Review: It’s Like the 60s Never Happened, Royal Court

We seek out revolution wherever we can find it”

The Royal Court’s The Big Idea strand of work commissions a range of responses to the plays running there and with Hangmen going great guns in the main house before heading over the Wyndham’s for a well-deserved West End transfer, I headed over this Saturday afternoon for It’s Like the 60s Never Happened. Four short plays, each “imagining a world where one of the major 1960s social political or technological innovations never happened”, performed in unexpected locations on the Royal Court site.

I’ve been on a couple of similar theatrical trips here before and there’s something irresistible about getting to see the backstage nooks and crannies which are so inventively used. This time, we got to visit a rehearsal room, a little terraced garden, a stairwell and the office that sits behind those iconic red letters out front and though they may not sound the most inspirational of places, the way in which each of the directors used them really did cultivate the sense of something special. Continue reading “Review: It’s Like the 60s Never Happened, Royal Court”

Review: The Rehearsal, Minerva

“Life has a way of sorting things out and leaving them in some sort of order”

Chichester Festival Theatre has a long-standing tradition of staging works by the French writer Jean Anouilh, which is continued by this production of his 1950 play The Rehearsal, but it is not terribly difficult to see why he has fallen out of favour with the vast majority of British theatres. Jeremy Sams, directing his own translation here, has pulled together a lusciously talented cast and a sumptuous set and costume design by William Dudley for the Minerva, but it is all sadly just window-dressing, albeit of a very high quality.

The play is set in 1950s France, in a chateau inhabited by the fabulously wealthy and the fatuously bored. To pass the time, they’re putting on a show – Marivaux’s The Double Inconstancy to be precise – but art is bleeding into life and vice versa. The feckless Count, the instigator of the whole affair, pressgangs their young governess into joining their company and soon finds his head turned by her fresh charms. This is to the consternation of his wife the Countess, who seeks solace in the arms of her own lover, and also of his official mistress Hortensia who sees her shakier position undermined.  Continue reading “Review: The Rehearsal, Minerva”

Review: The White Devil, Swan

“Sum up my faults, I pray”

It feels a bit of a shame that one of the centrepieces of the RSC’s Roaring Girls season is a play that doesn’t manage gender parity in its cast, even with some cross-gender casting. This may speak of the nature of Jacobean Theatre, for it is Webster’s The White Devil of which we speak here, but Maria Aberg’s reputation precedes her and so it was a little disappointing to see that the opportunity hasn’t been seized here – if not now, then when?
 

And though I’d heard such great things about this production, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed here. Part of lies in the play itself – I can’t deny that I just don’t really like it and though it is updated to the debauchery of the 1980s Rome club scene here, the messy chaos of the pursuit of naked self-interest that proves Aberg’s main focus dominates too much and often to the detriment of the storytelling. Continue reading “Review: The White Devil, Swan”

Review: We Are Proud To Present…, Bush Theatre

“So, there’s like a lecture that’s only sort of  a lecture and then we did this thing that is kind of like an overview before the the lecture, which is before the presentation.
Does that make sense?”

Some plays leave you thinking, and though it is now a couple of days since I saw the Bush Theatre’s We Are Proud To Present…, I’m still utterly unsure about it. This is the European premiere of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s US hit from 2012 whose full title is in fact We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the GermanSudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 – 1915 and Sibblies Drury has adapted the text for a British cast, and presumably a British audience.

For the play blisters through the weight of our colonial past, the state of current race relations and the ability of theatre to effectively process them, asking if art can find a healing way through such tangled and tortured history to find a potentially brighter future. So it is hard not to feel a little despondent at the way Gbolahan Obisesan’s production plays out, the playwright’s indictment of white people in general so unsettling and thought-provoking, the starkly uncompromising attitude breathtakingly bold. Continue reading “Review: We Are Proud To Present…, Bush Theatre”

The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd, Royal Exchange
Kenneth Branagh, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Nigel Cooke, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange
Paul Webster, Sugar Daddies, Oldham Coliseum
Jack Wilkinson, David Copperfield, Oldham Coliseum

Best Actress
Marianne Benedict, Chicago, Oldham Coliseum
Cush Jumbo, A Doll’s House, Royal Exchange
Gillian Kearney, Educating Rita, Library at The Lowry
Alex Kingston, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Maxine Peake, Masque Of Anarchy, Manchester International Festival, Albert Hall
Shannon Tarbet, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: Home, Arcola

“One works. One looks around. One meets people. But very little communication takes place”

An unexpected delight, David Storey’s much-celebrated but rarely performed Home proved to be something rather lovely in its strange way, almost anti-dramatic in its structure and conventions, but beautifully moving in its deliberate poetry and pitch-perfect performances. Amelia Sears’ production for SEArED reconfigures the smaller Arcola studio into the round and Naomi Dawson’s design is just beautiful, hinting at where we might be but carrying much of the ambiguity that is contained within the play itself.

We start with a gorgeous sequence between old hands Jack and Harry, bantering and chatting about the old days in a most fragmented way, lamenting the Britain of the past and delivering their old patter routines to while away the hours as if two old friends had just met up. But their reverie is shattered by the arrival of Kathleen and Marjorie as we soon realise that we’re actually in the grounds of a mental asylum, something confirmed by the final addition, the genuinely disturbed, and much younger, Alfred. Continue reading “Review: Home, Arcola”

Review: Black Battles with Dogs, Southwark Playhouse

“It’s all so senseless”

Set in a white-run construction site in an unidentified African country, Bernard-Marie Koltès’ Black Battles With Dogs is the latest show to move into the second space at the Southwark Playhouse. The throaty ululations of unseen native security guards (unconfirmed reports indicate the yodelling Floyd Collins may still be trapped in the Vault – after all, did we actually see his body…) calling out to each other to keep awake over a long, long night which sees Alboury, a local man, demanding the return of the body of his brother who died that day, apparently in the compound.

The weary Horn is coming to the end of his shift working for this company, he’s physically scarred and emotionally drawn, tired, grumpy and sick of this existence. But it turns out his junior colleague nervy, prejudiced Cal is the one who shot a man and disposed of him nearby and Horn is thrust into the middle of the situation to smooth it out. Matters are further complicated by the arrival of Parisienne Leonie, eminently unsuited to the area but with her eye on marrying Horn for his money. Thus the scene is set, but little really plays out from it in the end. Continue reading “Review: Black Battles with Dogs, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead

“All these dreams of fire and steel in one little head”

The best of intentions always tend to go awry from time to time and so it is with theatre bookings. I would not normally have considered going to see Little Eagles, as Russian space history is not generally a subject I care that much about, at least not enough to pay money to see. But, as it was one of the new commissions by the RSC and being performed by the Ensemble, whom have grown into a fabulously cohesive unit and therefore pretty much making anything they do a must-see as they come into the final furlong of their time together.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned orbit of the earth, Rona Munro’s play follows the development of the Soviet space programme by Sergei Korolyov, a former gulag inmate with the meagrest of resources who managed the incredible even in the face of great political pressure. But it is a slow, long play with little variation of tone or voice; there’s no attempt to question this version of events and even the joy of seeing these actors in fascinatingly different roles did not really mitigate against this. Continue reading “Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead”

Re-review: Romeo & Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“If love be rough with you, be rough with love”

So having managed to stand through King Lear and partake of a lovely dinner, the evening saw a second visit to Rupert Goold’s highly entertaining Romeo & Juliet. I haven’t got a huge amount to say about this that I didn’t already say in my original review, it really is as fresh and exciting an interpretation of this play that you will ever see, it feels like it could have been written yesterday, so persuasive is the pulsing heart of this production with its innovative immediacy.

I’d actually decided not to see the show again when it came to the Roundhouse in the winter as I thought I didn’t want my happy memories of seeing it at the Courtyard to be affected. But talking to people who did go persuaded me it might be a good thing and I am so glad that I did go again as I felt the production has matured into something richer and stronger. And knowing what the directorial flourishes were meant that I was able to focus more elsewhere, on the subtleties, the little touches that passed me by and enjoying the sheer quality of the performances, especially from the great seats we forked out for, on the front row of the circle facing the stage. Continue reading “Re-review: Romeo & Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance”

Sometimes quite a difficult play to pull off due to the disparate nature of its two main strands, The Winter’s Tale remains a popular choice for the RSC and this production, part of the Roundhouse season, was originally seen in Stratford in 2009. Starting off in the highly ordered Sicilia, Leontes rules with a tight discipline, ill-equipped to deal with the warm emotion of his wife Hermione. Playing the genial hostess to their friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, rouses a terrible jealousy in Leontes though and charging them with adultery, he sets in train a terrible set of events that hugely alter his life. Much of the second half takes place 16 years later in Bohemia with events much advanced, but we eventually return to Sicilia to revisit Leontes and his court for the final denouement.

David Farr’s production is superbly mounted and works as a timely reminder that even the greatest of men can be undone by a moment of frailty and the echoing impact of the emotions and decisions of those in power throughout the rest of society. It is one of Shakespeare’s most impressionistic plays, there’s perhaps more suspension of disbelief necessary than usual in here, but it works as a tale of human nature and the rewards for those who are faithful and loyal throughout and this production manages to balance the two sides well, provoking huge emotional depths especially in a beautiful rendition of the ending but also raising spirits and laughs aplenty. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, RSC at the Roundhouse”