Review: Dance Nation, Almeida

I loved Clare Barron’s Dance Nation at the Almeida but fear it might not get the audiences it deserves

“People don’t say they cry when they watch me dance.
When they watch Amina dance, they cry. I know.
Because I cry when I watch Amina dance.”

I saw a late preview of Dance Nation at the Almeida so I was going to hold off saying much about it. But the hypocrisy of Quentin Letts’ tweet about the show (search on Twitter if you must) roused me to action for it is a pretty damn fine piece of writing by US playwright Clare Barron, and a damn fine piece of theatre directed by Bijan Sheibani.

It uses the device of adults playing kids to delve into the world of competitive high school dance, investigating what it is like to be a 13 year old girl, to be caught up in the ferocity of cut-throat contest whilst also navigating the physical and emotional upheaval of becoming a teenager. It’s blistering, uncompromising stuff and so it is perhaps little surprise that it has ruffled the feathers of some terribly sensitive souls. Continue reading “Review: Dance Nation, Almeida”

Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503

“They kicked us out
And knocked our house down
And shipped us here to the arse end of nowhere”

I learned to swim in Skelmersdale, known as Skem to anyone who has ever been there. A couple of miles from the village where I was born, the drive to the Nye Bevan Swimming Pool was always a fascinating one visually due to the whims of the 1960s town planners who designated the place a ‘new town’ – sheets of grey concrete dominated the architecture and the roads were full of roundabouts after roundabouts, barely a traffic light to be seen among the network of subways. It was also a strange feeling though, as it was crossing the invisible borderline from Woollyback territory (your more typical Lancastrian accent) into the land of the Scousers (the inimitable sound of Merseyside).

I bring you this insight into the early years of Clowns because Years of Sunlight, a new play by Michael McLean, is set in Skem and whilst it had an undeniable nostalgic charge (I’m almost certainly the only reviewer there who got excited at the sight of the ‘Connie’, or Concourse shopping centre in a video clip), the play also had the unexpected result of making me think of the place in a new light. This particular ‘new town’ was designed to rehouse the overspill population from the poorer parts of Liverpool but the forced creation of new communities is rarely so simple as that, and it is this impact that McLean explores here, by following the thread of a 30 year friendship. Continue reading “Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503”

DVD Review: Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The world is not thy friend”

When does one know that one has seen the definitive interpretation of a particular show? And who gets to decide these things? I’m not quite sure, but watching the Globe’s 2009 production of Romeo & Juliet on DVD, I very much got the feeling that Rupert Goold’s RSC version might just be as good as this play will ever get.

Neither lead performer really captures or engages the heart and convinces of the inevitability of their journey. Adetomiwa Edun and Ellie Kendrick have the teenage precocity but their youthfulness works against articulating a genuine sense of capricious, all-encompassing love: there’s no charisma to their performances and so little is really invested in their plight. Continue reading “DVD Review: Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Madagascar, Theatre 503

“If someone chooses to disappear, then they need to stay gone”

The European premiere of JT Rogers’ Madagascar arrives at the Theatre 503 in Battersea for a run until 5th June presented here by a co-ordinated effort between Primavera and Le Nez Productions. After Anyone Can Whistle and The Rivals already this year, Primavera are turning into a bit of a must-see producing house for me and when I heard my favourite of the Cusack sisters had been cast in this play, I knew that I would be trekking south of the river for this.

Madagascar takes place in a hotel room opposite the Spanish Steps in Rome and is narrated by three different characters, all affected by the disappearance of a young man. His mother Lilian appears five years ago at the point of the incident, his sister June relates the tale from a few days ago and Nathan, Lilian’s adulterous lover, is there in the present. Although they occupy the same space, they are each there alone, as they tell their stories and the monologues weave around each other, dealing with the pain of loving others, whether that’s filial, parental or conjugal love and how these relationships can horribly wrong.

What makes the evening really sing though is the sheer quality of the acting. I’ve long been a fan of Sorcha Cusack and she did not disappoint as the domineering mother with her classy facade that doesn’t quite cover the complexity and indeed darkness of the persona beneath, hints of which break through at key moments in flashes across Cusack’s face. But I was equally impressed with Miranda Foster’s fragile June, tormented by grief but also perhaps grateful for the sense of purpose given to her through tragedy and Barry Stanton’s gruff but amiable economist.

Colllectively they wove together their stories and really made us care for these characters, making Madagascar as much a study in the impact of grief on those left behind as a mystery about the disappearance of a man and this makes the play considerably stronger than it might have been in a weaker production. Whereas the writing is intricate in relating the three time zones and poetic in the imagery it creates that resonates throughout, it’s a little too clever at times and keeps the audience at a bit of a distance: very rarely do we have the opportunity to lose ourselves in the true emotion of a scene and it is a real credit to the three actors that we do invest in these people.

Creatively it is extremely strong: Tom Littler clearly recognises the weight of the talent here and so has carefully employed a minimum of distractions around the actors. The faded glamour of the hotel room is evoked through the lovely burnished silver walls, a bed, bedside table and a desk the only furniture in Morgan Large’s subtle design, Will Reynolds’ lighting is excellent in smoothly and efficiently transitioning between the time periods and Jamie Beamish’s haunting cello-based score perfectly sets the contemplative mood.

Altogether I found Madagascar a very satisfying night at the theatre. Whilst I may have found Rogers’ writing a little too clever, there is no denying that he is possessed of some extraordinary skill: the way in which he obliquely reveals information is delightful, the way in which the characters are related for example and the way in which the competing theories for the disappearance are built up and floated as possibilities. Combined with some of the best acting currently on the London stage and a fabulous design aesthetic, Theatre 503 have themselves a winner, book a ticket now!

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: 50p