Review: New Views – Rehearsed Readings

The National Theatre’s New Views playwriting competition for 14 to 19-year-olds throws up some real winners in its shortlist.

This year’s New Views programme saw the National Theatre engage with 74 schools across the UK, offering workshops with writers like Luke Barnes, Dawn King, Winsome Pinnock and Chino Odimba to help 14 to 19-year olds learn about writing plays. Over 300 plays were then submitted and 10 shortlisted. The winning play – If We Were Older – is receiving a full production and the other 9 are getting the rehearsed reading treatment, some of which I was able to catch.

I really enjoyed It’s More Than Okay Levi by Robert Lazarus (Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Hertfordshire) – crying at plays about Alzheimer’s is my jam (the kind of emotional torture I like to put myself through…) and even in the reduced circumstances of this reading, I have to say there was a tear or two prickling away. Continue reading “Review: New Views – Rehearsed Readings”

Review: The Iphigenia Quartet, Gate Theatre

“We all make – sacrifices”

And still the Greeks come. The Gate Theatre have taken Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis and asked four playwrights to react to it with short plays from varying viewpoints, giving us The Iphigenia Quartet. Split into two double bills, we thus get Caroline Bird’s Agamemnon and Lulu Raczka’s Clytemnestra, and Suhayla El-Bushra’s Iphigenia and Chris Thorpe’s Chorus, two strong pairings that crack open the Greek tragedy and offer a kaleidoscope of responses.

Such is the enduring resilience of the original that it can take diverse treatments – to wit, the trio of Oresteias that graced British stages last year – and packed into this studio intimacy and seen on the same day (as I saw them) or not, the impact is visceral and considerable. From the raw anguish of Bird’s duelling parents to Raczka’s academic debate spun on its head, from El-Bushra’s family of Marines to Thorpe’s babbling chorus of commenters, the shifting focus is at once enigmatic and entertaining.  Continue reading “Review: The Iphigenia Quartet, Gate Theatre”

TV Review: River

“We’re all shattered underneath really, aren’t we”

The second part of Nicola Walker’s cross-channel takeover of crime drama has been BBC1’s River. An altogether different prospect to ITV’s Unforgotten, Abi Morgan’s six-parter is aesthetically closer to the Nordic noir of which TV audiences seem unendingly enamoured but still manages to find its unique niche in a crowded marketplace. The Scandi feel is enhanced by the genuine casting coup of Stellan Skarsgård as DI John River but what marks out River are the people around him.

Chief among these is Walker’s Stevie, DS Stevenson, who we meet straightaway and instantly get a feel for their closeness of their professional relationship as they tackle crime on the streets of London. But what is brilliantly done is the shift from buddy cop show to something altogether darker as [major spoiler alert] we find out at the end of episode 1 that Stevie is dead, murdered recently, and River is in fact imagining her presence at his side, even to the extent of regularly conversing with her. Continue reading “TV Review: River”

2015 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Linda Bassett for Visitors at The Bush and the Arcola Theatre
Laura Jane Matthewson for Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse 
Shannon Tarbet for The Edge Of Our Bodies at The Gate

Best Supporting Female
Leila Crerar for Martine at Finborough Theatre
Vicki Lee Taylor for Carousel at Arcola Theatre
Thea Jo Wolfe for Singing In The Rain at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Best Male
Patrick O’Kane for Quietly at Soho Theatre
Harry Lloyd for Notes From Underground at The Print Room, Coronet
Robin Soans For Visitors at the Bush and Arcola Theatre Continue reading “2015 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: The Edge of our Bodies, Gate

“Sixteen’s a great age. What do you wanna be when you grow up?”

The Gate’s 35th anniversary season Who Does She Think She Is? kicks off with Adam Rapp’s The Edge of our Bodies, a (almost) monologue by the 16 year old New England student Bernadette. She’s tired of the dullness of life, the only bright light on the horizon is a starring role in a forthcoming production of Genet’s The Maids, and so she pops off to New York to see her boyfriend Michael instead of attending class. Oh yeah, and she’s just found out she’s pregnant…
What really makes the play pop though is that it is told from the perspective of her journal and the opening section of the play is ‘read’ almost completely from it, a bravura piece of acting from Shannon Tarbet who works so much meaning into the text, the hesitancy of barely recognising her own thoughts written down, the humour in the random remembrances, the emotional rush of a troubled teenage mind no matter how mature she might seem.
As Christopher Haydon’s production progresses, Bernadette moves away from the book to more straight delivery of memory as she recounts her New York night – the dying man she meets, the thrill of not being carded in a bar, the sordid sexual encounter that follows. Tarbet utterly nails the cool, even clinical observational style as Rapp folds her thoughts into dispassionate but pretentious language and it is clear that thought there’s a deep underlying sadness, she’s also loving the drama of it all.
The interplay of her own story and the snippets of The Maids highlight this aspect, the meticulous detail of Lily Arnold’s design playing into the performative side of even the visceral of Bernadette’s episodes with its mirrors allowing her to constantly observe herself. I’m not too sure the startling disruption that comes late on really adds much, personally I’d’ve preferred something more unsettling, but otherwise this is some fiercely uncompromising theatre from a season which promises much.
Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Playtext cost: £5
Booking until 18th October

Review: Hotel, National Theatre

“It’s the same old colonial shit, just dressed in the shiny drag of free market capitalism”

Though Polly Stenham has been definitively anointed the next big thing by any number of feature writers, her repeated brand of “posh dysfunction” (I’m borrowing this from someone but I forget exactly who) has never really got my pulse racing. So when Hotel, her play for the National Theatre’s formerly-The-Shed-but-now-called-The-Temporary-Space-I-think, opens with two precocious teenagers and two bourgeois parents all suffering from the malaise of being that only a holiday to a luxurious African island resort can cure, my heart did verily sink.

Mother Vivienne has just had to resign from the cabinet due to a sex scandal that has engulfed her stay-at-home husband Robert whilst kids Ralph and Frankie look on bemusedly although not without some deeper connection as it turns out. But as we settle down for (yet another) family drama, Stenham pulls out the rug from us (and them) with a massive tonal shift which throws everyone off-balance, so much so that I’m not sure we ever regain a satisfactory equilibrium between the two very different parts of the play. Continue reading “Review: Hotel, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

Review: Rapture, Blister, Burn, Hampstead Theatre

“You either have a career and wind up lonely and sad, or you have a family and wind up lonely and sad?”

US writer Gina Gionfriddo’s play Becky Shaw was a bracingly funny hit at the Almeida back in 2011 and her latest hit to land on these shows is Rapture, Blister, Burn encouraging its own new debates about modern feminism at the Hampstead Theatre. Taking an intellectual look at competing feminist theories, the politics of pornography and examining just what we mean when we say “women can have it all”, she has created another intelligent comedy which given the audible reaction of one audience member at a key moment, seems set to provoke opinions here.

Catherine is a forthright feminist academic who returns to the small New England college town of her past after her mother suffers a heart attack to teach a summer school. There, she encounters her former room-mate Gwen and they soon set about revisiting old memories. For neither is truly happy – Catherine’s career success has come at the expense of a husband and family, whilst Gwen is dissatisfied with the lack of stimulation that being a wife and mum-of-two has brought, supplanting her own aspirations which are renewed as she attends Catherine’s classes. Continue reading “Review: Rapture, Blister, Burn, Hampstead Theatre”

The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd, Royal Exchange
Kenneth Branagh, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Nigel Cooke, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange
Paul Webster, Sugar Daddies, Oldham Coliseum
Jack Wilkinson, David Copperfield, Oldham Coliseum

Best Actress
Marianne Benedict, Chicago, Oldham Coliseum
Cush Jumbo, A Doll’s House, Royal Exchange
Gillian Kearney, Educating Rita, Library at The Lowry
Alex Kingston, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Maxine Peake, Masque Of Anarchy, Manchester International Festival, Albert Hall
Shannon Tarbet, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: Circle Mirror Transformation, Royal Court Local

“When are we going to start acting?”

Whilst Vicky Featherstone has turned over the keys of the Royal Court’s Sloane Square home for the Open Court festival, the more traditional business of regular plays continues with Circle Mirror Transformation. But even this strains against convention, taking place under their (pre-existing) Theatre Local umbrella and introducing its audience to stations and areas such as Haggerston and De Beauvoir Town in North-East London. Annie Baker’s award-winning 2009 play takes place in a community centre in the small town of Shirley, Vermont and to replicate that feel, James Macdonald’s production takes place in the bona fide environment of the Rose Lipman community arts building, lending a veneer of authenticity that would never have been possible either upstairs or down back in SW1W.

Baker’s trick here is to take us through the six weeks of a creative drama class and visit how the five people who sign up react to the therapeutic intentions of course leader Marty, For they all have issues to deal with, Marty included, and through the breathing exercises, word-association games and self-revealing acting techniques they learn, they all edge closer to an emotional breakthrough. The undoubted charms of this play ripple gently across the hall, washing over us quietly with its perceptive take on the ways in which people respond to personal turmoil, turning to others in time of need yet using them for entirely different means.  Continue reading “Review: Circle Mirror Transformation, Royal Court Local”