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.

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Review: Cyrano de Bergerac, Southwark Playhouse

“Perhaps he’ll find the words to tell me of his love”

Just a quickie for this as due to an earlier cancelled performance, the only show I could fit into the schedule was this penultimate one. An all-female production of anything is enough to pique the interest, never mind something starring the extraordinary Kathryn Hunter, and this had the added benefit of being a story I’d never actually seen before – Cyrano De Bergerac. That said, the best single-sex productions are the ones that derive something unique from playing it that way and that was singularly lacking here. 

Adapted by Glyn Maxwell from Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, Russell Bolam’s directorial conceit is to have the tale told by nuns (who play a role later on) to a novice of their order. But Bolam makes no other concession and shows no real willingness to delve with any depth into the notions of gender, love, identity, masculinity etc that seem ripe for the picking. And without the star wattage of Hunter’s striking performance, the whole show would likely collapse like a house of cards. The consequence is thus a fatally unbalanced piece of work and worse, a squandered opportunity. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 19th March

Review: The Hudsucker Proxy, Nuffield

“I wasn’t expecting all this hoopla…”

It’s not been the easiest of births for The Hudsucker Proxy – an incident in the dress rehearsal left two actors hospitalised, fortunately both have now been discharged and are recuperating at home, and the decision was made to forge ahead with the show, recasting where necessary. The show is certainly an interesting prospect – a co-production between Nuffield and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse in association with Complicite, and the first ever theatrical adaptation of a Coen Brothers film too – and its doors are now finally open in Southampton, ahead of a trip to Liverpool and then an international tour in the near future.

And you can see it succeeding. The show uncovers realms of theatrical influences in the Coen Brothers’ work but also adds in much of its own, to create a dizzying screwball comedy that is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It would be churlish to give too much away but there are some inspired moments of staging in Simon Dormandy and Toby Sedgwick’s staging, especially concerning the window of the 44th floor office in which much of the drama is set. The physical work here is explicit too, the company relying on their own bodies as much as Dick Bird’s magnificent art deco-inflected set design to create constantly imaginative sequences. Continue reading “Review: The Hudsucker Proxy, Nuffield”

Review: Far Away, Young Vic

“The cats have come in on the side of the French”

Blinking ‘eck, she’s a rum one that Caryl Churchill and having now seen Far Away, it is easy to see why we haven’t seen much of the play since its debut in 2000 despite Churchill’s reputation as one of (if not the) pre-eminent living British playwrights. It is perhaps a statement of intent then from Kate Hewitt, the most recent winner of the JMK Award (given to allow practical learning opportunities for young theatre directors of thrilling vision and promising ability), to turn to Far Awayfor her production funded by the proceeds.

Short but anything but sweet, and tucked away into the Young Vic’s studio space, the play encompasses five scenes that show a world heading for the brink as grim atrocities and warmongering become second nature. Samantha Colley stands out (she really has taken The Cut by storm this year after a stunning debut in The Crucible down the road) as Joan – first seen as a young girl blighted by nightmares that her aunt (Tamzin Griffin) can’t quite dispel as they’re rooted in a terrible truth. Continue reading “Review: Far Away, Young Vic”

Review: Off the Page – Microplays 1-3 from the Royal Court and the Guardian

“I smoke fish…all the time”

 

The Guardian have partnered with the Royal Court to create a series of what they are calling microplays (short films by any other name, and I assume they’re trying to differentiate this from the short films that are being done in collaboration with the Young Vic…) on a range of six subjects. Each one – food, fashion, music, sport, education and politics – has seen a Guardian journalist work with a playwright to gain inspiration to create a minutes-long microplay which is then rapidly brought to life by some high-class directors and actors and hosted on the Guardian’s website.

The most recent of these is Death of England, written by Roy Williams and directed by Clint Dyer after a discussion with the Guardian’s Barney Ronay. It features Rafe Spall in scintillating form as a grieving working-class son at his father’s funeral who makes an ill-advised attempt at a eulogy which quickly degenerates into a rant about football and race, conflicted ideas about English identity and the state of the national team and notions of what loyalty really means. It couldn’t be a more hot-button topic if it tried (due to the efforts of my hometown team) but it is Spall’s captivating performance of Williams’ insightful script that really grips.

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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”

Review: The Master and Margarita, Complicite at the Barbican

“It’s just words, it’s just another story”

As I left the Barbican after seeing Complicite’s take on The Master and Margarita, I thought to myself that was simply extraordinary but I have no idea why and tweeted something to that effect. I couldn’t really explain it in any kind of meaningful way and in some ways even if I could, it still wouldn’t do it justice. Adapted from the novel written in secret by Mikhail Bulgakov during Stalin’s repressive regime that has long been considered an unstageable piece of literature, it therefore seems an apt choice for Simon McBurney and the highly imaginative and ambitious Complicite company to take on as their latest challenge.

Visually, it is a completely stunning piece of work with some of the best incorporation of projections I’ve ever seen. Their scale is massive, filling the expanse of the back wall of the Barbican’s main stage, yet there’s an intimacy to them as well as the actors interact with them in clever ways and they continually draw the audience in. McBurney wisely keeps much of the rest of the staging on a minimalist level, utilising an almost balletic physicality of considerable grace and beauty. And the production needs this pared-back simplicity as the story it is telling is a complex, multi-layered one. Continue reading “Review: The Master and Margarita, Complicite at the Barbican”

Review: Greenland, National Theatre

“It’s like we’re conducting a big, massive experiment…”

Pulling together narratives and investigative work from four playwrights, Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne around the ever-current issue of climate change, Greenland is the latest play at the National Theatre to tackle this issue, following on from Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London last year. Based on interviews with scientists, politicians, money-makers and philosophers, woven together by dramaturg Ben Power and directed by Bijan Sheibani, this is a highly ambitious, challenging piece of work and though this was the first preview, it seems that some of these challenges might be a little too much.

Predictably, multiple strands of story run parallel, some explored and revisited more than others as the narrative shifts around, there are occasional intersections but these are perfunctory rather than integral to the stories. Amongst everything, there’s a young woman moved to drop out of university to become a climate change activist; two women in a therapy session (there was division in the group as to whether they were mother/daughter or a lesbian couple, but it really isn’t that important) who are being driven apart by the strident ‘green’ views of one of them; two guys bird-watching in Greenland, one of whom has been doing it for 40 years; a Labour politician struggling to make a difference leading up to and at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. All are trying to make sense of the conflicting viewpoints around the issue and figuring out who to trust and what, if anything, can be done. Continue reading “Review: Greenland, National Theatre”

Review: Our Class, National

Our Class is a blistering look at the Polish collusion in the atrocities of the Second World War from Polish playwright Tadeusz Słobodzianek, presented here in a new version by Ryan Craig (although given this is a world premiere and someone else is credited with the literal translation, I’m not quite sure what ‘version’ actually means). Taking the Jedwabne massacre as its focal point, a massacre of the entire Jewish population of a village long thought to have been carried out by the Nazis but recently discovered to have actually been the actions of the local Polish people, the play is an attempt to try and understand how the villagers could have turned on each other in such a way and subsequently kept the terrible secret. It does this by following a class of Polish schoolchildren, some Catholic, some Jewish, starting in 1925 and working its way through to the modern day.

I have to admit to initially having my doubts as the play opened with adults pretending to be schoolchildren which is never nice to see, but there was enough humour present to see the scene through as they all talked about what they wanted to be in the future. The cast of ten actually play their characters throughout their lifespan and so my doubts were quickly dispelled as the classmates grew up throughout the 1930s with the twin shadows of Soviet and Nazi invasions shattering their childhood dreams and ultimately setting them against each other to brutal effect. Continue reading “Review: Our Class, National”