Review: The Cane, Royal Court

Powerfully acted by Nicola Walker, Alun Armstrong anf Maggie Steed, Mark Ravenhill’s cleverly written The Cane is bracing stuff at the Royal Court

“These children now can hunt out anybody’s grievance and claim it as their own…they want to be offended”

Inspired by Mark Ravenhill’s realisation that some teachers retiring now would have been active when corporal punishment was outlawed in 1986, The Cane is his first new play for a goodly while. And directed by Vicky Featherstone, it is a strikingly intriguing piece of drama which has as much to say about contemporary outrage culture as it does the abuses of the past.

Edward is marking 45 years as a teacher and preparations for his retirement do are in full swing. A mob has trapped him and his wife Maureen in their own home though, inflamed by his past use of the cane, and the arrival of their daughter Anna is little comfort as she is long-estranged. And as it turns out she has both a personal and professional interest here, the atmosphere within proves no less febrile than without. Continue reading “Review: The Cane, Royal Court”

Friday feeling – news aplenty

All hail the return of Nicola Walker to the stage! Get your tickets for Camelot! Discover the Heart of Darkness! Get your exam in musical theatre singing with ABRSM!


London Musical Theatre Orchestra has announced casting for Saturday’s concert version of Camelot at the London Palladium and there’s still a few tickets going. Packed with some of musical theatre’s best songs, LMTO’s concert version with full orchestra will celebrate the centenary of Alan Jay Lerner’s birth.

The role of Arthur will be played by Olivier Award-winner David Thaxton (Passion / Les Misérables / Jesus Christ Superstar), Guenevere will be played by Savannah Stevenson (Wicked / Aspects of Love / Follies), and Lancelot will be played by internationally renowned opera star Charles Rice (Mozart’s Requiem The Barber of Seville / Candide). Continue reading “Friday feeling – news aplenty”

Review: Shopping and Fucking, Lyric Hammersmith

“The getting is cruel, is hard, but the having is civilisation” 

Shopping and Fucking. Shopping and fucking. Fucking fucking fucking. Even the venue staff at the Lyric Hammersmith have to buy into the censorship that sees Mark Ravenhill’s 1996 play coyly renamed Shopping and F***ing, referring to it as Shopping and Effing. Which makes it all the more ironic that Sean Holmes’ production places the emphasis firmly on the former part of that title.

From the minute you take your seat in the radically reconfigured auditorium (design by Jon Bausor and Tal Rosner), the cast are hawking merchandise and seat upgrades – they even need a coin for the slot machine to get the play ‘started’. It’s a whole lot of extraneous business, which continues into the production itself, which with the frantic use of green screen and multiple cameras proves most distracting. Continue reading “Review: Shopping and Fucking, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Product, Arcola

“In one day Europe will be destroyed: the Hague, the Reichstag, Tate Modern”

It’s always good to see an actor having a ‘moment’ and after blazing through the twisted sexual discoveries of How I Learned To Drive earlier this year, Olivia Poulet adds another solid gold success to her theatrical CV with Mark Ravenhill’s Product. An intense monologue originally performed by the playwright, a fierce indictment of a Hollywood culture that could have been ripped from the leaked Sony emails of last year, had it not been written 10 years ago. Plus ça change…

Poulet takes on the role of Leah, a film producer on the hunt for her next lucrative project and thinks she might have found it in Mohammed and Me, a jihadi chick-flick which she is pitching to an unseen film star. It’s intentionally atrocious, a woman who falls in love with a handsome stranger who happens to be pals with Osama Bin Laden – who makes a cameo himself – yet Ravenhill, and Poulet, ground this sharp-edged satire in a thoroughly believable version of movieland. Continue reading “Review: Product, Arcola”

DVD Review: Vicious

“I never know when I’m going too far but I’m always so glad when I do.”

It was with no little intrigue that I approached watching the boxset of ITV sitcom Vicious – memories of its run from last year focused on the absolute hammering it got, how it had apparently set representations of gay men back centuries and basically broken television. I have to admit to having no interest in watching it from the moment I’d heard about it but clearly something had mellowed by the time I spotted a bargain in a charity shop and sat down to watch Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a long-partnered, long-bickering couple. 

Written and created by Gary Janetti (a veteran of US TV including Will & Grace) and Mark Ravenhill (a UK playwright of no little renown), it is an homage to, or more accurately a riff off, the world of 1970s sitcoms with its single living room set where Freddie and Stuart bitch away at each other all day long. They’re frequently joined on the sofa by barely-tolerated fag hag Violet, a deliciously fruity Frances De La Tour, and their newly arrived eye candy neighbour, the handsome but heterosexual Ash played by Iwan Rheon, and that’s pretty much your set-up from which endless capers abound. Continue reading “DVD Review: Vicious”

Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire / The Colour of Milk, Radio 3/4

“I know what you think, but I cannot turn away”

For reasons not entirely clear, Mark Ravenhill is curating a season of three classic plays that he likes for Radio 3, the first of which was Carol Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. It’s an interesting choice as it is a fairly challenging piece of historical drama and as I observed when I saw Polly Findlay’s production for the Arcola back in 2010, it is a highly theatrical one as the company of actors rattle through a large number of short scenes and an equally considerable cast of characters. Consequently, I don’t think it suited the medium of radio as the differentiation between them all didn’t really come across.

