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”

Round-up of (international) news and treats and other interesting things

 

Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller, Tony nominee Joshua Henry, and Grammy-winning opera star Renée Fleming will headline a Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The production, helmed by Tony winner and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory director Jack O’Brien, is scheduled to begin performances Friday, March 23, 2018 at a theatre to be announced.

 

 
Mueller, a Tony winner for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and recent star of Waitress, will take on the role of Julie Jordan, with Henry—currently playing Aaron Burr in the touring company of Hamilton—as Billy Bigelow. Fleming will play Nettie Fowler; the Grammy-winning soprano can be seen on the Metropolitan Opera stage this season in Der Rosenkavalier—a production that is said to mark her retirement from her traditional operatic repertoire.
 
The revival, produced by Scott Rudin and Roy Furman, will feature Amar Ramasar and Brittany Pollack—both of the New York City Ballet—as Jigger and Louise, respectively. New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck will choreograph the new staging on the 1945 musical. The resident choreographer promises “an even more dance-and-movement-focused production.”

Continue reading “Round-up of (international) news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic

“On the dank and dirty ground…”

Joe Hill-Gibbins’ idiosyncratic 2015 take on Measure for Measure filled the Young Vic with inflatable sex dolls so it should come as little surprise that for his A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he and designer Johannes Schütz have transformed the stage into a muddy paddock. With just a mirrored back wall to add to the set, the scene is thus set for an exploration of the “subconscious” of this most oft-seen (particularly in the year gone by) of Shakespeare’s plays. 

There’s some great work, delving into the murkiness of the relationships here. Far from spirits “of no common rate”, these royal fairies feel like a real married couple in the throes of having to work things out yet again, Michael Gould’s Oberon’s manipulations as much as anguished as angry, and Anastasia Hille’s Titania relishing the removal of the ball and chain as she plays sex games with Bottom, roleplaying the attending fairies in a witty twist. The intensity of their connection repeats itself later in another clever connection.  Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic”

Review: The Plough and the Stars, National

“Choke a chicken”

Gruelling Irish dramas seem to pop up with some regularity at the National and Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars is just the latest to test my patience. The play is considered O’Casey’s masterpiece but given that I didn’t last past the interval of Juno and the Paycock here a few years ago, I didn’t enter the Lyttelton with the highest of expectations.

And nor did it meet them. Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin’s revival may possess poignant resonance in marking the centenary of the crucial event it builds up to – the Easter Rising of 1916 – but it also feels like it takes a century to get round to it. A large ensemble populate the tenement building at the heart of the community featured here and they all get their chance to have their considerable say. Continue reading “Review: The Plough and the Stars, National”

How-could-it-be-a-review: The National Theatre Theatre Quiz 2015

“It’s from that play with lots of words…”

My first ever trip to the institution that is the National Theatre Christmas Quiz saw teams of four from current shows Husbands and Sons and wonder.land doing battle for the honour of, well, several bottles of fizz as it turned out. With Emma Freud as Quizmistress and Angus Deayton keeping the scores, it was a light-hearted 45 minutes of festive fun.

Rounds varied from odd-one-out, working out song lyrics from a dry line reading by Deayton, guess which NT show the costume was from, to Taboo-style-guessing-games, and a surprising array of knowledge troves and hidden talents soon came to life – Anne-Marie Duff was very up on her theatrical knowledge, Julia Ford is clearly itching to do a musical and Anna Francolini bossed everything (apart from Katie Mitchell…). Continue reading “How-could-it-be-a-review: The National Theatre Theatre Quiz 2015”

Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre

“How is a woman to have a husband when all the men belong to their mothers?”

You have to respect the huge ambition behind Husbands and Sons, Marianne Elliott and Ben Power’s adaptation of three DH Lawrence plays which sees each of them run simultaneously in the round in the Dorfman. It manages this by taking the Holroyds from The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, the Gascoignes from The Daughter-in-Law and the Lamberts from A Collier’s Friday Night and imagining them living on the same street in the East Midlands village of Eastwood. And spread over three weeks in October 1911, the interlocked, if not intersecting, dramas of their lives play out, dominated by the long shadow of the pit. 

Initially it’s a dizzying affair, as the eye and the ear deals with the three separate domestic establishments. Bunny Christie’s design takes a visual cue from the Lars von Trier film Dogville with the fully furnished houses demarcated by white lines on the floor and labelled by name, doors (and coats, weirdly) are mimed with accompanying sound effects. And with a nod to the fixedness of this arrangement, ticket-holders in the pit swap seats at the interval, getting to sit in the corresponding place on the other side of the auditorium, offering an alternative perspective on the goings-on. Continue reading “Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre”

Review: The Beaux’ Stratagem, National Theatre

“A man dare not play the tyrant in London, because there are so many examples to encourage the subject to rebel.”

It may be The Beaux’ Stratagem but it is Mrs Sullen’s play. The most striking thing about Simon Godwin’s production of George Farquhar’s final Restoration comedy is its determinedly proto-feminist stance as Mrs Sullen – an independently wealthy woman now desperately unhappily married – is given surprising agency to express herself in a meaningful way and attempt to extricate herself from her situation. And in Susannah Fielding’s superbly silken performance, she’s exquisitely played as an almost tragicomic figure, endlessly entertaining in the raucous romping around but as Jon Clark’s lighting picks her out at the end of each act, capable of holding the entire Olivier theatre’s hearts in her hands.

The beaux ain’t too bad either. Farquhar’s plot centres on their attempts to marry into money after squandering their fortunes in London. Hoping news of their disgrace hasn’t reached the provinces, they head north and stop off in Lichfield, pretending to be master and servant, where their attentions fall on a rich young heiress and her unhappily married sister-in-law. Samuel Barnett’s Aimwell and Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Archer are a witty pair of fellows indeed, with a cracking line in beautifully cut overcoats too, as their avaricious adventures are soon overturned by amorous attentions as they can’t help but fall head over well-turned heel for their marks. Continue reading “Review: The Beaux’ Stratagem, National Theatre”

Review: Little Revolution, Almeida

“You’re curious, that’s why you’re here”

The personal connections that one can easily build up in a city such as London are so wide-ranging that the riots of 2011 would most likely have affected us all in some particular way or other. For me, as a former resident of Hackney Downs, it was the sight of an innocuous convenience store being looted that really got me, it was a shop I’d passed every day from which I’d picked up many a bottle of Diet Coke or a lottery ticket and to see it being gutted felt very much not in tune with what Mark Duggan’s death should have stood for.

So I was fascinated to see that Alecky Blythe’s new play Little Revolution was focusing on this very shop and the community action that arose from its ransacking. Though 2011’s London Road saw her break through to mainstream success, Blythe has long been a proponent of verbatim theatre, by which she records interviews with real people at the heart of a certain issue and constructs a play out of their exact words – accents, inflections, verbal tics and all. Continue reading “Review: Little Revolution, Almeida”

DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents

 “I’m bored with widowhood”

As the aristocratic Lady Conway, Thelma Barlow’s amusing run through the options open to a rich widow of nearly 70 sets up Mrs Henderson Presents succinctly in its opening moments – Laura Henderson pricks her thumb trying embroidery as a hobby and bristles at the snobbery of the ladies who run charities for the deserving and so is left to spend money as she sees fit, alighting on the derelict Windmill Theatre which she purchases in a moment of inspiration as she passes in her car. Martin Sherman’s script is based on the true story of this woman who became an unlikely theatrical impresario and in director Stephen Frears’ hands, Judi Dench delivers a heart-warmingly cracking performance at the centre of a lovely film.

Set in the late 1930s, the story follows Laura as she and her theatre manager, Bob Hoskins’ cantankerous but inspired Vivian van Damm, set up a continuous variety revue called Revudeville and trying to keep ahead of a market full of copycats, they introduce still tableaux of female nudity into the show which becomes a roaring success. The onset of war casts a heavy shadow though and whilst the show continues, providing much needed entertainment and respite, as the bombs fall on London, the determination that the show must go on puts everyone in serious peril. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents”