Review: Network, National Theatre

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”

 With Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale – a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston – has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he’s going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling ‘prophet’.

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers – as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers’ box…the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. Continue reading “Review: Network, National Theatre”

Review: Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse

“You’re quite something, aren’t you”

The Faction are probably best known for their repertory seasons, running over the early months of the last six years at the New Diorama, brightening up dark wintry nights with their inventive reimaginings of classical plays. Their tenure there has now come to an end though and so they’re branching out to alternative venues and times of the year, popping up now at the Southwark Playhouse with a new version of Gorky’s rarely-performed Vassa Zheleznova.

Adapted by Emily Juniper who has transported the play to a Liverpool in the midst of the dockers’ strike of the mid-90s, Sian Polhill-Thomas’ Vassa is the tough-as-nails head of a shipping company whose grip on power is slowly being loosened. The business belonged to her husband’s family but he’s long been busy failing to be a rock star, so it has been her guts and determination that has built the firm’s success, but at some considerable personal cost and as crisis looms, things don’t look to be getting any easier. Continue reading “Review: Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse”