Review: A Lie of the Mind, Southwark Playhouse

“Love… its a disease that makes ya’ feel good. While it lasts. Then, when it’s gone, yer worse off than before you caught it”

Despite being blown away by True West, something about Sam Shepard makes me a little wary. I liked rather than loved Fool For Love and ultimately steered clear of the recent Buried Child and it was with a little trepidation that I allowed myself to make my way into A Lie of the Mind, produced here at the Southwark Playhouse by the folks at Defibrillator Theatre. Part of the problem I think lies in my antipathy towards the American dream as a narrative driver, in all honesty I often find I could care less about characters who are constructed around it. So a production has to do a lot to create the kind of context that makes me care and I’d say that director James Hillier just about manages it here, albeit with a couple of reservations.

In rural Montana, a part of the declining American West, the fallout from a particularly vicious episode of the brutally abusive marriage between Jake and Beth plays out. He’s retreated back to his childhood bedroom and she is recovering from her substantial injuries at her family’s cabin and in parallel, we track – through the most abstracted of ways – the dysfunctional family bonds, their violent legacies and the crucially unexpressed love, that have led them to this point and which appear to offer little alternative beyond. Continue reading “Review: A Lie of the Mind, Southwark Playhouse”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Following the successful screenings of Measure for Measure and Ubu Roi, Cheek By Jowl have announced that The Winter’s Tale will be streamed live from the Barbican Centre on 19th April at 7.30pm*, for free.

Cheek by Jowl is an international company, with audiences around the world – as such, we will be screening The Winter’s Tale in English, French and Spanish (subtitled), partnering with BBC Arts Digital, Spain’s El País, France’s Télérama and The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. The screening will also be available with access subtitles.

As well as on these partner sites, the livestream will be available on www.cheekbyjowl.com/livestream, where we will regularly be sharing videos of the cast. This multi-camera screening is made possible due to the support of the Barbican Centre, and funding from The Space, Arts Council England and the BBC.

 
*The show will be available on demand until 7th May 2017.

 

 

Running from 29th June to 16th July, the programme for the 2017 Manchester International Festival has been announced. Highlights include

  • Cotton Panic! An industrial music drama from Jane Horrocks, Nick Vivian and Wrangler
  • <Party Skills for the End of the World, by Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari
  • Thomas Ostermeier directs Nina Hoss in world premiere of Returning to Reims, an urgent response to the populist politic sweeping Europe
  • Theatre-Rites create The Welcoming Party, a site-specific mix of installation, live music, puppetry and dance for families and children, following stories and real life experiences of journeys
  • Created by the people of Manchester from an idea by Jeremy Deller, What is the City but the People takes MIF to the streets for the opening event of the festival
  • Boris Charmatz;s 10,000 Gestures will transform Mayfield Depot with a 25-strong ensemble of dancers
  • Fatherland, a poignant new show created by Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham, Underworld’s Karl Hyde, and playwright Simon Stephens.

An interesting diverse selection, best get looking at trains!

 


Casting is announced today for While We’re Here, a new play by acclaimed writer Barney Norris (Visitors, Bush Theatre; Eventide, Arcola Theatre). Alice Hamilton will direct Tessa Peake-Jones (Only Fools and Horses, BBC; Beacons, Park Theatre) and Andrew French (The Iphigenia Quartet, Gate Theatre; Boi, Boi is Dead, West Yorkshire Playhouse) in this world premiere which opens the Bush Theatre’s brand new 60 seat Studio. 

Co-Directors of the multi award-winning touring company Up In Arms, Barney Norris and Alice Hamilton return to the Bush following their critically acclaimed production of Visitors, for which Norris won the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright. He has two other productions opening this spring; Echo’s End at Salisbury Playhouse and a revival of Every You Every Me at Oxford Playhouse/ Reading Rep. His debut novel, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, was released last year and is now a bestseller.

“Sometimes I think my whole life has been a frightening time. Well. I remember the crunch of the gravel under my feet walking back up the drive, and thinking my life might be over. I might have had all of my fun. But I was wrong, it turned out. I’ve had a lot of good things since.”

 
Eddie and Carol were lovers once, but their lives went in different directions. Now they meet again in a town full of memories, and find something still burns between them. On the country’s southern margin where the towns give way to the English Channel, both search for the centre of their lives.


Shallower people than me (yeah right…) would might be interested to know in the casting new for Defibrillator’s production of the Sam Shepard play A Lie of the Mind at the Southwark Playhouse. Running from 4th May to 28th May, it may not be the happiest of stories as it looks at two families torn apart by spousal abuse… But with Gethin Anthony and Robert Lonsdale in the cast (both stars of a certain list in 2014), it will at least be nice to look at (and most likely problematic!)

 

Defibrillator artistic director James Hillier will direct the cast which also includes Kate Fahy, Laura Rogers, and John Stahl. 

Review: Winter Solstice, Orange Tree

“A new world which will last for ever…”

I’m pretty sure every time a German production is mounted in the UK, it is slapped with the mantle of ‘most popular contemporary German playwright’ (see Franz Xaver Kroetz’s The Nest from late last year) – a sign that audiences here still have to be led gently by the hand towards European drama with whispered encouragements of ‘well he is the best they have, you know’.

