Review: The Jungle, Playhouse

Immersive theatre done right in a completely reconfigured Playhouse, The Jungle is thought-provoking beyond belief

“No one wants to stay here”

Following on from an enormously successful run at the Young Vic last year, The Jungle has made the move to the Playhouse Theatre in one of the unlikeliest but most significant West End transfers in recent history. Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy’s play was born out of their experiences in setting up the Good Chance theatre in the Calais refugee camp that gives it its name and accompanied by an extraordinary (re)design of the space by Miriam Buether, becomes a genuinely unforgettable theatrical experience.

Buether’s design recreates the Afghan restaurant that was part of the camp where audiences can sit at the table (which becomes a thrust stage) surrounded by the heady scent of warming spices and baking bread. It’s a useful reminder that even in the midst of a crisis state, life has to continue and food is an enduring common bond. And this anti-doom-and-gloom approach is symptomatic of The Jungle. No tragedy porn here, but rather a portrait of flawed humanity – people doing good, people screwing up, people just trying their damnedest in face of a shameful international emergency. Continue reading “Review: The Jungle, Playhouse”

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines

“Open your eyes, what do you see?”

It may well have had much to do with the fact that I was knackered after the previous six but I have to admit that the seventh final session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was probably my least favourite of the day. The 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines programme saw writers respond to headlines of the moment to create rapid response plays – none of which really lived up to the quality of the programmed works that had preceded them.

There were lots of interesting ideas floating around – Rebecca Lenkiewicz and director Anna Ledwich’s scorching take-down of Vogue’s declaration that the cleavage is out of fashion probably worked the best, interleaved with a young woman’s desperate search for adequate healthcare and the inadequacy of male responses to a serious discussion about breasts. And Charlene James’ kidnap drama with a twist gave Maggie Steed a cracking part to play, directed by Alice Hamilton. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines”

Review: Valhalla, Theatre503

“When it comes to pain and fear and love, we are a breed apart”

Hmm, a difficult one this. Due to the very very late withdrawal of Clint Dyer from the show, Theatre503’s Valhalla opened to critics with the playwright Paul Murphy stepping into the role, understandably performing script in hand. But whilst the ‘show must go on’ ethos is admirable, there’s no denying that forging on ahead in this manner does Jo McInnes’ production little favour, fatally unbalancing it for the moment whilst offering frustrating hints of what might have been and what might yet still be once Murphy is able to settle into the part.

It doesn’t help that I found the play, from first-time writer Murphy, difficult. Valhalla did win the 2014 Theatre503 Playwriting Award from over 1600 other submissions but its gnomic, over-saturated nature is challenging. Explorations of eugenics and genetic testing rub shoulders with hints of Nordic folklore and witchcraft as a couple flee riots in the UK for the isolation of a Scandinavian research facility where they’re on the cusp of finding a cure for a global pandemic (what a time to be alive…). But this scientific advancement comes at personal cost, the terms of which the couple thrash out. Continue reading “Review: Valhalla, Theatre503”

DVD Review: Birthday Girl

“Are you a giraffe?”

Birthday Girl is a rather odd little thing, a 2001 film from Jez Butterworth (he of Jerusalem) that seemed to slip under the radar somewhat. It’s not brilliant but by the same token it isn’t terrible either and plenty worse films have made bigger waves. Ben Chaplin’s John is hapless in St Albans (is there anything else you can be there? ;-)), having no luck in love and so resorting to getting himself a Russian mail-order bride called Nadia. She turns up in the form of Nicole Kidman, who else, and though she can’t speak a word of English, she indulges his S&M fantasies and so job’s, it would seem, a good’un.

But it’s no happily ever after, Nadia’s two rough cousins soon turn up on the doorstep (played by Frenchmen Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz, assumedly because the Russians were out on the day they were casting?) and John’s job as a bank clerk turns out to be rather important. Their unpredictable violence pulls John deep into a morass of deception and criminality but after the mid-film twists take place, the movie runs out of energy and trundles towards a rather uninspired ending that no amount of random Brit cameos (Ben Miller, Reece Shearsmith) can rescue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Birthday Girl”

Review: Midsummer Mischief B, The Other Place

Asked to respond to the provocation “well behaved women seldom make history”, 4 writers have produced 4 plays, Programme B of the RSC’s Midsummer Mischief contains the plays I Can Hear You by EV Crowe and This Is Not An Exit by Abi Zakarian and as with Programme A, I am expressing myself through the medium of Rupaul’s Drag Race (gifs courtesy of  Fuck Yeah Drag Race) – mischief indeed.
Once again, the seating. It may well leave you like this.

And though I’m onside with the feminists, I have to say this double bill left me disappointed.

Some may not be surprised I didn’t like Crowe’s piece (we do have history…) but though it may seem I am…
…I do try to remain open-minded, honestly. This “naturalistic supernatural” story achieves little though.
And Zakarian, a writer with whom I was previously unfamiliar, also failed to make much real impact.
So whilst I wouldn’t want to be accused of being too harsh…
…there’s no doubt that out of the pair of them, Programme B needs to sashay away.
Running time: 1 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th July and then playing the Royal Court 15th-17thJuly

Review: Vera Vera Vera, Royal Court

“I don’t know where you came from or who you belong to, but I do know that no-one wants to claim you, no-one wants you to belong to them”

‘As above, so below’ so the saying goes, but in this case the opposite is true as the Royal Court upstairs follows the Hampstead Theatre downstairs in putting on a play which deals with the death of a young British soldier and its impact on the family left behind. But where Nick Payne’s Lay Down Your Cross focused on the parent-child dynamic, Hayley Squires’ Vera Vera Vera looks at how contemporaries are affected – the siblings and cousins left to mourn their loved ones and reassess their own lives in the light of tragedy. This play continues the Young Writers Festival which started with Goodbye to all That and as she originally trained as an actor, this is Squires’ first full-length play.

She moves forward and back between two scenarios in present-day Kent: a pair of schoolkids make tentative steps to progressing their friendship into something more and three months later, a brother and sister prepare for the funeral of their younger brother, killed in combat in Afghanistan. Tom Piper’s design utilises the same central structure from Goodbye to all That which he also did, but this time around the edges are covered in grass and the Kentish countryside is suggested on the walls. Jo McInnes’ direction also harks back to that first production in keeping the cast visible on the staging area even when not involved in the scenes, but pushes it a little further by having some spiky non-verbal interactions between them during the scene changes – a little thing but most effective. Continue reading “Review: Vera Vera Vera, Royal Court”

Review: Wastwater, Royal Court

“There are things which you’ll have done or which you’ll do which live with you for ever and ever”

You know you’re in trouble when a play describes itself as ‘an elliptical triptych’, making a virtue of your own obscureness sets up a challenge from the off and such is the case here with Simon Stephens’ new play Wastwater, directed by Katie Mitchell for the Royal Court (‘wast’ rhyming with cost in case you’re unsure). Three scenes, three locations on the edge of Heathrow Airport, three different couples all on the cusp of life-changing decisions, no interval. (This is a review of the final preview FYI)

Given Katie Mitchell’s penchant for mixing things up, her direction here is relatively straightforward. There’s no infuriating running across the stage, wrapping things up in plastic bags or her video work here, indeed the only notable innovation is a pair of seriously impressive set changes in Lizzie Clachan’s design which creates three strikingly different sets for the three scenes. And they need to be different as the scenes are self-contained, each couple appears just the once as their stories unfold and then Stephens moves us onto the next. Continue reading “Review: Wastwater, Royal Court”

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, National Theatre

I do love me some actresses, and I always get a thrill when I hear the words ‘all-female cast’ so I was very much inclined to book for The House of Bernarda Alba at the National Theatre. A new version by David Hare has been commissioned of Lorca’s classic (I say classic, I’ve never read it…) which bemoaned the way in which women were treated at the time but hinted metaphorically at his own repressed homosexuality and the increasingly oppression that brought about Franco’s rule.

Set in 1930s Spain in a stunningly mounted (by Vicki Mortimer) palace of an Andalusian house, the Alba household is mourning the death of matriarch Bernarda’s husband but the actual feeling is one more akin to liberation as it turns out she relishes the chance to take control of the family, of her five unmarried daughters, and maintain the staunchly Catholic ethos of sexual repression despite the natural urges of her girls. Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, National Theatre”