Years and Years sees Russell T Davies take on dystopian near-future sci-fi to startling effect
“We’re not stupid, we’re not poor, we’re not lacking. I’m sorry, but we’re clever. We can think of something, surely.”
What if…? What if…? What Brexit happens, what if Trump is voted in again and fires a nuclear bomb towards China, what if global warming happens today and not tomorrow, what if Lee from Steps is the most successful one…? Such is the world of Years and Years, Russell T Davies’ latest TV venture, a six-part drama that dares to ask what if it is already too late.
He uses the Lyons family as a prism to explore what the next 15 years of human history might look like, as technological advances make leaps and bounds alongside the political and social upheaval that strikes at the very heart of this sprawing middle-class Manchester-based family. It’s a daring piece of drama, full of Davies’ typically big heart and bold emotional colours and I have to say I rather loved it. Continue reading “TV Review: Years and Years”
The race to declare the most exciting show for 2018 has well and truly been declared by Complicite with Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a new production based on the award-winning novel by Max Porter. Directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy, it is a moving story of a widower and his young sons which becomes a profound meditation on love, loss and living.
And if only dates for Galway and Dublin have been announced thus far , a glance at the co-producers – the Barbican, Cork Opera House, Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Playhouse, St Ann’s Warehouse and Warwick Arts Centre – gives a little hope that we might not have to travel the Irish Sea if we don’t want to (although don’t quote me on that!)
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“Supposing there is an ‘after the war’”
One of the unexpected highlights in the raft of productions that marked Terence Rattigan’s centenary year in 2011 was Trevor Nunn’s Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Previously unheralded, it emerged as an understated masterclass in repressed emotion, wonderfully enlivened by Sheridan Smith’s Olivier-winning supporting role. The Original Theatre Company’s touring version of the show, directed by Justin Audibert, thus has a lot to live up to to equal its success.
And sadly, it never quite manages it. Part of this lies in the fact that it isn’t the most thrilling piece of writing. Set exclusively in a 1942 hotel lobby close to an airbase, it follows a group of fighter pilots as they wait to be called onto the next raid with their loved ones watching on anxiously. Naturally, their loved ones aren’t always the ones they’re married to and the emotional crux of the play centres on a love triangle between Patricia, her airman husband Teddy and her Hollywood star ex Peter. Continue reading “Review: Flare Path, Richmond Theatre”
“The most powerful people in the world have sex in hotels. In fact, having sex in the best hotels makes you powerful. It doesn’t matter how good the sex is, only how good the hotel is.”
Last year saw Defibrillator Theatre take over three rooms in The Langham Hotel, down the posh end of Regent Street, to present the short Tennessee Williams plays that made up The Hotel Plays and given its resounding success, they’ve gone back there again this year to occupy three more spaces. With 380 rooms in this self-titled “first Grand Hotel in Europe”, it will only take another 125 years to work through all of them at this rate… This year though, Defibrillator have come armed with an original piece – The Armour – written by Ben Ellis and especially commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Langham itself.
Stretching from the late nineteenth century to the present day, the three duologues each take place at a key moment in the building’s history and make for a beguiling combination. First off is a nod to the hotel’s revitalised presence as a luxury venue as Hannah Spearritt’s pop star Jade suffers a minor meltdown in the middle of a crucial comeback concert tour. Trying to calm her down in this basement suite is manager Franky, a nicely lived-in Thomas Craig, who tolerantly indulges her complaints about the trappings of fame but also can’t disguise the note of genuine fatherly concern for a young woman whose life has long not been her own to control. Continue reading “Review: The Armour, Langham Hotel”
“Any of our group would walk out with a German, a Hindu or a Belgian.
‘Oh no, not a Belgian'”
The centenary of the First World War will doubtless be marked in many a way in the nation’s theatre so the Southwark Playhouse have wisely got in early with this triple bill of lesser known plays which focuses on those left behind. What The Women Did features three works which delve into the experiences of not just the mothers, wives and girlfriends, but all the women who got on with the job of making society continue in such horrific circumstances, showing the difficulties faced in day-to-day living.
Gwen John’s Luck of War explores the unfortunate awkwardness, that must have been more common than is ever acknowledged, experienced by Ann Hemingway as her presumed dead husband turns up on the doorstep on crutches. It’s awkward because assuming herself a widow, she has remarried and thus is now a bigamist. Victoria Gee’s brummie bolshiness is of course thrown by the situation, but the short play wraps up a little too tweely to really have an impact. Continue reading “Review: What The Women Did, Southwark Playhouse”
“To yearn for something – doesn’t that make life more intense?”
The tangled personal lives of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and those that inspired them have been much explored by art historians and television makers alike (amongst many) and so Jeremy Green’s play – Lizzie Siddal at the Arcola – enters a crowded marketplace and doesn’t quite manage to make enough of a name for itself to stand out. Lotte Wakeham’s production is perfectly watchable, boasting a strong central performance from Emma West as ‘the muse that could’, but never really reaches beyond the world of biopic.
Siddal was a young woman who found herself at the centre of a vibrant art movement in the form of the Pre-Raphaelites – inspiring many, posing as models for some (Millais’ Ophelia for one) and also harbouring her own ambitions of becoming an artist. The play looks at how her relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti hampered her, along with the difficulties in negotiating the attentions of her powerful patron John Ruskin and the ill health that plagued her life, resulting in an addiction to laudanum that proved disastrous. Continue reading “Review: Lizzie Siddal, Arcola”
“We’ll just wait 5 minutes for the email to send”
EV Crowe’s latest play Virgin comes to us under the auspices of Watford Palace’s Ideal World season, exploring the way that the digital revolution has impacted on human relationships, but it crowbars so much into its 80 minutes that the brief ends up feeling a little constrictive. Working mother Emily toils away in local government and is determined that a project to bring high-speed broadband to her rural village will be the springboard to get her out of the admin office. But with a younger, web-savvy generation snapping at her heels, she is forced to confront the limitations of her own bandwidth.
Laura Elphinstone imbues the spiky Emily with a remarkably conflicted complexity – her ambition thwarted by men, her maternal instinct disguised by stress, her warmly hesitant optimism at connecting the village tempered by her treatment of loyal husband Mark, Michael Shelford adorable in a range of chunky knits. And she is contrasted well by Rosie Wyatt as cuckoo-in-the-nest Sally, the consultant who comes to stay in their home whilst helping out on the project and the embodiment of a tech-confident but socially-awkward youth, happier online than IRL. Continue reading “Review: Virgin, Watford Palace Theatre”
“Here’s a snip and nip and cut and slish and slash”
Robin Norton-Hale has been responsible for reinvigorating (or even inventing) the genre of pub opera with the wildly successful La Bohème, followed up by Don Giovanni this year and now turns her hand to Shakespeare with this adaption of The Taming of the Shrew at Southwark Playhouse. The modernisation sees us located in 21st century Brixton, the train map in the programme guiding us through stations such as Mantua Hill, Old Naples Road and Milan House allowing the Italian place names to remain in situ. And in Cherry Truluck’s cluttered market stall design, there’s a raft of amusing little touches: Katherine is first seen reading Margaret Attwood, Hortensio woos in his music lesson with a rendition of Mad World, Grumio serves up microwaved lasagne for dinner and there’s a mobile phone gag which is still making me chuckle now.
But the updating is merely cosmetic in the final analysis, the text – although considerably trimmed and reshaped here – doesn’t really impose any new interpretative framework onto the play and so the problems that can be found remain, and in some cases are exacerbated. Times have changed (although some might say not enough) and so the story struggles to connect in the modern-day context: Katherine doesn’t need to get married and could strike out on her own whenever she wanted – the opportunities available now are worlds apart from the 17th century, the economic and social pressures just aren’t there and so the motivation behind her actions is not particularly evident in this production. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Southwark Playhouse”
“But what have they knighted you for?”
Accolade, a 1950 play by Emlyn Williams, is receiving its first ever revival here at the Finborough as part of their RediscoveriesUK season. Considered a controversial play at the time due to its unashamedly frank approach to sexuality, it will hardly seem risqué to modern audiences but as it is a rather tightly-constructed drama filled with suspense and given an excellent production here with Blanche McIntyre directing, one can’t help but wonder how on earth it has taken so long to get this back on the stage!
Set in London in 1950, Will Trenting is a novelist who has received notification that he is to be knighted and fully embraced into respectable society. But his scandalous novels have been born out of the double life that he has been leading and the attention that comes with this accolade being awarded to him exposes his predilection for drunken orgies in the East End with partners of all ages. Just before his date with Buckingham Palace though, a shocking charge is made and the fallout threatens his carefully balanced mix of family life and wilful hedonism. Continue reading “Review: Accolade, Finborough”
“We love each other but something has gone wrong; we live in Reading, something has gone wrong”
After taking the soon-to-be-renamed-Dorfman Cottesloe at the National Theatre by storm this summer, Mike Bartlett has another new play in theatres, Love Love Love. A co-production between Paines Plough and the Drum Theatre Plymouth, it is currently touring smaller spaces in some of the country’s top regional theatres: I saw it in what marked my first visit to The Studio at Manchester’s Royal Exchange.
Three acts, set in 1967, 1990 and 2011, take us through a relationship born in the heady world of the baby boomers ready to change the world, to their struggle to deal with the mundane responsibilities of middle-aged family life, through to the oblivious contentment of retirement. Bartlett’s sharp eye is focused here on responsibility, both social and personal, ultimately pitting generations against each other as today’s have-nots place the blame for the state of the world today on their predecessors’ shoulders, as an unfulfilled daughter rails about unfairness against her parents. Continue reading “Review: Love Love Love, Royal Exchange Studio”