June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s

Has Lesley Manville ever been better? She scorches through a beautiful production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night

“Who wants to see life as it is, if they can help it?”

Between scoring an Oscar nomination for Phantom Thread, returning to TV screens in superlative sitcom Mum and conquering one of the almighty stage roles written for a woman in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it is safe to say that Lesley Manville is having a ‘moment’ as a potential queen of all media, and a well-deserved one at that – she is the kind of rare talent that is genuinely due this kind of adulation.

Richard Eyre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play was first seen at the Bristol Old Vic in 2016 (have a gander at m’review here) and it transfers to the Wyndham’s pretty much intact – Manville and Jeremy Irons leading the cast once again as the troubled Mary and Joseph Tyrone, with Rory Keenan and Matthew Beard stepping in as their sons. The returning Jessica Regan rounds out the cast as housemaid Kathleen. Continue reading “Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s”

Review: Saint Joan, Donmar

“Must a Christ perish in every age to save those that have no imagination”

This
 is Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan but very much via Josie Rourke, as the medieval piety of the pre-show entertainment gives way to the uber-modernity of this interpretation with the opening flourish of a tablecloth being whipped away (more impressive than it sounds!). The gods being worshipped here are high finance and business as scenes are set in companies like Vaucouleur Commodities Brokerage and Dauphin Holdings, Evan Davies and Bloomberg news tickers give us regular updates and it is in the midst of all this that Gemma Arterton’s Joan arrives, the sole figure in period dress. 

Dealing with an amusing take on the egg crisis of the first scene, and using Skype to correctly identify Fisayo Akinade’s spoiled manchild heir of a Dauphin in the next, the modern take is clever but there’s a strange tension that never quite resolves. The text has been cut but not completely modernised, so talk of battles and forts sit alongside the rise and fall of stocks and shares and it doesn’t settle into an interpretation that didn’t leave me going ‘you what now’ until it starts to play the drama straight as in the English plot to bring about the downfall of the woman uniting the French against them. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, Donmar”

Leading Man of the Year 2013

Theatre, theatre, hot men, theatre – as the festive season draws to a close, my annual late present to y’all is the Leading Man of the Year post. Without fail, these are the most popular posts that I do (2012, 2011, 2010) so who am I to argue against the will of the people. Happy new year!

The list is not ranked in any way, purely in terms of an assortment of men who have turned my eye one way or another on the stage this year.

Continue reading “Leading Man of the Year 2013”

Review: Liolà, National Theatre

“This is a potato party” 

Expectations are a funny thing. Luigi Pirandello’s reputation as one of our foremost dramatists comes from his metaphysical musings on identity and self but his 1916 play Liolà comes from a very different place and so may leave you nonplussed if expecting something akin to Six Characters in Search of an Author. Instead, Tanya Ronder’s new version directed by Richard Eyre is a rollicking tale full of song and dance, set in a Sicilian village from which most of the men have migrated. The two that remain, Liolà and Simone, are surrounded by a veritable multitude of women with whom a number of complicated relationships are in place.

Ageing landowner Simone married the much younger Mita in order to provide him with the heir he desperately craves but five years of marriage have produced no children. By contrast, local lothario Liolà has knocked up at least three of the local girls and now has three children who are raised by his mother. But when he gets Simone’s young cousin Tuzza pregnant, she and her mother espy a scheme to play on Simone’s fears of childlessness and pass the child off as his own. But Mita and Liolà were childhood sweethearts and together they plot her own revenge.  Continue reading “Review: Liolà, National Theatre”

Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre

“Look on this and learn. Let that be your punishment”

I don’t think there is another director who frustrates me quite as much as Bijan Sheibani. The devastating simplicity with which he tackled 2009’s Our Class and the elegiac beauty he brought to the Iranian-themed Bernarda Alba earlier this year has delighted, but he’s also responsible for making 70 minutes seem like a pained lifetime in Moonlight and threw everything including his kitchen sink into the multi-authored chaotic carnival ride that was Greenland. So it is hard to know what to expect from his work, but it seems sure to provoke strong emotion in me one way or another. Sadly, his latest foray at the National Theatre – Damned by Despair – errs towards the latter of the above categories. It is still in previews to be sure, but it is hard to imagine that this isn’t a fatally flawed production. 

