Inua Ellams’ relocation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters to the Biafran Civil War proves devastatingly effective at the National Theatre
“I don’t understand all this suffering…when we die we will find out but I wish we knew now”
A cracking cast heralds the return of Uncle Vanya to the West End early next year but even with Conor McPherson and Ian Rickson on adaptation and directorial duties respectively, it’s hard to get too excited about what – on the face of it – looks to be a fairly conventional interpretation (I could well be proven wrong, and hope I am…). For me, there’s something much more appealing, and thrilling, about people willing to grab Chekhov by the scruff of the neck and yank him way out of the familiar. Robert Icke and Simon McBurney replanting The Cherry Orchard in the Netherlands, or Inua Ellams and Nadia Fall relocating Three Sisters to 1960s Nigeria.
In the latter case, the result is a challenging but exhilarating reworking, set against the backdrop of the Biafran Civil War but retaining much of the Chekhovian structure, so that we feel the weight of all the tragedy that has to come. The skill of Ellams’ writing – this is dubbed a new play, after Chekhov – is knowing when to dovetail with his source material and when to allow his own choices to flourish, bringing with them a raft of glinting surprises that break through the familiarity (that some of us have). Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, National Theatre”
So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.
Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years. Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”
Danai Gurira’s The Convert is a Christmas treat of a different order at the Young Vic Theatre
“Gracious to goodness”
There’s all sorts of lovely connections here. Danai Gurira’s play The Convert was first seen in the UK at the Gate last year, a theatre where her earlier drama Eclipsed was produced in 2015. That play starred Letitia Wright in an astonishing performance and Wright now appears in this new version of The Convert at the Young Vic – Wright and Gurira having starred in some little arthouse film called Black Panther in the meantime…
It’s a cracking good play too, worth the attention of this second production. Set in 1896 Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe), it looks at the ways in which colonial rulers sought to erase African cultural identities through any means they saw fit. Culturally, religiously, linguistically, their tools of ‘progress’ were wielded with considerable force and Gurira counts up the cost with a slow-building dramatic flair. Continue reading “Review: The Convert, Young Vic”
With a cast including Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, how could Kiri be anything but good
“Stick a flake in it before you try and sell it to the tabloids will you”
Airing on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year, Jack Thorne’s Kiri was billed as a continuation of his National Treasure brand (I managed one episode of that first series…). But any fears I had of not liking it were assuaged by a cast led by Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, plus this far down the line, I’d heard enough good things about it to finally get round to watching.
Set in Bristol, Kiri follows the abduction of a young black girl – Kiri – in the foster care system, as she is allowed a meeting with her birth grandparents in advance of her adoption by a white middle-class family. Her social worker Miriam has arranged this unorthodox meeting and sure enough, the proverbial hits the fan when she gets a phone call to say she has gone missing. Continue reading “TV Review: Kiri”
And now people are dying again and what the fuck are they doing about it”
Series 1 of Fortitude was one of those genuinely unexpected dramas which unveiled its genre-spanning ways with some proper jaw-dropping moments, so Sky Atlantic’s decision to commission a second series wasn’t entirely unexpected (though you do wonder what viewing figures are like over there). Though having revealed itself as a sci-fi/horror/psychological thriller/serial killer murder mystery with political and environmental themes thrown in for a good measure, creator Simon Donald was faced with a decision about which way to go to continue the story.
Or, as it turned out, he didn’t make the decision but rather decided to pursue them all once again. And as is proving a recurring theme with shows I’ve been catching up on (Fearless, The Halcyon), the desire to develop multi-stranded complex dramas falls short once again with the writing ending up serving a jack of all trades and master of none. There’s just so much going on in so many of the episodes that it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of exactly what is what, who knows what, who is doing what to whom, and where we are in any of the stories. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 2”
“Living is fucking impossible and that’s the truth of it”
The Arcola launch their Revolution Season, marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and exploring its considerable impact, with a new production of Gorky’s The Lower Depths played by an ensemble who will remain on duty for the subsequent play in the main house The Cherry Orchard. And whilst I do enjoy getting to visit and revisit an ensemble, I have to admit to really not enjoying this.
Translated by Jeremy Brooks and Kitty Hunter-Blair and directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, The Lower Depths focuses on the downstairs from Chekhov’s upstairs, the angst of the aristocracy replaced by the desperation of the downtrodden and it really is as much fun as it sounds. A cast of nearly 20 play an assortment of misery-bound miscreants passing through a Moscow lodging house for the destitute, complaining volubly about their lot in life. Continue reading “Review: The Lower Depths, Arcola”
“It’s a blip when you’re 25, after 55 it’s a shambles”
Lesley Bruce’s An Interlude of Men is blessed with a brilliant pair of performances, Deborah Findlay and Barbara Flynn play Bren and Hilly whose lifelong friendship is thoroughly explored when Bren comes to stay and help as Hilly’s broken her wrist. They revisit girlhood memories and lament the time they drifted apart a little due to each being married and in the cosy warmth of nostalgia, they start to plan for a future together reclaiming that lost time. Bruce cleverly structures the rhythm of the play around the heady emotion of their initial reunion and the subsequent cooling off period and though it ends on a rather plaintive note, it sings with hard-won authenticity.
Riffing off of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, Edson Burton’s De Wife of Bristol is a wryly amusing take on the classic tale of one of the more vibrant characters in The Canterbury Tales and transplanted to the modern day, it gains real currency in its new location in the Afro-Caribbean community. Lorna Gayle’s Clarissa da Costa is a retired woman who has worked her way through a number of husbands and is now dispensing marital advice to recently arrived Jamaican housekeeper Shanti, a delicately moving Susan Wokoma. Shanti has her own tale to tell as well and together, they edge towards a way into the future. Jude Akuwidike, Cyril Nri and Alex Lanipekun are fun as the various men but make no mistake, this is a woman’s world.
Continue reading “Radio Review: An Interlude of Men / De Wife of Bristol / In the Depths of Dead Love”
“We’re happy enough – what more can anyone ask from life?”
Three short reviews for three short radio play this week. My favourite was The Organist’s Daughter by Stephen Wyatt, a genuinely gorgeous piece of drama with a beautiful soundscape and an excellent cast including Simon Russell Beale, Emma Fielding and Naomi Fielding. The story concerns the succession of Lübeck Cathedral’s organist – the incumbent, Dieterich Buxtehude, is in ill health and wishes to retire but the man who follows him must, as tradition dictates, marry his eldest daughter. But Anna Margreta has what people call inner beauty and her rather plain looks leave him despairing, though a series of suitors bring their own surprises with them. Russell Beale is an excellent grouch, Fielding a superbly pragmatic daughter and as the would-be organists, Karl Davies, Joseph Kloska and Matthew Watson are all good fun, the first two wannabes bearing the somewhat familiar names of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Handel…
Lenny Henry’s reinvention as a proper thespian continues apace with his first radio play, Corrinne Come Back and Gone, a powerful tale of a difficult family reunion in Jamaica. Due to the poverty of their lives, Corrinne was forced to leave her children in the Caribbean as she fled to the UK but twenty years later, she receives a letter from her daughter inviting her back though nothing is quite how she imagines it would be nor how she remembered. It’s an emotive subject but one suffused with hard-headed humour as Claire Benedict’s Corrinne sets about attempting to make amends where she can and trying, and failing, to stop interfering to make things better. A slightly too schematically upbeat ending aside, it’s an impressive debut from Henry, helped by a superb cast including Doña Croll, Nadine Marshall and Alex Lanipekun. Continue reading “Review: The Organist’s Daughter / Corrinne Come Back and Gone / The Patience of Mr Job”
“You’ve got that slight edge in your voice, like a blunt saw”
Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water is probably due a high-profile revival, not least for the richness of its female roles but until then, this radio adaptation will more than suffice. Starring Linda Bassett, Lesley Manville and Elizabeth Berrington as three sisters who reconvene after their mother’s death, Stephenson explores different reactions to grief through the prism of shared memories, or rather how the three women have significantly different memories of the same events. There’s an elegiac beauty to the way in which the familial bond asserts and reasserts itself even as long-held secrets are unearthed and emotional truths about the present aired, and the sheer quality of the cast make it a fantastic piece of radio drama.
A Special Kind of Dark is a much more challenging prospect and whilst it was hard to assess how I really felt about it, given its noir-ish twists and turns and narrative unreliability, it was nice to have such a complex piece of writing to listen to. The story is told by Caspar, who starts an affair with unhappy neighbour Helene but when she is found brutally murdered, is arrested and declared criminally insane. Over the course of a year, he tells psychologist Elodie Testoud of his suspicions of Helene’s husband, the politically ambitious Felix but given we only get Caspar’s version of events, it is never clear when he is telling the truth or lost in a Marlowe-style reverie. It is appealing performed and directed but cumulatively feels as clear as mud, writer Adrain Penketh is so determinedly obtuse that any genuine clues that might exist feel lost. Continue reading “Review: The Memory of Water / And Then There Were None / A Special Kind of Dark, Radio 4”
“I wonder how I will make the potatoes understand”
Just a quickie to cover the last of Out of Joint’s rehearsed readings to accompany Our Country’s Good at the St James Theatre which was a world premiere of a new play, Jefferson’s Garden. As a work-in-progress, the convention is not to say too much but I have to say that this will be a play to look out for in the future because I found it an incredibly accomplished piece of work, even at this early stage, and it made for a highly enjoyable afternoon.
Starting in the midst of the American revolution and stretching from a Quaker farm in Maryland to a politicised Philadelphia to the Virginian gardens of Monticello, Jefferson’s Garden looks at the birth of a nation in all its huge political and social upheaval and examines the price paid by people on all levels, from the statesmen pushing through new laws to the slaves praying for emancipation. Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre”