Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead

“What does one do with the pickled walnut?”

 The Hampstead’s failure to engage properly with issues of female creative representation on its main stage (out of seven shows for 2017, only one was written by a woman and none were directed by women) has meant it has dropped off my must-see list of theatres. But on reading the synopsis of Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude – adapted by Nicholas Wright, directed by Jonathan Kent, designed, lit and sounded out by men too natch – with its lead female protagonist, I was persuaded to revisit my stance.

And in some ways, I’m glad I did. For that leading character, Miss Roach, is played by the ever-marvellous Fenella Woolgar and she’s partnered by Lucy Cohu, another favourite actress, and there are moments in this gently played Second World War-set story that shimmer with effectiveness. Bombed out of her home by the Blitz, Miss Roach (“I do have a first name, but I don’t encourage people to use it”) finds herself swept up in a different type of conflict at the Henley-on-Thames boarding house where she now resides. Continue reading “Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead”

Review: A Human Being Died That Night, Hampstead Downstairs

“White South Africans needed a scapegoat, black South Africans needed a culprit”

There’s a neat little twist to the staging of the latest play to be put on in the downstairs space at the Hampstead Theatre which cocks a snook at audiences rushing to secure the best seat in the house. A Human Being Died That Night starts in the foyer area, which has been dressed up as a conference room, as South African psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela prepares to give a talk on “The human capacity for evil and the possibility of forgiveness”. She served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a restorative justice body that sought to aid South Africa’s transition into a post-apartheid world by acknowledging the gross human rights violations carried out under that regime’s name, receiving testimony from the victims but also hearing from those who perpetrated the crimes in an attempt to come to terms with it all.

As part of the commission, Gobodo-Madikizela interviewed one of the most notorious figures of the era, Eugene de Kock, and as she describes the first of her visits to Pretoria Central Prison to see him, the play moves into the theatre as we’re transported into the chilling darkness of a prison cell (so it is actually better to sit on the back row of the ‘lecture theatre’ to get the best spot for the majority of the play…). From here, we bear witness to the young Harvard-educated black woman probing into the mind of the seemingly implacable police colonel nicknamed ‘Prime Evil’ as her fascination with him drives her to search for something of an understanding about why he did what he did, in the hope of forging a new, better South Africa. Continue reading “Review: A Human Being Died That Night, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre

“I don’t like it when he calls it a movie”

Perhaps I am more ignorant of Jewish terminology than I ought to be, but I do find it a little surprising that the blurb for Nicholas Wright’s new play for the National Theatre, Travelling Light, simply states that it takes place in “a shtetl in Eastern Europe”. I’d no idea what a shtetl was, didn’t notice any explicatory reference in the text and over the last couple of days have asked a few people, none of whom knew either. The internet informs me it is a small town with a largely Jewish population, but it does seem an odd assumption of knowledge to make (or perhaps it is just indicative of how few Jewish friends I actually have…) In any case, that this is the detail that sticks most in my mind after seeing the show is indicative of how little I cared for it.

Set in the early 1900s, the play – still in previews – centres on Motl Mendl, a young Jewish photographer whose dreams and ambitions as he discovers the burgeoning art form of motion pictures set him on a path that will see him end up in Hollywood. But before he makes it big, he needs to extricate himself from domestic village life and that is easier said than done as they are a group of real ‘characters’ one and all. Chief among these is Jacob Bindel, an illiterate timber merchant who is so enthused about the potential of film-making that he stumps up the money needed to keep Motl from emigrating (for the time being at least) and to make a movie in their very own village. Or shtetl. Continue reading “Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre”

Review: The Last of the Duchess, Hampstead

“I’m trying to get at the truth.
‘Your truth, not hers.’”

The Hampstead Theatre continues its trend of featuring plays concerning real people with The Last of the Duchess by Nicholas Wright, which is based on the book of the same name by Lady Caroline Blackwood detailing her attempts to secure an interview with the Duchess of Windsor towards the end of her life in 1980 to complete her literary profile of her. But though it is Wallis Simpson who is at the heart of the issue, the central figures are her lawyer Maître Suzanne Blum who staunchly defended her client from any outside influence or visitors with something of a siege mentality and Lady Caroline Blackwood herself, commissioned by the Sunday Times to interview the reclusive Duchess but also battling her own personal demons. This was the second preview so feel free to disregard everything written here if you are so inclined.

The play focuses on the battle of wills between these two women as Caroline senses a scoop in the mysterious atmosphere that permeates this Parisian household, intrigued by this powerful figure who now completely dominates the life of the Duchess and sees an opportunity to tell the story a different way. Anna Chancellor plays the disheveled aristocrat beautifully, determined to unravel the mystery she begins to uncover but barely able to keep herself from unraveling too, the glass of vodka that is never far from her hand failing to keep the turmoil of her personal life at bay. And in the other corner, Sheila Hancock exudes a Gallic imperiousness as the fiercely protective Blum, her every breath inexplicably dedicated to protecting the legacy of her employer and clearly relishing the power of attorney she now possesses, yet even she cannot resist the lure of a moment in the spotlight, becoming increasingly susceptible to the overtures to have herself interviewed and photographed by Lord Snowden instead. Continue reading “Review: The Last of the Duchess, Hampstead”

Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre

“The English vice is that we don’t own up to our emotions…we think they demean us”

Rattigan’s Nijinsky is something of a companion piece to the production of The Deep Blue Sea with which this is playing in rep at the Chichester Festival Theatre and sharing much of its cast. Looking to make their own unique tribute in the centenary year of Rattigan’s death, new pieces have been commissioned to play alongside his plays and here, Nicholas Wright has embroidered a story around the mystery of Rattigan’s 1974 unproduced and unpublished screenplay about ballet dancer Nijinsky and his passionate affair with Ballets Russes impresario Diaghilev.

Having been able to examine images of the original work, Wright has incorporated scenes into his own play, so we get to see Rattigan’s version of the tumultuous love affair between the older Diaghilev and his protégé, the man often cited as one of the greatest dancers ever, and the strain it was placed under due to Nijinsky’s mental fragility, something exacerbated (or even caused by?) falling into marriage with a woman. These scenes are interspersed with a modern-day (1974) narrative with an ailing Rattigan sequestered in his suite at Claridges and having to deal with Nijinsky’s widow, Romola, who is virulently objecting to his version of the events of her earlier life. Continue reading “Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Mrs Klein, Almeida

“If you want to be an analyst of any worth, you have to trust your patients with the truth, however harsh. They’re strong, they’ll take it.”

After the highly successful Duet for One which toured and then transferred into the West End, we return once again to the theme of psychoanalysis with this revival of Mrs Klein at the Almeida theatre in Islington.

Struggling to come to terms with the death of her son Hans in a climbing accident, noted controversial psychoanalyst Melanie Klein asks a colleague to cover for her while she goes to the funeral. Paula, recently escaped from the rising anti-Semitic persecution in Germany, is finding it hard to make a living in London and agrees to this, but is interrupted by the arrival of Klein’s daughter Melitta also a psychoanalyst, resentful of her presence and angry with her mother’s domineering behaviour. After Mrs Klein herself returns unexpectedly, Paula gets caught up in the longstanding conflict between mother and daughter which comes to crisis point in the wake of revelations about Hans’s death. Continue reading “Review: Mrs Klein, Almeida”

Review: His Dark Materials Part I & Part II, Lowry

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit straight off that the production of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre ranks as my ultimate top theatrical experience ever. I am a massive fan of the books, and could not believe how well Nicholas Wright translated the three novels into two such wonderful, moving plays. Having travelled to Bath to see the youth production at the Theatre Royal there a couple of years ago, I was easily convinced to see the new Birmingham Repertory touring production at the Lowry Theatre in Salford, especially as it was so close to my parental home. So my mother and father, Aunty Jean and I settled in for the same day double bill, Part I at 2pm and Part II at 7.30pm, a little bum-numbingly daunting I’ll admit, but the only way to get the full impact of this theatrical wonder.
So much happens in the books and so whilst a lot is lost in the condensing of the action, this is largely to the benefit of the plays as the pacing is kept quite high, with many rapid scene changes which means that you really do have to listen carefully or else you could lose the thread quite quickly if you’re hugely familiar with the plot. That said, I was with two people who had not read the books and they had no problem following the action.

Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part I & Part II, Lowry”