Review: Reasons to be Happy, Hampstead

“That’s like practically incest”

Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Happy actually takes the form of a sequel of sorts to his earlier work Reasons to be Pretty, seen at the Almeida in 2011. Reflecting that continuity, director Michael Attenborough returns along with Soutra Gilmour as designer, reprising what looks like the same shipping container and rather oddly, just one of the original quartet of actors. Tom Burke is back as lead character Greg but the luminous lights of Siân Brooke, Kieran Bew and Billie Piper are replaced by Lauren O’Neil, Warren Brown and Robyn Addison.

You don’t need to have seen Reasons to be Pretty to see Reasons to be Happy but it certainly helps as the play picks up three years later on as their tangled inter-relationships have reconfigured into a new and different mess. Greg and Steph are no longer together but a spark still remains between them as evidenced by the blazing row that opens the show, as it did in Pretty. But she’s married to someone else and he’s having it off with her best friend Carly, who is the ex-wife of his best friend Kent who is in turn keen on getting back with the mother of his child. Continue reading “Review: Reasons to be Happy, Hampstead”

Review: Miss Julie / Black Comedy, Minerva

 Miss Julie is in complete denial about the whole thing”
 
Something of a random double-bill – August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (adapted here by Rebecca Lenkiwicz) and Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy have previously been put together here at Chichester and so once again, they’re programmed as an engagement in the Minerva, partly cross-cast in a production by actor-increasingly-turned-director Jamie Glover. Each show has its merits but putting them together didn’t really add anything to the experience for me. 
 
Lenkiewicz’s version is solid rather than inspirational – the play has been adapted so many times now, it feels almost more surprising not to remove it from its original context. And consequently there’s no escaping the more misogynistic edges of the writing without the filter of another time. The glorious Rosalie Craig is excellent though as the titular, brittle aristocrat who can’t resist visits downstairs to bit of rough Jean, her father’s valet who is engaged to a kitchen maid.

Continue reading “Review: Miss Julie / Black Comedy, Minerva”

Review: Chalet Lines, Bush Theatre

“Ya wanna look out there, folk lappin’ about in the pool, holdin’ hands, not a care in this world, just row upon row of chalet lines, little boxes full up with little lives, little bits of love”

With Josie Rourke decamping to the Donmar Warehouse, the role of Artistic Director at the powerhouse of new writing that is the Bush Theatre went to Madani Younis, whose first season there has just started with this production of Lee Mattinson’s bleakly funny Chalet Lines which he also directs. Set over a 50 year period in Chalet Number 12 at Butlins Skegness, we trace the family history of four generations of the Walker women as the troubled relationship between mother and daughter seems doomed to repeat itself time and time again.

We start in the modern day with an abortive attempt at celebrating Nana Barbara’s 70th birthday. Oldest daughter Loretta has brought along her two girls, Abigail and Jolene, to the cabin where they’ve always holidayed but things aren’t really going to plan for anyone. Relationships are horribly strained across the board and made worse by the absence of someone important and Mattinson takes us back in time to 1996 and then again to 1961 to explore the reasons for this and the deep-seated behaviour that has caused so much rancour. FYI, this was a preview. Continue reading “Review: Chalet Lines, Bush Theatre”

Review: Mongrel Island, Soho Theatre

“Administrate it to buggery”

Steve Marmion’s opening season as artistic director for the Soho Theatre continues with Mongrel Island, a new play by Ed Harris, which follows on both thematically, in its utterly surreal exploration of the mind and memory and in retaining part of the same company, who played in Anthony Neilson’s Realism which has just finished its run in the main theatre. Harris sets his play in the workplace, an office where a group of people are going about the deathly dull business of a massive data transfer, a job so mind-numbing yet all-compassing that it soon starts to take over their whole lives.

Marie, Only Joe and Elvis toil away under the watchful, twitching eye of boss Honey, but when Marie, a charming turn from Robyn Addison, takes on extra hours in order to try and get a few days off to visit her father, the already odd atmosphere in the office takes a turn for the even more surreal. Harris’ writing is strongest when he is evoking the grim realities of an uninspiring working life, the inane chat to fill the silence, the casual cruelty born simply of the need to entertain, the sexual connections made to alleviate the boredom. Simon Kunz’s vicious Only Joe and Shane Zaza’s Elvis with his head seemingly in the clouds entertaining greatly here, Elvis’ storytelling having a particularly surreal poetic beauty even when talking about giant prawns battling polar bears. Continue reading “Review: Mongrel Island, Soho Theatre”

Review: Realism, Soho Theatre

“What good is it going to do you, moping about your flat all day”

New Artistic Director for the Soho Theatre, Steve Marmion, has chosen an ambitious way to start his tenure using one company to perform two plays – one English premiere of an Edinburgh hit and one new commission – both exploring matters of the mind and sanity. The first of these is Anthony Neilson’s Realism, the story of a man who wants to spend his Saturday doing ‘f*** all’, just curled up on his sofa. This he does, but what Neilson explores is that even in the act of physically doing nothing, the mind remains highly active and can take us on a marathon of a journey that can be just as exhausting as actually running one.

So the tiniest action our protagonist carries out: opening the post, putting a load of washing in, making some toast, triggers memories and trains of thoughts, delving into the full gamut of the emotionally bruising recent past, sexual fantasies and as far back as childhood but also spinning off into fantastical moments and imagining his own funeral. The hugely endearing Tim Treloar takes us on his journey with great skill, negotiating the peaks and troughs as his conscious and sub-conscious clash in the most bizarre of ways. Continue reading “Review: Realism, Soho Theatre”

2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Zoe Wanamaker – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Helen McCrory – The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar Warehouse 
Jenny Jules – Ruined at the Almeida
Kim Cattrall – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Nancy Carroll – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Tracie Bennett – End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
David Suchet – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Benedict Cumberbatch – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Matthew Macfadyen – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Rory Kinnear – Hamlet at the National, Olivier & Measure for Measure at the Almeida
Simon Russell Beale – Deathtrap at the Noel Coward & London Assurance at the National, Olivier 
Toby Stephens – The Real Thing at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: The Rivals, Richmond Theatre

“There’s a little intricate hussy for you!”

One of my theatrical highlights of the year so far was Celia Imrie in a sparkling production of The Rivals which variously featured audience interaction, recorders, Beyoncé songs and Sam Swainsbury sat on my lap for a while. So, when the Theatre Royal Bath production to be directed by Sir Peter Hall was announced, I was intrigued to see how it would match up. And whilst there is little of the relaxed informality of that Southwark Playhouse version, Hall sticks to what he knows best, gimmick-free, perfectly-cast productions which focus on the writing.

The Rivals is a comedy of manners, set in 18th century Bath amongst the fashionable élite who are there to take the waters and maybe a little gossip and romance on the side. Lydia Languish longs for a romantic elopement such as those of which she has read rather than a conventional marriage and so in order to win her hand, Captain Absolute disguises himself as an impoverished soldier and woos her, despite the disapproval of her guardian, Mrs Malaprop who has her own romantic designs. But Absolute has two rivals for Miss Languish, whose cousin has her own lovelife problems which we observe and the servants are playing their own games resulting in much comedy, chaos and confusion. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Richmond Theatre”