Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court

The densely poetic On Bear Ridge offers a thoughtful experience at the Royal Court, with Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola on fine form

“One minute we had customers, the next minute there was no-one”

There are moments, especially once the clocks have turned back and any hint of political news seeps through the cracks, that you crave the comfort of something uncomplicatedly warming – for me, I’m hoping Mary Poppins will scratch that itch. Until then, we have the unspecified apocalypse (Lord knows theatre loves apocalyptic near futures) that lours menacingly over Ed Thomas’ new play On Bear Ridge.

Deep in some rural backwater, Noni and John Daniel are the proprietors of a grocers slash butchers slash petrol pump slash black market den. Or at least they were, the community they served having long disappeared, and now they’re down to their last sack of potatoes. Their chat has a gnomic, Beckett-like feel, especially when their shopboy Ifan pops up for the odd word. But fighter jets are roaring above and the arrival of the bedraggled, gun-toting Captain heralds a twist into darker terrain. Continue reading “Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court”

July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

Review: Nightfall, Bridge Theatre

The Bridge Theatre proves the wrong fit for the grief-stricken intimacy of Barney Norris’ Nightfall

You need to take what you can get or you’ll be f**ked”

Barney Norris’ previous plays have been well suited to the places in which they’ve found themselves, the studios of the Arcola and the Bush. And as a brand new space with a flexibility built into its auditorium, the Bridge Theatre has been playing with different styles for each of its opening three productions. But as the theatre moves to end-on to promenade  to thrust, it doesn’t find the best match in Nightfall, directed here by Laurie Sansom. 

Part of the problem lies in the innate intimacy of Norris’ writing. He has absolutely nailed his oeuvre of excavating the beauty in ordinary lives, often beset by grief, often in rural England, and it is to these themes he returns here again. A family in deepest Hampshire are still coming to terms with the death of its patriarch, what that means for the struggling farm on which they depend and fighting to determine what the future might hold for each of them.

Continue reading “Review: Nightfall, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Killology, Royal Court

“You can’t tell your mum the streets are full of psychos and it’s pure fluke you get home alive every night”

Strewth – Gary Owen’s Killology is a challenging watch – both structurally in its non-linear format and emotionally in its subject matter. Killology is a new gaming experience in which you score more points for the more ‘creative’ ways in which you torture and kill people and Owen’s play looks at the consequences of its success on Paul, who made it, and on father and son Alan and Davey.

As in his previous play here Violence and Son, Owen is very much concerned with father and son relationships and the way in which they are revealed and reshaped here is one of the more fascinating aspects of Killology. The relationships and inter-relationships between these men and unseen others in their lives are richly drawn and deeply moving as layer upon layer of guilt and revenge play out. Continue reading “Review: Killology, Royal Court”

Review: Y Gwyll / Hinterland Series 2

“Time to come back, the past is the past”

Our appetite for dark crime dramas is seemingly insatiable but it is helped by the quality of programming that is now being sourced from a wide range of countries. One such drama that is closer to home than most is the Welsh-language police procedural Y Gwyll, which is also broadcast in a bilingual English and Welsh format as Hinterland. The 5 part second series of feature-length episodes has just been released on DVD by Nordic Noir and Beyond.

Labelled as part of the Celtic Noir movement, it is interesting to try and locate Hinterland in the televisual landscape and it does fall naturally somewhere in the North Sea – the influence of the all-conquering Scandi-crimewave is certainly there, as are hints of something more homegrown – as reductive as comparisons are, I’d say this is a cross between the Icelandic Trapped and bleak West Yorkshire of Happy ValleyContinue reading “Review: Y Gwyll / Hinterland Series 2”

Review: The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, streamed live

“Bradley Manning is just a boy”

Tim Price’s The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning premiered for the National Theatre of Wales last year and with a remarkable sense of timing, after the trial that resulted in a 35 year prison sentence and the subsequent revelation that the soldier identifies as a woman, returned this summer to the Edinburgh Festival. But with a view to vastly expanding its potential audience, each performance was live-streamed on t’internet and so I was able to catch it from the comfort of my very own home. And this seems the point about the capturing of theatre on film – no one is pretending that it matches the live experience but the very uniqueness of it necessarily imposes an exclusivity and so innovations such as these should be recognised for the opportunities they bring to people who otherwise would never have seen such shows, rather than focusing on what might or might not be lost in the transfer. 

But back to the play. Tim Price’s starting point is that Manning is half-Welsh on her mother’s side and spent around four years living in Wales as a teenager – the playwright posits that studies of politics and sociology of a particularly Welsh radical bent could well have shaped the mind of the person who caused one of the greatest leaks of classified material in history when releasing documents about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Wikileaks. There’s a convincing, if fictionalised, account of how this education gave him the inner courage to follow his convictions but also suggesting some of the demons that plagued her psyche. Price intercuts this story with a fast-moving whip around other key moments in Manning’s life – college years spent exploring sexuality, the reluctant fall into the army’s ranks, the troubled family life she runs from, the hellish reality of internment by her very own military. Continue reading “Review: The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, streamed live”