Review: The Convert, Young Vic

Danai Gurira’s The Convert is a Christmas treat of a different order at the Young Vic Theatre

“Gracious to goodness”

There’s all sorts of lovely connections here. Danai Gurira’s play The Convert was first seen in the UK at the Gate last year, a theatre where her earlier drama Eclipsed was produced in 2015. That play starred Letitia Wright in an astonishing performance and Wright now appears in this new version of The Convert at the Young Vic – Wright and Gurira having starred in some little arthouse film called Black Panther in the meantime…

It’s a cracking good play too, worth the attention of this second production. Set in 1896 Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe), it looks at the ways in which colonial rulers sought to erase African cultural identities through any means they saw fit. Culturally, religiously, linguistically, their tools of ‘progress’ were wielded with considerable force and Gurira counts up the cost with a slow-building dramatic flair. Continue reading “Review: The Convert, Young Vic”

Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida

“Give me the history of the Congo in four and a half minutes”

There’s an ingenious moment in the middle of They Drink It In The Congo when a PR guy has to step in for an ailing colleague at an imminent press conference and utters the line above. The answer he gets exposes not only the vast complexity of the socio-political issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also the way in which Westerners seek to reduce them to manageable soundbites so that they can be dismissed as problems easily solved

Which in a nutshell is the key issue at the heart of Adam Brace’s new play for the Almeida. Aware of the impossibility of doing Congolese history justice in a couple of hours, he approaches the issue from an alternative angle, the impossibility of “doing something good about something bad”. Daughter of a white Kenyan farmer, Stef now works for a London NGO and is excited to be given the opportunity to organise ‘Congo Voice’, a new arts festival raising awareness of the issues there. Continue reading “Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida”

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: Belong, Royal Court

“And what is the Nigerian dream?”

An original commission by British/African theatre company Tiata Fahodzi, the Royal Court upstairs now plays host to Bola Agbaje’s Belong. In this play that moves between London and Nigeria, Agbaje takes on an ambitious amount of subject matter: the diverse political cultures of the two countries, the differing experiences of first- and second-generation Black British people, whether notions of cultural identity can transcend nationality and race, the corruption endemic in so much of Nigerian bureaucracy, all in a swift 90 minutes, with new Artistic Director of the Tricycle Indhu Rubasingham taking on directorial duties.    

Disillusioned at his defeat in a general election campaign in Croydon, Kayode has retreated under the duvet to his sofa, much to the chagrin of his wife Rita. Craving some respite and motherly comfort, he books a trip back to Nigeria, the place of his birth, where he finds his place in the familial home usurped by Kunle, a bright young boy that Mama has taken under her wing and who is being groomed for great political things. But politics in Nigeria is a whole different kettle of egusi soup and as Kayode sees how Kunle’s bold statements have to go hand-in-hand with placating the crooked Chief Olowolaye, he sees the opportunity for a second bite at achieving political success.    Continue reading “Review: Belong, Royal Court”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre

“How ill agrees it with your gravity to counterfeit thus grossly with your slave”

Ephesus is London, Syracuse is somewhere in the West Indies (I think) and we’re in the modern day: Dominic Cooke’s production of The Comedy of Errors moves into the Olivier at the National Theatre for an epically long run of a thoroughly updated version of this play. One of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it’s a classic tale of mistaken identities as two sets of twins separated at birth by a shipwreck rocket around the same city causing absolute mayhem as wives, merchants and policemen get tangled in a confused mess over the course of a manic day. We took in a late preview of this show which opens officially on Tuesday 29th.

Though it is Lenny Henry’s face on the poster, this is Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry’s show. As Adriana and Luciana, here a pair of loaded Essex girls, they ooze buckets of attitude as they sit through manicures and massages whilst bemoaning their menfolk and spend the vast majority of the play in some seriously impressive towering heels, even managing to run round the stage in them several times. Blakely’s comic timing is nigh on perfect as she rages through Ephesus/London but also plays a depth to this woman, all too aware of her husband’s philandering and her final contemplative gaze at her husband is a mightily powerful moment. Terry is transformed with straightened blonde locks and a delightfully brash manner which milks every conceivable laugh from her lines: together they are just dynamite. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre”

Review: Welcome to Thebes, National Theatre

“If you intend to f*ck with the god of power, then make sure you don’t fall asleep besides him”

Any play that can use the epithet “your mother-f*cking brother” with complete accuracy has to be worth your attention and sure enough, Welcome to Thebes, a new play by Moira Buffini opening in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre, is more than equal to the challenge. The play is quite huge in scope, it looks at the role of women in politics, the state of Africa, the aftermath of war, the relationship between Africa and the West, the tragedy of child soldiers and it tells of them through the prism of Greek mythology, but relocated to the modern day and an unspecified (West) African state.

So we have the story of a female president-elect, Eurydice, struggling to exert herself in both her domestic situation in a country reeling from years of civil war, but also in the male-dominated world of international relations as she needs to establish links with global superpower Athens for much needed aid and investment by engaging with its charismatic leader, Theseus. The clearest analogy to make is with Liberia, the only African state to have an elected female leader of state in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who came to power after the concerted efforts of a mass movement of women hungry for peace after years of civil war. And if Thebes equates to Liberia, then Athens becomes the United States, the superpower and apparent bastion of democracy but unwilling to provide assistance without considerable caveats; Theseus being an Obama-like leader with a touch more arrogance. Continue reading “Review: Welcome to Thebes, National Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, RSC

“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction”

There’s a pleasing circularity to this visit to Twelfth Night for me: one of the first plays I saw this year was the Donmar’s West End production of Twelfth Night, a trip marred by horrendous winter storms and travel chaos, so it seems right that one of my last trips to the theatre this year was to the RSC’s version of the same play, once again during some insane winter weather. Fortunately, my journey was less traumatic this time, so I was able to make a more reasoned verdict on the play.

As one would expect from the RSC, and from a production that has already done a Stratford run, it is slickly done and all the performers feel and look supremely confident in their roles. Staged in a incense-laden, Turkish-inspired set, it looks amazing and the costumes are rich and opulent (Orsino’s red robe is a sight to behold). And this all contributed to me being much more amenable to giving the suspension of disbelief necessary for this play, a matter much helped by some canny casting and dressing of Viola and Sebastian who for once really did look like they could be twins.

Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, RSC”