Review: The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call, National Theatre

Any opportunity to see Lesley Manville on stage should be taken but The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call proves close to a trial at the National Theatre

“We’re alive now only in the sense that moss and lichen are alive”

There’s no two ways about it – Tony Kushner’s new version of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call is a punishing evening on the buttocks. Thank the Lord (or the donors) for the relative comfort of the seating at the National Theatre but unless you’re a fan of Lesley Manville (and what right-thinking individual isn’t), it could well prove punishing on your patience too. 

Manville really is superb. She’s Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world who has returned to her dilapidated hometown with an intriguing proposition for the townsfolk. She’ll donate an incredible, life-changing amount of money for everyone if they’ll carry out a brutal act of vengeance on the man whose actions forced her to leave the place as a pregnant teenager. And she rises to the challenge, displaying a mesmerising stage presence that is startling in its power. Continue reading “Review: The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call, National Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre

Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor headline a new production of Romeo and Juliet, while Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy star in Gary Owen’s Romeo and Julie, among other big news from the National Theatre

New productions

Simon Godwin returns to the National Theatre to direct Shakespeare’s ROMEO & JULIET following his critically-acclaimed productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Twelfth Night in the Olivier Theatre. Set in modern Italy in a world where Catholic and secular values clash, Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Judy) and Josh O’Connor (The Crown, God’s Own Countryplay the two young lovers who strive to transcend a world of violence and corruption. Fisayo Akinade (The Antipodes, Barber Shop Chroniclesis cast as Mercutio. The production will open in the Olivier Theatre in August 2020.

Set and costume design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting design by Lucy Carter, composition by Michael Bruce and sound design by Christopher Shutt. Continue reading “News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre”

Review: Instructions for Correct Assembly, Royal Court

Some stunning design work elevates new play Instructions for Correct Assembly at the Royal Court

“Of course they’re a bit more unreliable, these flatpack ones”

Instructions for Thomas Eccleshare’s Instructions for Correct Assembly

Step 1

Take a Verity Bargate Award-winning (for Pastoral) playwright and give him his Royal Court debut with a gently futuristic play about families and failures and robot surrogates.

Step 2

Find a director with real previous in quirky stagings at the Royal Court (Goats, Who Cares, Teh Internet is Serious Business) and a designer up for the challenge of maintaining the ingenious and striking look of current main house productions with its middle-class modernity.

Step 3

Up the ante by introducing illusionist Paul Kieve into the mix to put together some properly mind-boggling trickery and have a crack stage management team under Kate Aisling Jones’ leadership support actor Brian Vernel in accomplishing said illusions.

Step 4

Pull together a top-notch cast including the always good Mark Bonnar (returning to the stage after six years) and the wonderful Jane Horrocks.
Continue reading “Review: Instructions for Correct Assembly, Royal Court”

Review: Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre

“You hunt them where they live”

There’s something interesting about a community that can simultaneously urge the need to talk constructively about failure and also gloat endlessly about the its possibility. Where the National Theatre is concerned, the stakes feel considerably heightened and following a summer that contained the divisive Salomé and Common, sadly you could almost feel the knives being sharpened in advance for Saint George and the Dragon.

Two contrasting viewpoints from two contrasting people, to be sure, but you wonder how open-minded people are being, particularly when the start to this press night was delayed by 30 minutes or so adding fuel to certain people’s fire. But all this dancing around is doing, is delaying the inevitable, in that I found Rory Mullarkey’s new play really quite tough-going and had it not been for an effortful performance from John Heffernan keeping it afloat from the front, it would have been worse. Continue reading “Review: Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre”

Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon

 
A village. A dragon. A damsel in distress.
 
Into the story walks George: wandering knight, freedom fighter, enemy of tyrants the world over. One epic battle later and a nation is born. As the village grows into a town, and the town into a city, the myth of Saint George, which once brought a people together, threatens to divide them. Rory Mullarkey creates a new folk tale for an uneasy nation.

Continue reading “Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon”

Review: Queer Theatre – The Drag, National

 

#5 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

Last but by no means least in this queer season is the one play written by a straight person and perhaps the queerest of the lot. Mae West wrote The Drag in 1927 where its frankness about gay lives (and once again, drag ball culture!) scandalised its out-of-town Connecticut and New Jersey audiences so that it never made it to Broadway. But Polly Stenham has opted to revive it for this reading and to introduce it to a new (Alaska Thunderfuck-literate) crowd. 

To be brutally honest, it isn’t the greatest play in the world, but what it does do is hold a fascinating mirror to early 20th century attitudes and how tolerance and intolerance existed side by side, then as now; the safe spaces gay men find in order to be their extravagantly true selves equally as timeless. And closet cases in marriages remain a sad truth, if not quite as dramatic as the son of a homophobic judge married to the daughter of a gay conversion therapist that we get here! Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – The Drag, National”

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: Emil and the Detectives, National Theatre

“No-one has time for other people’s troubles in a city”

It’s a rare occasion that I get to go to the theatre not knowing anything about a show in advance and so when the opportunity comes, it makes for a nice change. And in this case a huge surprise as Emil and the Detectives turned out to be a show with a cast full of kids! I now know that Erich Kästner’s 1929 novel is a much beloved children’s classic, though it never found a home on my bookshelf, and adapted here by Carl Miller, the tale of smalltown boy Emil going on a life-changing journey through the scary metropolis of Berlin and finding an unexpected solidarity with an army of street kids – the Detectives – is a solid entry in the National’s roster of family shows.

On the face of it, Bijan Sheibani seems an odd choice of director, an undoubtedly patchy track record leaving huge question marks but the National’s faith has been largely repaid here with a mercifully flaming skeleton-free production. Bunny Christie’s set design is a glorious masterpiece, using Constructivist angles and a stark spareness to allow for a range of different atmospheres and locations to be evoked, and the collaboration with Sheibani really pays off in key moments when the simplest solution is often used to great effect. Lucy Carter’s precise lighting comes into play in ingenious chase scenes with Ian Dickinson’s sound adding suitably creepy notes. Continue reading “Review: Emil and the Detectives, National Theatre”