“‘I think that hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding”
There’s something a little depressingly predictable about my inability to resist a neat bit of star casting – Marcia Gay Harden’s long-in-the-making UK theatrical debut being the guilty party here. It’s depressing because Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth is a play I wasn’t much of a fan of the one time I saw it before and the heart wasn’t beating any faster at the prospect of sitting through it once again.
And maybe there’s an element of self-defeating prophecy at work because I was bored rigid by Jonathan Kent’s production here for Chichester Festival Theatre. A quiet audience (never seen the upper seats curtained off like that before) sweltered in the stifling atmosphere but sadly, there was no heat being generated on the stage of Anthony Ward’s distractingly-conceived design. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre”
“How is a woman to have a husband when all the men belong to their mothers?”
You have to respect the huge ambition behind Husbands and Sons, Marianne Elliott and Ben Power’s adaptation of three DH Lawrence plays which sees each of them run simultaneously in the round in the Dorfman. It manages this by taking the Holroyds from The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, the Gascoignes from The Daughter-in-Law and the Lamberts from A Collier’s Friday Night and imagining them living on the same street in the East Midlands village of Eastwood. And spread over three weeks in October 1911, the interlocked, if not intersecting, dramas of their lives play out, dominated by the long shadow of the pit.
Initially it’s a dizzying affair, as the eye and the ear deals with the three separate domestic establishments. Bunny Christie’s design takes a visual cue from the Lars von Trier film Dogville with the fully furnished houses demarcated by white lines on the floor and labelled by name, doors (and coats, weirdly) are mimed with accompanying sound effects. And with a nod to the fixedness of this arrangement, ticket-holders in the pit swap seats at the interval, getting to sit in the corresponding place on the other side of the auditorium, offering an alternative perspective on the goings-on. Continue reading “Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre”
“I never had anyone watching from a window for me. You got lucky.”
As if there was any doubt that Imelda Staunton wouldn’t be excellent in Good People… Though the way that she inhabits the part of Margie, a hard-bitten, working-class Bostonian single mother is simply quite astonishing. From the opening moments of this David Lindsay-Abaire play as she faces the prospect of losing the job that is barely keeping her afloat due to the desperation of forlorn hope etched on her face at the end, it is a sensational performance in the midst of a sensational production.
Jobs are few and far between in the tough neighbourhood of South Boston and the demands of caring for her disabled daughter mean Margie needs to seize the bull by the horns to get alternative employment. When she hears from a friend that Mike, an old flame is back in town – someone who has definitely gone up in the world to become a doctor – she batters down his door and procures a birthday party invite where apparently somebody might have something for her. Continue reading “Review: Good People, Hampstead Theatre”
“I like maths, and I like outer space. And I also like being on my own”
One of the most successful plays of 2012 (and indeed my personal fourth-best play of the year) was the National Theatre’s adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time so it was little surprise to hear that it would transfer into the West End, albeit a little belatedly. So from the immersive in-the-round staging of the Cottesloe, it has now graduated to the much larger proscenium of the Apollo but where one might argue it has lost a little something of what made it so intimately special first time round, the transfer expands the physical and visual language of Marianne Elliott’s production to great effect to create something even more theatrical.
Mark Haddon’s novel was inescapable as it rose to cult status and it is impressive that Simon Stephens’ adaptation manages to create something new, albeit entirely recognisable, out of the story. I still remain unconvinced by the touch of meta-business of the characters putting on a play of the story that is largely narrated by Niamh Cusack’s achingly kind Siobhan, but otherwise it is a sensitive and witty re-telling of the tale of Christopher Boone, a teenager who sees the world in an entirely different way to many of us and who is swept up in a personal odyssey spearheaded by his discovery of the body of his neighbour’s dog with a garden fork through him. Continue reading “Re-review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Apollo”
“People don’t want to hear the answer to a maths problem in a play”
Back in 2003, Mark Haddon’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was somewhat inescapable. A murder mystery told from the perspective of Christopher, its quasi-Asperger’s Syndrome-suffering main protagonist whose investigations open up further mysteries that irrevocably change his neatly ordered life, it charmed many a reader with its quirky format and unique voice. It didn’t seem an automatic choice for a theatrical adaptation it has to be said but Marianne Elliott and the National Theatre have turned their hand to it regardless, employing a playwright who has had a ridiculously prolific year so far – Simon Stephens – to adapt it.
I caught the first preview, as I wanted to see it before I went on holiday, and as I missed out on tickets in the first round, I ended up in the ‘pit’, essentially a row of seats at ground level around the Cottesloe which has been reconfigured into the round by Bunny Christie in a design which is always visually arresting and endlessly surprising. Paule Constable’s excellent lighting design works beautifully with the swirling projection work, sequences of numbers tumbling all around, and Elliott has brought in Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly to lend their inimitable style to some of the movement. It is a production that is overflowing with ideas, perhaps a few too many at the moment and the preview period will help refine this a little, but the way in which they combine to powerfully affecting effect cleverly stretches our sensory experience to suggest how differently some see the world. Continue reading “Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, National Theatre”
“Over the last year, it feels like it’s all falling apart…in this country…across the world…”
Mike Bartlett can probably lay claim to being one of the most interesting new British playwrights to emerge this century, steadily building his oeuvre of plays that pick at modern life and expose its shortcomings… And as his profile increases, so too have the stature of the commissions, moving from the Royal Court – where I saw his Cock – to the Cottesloe at the National Theatre with last year’s Earthquakes in London and now graduating to the Olivier – the youngest writer in 10 years to be staged there – with his latest new play 13.
What is it all ‘about’ I hear you say. Well if that question is foremost in your mind then it is likely that you may be disappointed with 13, as it eschews a conventional sense of narrative for the creation of apocalyptic foreboding in a contemporary London that feels all too realistic. For it is a piece of writing that feels incredibly pertinent, full of up-to-the-minute references to public disorder, social media, student riots and the Arab Spring, concerning a society wracked with disturbing dreams and a crippling uncertainty. What Bartlett alights on is the importance of belief, not necessarily in God but having some conviction that things will be ok if we trust our instincts, and the succour that is gained from collecting as a group behind such beliefs. Continue reading “Review: 13, National Theatre”
“Words and thoughts are just as important as deeds”
Though Ibsen is reputed to have described Emperor and Galilean as his ‘major work’ which took nine years to complete, it has never previously been staged in English and little is known about it given how often his other works are revived. This may well be because it was not actually written for the stage but to be read, consequently the original epic spreads over ten acts and is allegedly over eight hours long. Never one to shirk a challenge though, the National Theatre commissioned a new adaptation by Ben Power which condenses it down to about 3 hours 20 minutes yet still employs over 50 performers to bring this version of Ibsen’s epic to life. This was a preview performance on Monday 13th June.
The play spans 351 to 363AD, following the life of Julian, nephew of the Roman emperor, an intelligent erudite man even from his teenage days which were spent exploring his faith and studying the Bible with his friends. But chafing against the constraints of the imperial household which isn’t altogether sympathetic to his existence, he escapes to a carefree existence in Athens where he is seduced by the exotic lure of the worship of the ancient pagan Gods. His eventual rise to Holy Roman Emperor thus saw him try to abolish Christianity as the state religion and replace it Paganism, returning back to the values of old, but conflating his own personal struggle with faith with the trials of ruling a fading empire is an awful lot for one man to take on. Continue reading “Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre”
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”
It is apparently a truth universally acknowledged that any actor aiming for greatness needs to tackle Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most revered epic, and it is now the turn of Rory Kinnear, under the directorial baton of Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre to make his entry into the canon (this was the second preview). Recently we’ve had David Tennant and Jude Law, John Simm is currently performing it in Sheffield (I’ll be there on Wednesday) and Michael Sheen will be making his mark at the Young Vic next year. I don’t have a problem with this so much as just wish that there was a similar epic role for women which was restaged and revived as often to allow a comparable ticket to magnitude.
This is very much a modern-day Elsinore. Suited security guards with earpieces are ever-present, state of the art bugging technology is used, a briefcase of tools of torture is brandished and high-definition television cameras record political and battlefield broadcasts. Thus the familial quarrel at the heart of this play is firmly located in the wider political sphere of this dangerous Denmark and it is a mostly highly effective updating. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, National Theatre”