Review: As You Like It, RSC at the Barbican

I find much to enjoy in Kimberley Sykes’s production of As You Like It for the RSC at the Barbican, particularly Lucy Phelps’ epic Rosalind

“Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly”

The critical reception for Kimberley Sykes’ production of As You Like It for the RSC was a little lukewarm this summer, all 3 stars and grudging praise. But I found myself really rather seduced by its many charms, as it opens the winter residency for them at the Barbican. And in Lucy Phelps, a Rosalind full of big dyke energy for the ages. Read my four star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Topher McGrillis
As You Like It is booking in rep at the Barbican until 18th January

Review: Forgotten 遗忘, Arcola Theatre

Daniel York Loh’s Forgotten 遗忘 proves an invaluable history lesson at Arcola Theatre in a co-production from Moongate and Yellow Earth

“Whose side are we on?”

The obsessive focus on highly-skilled migrants that characterises so much of the administration’s thinking on immigration neglects one crucial detail – that it is so often migrants who end up doing the kind of criminally low-paid, thankless jobs that our society relies upon and rarely acknowledges. Of course, this kind of erasure is nothing new but it is still a shock to discover the history lesson that Daniel York Loh has in store for us in Forgotten 遗忘.

For his new play tells us the story of the Chinese Labour Corps – the hundreds of thousands of rural Chinese workers who were recruited to work by Britain and her allies in the trenches World War I. Not as soldiers but labourers cleaning machines, digging trenches, removing bodies – an integral part of the war effort but one whose contributions remain entirely undersung. And as we approach the centenary of Remembrance Day, what better time to redress this. Continue reading “Review: Forgotten 遗忘, Arcola Theatre”

Review: The Great Wave, National Theatre

Fascinating but shocking history, and beautiful theatre. Don’t miss The Great Wave at the National Theatre

“It doesn’t mean…It doesn’t mean, that”

Francis Turnly’s new play The Great Wave explores a fascinating but shocking slice of history, severely underexplored in this country. And Indhu Rubasingham’s production thereof is one which puts East Asian experience, and actors, front and centre, a pleasing but too-rare sight to see in any of our theatres, never mind the National.

Its history covers the tense relationship between North Korea and Japan, notably in the late twentieth century when the former carried out a series of abductions of citizens of the latter, but all concerned hushed up the story. Turnly focuses down to the micro through the experience of one family but also amps up the macro, as past Japanese imperialism and the grotesqueries of the North Korean regime are also placed under the microscope. Continue reading “Review: The Great Wave, National Theatre”

Review: Tamburlaine, Arcola

“I mean to be a terror to the world”

I’m fully on board with Yellow Earth Theatre’s objectives of identifying and investing in British East Asian emerging and established actors, writers and directors, so it does pain me a little that their production of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine didn’t quite do it for me. Director Ng Choon Ping has spun a highly theatrical adaptation out of one of the earliest plays to be considered a public success, but its inventive ambition works against its dramatic effectiveness.

In Moi Tran’s spare design, a company of six cover more than twenty roles in this compression of the saga of the Central Asian emperor Timur on whose life it is based. And with the design being so minimal, the constant multi-roling becomes dizzying, projected captions not quite doing enough. Additionally, given that five of the six are women, there’s a layer of gender fluidity which is thought-provoking in this extremely masculine world but ultimately under-explored. Continue reading “Review: Tamburlaine, Arcola”

Review: PLAY – The Subterranean Season, VAULT Festival

“We’re gonna Jean Valjean the shit out of this”

PLAY – The Subterranean Season takes in plays 23-26 in their ever-growing programme of short plays, devised in just two weeks by a collaboration of writers, directors and actors up for the challenge of creating something sparklingly, spankingly, brand new and fresh. I saw PLAY Theatre Theatre Company for the first time at the VAULT Festival last year and fell for them hard, as is evident from the pull quote they’ve opted to use on their publicity this year (one for my scrapbook!). 

As ever, the four PLAYs cover a wide range of themes and styles, from the deceptively whimsical to the psychologically acute, sometimes within the same 15 minutes. For me, Aisha Zia’s 24 and Miriam Battye’s 26 achieved this balance perfectly, the former (directed by Holly Race-Roughan) mixing hipsterish shenanigans with guitars and cardboard boxes with a darkening look at the desperation of flat-hunting in South London. And the latter’s portrayal of an intense friendship was breath-takingly good, Matt Harrison teasing some sensational work from Emily Stott and Jessica Clark. Continue reading “Review: PLAY – The Subterranean Season, VAULT Festival”

Preview: VAULT 2017

Established now as one of the major arts festivals in London, the VAULT Festival returns from 25th January to 5th March 2017 at its original home beneath Waterloo Station and, for the first time, at satellite venues Network Theatre (just to the side of Waterloo) and Morley College (a little further away past Lambeth North). As ever, the programme features an exciting selection of shows exploring many themes via many more mediums. Full information and tickets are available now via VAULTFestival.com.

I’m still working out exactly what and how much I am going to see but I have got a few selections of the things that have definitely caught my eye.  Continue reading “Preview: VAULT 2017”

TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4

“Everyone fucks everyone, eventually”

I wrote here about the first episode of Crashing, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sitcom for Channel 4, and though it didn’t really float my boat, I did persevere with the rest of the series. Truth be told though, it was just more of the same – I continued to like what I liked about it and similarly, what substantially rubbed me up the wrong way continued to bug me.

Namely, the thoroughly unlikeable nature of Waller-Bridge’s self-played lead Lulu, crashing into the lives of old friend Anthony and his fiancée Kate and doing her utmost to fuck up their relationship in order to act on their hitherto unexplored lifelong sexual tension. Not that characters have to be likeable to be good but I found nothing redeemable in Lulu, just a thoroughly obnoxious selfishness that turned me off pretty much the whole show. Continue reading “TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4”

Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Old Red Lion

“Where words fail, violence prevails”

You enter the Old Red Lion for Thomas Kyd’s Elizabethan revenge thriller The Spanish Tragedy to find that Dexter Morgan has been on the case. Lizzie Leech’s design for the auditorium has it bleached out in antiseptic white, meat hooks hanging front and centre, strips of opaque plastic hanging from the ceiling facilitating the swift despatch of bodies. For there’s a goodly deal of despatching that needs to be done by the time this bloodthirsty lot is done.

Dan Hutton’s production condenses the text down to 85 minutes (and presumably even less, given “additional material by the company” is also credited) but the frame of the story remains intact, with a nifty bit of gender-swapping to boot. Lorenzo (maybe) loves Balthazar who loves Bel-Imperia who loves Horatio, so Lorenzo has Horatio killed which doesn’t sit too well with Hieronimo, his mother who vows revenge. But not Revenge, who is also present in human form along with a ghost called Andrea. Continue reading “Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Old Red Lion”