Review: Ghosts, Rose Theatre Kingston

“In other words, you have no idea what you’re condemning”

London has long thrived on its paranormal industry – spooky tours, famous cemeteries, Jack the Ripper and his ilk and now in its theatres, a double helping of Ghosts, albeit of Ibsen’s variety. Richard Eyre will direct his own version for the Almeida which opens next week but sneaking ahead is Stephen Unwin’s adaptation, also self-directed, for the Rose Theatre, Kingston. A co-production with English Touring Theatre, it marks the twentieth anniversary of that company but perhaps more significantly, it will be Unwin’s final production at the Rose where he has served as Artistic Director for six years.

He has a clear affinity for the Norwegian playwright – Ghosts is the second translation Unwin has written and the seventh of his plays that he has directed and upping the authenticity ante, the look of the show has taken direct inspiration from the stage designs of Edvard Munch, who designed a production in Berlin in 1906 and which have never been seen since. And the result is an extremely classy piece of theatre, one which coils up the intensity of its acting for an incendiary final act but sometimes feels like it is taking an age to get there. Continue reading “Review: Ghosts, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Gabriel, Shakespeare’s Globe

“It may suit the crude palates of ruffians, but there’s more tune in the one derisory ditty my flunkey can play on his fiddle called ‘Lumps of Pudding’ than there is in an entire afternoon of this inflated chronicle of Purcellian shit”

Alongside their much-vaunted productions of Shakespeare’s work, the Globe theatre is a sterling champion of new writing for its theatre as well. The results have arguably been a bit patchy (Globe Mysteries…) but in some cases simply divine (the glorious Anne Boleyn) and so I approached the new first offering of the season – Samuel Adamson’s Gabriel – with cautious optimism. The caution came mainly from hearing that this wasn’t so much as a play as “an entertainment with trumpet”, and I have to say that for me, only the second part of the description was true.

Adamson has written a series of playlets set in late-Restoration period London (1690s) about life and love and sex and music, which are threaded together by a series of musical interludes from the English Concert Orchestra led by trumpeter Alison Balsom who takes us through a selection of Purcell’s music. It’s a strange mixture and one which never really quite finds a satisfying balance – the snippets of drama mainly crude and banal, the rare moments of enlightenment over far too quickly to really give gratification. And the music feels constrained by its setting here, constantly interrupted by the dramatic diversions and of a far superior standard.


One can hear the creative thinking behind this ‘entertainment’, hoping to cast off stuffy stereotypical images of classical music and bringing it to a new audience, but the format precludes genuine engagement with the material on either side – neither the drama nor the music can really flourish with all the chopping and changing. And with the levels of bawdiness at almost unbearable levels – I simply do not understand why people find farting jokes so funny – I found this a most trying afternoon indeed. That said, I did go home and buy Balsom’s album of Purcell and Handel music Sound the Trumpet, so maybe it did the job after all!

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 18th August

Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The isle is full of noises”

It’s always nice to be surprised by a night at the theatre, especially with a play with which one is rather familiar. And more importantly in the case of The Tempest is the feeling that I have already seen a production of the play that will rank as one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen in Cheek By Jowl’s extraordinary Russian interpretation back in 2011 – Caliban and Miranda’s parting is forever seared on my mind. But The Globe is nothing if not reliable and in casting Roger Allam as Prospero, director Jeremy Herrin knew exactly how to get me along in hope of a genuinely brave new world.

And in some ways it does it. Allam brings a studious humanity to the exiled sorcerer – less anguished magician and more concerned father, making his reading of some of Shakespeare’s most evocative writing almost unbearably moving. His control of the language is just superb, imbuing even the most innocuous of lines with worlds of meaning, so often restrained but flaring magnificently like a bearded Brunnhilde when provoked. He’s wryly amusing too, his insistence on protecting his daughter’s virtue particularly well-observed as a running gag. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

“For she is changed, as she had never been”

Despite featuring Samantha Spiro as Kate, the Globe’s production of The Taming of the Shrew held little attraction for me when it was announced, and even once it had started. Though, not considered a ‘problem play’ as far as Shakespeare’s canon is concerned, problems tend to arise when productions seek to make sense of its knotty gender politics from a contemporary perspective. Southwark Playhouse and the RSC have recently tried different updated versions but neither one really convinced me. After allowing myself to be persuaded to see it before it finished its run, Toby Frow comes the closest I have seen to making the play work, mainly by – against the above quote – simply leaving it alone.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an immense amount of work that has been done, but rather that this production just takes the play for what it is – a piece of sixteenth century fiction presented as such. And instead of the furrowed brow that often comes with trying to work how misogynistic or otherwise the play or the production is being, there’s a sense of joyous fun as high-octane slapstick, capering about and unbelievably destructive capabilities are the order of the day.  Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Hamlet, Young Vic

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

The Young Vic continues to be allergic to the idea of people just using the main entrance into the auditorium to take their seats: people who have booked for Hamlet have been advised to turn up 30 minutes early in order to take in the ‘pre-show journey’. But whereas withGovernment Inspector and Beauty Queen of Leenane, it was just being guided a different way within the building, here we are guided out of the theatre and taken round the back entrance to wind our way through the corridors backstage past some rooms which have been dressed up with non-responsive cast members sitting around before reaching the seats, it adds very little to the experience (aside from getting us wet on the way there) and ultimately seems a pointless exercise. The most remarkable thing about this section was that the gym had a massive sign that talked about rules for ‘Excercise’: someone at the Young Vic needs to get their spell-checker switched on.

But to the play, labelled one of the theatrical events of the year as it features the return to the stage of Michael Sheen in what is Jerusalem director Ian Rickson’s Shakespearean debut. And as is often the case with such an oft-performed classic, an interpretation has been imposed upon the material to try and cast it in a different, and newly revelatory way. Once the seating area has been located, the uniformed orderlies, utilitarian grey carpet and circle of plastic chairs hint at what is to be revealed, as a ghostly prologue with Hamlet gazing on his father’s coffin before it is lowered into the ground, leads into the opening scene which takes place as if in a therapy session. For as it turns out, Elsinore is, I think, a mental asylum in the late 1970s and so the play takes on a new perspective on madness. I say new, I mean it borrows heavily from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Young Vic”

Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre

“The English vice is that we don’t own up to our emotions…we think they demean us”

Rattigan’s Nijinsky is something of a companion piece to the production of The Deep Blue Sea with which this is playing in rep at the Chichester Festival Theatre and sharing much of its cast. Looking to make their own unique tribute in the centenary year of Rattigan’s death, new pieces have been commissioned to play alongside his plays and here, Nicholas Wright has embroidered a story around the mystery of Rattigan’s 1974 unproduced and unpublished screenplay about ballet dancer Nijinsky and his passionate affair with Ballets Russes impresario Diaghilev.

Having been able to examine images of the original work, Wright has incorporated scenes into his own play, so we get to see Rattigan’s version of the tumultuous love affair between the older Diaghilev and his protégé, the man often cited as one of the greatest dancers ever, and the strain it was placed under due to Nijinsky’s mental fragility, something exacerbated (or even caused by?) falling into marriage with a woman. These scenes are interspersed with a modern-day (1974) narrative with an ailing Rattigan sequestered in his suite at Claridges and having to deal with Nijinsky’s widow, Romola, who is virulently objecting to his version of the events of her earlier life. Continue reading “Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: The Deep Blue Sea, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Moderation in all things has always been my motto”

Whereas productions celebrating Sondheim’s 80th birthday lasted all the blessed year long, the flurry of Terence Rattigan plays, marking the centenary year of his birth, seems to have died out in London at least. But in Chichester as their season moves into full swing, the first of a number of Rattigan productions starts with The Deep Blue Sea, a preview of which I caught on my first ever trip to the Chichester Festival Theatre.

It’s actually my second The Deep Blue Sea of the year, the first I travelled to the West Yorkshire Playhouse for to see Maxine Peake play the lead role and though several people had said to me that they thought she was too young for the role, as it was the first time I’d seen the play, it didn’t really affect me that much: having seen this production I see how that skewed the whole dynamic of the show. Here, director Philip Franks has stayed closer to the original intent by casting an older actress as Hester, in this case a stunning Amanda Root, which made the tangled nature of the relationships around her make more sense. Continue reading “Review: The Deep Blue Sea, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Pressure Drop, Wellcome Collection

“Because that’s what we’re fighting for, innit…our roots”

In dealing with the rise of far right politics in East London, Pressure Drop could be just one of many similar plays, A Day at the Racists and Moonfleece both dealt with related themes very recently, but this is really is something special, bringing together Mick Gordon’s writing, songwriting from Billy Bragg and the unique venue of the Wellcome Collection, their first foray into theatre, as part of their Identity project.

Describing it as a ‘part-gig, part-concert, part-installation’ is somewhat unnecessary, it’s a promenade play with some songs in it, but it is a carefully judged production, balancing each of the elements well into a most satisfying whole. It looks at three generations of the Clegg family, white and working class in a rapidly changing East London, and how they struggle to maintain their identities even as everything familiar alters around them. Continue reading “Review: Pressure Drop, Wellcome Collection”