The play is a religious epic from 1625, written by Spanish monk Tirso de Molina, and delves into sticky questions of spirituality such as is heaven is reserved for those who spend a lifetime believing and can non-believers be redeemed through the accomplishment of good deeds. This is subject matter of a deeply different kind to what our more agnostic tastes are now suited, but the difficulties inherent in translating such ideas to a modern audience are simply magnified by a clumsy new version by Frank McGuinness and some baffling directorial choices from Sheibani which swung from cringeworthy to laughable and almost always misguided – I fear some serious trimming will need to be done if there’s any hope for the production. Continue reading “Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre”

Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse

“Just because he doesn’t say much doesn’t mean that he hasn’t feelings like the rest of us”

Instincts can be useful and they can also be really annoying, especially when you don’t follow them. After three weeks away from the theatre, most of which has been spent lying by a pool in the South-West of France, my first engagement back was at the Donmar Warehouse to see Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! As with most things at theatres such as these, I automatically book for everything as soon as it is released, sometimes it’s the only way to guarantee getting the cheap seats, and so there is rarely any sense of deciding whether I actually want to see something or not. And because it is then cheap, thus one can argue that it doesn’t really matter if I don’t like it – such excellent self-perpetuating logic is needed to ensure I keep getting up early to join the website-crashing scrum of first day booking.

But my tolerance has lessened somewhat as I’m slowly weaning myself off my addiction to theatre (at least to a more manageable position…) and after having unpacked my holiday things and checked the calendar as to when I was next booked in anywhere, my heart was not particularly singing with joy at the prospect of seeing this play. I allowed myself to be persuaded that I needed to “get back on the horse” and that I was just suffering from post-holiday blues – my companion reckoned I wouldn’t have been enthused about any play that didn’t involve me sitting in a hot tub – but in all honesty, my overall impression of Philadelphia… was one of overwhelming ‘meh’. Continue reading “Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre

“What is there more?”

The Kitchen was one of Arnold Wesker’s first plays and follows on from the Royal Court’s well-received (if not by me) Chicken Soup with Barley in a year which has been something of a revival for Wesker. Written in 1959 and inspired by his own experiences of working in the catering industry, it is set in 1957 in the basement kitchen of a large London restaurant, the Tivoli. The dynamics of a swirling multi-cultural mass of chefs, waitresses and kitchen porters are exposed as they slowly build to the mad rush of a huge lunchtime service. Playing in the Olivier at the National Theatre, this was a late preview performance.

Director Bijan Sheibani has assembled a cast of 30 who rush about Giles Cadle’s circular kitchen set with increasing fervour as prep turns into service and the banter with all its personal enmities, tribal groupings and rivalries between kitchen staff and dining-room staff becomes increasingly fraught, and of course largely forgotten as the rush passes and the calm of the afternoon allows for a more reflective atmosphere. The less intense evening service provides a final act is no less dramatic though as slow burning stories finally explode. Continue reading “Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre”

Review: Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, Arcola

“They say fuck in direct proportion to how bored they are”

Continuing the rather scattershot programming that is going on at the Arcola since its move closer to Dalston Junction, a David Mamet double bill of two rarely performed short plays, Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, from early in his career is playing in the smaller Studio 2, whilst Studio 1 is dark until Uncle Vanya arrives from Coventry.

Lakeboat is set on an ageing cargo ship somewhere out of Chicago on the Great Lakes as English Lit student Dale joins the grizzled, heavy-swearing crew for the summer to replace the missing night chef, tales of whose disappearance are whirling around the ship. On the face of it, there’s perhaps not much to the play, but as a series of male character studies and the different ways in which men talk to each other, with all their braggadocio, masculine swagger, tales of sexual conquest and exertions of power where possible, it is highly illuminating. There’s some moments of great humour, usually concerning the most mundane of subjects, egg sandwiches or Clint Eastwood for example, but there’s also hints of darker places, sexual violence and intense loneliness. Steven Webb as Dale serves as the straight man for all the other characters with a brilliantly light wry touch and though everyone did well in the ensemble, Nigel Cooke’s plaintive Joe and particularly Rory Keenan’s handsomely beardy and fantastically filthy Fred were standouts. Continue reading “Review: Lakeboat and Prairie Du Chien, Arcola”