Review: Do We Do The Right Thing?, New Diorama

“Strangers paid their respects to strangers – why?”

The word timely is often much abused by reviewers, usually in the context of ‘timely revival’, but there really is no better way to describe Neil Walker’s Do We Do The Right Thing?, a highly personal response to the act of remembrance and the way in which society interacts with notions of conflict-based loss and the role of the Armed Forces. I say timely for as Remembrance Day is fast approaching, and in a particularly charged year that marks the centenary of the start of the First World War, the annual declarations about what is or isn’t appropriate poppy etiquette have restarted and the Guardian have indulged in some basic trolling with Jonathan James’ takedown of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London.

The idea that there is a right or a wrong way to commemorate the war dead (or appreciate works of art for that matter) is one of the issues that lies at the heart of Walker’s play. Part investigation of the experience of the townspeople of Royal Wootton Bassett, part exploration of the impact of his own military childhood, Do We Do… is a patchwork quilt of a show – video and projections from past and present, autobiographical scenes played out as drama, verbatim material replicated in the ‘Recorded Delivery’ style pioneered by Alecky Blythe – and in Tommy Lexen’s production for his BeFrank company has a lovely cumulative warmth. Continue reading “Review: Do We Do The Right Thing?, New Diorama”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rockwell House

“The summer still doth tend upon my state”

The Malachites have more usually been found at St Leonard’s Church in their quest to “reconnect Shakespeare with Shoreditch in the public consciousness” but this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sees them skip down the road to the tented rooftop of a venue which sits on the site where the Curtain Theatre once stood more than 400 years ago. And more significantly, it sees this young company taking a much more inventive approach to the Bard’s work – there can’t have been too many other female Bottoms, gender-swapped Oberons and Titanias or such explicit references to a 1909 silent film version of the play.

Benjamin Blyth’s production is cleverly done indeed. Projected snippets of that film play out above us – one brilliant scene sees the Rude Mechanicals mime along silently as their roles are given out by Peter Quince – and there’s something rather magical about seeing, even if only briefly, an interpretation of this same story that is over a century old. Blyth is also unafraid to contrast this with the new and novel though – having the Fairy King and Queen swap bodies in some magical mishap is further exploited when we meet our female Bottom, the tangled sexual dynamics of these mischievous spirits cast in a fresh light. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rockwell House”

Review: The Merchant of Venice, St Leonard’s Church

“For in converting Jews to Christians you raise the price of pork!”

Though it is a play oft studied, The Merchant of Venice has been most infrequently performed in recent years. Unafraid of a challenge, Malachite Theatre have chosen this play to mark the 450th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s birth at St Leonard’s Shoreditch, very close to the site of the Theatre and Curtain where many of his early plays were premiered. This modern-day retelling trims the action down to a shade under two and a half hours and offers an interesting, though not unproblematic, reading of the text.

The church offers a highly atmospheric auditorium and it is something Benjamin Blyth’s production takes full advantage of. Lines of laundry are strung high above piles of rubbish scattered throughout the nave, representing a Venetian society riven by inequality as Bassanio and his blazer-wearing, loafer-sporting, Pimms-quaffing friends party on regardless. And when funds start to run low, the trust fund baby turns to his benefactor Antonio for more, oblivious of his own financial difficulties and forcing him into the clutches of money-lender Shylock. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, St Leonard’s Church”