Review: An Octoroon, National Theatre

One of the best plays, and productions, of last year, An Octoroon makes a hop, skip and a leap from Orange Tree to the National Theatre

“Black playwright? I can’t even wipe my ass without someone trying to accuse me of deconstructing the race problem in America”

An Octoroon transfers to the National Theatre from a hugely successful run at the Orange Tree last year and sells out entirely way in advance. And yet it is Wilde and Pinter who are getting seasons in the West End…time to shake up the orthodoxy I think, even while accepting its a big step from the Dorfman to Shaftesbury Avenue.

Rather than wrestle with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ complex writing and Ned Bennett’s layered production once again, I’m just going to point you to the fact that I named Ken Nwosu’s performance as my favourite of the year, and I ranked the show as the sixth best of the year (out of 346). My original review can be found here, I’m looking forward to seeing a hopefully more diverse range of responses this time round.  

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Helen Murray
An Octoroon is booking at the National Theatre until 18th July – currently sold out but returns and Friday Rush available

New casting announced for 2018 National Theatre season

TRANSLATIONS

by Brian Friel

Previews from 22 May, Press night 30 May, on sale until 7 July with further performances to be announced

Owen, the prodigal son, returns to rural Donegal from Dublin. With him are two British army officers. Their ambition is to create a map of the area, replacing the Gaelic names with English. It is an administrative act with radical consequences.

Brian Friel’s modern classic is a powerful account of nationhood, which sees the turbulent relationship between England and Ireland play out in one quiet community. Cast includes Dermot Crowley, Aoife DuffinAdetomiwa EdunMichelle FoxCiarán Hinds,Laurence KinlanColin MorganSeamus O’HaraJudith Roddy and Rufus Wright.

Directed by Ian Rickson, with design by Rae Smith, lighting design by Neil Austin and music by Stephen Warbeck and sound design by Ian Dickinson.

Part of the Travelex Season with hundreds of tickets for every performance available at £15. Continue reading “New casting announced for 2018 National Theatre season”

Review: An Octoroon, Orange Tree

“I invented matinées bitches, look it up!”

You wouldn’t have put money on Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre becoming the destination for some of London’s more radical theatre leanings but with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon, it has done it once again. Less of a surprise is that it is director Ned Bennett at the helm again, reuniting with Pomona collaborators Georgia Lowe (design) and Elliot Griggs (lighting) to provide a headfuck of a production out of a headfuck of a play.

I could talk about the plot, about how Jacobs-Jenkins has adapted Dion Boucicault’s 1859 racially dubious play The Octoroon, but that wouldn’t do this any justice really. For this is a piece of theatre less concerned with narrative drive, with characters that move from point A to point B, but more of a thought experiment, challenging audiences to consider our attitudes toward race, both in how it is portrayed on contemporary stages and how we deal with the legacy of a wealth of drama approaching the issue in a completely different day and age.

Continue reading “Review: An Octoroon, Orange Tree”

Review: The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic

“A daring fellow is the jewel of the world”

Daring indeed for Robert Sheehan, known to some, if not me, for his part in Misfits, chose to make his professional stage debut at the Old Vic in this revival of The Playboy of the Western World. A 1907 play by Irish writer JM Synge which caused riots with its opening performance which seems rather hard to fathom now, but its Set on the West Coast of Ireland in the early 1900s, Christy Mahon is a mysterious stranger who arrives in a County Mayo pub and declares that he has killed his father. But the locals love the drama and the story-telling wit that he brings into their life and rather than condemning him, elevate him with hero-worship and he attracts the romantic attentions of many of a woman, including engaged barmaid Pegeen.

I have to say I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Sheehan’s Christy, lacking the real verve and charisma needed to convince as the absolute charmer he’s meant to be, a really odd piece of casting in that I just couldn’t see what it was that he was meant to be bringing to the show, it certainly wasn’t the gift of the gab. Ruth Negga fared better as Pegeen but also didn’t really possess the kind of mastery of the text that would have pulled me into this world a bit more. But then I don’t think it would have won me over in any case as this is a very broad, Oirish world in John Crowley’s production, with many performances from supporting characters on a knife edge of just too much. Continue reading “Review: The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic”

Review: Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic

“Every person is a new door, opening up into new worlds”

John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation receives its first revival in 18 years with this David Grindley directed production at the Old Vic. Based on a true story of a conman finagling his way into the lives of wealthy Manhattan socialites by pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier, we see the lives of two New York art dealers, Ouisa and Fran Kittredge turned upside down after they take an injured Paul into their home and he wreaks havoc on their lives and those of them around them as he challenges their comfortable existences. It is kept in its original 1980s setting, presumably as the issues around financial greed are as pertinent today, even if those around race and homosexuality are less so.

Onstage narration seems to be the flavour of the month and it is a tricky thing to get right: Innocence fails, Midsummer gets it right, here is somewhere in the middle. There’s a mixture of Ouisa and Fran, and indeed other characters, narrating the events and the action being played out, and I’m not sure the balance is wholly there: it is just so much more entertaining when the actors are engaging with each other and I was frequently left wanting to see more of that. Continue reading “Review: Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic”