Review: The Best Man, Playhouse

The Best Man, Playhouse Theatre, London

Martin Shaw returns to the West End in US political thriller The Best Man, its relevance to today’s White House painfully clear

“The important thing for any government is educating the people about the issues, not following the ups and downs of popular opinion”

With American politics being the shitshow that it currently is, the temptation to lampoon Trump at every and any opportunity is one that many theatre directors have been unable to resist. A wilier creative mind might regard this as too on the nose (and already overdone) and find an alternative way to critique our transatlantic cousins, at least an avalanche of Brexit plays puts the boot on the other foot.

And that is what Simon Evans’ revival of Gore Vidal’s 1960 play The Best Man has done. After touring the UK last year, it arrives at the Playhouse Theatre with a slight sense of stateliness about it but also alive to how just how much of what was written nearly 60 years ago has to say about today’s political establishment. With a cast that includes Martin Sheen and Maureen Lipman, plus a cracking performance from Philip Cumbus, there’s something interesting here that rises above some slightly dated writing and aspects of a political system long left behind. Continue reading “Review: The Best Man, Playhouse”

Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar

“Any suggestion of a correlation between the leader of a certain nation and the homicidal gangsters we depict is something that the management must strictly disavow”

There’s something special in the timelessness of some pieces of theatre, their themes and arguments as relevant to audiences today as they were when they were written years, decades, even centuries ago. Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui falls into the middle category, written in 1941 as an allegorical response to his nation’s fall to Nazism, and was magisterially revived at Chichester a few years back.

For their own new production, the Donmar Warehouse has turned to Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park, The Low Road) who doesn’t quite trust the material in the same way, updating it in the most heavy-handed of manners by directly substituting Trump for Hitler. It’s an arresting move and indubitably pertinent in the way in which it expounds on the exploitation of a particularly toxic brand of populist politics. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ is internationally one of the most instantly recognisable songs of all time. Written by Bruce Woolley, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, the original Buggles music video is famous for being the first ever shown on MTV when it launched in 1981. This weekend saw a new version of the song released by Bruce Woolley and The Radio Science Orchestra featuring British singer-songwriter Polly Scattergood which is already receiving rave reviews in the music press.  Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10

“Come, sit on me”

The Taming of the Shrew

Christopher Haydon takes Eve Best and John Light over to the Villa Businello-Morassutti in Padua, to make me sure that the world is in need of a proper production of the Best/Light Shrew as they spar achingly, beautifully, with each other. Toby Frow’s rambunctious 2012 production also comes up a treat with Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day equally impressing.

The Winter’s Tale

And another, with Michelle Terry directing an almost painfully raw performance from Mariah Gale in Apothecaries Hall, her wounded Hermione breathtakingly good, especially with the strong contrast of the vibrant Yoruba production from the Globe II Globe festival.



As You Like It

A curiously low-key take here as Bryan Dick’s Touchstone and Marty Cruickshank’s Corin wander Belgium’s Ardennes Forest with a good deal more time devoted to the clips, in this case from Thea Sharrock’s interpretation of the play from 2009, with a stellar Naomi Frederick and Laura Rogers riding roughshod over Jack Laskey.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #9

“Man is a giddy thing”

Much Ado About Nothing

Quite a bold gambit here, as Jessica Swale’s Sicily-set scenes are interpolated with Jeremy Herrin’s glorious 2011 production. And most glorious within that production, Eve Best’s heart-breaking, life-affirming recounting of a star dancing is placed front and centre. So Katherine Parkinson and Samuel West are up against it a bit, swanning luxuriously but longfully around the Villa Ida in Messina, never too far from Best and Charles Edwards doing Beatrice and Benedick as well as they ever have been done.


All’s Well That Ends Well
Continue reading “The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #9”

Review: The Inn at Lydda, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Some things are better left out of the history books”

Have you heard the one where Jesus, the three wise men and Caligula walk into a pub? No? Well it is pretty much the set up for John Wolfson’s curious new play The Inn at Lydda, at least once you’ve thrown John the Baptist and Tiberius Caesar in there as well. An eclectic bit of programming in the candlelit surroundings of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Wolfson has spun his tale from a tidbit in the New Testament Apocrypha and taken it to almost-farcical levels of comedy.

Ailing Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar has heard of a legendary healer over in Judea and so off he pops to be cured by him, only problem is we’re in the days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Stopping off at a hostelry in the city of Lydda where this news filters through, their party bumps into Tiberius’ lascivious great-nephew and heir Caligula, plus three weary travellers who have been waiting 33 years to reunite with a man who might just be hiding in a nearby cave. Continue reading “Review: The Inn at Lydda, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #7

Love’s Labour’s Lost



Gemma Arterton and Michelle Terry (almost) in the same play, how my heart doth beat. Sam Yates’ Love’s Labour’s Lost combines Arterton and David Dawson dashing delightfully through the corridors of the Royal Palace of Olite of Navarre, Spain as Berowne and Rosaline, whilst drawing in elements from the gorgeous 2009 production at the Globe – one of my favourite clips from the whole Complete Walk.
Measure for Measure



Queer as Folk hits Austria (I suppose I’m showing my age, the more contemporary reference would be Game of Thrones) as Aidan Gillen takes on Measure for Measure at Vienna’s Burg Liechtenstein. Last year’s production at the Globe gets a look in too and reminds me that I think it was much maligned for trying a more comic take on the play for once. 

The Two Gentleman of Verona


A slightly different take from Christopher Haydon here as he has location footage – filmed at the Scaligero di Torri, Verona with Meera Syal and Tamara Lawrance – but opts to explore the play’s dramatic links to the rest of the canon. So we get clips of 10 of Shakespeare’s other plays and are shown how devices and plots are reused time and time again. 


Othello


Possibly one of my most favourite potential productions in the making here, as James Dacre takes David Harewood and John Heffernan to Othello’s Tower in Famagusta, Cyprus where they nail it. Please make this happen somehow.

Timon of Athens


Timon of Athens sees Dromgoole go for the similar star wattage of Dominic West in Coriolanus, opting to focus on Simon Russell Beale wandering through atmospheric parts of Athens with no other actors or productions to distract. And it works wonders again, even if I’m not sure I need to see the play again in a hurry. 

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #5

“When we are born, we cry”

Entries #1, #2, #3 and #4 – and here’s number 5. 

Actually taking Lear to the White Cliffs of Dover seems like a good enough reason to mount the entire Complete Walk project if you ask me, and director Bill Buckhurst doesn’t disappoint. Belaris Free Festival’s interpretation gets a wee whirl before we move to Kent where Kenneth Cranham’s disoriented monarch comes across powerfully in jerky jump-cuts and voiceover and then ultimately powerful soliloquy. Skipping to the end of the play, Joseph Marcell then takes on Lear for a sensationally powerful reunion with Zawe Ashton’s deeply considered Cordelia.


I must confess I do find it hard to get excited about King John and despite a huge affection for the much-missed Trystan Gravelle, I saw nothing here to change my mind. Filmed at Northampton’s Holy Sepulchre church, with inserts that acted almost as a Shakespearean documentary in covering the death of Shakespeare’s son at the time of writing the play, this one just didn’t do it for me I’m afraid.


Philip Cumbus’ anguished Clarence in his cell; Prasanna Puwanarajah and Paul Ready giving subtly comic life to the murderers on his way to him; Clare Higgins’ Margaret looming ominously in the shadows, Michelle Terry’s (for yes, she directs too!) take on Richard III uses all the shadowy sinister atmosphere of the Tower of London to capture the mood of the play rather successfully. It is contrasted with a silent film version which is amusing to watch at first but spookily effective in the end in the way it portrays Richard’s climactic dream. (NB: click on the title for the full clip.) 

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple”

On the other side of the Strand, Sondheim is telling us “you gotta get a gimmick” in Gypsy and so it is across the road at the Vaudeville with the second major production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest to hit the West End in (just) under a year. Lucy Bailey’s am-dram take last summer featured a company of older actors and taking that gauntlet, Adrian Noble’s production has a cross-dressing David Suchet as Lady Bracknell. My full review is now live on Official Theatre but suffice to say that I still find the pilfering of already-scarce roles for older women problematic. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with 2 intervals)
Booking until 7th November

Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Sam Wanamaker

“I must speak or burst”
 
Short and sweet cos it is in the last week and I’m running out of time… the Globe’s production of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore got the kind of publicity money can’t buy when TfL banned their posters for being overtly sexual (in a way that David Gandy’s underwear ads are apparently not) but it was sufficiently good a piece of theatre that one imagines it would most likely have sold out the candlelit atmosphere of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse regardless.
 
Michael Longhurst navigates the complex plot expertly to give us a clear-sighted view of what is going on but completely free from judgement, even as the goings-on are pretty scandalous. Annabella and Giovanni are fiercely in love, a passion that gets her pregnant – only small catch is that they are siblings with varying motivation. And the society around them that bubbles with hypocrisy and sexuality also has its complexity portrayed – there’s good and evil in us all, it’s just about what you can resist.

Continue reading “Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Sam Wanamaker”