Not-a-review: Botticelli in the Fire, Hampstead Theatre

Blanche and Britney ought to be a winning combination bur Botticelli in the Fire at the Hampstead Theatre is a damp squib

“They’re going to kill you. They’re going to worship you, don’t get me wrong. But they are going to kill you”

I’ve long been a fan of Blanche McIntyre and so appreciate any opportunity to see her direct away from the RSC. Jordan Tanahill’s knowingly chaotic Botticelli in the Fire is full of all kinds of riotous energy and queer representation but for me, it just wasn’t the one.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Botticelli in the Fire is booking at the Hampstead Theatre until 23rd November

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

Review: The Convert, Gate

“There’s no place for a highly educated African woman here”

Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed was the best thing I saw in 2015 so the prospect of seeing her 2012 play The Convert, also at the Gate Theatre, was a joyous one indeed. And once again, Gurira turns her focus to the African continent, exploring the kind of history that I’m pretty sure is rarely featured in the majority of Western schoolrooms. The year is 1896 and the place is Rhodesia, the country now known as Zimbabwe, and The Convert takes a look at colonialism there from the inside out.

Chilford may be a native of this territory but taken from his family as a young boy, he has been moulded into an approximation of ‘an English gentleman’, the only black Roman Catholic priest in the area and tasked with the job of converting the population to the ways of their colonial masters. On the run from an attempt at forced marriage, Jekesai finds sanctuary under Chilford’s tutelage, renamed as Ester and quickly becoming his star pupil but as she comes to understand just how much she’s expected to give up, she’s left to question if there’s any safe haven at all. Continue reading “Review: The Convert, Gate”

Review: After Independence, Arcola

“Why must your wound be healed by wounding me?”

The Papatango Theatre Company have long been at the forefront of new writing with their annual prize competition always one to look out for and now they’re expanding their territory, premiering a new piece from their first Resident Playwright here at the Arcola. Edinburgh-born May Sumbwanyambe’s family hails from right across Southern Africa and it is there, specifically, Zimbabwe, to which he has turned for After Independence.

Set at the end of the last century when a majority black government first came to power in Harare, the play circles the contentious issue of land grabs, as white farmers and landowners have their property redistributed – sometimes forcefully – to the black population. But though their claims look to the future, they deny the past of a population who consider themselves just as African, and thus the horns of a terrible dilemma present themselves. Continue reading “Review: After Independence, Arcola”

Review: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I will not hear thee speak; I’ll have my bond”

Following the exceptional Rupert Goold/RSC adaptation which played the Almeida over Christmas, it seemed a brave decision for the Globe to also lead their 2015 season with The Merchant of Venice but Jonathan Munby’s production proves to be just as revelatory, albeit in a completely different way. With Jonathan Pryce making his debut here at this venue, accompanied by his daughter Phoebe no less, it is no surprise that his beautifully realised Shylock is at the heart of the show here but it is also good to see Jessica (played by Pryce junior, natch) also take her turn in the spotlight.

In some ways, this echoes the Al Pacino version, showing us how Jessica is cruelly caught in the middle – torn between duty to her father and her Jewish faith, and the delight that a genuine love match with Ben Lamb’s Christian Lorenzo brings to her life. This conflict is fiercely felt – she argues ferociously in Yiddish with her father but there’s no doubting the haunting anguish of the production’s end, her Hebrew lament powerfully affecting as Shylock faces yet another disgrace as we’re reminded that – even if she has shunned him – it is still a familial bond being sundered here. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe

“She is spherical – like a globe”

There’s something lovely about the exposure that director Blanche McIntyre is now receiving (see this interview, if not the comments) although some of us may have been aware of her talent for a wee while now. She now makes her directorial bow at the Globe with a nifty take on The Comedy of Errors. As two sets of identical twins rattle around an evocatively near-Eastern Ephesus, there’s a good deal of humour but cleverly there’s also an underlying tone of real pathos that McIntyre gradually brings to the fore.
Matthew Needham and Simon Harrison’s Antipholuses (Antipholi?) have a marked similarity that excuses Hattie Ladbury’s Adriana’s case of mistaken identity as she enthusiastically tries to iron out another rocky patch in her marriage and as their manservants, Brodie Ross and Jamie Wilkes make a fine pair of Dromios as their hapless helplessness in the face of much confusion allows for some of the funnier, slapstick-inflected moments of the production to come forth.
As is often the case at this venue, the comedy is broad, extremely so, but the usage of turkeys and octopi would surely put a smile on even the most churlish of faces, and there’s a delightful strangeness to the work of Stefan Adegbola as a mysterious Dr Pinch. And as the physical bluster eventually subsides, there’s a charming deal of affection that comes shining through in the end as the mayhem subsides, even if just for a moment.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th October

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noël Coward Theatre

It seems to be that yet we sleep, we dream”

The Michael Grandage Company move onto their fourth show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first of two Shakespeares that will finish the season. And given the emphasis of the star wattage that formed the backbone of its publicity, it’s an interesting choice of play due to its ensemble nature and lack of any real star parts. So we get Sheridan Smith in the dual role of Hippolyta and Titania and David Walliams as Nick Bottom the weaver, alongside a company of others many of whom have appeared in previous MGC shows.

Grandage’s main conceit is to locate the play in 1960s England, making the magical forest into a festival-like world of hippies and free love, allowing an unambiguous focus on sex as the driving force of the play. It’s more like an Athena model version of sex than the untrammeled passion of the real thing though – the four lovers parade about the forest in various states of underwear-clad undress, Titania’s seductive ways lure Bottom into an off-stage bower, the hints of amour between the Rude Mechanicals left tantalisingly unexplored. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noël Coward Theatre”