News: National Theatre at Home Phase 3

The National Theatre has today announced further productions that will be streamed live on YouTube every Thursday at 7PM BST via the National Theatre’s YouTube channel as part of National Theatre at Home; the new initiative to bring content to the public in their homes during the Coronavirus outbreak. The titles announced today include productions from partner theatres which were previously broadcast to cinemas by National Theatre Live. Continue reading “News: National Theatre at Home Phase 3”

Review: Three Sisters, National Theatre

Inua Ellams’ relocation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters to the Biafran Civil War proves devastatingly effective at the National Theatre

“I don’t understand all this suffering…when we die we will find out but I wish we knew now”

A cracking cast heralds the return of Uncle Vanya to the West End early next year but even with Conor McPherson and Ian Rickson on adaptation and directorial duties respectively, it’s hard to get too excited about what – on the face of it – looks to be a fairly conventional interpretation (I could well be proven wrong, and hope I am…). For me, there’s something much more appealing, and thrilling, about people willing to grab Chekhov by the scruff of the neck and yank him way out of the familiar. Robert Icke and Simon McBurney replanting The Cherry Orchard in the Netherlands, or Inua Ellams and Nadia Fall relocating Three Sisters to 1960s Nigeria.

In the latter case, the result is a challenging but exhilarating reworking, set against the backdrop of the Biafran Civil War but retaining much of the Chekhovian structure, so that we feel the weight of all the tragedy that has to come. The skill of Ellams’ writing – this is dubbed a new play, after Chekhov – is knowing when to dovetail with his source material and when to allow his own choices to flourish, bringing with them a raft of glinting surprises that break through the familiarity (that some of us have). Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, National Theatre”

Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National

“It’s not about the word, it’s the context in which it’s used and who uses it”

A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer (here’s my review from then) and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.

That it is sold out shouldn’t stop you from trying to get tickets – there’s Friday Rush and there’s refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani’s production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance – which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for – is charged with the significance of these stories being told. Continue reading “Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National”

Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre

“Men, sometimes…I don’t know”

The hugely convivial pre-show entertainment for Barber Shop Chronicles is such good fun that I thought to myself I could easily just watch this for an hour. As it turned out, press night delays meant that it was extended by about thirty minutes, during which you really got to appreciate how quietly radical it is. In designer Rae Smith’s hands, the Dorfman has been transformed into a barbershop in the round, into which we’re volubly greeted by the cast and if you’re lucky, you get to sit in the barber’s chair and “get your hair popped” while you wait for the show to start. What I really loved though was the way in which the company so enthusiastically greeted friends, family, loved ones, shattering conventions and fourth walls alike, setting the tone for a truly joyous experience.

Crafted by Inua Ellams, Barber Shop Chronicles puts black masculinity in all its multiplicities under the spotlight. by examining the crucial role that barber shop plays in their communities. From Peckham to Lagos, Johannesburg to Accra with Harare and Kampala inbetween, we’re treated to a glimpse into a world that is more, so much more, than just a place to get an “aerodynamic” haircut. It’s a place to find chat, companionship, chargers, to confess to deeper truths than might otherwise be acknowledged in the outside world, even to find surrogate father figures and positive male role models. Across these six countries, we eavesdrop on these conversations and in gaining an appreciation for the diversity in the African diaspora, Ellams also traces the common threads. Continue reading “Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre”

TV Review: River

“We’re all shattered underneath really, aren’t we”

The second part of Nicola Walker’s cross-channel takeover of crime drama has been BBC1’s River. An altogether different prospect to ITV’s Unforgotten, Abi Morgan’s six-parter is aesthetically closer to the Nordic noir of which TV audiences seem unendingly enamoured but still manages to find its unique niche in a crowded marketplace. The Scandi feel is enhanced by the genuine casting coup of Stellan Skarsgård as DI John River but what marks out River are the people around him.

Chief among these is Walker’s Stevie, DS Stevenson, who we meet straightaway and instantly get a feel for their closeness of their professional relationship as they tackle crime on the streets of London. But what is brilliantly done is the shift from buddy cop show to something altogether darker as [major spoiler alert] we find out at the end of episode 1 that Stevie is dead, murdered recently, and River is in fact imagining her presence at his side, even to the extent of regularly conversing with her. Continue reading “TV Review: River”

DVD Review: The Physician

“How pale and tedious this world would be without mystery” 

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Noah Gordon, 2013 film The Physician is a slight oddity in being a German big-budget movie that just happens to be in English. Directed by Philipp Stölzl (who also directed Madonna’s ‘American Pie’ video in amongst a varied career), it has the epic sweep of a properly big production and with stars such as Sir Ben Kingsley and Stellan Skarsgård at the helm, alongside the swooningly handsome lead Tom Payne, it is surprising that it didn’t get a wider release, only now making it onto DVD in the UK.

For it is a hugely fascinating story, following young Robert Cole (Payne) who, once orphaned in 11th century England, vows to study medicine, hoping to find the answers to the illness that took his mother and also to explain his ability to foresee death. First attached to a rough-around-the-edges travelling surgeon (Skarsgård), Rob’s aptitude for medicine soon becomes apparent and a chance meeting with a surgeon of advanced knowledge sends him onto Isfahan in Persia, where the great scholar Ibn Sina (Kingsley) runs the most advanced medical school in the world.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Physician”

Review: Routes, Royal Court

“The problem is, citizenship isn’t automatically acquired through naturalisation”

I was initially quite hesitant about booking to see Routes – the murkily complex worlds of immigration and what was the UK Border Agency (UKBA) are all too familiar to me from aspects of my work and so I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see a dramatic interpretation of the painful intricacies of the legal system that so many people are forced to endure. And though Rachel De-lahay’s play, her second for the Royal Court, has a vivid compassion and a burning sense of injustice, it never really dealt sufficiently with its subject matter for my liking, barely scratching at the surface of something so rotten in the state of Great Britain.

She intertwines a number of stories, all to do with immigration and citizenship and how precious the rare flashes of humanity are, that survive in this system. Fiston Barek’s teenage Bashir has spent most of his life in the UK but at the slightest hint of trouble, finds his indefinite leave to remain under threat and a forcible return to Somalia on the cards. His roommate in his hostel is Calvin Demba’s Kola, a troubled youth offender disowned by his parents, one of whom works for the UKBA. And in Nigeria, Peter Bankolé’s Femi is trying to beat the system by buying a fake identity to be able to join his family in the UK. Continue reading “Review: Routes, Royal Court”

Review: Fences, Duchess

 “Don’t try and go through life worrying about if somebody like you or not.”

The role of the anti-hero is a curious one – featuring a protagonist who sours and curdles as the play progresses is a bold move, especially when presented with such a lack of sentimentality as in Paulette Randall’s production of August Wilson’s Fences. There’s no doubting the horrendous circumstances that black people found themselves in even after the abolition of slavery, in a world that had emancipated them yet still considered them way less than equal. This is given visceral life in the lead character of Troy Maxson, whose own promising baseball career was stymied by the enduring racism he faced and an inopportune trip to prison and so as life has progressed and a family built up around him, he has ended up providing for them by becoming a garbage collector.

But Troy is a hugely proud man and the scars of his experience linger on perniciously, affecting the lives of all of those around him even as the opportunities for his sons become greater than anything he was ever granted. Lyons is a great musician but his father refuses to go and see him but the younger Cory bears the brunt of his father’s frustrations as his talent for American football puts him in line for a scholarship, a chance Troy decides to sabotage. Even his marriage to the ever-faithful Rose comes under threat in his search for the satisfaction that constantly eludes him. Continue reading “Review: Fences, Duchess”