“There’s nowt so queer as folk”
Only about a week behind schedule, I wanted to round up my thoughts about the National’s Queer Theatre season – links to the reviews of the 5 readings I attended below the cut – and try a formulate a bit of a response to this piece by Alice Saville for Exeunt which rather took aim at the season alongside the Old Vic’s Queers (also I just want to point out too that there are two writers of colour involved – Tarell Alvin McCraney and Keith Jarrett). As a member of the ‘majority’ within this minority, I tread warily and aim to do sowith love and respect.
It feels important to recognise what the NT (and the Old Vic) were trying to achieve though. Queer Theatre looked “at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings, exhibitions, talks and screenings” and if only one looked at lesbian women, two of the readings were written by women. Several of the post-show discussions at the NT talked specifically about this issue but in acknowledging it, also quite rightly pointed out that there just isn’t the historical body of work to draw from when it comes to wider LGBT+ representation. That’s where the talks and screenings came into their own, able to provide some of that alternative focus. Continue reading “Queer Theatre – a round-up”
#1 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
“My God, I wanted three daughters like the Brontes and I ended up with a family fit for a Channel Four documentary”
There was a special currency for Sarah Daniels’ Neaptide being the opening play in the #ntQueer season as this 1986 drama was actually the first by a living female playwright at the National Theatre – an astonishing fact all told. And it is perhaps sadly predictable that Daniels now finds herself somewhat neglected as a writer, despite being prolific in the 80s and 90s.
Neaptide proved a strong choice too, a powerful exploration of the extent to which lesbian prejudice permeated society and institutions even as late as this, and indeed how little we’ve moved on – in some ways. Daniels presents us with three generations of lesbians and explores how they deal with working or studying at the same school when a scandal threatens to upturn all of their lives. Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Neaptide, National”
“Time will tell, it always does”
Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).
Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”
“We used to have a life.
We have each other and my empty womb”
It’s Yerma yes, but not as you know it. Australian auteur Simon Stone (best known in the UK for The Wild Duck but whose Medea in Amsterdam was just masterful) has revised, reshaped, rewritten Lorca’s 1934 tragic poem into an all-too-contemporary lament that throbs with the painful intensity of Billie Piper’s stunning performance here at the Young Vic.
Encased in a glass box, the audience in traverse (designer Lizzie Clachan doing some extraordinary work), Piper plays Her, a woman in her mid-30s with a successful career as a blogger (I KNOW!) and happily married to the slightly older John. As the societal narrative goes, they buy a house and then decide to start a family but despite the fecundity of those around them, they struggle to conceive. Continue reading “Review: Yerma, Young Vic”
“It’s exactly like yours, but the other way around”
As any fule kno, purple underwear had its cultural apotheosis in Back to the Future but there’s a scene in Catherine-Anne Toupin’s Right Now (À Présent) that threatens to wrest that title from Michael J Fox and anoint the delicious Maureen Beattie in his place. But lingerie aside, there’s much more in play in this fascinatingly twisty piece of writing from this Québécois playwright, a transfer from Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio which has already toyed extensively with our perceptions in The Father and The Mother which have also been exported down the M4 in recent months.
Here, it’s Alice who has tumbled down the theatrical rabbit-hole into a world of increasing strangeness. Installed in a swanky new apartment with doctor husband Ben, life ought to be swell but there’s clearly something awry – their physical intimacy is severely stilted, a child’s toy left on the floor provokes the tensest of exchanges, her sleeping patterns are wrecked and he’s working all the hours God sends. All the while, a baby’s cries haunt the room… So the arrival of orchid-bearing Juliette from across the hallway, along with son François and husband Gilles and their promises of drinks and dinner parties ought to release the pressure valve – after all everybody needs good neighbours. Continue reading “Review: Right Now (À Présent), Bush”
“Were thou as young as I”
In Joseph Drake and Audrey Brisson, Sally Cookson’s Romeo + Juliet has a perfectly matched pair of pint-sized lovers to take to the stage at the Rose Kingston. And in creating a non-specifically modern Verona (as hinted by the format of the title which borrows from Luhrmann), Cookson creates the ideal setting in which to let her vivid imagination run riot over Shakespeare’s much-performed classic. Her bold vision may not be to everyone’s tastes but it delivers a unique pleasure.
Katie Sykes’ multi-platformed urban playground of a set suggests an underbelly of a city akin to the undercroft of the Southbank Centre, recently saved for its skateboarders and under the tumble of fluorescent tubes that makes up Aideen Malone’s lighting design, there’s a highly charged sense of energy ready to explode. Benji Bower’s score carries much of the weight of the atmosphere though, an insistent presence throughout the production for better and for worse. Continue reading “Review: Romeo + Juliet, Rose Kingston”
“Was he driven to it by someone’s rage?”
Last up in the reinvention of Aeschylus’ Oresteia is Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s take on The Furies, bringing this tale of murder, revenge and justice to an end as the gods opt to end the vicious cycle of blood vengeance by introducing the concept of trial by jury and instituting the first ever homicide trial.
Niamh Cusack’s perfectly modulated tone makes for an engaging narrator, Lesley Sharp has the intensity and ferocity of a thunderstorm as the vitriolic Clytemnestra, and Maureen Beattie, Polly Hemingway and Carolyn Pickles are intimidatingly malevolent as the Furies, determined to get their revenge on Will Howard’s Orestes. His defender comes in the form of Chipo Chung’s Athena, who spots the chance to change the way humans sort out their grievances yet still has to battle against the established order. It’s an interesting story but something in this production didn’t quite gel for me in the way the previous two parts of the trilogy did, possibly due to the use of a narrator, something I’m rarely keen on. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Furies / November Dead List”
“I would punch a baby for a cigarette”
During Dominic Cooke’s reign, the Royal Court has done an excellent job in nurturing a generation of new young female playwrights and Polly Stenham surely has to be considered as one of the breakout successes from this cohort, managing to maintain an air of great anticipation alongside a unhurried workrate. Her third play No Quarter, for the Royal Court as with That Face and Tusk Tusk, occupies similar territory as her earlier work, in the chronicling of dysfunction in families of the more privileged classes, but it could be said it is with diminishing returns.
24 year old music school dropout Robin has lost himself in a haze of drink and drugs but when he returns to the dilapidated manor house that is his family home, it is to the suffocatingly intense embrace of his dementia-stricken mother who wants his help to ease her way into death. But when he finds that the home he thought he would inherit has actually been sold from under him to developers, his self-destructive instincts kick in and the night of her wake sees him attract an assorted crowd for a wild party to end all parties, anything to avoid confronting the enduring malaise that weighs him down. Continue reading “Review: No Quarter, Royal Court”