Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida

Simon Russell Beale and Leo Bill shine in Joe Hill-Gibbins’ perfectly reimagined The Tragedy of King Richard the Second at the Almeida Theatre

“Thus play I in one person many people”

It’s tempting to think of this production of Shakespeare’s Richard II as specifically designed to rile up Billington and sure enough, he fell into the trap and reviewed the show he wanted to see rather than what was presented to him. He sees what Shakespeare should be; here, Joe Hill-Gibbins shows us what Shakespeare can be. 

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second is undoubtedly a consequential adaptation. Compressed to 100 minutes without interval, spoken at speed and set entirely within a grey-walled cell, it is disarming and disruptive. But it also works beautifully once you’re attuned to its rhythms as it makes the blind pursuit of power its central thesis, underscored by the desperation of the elite to cling onto their political influence. Continue reading “Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida”

Review: Machinal, Almeida

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 expressionist play Machinal receives an extraordinary production from Natalie Abrahami at the Almeida Theate

Your skin oughtn’t to curl – ought it – when he just comes near you- ought it? That’s wrong, ain’t it? You don’t get over that, do you – ever, do you or do you?

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal may be the story of one woman battling societal pressure but Natalie Abrahami’s production for the Almeida Theatre teases out a more elemental struggle, one which stretches over the majority of the twentieth century and by extension, even further.

The story is rooted in its ordinariness. Emily Berrington’s Young Woman gets by at a job she doesn’t like, marries the first guy who shows an interest, gives birth to a child she scarcely wants – expectations check check checked. But as she learns that she wants more, can want more, the weight of societal pressure comes to bear. Continue reading “Review: Machinal, Almeida”

TV Review: The Honourable Woman

“It’s the Middle East Shlomo, enemies is what you make”

Only by chance did I find out that The Honourable Woman was leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so I quickly took the opportunity to catch up with Hugo Blick’s political spy thriller and as is so often the case with these things, was left wondering how I could have taken this long to watch it.

Political intrigue and personal drama coming from kidnapped children, suspicious suicides and betrayals ranging from old blood feuds to intra-familial conflict set the scene immediately for a typically dense and complex story from Blick, centred on a refreshingly new take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming impossibility of finding a solution when the wounds of the past are still felt so keenly and deeply. Continue reading “TV Review: The Honourable Woman”

Review: The Sewing Group, Royal Court

“This is what we call a safe space”

When I was at primary school, we did a thing in needlepoint where we sewed seemingly random shapes in a line and only when we’d finished and Mrs Holcroft (I think it was) told us to look at the spaces inbetween, did we see that we’d made a handicraft tribute to Jesus. That’s still the first thing I think of when I think of sewing and there’s a tenuously similar link of ‘do you see what it is yet’ to The Sewing Group, EV Crowe’s new play for the Royal Court.

Stewart Laing’s production opens in the bare timber of a log cabin where two women are sewing. Enigmatically short scenes, sometimes containing just a single glance, interspersed with total blackouts offer tantalising threads to follow – an outsider joins this rural community but her mere presence in the group soon becomes a disruption, leading to more than just dropped stitches in the slow and increasingly strange unfolding of the story. Continue reading “Review: The Sewing Group, Royal Court”

Blogged: Theatre on screen July 2016

“Things are going to get, now and for the rest of your life, extremely difficult”
Well actually, things are getting easier to watch theatre in different ways and as I leave on holiday for a wee while, I thought I’d round up a few of the current offerings.
Mike Bartlett’s smash hit Wild at Hampstead Theatre was livestreamed yesterday and is available until midnight on Tuesday. 
Talawa’s touring production of King Lear is available on the iPlayer (I was a tiny bit disappointed with this to be honest)


And Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag has been developed into a TV series – not got round to watching it yet but could well be good

Review: Wild, Hampstead

“You have no freedom, no choice, at the moment you don’t even have a passport”

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Mike Bartlett is one of our finest contemporary writers and so it is pleasing to see that his new play Wild sees his reunite with creatives with whom he has had great success. Director James Macdonald was at the helm of the intense inter-relationships of Cock and designer Miriam Buether has reveled in transforming spaces such as the then-Cottesloe for Earthquakes in London and the Almeida for Game and both are on top form once again here.

At first glance, it might not look like Buether has done much to the Hampstead’s main stage but you can rest assured that she’ll have tipped the world on its axis by the end of the play, and what a fierce play it is. Bartlett has turned his gaze to the realm of information security as he imagines the experience of an Edward Snowden-like figure called Andrew who stuck two fingers up to the state by releasing sensitive data online. Sequestered in a Moscow hotel room on the run, he’s left awaiting his fate.  Continue reading “Review: Wild, Hampstead”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III

“The king’s name is a tower of strength”

The Hollow Crown reaches its climax with a solid and occasionally very strong Richard III which once again shimmers with quality and hints of artistic innovation. And for all the lauding of Benedict Cumberbatch’s starring role, it is pleasing to see Dominic Cooke and Ben Power give Sophie Okonedo’s excoriating Margaret of Anjou her due as one of the real pleasures of running these plays together is to trace her complete arc (for she’s the only character to appear in them all) and root her enmity – alongside that of so many others – in something most palpable.

Cooke’s direction also benefits from loosening its representational restraints, Richard III’s monologues and asides make this a different type of play and Cooke responds with a series of interesting choices (though the surfeit of nervy finger-tapping was a touch too much for me) making great use of both gloomy interiors and hauntingly effective exteriors. Playing so many scenes in woodlands was an inspired decision as it leant a real eeriness to proceedings, whether Margaret or Richard bursting from the bushes to disrupt the private mourning of Elizabeth or Anne. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2

“I was a woeful looker-on”

On a night when the real drama was unfolding in Stockholm’s Globen arena and the main internecine conflict was between the juries of music professionals and the public vote as revealed by the new counting mechanism, the BBC’s decision to schedule The Hollow Crown against the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t work for me. Last week’s Henry VI Part 1 was a great reintroduction into these quality adaptations as it started the new series but the follow-up doesn’t quite match the same level.

Part of the issue lies in the seemingly accepted wisdom that the Henry VI plays are problems that need solving – I’ve still not managed to see a conventional production of the trilogy to use as a benchmark – and so the plays are often abandoned to the mercies of the vision of writers and directors. Such is the case with The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2, chopped down and frantically paced, there’s a whole lot of fury but just not enough feeling (though if you’re a fan of battlefields and decapitated heads, you might fare better than I did). Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1

“I would his troubles were expired”

The Hollow Crown rises again. Four years on from the first suite of striking televisual adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, the BBC continue their Shakespeare Lives season by completing the set. For theatregoers, it has been a ripe time of it – Trevor Nunn reviving The Wars of the Roses late last year and the excellent Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their streamlined version Kings of War to the Barbican just last month – but as you’ll see, the common thread is one of adaptation, opportunities to see the three parts of Henry VI as they are remain few and far between.

And so it proves here. Though this is entitled The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1, Ben Power and Dominic Cooke have compressed the three plays into two parts and it’s hard to argue against it really – there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into (and get your head around). Emasculated by lord protector the Duke of Gloucester (a solid Hugh Bonneville, displaying as much range as he ever does), Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI finds himself an uncertain king, a querulous youth who bends whichever way the wind blows strongest in his court, riven by dynastic rivalry. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1”