Review: The Lower Depths, Arcola

“Living is fucking impossible and that’s the truth of it”

The Arcola launch their Revolution Season, marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and exploring its considerable impact, with a new production of Gorky’s The Lower Depths played by an ensemble who will remain on duty for the subsequent play in the main house The Cherry Orchard. And whilst I do enjoy getting to visit and revisit an ensemble, I have to admit to really not enjoying this.

Translated by Jeremy Brooks and Kitty Hunter-Blair and directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, The Lower Depths focuses on the downstairs from Chekhov’s upstairs, the angst of the aristocracy replaced by the desperation of the downtrodden and it really is as much fun as it sounds. A cast of nearly 20 play an assortment of misery-bound miscreants passing through a Moscow lodging house for the destitute, complaining volubly about their lot in life. Continue reading “Review: The Lower Depths, Arcola”

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – Sphinx Writers Group

“You told me getting pregnant would kill me”

The Sphinx Theatre Writers Group have been developing new ideas for six months now and the penultimate session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival allowed us to peep at the fruits of their labour. First up was Jessica Siân’s White Lead directed by Chelsea Walker (the pair reuniting after their incendiary work on Klippies last year). Circling around ideas of artistic legacy, both genetic and physical, with a healthy dose of lesbian angst and same-sex parenting thrown in for good measure, Sian’s writing was undoubtedly elevated by fearsomely committed performances from the glorious Kirsty Bushell and Karen Bryson and definitely left me wanting more.

Bunch by Catriona Kerridge, directed by Holly Race Roughan took an interesting route into the world of its mystery, first up contrasting the nature of public and private grief through the all-too-real loss suffered by two young women and the almost manic behaviour of a professional mourner, relishing the shared emotions released by high profile deaths be it Princess Di or the victims of the Soham murders. Bunch took a little while to get going for me but once it did, delivering a hell of a twist, I was again hungry for a continuation. Sara Huxley, Natasha Rickman and Miranda Bell starred in that one. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – Sphinx Writers Group”

Review: Don Quixote, Swan

“We are all gathering dust here, none of us have much to do”

It’s a tough job being an actor junkie. Even whilst trying to cut down on the amount of theatre I see, I find it immensely hard to turn down the opportunity to watch long-admired actors in the flesh, hence dragging myself to see A Christmas Carol for Jim Broadbent, overriding my Pinter-averse instincts to book for Timothy Spall in The Caretaker, and heading to Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Threlfall return to the RSC, over 35 years since he was last there.

Drawing him back is a new adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote by poet James Fenton (pulling the focus a bit in marking the 400th anniversary of someone else’s death) that is filled with mayhem and music and madness and melancholy. Determined to translate the world of chivalry of which he has read so much, Don Quixote sets out on his own quest to become a wandering knight, carrying out acts of derring-do with his hapless squire but finding that fictional romantic ideal increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote, Swan”

Review: Medea, Almeida

“I don’t think you realise how extraordinary your anger is”

So Rupert Goold closes his #AlmeidaGreeks season by directing Kate Fleetwood, who just happens to be his wife, in the title role of Medea. And as with Oresteia and Bakkhai, a new version has been commissioned from an unconventional source, this time novelist Rachel Cusk. So we leave ancient Greece for modern-day London, Medea becomes a writer whose actor-husband Jason has left her for a model and the chorus becomes a garrulous gaggle of pashmina-wielding yummy mummies as concerned with the calories in croissants as the parenting of their peer.

Cusk frames her play essentially as a series of conversations by which Medea finds herself pummelled, in search of a self she hid for 15 years of marriage and is struggling to relocate post-divorce and where Fleetwood excels is in showing the range and depth of her despair. Lacerated into silence by Amanda Boxer’s caustic nurse, lambasted by children who won’t leave her alone (Louis Sayers and Guillermo Bedward both excellent at this performance), left behind by Justin Salinger’s Jason with whom she argues thrillingly viciously, the intensity is immense and Fleetwood sustains it throughout. Continue reading “Review: Medea, Almeida”

Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre

“Try not to care so much”

Whilst other people wind down for the end of the year, Nina Raine is certainly keeping busy as her self-penned and self-directed Tiger Country returns to Hampstead Theatre, in advance of Donkey Heart – written by her brother Moses and also directed by her – transferring to Trafalgar Studios 2 in the New Year. Declared one of Hampstead’s most popular commissions, I must confess to being a little surprised to see this 2011 play return as it didn’t stick out as particularly memorable but with the promise of a new cast, I was interested to see how it stacked up nearly four years later.

And it seems that some time away has done it some good – the play feels cleaner, sharper and less encumbered with expository dialogue clearing a path through the medical terminology. I don’t know how much the script has been updated or edited but its spin through the state of the modern NHS feels as keenly observed as ever, visiting the stresses it imposes on those who work within it as well as those who use its services. Raine’s production recaptures the frenetic energy of a hospital and its staff at full stretch – metaphorically, physically, emotionally. Continue reading “Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Chekhov in Hell, Soho Theatre

“I have just woken up”

What would happen if Russian playwright Anton Chekhov were to wake from a hundred-year-long coma to find himself slap bang in the middle of modern day London? What his keen observational eye make of this radically different society? That’s the question Dan Rebellato poses in his new comedy Chekhov in Hell which plays at the Soho Theatre after a premiere run at the Drum Theatre Plymouth late last year. Taking Hell to be our contemporary world, in particular the metropolitan excesses of London, Chekhov is exposed to a series of fashionistas, molecular gastronomists, lap-dancing clubs, Twitter, MTV Cribs, even people-trafficking gangsters in a set of interview-like situations, all the while the police are trying to track him down to reunite him with a long-distance relative.

At the centre of the play, Simon Scardifield (taking over from Simon Gregor and returning to acting after some translation work for the Royal Court with Our Private Life) was excellent as Chekhov, saying really quite little in terms of spoken dialogue but speaking volumes with his sympathetic performance, being so far removed from his time zone yet beginning to deal with his own issues by situating himself in his own comfort zone and lending a considerate listening ear to a vast swathe of this new society. Some of the funniest moments come with his struggle to comprehend the modern English of various sections of society, exposing the meaninglessness of much of what comes out of our mouths. Continue reading “Review: Chekhov in Hell, Soho Theatre”

Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre

“I’m losing patience with the patients”

Tiger Country is the third play by Nina Raine, writer of the best play out of all 271 that I saw last year, Tribes (which still gives me goosebumps when I think about it now) so there was nooo expectations lying on this show at all. Actually, it wasn’t too bad as I knew the subject matter here, the modern NHS, was not something that I have any connection to (unlike as in Tribes), but I was still looking forward to seeing another facet to this fast upcoming playwright’s work. Interestingly, Raine also serves as director here at the Hampstead Theatre, this writer/director thing being something which this season at Swiss Cottage has featured heavily (Athol Fugard and Mike Leigh being the other culprits).

Raine’s production reconfigures the space in traverse, allowing for the hustle and bustle of hospital life to be quickly and efficiently portrayed. We see emergencies being rushed in by paramedics, the studied quiet of the operating room, the weariness of the staffroom, private rooms for terminally ill patients, cubicles, wards, offices staffed by a range of medical professionals with varying degrees of enthusiasm, coping with terminal exhaustion and a hierarchy that won’t let go of age-old rivalries between departments. Looking at the personal and professional lives of the medical staff as they deal with the unrelenting pressure to make the right decisions for both their patients and themselves. Continue reading “Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2011

My intention is, honestly, to see less theatre this year and try and regain some semblance of a normal life again on the odd evening. But the curse of advance booking and grabbing cheap(er) tickets whilst you can has meant that there’s already an awful lot of theatre booked for 2011. Some have been booked without a huge deal of enthusiasm, but others have a dangerous amount of anticipation attached to them…and so I present to you, the shows I am most excited about seeing this year (so far).

 
Antonioni Project – Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

The Roman Tragedies was hands down one of the most exhilarating and refreshing theatrical experiences of 2009 and possibly my life, I’m even headed to Amsterdam in May to see a surtitled production of their Angels in America. So when I heard that the same Dutch theatre company were returning to the Barbican in February, tickets were booked instantly and I am feverishly over-excited for this now! Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2011”