Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre

“Some would say change is inevitable”

It was fascinating to go back to Bruce Norris’ multi-award-winning play Clybourne Park more than five years after its London debut both at the Royal Court and then in the West End, particularly since I’d finally gotten round to seeing the play that it riffs on in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Daniel Buckroyd’s Made in Colchester production originated at the Mercury there last month and pleasingly will tour the UK throughout May, significantly extending the reach of this sharp comedy/

Clybourne Park is the Chicago suburb to which Hansberry’s Younger family intend to move in her 1959 play, its residents committee reacting by trying to buy them off to preserve what they call their ‘common background’ when what they mean is its all-white racial make-up. Norris explores both sides of this by setting his first half in the house the Youngers are trying to buy in 1959 but then skipping forward 50 years after the interval to reveal a changed neighbourhood, riven by the same problems. Continue reading “Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Poppy + George, Watford Palace

“If this is indeed where you were heading, then it appears with all success you have arrived”

There’s something rather gorgeous at the heart of Poppy + George, a recognition that even passing acquaintances can leave as lasting impressions as the deepest of friendships; a reminder too that even if a play can be over and done with in a couple of hours, its impact can linger far beyond. So it is for the group of people who find each other in Diane Samuels’ new play for the Watford Palace Theatre, with music by Gwyneth Herbert.

Their safe haven is a warehouse deep in the East End in 1919, where Russian Jewish (with a bit of Chinese) tailor Smith plies his trade and entertains his friends nattily dressed chauffeur George Sampson and Great War veteran Tommy Johns who is trying to resurrect his fading music hall career. Into their world comes Poppy Wright, a Northern girl looking for a fresh start from a life in service, though the love she finds turns out not to be quite what she expected. Continue reading “Review: Poppy + George, Watford Palace”

Review: Heartbreak Hotel, The Jetty

“Please do not disturb”

I’ve been to a couple of plays in hotels already this year but I haven’t gotten to go through the wardrobe in any of them until Heartbreak Hotel, the latest attempt to develop an immersive theatricality in Greenwich which has ranged from the sublime Hotel Medea to the shocking Venice Preserv’d. Par for the course, The Jetty comes equipped with all the accoutrements to make it a destination venue – rooftop bar, pulled pork stands, riverside views and pumping music, but tasty as the barbeque is (I recommend the squid) it’s the theatre we’re concerned with. 

Zoe Wellman and Sam Curtis-Lindsay’s production follows the conceit of multiple stories happening in multiple hotel rooms at the same time, all connected loosely by a similar theme. The audience gets split into groups and traces a path through the hotel which takes us from sado-masochistic relationships, fanboys, self-help sessions… Over the course of an hour, we take on all different kinds of heartbreak as we traverse the corridors and secret passages of this once-grand British seaside establishment with an increasing sense of weirdness taking over the over-arching narrative.  Continue reading “Review: Heartbreak Hotel, The Jetty”

Review: Worst Wedding Ever, Salisbury Playhouse

 “There was no happier man on the planet than me, the day I learned they’d split The Hobbit into three separate films”

In what is quite the coup for Salisbury Playhouse, Chris Chibnall’s new play Worst Wedding Ever is premiering there, a product of AD Gareth Machin’s determination to promote new writing from local sources. A resident of Dorset, Chibnall held the much of the nation’s collective attention last year in the brilliant Broadchurch which starred the beautiful Dorset coastline alongside its whodunit, and whilst this very much ploughs a different furrow, it proved to be quite engaging.

A comedy through and through, about a young couple keen to have a quiet wedding on the cheap but failing to take into account the determination of their families and in particular her mother, to get involved as much as possible. What makes it work though is the way which Chibnall manages to stretch the remit of comedy here to cover both the outrageously farcical and the touchingly human – there’s a huge emotionality at play here which means the comedy is often most moving. Continue reading “Review: Worst Wedding Ever, Salisbury Playhouse”

Review: The Love Girl and the Innocent, Southwark Playhouse

“Keep working, keep working, keep working, keep working…poor bastards”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Love Girl and the Innocent hasn’t been seen in London for over 30 years and with a cast of over 50 characters, one can see the challenges facing anyone willing to take it on. It’s taken Matthew Dunster nearly 10 years but with Jagged Edge Productions and a multi-tasking cast of 16, he now brings his own adaptation to the Southwark Playhouse in an atmospheric if sprawling production that evokes the horrors and absurdities of life in the gulag.

Based on the playwright’s own experiences in the Soviet labour camps, the play is at its best in capturing the insane swirl of the prisoners as they jostle for position and privilege in the microcosm of Russian society that develops. Most have been sentenced to 10 years hard labour and so are in it for the long haul as they become part of a never-ending production line, but where they end up on it depends on their willingness to collude, corrupt and conspire to make their lives even just a smidgen better as the relentless demand for greater productivity comes from on high. Continue reading “Review: The Love Girl and the Innocent, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre

“Out of this wood do not desire to go”

As the first of Shakespeare’s works that I ever read and studied, I will always have a great affection for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and to this day, it has endured as probably my favourite of his plays. Something about its otherworldly (dream-like…) free-spiritedness really appeals to me, meaning there’s little of the suspension of disbelief often necessary to make the contrivances of his other comedies work, and it is a play robust enough to take many an interpretation, whether raucuous reinventions by Filter or Propeller, last year’s clever open air take by Iris Theatre or more classically inspired ones like the Rose Kingston’s Judi Dench-starring version from 2010. It is now the turn of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to revisit the show (though this was my first experience of it here) with a startlingly modern interpretation as it plays in rep with Ragtime, with which it shares much of its cast, over the summer.

First things first, this was a preview, the second I believe and due to the rain on Saturday, actually the first full run-through. Things begin with some pre-show business bustling about the trailer park set, reminiscent of the Dale Farm site with travellers squaring up to each other and to the encroaching building contractors, it sets the scene well but goes on a wee bit too long for too little effect in all honesty. But once the play proper starts with its arresting, punchy modernity, Matthew Dunster’s exceptionally well-balanced production clicks smoothly into gear, folding in classical references to this fresh new take and delving into some extremely dark places alongside the oft-times hilarious humour.   Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Faith Hope and Charity, Southwark Playhouse

“I did not come here for a political diatribe”

I have a friend who has a mortal fear of the embarrassment she would suffer if she were to die on the toilet (yeah, I know!) but the manner of playwright Ödön von Horváth’s death is so bizarrely random, killed by a falling tree branch on the way to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the cinema, that I think I’d take it (although I’d want to be on the way to an art-house film rather than The Green Lantern – pretentious to the end ;-)) In which convoluted way leads us to the Southwark Playhouse who are putting on his 1933 play Faith, Hope and Charity. It has been translated by Christopher Hampton who also did the English version for the Almeida’s Judgment Day, my only other von Horváth experience.

The main premise of the story is of how the working class individual can struggle to make ends meet for a lifetime yet still be lost in and crushed by a social system that cares nothing for them. Saleswoman Elisabeth is such a person: fined for selling lingerie without a permit which she can’t afford to buy because she hasn’t got a job, she borrows money to pay the fine and borrows some more to get the permit, but her economy with the truth – after all who would lend money to a petty criminal – gets her into even more trouble as she struggles to keep life and love on track. Continue reading “Review: Faith Hope and Charity, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: That Almost Unnameable Lust – Charged, Soho Theatre

Part of the Charged season at Soho Theatre

“You think it’s a mad idea…that prison might give some women just time on their own”

Keeping the same trio of actresses from Part 1, director Caroline Steinbeis gets to work in the main theatre for her second offering which is probably the strongest piece of writing, That Almost Unnameable Lust by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Two lifers are visited in prison by a writer who is trying to carry out research for a book as she discovers that all sorts of women can end up inside.

Beatie Edney’s Liz movingly talks of the regular spousal abuse that finally resulted in her putting an end to it, but it is Janet Henfrey’s haunted Katherine that is unmissable. She does not speak, yet through her subconscious tells us of happier times in her youth though the hints of darkness around the edges are never far away and made explicit with her propensity for self-harming. Continue reading “Review: That Almost Unnameable Lust – Charged, Soho Theatre”

Review: Taken – Charged, Soho Theatre

Part of the Charged season at Soho Theatre

“Do you know what you done to me?”

In what was the final play of the first day for me, Winsome Pinnock’s Taken looks at how three generations of a family are each affected by the decision to give up a child. Fresh out of rehab and coming to terms with the damage she caused as a drug addict, Della has returned to her mother’s council flat to help care and clean for her as she is struggling to manage on her own. When she is paid a visit by a young woman claiming to be the daughter she gave up, she is forced to confront the painful realities of her decision.

Beatie Edney was very good as Della, the woman barely able to acknowledge that she was so deep in her addiction that she can’t really recognise whether it really is the daughter she gave up. Rebecca Oldfield uses a manipulative edginess well as the could-be daughter and Janet Henfrey is painfully moving as Nane Nola, suffering from some dementia-like affliction but still able to have moments of startling revelatory acuity that pierce to the truth of what really happened. Continue reading “Review: Taken – Charged, Soho Theatre”