TV Review: Brexit: The Uncivil War

Despite some considerable talent involved, I vote to leave Brexit: The Uncivil War

“It says here you basically ran the Leave campaign and yet I doubt most people have ever heard of you”

It is difficult to watch Brexit: The Uncivil War because it is hard to locate a raison d’être for telling this story as a drama rather than a documentary. Given how close it is to the present day and the way in which so much has still yet to unfold in the way the UK eventually disentangles from the EU, making the choice to start creating art around it feels an odd choice.

I’ve long been a fan of James Graham, like any rational person, and the way he has been able to dig deep and really explore so many of the issues afflicting contemporary society has been brilliantly in evidence. But it is hard not to feel that Brexit is a mis-step in the way that it seeks to reinterpret the roles of the key dramatis personae in this whole sorry shebang. Continue reading “TV Review: Brexit: The Uncivil War”

Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre

Robert Icke adapts Ibsen to create a vividly powerful The Wild Duck at the Almeida – stunning work

Henrik Ibsen wrote The Wild Duck in 1884

The Wild Duck may be a nineteenth century play but this is most definitely at twenty-first century adaptation, Robert Icke continuing his astonishing strike-rate of Almeida successes with yet another. This time it is Ibsen under the microscope but a mark of Icke’s seemingly endless invention is that his approach here repeats little of what he’s done before.

So a scalpel-sharp play about truth and lies becomes refracted through the truth and lies in Ibsen’s own life, the parallels between his own illegitimate issue and Hedwig’s situation brought into the light. The first half sees this done through meta-theatrical interjections, house lights up and actors commenting on the action as much as acting itself.  Continue reading “Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre”

Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National

“Whatever you do, don’t rely on your own judgement. That’s the worst mistake you could make

Platonov wasn’t performed in Chekhov’s lifetime and even in this radically adapted version by David Hare, I’m not 100% sure that it works. You can see the attraction in terms of the Young Chekhov context – a trilogy of the Russian’s early work – but for me, the main pleasure comes in seeing the benchmark from which his later genius advanced.

It’s not for lack of trying from Jonathan Kent’s production, lead by a sparkling performance of disreputable charisma from James McArdle as an unhappily married teacher intent on spreading his vodka-fuelled discontent through the bedsheets of most of the local community, not least Nina Sosanya’s Anna and Olivia Vinall’s Sofya, with little care for the impact of his actions. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National”

Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre

“He needs to be on the side of the light”

Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the Booker Price twice when the literary behemoth that was Wolf Hall was followed up by the equally considerable Bring Up The Bodies. And whilst we wait for the third part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy – The Mirror and the Light – thoughts have turned quickly to adaptation. The BBC will be airing a six-part version by Peter Straughan in the future but the RSC have readied a theatrical interpretation of the novels by Mike Poulton which is now playing in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The shows can be seen separately, but are clearly designed to fit together (Wolf Hall has as close as the theatre gets to a cliffhanger ending!) and there are opportunities to see them on the same day.

At first glance, they may not seem the most likely choice for staging – set in the court of Henry VIII as he looks for ways of getting rid of his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he might plant Anne Boleyn in her stead, these are all-too-familiar events. But Mantel’s magic was to tell the story through the eyes and mind of Thomas Cromwell, the wily commoner who worked his way up through the ranks to become one of the most influential man in the realm. Additionally, her magnificent present-tense prose brought Tudor England to life like never before, a rich attention to detail making this universe feel new-minted, as if anything could happen, not just what the history books say. Continue reading “Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre”

Review: The Lyons, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Some people are happy and some people are lonely, mean and sad. You strike me as the second kind”

Families – who’d have ‘em? Not Ben Lyons that’s for sure, as in his upscale New York private hospital room where his terminal cancer has reached crisis point, the cacophony that arises when his wife and two children are around his bed is enough to make anyone reach for the morphine button. Nicky Silver’s Broadway hit The Lyons, transferred here to the Menier Chocolate Factory, is one of the most vicious and spikiest dark comedies you’ll see all year – this isn’t so much a family united in tragedy as further shattered by it.

It’s occasionally cruel, it’s sometimes funny, more often than not it is cruelly funny – audacious in the jabs that these people make towards their ‘nearest and dearest’. Isla Blair’s Rita is sat by the bed planning how to redecorate the living room and the sibling rivalry between Charlotte Randle’s daughter Lisa, in an alcohol-recovery programme with a turbulent relationship history, and Tom Ellis’ son Curtis, shunned by his father due to his sexuality and with his own unique relationship problems, starts from the minute they arrive at the hospital, warring over the size of their respective gifts.

What Silver shows is how wrapped up people get in their own personal tragedies, how the wounds that cut one’s own flesh will always hurt more than someone else’s, even if theirs are fatal. So despite being the reason that they have all convened, Nicholas Day’s Ben is often just a spectator in the war of attrition between all four of them – dark secrets being dragged out, deeply held frustrations being aired, a brutal sense of scores being settled in a lifelong struggle. But for all the darkness, glimmers of light are allowed to shine through in a slightly more reflective second half.

The theatrical ancestry of the show feel directly drawn from plays like Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but what director Mark Brokaw brings is a televisual feel that also makes it cousins with something like Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. It’s not that the Lyons start to gain our sympathies but rather that once the atmosphere subsides a little, the characters, and the actors, are allowed to flourish more and suggest their depth. 

Randle’s Lisa is transformed by the prospect of a simple kindness towards a man, Ellis’ Curtis has a late Damascene where he realises the change he needs to make to his life, even Blair’s sharp Rita offers something of a clue to her demeanour. It’s not enough to really create an emotional connection to the characters, but that would recast the play into more of a tragedy and shift the balance right off-kilter whereas right now, they are few things funnier playing in London. Not a play for those of a delicate disposition, but a bracing piece of blistering comic writing that deserves to be seen.


Running time: 2 hours (with interval) Booking until 16th November
Photos: Nobby Clarke

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Do not torment me, prithee”

Last up in the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy, in the What country friends is this? season was The Tempest. In some ways I wish I’d seen this closer to The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night (which I saw on consecutive days in June) as the thrill of watching an ensemble across multiple plays is magnified much more that way. As it was, my enthusiasm for The Tempest – never one of my favourite Shakespeares and now totally ruined by the fact that I’ve now seen what will probably the best version ever –  had waned slightly as I returned to the Roundhouse.

The reality was neither as bad as I had feared nor as good as I might have hoped. David Farr’s production (I wish they’d gotten in a third director to really mix things up) has its moments of  inspiration and interest, but these are scattered throughout rather than invigorating the whole show and so my abiding feeling was of unevenness. For the great visual impact of Prospero having the islanders dress in identikit suits, little is done to enliven the immense amount of speechifying that the character does, Jonathan Slinger’s performance having a strangely unnerving impact more than anything. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art”

What country friends is this? indeed. A nifty line switch and a striking coup-de-théâtre gets the RSC’s Twelfth Night off to a wonderful start as Emily Taaffe’s sodden, anguished Viola emerges from the shipwreck she believes has taken her brother’s life and left her washed up in Illyria. Disguising herself as Cesario, a man, she joins the retinue of the Duke Orsino but finds herself swept up in the love games between him and the grieving countess Olivia, whose eye is taken by the new arrival on the scene. Part of the company’s Shakespeare’s Shipwreck Trilogy, the Roundhouse plays host to the repertory season for just under a month before returning to Stratford-upon-Avon for the rest of the month. 
 
David Farr’s production transfers the majority of the action in Olivia’s household to a Greek hotel (which she presumably owns) which proves a mostly effective and ingenious relocation. Malvolio becomes the hotel manager, Feste the old school variety turn, a reception desk stands in for the box-tree and the swimming pool and revolving doors provide constant amusement. Jon Bausor’s beautifully designed set is actually a triumph, an artfully exploded hotel suite on the sweeping expanse of timber atop a water tank, complete with working lift shaft which comes into its own in the scenes of Malvolio’s torment. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse”