“I’ve never felt at home”
With Hedda Gabler, the ever prolific Ivo van Hove is making his National Theatre debut, so you can forgive him returning to a production which he has launched twice before – with the exceptional Dutch actress Halina Reijn in Amsterdam and with Elizabeth Marvel in New York. This time however, he’s working with a new version of Ibsen’s play by Patrick Marber and has the equally extraordinary talents of Ruth Wilson leading his company. And as with his revelatory A View From The Bridge, this is a contemporary reworking of a classic that will frustrate some with its froideur but left me gasping at its gut-wrenching rawness.
As ever, van Hove’s spatial intelligence lends itself to a re-appreciation of the theatrical space in which he’s working. He’s invited audiences onstage at the Barbican, and backstage too and here in the Lyttelton, the wings are closed off by Jan Versweyveld’s gallery-like white box and so characters make their entrances and exits through the same doors that we use – Judge Brack even arrives via the rear stalls at one point. And van Hove keeps things off-kilter onstage too, often pushing the action out to the far edges, focusing the eye on unexpected details like the eloquent sweep of Hedda’s back, the tapping foot of a nervy ever-watching Berthe. Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, National Theatre”
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Dorney Court, Berkshire
I’m becoming less and less tolerant of men taking women’s roles, especially when there’s no reciprocity, and as much as I like Paul Chahidi – I don’t see why he gets to be one of the titular merry wives here opposite Mel Giedroyc. Rebecca Gatward’s fourth-wall smashing direction is very much in keeping with the Globe’s often broad sense of comedy but for me, it lacks any subtlety at all.
CymbelineAs the world’s newest country, there’s something special about the South Sudan Theatre Company forming especially for the Globe 2 Globe Festival, so it’s a bit harsh that they were then lumbered with Cymbeline. Sam Yates splices their show with his newly-filmed clips in a Welsh forest somewhere near Milford Haven but as talented as Hayley Atwell is and Kevin Harvey too, it’s a rather dull experience – I remain unconvinced about the play.
There’s no doubting that Henry VIII is one of the less-exciting plays in the canon and though Mark Rosenblatt ventures into the beautiful gardens of Hampton Court Palace with Danny Sapani as his monarch, struggling to come to terms with his longed-for heir being a girl (Pauline McLynn delivering the news well), it’s never that compelling. Even the clips of the 2010 Globe production remind more of its inertia than anything else.
There have been some pretty sweet gigs on the Complete Walk and Dromgoole’s roadtrip to Rome with Dominic West for Coriolanus has to rank up there. A stylishly shot film that comes close to a perfume ad in its luxuriousness and moody glances, it’s nonetheless most effective.
“Silly schoolgirls are always getting seduced by glamorous older men, but what about you two?”
Lone Scherfig’s film An Education was one of my top films back in 2009 and rightly saw Carey Mulligan nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. Watching it again reminded me of how good it is, a great showcase for British film and one of my favourite depictions of 1960s Britain I think I’ve ever seen. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is based on Lynn Barber’s memoirs of her schoolgirl years, spent mainly pleasing her father’s desire for her to be an excellent student and get into Oxford. That is, until handsome stranger David offers her a lift one day. That he’s twice her age is no matter, the world of sophistication he inhabits seduces her entirely from her humdrum Twickenham existence and changes her life completely.
Mulligan is brilliantly cast as the 16 going on 17 Jenny Mellor, the combination of her youthful looks and soulful eyes captures much of the teenage precocity that leads her to think she’s more mature than she is, especially in the face of such rowdy schoolgirl friends like Ellie Kendrick’s Tina and as she rushes headlong into this adult world of jazz clubs, stolen nights in hotels and weekends away in Paris, she brilliantly shows how her self-assuredness is slowly stripped away as she comes to see what she has sacrificed in order to follow her heart. Olivia Williams’ brilliant Miss Stubbs is the perfect counterpoint, a spinster teacher who encourages Jenny’s academic dreams yet perversely epitomises the height of ambition for an educated woman. Continue reading “DVD Review: An Education”
“It seems every man has had enough of me”
Starting quite literally with the Fall of Man, Carol Ann Duffy’s contemporary verse adaptation of medieval morality play Everyman sees Rufus Norris direct his first production since taking up the reins of Artistic Director at the National Theatre and finds him in a rather provocative mood. Through 100 minutes of boldly imagined drama, it’s hard not to feel that there’s an element of grabbing this institution by the lapels and giving it a good old shake. Not so much in establishing a definitive vision for the future per se but more in establishing just how wide its parameters will be.
Norris and designer Ian MacNeil work cleverly within the constraints of the Travelex budget to provide impactful moments with – variously – Tal Rosner’s video wall, a powerful wind machine, William Lyons’ music which combines shawms with Sharon D Clarke most effectively and bags of rubbish. Javier De Frutos makes a significant contribution too as choreographer and movement director, the wordless opening sequence of a coke-and-Donna-Summer-fuelled birthday party makes for a bold beginning. Continue reading “Review: Everyman, National Theatre”
I’d love to review Simon Stephens’ version of The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic but Katie Mitchell’s enthusiasm for the naturalistic approach meant I heard very little, and I mean very little of it. It’s not even as if I could see to lip-read either, the crepuscular lighting combining with a propensity to mutter and the choice that several made to speak with their backs to the audience. I’m not commenting on Mitchell’s artistic choices, I’m simply being truthful about how the basic difficulty of just hearing what was going on. And as such, I’m just not inclined to comment on anything more. If you have any sort of hearing problem, I urge you to ensure you get to the captioned performance on 27th November.
Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Booking until 29th November
“NEVER sit on the confabulator”
Once again, the National Theatre turn to Katie Mitchell to create their festive show and with frequent collaborator Lucy Kirkwood, who wrote and co-devised here, this year sees Hansel and Gretel receive their inimitable treatment. As one would expect from Mitchell, this is an extremely playful and creative take on the tale which starts off with the Brothers Grimm as a vaudevillian double act hunting for elusive stories in the depths of the mysterious Black Forest. When they finally catch one, they pop it into their special confabulating machine and the result is this bewitching production.
Aimed at 7-10 year olds, this is necessarily a rather straight-forward telling of the fairytale of the young brother and sister who are the victims of a vindictive stepmother, abandoned in the forest and left to fend for themselves. They think their dreams have come true when they find refuge in a house constructed of gingerbread and sweets owned by an old lady, but it soon turns out that they pretty much gone from the frying pan and into the fire. But the story has been enhanced: there are additional characters like a euphonium-playing bat called Stuart and a Russian kitchen slave literally chained to the stove, songs by Paul Clark are sprinkled through the narrative and there’s also some sprinkling of a more festive variety. Continue reading “Review: Hansel and Gretel, National Theatre”
“Maybe the only thing we’re obliged to do…is think the unthinkable”
One always knows that when Katie Mitchell’s name appears in connection with a play, then it is bound to be something just a little bit different as she has proved herself to be one of our most original, and consequently divisive, directors. Her latest foray into the theatre is with Simon Stephens’ satirical new play The Trial of Ubu which is just starting at the Hampstead Theatre. Mitchell has recently collaborated with both: Stephens’ play Wastwater left me more than a little bemused at the Royal Court but her installation piece small hours which played as part of the Hampstead Downstairs season last year was quietly, disturbingly excellent.
The Trial of Ubu is quite something else though. Dark, disconcerting and challenging, it really is unlike anything else in London at the moment. I saw it without knowing anything about it, or indeed about the play itself to be honest, aside from having a vague recollection of having heard a mention of Père Ubu once upon a time. And it is obviously up to you how forewarned you want to be about the show, just be aware that what will follow will necessarily contain a few spoilers. Continue reading “Review: The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead”
“Woman, hear thy judgement”
It’s typical really. When Wastwater at the Royal Court played out with hardly any of the (in)famous flair that director Katie Mitchell has become known for, I perversely rather missed it. Now she is back at the National Theatre with a production of Thomas Heywood’s 1603 play A Woman Killed with Kindness, updated to a loose 1920s setting and the kookiness is back. Am I glad? I’m not sure! The show is playing in the Lyttelton as part of the Travelex Season and this was a preview performance on 14th July.
The play is noted for one of the first tragedies to be written in the domestic sphere, looking at the loves and lives of everyday people. The marriage of John Frankford and his wife Anne is threatened by John inviting a man, Wendoll, into their home as a companion and to take all at his disposal: Wendoll thus pursues an affair with Anne much to John’s anger. Across the way, Sir Charles Mountford is heavily in debt and constantly in serious trouble due to his ructions with Sir Francis Acton (Anne’s brother). Acton is enamoured of Mountford’s sister Susan and she finds herself an unwitting pawn in her brother’s increasingly desperate attempts to get off the hook. Continue reading “Review: A Woman Killed With Kindness, National Theatre”
“You’ve never heard a fairytale until you’ve heard one told by a fairy…”
First in an ever-increasing list of the family Christmas show market is Beauty and the Beast, currently in previews at the Cottesloe in the National Theatre. Devised and directed by Katie Mitchell with text work from playwright Lucy Kirkwood, they have reworked the traditional fairy tale into this delightful new confection aimed at girls and boys over the age of eight (and those young at heart too!)
Mitchell’s twist is to have the story presented to us by magical creatures Mr Pink and Cecile with their helper, and it is these interjections that provide much of the laughs and the interesting narrative drive whereas we might be familiar with the tale of Beauty and the Beast, we have no idea where these characters might end up. She has introduced all sorts of lovely touches to engage her audience, my favourites of which were the mind-reading machine which is used on the characters to reveal their true thoughts but is also turned on some audience members too and the shadow puppets used with the lightbox to great effect. The fast-forward and rewind features were neatly done, Gareth Fry’s exaggerated sound effects are great fun, there’s a charming moment as we all look up into the stars: it all serves to capture the attention of her audience and keep it, the children around me all loved it. Continue reading “Review: Beauty and the Beast, National Theatre”