Review: Strife, Minerva

“There is only one way of treating men, with the iron hand … yield one demand and they will take six”

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays is an interesting one, full of the sort of plays I wouldn’t ever have chosen to see and so using it as a guide to stretching my theatrical viewing has been illustrative. Which is a roundabout way of saying the latest play I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for myself that I went to see was John Galsworthy’s 1909 Strife at the Minerva in Chichester, incidentally marking Bertie Carvel’s directorial debut.

Set around an industrial dispute at a Welsh tinplate works where a strike has been running for six months, Strife examines the stresses this places on all concerned. The workers, who don’t have the support of their union; the board, who have travelled from London to thrash out a compromise; and the firebrand leaders of each faction who might not be so different as all that, each equally stubborn in refusing to budge from their position. Continue reading “Review: Strife, Minerva”

Review: Holiday/The Eisteddfod, Bussey Building

“Once upon a time…”

Australian theatre hasn’t necessarily been particularly well represented on these shores, certainly in recent years, and so the opportunity to see a double bill of UK premieres at Peckham’s Bussey Building makes for an interesting evening of theatre. Raimondo Cortese’s Holiday revels in its surreal world of dark comedy as Arno and Paul slip into the shoes or should it be thongs, of Vladimir and Estragon with this Antipodean take on Waiting for Godot.

Dressed in just budgie-smugglers and dipping in and out of a paddling pool, these two men while away an hour up any number of conversational avenues, throwing in snatches of obscure love songs and generally chewing the fat. Strangers when they met and strangers, probably, when they finally part, they talk about everything and they talk about nothing. It is tempting to try and read a greater purpose into Cortese’s writing but its real beauty lies in its sheer randomness.  Continue reading “Review: Holiday/The Eisteddfod, Bussey Building”

Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre

“I’ve got the evacuee to prove it”

Now that Blood Brothers has now finished its lengthy London run, the Phoenix Theatre is opening up its doors to new productions: Midnight Tango and Once will come in the new year but first up is Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Goodnight Mr Tom ahead of a UK tour. Michelle Magorian’s novel belongs to the similar strong tradition of children’s literature as Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, that contextualises the Second World War evacuee experience for many children. And David Wood’s adaptation wisely does not attempt to sugar the pill, though billed as a family show and with a beautifully sensitive story of personal awakening at its heart, there is no escaping the brutal shadow of war which ensures the production is never in danger of becoming twee. 

The story brings out a wonderful sense of the potential for emotional growth at any age: Oliver Ford Davies’ gruff but kind Tom encourages the bruised soul that is Will, played here by Ewan Harris (one of three young actors sharing the role), to come out of his shell as the young Londoner is billeted to a Dorset village where he experiences the countryside for the first time, learns to read and write and generally flourishes now away from the troubled, abusive mother left in London. But Will provides a similar service for Tom, releasing him from the emotional paralysis that has gripped him for nigh on 40 years and Ford Davies’ depiction of the slow release of his suppressed paternal instinct is just beautiful to watch. Continue reading “Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre”