Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3

The third series of Chris Lang’s Unforgotten is another corker, and not just because of Nicola Walker, honest!

“We’ve all done things of which we are ashamed”

The cold cases of Unforgotten have rightly proved a success for their alternative tale on crime drama, putting a real focus on the victims rather than the crimes, a neat corrective to the sometimes exploitative gaze that can characterise this genre. And this third series maintained that strong record (quick review of episodes 1 and 2 here)

A measure of the regard in which Unforgotten is held is the sheer quality of its cast. With James Fleet, Alex Jennings, Kevin McNally and Neil Morrissey as its lead quartet, it added Sasha Behar, Emma Fielding, Indra Ové and Amanda Root as their partners, and then threw in Siobhan Redmond and Sara Stewart as exes as well.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3”

Review: Imperium II – Dictator, Gielgud

In which Imperium II: Dictator continues a compelling look at (Roman) politics at the Gielgud Theatre but in which I also feel obliged to point out just how male-heavy Imperium skews 

“We are at the mercy of the people of Rome”

Previously on Imperium

  • we enjoyed ourselves
  • we struggled to differentiate between the many names beginning with C
  • we puzzled at why people wore their togas with one bit draped impractically over a forearm
  • we marvelled at how shiny everyone’s leather sandals seemed to be
  • and we grieved at how woefully the wonderful Siobhán Redmond was underused, at how indeed the whole production treats women

The second part of this summer’s Roman epic – Imperium II: Dictator – continues much in the same vein as the first. Mike Poulton’s adaptation capturing much of the sweeping vistas of Robert Harris’ Cicero novels, and Richard McCabe excelling as that noble Cicero who increasingly reveals himself as all-too–hubristically-human.  

But as we reach the seventh hour of drama in this testosterone-heavy world, you can’t help but feel that the women, both of the time and of this company, are relatively hard done by. Between the male gaze of Harris to Poulton to Doran to McCabe, the relentless focus on the political over the personal doesn’t give us much sense of Cicero the man versus Cicero the politician. Continue reading “Review: Imperium II – Dictator, Gielgud”

Review: Imperium I – Conspirator, Gielgud

Imperium I: Conspirator is the entertaining first part of the seven hours of a proper Roman epic from the RSC (thankfully with air-con in the Gielgud Theatre)

“Stupid people tend to vote for stupid people”

With the weather as it is, there are worse ways to spend a day in London than in the blissfully air-conditioned Gielgud Theatre. There, you can partake in the near seven hours of the two-part theatrical extravaganza that is Imperium. First seen at the RSC last winter, Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ Cicero novels have a suitably epic feel to them and, anchored by an excellent lead performance from Richard McCabe, also have a real thrill factor.

The first part – Imperium I: Conspirator – follows Roman consul Cicero’s valiant efforts to defend the republic and the rule of law against rebellion and rivalries. And in the hands of McCabe, his silky rhetoric is a joy to behold as he secures his primacy, relying on political manipulation where necessary. Whether defeating Joe Dixon’s Catiline, trying to outmanoeuvre Nicholas Armfield’s slippery Clodius or pin down the wildly ambitious young buck named Julius Caesar (a superb Peter de Jersey), his actions are gripping.  Continue reading “Review: Imperium I – Conspirator, Gielgud”

Full cast of the RSC’s Imperium announced

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced casting for the upcoming productions of Imperium parts one and two. Richard McCabe will take on the role of Cicero in Mike Poulton’s adaptations of Robert Harris’ novels alongside Siobhan Redmond as Terentia, Cicero’s wife. Joseph Kloska will play Cicero’s servant Tiro, who narrates their adventures. Continue reading “Full cast of the RSC’s Imperium announced”

Review: Untitled Matriarch Play (Or Seven Sisters), Royal Court

 “Be the change you want to see in this world”

As we get closer to the end of the weekly rep season, I’d love to be able to say that the over-arching conceit of the whole affair has been revealed in a moment of stunning clarity, but instead it just trundles on as a bold experiment which has had just as many misses as it has had hits. Play number five – Nikole Beckwith’s Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters) – was closer to the former than the latter for me – a decent concept but one besmirched by an over-extended, over-worked stab at something interesting that rarely comes off.

The play begins in Nowheresville USA with Siobhan Redmond’s Lorraine gathering her ageing mother and her four-strong brood of daughters to reveal that she is going to have another baby, and this time it will be a boy. This comes as something of a surprise as Lorraine is 54, so she is employing a surrogate in the form of Angela Terence’s Sera, but her decision awakens a whole host of dissatisfactions in these women as the situation highlights the frustrations they all hold. Continue reading “Review: Untitled Matriarch Play (Or Seven Sisters), Royal Court”

Review: Death Tax, Royal Court

“You’ve made up, in your head, a whole story about it”

Round two for the Royal Court’s six-week weekly rep sees Lucas Hnath’s Death Tax getting the intensive treatment of being put together in just a week, for a short run in the downstairs theatre. An ambitious project to be sure and one which got off to a challenging start last week with The President Has Come To See You, but this feels like firmer territory both in terms of stronger writing and a surer grasp from the company on the material. It may be as simple as the fact that I saw the first play earlier in the week than the second but the rough and ready approach seems better suited here.

Maxine is an 80 year old resident of a Florida nursing home and she thinks the world is out to get her, convinced that her daughter has paid her nurse to speed up her demise in order to beat a change in inheritance tax law. So she makes the nurse a counter-offer, a big pay-out if she stays alive until after the deadline. But with her health declining, all bets are off as to whether she will make it, assisted or otherwise, and Hnath shrewdly probes the motivations that push us to make the kind of morally questionable decisions that his characters face. Continue reading “Review: Death Tax, Royal Court”

Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court

 “Do you know what is going on in Georgia?”

In a bold move as her opening salvo as incoming Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone has reimagined the way in which theatre is consumed in this venue with a range of innovative approaches suggested by a group of over 140 writers. The biggest of these is probably the Weekly Rep, a company of 14 actors and 4 directors performing 6 plays by new writers over 6 weeks, which started tonight with Georgian playwright Lasha Bugadze’s The President Has Come To See You, previously seen here as a rehearsed reading earlier in the year.

Knowing my all-or-nothing tendencies, I had hoped that the ensemble would be full of actors I did not care for so that I’d be able to resist booking, but it was not to be with the likes of a re-bearded Ferdy Roberts, Ryan Sampson, Laura Elphinstone and Siobhan Redmond luring me to Sloane Square, even though the prospect of the play itself did not really appeal. And it was that inner voice nagging away that I ought to have paid more attention to, as the bizarre twists and turns of this post-Soviet surrealist adventure left me cold. Continue reading “Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court”

TV Review: The Town

“Apparently once death seems possible, the idea catches on”

One of the things about winding down the theatregoing at Christmas is being able to catch up on some of the television that I rarely have time to watch normally, and doing so at my parents’ house is particularly ace because of their awesome telly. First up for me was The Town, an ITV three-parter written by one of the hottest playwrights in the country Mike Bartlett. Upping the ante was a cast that included Julia McKenzie, Andrew Scott, Douglas Hodge and also Phil Davis and Siobhan Redmond.

I have long been a fan of Redmond so I was pleased to see the opening moments of the show devoted to her as her character went about the rituals at the end of her day including saying goodnight to her husband as played by Phil Davis. I was then gutted as this proved to be a great case of misdirection as they were both then found dead the next morning by their teenage daughter Jodie, never to be seen again. As their son Mark returns to bury them in this provincial town he left 10 years ago to move to London, the show then deals with the difficulties in returning to a less than lamented hometown, combined with the growing sense that the deaths – recorded as a joint suicide – are less clear-cut than the police would seem to think. Continue reading “TV Review: The Town”

Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court

Court Shorts is part of the Royal Court’s Rough Cuts season, where works-in-progress and experimental pieces are performed in front of audiences as part of their development. Three plays were performed as rehearsed readings which were Permafrost by Brad Birch, Buried by Alia Bano and Hard Gravity by DC Jackson. This is just a quick recap of the plays for my reference really, as these aren’t being presented as things to review.

Brad Birch’s Royal Court debut, Permafrost, is a meditation on the grieving process set in a Northern town, charting the growing relationship between widowed Mary and Michael, a factory colleague of the deceased man, as she seeks a solace that he can’t quite provide and edging closer to a more meaningful connection as she seeks to maintain the link between them. James Macdonald directed this, stepping in at the last minute as Sam Taylor Wood had to withdraw due to prior commitments which was a shame as it would have been really interesting to see where she was thinking of taking the piece. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court”