Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse

I like almost everything about The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre apart from the main performance…

“I am not going out of my mind, my mind is going out of me”

Mark Gatiss has been getting rave reviews for his performance in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse but for me, there was just a little bit too much of
for my liking. There’s lots to love in Adam Penfold’s production, particularly in key supporting roles like Adrian Scarborough’s Dr Willis and Debra Gillett’s Queen Charlotte, and some of the smaller parts like Nadia Albina’s Fitzroy and Jack Holden’s Greville.

And I enjoyed that Penfold cast several of the ostensibly male parts with women, allowing the likes of Louise Jameson and Stephanie Jacob. Throw in a lusciously opulent design from Robert Jones and strikingly dramatic lighting from Richard Howell, and it’s a real theatrical treat, a real statement of intent from this nicely ambitious artistic director.  Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre

A characterful slice of seedy Soho life,  Absolute Hell is anything but at the National Theatre

“You won’t call the police, I’ll call the police”

We’ve all got a history, a bit of a chequered past and Rodney Ackland’s play Absolute Hell is no exception. Premiered in 1952 under the title The Pink Room, it received an enormous critical drubbing which led to a 40 year near-silence from the playwright. But as time passes, trends shift and plays eventually get rewritten, a new version of the drama emerged in the late 1980s to considerably more success.

It is that version that is being revived here by Joe Hill-Gibbins with the kind of luxury casting that National Theatres are made for. And with the world of this slice-of-life play being made up of a vast ensemble of characters, it’s a great fit. Absolute Hell is set in a Soho members club in the period between the end of WWII and the Labour general election win and follows its patrons as they retreat from the social (and physical) upheaval of wartime into a fug of drink, drugs and debauchery. Continue reading “Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre”

Review: Again, Trafalgar Studios 2

“It’s like asking a halibut to understand a panther”

Most families have a story or three, the kind of tales that go down in folklore, destined to be repeated at family events no matter embarrassing for the parent/sibling/etc involved. I doubt many will have as good an anecdote as the Barcelona suitcase story which crops up midway through Again, making its world premiere at the Trafalgar Studios 2 in this Mongrel Thumb production.

The ways in which families tell and retell stories, communicating or struggling to communicate to each other, lies at the heart of what writer Stephanie Jacob is trying to achieve here. Married to a playful theatrical structure that emphasises how tricky saying the right thing can be (or unsaying the wrong thing…) but also which allows for infinite possibility, Again makes for an intermittently striking evening. Continue reading “Review: Again, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre

“You hunt them where they live”

There’s something interesting about a community that can simultaneously urge the need to talk constructively about failure and also gloat endlessly about the its possibility. Where the National Theatre is concerned, the stakes feel considerably heightened and following a summer that contained the divisive Salomé and Common, sadly you could almost feel the knives being sharpened in advance for Saint George and the Dragon.

Two contrasting viewpoints from two contrasting people, to be sure, but you wonder how open-minded people are being, particularly when the start to this press night was delayed by 30 minutes or so adding fuel to certain people’s fire. But all this dancing around is doing, is delaying the inevitable, in that I found Rory Mullarkey’s new play really quite tough-going and had it not been for an effortful performance from John Heffernan keeping it afloat from the front, it would have been worse. Continue reading “Review: Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre”

Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon

 
A village. A dragon. A damsel in distress.
 
Into the story walks George: wandering knight, freedom fighter, enemy of tyrants the world over. One epic battle later and a nation is born. As the village grows into a town, and the town into a city, the myth of Saint George, which once brought a people together, threatens to divide them. Rory Mullarkey creates a new folk tale for an uneasy nation.

Continue reading “Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon”

Review: Flare Path, Richmond Theatre

“Supposing there is an ‘after the war’”

One of the unexpected highlights in the raft of productions that marked Terence Rattigan’s centenary year in 2011 was Trevor Nunn’s Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Previously unheralded, it emerged as an understated masterclass in repressed emotion, wonderfully enlivened by Sheridan Smith’s Olivier-winning supporting role. The Original Theatre Company’s touring version of the show, directed by Justin Audibert, thus has a lot to live up to to equal its success.

And sadly, it never quite manages it. Part of this lies in the fact that it isn’t the most thrilling piece of writing. Set exclusively in a 1942 hotel lobby close to an airbase, it follows a group of fighter pilots as they wait to be called onto the next raid with their loved ones watching on anxiously. Naturally, their loved ones aren’t always the ones they’re married to and the emotional crux of the play centres on a love triangle between Patricia, her airman husband Teddy and her Hollywood star ex Peter. Continue reading “Review: Flare Path, Richmond Theatre”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

“I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!”

As if you could hide the truth about this, surely destined to be one of the shows of the year. Benedict Andrews’ thoughtful updating of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire makes it seem like the play has always lived in this era and these characters always as freshly vibrant as they are here. The work of Gillian Anderson, Vanessa Kirby and Ben Foster as Blanche, Stella and Stanley is extraordinarily done – the disturbing sheen of sexual violence a tangible and thoroughly believable threat throughout as Andrews pulls no punches in showing us how brutal this world is.

There’s no escaping it either as Magda Willi’s framelike design constantly revolves in front of us as we’re sat in the round. This choice works on so many levels – the dizzying descent that characterises Blanche’s downfall, the relentless passage of time, the voyeurism it provokes from the audience as we crane to see what it sometimes hidden from view (just like the passive neighbours in the New Orleans neighbourhood). It’s not always easy or comfortable but given what we’re watching, why the hell should we be?! Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic”

Review: Burnt By The Sun, National Theatre

The latest play to open at the National Theatre is Burnt By The Sun, a story set in Russia, in the days just before Stalin did bad things in the Great Purge, of a revolutionary and his wife and family whose tranquil repose is rocked by the return of a former lover of the wife. The play was based on a film which won the best Foreign Language Oscar and the Grand Prize at Cannes, but I have to admit to not being familiar with it at all.

This play exemplifies for me one of the key strengths of the National Theatre does best: putting together high quality ensemble casts and allowing them to create the necessary atmosphere and feelings in which the play can unfold. Whereas it may feel that not an awful lot actually happens in the first half, I was swept up in the genuine camaraderie of the ensemble, especially in the group scenes around the table and the time simply flew by. Stephanie Jacob deserves a special mention for her comic turn as Mokhova the help, but all the actors really deliver here and set the scene for the events of Act 2.

Continue reading “Review: Burnt By The Sun, National Theatre”

Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre

Much of the talk about Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play Her Naked Skin has focused on the rather shameful fact that it is the first play by a female writer to be staged on the main Olivier stage at the National Theatre. Which whilst true and a definite achievement in itself, should not detract from the fact that this is a really rather sensationally good play.

Set in the Suffragette Movement in London in 1913 with excitement in the air as victory can be tasted, but times have never been more frenzied or dangerous as militant tendencies are at their strongest and many women are experiencing jail time on a regular basis. Lenkiewicz pitches the continuance of this struggle against the more personal story of Lady Celia Cain, bored in life and with her traditional marriage and family, who launches into a passionate lesbian love affair with a much younger, much more lower-class seamstress whom she shares a cell with and soon much more. As the affair hots up, so too does the political climate as emancipation comes closer to becoming a reality. Continue reading “Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre”