Review: Country Music, Omnibus Theatre

A sensational performance from Cary Crankson anchors a powerful production of Simon Stephens’ Country Music at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre

“I want you to forgive me for the things I’ve done”

A glance at the cast for the original run of Simon Stephens’ 2004 Country Music at the Royal Court sees Sally Hawkins and Laura Elphinstone, a killer for the FOMO in me. But hopefully in 10 years time or so, people will be looking at the cast for this revival at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre and saying I saw Cary Crankson way back when…

He’s an actor I’ve rated for a while now – he won my Best Actor in 2014 for The Saints, he was a standout in The Faction’s ensemble too, so if there’s any justice we’ll be talking about him much more very soon. For he is sensational here as the troubled Jamie, the young man at the heart of this elusive but exquisitely painful play.    Continue reading “Review: Country Music, Omnibus Theatre”

Review: Sea Wall, Old Vic

Andrew Scott and Simon Stephens combine to blistering effect in Sea Wall, but make sure you find some of the cheaper seats at the Old Vic if you can

“I was the polar opposite of Daniel Craig”

As is only right with any significant birthday, the Old Vic has been seriously milking their 200th and their latest gift is a two week revival of Sea Wall. The Simon Stephens monologue, written for Andrew Scott, has popped its head up a few times over the last few years, and this is being touted as possibly its final appearance.   

Since I’d missed it previously in London and given that its 30 minute running time meant it slotted in quite nicely to a two-show day, I picked up one of the cheaper tickets available (incredibly, prices go up to £80 for this). It was almost worth the money for the pre-show ‘entertainment’ as the audience fell silent a good couple of minutes before the show actually started. Continue reading “Review: Sea Wall, Old Vic”

Review: Heisenberg – The Uncertainty Principle, Wyndham’s

“Why are you still talking to me?”

As a vehicle to launch the new producing venture, Elliott & Harper Productions, Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is an odd thing. A new play by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott, it’s a piece of writing that feels caught in the wrong moment as the outpouring of revelations around sexual harassment (and worse) threaten a tectonic shift in gender relationships and, hopefully, the way they are portrayed in our culture.

Thus it feels hard to accept a retread of the May-to-December trope, weighted in favour of the older man getting a younger woman natch, and the re-emergence of the manic pixie dream girl in lieu of the more nuanced character hinted at beneath the eccentric trappings. There’s no subversion of expectation as a rather predictable plot winds through its 90 minutes and the suggestion of quantum physics informing the play feels more like window-dressing compared to the structural ingenuity of say Copenhagen or the chaos theory-influenced Constellations. Continue reading “Review: Heisenberg – The Uncertainty Principle, Wyndham’s”

Review: Obsession, Barbican

 

“There’s more to this magical life than the love of the ladies”

It has been impossible to ignore the reception of Ivo van Hove’s Obsession, the slight sense of glee (from some) at being able to dole out a critical drubbing to the feted director. And so I went into the Barbican with a slight sense of defensiveness – I’m only human after all – albeit with the knowledge that no-one is infallible. And whilst Obsession isn’t necessarily van Hove at his best (and lord know we’ve been spoiled there), it still makes for a fascinating piece of theatre.

Based on Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film, adapted by Jan Peter Gerrits and crucially, having its English version written by Simon Stephens, this is an altogether more abstract and expressionist affair than perhaps some were expecting. A tale of sex and murder, whose muscularity and moodiness sprawls over the vast stage with stylish languour, there’s a brooding beauty to the intensity here, captured excellently by two striking lead performances from Jude Law and Halina Reijn. Continue reading “Review: Obsession, Barbican”

Review: The Threepenny Opera, National

“There will be no moralising tonight”

Whatever you think a national theatre should be for, I bloody love that Rufus Norris seems to determined to keep diversity near the top of the billing. Whilst it is curious that he’s only committed to ensuring gender equality in terms of the directors and living writers the National Theatre uses by 2021 (I’m sure there’s a reason it takes 5 years), there’s also change happening now in this new production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera.

The first actors we see and hear are George Ikediashi and Jamie Beddard. So what you might say? But they are respectively a cabaret artist better known as Le Gateau Chocolat and a wheelchair-using director, writer, actor, consultant, trainer and workshop leader who has worked across the arts, educational and social sectors (his website). And you begin to see one of the ways how Norris is opening up this venue in an important and hopefully lasting manner. Continue reading “Review: The Threepenny Opera, National”

Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

“I’ve got nothing to look forward to”

There’s something rather apt about members of the Bugsy Malone graduating onto other productions at the Lyric Hammersmith, emphasising the ensemble feel that has taken over the building under Sean Holmes’ stewardship. And in Max Gill (a sensational Fat Sam) and Sophia Decaro (the Tallulah I didn’t see), there’re two young talents deservedly getting the chance to explore a wider range of teenage experience in Holmes’ production of Simon Stephens’ 2001 play Herons.

A brutal look at teen violence and cycles of revenge, it’s a play that’s marked by a truly shocking scene of rape, the haunting sound of which is still echoing in my mind now. Set on the Limehouse Cut, a canal in London’s East End, the ugly desolation and desperation of this world is clear from the off, a world where 14 year old Billy spends his time hiding from bullies and fishing for whatever small fry he can. Though when he becomes the catch of the day, the extent of its viciousness is exposed. Continue reading “Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Song from Far Away, Young Vic

“We exist in the gaps between the sounds that we make”

It’s hard not to be seduced by Ivo van Hove’s Toneelgroep Amsterdam once you’ve experienced them one way or another – there’s a reason I keep travelling to the Netherlands to see them work – and not even Simon Stephens is immune. Having previously adapted Ubu for the company, he has now written monologue Song from Far Away specifically for one of their ensemble members, Eelco Smits, who performs it here at the Young Vic in English.

34 year old banker Willem has relocated to New York but is called back to his native Amsterdam when his younger brother dies. In a haze of casual sex with Brazilians, numerous glasses of Scotch and ginger and disorientating encounters with strangers, his journey back to a family, a home, a country he had abandoned is sketched out through a series of letters he writes to the brother he barely knew whilst coming to realise he barely knows himself. Continue reading “Review: Song from Far Away, Young Vic”

Review: Carmen Disruption, Almeida

“I saw everything.
But I didn’t really see a thing”

It is little surprise that the synopsis for Simon Stephens’ new play mentions it takes place in a fractured world, that is pretty much a given for his writing. What proved more surprising for me was how much I connected to Carmen Disruption, this idiosyncratic reinterpretation of Bizet’s opera resonating strongly throughout Lizzie Clachan’s brilliantly distressed design which conspires to lend the Almeida an unmistakeable air of faded grandeur. Just with the barely breathing body of a vanquished bull in the middle of the stage, natch.

This particular fractured world is a nameless European city in which Stephens interlaces five monologues, roughly analogous to the characters we know from Bizet but as if refracted through the shattered lens of an old pair of opera glasses. So Jack Farthing’s Carmen becomes a dangerously sexy rent boy, John Light takes Escamillo from the bull ring to the bear pit as an arrogant trader, this Don José fights through traffic rather than armies in Noma Dumezweni’s achingly moving cabbie, and Micaela’s tragedy remains intact in Katie West’s emotionally raw student. Continue reading “Review: Carmen Disruption, Almeida”

Not-a-Review: The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic

 

I’d love to review Simon Stephens’ version of The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic but Katie Mitchell’s enthusiasm for the naturalistic approach meant I heard very little, and I mean very little of it. It’s not even as if I could see to lip-read either, the crepuscular lighting combining with a propensity to mutter and the choice that several made to speak with their backs to the audience. I’m not commenting on Mitchell’s artistic choices, I’m simply being truthful about how the basic difficulty of just hearing what was going on. And as such, I’m just not inclined to comment on anything more. If you have any sort of hearing problem, I urge you to ensure you get to the captioned performance on 27th November.

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Booking until 29th November

Review: Birdland, Royal Court

“I literally have enough money to buy anything”

It was Scarlett Johansson wot did it. My over-riding thought as Simon Stephens’ Birdland built to its destructive climax was that the alien for Jonathan Glazer’s recent film Under The Skin had somehow infiltrated affairs. The viscous black liquid that surrounds Ian MacNeil’s set slowly rises to encroach on the ever-twisted world of tortured rockstar Paul, threatening to swallow him in its total embrace, an oblivion the man might truly welcome. But it is just a coincidence, although perhaps rooted in some conceptual similarity, there are no aliens here. Or Hollywood superstars.

Instead, Irish legend-in-the-making Andrew Scott plays a hugely successful musician who is on top of the world and coming to the end of going round the world on a huge tour. Whipped into a constant fervour by the corrosive side of celebrity, his personality has become so warped that he can, and does, demand anything he wants, and by and large gets it. Aside from making him a total f*cktard, especially where his best friend and bandmate’s girlfriend is concerned, it also symptomizes the deeper societal malaise of a corrupted capitalist mindset in all its exploitative ugliness. Continue reading “Review: Birdland, Royal Court”