Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”

Review: Jubilee, Lyric Hammersmith

Punk becomes very hard-going in a raucous but overlong Jubilee at the  Lyric Hammersmith

“Welcome to “Jubilee”. An iconic film most of you have never even heard of, adapted by an Oxbridge twat for a dying medium, spoiled by millennials, ruined by diversity, and constantly threatening to go all interactive. You poor fuckers.”

There’s a sense of Chris Goode’s adaptation of the 1978 Derek Jarman film Jubilee getting out ahead of itself as one of its key characters delivers the above speech pretty much as we begin. But no amount of self-awareness can give this production enough life to sustain its punkish attitude over a bloated running time.

Running at a reconfigured Lyric Hammersmith (design by Chloe Lamford) after playing the Royal Exchange late last year, there’s a definite statement of intent from the very beginning as the queer inhabitants of a squat take up residence. Cocks are waved, breasts are bared, queens are transported (Lizzie One Point Zero) and new kweens established, Travis Alabanza’s Amyl Nitrate. Continue reading “Review: Jubilee, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar

“Any suggestion of a correlation between the leader of a certain nation and the homicidal gangsters we depict is something that the management must strictly disavow”

There’s something special in the timelessness of some pieces of theatre, their themes and arguments as relevant to audiences today as they were when they were written years, decades, even centuries ago. Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui falls into the middle category, written in 1941 as an allegorical response to his nation’s fall to Nazism, and was magisterially revived at Chichester a few years back.

For their own new production, the Donmar Warehouse has turned to Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park, The Low Road) who doesn’t quite trust the material in the same way, updating it in the most heavy-handed of manners by directly substituting Trump for Hitler. It’s an arresting move and indubitably pertinent in the way in which it expounds on the exploitation of a particularly toxic brand of populist politics. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ is internationally one of the most instantly recognisable songs of all time. Written by Bruce Woolley, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, the original Buggles music video is famous for being the first ever shown on MTV when it launched in 1981. This weekend saw a new version of the song released by Bruce Woolley and The Radio Science Orchestra featuring British singer-songwriter Polly Scattergood which is already receiving rave reviews in the music press.  Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Re-review: Grounded, Gate

“You can’t hide from the eye in the sky, my children”

Grounded ranked in my top five plays of 2013 when it first played the Gate, and I enjoyed it so much that I went back when it came back in 2014. And could I resist one more chance to see Lucy Ellinson’s extraordinary performance in George Brant’s ever-acute one-woman show, could I heck! Directed by Chris Haydon, Grounded cuts deeply into the psychology of outsourcing military decision-making to remote drone pilots, particularly this one soldier who new motherhood calls into question her previously easily gung-ho mentality. Definitely recommended.

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 25th March

 

Dispatches from the Vaults #2

“I didn’t think you all look the same”

I saw Tim Foley’s Astronauts of Hartlepool at the end of a long weekend and truth be told, I was just too tired to enjoy it properly. I’d love to read it and see it again, and then probably read it again, to get a fuller appreciation of how complex its hour. Layers upon layers are built up by Foley in his political sci-fi epic (Battlestar Galactica (the remake) as done by BBC3) in which Sophie Steer’s Aidan encounters multiple versions of Rakhee Thakrar’s dimension-hopping Nadia. They always meet in Hartlepool but all is not what it seems, even for the Brexit-voting North-East and Foley intelligently works in a deep critique of where we’ve let our country get to as well as keeping the tone admirably light. I just need to be less tired so I can concentrate more, sorry y’all.

Borderland/Calais was formulated as a response to not just the closure of the Calais refugee camps but also the media coverage thereof, using verbatim theatre techniques to give voice to those disenfranchised, dehumanised, demonised even by being part of what could be called one of the great humanitarian crises of the 21st Century. Over the week of the run, the programme featured a range of guest performers, from Rudi Dharmalingam, Lucy Ellinson and Yusra Warsama, to Denise Gough and Vera Chok who I saw deliver Borderland, written by Prasanna Puwanarajah and Stephanie Street, and Inua Ellam who performed Calais, woven from the Twitter Feeds of the Help Refugees and the Refugee Info Bus by Maddy Costa. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #2”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Nor doth this wood lack worlds of company”

Surtitled A Play For The Nation, Erica Whyman’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the RSC has fully embraced the communal spirit that the best theatre can summon and across its UK tour over the next few months, will undoubtedly prove a wonderful tribute for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. For at each stop across the land, different local amateur theatre companies will take on the part of the Rude Mechanicals and local primary schools will make up the numbers of Titania’s fairy train, getting their moment to shine in a repurposed final scene.

It’s a rather lovely way to share the warmth of this most loveliest of plays and in Whyman’s hands, it really does succeed. Key to its inclusiveness is the relocation to 1940s Britain and a design from Tom Piper that subtly evokes the Tower of London poppies installation on which he collaborated, the suggestion of a society pulling together permeating every aspect of the show, even Oberon’s fairies muck in as live musicians. And the social disruption of the time allows for an interesting reading of the text which, while emphasising English bumptiousness over sexuality, is witty throughout. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

2016 Offie Award Winners

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female 
Clare Higgins for Clarion at the Arcola Theatre 
Gemma Whelan for Radiant Vermin at Soho Theatre
Nadia Nadarajah for Grounded at Park Theatre
Olivia Poulet for Product at the Arcola Theatre

Best Supporting Female 
Emilie Patry for The Christians at the Gate Theatre
Kate Kennedy for Three Short Plays at the Old Red Lion
Lucy Ellinson for The Christians at the Gate Theatre
Rochenda Sandall for Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs at Southwark Playhouse

Best Male 
David Fielder for And Then Come The Nightjars at Theatre503
Ian Gelder for Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse
Matthew Tennyson for A Breakfast Of Eels at The Print Room
Rob Compton for Bat Boy at Southwark Playhouse Continue reading “2016 Offie Award Winners”

2016 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female 
Clare Higgins for Clarion at the Arcola Theatre 
Gemma Whelan for Radiant Vermin at Soho Theatre
Nadia Nadarajah for Grounded at Park Theatre
Olivia Poulet for Product at the Arcola Theatre

Best Supporting Female 
Emilie Patry for The Christians at the Gate Theatre
Kate Kennedy for Three Short Plays at the Old Red Lion
Lucy Ellinson for The Christians at the Gate Theatre
Rochenda Sandall for Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs at Southwark Playhouse

Best Male 
David Fielder for And Then Come The Nightjars at Theatre503
Ian Gelder for Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse
Matthew Tennyson for A Breakfast Of Eels at The Print Room
Rob Compton for Bat Boy at Southwark Playhouse Continue reading “2016 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian

“I believe in being open to all cultures”

There’s something a little perversely ironic about Tim Price’s PPE being one of the more effective microplays (SHORT FILMS!) of the Royal Court and Guardian collaboration given how it is a wordless piece. Directed by Hamish Pirie with movement choreographed by the excellent Ann Yee, it plays off the trademark physical gestures that politicians have become known for using as an emollient to the relentlessly grim messages that they’ve had to deliver in recent years. David Annen, Cyril Nri and Eileen Walsh do a cracking job as leaders of different parties and just through physical expression, manage to hypnotise and hoodwink a whole host of supernumeraries standing in for the too-willing electorate. It’s not a world entirely without hope but it’s a powerful indictment of how much of contemporary politics is stagecraft that we just lap up.

Chloë Moss’ Devil In The Detail focuses on the world of fashion, something that director Christopher Haydon laughingly admits to knowing little of but as a multi-million pound enterprise, there’s much more to it than just knowing which handbag is currently de rigueur. Moss picks up on the way that fashion can be used to bolster a person’s mood and self-belief – as Pippa Bennett-Warner and Vanessa Kirby’s characters get ready for award shows in the atelier of a hot designer – but also how the world of fashionistas can wield it as a vicious weapon as Lucy Ellinson’s killer stylist (such lipstick, so colour, many wow!) corrects the assumptions they’ve made, casually dishing out humiliation and obsequiousness which shatters the mood that playing dress-up had cultivated between the pair. Continue reading “Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian”