Review: Poppy + George, Watford Palace

“If this is indeed where you were heading, then it appears with all success you have arrived”

There’s something rather gorgeous at the heart of Poppy + George, a recognition that even passing acquaintances can leave as lasting impressions as the deepest of friendships; a reminder too that even if a play can be over and done with in a couple of hours, its impact can linger far beyond. So it is for the group of people who find each other in Diane Samuels’ new play for the Watford Palace Theatre, with music by Gwyneth Herbert.

Their safe haven is a warehouse deep in the East End in 1919, where Russian Jewish (with a bit of Chinese) tailor Smith plies his trade and entertains his friends nattily dressed chauffeur George Sampson and Great War veteran Tommy Johns who is trying to resurrect his fading music hall career. Into their world comes Poppy Wright, a Northern girl looking for a fresh start from a life in service, though the love she finds turns out not to be quite what she expected. Continue reading “Review: Poppy + George, Watford Palace”

Review: Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre

“This isn’t conversation. It’s just you telling me about your dick”

Paul Miller’s reign at the Orange Tree looked to be an interesting one from the moment he announced his debut season as Artistic Director, mixing the classic revivals for which the Richmond venue has long been known with a more cutting edge approach to its new writing policy, inviting new directors too to open up the theatre to new eyes. But not even he can have anticipated the veritable Twitterstorm of good publicity that flew up among online reviewers when Alistair McDowell’s Pomona opened last month.

Continue reading “Review: Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre”

Review: Hobson’s Choice, Open Air Theatre

“There’s another man with claims on me”

Harold Brighouse’s 1916 play Hobson’s Choice is regarded a good old-fashioned British classic and features on the NT2000 Top 100 plays list so when a production was announced at the Bolton Octagon earlier this year, I was keen to see it for the first time. Sure enough, having made that trip the Open Air Theatre then announced their own revival at the distinctly more convenient location of Regents Park but hey ho, you can’t win ‘em all.

And in all honesty, I did prefer the bona fide Northern version. Nadia Fall’s production here feckles the show a little too much, moving it into the 60s which undoubtedly gives it a brighter sense of modernity but one which also flies in the face of many of the gender relationships of the play – the huge social change of the time is quietly forgotten for the most part, an inconvenient truth when so much of the writing is about specific notions of parental obedience and the bestowing of dowries.  Continue reading “Review: Hobson’s Choice, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS Spain, Royal Court via YouTube

“The wealth has been distributed differently, but they take your house too”

The Spanish take on The Big Idea featured the short plays Chalk Land by Vanessa Montfort and Merit by Alexandra Wood, interspersed with some verbatim accounts of interviews that Montfort conducted with some Spanish people. Though the last to be performed, this was actually the first of the set that I watched but I genuinely did find it hugely engaging from start to finish. Director Richard Twyman ensured that Chalk Land had the visual humour, though of a distinctly bittersweet note, to accompany the conversation between a homeless man and a passer-by full of indignance at the injustice of the world, Robert Lonsdale and Mariah Gale pairing up well.

And Wood’s Merit was a fascinating look at the ethical compromises people are willing to make in terms of getting and securing a job, but also at the ethics of friends and family around us from whom we might well benefit. Meera Syal and Paul Chahidi as the parents pussyfooting around their concern for their daughter, Gale again full of righteous fire, both giving excellent performances. I really enjoyed the verbatim accounts though, raising the powerful issue of how media coverage of austerity shies away from the ordinariness of so many of the victims and preferring to focus on stock images of poverty-ridden people in order to separate ‘them’ from ‘us’ even as the dividing line has become so blurred as to not even exist any more. Continue reading “Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS Spain, Royal Court via YouTube”

Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS, Greece – Royal Court via YouTube

There are no Greek islands left, they’ve all been bought up at knockdown prices by the Qataris”

The Greek iteration of The Big Idea had a rather distinct character, mixing the ruminative quality of Andreas Flourakis’ I Want A Country with the more absurdist bent of Mr Brown, Mrs Paparigopoulou and the Interpreter by Alexi Kaye Campbell. And perhaps with an abiding feeling that Greece has borne the brunt of the European financial crisis, watching these plays felt less enjoyable and rooted in a greater seriousness, a weight which it didn’t always manage to pull off. 

I Want A Country worked better, its lament for a homeland gone awry, for the security of the past to return and envelop the three characters in home comforts, is a delicately persuasive one and Flourakis laces the bittersweetness with occasional laughs to ensure the tone never gets too mordantly dark. Alexi Kaye Campbell – himself a Greek expat – fared less well for me, trying to find a more overtly humourous angle on the nightmare of unwanted bureaucracy being imposed on an entire nation. Continue reading “Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS, Greece – Royal Court via YouTube”

Review: The Big Ideas- PIIGS, Portugal, – Royal Court via YouTube

“Progress has not been as pronounced as expected”

The Portuguese take on The Big Idea was Farewell to the Old Country, written by Sandra Pinheiro and responded to by April de Angelis in Articipation, with snatches of verbatim interviews interspersed throughout, and as seemed to be something of the model, ranged from the harrowing (from the native playwright) to the surreal (from the Brit). Pinheiro’s story involved a family who had taken the difficult decision to emigrate from Portugal in pursuit of work and new beginnings, but having opted to make a staggered departure – letting the husband go first to get settled – the enormity of their choice makes the wife question what is most important. 

For they have a child and she will be left with her grandma and though Dad has put up with it for six months, Mum is now having a crisis of faith. Told mainly via the medium of Skype, it formed an interesting look at how far people are willing to go in order to make change happen but also how far they are willing to let others go for them. The strain put on this marriage is unimaginably huge and though one is left appalled, there’s an element of understanding about it too. Continue reading “Review: The Big Ideas- PIIGS, Portugal, – Royal Court via YouTube”

Review: The Big Ideas- PIIGS, Italy, – Royal Court via YouTube

“I’m not saying this is the answer”

With the Italian edition of The Big Idea, it was actually the verbatim sections that I enjoyed the most. The reportage element used Twitter and Facebook conversations as a model, creating a punchy set of responses to a series of questions which felt more impactful than some of the other interviewing techniques, although predictably it does perhaps give less considered answers. But this lengthier technique was used later on to great effect in exploring just who was culpable for the state of Italian life and a self-reflexive sequence on how a way forward might be found. 

The two plays – They Were In My Field by Fausto Paravidino and Three Gifts by Anders Lustgarten – both failed to really engage me but I would be hard-pressed to tell you exactly why. Both took a slightly obscure slant on the the issue at hand and maybe I was just too tired, but it left me alienated for the whole shebang. And since it is my blog, I’m leaving it at that. Continue reading “Review: The Big Ideas- PIIGS, Italy, – Royal Court via YouTube”

Review: The Big Ideas- PIIGS, Ireland, – Royal Court via YouTube

“I had a completely ungrounded confidence, financially”

The Irish incarnation of The Big Idea featured Protest by Deirdre Kinehan, with its parents at a school meeting debating the ethics of austerity and particularly the effects that cuts in education threaten to make in their school. It’s quite an intimate piece, its concerns perhaps a little inwards –looking but for me that is where its strengths lie, in dramatizing the kind of everyday situation that people under austerity are facing. It isn’t all headlines news and high-profile decisions, but rather the slowly tightening screw of small cut after small cut taking over almost every aspect of people’s lives.

Following that was Kieran Hurley’s Belcoo, a less successful play for me, looking at the G8 protests, as fake shop fronts are erected in a Northern Ireland town and three people debate the ins and outs of plastic fruit. Again though, I found the verbatim pieces more fascinating than the dramatic writing itself, especially the Stephen Carswell section. There’s something truly educational about the staging of such brutally frank conversations about the financial crisis that works so much better than trying to dramatise it fictionally and it would have been good to see at least one play that was entirely based on this format. Continue reading “Review: The Big Ideas- PIIGS, Ireland, – Royal Court via YouTube”

Review: Old Money, Hampstead

“Twelve funerals I’ve been to this year. Twelve and it’s only August”

There’s something of a delayed reaction feel to Sarah Wooley’s new play Old Money in the way that it explores the relationship between the generations now that it can no longer be assumed that wealth will continue to increase in the way it always has. I say delayed reaction because it feels like a subject that been dealt with by other writers like Mike Bartlett and Stephen Beresford, but neither had quite so comic a take as Wooley, a first time playwright, has here. She wraps her version in the tale of Joyce, widowed after 40 years of marriage and given an unexpected new lease of life, but it is one which doesn’t go down well with the various members of her family.

It is a play completely driven by Maureen Lipman’s excellent central performance as Joyce. Her delivery of the material is always so note-perfect and able to wring just the right amount of humour  that it is close to a comic masterpiece. And as she travels on her journey of self-(re)-discovery through trips to the opera and drinking sessions with friendly young strippers, there’s also something rather touching about the reminder that it is never too late to learn things about oneself and Terry Johnson’s production manages to convey this without veering towards the patronising.

I had more problems with how she connected with the rest of the play though, in particular the supporting characters like Tracy-Ann Overman’s Fiona, highly materialistic and determined of her right to make endless demands of her mother. Pregnant with her third child, saddled with a feckless husband and an unmanageable mortgage, hers is the unlikeable role against which Joyce’s new-found freedom is strongly contrasted but it is a strangely sour taste that is left in the mouth as the price she exacts on her own family as she strikes her merry way at the end feels misjudged.

So something of a fascinating piece rather than a necessarily compelling one and thus perhaps a little intriguing in how it made its way onto the Hampstead main stage, but Lipman’s performance makes it worth a trip.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 12th January