Review: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre

Strong performances from Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane make the challenging When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other worth the effort at the National Theatre

“A woman would never say that
‘A woman did just say it'”

It is bracingly refreshing to see the kind of artistic decisions that drive Cate Blanchett’s theatrical career, so often complex, contemporary takes on classic work which show a performer never content to rest on her laurels. Which leads us to her National Theatre debut in When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – 12 Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, written and directed respectively by noted iconoclasts Martin Crimp and Katie Mitchell. 

And as such, it certainly is something of a challenge. Played for its two hours without interval, Blanchett and co-star Stephen Dillane act out a series of psychosexual, sado-masochistic role-playing games and that’s about it. There’s strap-ons and shaving foam, backseat shenanigans and boxes of cherries, and an untold amount of portentous chat which sometimes, sometimes, sears through to the soul. Continue reading “Review: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre”

News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference

All sorts of goodies were announced today for the upcoming slate of productions at the National Theatre, including Small Island, Peter Gynt, and Top Girls 

Olivier Theatre

Small Island, a new play adapted by Helen Edmundson from Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning bestselling novel, will open in the Olivier Theatre in May. Directed by Rufus Norris, the play journeys from Jamaica to Britain through the Second World War to 1948, the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Small Island follows the intricately connected stories of Hortense, newly arrived in London, landlady Queenie and servicemen Gilbert and Bernard. Hope and humanity meet stubborn reality as, with epic sweep, the play uncovers the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK. Hundreds of tickets for every performance available at £15. Small Island will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as part of NT Live. Continue reading “News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference”

#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage

Such amazing casting news came our way yesterday, with not one but two of my absolute faves returning to the London stage in the coming months. The starrier of the two is Cate Blanchett, who will appear with Stephen Dillane in a brand new play by Martin Crimp’s directed by Katie Mitchell at the National Theatre in January 2019. The play is enigmatically entitled When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – Twelve Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. (The torture presumably being the absolute scrum there’ll be to get tickets, as the show is going into the NT’s most intimate space, the Dorfman.)

But matching Blanchett in my personal pantheon in Lucy Cohu, an actor whom I’ve longed admired since she broke my heart in the double whammy of Torchwood – Children of Earth on the TV and Speaking in Tongues on the stage. She’s joining the cast of Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm, alongside Anna Madeley and Amanda Drew. And given that the cast already contains the previously announced Jonathan Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins, this ought to be a good’un. That shows arrives at the Wyndham’s Theatre in October after a brief tour of Richmond, Cambridge and Bath. Continue reading “#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage”

Review: Anatomy of a Suicide, Royal Court

“I’ll stay
I will try to stay
For as long as I possibly can

I promise”

Beautiful yet undeniably brutal, Anatomy of a Suicide has all the shimmering disquiet of a half-remembered dream, a blurred imagining of people, places and things that coalesce into something deeply profound. Constructed by playwright Alice Birch and director Katie Mitchell, it revels in a hugely exciting formal inventiveness (even the playtext is stunning to look at) but is also filled with a repressed emotionality that is often bruising to watch.

The play contains three narrative strands, set in different times, which are performed simultaneously on the same stage. Across the decades from the 1970s to the 2030s, the lives of Carol, Anna and Bonnie play out with strange echoes and motifs recurring until we realise how interconnected they are. Anna is Carol’s daughter, Bonnie is Anna’s and it is more than blood that they share, Birch suggests a shared legacy of severe depression.

It’s an uncomfortable (depressing, even) premise but one which pays rich dividends as it provokes in us something primal, something elemental about the truths and conventions we cling onto. The thought that motherhood isn’t always considered a blessing but a trial, the idea that we can easily outrun familial legacies, the notion that what is so, so good for ourselves isn’t necessarily so great for another. As words and actions trickle down through the ages, reverberating back again, shaping and reshaping these lives, something vastly moving occurs.

Hattie Morahan, Kate O’Flynn and Adelle Leonce are simply stunning as the three generations of women at the heart of this story, each meticulously detailed in their performance and painstakingly accurate in the different ways in which mental illness has hollowed them out. And the way in which the intergenerational echoes pop up is unbearably moving, the precision of Mitchell’s direction in complete service of fully fleshed-out storytelling producing something astonishing, especially in the agonising poignancy of one of the final tableaux. An absolute triumph.

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
Booking until 8th July

Review: De Meiden, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam

“Alles terug”

The class struggle is an innate part of Jean Genet’s The Maids but the mark of many a good drama that has endured for several decades is its ability to handle new interpretations by the directors who seek to revive them. Jamie Lloyd refracted the play through the lens of American racial politics for his visually striking production at the Trafalgar Studios earlier this year and ever the iconoclast, Katie Mitchell, making her directorial debut at Toneelgroep Amsterdam, chooses to put a migrant labour spin on her more naturalistic version.

So sisters Claire and Solange here are middle-aged Polish women – underpaid, underappreciated and in at least one case, really quite ill – who have found work keeping house for Madame, or rather keeping her super-luxe apartment. The relationship is a complex one though as we see them passing the time by enacting and re-enacting the ritualistic murder of their employer, raging against the system in the only way that they can – in secret, in private, away from the eyes of a Western society that doesn’t really give a fuck when it is oppressing.  Continue reading “Review: De Meiden, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam”

Review: Say It With Flowers, Hampstead Downstairs

“It was spoken in this way and it was spoken of in this way”

Returning to the Hampstead Downstairs after the intensely immersive small hours, Katie Mitchell continues to push the boundaries of what this theatrical space can offer by creating its first promenade production – Say It With Flowers. A journey through some of the writings of American modernist writer Gertrude Stein, it maintains Mitchell’s customary inventive approach to theatre – probably unparalleled by any other British director – as she explores Stein’s use of language and wordplay with her own unconventional, and playful, style.

The pleasures that come from a piece such as this are not those that equate to a conventional play – I’ve heard mention that “it isn’t dramatic” but it would seem to me that this is to miss the intentions of both Stein’s writing and Mitchell’s work. Rather than notions of story or character, we’re challenged as an audience about the way in which words are used, how language can define our identity, and how meaning can shift so completely with a slight change of emphasis. These are elusive, even existential concepts that defy simplistic narrative devices and consequently, it is probably best to just embrace the hypnotic swirl and compelling strangeness of this world. Continue reading “Review: Say It With Flowers, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Hansel and Gretel, National Theatre

“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”

Review: The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead

“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”

Review: A Woman Killed With Kindness, National Theatre

“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”