This time, it is Roland Schimmelpfennig’s turn, as his 2013 play Winter Solstice receives its British premiere at the Orange Tree in this Actors Touring Company production directed by Ramin Gray. And it is well worth the effort as though it may flirt with the experimental, it also cuts through to the elemental – as piercing an insight into the rise of the far right as we’ve seen on any stage. Continue reading “Review: Winter Solstice, Orange Tree”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10

“Come, sit on me”

The Taming of the Shrew

Christopher Haydon takes Eve Best and John Light over to the Villa Businello-Morassutti in Padua, to make me sure that the world is in need of a proper production of the Best/Light Shrew as they spar achingly, beautifully, with each other. Toby Frow’s rambunctious 2012 production also comes up a treat with Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day equally impressing.

The Winter’s Tale

And another, with Michelle Terry directing an almost painfully raw performance from Mariah Gale in Apothecaries Hall, her wounded Hermione breathtakingly good, especially with the strong contrast of the vibrant Yoruba production from the Globe II Globe festival.



As You Like It

A curiously low-key take here as Bryan Dick’s Touchstone and Marty Cruickshank’s Corin wander Belgium’s Ardennes Forest with a good deal more time devoted to the clips, in this case from Thea Sharrock’s interpretation of the play from 2009, with a stellar Naomi Frederick and Laura Rogers riding roughshod over Jack Laskey.

Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room

“Everyone is sensitive to something”

Given the amount of writing that Tennessee Williams produced – not a year goes past without a premiere of some new short play or other by him – it’s no surprise that there’s a good deal of his work that falls into the little-performed category. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one such play, written in 1976 and now revived at Notting Hill’s Print Room, directed by Michael Oakley.

In a St Louis, Missouri apartment sometime in the 1930s, a group of women spend a sweltering Sunday preparing for a picnic, illuminating as Williams so often does, the precarious nature of women’s place in society. All four are single but at different stages in their life and naturally it is the youngest – civics teacher Dorothea – who is the driving force, believing she has the most at stake. Continue reading “Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room”

CD Review: Bad Girls (2007 Original London Cast)

“We’re all banged up without a bang”
Maureen Chadwick, Ann McManus and Kath Gotts’ musical adaptation of long-running TV show Bad Girls only lasted a couple of months in the West End back in 2007 but they still managed to get out a cast recording (and a DVD too, though I’ve not been able to track that down yet). My first experience with the show was with the Union’s fringe production earlier this year and I have to say, I really enjoyed myself.
Sadly, I don’t think this recording quite captures the joie de vivre that the show gave me. It actually highlights the randomness of Gotts’ score, both musically and dramatically. David Burt’s Jim Fenner is a case in point here – Burt plays up the devilish charisma which is his forte in suavely slick numbers like ‘Jailcraft’ and ‘The Key’ yet for all his old-school Hollywood charm, we have to buy him as the sexually predatory villain of the piece.

To be fair, that’s an extreme example but such inconsistency is indicative of Bad Girls as a whole and the songs aren’t really strong enough to stand up on their own here, switching from heartfelt spiritual to vaudeville to flat ballads. Julie Jupp and Rebecca Wheatley do their best as the Julies with comic number ‘Life of Grime’ but it doesn’t pop as it did onstage; so too with Yvonne’s glammed-up number ‘A-List’, Sally Dexter’s powerful voice deserving a better calibre of material.
But for all my head says this doesn’t work, my heart has been softened by the memories of that Union production and I can’t help but be a little seduced into this trashy life of crime – the 80s power pop of ‘The Baddest and the Best’ is pretty much the definition of guilty pleasure. Maybe one to borrow off a friend rather than buy outright.

Review: Private Lives, Churchill Bromley

“Don’t quibble, Sibyl”

Given that this touring production of Private Lives is going on for a couple of months and stretching from Glasgow to Torquay, it seems odd that they’ve decided to hold its press night so early, when the show is in distinct need of bedding in. As Elyot and Amanda, the warring ex-couple who end up in adjacent hotel rooms celebrating honeymoons with their new partners, Tom Chambers and Laura Rogers just haven’t got there yet.

In the singing, the dancing, the bantering, the fighting, they’re decent but not much more, fatally mismatched as Chambers’ easy geniality has none of the requisite bite to be the equal sparring partner that Laura Rogers’ expressively daring Amanda needs, and deserves. He makes little attempt to stamp character onto the lines, to make them funny for him, instead relying too much on the fact that they’re just funny on the page. Continue reading “Review: Private Lives, Churchill Bromley”

Review: Masterpieces, Royal Court Surprise Theatre via YouTube

“Looking at pictures never hurt anyone”

Alongside the Weekly Rep season, another of the major innovations at the Royal Court as part of their Open Court summer is the notion of Surprise Theatre. Here, the upstairs space has been taken over on Mondays and Tuesdays and tickets sold without any information being given about what is to be performed. An ambitious move to be sure but one which clearly paid off as the run soon sold out – but even with the assurance of a quality programme, I have to admit to not being willing to take the risk. I like to be able to have the choice of how I spend my money and my time.

Perhaps with an eye on this, or just acknowledging the limited number of tickets for the smaller theatre there, many of the pieces of theatre have been made available on their YouTube channel – the performances themselves filmed from a standing camera, and allowing many more people to experience the surprise. A good thing, one may think, but having watched one of them – the performance of Sarah Daniels’ 1983 polemic against pornography Masterpieces – I’m not 100% sure it is the most successful of enterprises. Continue reading “Review: Masterpieces, Royal Court Surprise Theatre via YouTube”

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”