10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Review: Pinocchio, National

“Do you want puppets?”

No matter the weather, as you walk into the Lyttelton’s auditorium for Pinocchio, you’ll find that it is snowing. A simple trick but one that inspires just the right childlike wonder for an adaptation of such a popular fairytale, but it is also a sense of magic that John Tiffany’s production of Dennis Kelly’s adaptation sometimes struggles to hold onto, as darkly disturbing as it is exuberantly heartfelt.

That darkness comes from several directions. The narrative cleaves closely to the moral instruction of a fable so Pinocchio’s struggle with the dark side is presented as a straight-up choice between good and evil – make the wrong choice in dealing with the Fox or the Coachman and things could end up pretty grim, as we witness in a particularly brutal bit of puppet mutilation (it shocked even me!). Continue reading “Review: Pinocchio, National”

Review: Road, Royal Court

“We all felt special but safe at the same time”

As somebody who grew up on the outskirts of a depressed Lancashire town in the 1980s, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Royal Court’s revival of Jim Cartwright’s seminal debut play Road. I was only seven when the play was written (1986) and truth be told, we were far enough out of town to be on the right side of the road but still, there was a definite sense of intrigue to my anticipation.

Safe to say, the play did not reveal any biographical insight into the early life of Clowns (or anyone he went to school tbqh) but nor did it emerge as a revival with much to say to Britain today. This portrait of a society scarred by Thatcherite intervention remains very much that, contemporary allusions to a society once again divided and depressed remain unexplored, frustratingly so. Continue reading “Review: Road, Royal Court”

Casting for Royal Court’s Road announced

“Why’s the world so tough? It’s like walking through meat in high heels.”

Michelle Fairley, Mark Hadfield, Faye Marsay, Mike Noble, Dan Parr, Lemn Sissay, June Watson, Liz White and Shane Zaza have been cast in Jim Cartwright’s game-changing play Road which originally opened at the Royal Court in 1986. Road is a seminal play gives expression to the inhabitants of an unnamed northern road in Eighties Britain and most importantly for me, it is on the list.

It is directed in a new production by Royal Court Associate Director John Tiffany, with design by Chloe Lamford, lighting by Lee Curran, sound by Gareth Fry and movement by Jonathan Watkins. Continue reading “Casting for Royal Court’s Road announced”

Not-a-review: Four Weddings in a Funeral reading, Hampstead

“Fuck-a-doodle-doo”
 
It is slightly terrifying to think that it is 23 years since Four Weddings and a Funeral was released – the world will insist on reminding me I’m getting older… And though I don’t think I’ve actually seen it in about 20 years, the prospect of a reading of the film as part of the Hampstead Theatre Festival had quite the allure. Mainly because of John Heffernan and Jemima Rooper in the cast if we’re being honest, and they were worth it, but I’m low on time so I’m leaving it at that.

 

 

Not-a-review: The Libertine, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You will not like me”

There’s probably a German word for a play that opens with a self-fulfilling prophecy such as the one above, but even I wasn’t expecting how true it would be for The Libertine. Moving into the Theatre Royal Haymarket after a run in Bath, I haven’t been this bored by a play in quite some time. From Stephen Jeffrey’s writing to Terry Johnson’s direction to Dominic Cooper’s lead performance, I found it all all just fearfully dull.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd December

DVD Review: A Midwinter’s Tale (1995)

“I’m clean, I’m conscientious and I travel with my own tits”

Where else would you get to see Adrian Scarborough’s Richard III but in passing in a random Kenneth Branagh backstage movie. His movie as a director in which he does not star, A Midwinter’s Tale (or In The Bleak Midwinter as it appears to be known in some places) is a rather sweet comedy that makes for a light-hearted take on the often-time serious Shakespeare for which he was getting increasingly known.

Though fun, it is an acutely observed look at the itinerant life of an actor and the different ways in which people deal with its stresses. Unemployed for a year, Michael Maloney’s Joe offers to help out his sister’s local church by mounting a Christmas production of Hamlet, gathering a cast of similar odds and sods who are also available at the last minute. And together, even with the copious issues this motley crew bring with them, theatrical magic somehow begins to bloom.  Continue reading “DVD Review: A Midwinter’s Tale (1995)”

Review: The Painkiller, Gielgud

“We have a problem with this…”

Kenneth Branagh I’ve got an idea what we can put into the March slot for the season
Branagh Theatre employee Oh yes?
KB Me and Rob Brydon did The Painkiller in Belfast a couple of years ago, we can reprise that
BTe Ok. But isn’t that another play by a dead white man in a season already populated exclusively by dead white men?
KB *checks Google* Nope, Francis Veber is still alive. He’s nearly 80 but still alive.
BTe Riiight. But you know, diversity is kind of important. Does the show at least have a decent spread of roles
KB *proudly announces* There’s part for a woman AND a black guy in it.
BTe Ok. And you’re sure they’re not the two smallest parts, almost token gestures in the end?
KB *awkward silence*
Oh wait, there’s a gay man in it too
BTe Well that’s something
KB Yes. He’ll have audiences rolling in the aisles, reminding them of the good old days of John Inman
BTe *stunned silence*
KB So contemporary audiences will find lots in this you see, the idea that two men might be shagging is just intrinsically funny.
BTe I see Sean Foley has adapted it as well as being the director
KB Oh yes, it really is very modern, right up to date. It has a joke about Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen AND one about Chris De Burgh in it. You’ll be on the floor laughing with the rest of them.
BTe I’m sure. And as for the farce, are you good with comedy
KB I am a theatrical knight, I can do EVERYTHING!
BTe Well, at least we’ve got Rob Brydon, he can…well, he can do Rob Brydon
KB And everyone loves farce. Even Sondheim says so and someone who named his blog after a lyric from such a song should know that.
BTe Maybe he just likes good farce like Noises Off
KB And One Man, Two Guv’nors?
BTe I wouldn’t go there…
What about putting something on that isn’t by a dead or nearly dead white man?
KB Oh just find something written by a BAME woman that has been successful somewhere else and plug that in, maybe no-one will notice.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 30th April

Review: The Meeting, Hampstead Downstairs

“It’s all a question of perception”

Opening up 2016 downstairs at Hampstead, Andrew Payne’s The Meeting starts off brightly as a sharp office-set comedy where a crucial deal looks set to be torpedoed when one of the key parties has to be escorted from the premises after suffering an emotional breakdown. Denis Lawson’s production has fun with corporate behaviour and its nameless threats (“there’s been murmurs on the 10th floor”) but is perhaps a little less sure-footed when it then tackles sexism in the boardroom.

Cleverly, for all the talk of concepts and options, entry level kits and secondary licensing, we never find out exactly what it is the beleaguered Stratton and youthfully belligerent Cole do. For The Meeting is more about the way they behave – with each other, with Frank from upstairs, with the various unseen women in their lives, and with Ellen, who is stepping in for the indisposed Jack and disrupting the old boys’ network on which they had been relying for an easy time of it. Continue reading “Review: The Meeting, Hampstead Downstairs”