Review: The Antipodes, National Theatre

Annie Baker returns to the National Theatre with The Antipodes – she does not change my mind about her

“We don’t feel like we have to self-censor and we can all just sit around telling stories. Because that’s where the good stuff comes from”

I’ve tried with Annie Baker, I really have. And Circle Mirror Transformation did it for me, both times. But the plaudits rained on The Flick and John baffled me as both left me extremely cold and her latest play to premiere in the UK, 2017’s The Antipodes, is very much in that latter mould, creeping naturalism that seems to defy the laws of time themselves.

Insomuch as a Baker play is about anything, The Antipodes is about storytelling, kind of. A group of people sit in a conference room telling stories and pulling them apart, looking for inspiration but for what, we never really know. And as any kind of leadership offers by the chairman-ish Sandy fades away, something apocalyptically dark looms outside. Continue reading “Review: The Antipodes, National Theatre”

News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020

So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.

Olivier Theatre 

Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years.  Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”

Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Casting news aplenty!

I round up some of the recent casting news, including Queen Margaret at the Royal Exchange, Wasted at the Southwark Playhouse, Measure for Measure at the Donmar and The Woods at the Royal Court.

Shakespeare wrote more lines for Queen Margaret than he did for King Lear yet we know very little of her. Jeanie O’Hare re-acquaints us with one of Shakespeare’s major but rarely performed characters in her new play Queen Margaret. In a production that draws on original language from Shakespeare, director Elizabeth Freestone and Jade Anouka as Margaret, retell an iconic moment in British History through the eyes of the extraordinary Margaret of Anjou. This captivating exploration of The Wars of the Roses seen through the eyes of this astonishing, dangerous and thrilling woman opens the Royal Exchange’s Autumn Winter 2018/19 Season.

Anouka is joined by Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward/Rutland), Lorraine Bruce (York), Samuel Edward-Cook (Suffolk/Clifford), Dexter Flanders (Edward IV), Helena Lymbery (Hume), Lucy Mangan (Joan of Arc), Roger Morlidge (Gloucester), Kwami Odoom (Somerset/Richard), Bridgitta Roy (Warwick) and Max Runham (Henry VI). Continue reading “Casting news aplenty!”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

Review: Saint Joan, Donmar

“Must a Christ perish in every age to save those that have no imagination”

This
 is Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan but very much via Josie Rourke, as the medieval piety of the pre-show entertainment gives way to the uber-modernity of this interpretation with the opening flourish of a tablecloth being whipped away (more impressive than it sounds!). The gods being worshipped here are high finance and business as scenes are set in companies like Vaucouleur Commodities Brokerage and Dauphin Holdings, Evan Davies and Bloomberg news tickers give us regular updates and it is in the midst of all this that Gemma Arterton’s Joan arrives, the sole figure in period dress. 

Dealing with an amusing take on the egg crisis of the first scene, and using Skype to correctly identify Fisayo Akinade’s spoiled manchild heir of a Dauphin in the next, the modern take is clever but there’s a strange tension that never quite resolves. The text has been cut but not completely modernised, so talk of battles and forts sit alongside the rise and fall of stocks and shares and it doesn’t settle into an interpretation that didn’t leave me going ‘you what now’ until it starts to play the drama straight as in the English plot to bring about the downfall of the woman uniting the French against them. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, Donmar”

Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo

“I sometimes think I’d rather be fancied than liked”

The Donmar Warehouse’s production of My Night With Reg opened last year under a cloud of some sadness as playwright Kevin Elyot passed away just as rehearsals were starting. As it transfers to the West End into the Apollo Theatre, it finds itself surrounded by a different kind of cloud, one of prurient controversy as TfL banned the publicity image for the show (two variations of which I have kindly provided for you here) forcing them to reissue a picture sans arsecheek. (That this Bulk Powders advert somehow passed muster seems baffling – I’d love to know the full reasoning behind both decisions.)

That it provided a sneaky bit of extra guerilla advertising can’t have hurt, as when a similar thing happened to the Globe’s recent production of ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, and it is a play that thoroughly deserves it. I ranked it in my top 25 of last year (out of over 380 shows) and my original review can be read here. And thanks to the lovely people at Official Theatre and Seat Plan, I was glad to have the opportunity to spend another Night With Reg and get my heart gently but surely broken all over again. Continue reading “Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo”

Review: My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse

“If you get him pissed enough, he might let you blow him off behind the yucca”

There’s a definite tinge of sadness about Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg even before the play starts as the playwright died this summer aged 62, just as rehearsals for this Donmar Warehouse production – the play’s first major revival – were to start. It is also a deeply melancholy piece of work, elegantly capturing the yearning ache of unrequited love, the pain of remembering those who’ve been loved and lost, and the vast complexity that can arise from simply wanting to be loved.

The play could be pigeon-holed as a gay play, an AIDS play, an 80s period piece, but the beauty of Robert Hastie’s production is that it transcends all these labels, elevating Elyot’s writing to a minor-key classic. That the play focuses on a group of gay friends throughout the 80s living under the (never-mentioned) shadow of HIV/AIDS is never in doubt but the main theme, the driving force behind so much of what – the fear of ending up alone – is utterly, completely universal. Continue reading “Review: My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse”