“I thought when it came to it, I would be good at it”
Despite the fact that I really wasn’t a fan of How To Hold Your Breath, I can’t help but be impressed by the way that Vicky Featherstone really has shaken up the Royal Court since taking over as Artistic Director last year. The diversity in programming may mean that there’s no such thing as a safe bet there any more (something to play havoc with those who carefully book everything months in advance) but there’s something thrilling about that unpredictability, and also the variety that it thus lends to people’s theatregoing.
Turning into more of a lucky dip does mean that you’re not always going to pick a winner and such was the case for me with ZInnie Harris’ new work. A densely written and constructed play, it imagines a Europe swallowed whole by a new financial crisis and leaving the remnants of society to fend for themselves, turned into refugees fighting to cross the border into Istanbul or gain passage on rickety ships bound for Alexandria. With a seductive demon on one shoulder and her pregnant sister on the other, Maxine Peake’s Dana finds herself forced into that such a journey. Continue reading “Review: How To Hold Your Breath, Royal Court”
“You’re curious, that’s why you’re here”
The personal connections that one can easily build up in a city such as London are so wide-ranging that the riots of 2011 would most likely have affected us all in some particular way or other. For me, as a former resident of Hackney Downs, it was the sight of an innocuous convenience store being looted that really got me, it was a shop I’d passed every day from which I’d picked up many a bottle of Diet Coke or a lottery ticket and to see it being gutted felt very much not in tune with what Mark Duggan’s death should have stood for.
So I was fascinated to see that Alecky Blythe’s new play Little Revolution was focusing on this very shop and the community action that arose from its ransacking. Though 2011’s London Road saw her break through to mainstream success, Blythe has long been a proponent of verbatim theatre, by which she records interviews with real people at the heart of a certain issue and constructs a play out of their exact words – accents, inflections, verbal tics and all. Continue reading “Review: Little Revolution, Almeida”
“The episode starts with…
Wait, doesn’t he have…'”
It’s a bit of crime that it was relatively easy to get one of the good cheap seats to see Mr Burns again at the Almeida this far into the run but I suppose it is indicative of the risks that theatres take when they programme in a more exciting way than simply remounting The Importance of Being Earnest… And I sure ain’t complaining as I loved being able to revisit this searing production of Ann Washburn’s play and appreciate more of its dense cultural referencing and complexity rather than just sitting slack-jawed at the audacity of the piece.
My original review can be found here and I think I will leave it at that, I just run the risk of repeating myself ad nauseam otherwise. What I would recommend you read instead are Mildly Bitter’s insightful takes on the US productions she saw – first one here, and second one here which demonstrate a brilliantly articulated appreciation of what the show, and Washburn, are trying to do, and also offer an interesting look into how it has, and continues to, developed.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with two intervals)
Booking until 26th July, go on – do it, book now. And don’t leave at the first interval!
“That’s the cartoon show that they watch”
When did theatre get this exciting again? Love it or hate it, and the critical response that has come in today seems to run the full gamut, Anne Washburn’s simply extraordinary play Mr Burns can lay a bold claim to be just unlike anything else on a London stage at the moment. I was pleased to have avoided finding out much about it in advance, even if one particular surprise was spoiled for me on Twitter, coming to something so fresh is a rarity these days but even had I read the play from cover to cover beforehand, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the experience of watching Robert Icke’s breath-takingly audacious production.
In all honesty, it is something that needs to be experienced to truly get it, I haven’t ‘felt’ a new play this much in ages, my reactions ranging from complete and absolute intrigue to slack-jawed amazement to hoots of laughter. Three distinct acts – all 40 minutes long – take us through the aftermath of some unspecified apocalyptic event in North America. Spread over nearly a century, Washburn muses on what the remnants of society’s reaction would be, what might survivors cling onto when hope is all but gone, what coping mechanisms would be developed to either distract from the horrors that have gone before or the uncertainty that lies ahead. Continue reading “Review: Mr Burns, Almeida”
“You have to stop seeing the good in everyone all the time”
With Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs continues its merry way of putting on some interesting theatre yet not opening it up officially to critics with a view to protecting the creativity and experimental nature of the work being performed. Deborah Bruce’s debut play is a rather conventional affair though and being directed by Michael Attenborough does nothing to challenge this and so one is left wondering why the Hampstead Theatre are shying away from replicating the model of the Royal Court Upstairs and really capitalising on being an out and proud two-studio venue.
Better known as a director (and half of a directorial super-couple with Jeremy Herrin) Bruce’s play occupies fairly safe territory in its comedic depiction of Lou, a forty-*cough*-thirty-something carefree Londoner whose style is well and truly cramped when her nineteen-year-old god-daughter Minnie moves into her flat to take up a place at university. Having fully embraced the vagaries of metropolitan living and its consequent inhibiting effect on conventional ideas of maturity, Lou is thus forced to face the difference between feeling nineteen and the dilemmas of actually being nineteen. Continue reading “Review: Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs”
“The only thing is to grin and bear it”
Timing is everything and the anti-war message of Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play For Services Rendered failed to gain any purchase on contemporary audiences, making it something of a failure. But listening to Lu Kemp’s adaptation for Radio 4, it strikes as an extraordinarily prescient piece of work, more so given the eventual declaration and devastation of the Second World War, and it surely due for a substantial theatrical revival. As it is, this version will more than do for now as its tale of how the impact of the First World War lingered perniciously on in the lives of the nation is embodied in the trials of the Ardsley family and their friends.
Leonard and Charlotte Ardsley have four children and though superficially their lives in the Kent countryside are going well, there’s much trauma and difficulty just beneath the surface. Only son Sydney was blinded in the war and sister Eva has devoted herself entirely to his care, much to the expense of her own situation and youngest daughter Lois also finds herself unmarried due to the lack of prospects. Ethel is the one that did manage to secure herself a husband but the upheaval of wartime blinded her to his eminent lack of suitability and now in peacetime, she is left to repent at leisure. With so much bubbling away as the social order decays, it isn’t long before changes start to force themselves upon this group. Continue reading “Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4”
“You assert this fabulous moral conscience John, this adherence to unwritten law”
Despite finding Ruth Wilson’s performance as Alice Morgan one of the greatest things on TV, it was with a slightly heavy heart that I heard she would be returning to Luther for its third series. The way in which she was crowbarred into the second was no great success and I feared that familiarity might breed yet more contempt, but my faith in writer/creator Neil Cross was strong enough to see me through, along with the news that favourite-in-these-parts Elliot Cowan would be part of the guest cast.
The 4 part series essentially took the form of two 2-parters – the first making literal the horror trope of there being something under the bed and the second exploring vigilante justice, along with a series-long story which saw Internal Affairs turn the heat on Luther himself, trying to get to the bottom of just why so many of the people around him ended up dead. This latter strand didn’t really work for me, rehashing Dermot Crowley’s Schenk’s original role in the show, and adding a note of false jeopardy that never felt like it was going to go anywhere substantive. Continue reading “TV Review: Luther, Series 3”
“I have a world map on my door.
‘We’ll see if we can find Lichfield on it later’.”
As the Cottesloe becomes the Dorfman, among other changes, the National Theatre has erected a temporary space called The Shed to keep a third working venue in their complex and opening the programme there, is this original play Table by Tanya Ronder. A family saga that stretches across several generations from 19thcentury Staffordshire to modern day London, taking in trips to hippy communes and East African missions, and with a rather gentle grace, it explores the way in which the actions of our parents impact on the people we become and how easy it is to irrevocably hurt the ones we love.
It’s a densely told story, made more complex by a fracturing of the timeline which sees the focus constantly shifting between time periods, and it may take some getting used to. Rufus Norris marshals his deeply talented cast of nine, who cover thirty characters across six generations of the Best family, with a highly engaging playfulness but it does take a little time for the key pieces to come into focus and for the play to really coalesce into something affecting. But when it does get there, and it was the second half for me, its gentle energy and reflective charm make for a winning combination. Continue reading “Review: Table, National Theatre”
”I’d rather live life wishing I hadn’t rather than wishing I had”
Today I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Joe Wright’s new film, Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role, which is certain to be divisive with its unique approach. Tom Stoppard has been employed to distil Tolstoy’s weighty tome into something more manageable and his adaptation clocks in at a shade over 2 hours. Remaining largely faithful to the novel, Stoppard’s focus is on exploring different kinds of love, and so whilst the focus is mainly on Anna herself as she negotiates the tumultuous affair with a young cavalryman that sets her against her husband and the might of Russian society, he also ensures that the subplot featuring the agrarian Levin’s attempts to woo the object of his affections is kept in to provide a neat counterpoint.
Presented with a classic of literature and wanting to avoid predictability as far as period dramas are concerned, Wright’s main conceit has been to reconceptualise the whole thing in a deeply theatrical manner, literally. He treats the story as a piece of theatre, sometimes being played out in front of an audience, sometimes as backstage drama, but always with a defined fluidity and through-line. This exceedingly stylised and highly choreographed approach has a huge cinematic sweep which I adored, but it does soon calm down into something more measured and at key moments, it opens out with some breath-taking transformations. Continue reading “Film Review: Anna Karenina”
“Begonias, and… petunias, and… um, impatiens and things”
Technically speaking this is a re-re-review of London Road, which has made a belated transfer from the Cottesloe to the considerably larger Olivier at the National Theatre, as it is the third time that I’ve seen it. I saw it when it first opened and was blown away by its inventiveness and genuine originality as a piece of musical theatre, and then made a return trip when the show extended its initial run, a visit which coincided with the summer riots here in the UK last year, a time which magnified one of the key messages of the show, of the importance of community. The decision to remount this award-winning and critically acclaimed show, even after a considerable gap of nearly a year, may have seemed like a no-brainer but for those who were able to catch it in the Cottesloe like me, I suspect there may be a little disappointment as something of the magic has been lost in the move.
A strong element to this could well be my own snobbery. As the ticket purchasing was up to someone for once, I ended up in the circle – for the first time in years! – and whilst it wasn’t as bad as I had first feared, the distance does make it a completely different theatrical experience. And ‘experience’ is the right word, for this is such a unique show in its hybrid of verbatim theatre, which replicates the speech patterns and intonations of interviewees, and freestyling atonal music, which forms an additional structure and texture as it layers, repeats and counterpoints the speech into something strangely hypnotic and beautiful. Continue reading “Re-review: London Road, National Theatre”