Not-a-Review: ANNA, National Theatre

Created by playwright Ella Hickson (The Writer) and sound designers Ben and Max Ringham, ANNA is directed by Natalie Abrahami with real ingenuity, as individual audio headsets are used to give us a unique perspective on a play, directly from the viewpoint of Phoebe Fox’s Anna. It didn’t work for me.

Running time: 65 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
ANNA is booking at the National Theatre until 15th June

Review: Machinal, Almeida

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 expressionist play Machinal receives an extraordinary production from Natalie Abrahami at the Almeida Theate

Your skin oughtn’t to curl – ought it – when he just comes near you- ought it? That’s wrong, ain’t it? You don’t get over that, do you – ever, do you or do you?

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal may be the story of one woman battling societal pressure but Natalie Abrahami’s production for the Almeida Theatre teases out a more elemental struggle, one which stretches over the majority of the twentieth century and by extension, even further.

The story is rooted in its ordinariness. Emily Berrington’s Young Woman gets by at a job she doesn’t like, marries the first guy who shows an interest, gives birth to a child she scarcely wants – expectations check check checked. But as she learns that she wants more, can want more, the weight of societal pressure comes to bear. Continue reading “Review: Machinal, Almeida”

Review: Limehouse, Donmar

“The Labour Party is fucked”

I know a bit about a few things but for some reason, UK politics has never figured that highly on the list. So whilst Steve Waters’ new play Limehouse might well be familiar territory for the vast majority of the matinee audience I saw this with, for me it was a bit of a history lesson. It was also a bit of a challenge as I’d skipped lunch and the smell of the pasta bake being made onstage left me near-ravenous!

Limehouse follows a small group of Labour politicians as they despair at the militant leftwing direction their party is taking and try to decide what, if anything, they can do about it. Perhaps not accidentally, parallels can be drawn with the situation at the moment but this drama is set in 1981 and the quartet are Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen – the Gang of Four who went on to form the SDP. Continue reading “Review: Limehouse, Donmar”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out. 

That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1

“Maybe we should be concentrating on the suitcase”

In the glut of new crime series that have started this week – Death In Paradise, No Offence – Chris Lang’s Unforgotten stands out for me as a clever twist on a crowded genre, plus it has the bonus of the ever-excellent Nicola Walker in a starring role. Unforgotten’s twist on the crime drama is to completely emphasise the latter over the former, so whilst each series hooks on a cold case brought back to life, the focus is on the lives that have continued in its wake.

The reveal of the format was a highlight of the beginning of the first series, the disparate stories of 4 seemingly unconnected people bound together by the discovery of their phone numbers in the victim’s diary. And this second series wisely sticks largely to the same formula, introducing us to a Brighton gay couple in the process of adopting, a nurse on a cancer ward in London, a teacher applying for a headship in a school in special measures, a young man lying to his mother…all of whom are sure to be linked to the body found in a suitcase in the River Lea. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1”

TV Review: Humans Series 2

“All we can do is what feels right”

There’s been something really quite moving about the second series of Humans, the Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley Channel 4 drama which has just wound to a close. In a world that started off examining the diametrically opposed differences between humans and synths (series 1 review), the stark black and white palette of the show has moved markedly to a murky shade of grey on both sides, complicating the actions of both parties to make us really appreciate the difficulties in deciding right and wrong.

So where the renegade synth Niska (a brilliant Emily Berrington) has decided to subject herself to human justice in order to try and find some common ground, newly awakened Hester goes fully rogue in defining humans as the absolute enemy, to brutal effect in a chilling performance from Sonya Cassidy. And questions of identity are no less complex on the human side, as the show toys with ideas of humans opting to live life as a synth and experimenting even further with technology. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 2”

Review: The Motherf**ker in the Hat, National Theatre

“Look let’s just go there, to the pie place, and we’ll have, like, some pie, and we’ll just, like, talk, or not even talk, we’ll just eat pie first and be. And after that, we’ll talk.”

On the National Theatre’s website and nearby publicity, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ show is labelled The Motherf**ker with the Hat; inside the theatre, the accepted verbal version is The Mother with the Hat; I hear rumours that TfL have insisted on The Mother****** with the Hat for their posters (though I’ve yet to see one); and on Twitter, the official hashtag manages the neatly encapsulated #MoFoHat. But dammit, I’ve got to get it out just once at least, the title of this play is The Motherfucker with the Hat. And if that offends you, then seriously don’t book a ticket cos it’s just the tip of the iceberg, know whadda mean!

Premiered on Broadway in 2011 with a cast featuring Chris Rock and Bobby Cannavale, it’s a vibrant slice of Nuyorican life on the rough side and lays its card on the table in its opening seconds. Reformed drug dealer Jackie has just been released from Riker’s Island determined to turn over a new leaf but his beloved “Beautiful Boriqua Taino Mamacita Fuck Me Long Time Princess Fuckin’ Beauty Queen” Veronica is still using and just as they’re about to get on down under the covers, he spots another gentleman’s hat on the table and all hell breaks loose, drawing in Jackie’s cousin Julio, his sponsor Ralph and Ralph’s long-suffering wife Victoria.  Continue reading “Review: The Motherf**ker in the Hat, National Theatre”

Review: Dara, National Theatre

“I am Muslim, but my humanness is shared with anyone and everyone. If we choose to love one special person, does it mean that they are the only person worth loving? ‘To you, your religion, to me, mine’. ‘There is no obligation in religion’ – straight from the Quran. We cannot force our religion upon others.”

For all the gnashing of teeth about how ‘national’ Rufus Norris’ newly announced debut season as AD at the NT is or isn’t, there’s actually something much more significant happening right now as part of Nicholas Hytner’s finale. The press attention may be on Tom Stoppard’s return to the stage but over in the Lyttelton, the first South Asian play to run at this South Bank venue is doing that most idealised of theatrical practices – reaching out and engaging with new audiences.

I saw a late preview of Shahid Nadeem’s Dara and I was blown away at how mixed a crowd I was taking my seat with – there’s undoubtedly a more sophisticated debate to be had about people wanting to see stories they can directly connect with rather than being more adventurous but still, it felt like a significant enough matter that I wanted to make mention of. And as critics will be seeing the show with a more than likely traditional press night audience, it isn’t something they’ll necessarily pick up on. Continue reading “Review: Dara, National Theatre”

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre

“The world doesn’t work in our favour”

Rufus Norris is set to take over the artistic directorship of the National Theatre in April next year but makes an admirably bold move in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Adapted by David Hare from the 2012 non-fiction work of the same name by Katherine Boo, who spent three years living, investigating and writing about life in the Indian slum of Annawadi which lies in the shadow of Mumbai airport, it’s sprawling and scrappy yet epic and enlightening as it elucidates something of what it means to be this far below the poverty line. It is rarely comfortable viewing but its unflinching and unsentimental approach feels essential.

Whether accurate or overemphasised, a strongly matriarchal societal structure emerges in this version of Annawadi as wives and mothers seize the initiative in the face of feckless husbands and sheer necessity. Which results in the pleasing preponderance of excellent female roles – Stephanie Street’s Sikh Asha is the fixer for the entire neighbourhood, putting work at the expense of even a special birthday party her kids have put on; Thusitha Jayasundera’s crippled Fatima is a cyclone of malevolent anger that dominates her household; and Meera Syal’s practical Zehrunisa looks set to secure her family’s future out of the slum with some canny deal-making. Continue reading “Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“There are over 200 countries in the world and only 8, maybe 9 have nuclear weapons”

The second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is named Second Blast: Present Dangers and focuses its attention on where the nuclear threat lies now, i.e. in the Middle East and North Korea. Alongside the five plays, there’s more of the verbatim reportage, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, in this section, effectively deployed to demonstrate the almost ridiculousness of the way in which the debate about Iran and nuclear capability has been framed the US and Israel, and later on to remind us of the official political positions of many of our own leaders in the UK.

Altogether I was a tiny bit disappointed with this half of the day (I’d’ve given it 3.5 stars as opposed to 4 for Part 1) as First Blast: Proliferation had cast its net far and wide to cover five different aspects of the history of the bomb but Second Blast returned time and time again to Iran (3 times in fact) in terms of the present day. Obviously it’s a massive part of where we are in terms of potential instability, but I felt that a more useful eye could have been cast elsewhere as well – in a savage indictment of those countries like Israel and Pakistan who still refuse to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or indeed a more damning look at those countries that have signed yet show no signs of reducing their stockpile. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre”