The 2018 Ian Charleson Award

I remain unconvinced we should be rewarding classical roles over the breadth of the theatre out there but hey ho, it’s not my award! A good selection of performances nominated here nonetheless – and Gill feels a worthy winner.

Winner

Bally Gill for Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at the RSC

Second place

Hannah Morrish for Octavia in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre

Third place

Luke Newberry for Malcolm in Macbeth at the RSC

Other nominees

Daniel Burke for Diomed in Troilus and Cressida at RSC
Heledd Gwynn for Katharine and Dauphin in Henry V by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory 
Tyrone Huntley for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Watermill, Newbury
Martins Imhangbe for Bagot and Aumerle in Richard II at the Almeida
Toheeb Jimoh for Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Crucible
Aaron Pierre for Cassio in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe
Ellora Torchia for Emilia in Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe
Helena Wilson for Mariana in Measure for Measure at the Donmar Warehouse

Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic

A brilliant cast shine in this striking revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic

“Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person”

The American dream hasn’t often looked like this. Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman reaffirms the Young Vic as the place to go to shake up these American classics (qv A View from the Bridge) with a startling revival that seems destined to go far.

Elliott has recent form of course in reinterpretations and Cromwell was the Associate Director on Company too. And if Death… might not go quite as far, it still emerges as a thoughtful reconsideration with a decidedly psychological bent, trapping us as much as Willy in his troubled mind. Continue reading “Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic”

Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida

Simon Russell Beale and Leo Bill shine in Joe Hill-Gibbins’ perfectly reimagined The Tragedy of King Richard the Second at the Almeida Theatre

“Thus play I in one person many people”

It’s tempting to think of this production of Shakespeare’s Richard II as specifically designed to rile up Billington and sure enough, he fell into the trap and reviewed the show he wanted to see rather than what was presented to him. He sees what Shakespeare should be; here, Joe Hill-Gibbins shows us what Shakespeare can be. 

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second is undoubtedly a consequential adaptation. Compressed to 100 minutes without interval, spoken at speed and set entirely within a grey-walled cell, it is disarming and disruptive. But it also works beautifully once you’re attuned to its rhythms as it makes the blind pursuit of power its central thesis, underscored by the desperation of the elite to cling onto their political influence. Continue reading “Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida”

Review: An Adventure, Bush Theatre

Vinay Patel’s An Adventure is a long night at the Bush Theatre and an ambitious one

“Home is where you fight to be”

Vinay Patel’s An Adventure certainly doesn’t lack for ambition, taking inspiration from his own family – specifically his grandparents – and constructing his own historical romance tale, folding in racism, political upheaval of differing hues and the enduring legacy of colonialism.

From India to Kenya to Britain, from the 1950s to the 1970s to the modern day, Patel traces the love story between Jyoti and Rasik, the young man she chooses from the five selected by her father. They’re both dreamers and soon find themselves swept up in the Kenyan independence movement in Nairobi and union marches in London, even as their relationship suffers.  Continue reading “Review: An Adventure, Bush Theatre”

Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre

A characterful slice of seedy Soho life,  Absolute Hell is anything but at the National Theatre

“You won’t call the police, I’ll call the police”

We’ve all got a history, a bit of a chequered past and Rodney Ackland’s play Absolute Hell is no exception. Premiered in 1952 under the title The Pink Room, it received an enormous critical drubbing which led to a 40 year near-silence from the playwright. But as time passes, trends shift and plays eventually get rewritten, a new version of the drama emerged in the late 1980s to considerably more success.

It is that version that is being revived here by Joe Hill-Gibbins with the kind of luxury casting that National Theatres are made for. And with the world of this slice-of-life play being made up of a vast ensemble of characters, it’s a great fit. Absolute Hell is set in a Soho members club in the period between the end of WWII and the Labour general election win and follows its patrons as they retreat from the social (and physical) upheaval of wartime into a fug of drink, drugs and debauchery. Continue reading “Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre”

Review: Luce, Southwark Playhouse

“There’s a space between truth and deception that isn’t a lie”

Even in the handful of years since JC Lee (who has since gone on to write for television shows Looking, Girls and How To Get Away With Murder) initially wrote Luce in 2012, our worldview when it comes to terrorism has shifted considerably. Atrocities such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the attacks on Paris have focused fear anew about threats from both within and without our borders but it is the former on which Lee alights here. Luce was adopted at age 7 from an unspecified African country and raised by all-American couple Amy and Peter into a high-school hero complete with academic prospects and sporting prowess, so his teacher Harriet Carter is then perturbed to find cracks in the veneer.

An assignment in support of a right-wing terrorist flags her attention (no need for the Prevent strategy in the US…) and a surreptitious search of his locker reveals a stash of illegal fireworks. But conscious of the PR implications of besmirching the name of the school’s star student and problematising the perfect ideal of integration that he represents, she calls in his parents under the radar and begins a series of prevarications and half-measures to dealing with the problem. For despite his circumstances, Luce is still just a teenage boy, dealing with all of the pressures that young men face at such a critical juncture in their lives, and the perils in treating him differently soon become all too real. Continue reading “Review: Luce, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Octagon, Arcola

“Do poets get to be happy?”

It’s a rare production that really makes you sit up and pay attention but from the moment the percussive handclaps mark the beginnings of Kristiana Rae Colón’s ferocious new play Octagon, its unique energy electrifies the stage of the Arcola. Set in the world of slam poetry, 8 young Chicagoans prepare for lyrical battle but out on the streets of contemporary America, the struggle is painfully real as issues of race, gender and class characterise an inequality they can only protest by using their words.

And what words. Colón hooks her first half around the competition for a much-vaunted spot on Chimney, Chad and Palace’s team as five hopefuls take to the stage to deliver three minutes of poetry to win enough points from the judges. Watched over by Estella Daniels’ utterly magnificent compere who does a magisterial job in working the audience, subjects from Malala to Miley and racial profiling to the sexual gaze rattle round the theatre in some truly mesmerising and memorable performances. Continue reading “Review: Octagon, Arcola”

Review: The Skriker, Royal Exchange

“No mistake no mister no missed her no mist no miss no”

As my dear Aunty Mary used to say, by the crin! Sarah Frankcom’s production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker is a properly gobsmacking piece of work, the kind of theatre that leaves you reeling from its sheer audacity, its free-wheeling inventiveness and a general sense of what-the-fuckery. Maxine Peake’s acting career has been far too varied for a peak to ever be declared (though for me, Twinkle ftw) but it is hard to imagine her any more hauntingly, viscerally, intense than she is here, wrapping every sinew of her body around the often bafflingly complex wordplay and utterly owning it with an authoritative otherworldliness.

There’s a plot. Kind of. Though it is literally, and physically, hard to follow. Frankcom has lavished huge amounts of creativity onto the show and empowered her creatives to be daring, so that it becomes akin to an art installation in how densely visual it becomes. Imogen Knight’s choreography haunts every scene as an ensemble of 12 keep a strange and kinetic energy coursing through the theatre, Jack Knowles’ artistically inspired lighting playfully pulls the perspective one way then the other, and Lizzie Clachan’s reinvention of the physical space of the auditorium has to be seen to really be believed (book the stalls, seriously) as it rewrites the rules of engagement. Continue reading “Review: The Skriker, Royal Exchange”