Review: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola

“No-one has the ability to laugh at their misfortunes like the women of the East End”

I wish I liked Philip Ridley’s work more than I admire it. He has, as one of the characters here says “a remarkable way of looking at things” and his commitment to the uniqueness of his dramatic worldview is certainly impressive, it’s just that I don’t always find that I get it or that I even want to. Yet time and time again I go back to his plays as when it does work, it can have an enormous power (cf Mercury Fur).

With the slow but steady establishment of his reputation, many of his earlier works have been popping up in recent years in new productions but it still surprising to learn that this is the first revival of Ghost from a Perfect Place which dates from 1994. Somehow pre-empting and thereby predicting the rise of girl power (think Spice Girls) and gangster loving (think Lock Stock…), it holds a real fascination, if not genuine feeling. Continue reading “Review: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola”

Review: Three Sisters, Young Vic

“It’s like a nail being hammered in my head”

Back when the Young Vic announced their forthcoming shows as being A Doll’s House and Three Sisters, I was a little surprised at how safe the programming seemed, on the surface at least. For as it turned out, Ibsen was revitalised by Simon Stephens to stunning effect in one of the shows of the year so far and so expectations were high for Chekhov’s turn, adapted and directed by Benedict Andrews, the Australian auteur whose Cate Blanchett-starring Big and Small proved to be somewhat divisive.

And this production, set in an abstract modern day, also seems set to provoke strong opinion. From Helen Rappaport’s literal translation, Andrews has thoroughly modernised the language of this story of three young women trapped in a stultifying provincial Russian town, dreaming of heady love affairs and escaping to the Moscow of their childhoods yet unable to fully wrest control of their lives from the cruel twists of fate. But dislocating the play from the social and economic context in which Chekhov conceived it seriously undermines a central aspect of the drama.  Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Young Vic”

Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva

“Do not rejoice in his defeat”

Despite feeling like I live in a theatre at time, my experience of Brecht has actually been very limited. When I first saw Mother Courage at the National, I hadn’t got a clue what was going on and it was a rather disconcerting experience all told. My subsequent discovery that all the shenanigans were an integral part of the show left me a little nonplussed, but since then I haven’t had the opportunity to revisit his work, or maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough… Even when The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was first announced as part of Chichester’s 50th anniversary season, I can’t say the thought filled me with much anticipation.

But the cast was attractive, led by Henry Goodman, and crucially, the word of mouth from trusted souls was excellent and so I booked myself in on a day when those lovely £5 train tickets were available. And I really enjoyed myself, having one of those great experiences where a complete lack of pre-knowledge about the show really paid off to just fascinating effect. Brecht wrote the play in 1941, a story about a small-time Chicago gangster whose violent seizure and control of the cauliflower trade (I know but bear with) saw him ascend to fearsome heights, but the playwright’s true intentions are revealed through the parallels, which are soon crystal clear, with the rise to power of one Adolf Hitler. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva”

Review: The King’s Speech, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford

“No emotions. Not in public.”

Despite winning 4 Oscars in 2011, early treatments of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech envisioned it as a play, and it was at a reading at the Pleasance theatre that film director Tom Hooper’s mother spotted its potential and the rest as they say is history. So, it never actually made it into a theatre but striking while the iron is hot, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre have mounted this premiere production of the show, starring Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde, which will undertake a short tour of the country in the coming months.

Seidler drew on his own experience, as a boy with a stammer who was inspired by the success of King George VI in overcoming his own stammer, to pursue telling this story but was only granted permission to access much of the primary research material after the death of the Queen Mother, who did not want the film made in her lifetime. So we follow Bertie, the second son, as he struggles to deal with his stammer at a time when the public profile of the Royal Family was increasing exponentially with the advent of radio. His meeting with unconventional Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue sets him on the difficult journey of trying to conquer his deep-seated issues, all the while dealing with the unfolding scandal of his older brother’s affair with Wallis Simpson and the constitutional crisis it incurs. Oh, and war is approaching too. Continue reading “Review: The King’s Speech, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford”

Review: Saved, Lyric Hammersmith

“Yer ain’t arf nosey”

Edward Bond’s Saved caused quite the hoohah when it premiered at the Royal Court in 1965, due to its unflinching portrayal of the total disillusionment of a whole slice of society but mainly because of a highly provocative scene of [spoiler alert] a baby being stoned to death in its pram. Sean Holmes of the Lyric Hammersmith has given it a rare revival at a point in time which seems eerily prescient given the riots that were experienced across the UK this summer.

Set around a South London household in which meaningless existences are played out: Pam sleeps around with the local bad boys and neglects her unnamed baby and her parents, with whom she still lives, haven’t spoken to each other in years. When they take in a lodger who seems to offer a faint ray of light in this dull world, his decency takes a battering but ultimately shows up the corrosive effect of a world that feels dead set against them. Continue reading “Review: Saved, Lyric Hammersmith”

DVD Review: Macbeth

This filmed version of Macbeth follows on from the well-received Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, that was also captured for posterity but given the filmic treatment rather than just recorded on stage. The entire adult cast, including Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the murderous couple, from the original Chichester production reunited to film this in high definition in the gloomy tunnels and bunker-like rooms at Walbeck Abbey.

Director Rupert Goold relocates the action to the Cold War Era thus making war-torn Scotland something closer to Stalinist Russia:, the hallmarks of fascism are ever-present with giant posters of the ruler dominating rooms, a police state mentality prevailing with torture used to maintain fear and control over the people as the Macbeths seek to sate their bloodlust and desire for the crown through any means necessary.

I’m not too sure how I feel about Stewart as an actor, something about him just turns me off, but he is undoubtedly impressive here, demonstrating a clinical control over the verse and playing the dictator-like ambition turning to paranoid desperation with conviction. Fleetwood’s Lady Macbeth was chillingly effective as the driving force behind this blood-thirsty ambition, portraying a real malevolence that curdles inside her as the loveless marriage begins to crack.

Goold’s assignment of the weird sisters as surgical-masked nurses who are frequently seen around the edges of scenes puts a stronger emphasis on the supernatural side of things, suggesting the ominous inevitability of his fate and perhaps even manipulating it themselves. Polly Frame, Sophie Hunter and Niamh McGrady are all excellent though and the visual and sound effects employed on their performances adds an extra layer of disturbing menace.

As ever, Macduff and Malcolm’s killer scene dragged interminably, but there were nice performances from Tim Treloar as a bookish Ross, Suzanne Burden as the butchered Lady Macduff. But what shines as the biggest benefit to the whole thing is the use of close-ups to really capture the nuances of performances that could well have escaped people on the front row, never mind up in the gods. There’s a level of detail that one is allowed to observe here, that really elevates this from a mere recording of a staged production and demonstrating where this format has a clear value and shouldn’t just be dismissed as ‘no substitute for the real thing’.

Yes, this is not the same thing as going to the theatre but nor is it pretending to be and instead offers an opportunity that couldn’t really be equalled whilst sat in the stalls and made this an interesting and significant thing to watch.

Review: Plague Over England, Duchess Theatre

Nicholas De Jongh’s theatrical writing debut comes to the West End after a run on the fringe last year, and Plague Over England is a fine, thought-provoking piece of work. A look at attitudes to homosexuality during the 1950s, the play uses John Gielgud’s arrest for cottaging as a prism to see how the authorities dealt with the “moral plague” and how this affected the lives of a series of gay men. The set design is extraordinarily versatile with numerous changes throughout the play, evoking a vast range of different locations quite effectively and this is superbly bolstered by some fine ensemble acting, with many actors also doubling up.

I neglected to purchase a programme, so cannot name the actor who played the policeman, and this is meant to be a serious blog, but he is possessed of quite a fine set of abs. There was a collective gasp of appreciation when they were unveiled, almost enough to make me want to join a gym, but not quite! I mention the abs only because they featured in the best scene of the play with the pontificating of the railing homophobic Home Secretary counterpointed with the first coupling of the mis-matched copper and judge’s son. It is a wittily played vignette, my only caveat would be that it is only the young hunky members of the cast who seem to get it on, which slightly undermines the universality of the play in general. Continue reading “Review: Plague Over England, Duchess Theatre”