And being such a cerebral play, focusing on the tumultuous period in English history during the Civil War when huge social and political change was in the offing and tracing its impact on all levels of society, it needs a deal of clarity for it to be most effective and for me, the announcement of scene titles wasn’t enough. Which was a shame as the cast that Ravenhill gathered for this was brilliant – Amanda Drew and Monica Dolan, Justin Salinger and Paul Rhys, the kind of company I would pay extremely good money to see. You can’t win them all. Continue reading “Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire / The Colour of Milk, Radio 3/4”

Not-a-review: Troilus and Cressida, RSC and Wooster Group at Riverside Studios

“The common curse of mankind, – folly and ignorance”

For those unclear, the ‘not-a-review’ title usually pops up on the rare occasions that I don’t make it to the end of a play. I usually try and stick it out as it is difficult to have so firm an opinion on something as to blog about it if one hasn’t taken in the whole shebang, but occasionally, just occasionally, a play makes its bafflingly misguided intentions so apparent from its opening moments that I knew within the first minute that I wouldn’t be staying beyond the interval. It was the running on the spot with a sideways leg motion, as comedic a thing you might see yet executed with deadly serious intent that got me (I didn’t quite laugh out loud unlike some people further along my row though), quickly making me realise I wasn’t going to enter the correct headspace for this production of Troilus and Cressida.

Ostensibly a co-production between the RSC and the US-based Wooster Group of this noted problem play of Shakespeare’s, the approach to this production was to redefine the nature of collaboration in a way to complement the play itself. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, the Americans, playing the Trojans (although re-imagined as Native Americans), rehearsed separately from the British company, directed by Mark Ravenhill after Rupert Goold withdrew, who took on the Greeks, and the two were only brought together late in the game to capture something of the clash of civilisations that lies at the heart of the Trojan War-set drama. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Troilus and Cressida, RSC and Wooster Group at Riverside Studios”

Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London

“When I die I want to be able to say this, ‘I never did anything violent’”

Paired with Around the World in 80 Days as part of the free theatre season at The Scoop at More London, Brecht’s The Mother is a little performed play from 1932 telling of a woman living in a Russia on the cusp of revolution who is forced into a new world of political activism when she sees how her own activist son is treated by the authorities. As she meets with his friends and begins to engage with their agenda, she finds herself on a journey of personal growth, as she finally learns to read and as her political consciousness is awakened and becomes impassioned, she becomes a figurehead for the movement that her son is part of.

Though it is a story that is ultimately advocating Communism, the decision to keep the setting fairly loose and not tethered too tightly to its original time and location frees it up hugely and consequently scores a huge resonance in its examination of the issues around political dissidence and the right to demonstrate in public, particularly for young people. Ravenhill’s translation has a punchy directness and humanity that gives the political discussion a very relatable dimension through the figure of ‘The Mother’, played with tireless grace by Nicky Goldie, her concern for her son accompanied by a growing outrage at how she perceives society to be rotten and pushes for change. Continue reading “Review: The Mother, The Scoop at More London”

Review: The Coronation of Poppea – London’s Little Opera House at King’s Head

“I gave you all my love and this is my reward?”

Monteverdi’s opera The Coronation of Poppea is one of the first that was ever written and this new version by Mark Ravenhill and Alex Silverman marks the continuation of OperaUpClose’s rebranding of the King’s Head pub theatre in Islington as London’s Little Opera House. They were responsible for the Olivier award-winning La Bohème which was judged the best new opera of 2010, for its reinvention and modernising of Verdi’s classic and a similar blast of imagination has been aimed here.

Ravenhill has translated the work into English, modernised and colloquialised it – the first line, sung, is perhaps predictably ‘what the fuck’ reworking – and trimmed it down considerably to 2 hours 15 minutes. But perhaps the biggest change is with the music which has been re-scored and re-arranged for a jazz ensemble of saxophone, double bass and piano by musical director Alex Silverman and on top of that, Michael Nyman has been drafted in to compose a new aria which has been added into the mix. The opera follows the rise of Poppea, mistress of the Roman emperor Nero, as she fights her way to fulfil her dream of becoming empress, not letting his advisers or either of their spouses to get in the way. Continue reading “Review: The Coronation of Poppea – London’s Little Opera House at King’s Head”

Review: Ghost Story, Riverside Studios

“I don’t want to be an ill person any more”

The second play in the Sky Arts Playhouse: Live project is Ghost Story, written and directed by Mark Ravenhill and featuring an amazing cast of Juliet Stevenson, Lesley Manville and Lyndsey Marshal. Stevenson plays Lisa, a breast cancer sufferer who has come to visit Meryl (Manville), a healer who believes in the curative power of positive thought. Then, as the programme says “as time folds back on itself, Lisa and Meryl cross the line between the healer and the healed and discover that the world is full of ghosts”.

On one level, this is a satire on the doctrine of positive thinking, questioning how real or effective it could possibly be in the fight against terminal illness, posing serious questions but also playing it for laughs, the scene in which Lisa is encouraged to draw what her cancer looks like on the wall of the apartment is brilliant (I thought it looked like an evil frog) and wryly amusing (it then gains a penis, and pubic hair). It is also though a poignant account of people’s battles with illness, how it affects relationship with the self and the loved ones around us. It is particularly moving in the way it depicts the lies and half-truths we have to tell to protect others or even our own egos: all the characters obfuscate the truth at some point or other. Continue reading “Review: Ghost Story, Riverside Studios”