Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court

The densely poetic On Bear Ridge offers a thoughtful experience at the Royal Court, with Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola on fine form

“One minute we had customers, the next minute there was no-one”

There are moments, especially once the clocks have turned back and any hint of political news seeps through the cracks, that you crave the comfort of something uncomplicatedly warming – for me, I’m hoping Mary Poppins will scratch that itch. Until then, we have the unspecified apocalypse (Lord knows theatre loves apocalyptic near futures) that lours menacingly over Ed Thomas’ new play On Bear Ridge.

Deep in some rural backwater, Noni and John Daniel are the proprietors of a grocers slash butchers slash petrol pump slash black market den. Or at least they were, the community they served having long disappeared, and now they’re down to their last sack of potatoes. Their chat has a gnomic, Beckett-like feel, especially when their shopboy Ifan pops up for the odd word. But fighter jets are roaring above and the arrival of the bedraggled, gun-toting Captain heralds a twist into darker terrain. Continue reading “Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court”

Review: Exit the King, National Theatre

Undeniably challenging but ultimately thought-provoking and impeccably designed, Exit the King plays at the National Theatre this summer

“You are going to die at the end of the play”

There’s something intriguing about the fact that Eugène Ionesco has never been programmed at the National Theatre before, perhaps a long-present euroscepticism guarding against a writer at the vanguard of the French avant garde scene (give how much Beckett gets staged, it’s clearly not anti-absurdism). But Rufus Norris has looked to rectify this by commissioning a new version of Le Roi se meurt from Patrick Marber, who also directs here.

And as an absurdist drama, Exit the King suggests a bit of different thinking. On the face of it, it’s a simple enough tale – a man is told he only has a day left to live and struggles to deal with it. But that man is a king – King Bérenger – and he’s over 400 years old. And his kingdom is dying around him, with him, stone walls cracking and crumbling away, its people disappearing into the ether, the darkness swallowing everything up whole.   Continue reading “Review: Exit the King, National Theatre”

News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

So much goodness announced here in the National Theatre’s near future – particularly excited for Nine Night’s transfer, what looks like a leading role for Siân Brooke and the prospect of Joanna Riding’s ‘Losing My Mind’. 

National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

Nine Night, Natasha Gordon’s critically acclaimed debut play transfers to the West End following a sold-out run at the NT

Further cast announced for Antony and Cleopatra alongside Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, playing from September

Cast confirmed for world premiere of David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running, including Siân Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire

Peter Brook returns to direct at the National Theatre for the first time in 50 years with The Prisoner, co-directed with Marie-Hélène Estienne

Following the acclaimed Consent, Nina Raine returns to the NT with her new play Stories starring Claudie Blakley

Anthony Neilson makes his NT debut with new play The Tell-Tale Heart, based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe

Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding to join the cast of Follies alongside Janie Dee and Peter Forbes, returning to the Olivier Theatre in February 2019

War Horse returns to the NT marking the centenary of Armistice Day

Antony and Cleopatra and I’m Not Running to  broadcast to 65 countries worldwide as part of NT Live

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in the UK gaining the right to vote, the NT stages Courage Everywhere; a series of rehearsed readings, talks and screenings Continue reading “News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019”

Review: King Lear, Old Vic

“’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind”

Though no spring chicken myself, I’m not quite the right age to be truly excited about Oscar winning actress-turned politician-turned actress again Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage. I was more intrigued than truly excited when she was announced in the title role of Deborah Warner’s King Lear for the Old Vic for though I’m well aware of who she is, her film and TV credits never broke through into what I was watching either back then or since. (Feel free to recommend her must-see performances – I’ll add them to the list of things I’ll get round to watching one day.)

But I’m always here for casting decisions that shake the established order somewhat and with Celia Imrie, Jane Horrocks and Rhys Ifans in the cast too, there was no chance I wouldn’t go see this. Full disclosure though, I went to the final £10 preview so treat this review how you will. For it is simultaneously an effortful and frustratingly vague production that never truly convinces of the attempted scope of its artistic vision. Fortunately, this often-times ephemeral and occasionally perplexing Lear is anchored by a striking performance from Jackson. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Old Vic”

Review: Protest Song, National Theatre

“I’m not protesting”

Tim Price has become a writer to watch with a number of interesting recent works (For Once, Salt Root and Roe, and The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning amongst others) and now he graduates to the National Theatre with this monologue by Rhys Ifans taking up residence in (and also outside) the giant red box of The Shed. In Protest Song, Ifans is Danny, a man whose addictions have led to the collapse of his marriage and family life and resulted in him ending up on the streets, a rough sleeper on the steps of St Pauls.

So when Occupy takes over his abode and turn it into the centrepiece of their protest movement, he is naturally disgruntled, believing them to be taking the piss (quite literally in one scene). But the opportunities that it presents – for socialisation, for sustenance, for service – seduces him into thinking change may be afoot, but he fails to take into account society’s ingrained attitudes towards the homeless. It is a genuinely thought-provoking piece of theatre that manages that oh-so-rare thing of actually challenging one’s own perceptions, seeing the inevitable beggars on the way home in a new light. Continue reading “Review: Protest Song, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Anonymous

“Let me offer you a different story”

Any film that contains someone being dragged to the theatre saying “there won’t be puppets will there?” is bound to be a winner with me. And if that film has also courted controversy then my interest is bound to be piqued. But the publicity campaign against Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous was so vociferous that it disappeared from cinemas before I got the chance to see it and so I had to wait for it to emerge on DVD. Why so controversial? Emmerich’s (better known for loud blockbusters like Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow) film is based on the premise that the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was in fact the true author of the works normally attributed to Shakespeare. Thus a great outcry was launched, by the people and scholars for whom this is the biggest deal, and the film largely scuppered.

Which ultimately is a shame, as I found it to be rather an enjoyable film and somewhat perversely, the authorship question is just one of many strands of story in what turns out to be a historical political thriller, mainly based around the succession to the throne as Elizabeth I’s reign has produced no (legitimate) heirs. That one of the key players in her court just happens to be a playwright on the sly, who is forced to use a surrogate by the name of William to get his plays staged, is taken as a given here and it makes for an entertaining ‘what if’ scenario. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anonymous”