Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida

“Is everything alright Patrick?”

Third time round for this show, so little to add to my original review and then the subsequent brief re-review. One of my new year’s resolutions is to embrace seeing the shows I love more than once – there’s so much theatre in London and beyond that it has often felt like a crime to view things again rather than going to see something new and though that hasn’t changed, the joy of rewatching things recently has been particularly great. In that spirit, when a random cheap ticket popped up on the Almeida’s website, the prospect of seeing American Psycho again was irresistible. 

Some pieces of theatre impress with the depth of their profundity, whilst others glisten with their immediacy, and American Psycho most definitely fits into the latter category. It’s almost like an extended music video with its 80s pop score, extraordinary visual impact and kinetic choreography (I’m on the lookout for a club in which people actually do that ‘hands in the air’ dancing) and the fast-moving pace of Rupert Goold’s production means its thrills are akin to the rush of a rollercoaster and for me, endlessly reconsumable. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £5, and worth the purchase for its great content
Booking until 1st February, run sold out but day tickets and there’s often returns available on the website, checking late at night works

Leading Man of the Year 2013

Theatre, theatre, hot men, theatre – as the festive season draws to a close, my annual late present to y’all is the Leading Man of the Year post. Without fail, these are the most popular posts that I do (2012, 2011, 2010) so who am I to argue against the will of the people. Happy new year!

The list is not ranked in any way, purely in terms of an assortment of men who have turned my eye one way or another on the stage this year.

Continue reading “Leading Man of the Year 2013”

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida

“You’ll see why Santa loves the snow”

It’s turning out to be quite the month for revisits of shows – I had a pair of tickets for American Psycho which I passed onto a friend after I was lucky enough to be invited to the press night, thinking it would be fairer to let someone else get to see the show as it was sold out. But after a drunken night out and some research on my phone, we discovered a few stray tickets (assumedly returns) were available for purchase on the Almeida’s website and after an evening of lemonades, my benevolence wasn’t quite so persistent…

My companion hadn’t seen it so I didn’t feel quite as guilty as I might have, and I really enjoyed the show so was looking forward to seeing it again, even after a relatively short interval. My thoughts from last time are here and so I’ll just concern myself with a few observations here. Matt Smith clearly loves an adlib, the revolve broke down again and he flirted a little with the stagehand trying to fix it; in the final number, it is actually Ben Aldridge doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the singing; and it really is impressive how effective Sheik’s score is in focusing almost entirely on setting the mood of the piece rather than furthering the narrative. Continue reading “Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida”

Review: American Psycho, Almeida

“But the truth is no-one ever dare says,
You can never go wrong with the right Hermès”

The prospect of a musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’ cult classic of a novel American Psycho, already memorably filmed with Christian Bale, was enough to get the tastebuds salivating, well before it was announced that outgoing Doctor Who actor Matt Smith would be taking on the lead role which meant that tickets were suddenly like gold dust. And it is rather pleasing to be able to say that they are rightfully a hot ticket – not just because of an excellent lead performance by Smith as the nihilistic serial killer Patrick Bateman, but because this production – an Almeida Theatre and Headlong co-production in association with Act 4 Entertainment – is imbued with sheer quality from top to pert bottom.

Set in the midst of late 80s consumerism gone mad, Bateman is a New York banker obsessed with living the high life and living it better than his colleagues as they try to out-do each other with their ability to get tables at the hottest restaurants, work out to get the tightest abs, dress in the coolest designer clothes and win the all-important battle of the business cards. He’s got a society girlfriend too, Evelyn, but all the superficial glamour and glitz disguises a hollow core, emptier than his beloved 80s power tunes, and in order to fill the void within himself, Bateman has become a serial killer on the sly, butchering his way through any number of people that annoy him but still never really finding satisfaction. Continue reading “Review: American Psycho, Almeida”

Review: Othello, National Theatre

“Demand me nothing: what you know, you know”

Though I’ve been to the theatre a fair bit over the last few years and taken in more than my fair share of Shakespeare, the distribution across his plays has been far from equitable. I’ve seen more Macbeths, Twelfth Nights and Midsummer Night’s Dreams that I can shake a stick at, yet my first and only Othello to date was in Sheffield back in 2011. Not having previously read or studied it, it was never a play that had really appealed and though I really did enjoy that trip to the Crucible, I can’t say I was dying to see it again. But this high-profile National Theatre modern-day update, featuring Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester under Nicholas Hytner’s direction, proved impossible to resist, not least with preview prices meaning the £48 seats were going for £20 (and with this running time, it was money well spent).
 
The Venice of the opening is a non-descript place and it is only with the departure to Cyprus, and specifically here a British base on the island, that the military aesthetic of the production comes to full fruition. Vicki Mortimer’s design captures the sun-blasted stone of the Mediterranean location and the claustrophobically stuffy air of the prefab offices and rooms of the military base, with the only real nod to the geopolitics of the modern-day setting a map of the Middle East behind a desk. The production wears the updating quite lightly: on the one hand, nothing feels too forced to fit in with the concept but on the other, it doesn’t always seem like the most inspired. The bland nature of so much of the setting – the generic office, the shared bathroom, the depersonalised bedroom – mutes something of the tragedy, there’s little grandeur on display to match the heights of the emotion.

Continue reading “Review: Othello, National Theatre”

Re-review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre

“I may have been a brilliant scholar, but I was woefully ignorant of the facts of life.”

Given that last year was the first time I had made the trip to Chichester and took in the vast majority of their 2011 Festival, it is perhaps a little ironic that of the five plays I saw there, a third one has now opened in London. But I have no problems revisiting quality theatre and the double bill ofSouth Downs and The Browning Version is certainly that. As part of the Rattigan centenary celebrations at CFT, David Hare was invited to write a response to The Browning Version and the two public school-set plays were mounted together in the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre to great effect. It has now transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre (surely forever destined to be known as ‘formerly the Comedy…’) where I caught the last preview with my Aunty Jean who was down for the night.

And it was a great decision. I enjoyed Jeremy Herrin’s South Downs again, but to my mind it is The Browning Version, directed by Angus Jackson, that has become richer, deeper and thus even more heartbreaking and by any rights, ought to become one of the hottest tickets in town. My original review of the plays can be read here and the cast has transferred almost in its entirety (I think just one boy has been replaced for the West End run) so I won’t say too much more here aside from a few further reflections. Particularly, I don’t think I gave enough credit to Alex Lawther’s Blakemore and Liam Morton’s Taplow first time round, who both made their professional debut at the Minerva and who both produce empathetically balanced schoolboys with nuanced mixes of eagerness, thoughtlessness and naïveté, boyhood crushes and unaffected good-naturedness. Continue reading “Re-review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva

“You’re 14 and you know what effeminate means, this does not bode well for you Blakemore.”

There have been quite a few revivals of Terence Rattigan shows in theatres across the country to mark his centenary year but leading them all has been Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer season which has paid tribute to the dramatist by both putting on productions of his plays and commissioning new works that have been inspired by his writings. This double bill incorporates both of those by pairing Rattigan’s one-acter The Browning Version with David Hare’s South Downs, newly written as a response to the former.

Both plays take place inside public schools, dealing with issues of insecurity and identity in such institutions and the loneliness that can strike whether through failing to fit in or losing oneself so thoroughly in dry academia. South Downs takes the pupils as a starting point, John Blakemore being a precocious 14 year old on a scholarship who doesn’t fit in with his upper-class contemporaries and whose budding intellectualism and refusal to abide by convention rattles his teachers: a nicely irascible Andrew Woodall and a kindly Nicholas Farrell. Continue reading “Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva”