Review: Richard II, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Adjoa Andoh excels in an all-women-of-colour production of Richard II at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“No matter where; of comfort no man speak”

Just a quickie for this as I’ve left it very late in the run. Co-directed by Adjoa Andoh and Lynette Linton, this is billed as the first professional production of Richard II by a company of women of colour and when you look at the talent onstage, you wonder how on earth it has taken this long. (And then acknowledge that the answer is far too obvious.) 

In the atmospheric space of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, it is clear that the creative decisions behind this production are drawing on a wealth of experience far beyond white Anglo-Saxon traditions. Rajha Shakiry’s design and Rianna Azoro’s costumes speak of the cultural backgrounds of the company, so too the influences of Dominique Le Gendre’s music under Midori Jaeger’s musical supervision. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse

Visually striking, an anarchic take on The Country Wife at the Southwark Playhouse

“Write as I bid you, or I will write ‘whore’ on your face”

A swift run through The Country Wife as it is finishing its residency at the Southwark Playhouse this weekend and I’m not too sure I got on with it all too well. Luke Fredericks’ vibrant production for Morphic Graffiti certainly has a muscular visual appeal but I’m not convinced it offers a case for a revival of William Wycherley’s play.

Originally a Restoration comedy, it has been updated to the world of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s. And in it, randy upper class people chase other randy upper class people and… well, that’s about it. Whether through the shift in era or something more deliberate, the women of the story find themselves front and centre, particularly pleasing as it is about them asserting their sexuality.

Continue reading “Review: The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse”

Casting announced for All The President’s Men?

Photo: Gage Skidmore

All The President’s Men? is a singular theatrical experience for the politically engaged on 24 April, 7.30pm at the Vaudeville Theatre. 

A staged reading edited and directed by Nicolas Kent and presented by the National Theatre, London and The Public Theater, New York, it features scenes from the U.S. Senate’s Confirmation Hearings

In January, one week before the president’s inauguration a fierce fight erupted in the Senate between Republicans and Democrats over the confirmation of the key figures for President Trump’s cabinet. These four powerful men lead the Trump administration’s policy on Russia, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, on human rights worldwide, on the Paris Climate control agreement, as well as on the civil rights and the health of millions of Americans. Continue reading “Casting announced for All The President’s Men?”

Review: Snow in Midsummer, Swan

“Why do you silence me?”

A break from the old routine for the RSC here, with a play from the 13th century. Not only that, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s Snow in Midsummer is an adaptation of Yuan dynasty drama The Injustice Done to Dou E by Guan Hanqing, marking a key milestone in the venerable institution’s avowed change of policy after the The Orphan of Zhao debacle in 2012. Transplanting the narrative into contemporary China, Cowhig and director Justin Audibert smash the ancient and the modern together to startling effect.

Dou Yi (Katie Leung) was a young widow executed for murder in the industrial town of New Harmony, proclaiming her innocence all the while and cursing the community in her final moments. The play starts properly three years later with her curse having come to pass, drought has devastated the area and local factories are on the brink of closure, Dou Yi’s spirit restlessly haunting them all, determinedly awaiting exoneration. A newly arrived businesswoman (Wendy Kweh) scents a takeover but as her young daughter’s dreams take a disturbing turn, she can’t help but get sucked into this world. Continue reading “Review: Snow in Midsummer, Swan”

Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court

There’s something special about being allowed to take part in something unique and though Unusual Unions actually took place twice on the same day, it still counts as a one off in my book. Part of the Royal Court’s convention-busting The Big Idea stream of work, this was a collection of 5 short plays all responding to the ideas raised by Abi Morgan in her main house show The Mistress Contract, taking place in unexpected nooks and crannies of the theatre in wonderfully small groups.

From dressing rooms to stairwells, the space under the stage to meeting rooms with a view, it was a brilliant way of exploring a building which isn’t normally so open (Wilton’s Music Hall’s promenade version of Edmund fulfilled a similar purpose). And even if the subject matter seemed to veer off what one might have expected, given the sexual nature of Morgan’s play, it was still compelling stuff looking at the ways in which we connect (or not) with those around us.  Continue reading “Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court”

Review: The World of Extreme Happiness, The Shed

“A boy is a child, a girl is a thing”

Given that around about this time last year, the RSC was copping a lot of flak for casting just three East Asian actors in a production of The Orphan of Zhao, it feels something of a shame that more of a noise isn’t being made about the greater opportunities that this year has seen, in the capital at least. Currently in London, you can see Chimerica and The Fu-Manchu Complex, a second David Henry Hwang production – Golden Child – has just closed after Yellow Face earlier this year and the Hampstead had the evocative #aiww. Along with Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s The World of Extreme Happiness now at the National Theatre’s Shed, could this be a sign of the changing tide, of greater visibility in our cultural lives as theatres’ reluctance to programme Eastern influences ebbs away? Who knows, I am far from qualified to tell, but it has made for a fascinating enrichening of my theatregoing this year (and by extension, my short-film viewing).

Cowhig’s play feels like a good companion piece to Lucy Kirkwood’s writing, turning the gaze firmly onto contemporary Chinese society and how it deals with being the fuel for the motor of exceptional economic growth. Its protagonist is Katie Leung’s Sunny, dumped in a bucket of pigswill at birth for not being a boy but surviving and once grown to a young adult, she joins the exodus from the countryside in pursuit of the urban dream. But once she arrives, it is emerges as more of a nightmare and Cowhig pulls no punches as she reveals the seedy underside to this version of capitalism – the sheer exploitation of the rural migrants, the appalling working conditions, the high rate of suicide, the indoctrination of the mantra of self-help that keeps an endless flow of willing bodies knocking at the door. Continue reading “Review: The World of Extreme Happiness, The Shed”

Review: Chimerica, Almeida

“I’m looking for the Tank Man” 

There’s a moment of genius near the end of Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Chimerica that manages that all-too-rare feat of managing to unearth something genuinely new out of the familiar, challenging the way we hold viewpoints and the assumptions that come with them. It is a startling realisation, excellently executed and one which allows for an interesting reinterpretation of what has gone before. Kirkwood’s subject is the fast-changing and complex relationship between China and the USA and sprawls ambitiously over 24 years and multiple storylines to create an unwieldy epic, co-produced with Headlong, that just might be one of the most interesting and exciting pieces of new writing in London.

At the heart of the story is Joe Schofield, a photojournalist responsible for one of the iconic images of the twentieth century in capturing the moment a protestor stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, who gets the sniff of a new story when he finds out the man might be living in America. As he pursues this new lead through the nooks and crannies of Chinatown to glittering political fundraisers, his singlemindedness threatens his relationships with the friends and lovers around him, but also with his key Chinese friend and contact for whom the price to pay is significantly higher.  Continue reading “Review: Chimerica, Almeida”