Not-a-review: The Libertine, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You will not like me”

There’s probably a German word for a play that opens with a self-fulfilling prophecy such as the one above, but even I wasn’t expecting how true it would be for The Libertine. Moving into the Theatre Royal Haymarket after a run in Bath, I haven’t been this bored by a play in quite some time. From Stephen Jeffrey’s writing to Terry Johnson’s direction to Dominic Cooper’s lead performance, I found it all all just fearfully dull.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd December

Review: Amygdala, Print Room Balcony

“I should imagine perspective plays a part”

Geraldine Alexander’s last stage outing in The Empty Quarter was pretty astoundingly good so I was intrigued to see how her debut as a playwright would turn out in Amygdala, tucked away in a found space at The Print Room. Hermione Gulliford plays Catherine, a successful lawyer with a busy family life who finds herself unravelling when a chance encounter on a bus leads to a heady affair with a handsome young man, Alex Lanipekun’s Joshua, but one with terrible consequences.

In the aftermath, Jasper Britton’s psychiatrist Simon is charged with trying to fix the emotional wreckage, the damage done to the ‘amygdala’ – the part of the brain where emotion and memory reside – but in delving into her psyche, he unwittingly stirs part of his own. It is a simply drawn play – although one full of densely complex thoughts and writing – but one in which both of Catherine’s key relationships feel curiously unrealistic – the therapist’s couch unleashes a high degree of unprofessionalism and the affair feels a little convenient.

That said, there is no doubting the quality of the acting in Alexander’s production (she directs too) particularly from Gulliford in the intense later stages of the play. Britton is strong too as he tries to suggest why such a seasoned worker might be tempted to cross a crucial boundary and Lanipekun plays off his handsome looks most effectively. The awkwardness of the space means that the production always seems like it is struggling against something but given the nature of the writing, it almost seems appropriate.


Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 14th December

Review: Race, Hampstead

“What can you say to a black man on the subject of race?”

The Bee Gees once sang ‘it’s only words’ and that was my abiding sentiment as I left the Hampstead Theatre after seeing David Mamet’s Race. Circumstance conspired to prevent me from seeing this on the press night and I allowed myself to be convinced to try again to see it, but it was one of those instances where fate should have been allowed to play out. Even over its short running time, Race rarely feels like a piece of coherent drama spoken by fully-fleshed characters but rather a collection of ideas strung together and placed into mouthpieces.
Its subject is right there in the title, centred on the debate in a lawyer’s office about whether to take on a politically charged case of alleged rape involving a (presciently Strauss-Kahn-like) powerful man. The case is deemed problematic by the defendant being a black woman, the accused a white man, and it is further complicated by the inter-racial dynamics of this law firm. Throw in some gender politics and the rich/poor divide and the scene is set for some coruscating debate on some eternally pressing issues, but Mamet fudges it completely.


A pre-set defeatist tone about anything to do with race neuters much of the argument made within. And there is a lot of it right from the off – the playwright’s customary sharpness with his dialogue is present and expertly performed in Terry Johnson’s production – but a weariness soon sets in as fiery cynicism and manipulative self-interest means there’s less debate and more pronouncement, this is one iceberg with no hidden depths. 

Clarke Peters and Jasper Britton as the lawyers neatly suggest a lengthy shared history despite the sketchy characterisation and Nina Toussaint-White works well as the enigmatic newcomer to the firm who, as is becoming a little too predictable with Mamet, has a game-changing secret up her sleeve. Daish’s accused rapist though never feels like a real person, no realism at all to his situation and so there’s just not enough power to underline the noise of this play which is ultimately all just confrontational bluster. 

Running time: 80 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 29th June

2013 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

BEST MALE PERFORMANCE
Jasper Britton in Mother Adam at Jermyn Street 
Louis Maskell in The Fix at Union Theatre
Thomas Coombes in Barbarians at Tooting Arts Club
William Houston in Uncle Vanya at The Print Room

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE 
Aysha Kala in Khadija is 18 at Finborough Theatre
Eileen Atkins in All That Fall at Jermyn Street
Lucy Ellinson in Oh, The Humanity at Soho Theatre
Matti Houghton in Brimstone and Treacle at Arcola Theatre

BEST NEW PLAY
Lot and his God by Howard Barker at The Print Room 
Lungs by Duncan Macmillan by Paines Plough (Shoreditch Town Hall) 
Shivered by Philip Ridley at Southwark Playhouse Continue reading “2013 Offie Award Finalists”

DVD Review: Anonymous

“Let me offer you a different story”

Any film that contains someone being dragged to the theatre saying “there won’t be puppets will there?” is bound to be a winner with me. And if that film has also courted controversy then my interest is bound to be piqued. But the publicity campaign against Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous was so vociferous that it disappeared from cinemas before I got the chance to see it and so I had to wait for it to emerge on DVD. Why so controversial? Emmerich’s (better known for loud blockbusters like Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow) film is based on the premise that the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was in fact the true author of the works normally attributed to Shakespeare. Thus a great outcry was launched, by the people and scholars for whom this is the biggest deal, and the film largely scuppered.

Which ultimately is a shame, as I found it to be rather an enjoyable film and somewhat perversely, the authorship question is just one of many strands of story in what turns out to be a historical political thriller, mainly based around the succession to the throne as Elizabeth I’s reign has produced no (legitimate) heirs. That one of the key players in her court just happens to be a playwright on the sly, who is forced to use a surrogate by the name of William to get his plays staged, is taken as a given here and it makes for an entertaining ‘what if’ scenario. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anonymous”

Review: The Beggar’s Opera, Open Air Theatre

“You will always be a vulgar slut”

The Beggar’s Opera written by John Gay in 1728 was the first example of the ballad opera, perhaps the forerunner to today’s jukebox musicals in folding in pre-existing tunes to a satirical narrative that poked fun at the ever-popular Italian operas that were all the rage. Gay set his play in amongst the lowlifes of society, our main protagonist Macheath is a highwayman and raging lothario and the slowly twisting plot follows his shenanigans as he gets married to Polly Peachum, despite having gotten Lucy Lockit pregnant, unaware that the parents of both are part of a corrupt justice system that would happily see him hang so that his reputed fortune would come to them. Lucy Bailey directs this production which takes place in the elegant Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.

The overall impact is somewhat underwhelming though, the score not really proving to be melodically distinct enough, nor the story witty or moving enough to really crackle with life. For 2 hours 40 minutes, there is very little to the plot and much of the running time is taken over by the 69 songs that are sung throughout the show. Though mostly sung well, these rarely progress the action but rather arrest the flow and as the vast majority of them fall neatly into the English folk ballad category, there’s a gnawing sense of repetition that sets in. And even when there is no singing, there’s little vibrancy or energy on stage, movement director Maxine Doyle of Punchdrunk has introduced a rather sluggish pace and Bailey’s direction does not draw out enough of the comedy from the productions or her performers. Continue reading “Review: The Beggar’s Opera, Open Air Theatre”