Review: Hope, Royal Court

“It’s the trouble with being so overwhelmingly Labour”

The plot for Jack Thorne’s Hope could be lifted from the newspapers right now – a cash-strapped Labour council is faced with impossible choices as austerity continues to bites hard and £22 million has to be trimmed from this year’s budget, £64 million over the next three years. In Newcastle, the figure is actually £90 million despite having already lost £151 million over the last four years, and the decisions about what essential services are to be cut are those that plague Hilary and Mark, the Leader and Deputy Leader respectively, of Thorne’s unspecified local government.

Stella Gonet’s Hilary is determined to make it work, a New Labour pragmatism already drawing up the list of priorities – Sure Start centres versus swimming pools, daycare for the disabled versus personal safety in rough areas to give but a couple of examples – but Paul Higgins’ Mark is cut from much more traditional cloth and his protesting colleagues coalesce around him. Eventually, he reluctantly spearheads a rebellion and a refusal to set an amended budget but though this is described as a fable, it is no fairytale, and the consequences of defying government are all too real. Continue reading “Review: Hope, Royal Court”

Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre

“We are tiny, tiny fragments of miniscule cogs in a grand and fabulously random collision”

If it ain’t broke… Adaptor Andrew Upton, director Howard Davies and designer Bunny Christie have had considerable success with previous Russian epics Philistines and The White Guard and so they’ve reunited once again, this time to breathe new life in Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, which has just started its run in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre. Set in a small town in a Russia on the cusp of revolution (1905 rather than 1917), experimental chemist Protasov and his coterie of middle class hangers-on are waltzing through life oblivious to the turmoil outside the gates of their estate, but their tragedy is as much personal as they turn out to be as blind to the needs and desires of each other as well. 

Gorky’s writing is remarkably perceptive throughout the play. Written in 1905 as a direct response to the huge societal changes around him, he skilfully diagnoses the malaise of the self-absorbed bourgeoisie and lays bare the blinkeredness of their cosseted ignorance and the hopelessness of their grandiose idealism. But he does it with a real deftness of touch, creating richly detailed characters who are rarely so insufferable that one’s heart doesn’t ache at the inevitability of the violent collapse of their entire world. Geoffrey Streatfeild’s erudite academic Protasov fully exemplifies this – a man full of an acute sense of the growing importance of science in the world yet an abject failure at maintaining the relationships in his life. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre”

Review: The Recruiting Officer, Radio 3

“He that bids the fairest, has me”

So following on from the production of Our Country’s Good on Radio 4, Radio 3 then had the version of The Recruiting Officer as ‘performed’ by the cast of convicts. I love reading about plays I’ve never heard of – The Recruiting Officer is Josie Rourke’s opening salvo at the Donmar Warehouse so I’ll get to see it fairly soon – and reading about it, I was duly informed that it was the most popular play in the entire 18th Century (even more so than Hamlet…) and its other claim to fame is that it was the first play to be performed in Australia (though I suppose that assumes that there’s no theatre in the Aborigine culture). As I now know, this latter point is the crux of Our Country’s Good, which I rather enjoyed, so I was quite content to spend the second half of my journey finishing this double bill.

Sadly though, it wasn’t half as entertaining for me (and not just because of the devil’s spawn that got on my carriage at Crewe). The antics of this Restoration comedy – where army officers descend on Shrewsbury to seduce new recruits into bolstering the army and to seduce women into marriage and/or their beds – didn’t quite come across as well as I would have hoped. Having lost the physical side of the humour, I just didn’t really get into the right mindset for it at any point, it rarely made me laugh and not knowing the play, I was also quite a bit confused about who everyone was – I definitely needed the visual clues! Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer, Radio 3”

Review: Our Country’s Good, Radio 4

“Who would act in a play?
‘The convicts of course’”

I hadn’t ever listened to a play on the radio before until Mike Bartlett’s Cock last month (indeed I don’t listen to the radio at all) and though I enjoyed revisiting that show, I couldn’t quite figure out the logistics of listening to theatre, eventually figuring out that I actually needed to stop doing anything else and just give it my full attention. I don’t really have much spare time though so I didn’t think that I’d be returning to the wireless to increase my theatrical fix. But a double bill of fascinating plays – Our Country’s Good and The Recruiting Officer – with an all-star thesp-heavy cast tempted me back and provided me with a most entertaining soundtrack for my Christmas journey home.

Funnily enough, I have seen neither play before but have tickets to see both in the early months of next year: Our Country’s Good at the Rose, Kingston and The Recruiting Officer at the Donmar, and I hadn’t realised the connection between the two before starting the first play. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good is based on a novel by Thomas Keneally which tells the true story of Lieutenant Ralph Clark’s 1789 attempts to put on a production of George Farquhar’s play The Recruiting Officer using a cast of convicts in a penal colony in New South Wales. This radio production was then followed by the convicts’ version of The Recruiting Officer, using much of the same cast. Continue reading “Review: Our Country’s Good, Radio 4”

Review: Schiller’s Luise Miller, Donmar Warehouse

“The stuff of seduction is also the stuff of politics: lies and promises”

Schiller’s Luise Miller is Michael Grandage’s penultimate outing as director at the Donmar Warehouse before Josie Rourke takes on the reins of Artistic Director. A bustling German 18th Century tale of romance, class struggles, tragedy and court politics, the play, Kabale und Liebe (previous translations have been called Intrigue and Love, and Love and Politics) has been given a new treatment here by Mike Poulton, who if Wikipedia is anything to go by (bearing in mind this is my first experience with the play), has reworked quite a bit of the latter part of the play, bringing to mind Dennis Kelly’s liberal approach to The Prince of Homburg at this same venue.

Noble-born Ferdinand, son of the one of the most powerful statesmen in the country, is in love with Luise Miller, the middle-class daughter of a middle-class musician and willing to sacrifice all for love. But the political scheming and power games that govern the world they live in means that their destiny is out of their hands, no matter how honourable their intentions, they are at the mercy of those more powerful who will stoop to nothing to ensure they survive. Continue reading “Review: Schiller’s Luise Miller, Donmar Warehouse”

Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court

Court Shorts is part of the Royal Court’s Rough Cuts season, where works-in-progress and experimental pieces are performed in front of audiences as part of their development. Three plays were performed as rehearsed readings which were Permafrost by Brad Birch, Buried by Alia Bano and Hard Gravity by DC Jackson. This is just a quick recap of the plays for my reference really, as these aren’t being presented as things to review.

Brad Birch’s Royal Court debut, Permafrost, is a meditation on the grieving process set in a Northern town, charting the growing relationship between widowed Mary and Michael, a factory colleague of the deceased man, as she seeks a solace that he can’t quite provide and edging closer to a more meaningful connection as she seeks to maintain the link between them. James Macdonald directed this, stepping in at the last minute as Sam Taylor Wood had to withdraw due to prior commitments which was a shame as it would have been really interesting to see where she was thinking of taking the piece. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court”

Review: The White Guard, National

“Negativity be damned”

Maintaining a strong record of reviving Russian plays (Burnt By The Sun was a highlight of last year for me), Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard takes up residence in the Lyttleton in a version by Andrew Upton (I saw a preview, it opens officially on 23rd April). Stalin was famously a fan of this play but it should be noted that Bulgakov was no Stalinist and was pretty much a dissident, writing as anti-Soviet works as he dared whilst forbidden to leave the country and suffering much from censorship, a theme visited in another of his plays, Molière or the League of Hypocrites seen in London late last year at the Finborough.

The White Guard is a look at the price that is paid by people during wartime: both on the grand political scale, but also on the personal and family lives. Set in the Ukraine in 1918, we follow the Turbin family as they struggle to maintain their lives in a Kiev ravaged by the just-ended First World War, yet flung headlong into the Russian Civil War which ensued immediately after. The Turbin’s apartment is presided over by the luminous Lena, around whom a coterie of assorted characters gravitate, as the tumultuous sequence of events and invaders threaten to irrevocably change to everyone’s way of life. Continue reading “Review: The White Guard, National”