it’s a pretty good job that it’s a largely excellent production. It’s rather amusing to note the number of reviews that mention that this classic show is over 80 years old yet still point out that the much revised book isn’t anything special at all but merely a framework on which to hang some of the most glorious songs of Cole Porter’s career. Given the average age of the audience, this will not come as a surprise to anyone, but there’s much here in Daniel Evans’ production to commend it to the young’uns too.

Alistair David’s choreography is a real delight, a constant breath of fresh air on which the show floats giddily, whether it’s the leads fooling about as if they’re Fred Astaire, sailors mooning over bathing beauties, or the whole company possessed with a spiritual glee. The eye is of course drawn to the stunning Act 1 finale set to the title track (which will always belong to Kate Capshaw’s bizarrely translated version in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, my first experience thereof) which is a jaw-dropping, shoe-shuffling, tap-dancing dream, cleverly referencing classic moves but also firmly establishing its own identity by keeping Debbie Kurup’s sensational Reno Sweeney front and centre. Continue reading “Review: Anything Goes, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Re-review: Medea, National Theatre

“I choose to take back my life.

My life.”

Booking a return trip to anything Helen McCrory is starring in is something of a reflex action now but I was more pleased than usual to be able to revisit Medea as conversations with numerous of my friends who were not fans had left me questioning whether I had maybe over-rated the show on first viewing. And it was equally nice to find out that I had not. I can see why elements of Carrie Cracknell’s production might have been polarising but for me, the synergy between the different disciplines is alchemical.
 
From jerky dancing to Goldfrappian swells of music, luxury cameos through to an actor magisterially making her mark on an oft-played role to dominate the vast auditorium of the Olivier, it’s a Medea for our time and so it was entirely correct that this performance should be part of the NTLive programme and be broadcast to cinemas across the world. Spine-chillingly remarkable stuff and that’s all I really have to say!

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 4th September

Review: Medea, National Theatre

“Terrible things breed in broken hearts”

Euripides’ Medea has long been considered one of the greatest roles for a woman to play so it is a little surprising (or perhaps not) that it hasn’t been performed at the National Theatre before. But the winds of change blow even on the South Bank so it makes great sense that one of our finest living actresses, Helen McCrory, should take on the part in a production by Carrie Cracknell, herself responsible for making some of that change with recent shows like A Doll’s House and Blurred Lines.

Ben Power’s new version relocates the betrayed Medea in a blasted contemporary setting (another ingeniously cracking design from Tom Scutt, evocatively lit by Lucy Carter) where she and her two children anxiously await news of the husband and father who has abandoned them for a newly politically expedient marriage. Trapped in a foreign land, having severely burned her bridges with her homeland, we watch helplessly along with a hefty Greek Chorus as grief inexorably transmutes into anger.  Continue reading “Review: Medea, National Theatre”

Review: This May Hurt A Bit, St James

“Is that blood on the ceiling?”

Like many things in this country, the National Health Service is something that we all love to complain about – long waiting lists, jam-packed A&E departments, staff without any time to pay enough attention. But it is also an institution that many of us have cause to give huge thanks for, so to see it gradually decimated from within by insidious Coalition politics is a bitter pill indeed to swallow, though it is one which we have taken without too much complaint. Stella Feehily’s This May Hurt A Bit marries her own recent experiences of our health service with an overtly political study of how it has gotten into its current state and how we have let this happen.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the personal inflections to her writing produce the most effective part of the play. Her partner, who just happens to Max Stafford-Clarke who directs here, suffered a stroke a few years ago and from their interactions with the NHS, comes the story of the elderly Iris and her family who are sucked into the system when she falls ill with a suspected stroke. Stephanie Cole brings a hugely affecting dignity to the role, laced with a cutting sense of humour, as she tolerates the mayhem of a modern overstretched hospital ward and her two adult children (Brian Protheroe and Jane Wymark) bicker by her bedside about whether they should go private or not.  Continue reading “Review: This May Hurt A Bit, St James”

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”