Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner gives us an utterly inspired take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre, with Gwendoline Christie in stupendous form

“Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have”

You can tell a lot about a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the way it treats its Hippolyta. Possessed of so few words, her presence is nevertheless vital for setting the tone of the play and from the moment you walk into the Bridge Theatre, you just know Nicholas Hytner has got it right. This conquered queen is caged in a glass box, as if an artefact in some grotesque museum and as an impassive Gwendoline Christie fixes us with her  stare, it’s a definitive commentary on the gender politics here before we’ve even started.

But even once the play starts, her power is no less unremarkable. As Hermia claims she knows not by what power she is made bold, one look at Hippolyta’s hand against the glass leaves you in  no doubt of the source of her new found confidence. Small but powerful changes that set the scene perfectly for Hytner’s most striking innovation which, as it reveals itself in the following act, proved to be one of the most thrilling ways to re-infuse excitement into this oft-performed classic. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre”

Re-review: People, Places and Things, Wyndham’s

“I want to live vividly”

There’s something rather apposite about the rush to label Denise Gough’s performance in People, Places and Things as the greatest since Mark Rylance’s in Jerusalem, as as heretical as it may be to say it, I was no real fan of the latter. And whilst there is a huge amount to admire in Gough’s epic efforts in a behemoth of a role, my reaction to the play on seeing it a second time was magnify what I felt were its flaws, leaving me bemused at the number of 5 star notices and hyperbole-filled writing.

My original review can be found here and in its new home at the Wyndham’s, I felt much the same. Duncan Macmillan’s writing lapses towards the painfully poetic far too often when trying to engage with the realities of addiction and it still feels baggy, the group scenes linger past their welcome and the repetitiveness goes too far, a fair bit could be cut and nothing lost. But what do I do know? It fascinates me endlessly when I end up outside the zeitgeist this way and interestingly for me, no-one else’s reviews have convinced me of what I’m apparently missing. Still, I’d recommend you go along to make up your mind and to see what should be, by any rights, the ascendance of Denise Gough to a well-deserved star status. 

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th June

DVD Review: Krakatoa The Last Days

“It should have been a warning to us”

Krakatoa: The Last Days is a rather po-faced 2006 docu-drama about the cataclysmic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, based on eyewitness accounts. Its strenuous attempts at historical gravitas make it extremely worthy, trying wisely to keep away from the disaster-porn ethos that would make it a schlock-fest, but it straddles the line between docu and drama quite uncertainly and rarely becomes a compelling watch.

The narrative is split mainly between the account of a Dutch geologist Rogier Verbeek (Kevin McMonagle) who became the father of modern vulcanology with his study of the events which were the first ever scientific accounts of the full cycle of a volcanic eruption, and the trials of the family Beijerinck, the colonial masters of a small village that lay right in the path of the first shockwaves to emanate from Krakatoa. Continue reading “DVD Review: Krakatoa The Last Days”

Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre

“You can’t do karaoke unless you’re part of the group”

Oh expectation, you fickle thing – so easily built up and yet so easily dashed. Headlong’s last visit to the National Theatre saw Lucy Prebble’s The Effect brought to powerfully moving life and recently revived so devastatingly effectively in Sheffield, it was still fresh in my mind. So perhaps foolishly, Duncan MacMillan’s People, Places and Things had a lot to live up in my mind but sometimes that’s what happens when you’re a theatre addict – you just have admit that you’re powerless over theatre and that your life has become unmanageable.

Entering a 12-step program is all well and good but how to identify the exact nature of the wrongs, defects of character and shortcomings that help on the way to recovery? How to make amends to the people who have been harmed? Here’s where this tortured analogy will die a death as I can’t make it work, and it is turning out a little harsh against this production. That said, I really wasn’t a fan despite some sterling work from Denise Gough and spotted at least three people making a run for it before we broke for the interval.  Continue reading “Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre”

Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Do not torment me, prithee”

Last up in the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy, in the What country friends is this? season was The Tempest. In some ways I wish I’d seen this closer to The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night (which I saw on consecutive days in June) as the thrill of watching an ensemble across multiple plays is magnified much more that way. As it was, my enthusiasm for The Tempest – never one of my favourite Shakespeares and now totally ruined by the fact that I’ve now seen what will probably the best version ever –  had waned slightly as I returned to the Roundhouse.

The reality was neither as bad as I had feared nor as good as I might have hoped. David Farr’s production (I wish they’d gotten in a third director to really mix things up) has its moments of  inspiration and interest, but these are scattered throughout rather than invigorating the whole show and so my abiding feeling was of unevenness. For the great visual impact of Prospero having the islanders dress in identikit suits, little is done to enliven the immense amount of speechifying that the character does, Jonathan Slinger’s performance having a strangely unnerving impact more than anything. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art”

What country friends is this? indeed. A nifty line switch and a striking coup-de-théâtre gets the RSC’s Twelfth Night off to a wonderful start as Emily Taaffe’s sodden, anguished Viola emerges from the shipwreck she believes has taken her brother’s life and left her washed up in Illyria. Disguising herself as Cesario, a man, she joins the retinue of the Duke Orsino but finds herself swept up in the love games between him and the grieving countess Olivia, whose eye is taken by the new arrival on the scene. Part of the company’s Shakespeare’s Shipwreck Trilogy, the Roundhouse plays host to the repertory season for just under a month before returning to Stratford-upon-Avon for the rest of the month. 
 
