Review: The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call, National Theatre

Any opportunity to see Lesley Manville on stage should be taken but The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call proves close to a trial at the National Theatre

“We’re alive now only in the sense that moss and lichen are alive”

There’s no two ways about it – Tony Kushner’s new version of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call is a punishing evening on the buttocks. Thank the Lord (or the donors) for the relative comfort of the seating at the National Theatre but unless you’re a fan of Lesley Manville (and what right-thinking individual isn’t), it could well prove punishing on your patience too. 

Manville really is superb. She’s Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world who has returned to her dilapidated hometown with an intriguing proposition for the townsfolk. She’ll donate an incredible, life-changing amount of money for everyone if they’ll carry out a brutal act of vengeance on the man whose actions forced her to leave the place as a pregnant teenager. And she rises to the challenge, displaying a mesmerising stage presence that is startling in its power. Continue reading “Review: The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call, National Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre

Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor headline a new production of Romeo and Juliet, while Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy star in Gary Owen’s Romeo and Julie, among other big news from the National Theatre

New productions

Simon Godwin returns to the National Theatre to direct Shakespeare’s ROMEO & JULIET following his critically-acclaimed productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Twelfth Night in the Olivier Theatre. Set in modern Italy in a world where Catholic and secular values clash, Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Judy) and Josh O’Connor (The Crown, God’s Own Countryplay the two young lovers who strive to transcend a world of violence and corruption. Fisayo Akinade (The Antipodes, Barber Shop Chroniclesis cast as Mercutio. The production will open in the Olivier Theatre in August 2020.

Set and costume design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting design by Lucy Carter, composition by Michael Bruce and sound design by Christopher Shutt. Continue reading “News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre”

Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s

“Hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?”

The outdated ramblings of a doddery old man – funny how art can reflect life… Any opinion I might have had about Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser inevitably comes tainted with his apparent inability to open his mouth without spouting some kind of crap or other. Last month it was claiming casting women in male Shakespearean roles as “astonishingly stupid”, earlier this year it was using his will to ban women from playing the lead role in this very play. At 81, he’s clearly of a different generation but I’m certainly not inclined to indulge him in a way one might one’s own casually intolerant older relations.

His 1980 play The Dresser is based on his own experiences as a personal stagehand to actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit and closely too. Wolfit was known for his wartime Shakespearean tours, particularly his King Lear, and so Harwood gives us an increasingly decrepit thesp (Ken Stott) on an interminable regional rep tour in the midst of the Second World War. ‘Sir’ is due onstage (in Lear, natch) and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Reece Shearsmith) is the only one who can get him there, for he is caught in the throes of mental and physical disintegration. Continue reading “Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s”

Can’t Be Fecked With A Review: Man and Superman, National Theatre

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”

Not gonna lie, the prospect of Man and Superman has had me vacillating between

and

after ill-timed illness meant we couldn’t use our £15 seats in the front row. Some stalking of the website got me another cheap seat but this time up in the circle slips which is somewhere I never want to sit again – it may be a bargain but you sacrifice an awful lot to tucked away up there (although the individual seats are quite nifty themselves).

The play itself isn’t bad, not as good as I’d hoped in all honesty given how lovely and sunny it was outside, and I rarely felt that inspired by it (a consequence of being much farther away than I’m used to I think). So for this one, I’m abdicating my blogging responsibilities and you’ll have to look elsewhere for a review…

 

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th May

Review: Fortune’s Fool, Old Vic

“Oh, my dears…there’s more fun to be had here than at the theatre”

A sense of duty rather than excitement saw me nip into the Old Vic for Fortune’s Fool and to be frank, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Not a play with which I was familiar, I was shocked at how violently it rubbed me up the wrong way, an uneasy blend of Russian country house-driven ennui and farcical shenanigans which sadly felt like an utterly inessential piece of theatre. In retrospect, I can see how it might have appealed as a piece of safe programming but as with much this year at the Old Vic, it is hard to feel artistically enthused there and though this was an early performance in the run and received enthusiastically at the end, I’ve never seen so many newly empty seats post-interval. 


But back to the play. Written in 1848 by Turgenev, Lucy Bailey’s production uses Mike Poulton’s adaptation which was fashioned for Broadway back in 2002 (where it made its debut, though it has been seen in the UK before then). Kuzokvin is a miserable Russian aristocrat who has relied on the kindness of a (long dead) friend for room and board whilst his own property is tied up in legalities. When the newly married heirs to the estate announce they are to arrive, he’s sent into a bit of a tizzy, a situation which is made immeasurably worse when neighbour and fellow aristocrat Tropatchov turns up to join them for a boozy lunch. 


For Tropatchov is also miserable and his ennui manifests itself in an embittered viciousness to his repartee and the first half is taken up with the increasingly drunken antics of these aristocrats and their ever-watchful servants as Richard McCabe’s Tropatchov winds up Iain Glen’s Kuzovkin to excruciating levels of humiliations, but unleashing a shocking revelation which it then takes the second act to resolve. It is hardly ground-breaking stuff but crucially it doesn’t offer up anything much of interest, nothing about it held my attention sufficiently or manage to do much more than try my patience.


McCabe is decent enough but it is a one-note character, something exacerbated by the overused tic he gives his toff of frequently flicking his foppish fringe. Glen has the harder task of marrying tragi- with comedy and doesn’t really pull it off at the moment, the drunkenness a horribly stagy sequence and thoroughly unbelievable. The only pleasure for me came from seeing Alexander Vlahos doing well as the returning heir, nice to see him graduating to larger roles since a great turn in Macbeth earlier this year. So not my cup of tea at all but more than that, it also feels an unsatisfactory (and far-too-female-light) choice of play. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 22nd February

Review: Chariots of Fire, Gielgud

“100 metres can feel like a marathon”
For the longest time, I was sure that I didn’t want to see Chariots of Fire, not least because the hoarding for this Hampstead Theatre transfer into the Gielgud finds it necessary to call it Chariots of Fire on stage, as if it could be anything else in a theatre. But Mike Bartlett, who adapted the film, is a writer I like and a change of cast meant Gabriel Vick, an actor whose charms I, erm, appreciate, was able to tempt me there on the final day of the (curtailed) run. The most arresting aspect of Edward Hall’s production is Miriam Buether’s design which snakes a running track around the front stalls and puts audience members on the stage – it makes for constant visual interest and not just for the men in shorts.
As a story set around the Olympics (Paris 1924), when the production was first announced it felt like a bit of a cash-in to the upcoming Games (London 2012) and sure enough, a West End transfer was announced even before it began. And to be honest, I’m not sure that it really stood up as a piece of effective theatre when separated from all the 2012 buzz. I’ve never seen the film so I wonder if this had an impact, but essentially the thrill of having athletically performed athletic races aside, it was rather dull.

The rivalry between two British runners – religious Scot Eric Liddell, played with fervent defiance by Jack Lowden and James McArdle’s first-generation Lithuanian immigrant Harold Abrahams – never really takes off dramatically as it is largely implicit, rather than actualised (the pair are rarely together). The whirl of supporting characters get so little stage time that very few of the fine actors onstage get the opportunity to make an impact and I wasn’t a fan of the way in which the action sequences were blended, or otherwise, with the dramatic scenes, too often the transitions felt painfully obvious. 
Using the famous music, written by Vangelis, also didn’t really work for me. It’s a no-brainer in the end and the oohs and aahs of recognition from the audience around me clearly showed that it was the big money note they’d been waiting for but it felt so unsubtle, so bolted onto the production that it just didn’t connect with the whole. So I should have listened to my instincts in the first place! 

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 5th January

DVD Review: The Jury

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“I know first hand the cruelty he’s capable of”

Though North Square was probably the first time I really took notice of Helen McCrory, it was in The Jury that she really stole my heart and for ages, it was this show that I fruitlessly referenced when trying to explain who she was. Written by Peter Morgan, The Jury played on ITV in 2002 over 6 episodes following a single court case as a Sikh teenager is accused of killing his 15 year old classmate. But rather than focusing on the case, as the title suggests the attention was the men and women that made up the jury and how the experience affected their lives in a multitude of ways.

McCrory played Rose, a rather nervous woman with an overbearing husband (boo, Mark Strong) who unexpectedly finds a sense of freedom in being allowed out into a new world and seizes the opportunity with both hands. Stuck in a room with people she doesn’t know, she almost reinvents herself from scratch and find herself increasingly drawn to Johnnie, who is played by a pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler (so who can blame her). He has his own challenges from a troubled recent past though and so whilst the sweet relationship that builds between the two is beautifully essayed as one senses the genuine spark between the pair, the small matter of his demons and her husband remain in the way. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury”

Review: London Assurance, National Theatre

“I didn’t imagine I’d ever find the countryside so amusing”

Dion Boucicault’s 1844 play, London Assurance, the latest National Theatre production is a rip-roaring, farcical romp of a show that should leave even the most depressed Phantom of the Opera fan with a smile on their face. With a quality all-star ensemble: Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, Richard Briers, Michelle Terry, Paul Ready, all hamming it up for all they are worth, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Sir Harcourt Courtly, a London socialite travels up to Gloucestershire, determined to procure himself a much younger wife-to-be, heiress Grace Harkaway, yet once there his head is turned by her cousin, Lady Gay Spanker, a forthright horse-riding fox-hunting Amazon of a woman. To further complicate matters, Sir Harcourt’s son Charles is also there, in disguise hiding from his creditors, and has fallen for Grace. Sensing the opportunity for merriment, Charles’ friend Richard Dazzle then colludes with Lady Gay to toy with the bumptious Sir Harcourt and lead him astray. Continue reading “Review: London Assurance, National Theatre”

Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre

Much of the talk about Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play Her Naked Skin has focused on the rather shameful fact that it is the first play by a female writer to be staged on the main Olivier stage at the National Theatre. Which whilst true and a definite achievement in itself, should not detract from the fact that this is a really rather sensationally good play.

Set in the Suffragette Movement in London in 1913 with excitement in the air as victory can be tasted, but times have never been more frenzied or dangerous as militant tendencies are at their strongest and many women are experiencing jail time on a regular basis. Lenkiewicz pitches the continuance of this struggle against the more personal story of Lady Celia Cain, bored in life and with her traditional marriage and family, who launches into a passionate lesbian love affair with a much younger, much more lower-class seamstress whom she shares a cell with and soon much more. As the affair hots up, so too does the political climate as emancipation comes closer to becoming a reality. Continue reading “Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre”