Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court

The densely poetic On Bear Ridge offers a thoughtful experience at the Royal Court, with Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola on fine form

“One minute we had customers, the next minute there was no-one”

There are moments, especially once the clocks have turned back and any hint of political news seeps through the cracks, that you crave the comfort of something uncomplicatedly warming – for me, I’m hoping Mary Poppins will scratch that itch. Until then, we have the unspecified apocalypse (Lord knows theatre loves apocalyptic near futures) that lours menacingly over Ed Thomas’ new play On Bear Ridge.

Deep in some rural backwater, Noni and John Daniel are the proprietors of a grocers slash butchers slash petrol pump slash black market den. Or at least they were, the community they served having long disappeared, and now they’re down to their last sack of potatoes. Their chat has a gnomic, Beckett-like feel, especially when their shopboy Ifan pops up for the odd word. But fighter jets are roaring above and the arrival of the bedraggled, gun-toting Captain heralds a twist into darker terrain. Continue reading “Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court”

Rehearsal images for Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia

Rehearsal images for Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? have been released , ahead of the production’s first preview next week. Albee’s darkly comic play about a family in crisis will run for a strictly limited 12 week season at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 24 March to 24 June 2017.

In Ian Rickson’s production, a husband and successful New York architect with everything to lose must confess to his wife and son that he is having an affair and face the dizzying, explosive consequences. Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo play husband and wife Martin and Stevie, joined by Jason Hughes as Martin’s oldest friend Ross and newcomer Archie Madekwe as their son Billy. Continue reading “Rehearsal images for Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia”

Review: Violence and Son, Royal Court

“I’m not like that.

Even now, a week after I saw Gary Owen’s Violence and Son, I still don’t know what to say about it or more importantly, how to say it – it’s a rare thing for a play to stun me into such silence but a magnificent one too. Cai Dyfan’s circular set recalls the similar set-up for Mike Bartlett’s Cock but with its dirty white plastic chairs and drab demeanour, it speaks of something or somewhere more desperate – in this particular case, the isolation of the Welsh valleys but only a fool would say this story and its ramifications, as searchingly highlighted by director Hamish Pirie, are limited to that sole location.

Life is tough enough as a Doctor Who fan but 17-year-old Liam is suffering more than most after his mother’s death has meant to has to move Wales to live with the father who left before he was even born. Rick, whose nickname gives the show its title, claims to have last been sober when he was 14 and rage follows in his every footstep as he thinks nothing of battering everything and everyone around him. And as father and son get to know each other, Owen makes a powerful argument about the appalling toxicity of stereotypical notions of masculinity but also how difficult it is to shake a generational legacy.  Continue reading “Review: Violence and Son, Royal Court”

DVD Review: The Flint Street Nativity

 “Who put Jesus in with the iguana?”

Much more fun than traditional takes on the Nativity is Tim Firth’s The Flint Street Nativity (which I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing until now) which is utterly charming and heart-warmingly British in the best possible way. Firth’s conceit is to have adults playing children, hardly the most original of ideas, but as the pupils of this infant class put on a chaotic performance of the Christmas story complete with onstage squabbles and backstage power struggles, we see how the turbulence of their home lives is played out in their interactions with their schoolmates.

It is beautifully done, and sensitively played throughout. It never stops being funny – particularly as Dervla Kirwan’s determined Jaye plots and schemes to usurp Josie Lawrence’s Debbie Bennett as Mary – as playground rituals dominate proceedings. There’s the endless procession of ever-changing best friends, the relentless goading of the one who always says “dares ya” to the more susceptible kids, the terror of the boy with the stammer, the terrifying rough kid, the bossy know-it-all, the teacher whose patience wears ever thinner with each crisis. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Flint Street Nativity”

Review: In The Next Room, or the vibrator play, St James Theatre

“Your mouth is dry, and you lick your lips, and your face makes an ugly expression…”

Even its very title seems designed to shock – In The Next Room, or the vibrator play – but truth is that Sarah Ruhl’s play, seen in Bath last year, does little to hit the spot or indeed do much to arouse much attention. A lengthy exploration of the arrival of portable electronic devices for the treatment of women’s…hysteria, Ruhl eschews the chance of delving into the ins and outs of medicine of the time, the elusiveness of genuine understanding of female biology, or the quivering anticipation of the explosive social change on the horizon, and plumps instead for a bog-standard sex farce based on marital relations.

And for all that it is filled with the moans and groans of female (and male) “paroxysms” – Flora Montgomery’s Mrs Daldry charged with the thankless tasks of producing the vast majority of them – it is a curiously sexless enterprise. The focus remains instead on the disappointments of the marital bed, as Jason Hughes’ Dr Givings – the inventor of the new-fangled device – finds more satisfaction in treating his increasingly eager patients than connecting with his own wife, Natalie Casey’s pinched Catherine, and Mrs Daldry is happier with her doctor than has ever been with her own husband.

Ruhl takes a long time to say very little and though Laurence Boswell’s production has inspired moments of sprightliness, they are too far between. That said, Ed Bennett is great casting as a liberated artist keen to experience what all the fuss is about, Sarah Woodward is criminally under-employed as a nursing assistant and Madeline Appiah finds the rare moments of genuine insight as the wet-nurse who has to try and keep the wheels on the Givings’ family harmony. But it’s not particularly clever, or sexy or shocking, one should look elsewhere for satisfaction. I like the idea of Tuesday matinees though.


Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 4th January