David Farr’s production transfers the majority of the action in Olivia’s household to a Greek hotel (which she presumably owns) which proves a mostly effective and ingenious relocation. Malvolio becomes the hotel manager, Feste the old school variety turn, a reception desk stands in for the box-tree and the swimming pool and revolving doors provide constant amusement. Jon Bausor’s beautifully designed set is actually a triumph, an artfully exploded hotel suite on the sweeping expanse of timber atop a water tank, complete with working lift shaft which comes into its own in the scenes of Malvolio’s torment. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I will go lose myself and wander up and down to view the city”

The endless whirl of festivals continues apace with the return of the RSC to its adopted London home at the Roundhouse. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which in turn is part of the London 2012 Festival, the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy brings together one company and two directors over three plays which are bound together through their similarities, entitled What Country Friends Is This?. First up is Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi’s take on The Comedy of Errors, a fresh and frenetic romp through the play which, whilst it may lack some poetry, has been invested with a great energy.

Ruled over by a maniacal gun-toting Duke, it is instantly clear that this Ephesus is a dangerous place in which the threat of death is ever-present and a genuine reality. Onto a grim looking quayside, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are deposited as illegal immigrants in the elusive search for their twin brothers from whom they were separated in a shipwreck. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve alighted in the right place but almost immediately they are mistaken for their Ephesan brothers and brings into motion a hectic tale of misunderstandings and madcap capers. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Not-a-Review: The Harvest, Royal Court

“Apple-picking is really cool”

The Royal Court’s International Playwrights Season turns its gaze to Eastern Europe now, with main show the Latvian Remembrance Day opening this week and two rehearsed readings accompanying it from other former Soviet countries. The first was from Belarus, The Harvest by Pavel Pryazhko and translated here by Sasha Dugdale, a deceptively simple but wickedly funny comedy about four young people picking apples in an orchard.

I’ve enjoyed the previous readings I’ve been to so I would most likely have booked for this one anyway, but as soon as I discovered that the much-lauded (on this blog at least!) John Heffernan was taking part, it was a no-brainer. But it was also pleasing to see the rest of the cast being interesting names too: David Dawson (an alumnus of Posh from downstairs here), and Laura Elphinstone and Emily Taaffe, both of whom I’ve seen and liked but in fairly serious roles, so it was a great pleasure to see everyone breaking loose and playing with the daftness in the comedy of Pryazhko’s writing and all doing really well. Continue reading “Not-a-Review: The Harvest, Royal Court”

Review: Kin, Royal Court

“Small dogs in packs and pairs, doing what small dogs do”

Set in an all-girls boarding school in the 1990s, EV Crowe’s Kin is the last show of 2010 to show upstairs at the Royal Court. Crowe’s writing was also featured in Clean Break’s Charged at the Soho Theatre with the short play Doris Day about the challenges for modern policewomen but this show looks at what could happen when young girls are cooped together in the claustrophobic atmosphere of boarding school, away from familial guidance.

It focuses on two girls Mimi and Janey who have a complex friendship which is further complicated by another girl Nina accusing Janey of bullying. And so rivalries, burgeoning sexualities, precociousness and fraught emotions bubble up. The narrative is non-linear here though, a complicating factor which adds nothing and actually detracts from things as it all adds up to very little, fragments of scenes threatening to come to chilling life but hardly any actually achieving that and given the short running time combined with this structure, I didn’t feel like Crowe’s writing actually said anything and left me unmoved and completely indifferent to what I had just seen. Continue reading “Review: Kin, Royal Court”

Review: Pieces of Vincent, Arcola

“I remember a time when opinion and imagination were on nodding terms”

Pieces of Vincent is a new play from David Watson receiving its world premiere at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre. Vincent is a young man adrift in the world, looking for an ex-girlfriend and solace in London, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and his life changes forever. The play takes us through how this affects a large cast of characters, from County Down to Birmingham to various parts of London, as we slowly see the impact he had and get closer to the truth of what has happened.

Es Devlin’s innovative approach to the design of this show has resulted in an unusual seating arrangement. The audience sit on cushions the floor in the middle of the theatre and the action takes place all around us, as film images are played, often in a highly effective 360° manner. Three of the sides have sets behind the gauzy screens and one has a blank wall onto to which a range of locations are effectively projected. Continue reading “Review: Pieces of Vincent, Arcola”