Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
The Public Acts programme produces another winner in As You Like It at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, community theatre at its absolute best
“All the world’s a stage And everybody’s in the show Nobody’s a pro”
I knew it would take something special to tempt me out of my summer hiatus and given that last year’s Pericles ended up being my show of the year, odds were that this year’s Public Acts production would be the one. And sure enough, Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery’s adaptation of As You Like It at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch was another truly joyous event, a real celebration of community theatre and all its glorious power to involve, instruct and inspire.
And with a company that totals over 100 people, it is not hard to see why. Just the mere fact of seeing that many people on a stage is enough to warm the cockles, particularly when it genuinely embraces diversity in race, ability, age and more. Throw in an ebullient, musical take on Shakespeare’s comedy and a creative team clearly relishing letting their imagination run wild and the result is completely beguiling, emotionally true and really quite affecting – they were tears of happiness honestly! Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”
So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.
I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar
“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”
I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.
And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”
It might seem a little disingenuous to wish that Hamilton had won one more Tony than the eleven it scored but the deserving Philippa Soo stood no chance against the juggernaut that is Cynthia Erivo’s Celie in The Color Purple for the Lead Actress award, despite her name being part of a Beautiful South lyric (Jennifer, Alison…). So I was interested to listen to the only other cast recording I could find with her on it, 2013’s Off-Broadway production of Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
Described as an “electropop” opera (although electropop evidently means something different across the ocean) and with a story filleted from the mid-section of War and Peace (Volume 2, Part 5 to be precise), it’s a rather startling but hugely imaginative piece of writing that folds in musical influences far beyond that descriptor. There’s elements of electro-pop and other contemporary pop sounds including indie rock and they’re somehow combined with Russian folk and classical music in some unholy alliance.
It is effective though – complex and tangled as much musically as lyrically, the score is fiercely demanding but in the way that makes you want to listen to it, I’m on my fourth full run-through and I still keep discovering entirely new facets to the layering of the writing, in some ways it’s a wonder this hasn’t caught on like Hamilton – maybe the forthcoming Broadway run will rectify that… Sadly Soo won’t be with that production (she’s going onto new show Amélie) but it’s glorious getting to hear her tenderly romantic voice here as the conflicted Natasha.
Other standouts are Lucas Steele’s Anatole in all his seductive glory, Brittain Ashford’s Sonya, Amber Gray’s Helene whose ‘Charming’ is superb, and Malloy himself as Pierre, a smaller contribution that one might expect for a title character but you’ll soon see why once you give Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 a good listen or 3 and fall under its strangely compelling spell.