Review: All My Sons, Old Vic

Some titanic acting performances from Sally Field, Bill Pullman and Colin Morgan in this superb All My Sons at the Old Vic Theatre

“We all got hit by the same lightning”

You do wonder how new playwrights are ever going to get a look-in when Arthur Miller can dominate London theatres without it even being a significant anniversary year for him. That said, the Old Vic’s second Miller in a row sees a Headlong co-production of All My Sons (with Death of a Salesman imminent at the Young Vic, he’ll have the run of The Cut) that gives an enviable target to aim for.

I’ve seen a handful of All My Sons since starting the blog, from the sublime and superb to the somewhat less impressive, and it is remarkable how it stands as a play that really needs little doing to it for its quality to shine through. And so it is with Jeremy Herrin’s production here, a relatively straightforward one for Headlong all told, but all the more effective for it. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Old Vic”

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”

Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Casting news aplenty!

I round up some of the recent casting news, including Queen Margaret at the Royal Exchange, Wasted at the Southwark Playhouse, Measure for Measure at the Donmar and The Woods at the Royal Court.

Shakespeare wrote more lines for Queen Margaret than he did for King Lear yet we know very little of her. Jeanie O’Hare re-acquaints us with one of Shakespeare’s major but rarely performed characters in her new play Queen Margaret. In a production that draws on original language from Shakespeare, director Elizabeth Freestone and Jade Anouka as Margaret, retell an iconic moment in British History through the eyes of the extraordinary Margaret of Anjou. This captivating exploration of The Wars of the Roses seen through the eyes of this astonishing, dangerous and thrilling woman opens the Royal Exchange’s Autumn Winter 2018/19 Season.

Anouka is joined by Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward/Rutland), Lorraine Bruce (York), Samuel Edward-Cook (Suffolk/Clifford), Dexter Flanders (Edward IV), Helena Lymbery (Hume), Lucy Mangan (Joan of Arc), Roger Morlidge (Gloucester), Kwami Odoom (Somerset/Richard), Bridgitta Roy (Warwick) and Max Runham (Henry VI). Continue reading “Casting news aplenty!”

Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National

“It’s not about the word, it’s the context in which it’s used and who uses it”

A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer (here’s my review from then) and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.

That it is sold out shouldn’t stop you from trying to get tickets – there’s Friday Rush and there’s refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani’s production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance – which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for – is charged with the significance of these stories being told. Continue reading “Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National”

Review: Queer Theatre – The Drag, National

 

#5 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

Last but by no means least in this queer season is the one play written by a straight person and perhaps the queerest of the lot. Mae West wrote The Drag in 1927 where its frankness about gay lives (and once again, drag ball culture!) scandalised its out-of-town Connecticut and New Jersey audiences so that it never made it to Broadway. But Polly Stenham has opted to revive it for this reading and to introduce it to a new (Alaska Thunderfuck-literate) crowd. 

To be brutally honest, it isn’t the greatest play in the world, but what it does do is hold a fascinating mirror to early 20th century attitudes and how tolerance and intolerance existed side by side, then as now; the safe spaces gay men find in order to be their extravagantly true selves equally as timeless. And closet cases in marriages remain a sad truth, if not quite as dramatic as the son of a homophobic judge married to the daughter of a gay conversion therapist that we get here! Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – The Drag, National”

Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre

“Men, sometimes…I don’t know”

The hugely convivial pre-show entertainment for Barber Shop Chronicles is such good fun that I thought to myself I could easily just watch this for an hour. As it turned out, press night delays meant that it was extended by about thirty minutes, during which you really got to appreciate how quietly radical it is. In designer Rae Smith’s hands, the Dorfman has been transformed into a barbershop in the round, into which we’re volubly greeted by the cast and if you’re lucky, you get to sit in the barber’s chair and “get your hair popped” while you wait for the show to start. What I really loved though was the way in which the company so enthusiastically greeted friends, family, loved ones, shattering conventions and fourth walls alike, setting the tone for a truly joyous experience.

Crafted by Inua Ellams, Barber Shop Chronicles puts black masculinity in all its multiplicities under the spotlight. by examining the crucial role that barber shop plays in their communities. From Peckham to Lagos, Johannesburg to Accra with Harare and Kampala inbetween, we’re treated to a glimpse into a world that is more, so much more, than just a place to get an “aerodynamic” haircut. It’s a place to find chat, companionship, chargers, to confess to deeper truths than might otherwise be acknowledged in the outside world, even to find surrogate father figures and positive male role models. Across these six countries, we eavesdrop on these conversations and in gaining an appreciation for the diversity in the African diaspora, Ellams also traces the common threads. Continue reading “Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, Almeida

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” 

The enduring image of Robert Icke’s Hamlet is family – the repeated motif of group of three cleaving together haunts the production as much as Hamlet’s father himself. From the instant and intense bond established between Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes, Icke makes striking emotional sense of the respective grief and ferocity of the latter two, powerfully played by Jessica Brown Findlay and Luke Thompson against Peter Wight’s twinkling charm as their father.

And Icke also gives the tragic visual of Andrew Scott’s Hamlet trying to rebuild his original family unit, joining hands with his mother and the ghost of his father in the midst of the closet scene, willing Juliet Stevenson’s Gertrude to see what he sees, to put things back the way they used to be. And in a stunning montage for the final scene, these trios reform, emphasising the innate happiness of one and the deep tragedy of the other. It is deeply, deeply felt. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Almeida”

Dispatches from the Vaults #3

“Did you not learn anything?”

Henry Carpenter’s The Quentin Dentin Show was a deserved Edinburgh whose late night charm transferred well to the late night slot at the Above the Arts Theatre last year, so it makes sense that his new musical, Summer Nights in Space, billed as a sequel in spirit if not in content, has opened as part of The Vaults festival. But where I was seduced by the random insanity of its predecessor, this new sci-fi musical still feels like a work-in-progress with work still to be done.

All John Spartan has ever wanted to do is go to outer space but like many a man with an obsession, this dedication has come at a cost to his friendships and marriage as he finds himself packed off on a solo mission, which ultimately isn’t at all what it seems. Matthew Jacobs Morgan’s space traveller is thus left to carry a huge amount of the show by himself and sadly, Carpenter’s book just doesn’t give him enough material to sell it as a dynamic one-man-show. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #3”

Review: Mary Stuart, Almeida

“The Queen? Which Queen?”

Robert Icke’s Mary Stuart is a towering success, an extraordinary piece of theatre that surely ranks amongst the year’s best, no mean feat considering his Oresteia, also for the Almeida, did the same thing last. There’s added spice here too since leading players Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson do not know which of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots they will be playing until the beginning of the performance when it is decided with a coin toss. And so too, dear reader, must you decide…

 

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