Re-review: Summer and Smoke, Duke of York’s

The Almeida’s Summer and Smoke transfers into the West End at the Duke of York’s Theatre to great success. And Patsy Ferran is a star.

“Reaching up to something beyond attainment…”

The Almeida’s Summer and Smoke was a huge hit in the spring so it was little surprise to hear a West End transfer was on the cards (especially compared to, say, The Twilight Zone…). And it has transplanted to the Duke of York’s in fine shape, Tom Scutt’s set losing none of its invitingly curved intimacy as it replicates the bare bricks of the N1 venue.

And Rebecca Frecknall’s production has lost none of its charge, mainly through retaining the electric chemistry between its leads – an exceptional Patsy Ferran as Alma and Matthew Needham as John. The complex emotional connection between their characters is the heart of the play and the stark simplicity of the staging reflects that from the outset. Continue reading “Re-review: Summer and Smoke, Duke of York’s”

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: Summer and Smoke, Almeida

A rarely performed Tennessee Williams emerges as a real gift in the form of Rebecca Frecknall’s Summer and Smoke at the Almeida

“I’m more afraid of your soul than you’re afraid of my body”

When ‘director’s theatre’ looks and feels like this, it’s hard to believe that anyone would take against it. Director Rebecca Frecknall, aided by designer Tom Scutt, throws out the rulebook when it comes to Tennessee Williams, and comes up with something beautiful, something that genuinely feels like Williams for a contemporary age.

It helps that Summer and Smoke is relatively unheralded among his vast canon. And that the Almeida under Rupert Goold is as close as you’ll come to a director’s theatre. But the key is Frecknall’s vision of a world unmoored from the turn-of-the-century Mississippi setting and relocated to somewhere altogether more elemental.  Continue reading “Review: Summer and Smoke, Almeida”

Full casting for Almeida’s Summer and Smoke

Starting off the new brightly, the full cast of the Almeida’s production of Summer and Smoke has been announced.

Joining Patsy Ferran in the revival of Tennessee Williams’ play will be:

  • Seb Carrington (Archie Kramer)
  • Nancy Crane (Mrs Winemiller/Mrs Bassett)
  • Eric MacLennan (Papa Gonzales/Vernon)
  • Forbes Masson (Rev Winemiller/Dr Buchanan)
  • Matthew Needham (John Buchanan)
  • Tok Stephen (Roger Doremus/Dusty), and
  • Anjana Vasan (Rosemary/Rosa Gonzales/Nellie).

Rebecca Frecknall directs, with Tom Scutt on design duties and Lee Curran on the lights . Summer and Smoke opens at the Almeida on 7th March for a month-long run.

Review: Against, Almeida

For

Against

  • Amanda Hale being excellent in an all-too-rare excursion to the stage
  • Ben Whishaw being Ben Whishaw in his Whishawy way, even if it’s not quite enough to enliven the play
  • Whishaw briefly in his pants, if you like that sort of thing
  • An intelligently sparse design from ULTZ
  • Did I mention Amanda Hale? She comes close to making it all worthwhile

  • The running time
  • The comparative lack of depth to Christopher Shinn’s writing which in no way justifies the above
  • The range of issues which touched upon but not interrogated despite the above
  • The structure of the play which exacerbates the above
  • The inherent misogyny in the writing which only allows men to talk about these issues, however unsatisfactorily
  • The cheap potshots at political correctness, seemingly designed for the Cavendishes and Purves of this world
  • Did I mention the running time?


Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September

Review: A Lie of the Mind, Southwark Playhouse

“Love… its a disease that makes ya’ feel good. While it lasts. Then, when it’s gone, yer worse off than before you caught it”

Despite being blown away by True West, something about Sam Shepard makes me a little wary. I liked rather than loved Fool For Love and ultimately steered clear of the recent Buried Child and it was with a little trepidation that I allowed myself to make my way into A Lie of the Mind, produced here at the Southwark Playhouse by the folks at Defibrillator Theatre. Part of the problem I think lies in my antipathy towards the American dream as a narrative driver, in all honesty I often find I could care less about characters who are constructed around it. So a production has to do a lot to create the kind of context that makes me care and I’d say that director James Hillier just about manages it here, albeit with a couple of reservations.

In rural Montana, a part of the declining American West, the fallout from a particularly vicious episode of the brutally abusive marriage between Jake and Beth plays out. He’s retreated back to his childhood bedroom and she is recovering from her substantial injuries at her family’s cabin and in parallel, we track – through the most abstracted of ways – the dysfunctional family bonds, their violent legacies and the crucially unexpressed love, that have led them to this point and which appear to offer little alternative beyond. Continue reading “Review: A Lie of the Mind, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Sewing Group, Royal Court

“This is what we call a safe space”

When I was at primary school, we did a thing in needlepoint where we sewed seemingly random shapes in a line and only when we’d finished and Mrs Holcroft (I think it was) told us to look at the spaces inbetween, did we see that we’d made a handicraft tribute to Jesus. That’s still the first thing I think of when I think of sewing and there’s a tenuously similar link of ‘do you see what it is yet’ to The Sewing Group, EV Crowe’s new play for the Royal Court.

Stewart Laing’s production opens in the bare timber of a log cabin where two women are sewing. Enigmatically short scenes, sometimes containing just a single glance, interspersed with total blackouts offer tantalising threads to follow – an outsider joins this rural community but her mere presence in the group soon becomes a disruption, leading to more than just dropped stitches in the slow and increasingly strange unfolding of the story. Continue reading “Review: The Sewing Group, Royal Court”

Film Review: The Danish Girl

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?
‘Is there something you’d like to know'”

Though it is the striking image of Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe that dominates the publicity for this film, it is actually Alicia Vikander who emerges as the star of The Danish Girl. As Gerda Wegener, a mildly successful painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen, her emotional journey as a woman coming to terms with her husband’s Einar’s realisation that she’s a transgender woman offers the film’s most fully rounded character and in Vikander’s hands, a sense of raw, unpredictable emotion that is gorgeous to watch as the very limits of her tolerance and understanding are tested.

After a year where transgender issues came to the fore, it seems only natural that a film about Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, should be an apparent front-runner for this year’s award season. At the same time though, one can’t help but wish that Tom Hooper’s film hadn’t been made with two eyes fixed on the Academy Awards. His glossy and ultimately quite superficial approach – based on David Ebershoff’s novel which is a fictionalised version of Lili’s life – thus feels like a missed opportunity, as artificial an image as Caitlyn Jenner’s Annie Leibovitz-assisted cover.  Continue reading “Film Review: The Danish Girl”

Review: Teddy Ferrara, Donmar Warehouse

“The piece is supposed to be a complete picture of who Teddy was, right?”

You can almost feel the checklist of issues ready to be ticked off as we go through Christopher Shinn’s gay student play Teddy Ferrara and its dramatis personae – the president of the Queer Students group, the campaigning journalist, the faux-liberal authority figure, the one in the wheelchair, the transgender one, the hot, maybe closeted straight guy… And sure enough, each issue gets its moment in the spotlight, the show being faithfully representational to the last.

But issues alone do not a good play make. And though Dominic Cooke’s production for the Donmar looks good and is powerfully acted, it never truly engages the emotions, it never converts those issues into believably human stories. Which is particularly pertinent as the main inspiration for Shinn was the real-life case of Taylor Clementi, a student who took his own life after his college roommate broadcast webcam footage of him kissing another man. Continue reading “Review: Teddy Ferrara, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Next Fall, Southwark Playhouse

“I want you to love me more than you love Him”

Like the warmth of a hug you didn’t know you needed, the tender beauty of Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall creeps up on you gradually as an initially comic tone melts into something infinitely more moving. Though the play hooks on a dramatically convenient device to bring together a group of people, the way that it explores the various intersecting relationships between them all is a masterpiece of quietly compelling emotion and perfectly honed construction – one can well see why it was a much-nominated success during its 2010 Broadway run.

Adam and Luke have been together for several years now, navigating the twists and turns of their relationship like old pros, like Adam’s insecurities as he’s just that little bit older than Luke and Luke’s refusal to come out to his family back in Florida even though he’s out and proud in their pokey New York apartment. At the heart of that decision though is something more fundamentally serious – Luke’s devoutly Christian beliefs which fly right in the face of Adam’s atheism, an issue which is interrogated sensitively but deeply as Nauffts asks us what it really means to have faith as we flashback to key points in their time together. Continue reading “Review: Next Fall, Southwark Playhouse”