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
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”

News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020

So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.

Olivier Theatre 

Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years.  Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”

Review: Sweat, Donmar Warehouse

The ferocious Sweat may not feel festive at the Donmar Warehouse but its message is ultimately one perfect for the season

“You could wake up tomorrow and all your jobs are in Mexico”

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and on the evidence of Lynette Linton’s production for the Donmar Warehouse, deservedly so. Based on interviews with the residents of Reading, Pennsylvania – one of the poorest towns of its size in the USA – it proves an utterly compelling examination of the all-too-personal impact of deindustrialisation. 

Written in 2015, hindsight encourages us to find remarkable prescience in Nottage exploring the kind of economic dissatisfaction that propelled Trump to power but the truth is more layered than that. Set in 2000, with brief forays into 2008, the desperation that poverty inculcates in people is stripped of partisanship as we’re just left to bear witness to those who just believe they have no other choice. Continue reading “Review: Sweat, Donmar Warehouse”

TV Review: Ordeal by Innocence, BBC1

“You have to face the consequences now”

It’s taken me an age to get round to finishing Ordeal by Innocence, the latest in the BBC’s series of hugely successful Agatha Christie adaptation from Sarah Phelps. I watched the first part when it aired at Easter and quite liked it but for some reason, the remaining two got stuck on my ‘to-do’ list.

And having finally watched them, I have to say I found myself a little disappointed. Not being familiar with the story, the major plot alterations had no impact on me and if we’re honest, the replacement of actor Ed Westwick by Christian Cooke had little discernible effect (aside from the obvious delay). Continue reading “TV Review: Ordeal by Innocence, BBC1”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2

“I was a woeful looker-on”

On a night when the real drama was unfolding in Stockholm’s Globen arena and the main internecine conflict was between the juries of music professionals and the public vote as revealed by the new counting mechanism, the BBC’s decision to schedule The Hollow Crown against the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t work for me. Last week’s Henry VI Part 1 was a great reintroduction into these quality adaptations as it started the new series but the follow-up doesn’t quite match the same level.

Part of the issue lies in the seemingly accepted wisdom that the Henry VI plays are problems that need solving – I’ve still not managed to see a conventional production of the trilogy to use as a benchmark – and so the plays are often abandoned to the mercies of the vision of writers and directors. Such is the case with The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2, chopped down and frantically paced, there’s a whole lot of fury but just not enough feeling (though if you’re a fan of battlefields and decapitated heads, you might fare better than I did). Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1

“I would his troubles were expired”

The Hollow Crown rises again. Four years on from the first suite of striking televisual adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, the BBC continue their Shakespeare Lives season by completing the set. For theatregoers, it has been a ripe time of it – Trevor Nunn reviving The Wars of the Roses late last year and the excellent Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their streamlined version Kings of War to the Barbican just last month – but as you’ll see, the common thread is one of adaptation, opportunities to see the three parts of Henry VI as they are remain few and far between.

And so it proves here. Though this is entitled The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1, Ben Power and Dominic Cooke have compressed the three plays into two parts and it’s hard to argue against it really – there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into (and get your head around). Emasculated by lord protector the Duke of Gloucester (a solid Hugh Bonneville, displaying as much range as he ever does), Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI finds himself an uncertain king, a querulous youth who bends whichever way the wind blows strongest in his court, riven by dynastic rivalry. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1”

Review: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, National

“This is an empty world without the blues“

The title might be something of a misnomer in that there ain’t a whole lot of Ma Rainey in this play but that shouldn’t detract from the extraordinary power of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, part of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle of plays examining each decade of the twentieth century African American experience. And Dominic Cooke’s production for the National Theatre loses nothing of its urgency, it may have been written in 1984 about 1927 but its incendiary racial politics are sadly just as pertinent in 2016.

Rainey was one of the first professional singers of the blues and among the first to be recorded but the play opens with the ‘Mother of The Blues’ singular in her absence. Her manager and studio manager, both white, are fretting about her lateness and how financially dependent on her records they are and downstairs in the rehearsal basement, the four black men who make up her band are shooting the breeze as they gear up for some music-making. But as the wait grows longer, patience wears thinner and long-ingrained injustices start to bubble to the fore. Continue reading “Review: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, National”

Review: Here We Go, National Theatre

“Are those the pearly gates?” 

Almost like buses, you wait for a new Caryl Churchill play and two come along – Escaped Alone will play at the Royal Court in the New Year but up first is Here We Go at the National, directed by Dominic Cooke. Described as “a short play about death”, it clocks in at 45 minutes but depending on how you fare with it, it may seem like longer… 

Churchill has split her musings on mortality into a triptych of distinct but related scenarios. The first scene sees the playwright deploy her characteristic linguistic playfulness on a group of mourners at a funeral, their fragmented chit-chat skirting around the larger issues, their individual asides to the audience riffing beautifully on the coda to Six Feet Under’s magisterial finale (of all things).  Continue reading “Review: Here We Go, National Theatre”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Review: Emil and the Detectives, National Theatre

“No-one has time for other people’s troubles in a city”

It’s a rare occasion that I get to go to the theatre not knowing anything about a show in advance and so when the opportunity comes, it makes for a nice change. And in this case a huge surprise as Emil and the Detectives turned out to be a show with a cast full of kids! I now know that Erich Kästner’s 1929 novel is a much beloved children’s classic, though it never found a home on my bookshelf, and adapted here by Carl Miller, the tale of smalltown boy Emil going on a life-changing journey through the scary metropolis of Berlin and finding an unexpected solidarity with an army of street kids – the Detectives – is a solid entry in the National’s roster of family shows.

On the face of it, Bijan Sheibani seems an odd choice of director, an undoubtedly patchy track record leaving huge question marks but the National’s faith has been largely repaid here with a mercifully flaming skeleton-free production. Bunny Christie’s set design is a glorious masterpiece, using Constructivist angles and a stark spareness to allow for a range of different atmospheres and locations to be evoked, and the collaboration with Sheibani really pays off in key moments when the simplest solution is often used to great effect. Lucy Carter’s precise lighting comes into play in ingenious chase scenes with Ian Dickinson’s sound adding suitably creepy notes. Continue reading “Review: Emil and the Detectives, National Theatre”