Review: Medea, Barbican

The incomparable Marieke Heebink astonishes in Simon Stone and ITA-ensemble’s production of Medea at the Barbican Theatre

“I remember us
That’s that I do now”

I first saw Simon Stone’s Medea in Amsterdam, in Dutch, without surtitles, and it was a revelatory experience which has lingered long in my memory as one of the best classical adaptations I’ve ever seen. So the chance to revisit it at the Barbican, once again anchored by the incomparable Marieke Heebink in Bob Cousins’ stunning design was unmissable.

And it did not disappoint in its ferocious retelling of Euripides’ classic, as Stone makes it feel urgent and chilling and all-too-appalling believable in its depiction of a woman pushed to the edge. Poleaxed by the revelation of her husband’s affair with his boss’s daughter, her extreme actions saw her committed to a psychiatric institution. A year later on her release, she craves a fresh start but finds the world has moved on without her. Continue reading “Review: Medea, Barbican”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Ibsenhuis, Stadsschouwberg Amsterdam

“Hollanders bouwen altijd in baksteen”

Simon Stone’s track-record with Ibsen is strong – his adaptation of The Wild Duck was extraordinarily powerful – and so despite my normal reservations with this playwright, I happily booked myself in for his Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam. The play is a new piece of writing but one which takes minor characters from a range of the Norwegian’s dramas and puts them into their own new ensemble, set in the house that Solness built for Hilde Wangel in The Master Builder.

So over three generations, from the 60s to the current day, new cycles of Ibsen-esque family drama play out – lies and loneliness, isolation and infidelity, passion and pain, all the pain of loving and being loved. It’s a dizzying combination, literally so as Lizzie Clachan’s set spins on its axis, and as the shattered narrative is presented to us in fragments. Visually it is clever, especially as it allows for the smoothest of scene changes to be almost cinematically imposed as the focus slides from room to room. Continue reading “Review: Ibsenhuis, Stadsschouwberg Amsterdam”

Production shots for Ibsen Huis

“Moeten we hier als op de Wallen in lingerie gaan zitten?”

Time pressures (and priorities) being what they are, when one is on holiday celebrating one’s birthday, my review of Simon Stone’s Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam won’t be ready for a couple of days. So in the meantime, follow the lovely Hans Kesting’s gaze past the break and feast your eyes on some of the production photos from Jan Versweyveld.

(c) Henri Verhoef

Continue reading “Production shots for Ibsen Huis”

2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Palace
Elegy – Donmar Warehouse
The Flick – National Theatre Dorfman
One Night in Miami – Donmar Warehouse

Best New Musical
Groundhog Day – The Old Vic
Dreamgirls – Savoy
The Girls – Phoenix
School of Rock – New London

Best Revival 
Yerma – Young Vic
The Glass Menagerie – Duke of York’s
This House – Garrick
Travesties – Apollo Continue reading “2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Review: Husbands and Wives, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

“We don’t want to make a big thing about it”

Well it had to happen didn’t it, a less than stellar piece of theatre in my revered Stadschouwburg in Amsterdam, but I take comfort from the fact that it wasn’t Ivo directing… Instead it was Simon Stone returning to Toneelgroep Amsterdam after his scorching Medea in 2014, to present a version of Woody Allen’s 1992 film Husband and Wives. I say a version, it’s actually extraordinarily faithful to the film, to its detriment.

For though it is huge fun to see members of the Toneelgroep ensemble cutting loose on comedy for the first time, Allen’s story doesn’t contain too much real insight into love and marriage in the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first, and so cleaving as close to it as Rik van den Bos’ adaptation does, it’s hard not to see Husbands and Wives as a perplexing choice, both for the company and the director. Continue reading “Review: Husbands and Wives, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam”

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”

11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2014

I’ll be doing a regular top 10 alongside all the other end-of-year totting up of the theatrical delights on offer in 2014 that will eventually be written up but I thought it might be interesting to first look at it from a slightly different angle, thinking about the single moments – rather than the productions as a whole – that took my breath away (or were hair-raisingly good…) Undoubtedly there will be some crossover between the two lists, but there are things here that crop up the mind just as often as the plays I’ve labelled my favourites so here we go – naturally, some production spoilers abound…
(c) Jan Versweyveld
The final scene of Ivo van Hove’s A View From The Bridge
I don’t think anyone who saw this would disagree that this was one of those hugely special moments of theatre that will pretty much live forever in the memory. An outstanding 1 hour 40 minutes had already passed by this point – marking out what I’ve been saying for a while now about the extraordinarily vision van Hove brings to his work – but the final scene crystallised all the operatic grandeur and scorching emotion in one excoriating, sense-assaulting image that I dare not spoil even now – the perfect confluence of Jan Versweyveld’s design and light, Tom Gobbin’s sound and an exquisitely cast company. Book for its return to the West End now and experience it for yourself, this will sell out.
Waltzing at The Grand Budapest Hotel, courtesy of Secret Cinema 
My first experience of Secret Cinema was one of the atypical ones in that we knew in advance what the film would be – Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel in this case – but it didn’t stop me from having a top night out, rounded off by one of the most thrilling moments of the year. Just before the film started, we were gathered in the circular hotel lobby and though I don’t recall exactly how it began, those of us on the ground floor started to waltz round and round as flurries of snow fell from the sky. It was a hugely gorgeous moment, not least because I’d never waltzed before (and intriguingly enough for me, I was the waltzer rather than the waltzee, which is how I always thought it would play out!)

Lee Curran’s lighting for the Royal Exchange’s Hamlet 
Though all eyes were on Maxine Peake for her mesmerising take on Shakepeare’s part of parts, director Sarah Frankcom ensured all aspects of her production were firing on all cylinders and for me, it was Lee Curran’s lighting design for the ghost scene that provided the most breath-taking moment of the evening. In amongst a tangled forest of lightbulbs, Peake’s Hamlet moved to an otherworldly place in pursuit of the ghostly fatherly figure and the eerie luminescence provided really elevated the scene into something special.
(c) Simon Annand
Helen George in The Hotel Plays 
Gethin Anthony’s thighs will be rightly celebrated in another of the end-of-year posts that will follow this one, but the thespian highlight of The Hotel Plays was Helen George’s hard-done-by mistress – the first performer I saw in this site-specific promenade piece and by far the most memorable. George is of course one of the stars of (the not-at-all-guilty-pleasure) Call The Midwife but she showed no signs of difficulty in swapping mediums as she fearlessly pinned us all down with sustained eye contact in an intimate hotel room of Tennessee Williams’ swirling imagination.
(c) Manuel Harlan
Tom Scutt’s design/the general awesomeness of the third act of Mr Burns
It is comforting to think that a show never gets better after a first act you don’t like, especially if you’ve made the decision to leave at the interval. But for those poor unfortunate souls who left at either of the intervals in Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns, which woke up audiences at the Almeida over the summer, there will be no chance for them to make amends for the gravity of their mistake. The three acts of the show differed strongly but it was the pseudo-opera of the final act that blew me away with its spectacular vision, aided by Tom Scutt’s glorious set and costumes (not taken from his personal collection, he assures me) which adroitly captured the entirely distinct worlds of each act.
(c) Marc Brenner
The general awesomeness of the third act of Our Town too
For the second time in three shows, the Almeida managed to deliver an absolute “doozy of a third act”, this time managing to cram not one but two stunning coups de théâtre into the short but superlative final segment of this all-American classic. Not having seen a production of the show before, the uniqueness of David Cromer’s interpretation might have been a little lost on me but there was no doubting how inventive and illustrative his bare-bones approach was from the start. And as the (metaphorical) curtain rose on the last act, suitably titled ‘Death and Dying’, Cromer and designer Stephen Dobay took the breath away with a first evocative piece of staging and then raising the actual curtain, went in for the kill with a second which perfectly brought home the power of Wilder’s message.

Anton Tweedale’s ‘Losing My Mind’
Sondheim revues can begin to feel a little repetitive with the enduring popularity of the composer and their frequent appearances in our theatre, and so it takes something special to really make them stand out from the crowd. And for Ray Rackham’s Just Another Love Story at Fulham’s London Theatre Workshop, it was Anton Tweedale’s beautifully bitter take on ‘Losing My Mind’ that has long stayed in my own mind and left me wishing for a recording thereof.
(c) Tristram Kenton

Ashley Martin Davis’ set design for Wonderland
Signs were ominous when the first couple of previews for Beth Steel’s Wonderland were cancelled but upon walking into the Hampstead Theatre, the breath-taking scope of Ashley Martin Davis’ transformative set design made you fully appreciate why time was taken to ensure everything was just right. Carving out a working space that stretched over three storeys, the operational mine shaft was an audacious but essential part of a thrilling production that emphasised just how much the pit itself had a part to play in forming the fierce communal bonds that Thatcher fought so hard to tear asunder.
(c) Mark Douet
The fate of Adrian Scarborough’s Fool 
Directors often enjoy finding new twists on Shakespearean classics and Sam Mendes was no exception with his long-awaited take on King Lear. The most arresting of these came with the sheer brutality with which Adrian Scarborough’s Fool met his end, the rage-fuelled fugue state that took over Simon Russell Beale’s Lear a shocking but entirely convincing extension of character and a fiercely fresh take on a well-known plot.
‘Let The Grass Grow’, hell, the whole damn score for Free As Air
Given my love for Salad Days, it should come as little surprise that I adored Free As Air which also came from the pens of Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade, but it does take a sure hand to ensure that the delightfully retro feel of this 50s musical doesn’t tip over into twee nostalgia. Fortunately it got this in Stewart Nicholls’ hands at the Finborough so that even by this second number – ‘Let The Grass Grow’ – my face was beginning to hurt from smiling so much.
(c) Sanne Peper

Bob Cousins’ design for Simon Stone’s Medea in AmsterdamA late entry but one I couldn’t possibly ignore as one of the last shows I saw this year ended up being one of the best and certainly one of the most fascinatingly designed. Bob Cousins matched the fearless invention of Simon Stone in updating Medea to a contemporary time and place but still keeping an abstract timelessness to his work. The huge white space of the set thus formed the perfect backdrop for the fierce dramatics and a slow-burning coup de théâtre that still gives me shivers when I think about it now.

Review: Medea, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

“Omdat het kan. Omdat ik me herinner hoe het voelde toen ik het ontdekte, van jullie twee. En ik wil haar laten zien hoe dat voelde.”

There is something hugely exciting about the way that Simon Stone works. His contemporary recasting of The Wild Duck ruffled some feathers when it played at the Barbican in October and now it is Euripides’ turn to be excavated and explored as Stone makes his directorial debut at Toneelgroep Amsterdam with a scorching interpretation of Medea. With Ivo van Hove as Artistic Director and a long-standing repertory company of immense talent, Toneelgroep are surely one of the most exciting companies around – hence my regular trips to Amsterdam to see them – and collaborating with Stone here simply enhances their prestige with such a punishingly powerful production.

Where Stone so fearlessly succeeds is in the discarding of any notion of classical fidelity, opting instead to distil the story to its very essence and then reframing it for modern audiences. So here, through improvisation work with the company, the age-old tale of Medea is interwoven with the true life case of Debora Green, a US mother who attempted to poison her husband and succeeded in killing two of their three children. The result is a combination that simply cannot be ignored, the dismissive unreality of ‘Greek tragedy’ is pulled kicking and screaming into our world, the terrible deeds of this mother – renamed here Anna – made harrowingly believable in this striking new context.

This he achieves through a series of bold decisions. Gone is the Greek chorus and in its place Stone gives voices to Anna’s two children Gijs and Edgar and also to Clara, the Glauce figure with whom Anna’s husband is having an affair. Thus the world of the play is concentrated on the implosion of this nuclear family who now each have their role to play in the psychodramatics that drive Anna to her terrible acts. And Bob Cousins’ design provides the perfect space in which to play them out. A wide expanse of timeless white space again pulling away from classical allusions as it allows for scenes to bleed into each other, take place simultaneously, or be filmed and projected live by the children who are making a family documentary for a school project.

Continue reading “Review: Medea, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam”