August theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in August.

Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”

Review: Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios

The first play by a black British female playwright to make it into the West End is an absolute corker in Nine Night booking now at the Trafalgar Studios

“Breast milk at nine months?
Poor thing must be longing for a nice piece of chicken”

One day – you hope – we won’t have to comment on such things, but not now, not yet. So we celebrate the fact that Nine Night is the first play by a black British female playwright to make it into the West End, as Natasha Gordon’s debut play makes the move from the National’s smallest space in the Dorfman Theatre to the Trafalgar Studios in one giant leap.

And it does so with a wonderful, well-earned sense of confidence that ought to see the play thrive. I adored it in its run at the National Theatre (where I even predicted the West End transfer) and Roy Alexander Weise’s production has lost none of its power here. Indeed it has even gained some, as Gordon now joins the cast replacing Franc Ashman as Lorraine. Continue reading “Review: Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Nine Night, National Theatre

Ferociously funny and blisteringly intense in its depiction of a Jamaican family dealing with grief, Nine Night is a surefire success for the National Theatre – book now!

“When yuh get to Heaven, yuh see, God will deal wid yuh”

Grief is universal, but the world of Natasha Gordon’s debut play Nine Night is entirely specific. When Gloria, the grandmother of a Jamaican family passes away, her London home becomes the focus of the Nine Night ceremony, wherein the local community and family of the deceased gather to mourn the passing but also to celebrate the life with love, laughter and no small amount of rum.

But nine days of a wake can take its toll on a family under strain and here, Gordon sets up an archetypal family drama. The sibling resentful of being the one who shouldered the burden of caring, the sibling who wants to sell the house quick because of money troubles, the other half-sibling who got left behind… Plus the ever-present remnants of the older generation who never stop fussing, and a secret pregnancy to deal with, tensions just keep rising.   Continue reading “Review: Nine Night, National Theatre”

Review: The Twilight Zone, Almeida

“We’re not looking for a needle in a haystack but for an alien in a diner”

There’s a scene in the second half of The Twilight Zone which is almost unbearably, poignantly astute on the subject of race relations in the US. Never mind that it was written in the 60s, it says so much about the America of today that it can’t help but chill the bone about the predictability of the baser notes of human nature. It is though, the only moment in this theatrical adaptation of the classic TV show that registered any real impact with me.

Anne Washburn (she of the extraordinary Mr Burns) has fashioned this play out of eight of the stories told by The Twilight Zone and presents them as if shuffling a pack of cards. Some stories broken up and interwoven with each other, some told in toto, all seeking to disrupt and disturb with shocks and scares and no little amount of wry humour too. It makes for a strangely suitable piece of counter-intuitive festive programming but ultimately felt insubstantial to me.  Continue reading “Review: The Twilight Zone, Almeida”

Cast for the Almeida’s Twilight Zone announced

 
The Almeida have revealed the cast for their forthcoming Christmas show The Twilight Zone which promises a different take on seasonal fare! Directed by Richard Jones and adapted by Anne Washburn, responsible for the brilliant mindfuck that was Mr Burns, I reckon this will be one to look out for.

Cast includes: Oliver Alvin-Wilson, Franc Ashman, Adrianna Bertola, Lizzy Connolly, Amy Griffiths, Neil Haigh, Cosmo Jarvis, John Marquez, Matthew Needham, and Sam Swainsbury,

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic

“On the dank and dirty ground…”

Joe Hill-Gibbins’ idiosyncratic 2015 take on Measure for Measure filled the Young Vic with inflatable sex dolls so it should come as little surprise that for his A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he and designer Johannes Schütz have transformed the stage into a muddy paddock. With just a mirrored back wall to add to the set, the scene is thus set for an exploration of the “subconscious” of this most oft-seen (particularly in the year gone by) of Shakespeare’s plays. 

There’s some great work, delving into the murkiness of the relationships here. Far from spirits “of no common rate”, these royal fairies feel like a real married couple in the throes of having to work things out yet again, Michael Gould’s Oberon’s manipulations as much as anguished as angry, and Anastasia Hille’s Titania relishing the removal of the ball and chain as she plays sex games with Bottom, roleplaying the attending fairies in a witty twist. The intensity of their connection repeats itself later in another clever connection.  Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic”

Review: The Red Barn, National

“It’s as if I have lived my whole life with the handbrake on”

On booking for The Red Barn, you’re advised that “due to the tense nature of the play, there will be no re-admittance”. The play – written by David Hare from the 1968 novel La Main by Georges Simenon – is also described as a psychological thriller on the website. It all adds up to a certain degree of expectation about what kind of show it is one is going to see and even though this isn’t my first time at the rodeo, I’ve seen a few shows and know the danger of anticipation, it is often hard not to carry the weight of those expectations with you as you take your seat.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that Robert Icke’s production of The Red Barn was not the play I thought it would be. And that my initial slightly cool reaction was as much a response to that as it was to the material itself. Set in the depths of a Connecticut winter, two couples make their way home from a party and when one of the men doesn’t make it back, it is the consequences of that that makes up the meat of the play. Specifically, it’s how the other man of the group reacts, both right then and from then on, that Simenon and Hare and Icke probe into. Continue reading “Review: The Red Barn, National”

Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre

“Words and thoughts are just as important as deeds”

Though Ibsen is reputed to have described Emperor and Galilean as his ‘major work’ which took nine years to complete, it has never previously been staged in English and little is known about it given how often his other works are revived. This may well be because it was not actually written for the stage but to be read, consequently the original epic spreads over ten acts and is allegedly over eight hours long. Never one to shirk a challenge though, the National Theatre commissioned a new adaptation by Ben Power which condenses it down to about 3 hours 20 minutes yet still employs over 50 performers to bring this version of Ibsen’s epic to life. This was a preview performance on Monday 13th June.

The play spans 351 to 363AD, following the life of Julian, nephew of the Roman emperor, an intelligent erudite man even from his teenage days which were spent exploring his faith and studying the Bible with his friends. But chafing against the constraints of the imperial household which isn’t altogether sympathetic to his existence, he escapes to a carefree existence in Athens where he is seduced by the exotic lure of the worship of the ancient pagan Gods. His eventual rise to Holy Roman Emperor thus saw him try to abolish Christianity as the state religion and replace it Paganism, returning back to the values of old, but conflating his own personal struggle with faith with the trials of ruling a fading empire is an awful lot for one man to take on. Continue reading “Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre”