Review: The Jungle, Playhouse

Immersive theatre done right in a completely reconfigured Playhouse, The Jungle is thought-provoking beyond belief

“No one wants to stay here”

Following on from an enormously successful run at the Young Vic last year, The Jungle has made the move to the Playhouse Theatre in one of the unlikeliest but most significant West End transfers in recent history. Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy’s play was born out of their experiences in setting up the Good Chance theatre in the Calais refugee camp that gives it its name and accompanied by an extraordinary (re)design of the space by Miriam Buether, becomes a genuinely unforgettable theatrical experience.

Buether’s design recreates the Afghan restaurant that was part of the camp where audiences can sit at the table (which becomes a thrust stage) surrounded by the heady scent of warming spices and baking bread. It’s a useful reminder that even in the midst of a crisis state, life has to continue and food is an enduring common bond. And this anti-doom-and-gloom approach is symptomatic of The Jungle. No tragedy porn here, but rather a portrait of flawed humanity – people doing good, people screwing up, people just trying their damnedest in face of a shameful international emergency. Continue reading “Review: The Jungle, Playhouse”

DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)

“The whole situation’s been really quite dreadful”

Based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth hit cinemas in late 2014, perfect timing to capitalise on the rising star of Alicia Vikander whose moment would culminate in winning an Academy Award for The Danish Girl. Her work here in this film is equally spectacular though, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, an elegiac beauty washes through the whole production as Vera’s determination first to study at Oxford and then to help with the war effort plays out.

We first meet Vera in the good company of three good-looking men and as the film progresses, it’s refreshing to see that her journey isn’t defined by them, merely informed. Kit Harington’s poet Roland, Colin Morgan’s shyly besotted Victor, Taron Egerton’s faithful brother (who shares his sister’s eye for a good-looking chap and when it’s Jonny Bailey, who wouldn’t!). And as war plucks each of them from their country idyll, her relationship with each has to bend and reshape. Continue reading “DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)”

Review: Luna Gale, Hampstead

“I just want to know that it’s not that I don’t want you to get help, because I do, it’s just that there’s not any help out there”

There’s a moment towards the end of Rebecca Gilman’s 2014 play Luna Gale, directed by Michael Attenborough at the Hampstead, that is just breath-taking. Put-upon social worker Caroline finds herself pressured into praying in her office with a visiting pastor and her religious boss and as the minister lays his hand on her shoulder and offers a deeply seductive account of God’s love, Sharon Small’s deeply conflicted Caroline seems to teeter on the edge of something monumental in an extraordinarily charged moment of drama.

I’d describe it as a shocking moment but that reveals my own prejudices, a distrust of fundamentalist-tinged religion and a sense that such movements prey on easy targets, but in turn that reflects a larger point that Gilman makes in her play. Caroline is dealing with the case of 2 year old Luna Gale, born to teenage meth addicts and though rehousing the child with her grandmother seems the easy option, when she reveals she is deeply religious during a case meeting, Caroline’s instinctive reaction is to roll her eyes and offer a dry remark. Continue reading “Review: Luna Gale, Hampstead”

Review: Closer, Donmar Warehouse

“I love everything about you that hurts”

Obnoxious people doing obnoxious things for well over two hours – safe to say Patrick Marber’s Closer rubbed me up the wrong way something rotten, and scarcely believing that this was the winner of the Olivier for Best New Play in 1997. Characters float from scene to scene with little genuine motivation, no sense of inner life, just this insistence that there’s something meaningful in being unerringly truthful to one’s self when it comes to matters of desire, no matter the consequences.

Some might be tempted to find something contemporary in Marber’s depiction of lustful impulses overriding all, where sex and deceit go hand in hand with the dawning of the age of the internet. But what resonated strongest for me was the outdated manner in which the two female parts, but Alice in particular, are written. Despite Rachel Redford’s best efforts, Alice never breaks through the distasteful male fantasy gaze that posits her as an enigmatic stripper who just wants to be loved by a man (and not just any man…yes, you) – it’s enough to make even the most homosexual of men feel dirty. Continue reading “Review: Closer, Donmar Warehouse”

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”

Review: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola

“No-one has the ability to laugh at their misfortunes like the women of the East End”

I wish I liked Philip Ridley’s work more than I admire it. He has, as one of the characters here says “a remarkable way of looking at things” and his commitment to the uniqueness of his dramatic worldview is certainly impressive, it’s just that I don’t always find that I get it or that I even want to. Yet time and time again I go back to his plays as when it does work, it can have an enormous power (cf Mercury Fur).

With the slow but steady establishment of his reputation, many of his earlier works have been popping up in recent years in new productions but it still surprising to learn that this is the first revival of Ghost from a Perfect Place which dates from 1994. Somehow pre-empting and thereby predicting the rise of girl power (think Spice Girls) and gangster loving (think Lock Stock…), it holds a real fascination, if not genuine feeling. Continue reading “Review: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola”

Review: Adler & Gibb, Royal Court

“You’ve confused the story

And so once again, theatres lead where critics are not inclined to follow… After the divisiveness of the extraordinary Mr Burns at the Almeida, the Royal Court now turns its hand to something a little different in the form of Tim Crouch’s Adler & Gibb. A(nother) distinctly lukewarm reception from the print critics is hardly surprising but it does feel a shame that there isn’t more of a groundswell of support for the diversity of programming we’re so lucky to have here in London. In a West End where Coward revivals are two a penny and there are actually two Importance of Being Earnests queued up to go into theatres, I for one am grateful that these opportunities are being presented to me. 

A New Jersey art student Louise gives a presentation about Janet Adler, a conceptual artist who retreated from the world with her partner Margaret Gibb and died a mysterious death. Onstage, an older woman is researching and rehearsing a role for a biopic film with a colleague before a location shoot. Around them, two children in headphones are stage-managing the show, incrementally increasing our understanding about just what it is that we’re watching. Continue reading “Review: Adler & Gibb, Royal Court”