Review: Dara, National Theatre

“I am Muslim, but my humanness is shared with anyone and everyone. If we choose to love one special person, does it mean that they are the only person worth loving? ‘To you, your religion, to me, mine’. ‘There is no obligation in religion’ – straight from the Quran. We cannot force our religion upon others.”

For all the gnashing of teeth about how ‘national’ Rufus Norris’ newly announced debut season as AD at the NT is or isn’t, there’s actually something much more significant happening right now as part of Nicholas Hytner’s finale. The press attention may be on Tom Stoppard’s return to the stage but over in the Lyttelton, the first South Asian play to run at this South Bank venue is doing that most idealised of theatrical practices – reaching out and engaging with new audiences.

I saw a late preview of Shahid Nadeem’s Dara and I was blown away at how mixed a crowd I was taking my seat with – there’s undoubtedly a more sophisticated debate to be had about people wanting to see stories they can directly connect with rather than being more adventurous but still, it felt like a significant enough matter that I wanted to make mention of. And as critics will be seeing the show with a more than likely traditional press night audience, it isn’t something they’ll necessarily pick up on. Continue reading “Review: Dara, National Theatre”

Review: Teh Internet is Serious Business, Royal Court

“Confused people may need some help”
I’m pretty sure that somebody has already reached this blog before by googling “sexy Peter Pan takes a load in the face” – such is the way that these search algorithms work (don’t talk to me about how my search results were skewed by seeing a play called Reclining N*de With Black St*ckings) – so there’s at least one person who will be inordinately excited by the anarchic spirit that rules the first half of Tim Price’s Teh Internet is Serious Business, directed with some astonishing brio by Hamish Pirie.
A fictionalised story, albeit inspired by events that happened to the members of hacker groups like Lulzsec and Anonymous, the show’s real strength comes from the playfully imaginative ways in which the online world is represented. There’s not a screen or a graphic to be found anywhere; instead, the company take on multiple roles, playing websites, online avatars and memes as well as giving us glimpses of the IRL personae involved too, the real people in front of the computer screens.

Chloe Lamford’s design facilitates this brilliantly – trapdoors allow websites to pop-up, sidedoors open up like windows to let coding be explained through the medium of interpretative dance, and a brightly coloured ball pool serves as that strange end of the internet from whence so much random crap expounds. It’s a dizzying array for which a glossary is usefully provided with the castsheet and if some of the detail will be lost on many of us, the roller-coaster exuberance of the theatrical language is significant recompense.
Ultimately, too much is forced in here though, meaning the flabbiness of the running time is scarcely justified. And perversely, as the play moves from the freewheeling fun of hacking into any and every site they want (Scientology, Westboro Baptist Church, and the CIA are amongst their victims) to more of a thriller as the authorities start to close in on the group, one can’t help but long for a little more examining depth.

The casualness with which the hackers equally treat the personal data of regular people with their more prominent targets hints at the abdication of responsibility that the anonymity of the internet can engender, the impact of online activity on real life activity (leading to one of the show’s best gags about McFlurrys and Egypt) is only just touched on (and would have partnered nicely with the Royal Court’s last main stage show The Nether). Even a final shocking betrayal doesn’t quite possess the power it ought to wield.

But the energy that courses through the cast and company, and indeed the Royal Court as a whole, is genuinely thrilling. Across the company of 15, Eileen Walsh, Sargon Yelda and Ferdinand Kingsley all stand out in their multi-rolling, whilst Kevin Guthrie and Hamza Jeetooa both impress as the story’s main leads, teenage misfits both, who mask their IRL difficulties with extraordinary online personalities. There’s lots of fun to be had here but underneath it all, the daring, fruitful shaking up of a venerable institution is serious business indeed.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: not currently available
Booking until 25th October

Review: Incognito, HighTide

“Imagine how liberating it would be not to remember who you were”

If you saw the mega-hit that was Nick Payne’s Constellations, then the fragmented structure of his new play Incognito will come as little surprise. Here, he has deconstructed three stories loosely connected around the theme of neurology and woven them back together in a searching meditation on the vital importance memory plays in our lives and also in the construction of our very selves and touching on how little we truly understand about it.

Payne riffs off historical events for two of the three strands – the bizarre theft of Albert Einstein’s brain by the man who performed the autopsy on him, and the pioneering experiences of Henry Maison who underwent experimental brain surgery and thus helped shape the future of neuroscience. Along with extended and embellished versions of both stories is the tale of Martha, a present-day clinical neuropsychologist also caught in a moment of mental fragility. Continue reading “Review: Incognito, HighTide”

Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Do not torment me, prithee”

Last up in the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy, in the What country friends is this? season was The Tempest. In some ways I wish I’d seen this closer to The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night (which I saw on consecutive days in June) as the thrill of watching an ensemble across multiple plays is magnified much more that way. As it was, my enthusiasm for The Tempest – never one of my favourite Shakespeares and now totally ruined by the fact that I’ve now seen what will probably the best version ever –  had waned slightly as I returned to the Roundhouse.

The reality was neither as bad as I had feared nor as good as I might have hoped. David Farr’s production (I wish they’d gotten in a third director to really mix things up) has its moments of  inspiration and interest, but these are scattered throughout rather than invigorating the whole show and so my abiding feeling was of unevenness. For the great visual impact of Prospero having the islanders dress in identikit suits, little is done to enliven the immense amount of speechifying that the character does, Jonathan Slinger’s performance having a strangely unnerving impact more than anything. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art”

What country friends is this? indeed. A nifty line switch and a striking coup-de-théâtre gets the RSC’s Twelfth Night off to a wonderful start as Emily Taaffe’s sodden, anguished Viola emerges from the shipwreck she believes has taken her brother’s life and left her washed up in Illyria. Disguising herself as Cesario, a man, she joins the retinue of the Duke Orsino but finds herself swept up in the love games between him and the grieving countess Olivia, whose eye is taken by the new arrival on the scene. Part of the company’s Shakespeare’s Shipwreck Trilogy, the Roundhouse plays host to the repertory season for just under a month before returning to Stratford-upon-Avon for the rest of the month. 
 
David Farr’s production transfers the majority of the action in Olivia’s household to a Greek hotel (which she presumably owns) which proves a mostly effective and ingenious relocation. Malvolio becomes the hotel manager, Feste the old school variety turn, a reception desk stands in for the box-tree and the swimming pool and revolving doors provide constant amusement. Jon Bausor’s beautifully designed set is actually a triumph, an artfully exploded hotel suite on the sweeping expanse of timber atop a water tank, complete with working lift shaft which comes into its own in the scenes of Malvolio’s torment. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I will go lose myself and wander up and down to view the city”

The endless whirl of festivals continues apace with the return of the RSC to its adopted London home at the Roundhouse. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which in turn is part of the London 2012 Festival, the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy brings together one company and two directors over three plays which are bound together through their similarities, entitled What Country Friends Is This?. First up is Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi’s take on The Comedy of Errors, a fresh and frenetic romp through the play which, whilst it may lack some poetry, has been invested with a great energy.

Ruled over by a maniacal gun-toting Duke, it is instantly clear that this Ephesus is a dangerous place in which the threat of death is ever-present and a genuine reality. Onto a grim looking quayside, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are deposited as illegal immigrants in the elusive search for their twin brothers from whom they were separated in a shipwreck. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve alighted in the right place but almost immediately they are mistaken for their Ephesan brothers and brings into motion a hectic tale of misunderstandings and madcap capers. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre

“Words and thoughts are just as important as deeds”

Though Ibsen is reputed to have described Emperor and Galilean as his ‘major work’ which took nine years to complete, it has never previously been staged in English and little is known about it given how often his other works are revived. This may well be because it was not actually written for the stage but to be read, consequently the original epic spreads over ten acts and is allegedly over eight hours long. Never one to shirk a challenge though, the National Theatre commissioned a new adaptation by Ben Power which condenses it down to about 3 hours 20 minutes yet still employs over 50 performers to bring this version of Ibsen’s epic to life. This was a preview performance on Monday 13th June.

The play spans 351 to 363AD, following the life of Julian, nephew of the Roman emperor, an intelligent erudite man even from his teenage days which were spent exploring his faith and studying the Bible with his friends. But chafing against the constraints of the imperial household which isn’t altogether sympathetic to his existence, he escapes to a carefree existence in Athens where he is seduced by the exotic lure of the worship of the ancient pagan Gods. His eventual rise to Holy Roman Emperor thus saw him try to abolish Christianity as the state religion and replace it Paganism, returning back to the values of old, but conflating his own personal struggle with faith with the trials of ruling a fading empire is an awful lot for one man to take on. Continue reading “Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre”

Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National

Mother Courage and her Children sees Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner reunited once again at the National Theatre as part of the Travelex £10 season. Brecht’s play of a woman who is determined to make a profit from the war that surrounds her, even as that same war takes her children from her one by one, has been freshly translated by Tony Kushner and Warner has utilised the vast space of the Olivier to great effect to create something quite unique.

It is a fairly lengthy beast, the first half alone is two hours long, but neither I nor my companion felt that it dragged at all, I found the songs kept it quite pacey, and felt much the same during the second half (a mere hour long). There wasn’t that high a level of dropout after the interval which was quite nice to see and there was a strong reception for the players at the end. Much has been made of the introduction of Duke Special and his band but I have to say I thought by and large it worked. Personally, I was not as keen on the rockier numbers, despite Shaw gamely rocking out, but was genuinely moved by some of the slower numbers, especially when he was duetting with other characters. Continue reading “Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National”

Re-review: When The Rain Stops Falling, Almeida

Believing that it was quite likely that I would love When The Rain Stops Falling as already covered in my original review, I had already booked a second set of tickets to see it on the evening when a post-show Q&A was also scheduled. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to see this play again. Knowing the story meant that some of the emotional impact was lost, but for me this was a benefit since it had affected me so deeply last time and now I was able to focus on other aspects of the play. This knowledge also meant that one could make a much greater appreciation of the structure of the play and how intricately worked the plot is, echoing through the different locations and timezones, and recognising how some of the later events are presaged in earlier scenes.

Performance-wise, I still think that this is one of the strongest ensembles I have ever seen on a stage: there isn’t a single weak link in the cast and each actor delivers performances of such intensity which is all the more admirable when one considers how relatively short most of the scenes are a we flit around the timezones. On second viewing though, I think Phoebe Nicholls and Lisa Dillon possibly edge it as the older and younger incarnations respectively of Elizabeth York. Through some subtle mannerisms and the lightest of touches, they leave the watcher with no doubt that we are watching versions of the same character, yet fully flesh out their roles so that they remain sufficiently distinct. Leah Purcell and Naomi Bentley also manage this same level of synchronicity between their incarnations of Gabrielle York without resorting to ham-fisted imitation and I look forward to the opportunity to see all of these actors again. Continue reading “Re-review: When The Rain Stops Falling, Almeida”

Review: When The Rain Stops Falling, Almeida

Having its European premiere at Islington’s Almeida theatre, When The Rain Stops Falling comes from the pen of Andrew Bovell, the writer of Lantana, one of my all-time favourite films (which incidentally) was adapted from his own play, Speaking In Tongues. And when I heard some of the Australian actors with whom he was worked would also be appearing, my level of excitement shot sky-high and has been there since early November last year when I bought my tickets!

Safe to say, it lived up to my expectations and then some. By no means an easy light-hearted piece, rather it is complex, sometimes languorous, but ultimately extremely rewarding. It is just hauntingly beautiful: the echoing prose, the music, the imagery and some incredible acting combine to just devastating and moving effect, indeed I think I had tears running down my face for about three-quarters of the play. Continue reading “Review: When The Rain Stops Falling, Almeida”