Review: I’m Not Running, National Theatre

Not even the excellent Siân Brooke can do much to save David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running at the National Theatre for me

“Jesus says don’t get too fond of anything because one day you’re going to lose it”

I’m Not Running is David Hare’s 17th new play to be presented at the National Theatre but for a playwright known for espousing the state of the nation in his work, there’s a frustrating vagueness that leaves him feeling just a little out of touch. Perhaps real-life events overtook him but for a play about contemporary left-wing politics in the UK, there’s little here that rings with profound resonance.

Rather, there’s a story about a woman, a doctor, swept up into the world of politics when her heading of a campaign to save a local hospital from closure springboards her into winning a seat as a single-issue MP. And it’s not long before she’s ostensibly lured by the prospect of becoming the Labour Party’s first female leader, an issue complicated by the presence of an old boyfriend high in the party ranks. Continue reading “Review: I’m Not Running, National Theatre”

News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

So much goodness announced here in the National Theatre’s near future – particularly excited for Nine Night’s transfer, what looks like a leading role for Siân Brooke and the prospect of Joanna Riding’s ‘Losing My Mind’. 

National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

Nine Night, Natasha Gordon’s critically acclaimed debut play transfers to the West End following a sold-out run at the NT

Further cast announced for Antony and Cleopatra alongside Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, playing from September

Cast confirmed for world premiere of David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running, including Siân Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire

Peter Brook returns to direct at the National Theatre for the first time in 50 years with The Prisoner, co-directed with Marie-Hélène Estienne

Following the acclaimed Consent, Nina Raine returns to the NT with her new play Stories starring Claudie Blakley

Anthony Neilson makes his NT debut with new play The Tell-Tale Heart, based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe

Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding to join the cast of Follies alongside Janie Dee and Peter Forbes, returning to the Olivier Theatre in February 2019

War Horse returns to the NT marking the centenary of Armistice Day

Antony and Cleopatra and I’m Not Running to  broadcast to 65 countries worldwide as part of NT Live

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in the UK gaining the right to vote, the NT stages Courage Everywhere; a series of rehearsed readings, talks and screenings Continue reading “News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019”

Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre

A characterful slice of seedy Soho life,  Absolute Hell is anything but at the National Theatre

“You won’t call the police, I’ll call the police”

We’ve all got a history, a bit of a chequered past and Rodney Ackland’s play Absolute Hell is no exception. Premiered in 1952 under the title The Pink Room, it received an enormous critical drubbing which led to a 40 year near-silence from the playwright. But as time passes, trends shift and plays eventually get rewritten, a new version of the drama emerged in the late 1980s to considerably more success.

It is that version that is being revived here by Joe Hill-Gibbins with the kind of luxury casting that National Theatres are made for. And with the world of this slice-of-life play being made up of a vast ensemble of characters, it’s a great fit. Absolute Hell is set in a Soho members club in the period between the end of WWII and the Labour general election win and follows its patrons as they retreat from the social (and physical) upheaval of wartime into a fug of drink, drugs and debauchery. Continue reading “Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre”

Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre

“How can I hope to make you understand”

Though my life has long been filled with musicals, Fiddler on the Roof has never been the one. I’ve only ever seen it the once (2013’s touring version) and though I quite enjoyed it then, I can’t say I was hankering after seeing another production. And though Daniel Evans’ hands are sure indeed when it comes to classic musicals, I found something rather uninspired both about the choice of programming it for his new Chichester home (although it is an absolute banker) and in his production.

It is perfectly decent, and the quality is solidly good throughout. Omid Djalili is an effective presence as Tevye, Tracy-Ann Oberman is very good as Golde, and it is always nice to see Louis Maskell onstage. But Evans is a director (and artistic director) who has made my heart sing with glorious revivals such as My Fair Lady and Show Boat (and Company and Me and My Girl) and I missed that kind of magic emanating from the unforgiving vastness of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s main stage. Continue reading “Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre”

TV Review: The Honourable Woman

“It’s the Middle East Shlomo, enemies is what you make”

Only by chance did I find out that The Honourable Woman was leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so I quickly took the opportunity to catch up with Hugo Blick’s political spy thriller and as is so often the case with these things, was left wondering how I could have taken this long to watch it.

Political intrigue and personal drama coming from kidnapped children, suspicious suicides and betrayals ranging from old blood feuds to intra-familial conflict set the scene immediately for a typically dense and complex story from Blick, centred on a refreshingly new take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming impossibility of finding a solution when the wounds of the past are still felt so keenly and deeply. Continue reading “TV Review: The Honourable Woman”

CD Review: Sunday in the Park with George (2006 London Cast Recording)

“Everyone gets along with him, that’s the problem with him”

In listening to cast recordings, one can get struck wondering who are they for. For fans obviously, those who saw the show or those who weren’t able to make it along and as a legacy of those productions deemed worthy enough. But what about casual listeners, those simply dipping a toe into the world of musical theatre, could one honestly recommend the complexity of Sondheim and Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George?

Perhaps not, but that’s not to say it isn’t an excellent thing. Some call this show one of Sondheim’s more accessible but I’m not convinced – its pointillist nature and time-jump format are inventive but still challenging and the inclusion of passages of dialogue – something Sondheim recordings often do – are as much of a hindrance as a help, they add to a fuller understanding of the story but also have an alienating effect – I was banned from listening to this out loud in the flat! Continue reading “CD Review: Sunday in the Park with George (2006 London Cast Recording)”

CD Review: Company (1996 London Cast Recording)

 “It’s things like using force together,
Shouting till you’re hoarse together,
Getting a divorce together”

Sam Mendes’ production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company was a big success at the Donmar Warehouse in 1995 and subsequently transferred to the Albery Theatre (now the Noël Coward). A recording of the show can be found in full on YouTube at the moment but I restrained myself to just listening to the cast recording, which I have to say was something of a disappointment in the end despite seeming promising.

It’s quite an odd thing to listen to, often frustratingly inconsistent as in the normally reliable Anna Francolini’s ‘Another Hundred People’ in which a broad Noo Yoik accent fades in and out in a most distracting manner. Sophie Thompson battles gamely with ‘Getting Married Today’ but without the assured brilliance of her acting to complement it, the vocal alone doesn’t really pass muster. Continue reading “CD Review: Company (1996 London Cast Recording)”

DVD Review: Emma (2009)

“He would know me but there’s no reason I would know a farmer”

Of all the versions of Jane Austen’s Emma, I can’t really believe that I will ever see one as well done as this 2009 BBC adaptation by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon. Everything about it works for me, from the clever casting choices to the subtle redefinition of some characters, the (now) luxurious running time to the production values which mark it as something of a dying breed in terms of BBC period dramas.

I love its inventive prologue contrasting the early lives of Emma, Frank and Jane, how tragedy touched them all but their positions in life meant their journeys took wildly different paths. Romola Garai makes an immensely appealing heroine, her beautiful wide eyes so open and honest yet quickly able to take on a harder glint as her more self-obsessed side takes over, and she works so brilliantly with her cast-mates to give us full-fleshed, believable relationships.

There’s genuine affection with Michael Gambon’s fretful father, a tangible sisterly bond with Jodhi May’s former governess, a vivid friendship with Louise Dylan’s hapless Harriet and that real sense of antipathy that comes from two beautiful girls not quite able to make each other out with the arrival of Laura Pyper’s mysterious Jane Fairfax. And there’s Jonny Lee Miller’s excellent Mr Knightley, a hugely handsomely dashing figure who shares immense chemistry with Garai. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (2009)”

CD Review: Weird and Wonderful

“”You seemed uplifted but a little upset”

Alexander S Bermange is a composer and lyricist who has been working away for over a decade without ever really breaking through into the mainstream here in the UK. He had a show – The Route to Happiness – at the new musical theatre writing festival at the Landor last year but he has generally had more success in Germany though his contact list is top rate, as the roll call on his most recent CD Act One certainly attests.

Predating that collection though is 2004’s Weird and Wonderful which again boasts a fine collection of interesting performers – Anna Francolini, John Barr, and Richard Dempsey to name but a few – perhaps not as starry as some, but catnip to a theatre nerd like me. The focus here is on Bermange’s comic writing which gives a weird balance to the CD over its 19 tracks which can get a little bit wearing.  Continue reading “CD Review: Weird and Wonderful”

Radio Review: Second Body + Art and Gadg, Radio 4

“Be careful Anna, of the dark forces of the human mind”

I knew I liked Tara Fitzgerald’s voice, but I hadn’t realised I loved it. Listening to the radio play Second Body that featured her in a starring role was a genuine auditory pleasure which made me want to track down illegal ways of recording it off the iPlayer so that I could listen to it over again. Trevor Preston’s swirlingly dark drama centres on Fitzgerald’s Anna, a successful artist but one driven by haunting and disturbing visions and as she seeks to put together some of her work for a big new exhibition, a worrying prophecy of a death stalks her subconscious.

Toby Swift’s production brings a wonderfully surreal quality to Anna’s experiences, full of textured sound effects and evocative atmosphere, and so as the stuff of her dreams starts to invade her waking life, we’re never quite sure how real any of it is – whether she is possessed of some supernatural gift or if actually, her artistic temperament masks some signs of mental illness. Fitzgerald’s honeyed tones constantly keep us guessing as her voice glides like velvet through the twists and turns as friends, agents and colleagues gather round to try and guide her through these troubled times.  Continue reading “Radio Review: Second Body + Art and Gadg, Radio 4”