Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian

“I believe in being open to all cultures”

There’s something a little perversely ironic about Tim Price’s PPE being one of the more effective microplays (SHORT FILMS!) of the Royal Court and Guardian collaboration given how it is a wordless piece. Directed by Hamish Pirie with movement choreographed by the excellent Ann Yee, it plays off the trademark physical gestures that politicians have become known for using as an emollient to the relentlessly grim messages that they’ve had to deliver in recent years. David Annen, Cyril Nri and Eileen Walsh do a cracking job as leaders of different parties and just through physical expression, manage to hypnotise and hoodwink a whole host of supernumeraries standing in for the too-willing electorate. It’s not a world entirely without hope but it’s a powerful indictment of how much of contemporary politics is stagecraft that we just lap up.

Chloë Moss’ Devil In The Detail focuses on the world of fashion, something that director Christopher Haydon laughingly admits to knowing little of but as a multi-million pound enterprise, there’s much more to it than just knowing which handbag is currently de rigueur. Moss picks up on the way that fashion can be used to bolster a person’s mood and self-belief – as Pippa Bennett-Warner and Vanessa Kirby’s characters get ready for award shows in the atelier of a hot designer – but also how the world of fashionistas can wield it as a vicious weapon as Lucy Ellinson’s killer stylist (such lipstick, so colour, many wow!) corrects the assumptions they’ve made, casually dishing out humiliation and obsequiousness which shatters the mood that playing dress-up had cultivated between the pair. Continue reading “Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian”

Review: Teh Internet is Serious Business, Royal Court

“Confused people may need some help”
I’m pretty sure that somebody has already reached this blog before by googling “sexy Peter Pan takes a load in the face” – such is the way that these search algorithms work (don’t talk to me about how my search results were skewed by seeing a play called Reclining N*de With Black St*ckings) – so there’s at least one person who will be inordinately excited by the anarchic spirit that rules the first half of Tim Price’s Teh Internet is Serious Business, directed with some astonishing brio by Hamish Pirie.
A fictionalised story, albeit inspired by events that happened to the members of hacker groups like Lulzsec and Anonymous, the show’s real strength comes from the playfully imaginative ways in which the online world is represented. There’s not a screen or a graphic to be found anywhere; instead, the company take on multiple roles, playing websites, online avatars and memes as well as giving us glimpses of the IRL personae involved too, the real people in front of the computer screens.
Chloe Lamford’s design facilitates this brilliantly – trapdoors allow websites to pop-up, sidedoors open up like windows to let coding be explained through the medium of interpretative dance, and a brightly coloured ball pool serves as that strange end of the internet from whence so much random crap expounds. It’s a dizzying array for which a glossary is usefully provided with the castsheet and if some of the detail will be lost on many of us, the roller-coaster exuberance of the theatrical language is significant recompense.
Ultimately, too much is forced in here though, meaning the flabbiness of the running time is scarcely justified. And perversely, as the play moves from the freewheeling fun of hacking into any and every site they want (Scientology, Westboro Baptist Church, and the CIA are amongst their victims) to more of a thriller as the authorities start to close in on the group, one can’t help but long for a little more examining depth.

The casualness with which the hackers equally treat the personal data of regular people with their more prominent targets hints at the abdication of responsibility that the anonymity of the internet can engender, the impact of online activity on real life activity (leading to one of the show’s best gags about McFlurrys and Egypt) is only just touched on (and would have partnered nicely with the Royal Court’s last main stage show The Nether). Even a final shocking betrayal doesn’t quite possess the power it ought to wield.

But the energy that courses through the cast and company, and indeed the Royal Court as a whole, is genuinely thrilling. Across the company of 15, Eileen Walsh, Sargon Yelda and Ferdinand Kingsley all stand out in their multi-rolling, whilst Kevin Guthrie and Hamza Jeetooa both impress as the story’s main leads, teenage misfits both, who mask their IRL difficulties with extraordinary online personalities. There’s lots of fun to be had here but underneath it all, the daring, fruitful shaking up of a venerable institution is serious business indeed.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: not currently available
Booking until 25th October

Review: Protest Song, National Theatre

“I’m not protesting”

Tim Price has become a writer to watch with a number of interesting recent works (For Once, Salt Root and Roe, and The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning amongst others) and now he graduates to the National Theatre with this monologue by Rhys Ifans taking up residence in (and also outside) the giant red box of The Shed. In Protest Song, Ifans is Danny, a man whose addictions have led to the collapse of his marriage and family life and resulted in him ending up on the streets, a rough sleeper on the steps of St Pauls.

So when Occupy takes over his abode and turn it into the centrepiece of their protest movement, he is naturally disgruntled, believing them to be taking the piss (quite literally in one scene). But the opportunities that it presents – for socialisation, for sustenance, for service – seduces him into thinking change may be afoot, but he fails to take into account society’s ingrained attitudes towards the homeless. It is a genuinely thought-provoking piece of theatre that manages that oh-so-rare thing of actually challenging one’s own perceptions, seeing the inevitable beggars on the way home in a new light. Continue reading “Review: Protest Song, National Theatre”

Review: I’m With The Band, St James Theatre

“If rock and rolling means perforating your testes, then I’ll stick to just playing guitar thank you very much”

Between recent plays on Wikileaks and Scottish independence at this year’s Edinburgh festival, Welsh playwright Tim Price has shown himself to be utterly unafraid of tackling some of the more pressing topical subjects of our time. The well-received Radicalisation of Bradley Manning has finished for now but I’m With The Band has transferred to the St James Theatre for a two week run. Four piece indie-rock band The Union are riding high on critical and commercial success but a devastating piece of news about their finances leaves them millions in the red and prompts the departure of their lead guitarist Barry. With the original structure broken, the remaining members have to recalibrate and decide what, if any, future remains.

That the key creative relationship in the band is between the Caledonian Barry and the English keyboard player Damien adds piquancy, setting up this allegorical study of what the effects of Scottish independence might be. But he cleverly expands the picture to include Welsh bassist Gruff and Ulsterman Aaron on drums, who has an additional tortured relationship with Irish girlfriend Sinead with whom he shares a house which is divided by a chalk line they never cross, reminding us all that though the focus may be nearly exclusively Anglo-Scottish, there are two more countries involved in the wider question of separation. Continue reading “Review: I’m With The Band, St James Theatre”

Review: The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, streamed live

“Bradley Manning is just a boy”

Tim Price’s The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning premiered for the National Theatre of Wales last year and with a remarkable sense of timing, after the trial that resulted in a 35 year prison sentence and the subsequent revelation that the soldier identifies as a woman, returned this summer to the Edinburgh Festival. But with a view to vastly expanding its potential audience, each performance was live-streamed on t’internet and so I was able to catch it from the comfort of my very own home. And this seems the point about the capturing of theatre on film – no one is pretending that it matches the live experience but the very uniqueness of it necessarily imposes an exclusivity and so innovations such as these should be recognised for the opportunities they bring to people who otherwise would never have seen such shows, rather than focusing on what might or might not be lost in the transfer. 

But back to the play. Tim Price’s starting point is that Manning is half-Welsh on her mother’s side and spent around four years living in Wales as a teenager – the playwright posits that studies of politics and sociology of a particularly Welsh radical bent could well have shaped the mind of the person who caused one of the greatest leaks of classified material in history when releasing documents about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Wikileaks. There’s a convincing, if fictionalised, account of how this education gave him the inner courage to follow his convictions but also suggesting some of the demons that plagued her psyche. Price intercuts this story with a fast-moving whip around other key moments in Manning’s life – college years spent exploring sexuality, the reluctant fall into the army’s ranks, the troubled family life she runs from, the hellish reality of internment by her very own military. Continue reading “Review: The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, streamed live”

Review: Salt, Root and Roe, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2

“Oh don’t start the Welsh”

One of the pleasures that comes from working one’s way through the raft of theatregoing opportunities that present themselves here is the chance of spotting emerging talent and being able to follow their early days, not just with actors but with playwrights too. Laura Stevens is one such writer I’m tipping for success and another is Tim Price whose new play Salt, Root and Roe is the opening work in this year’s Donmar Trafalgar Studios season. His first play For Once was a highlight of new writing in the summer downstairs at the Hampstead and so my expectations here were high.

The three play Donmar at Trafalgar season is designed to showcase their Resident Assistant Directors scheme and with Salt, Root and Roe, it is Hamish Pirie’s turn to bring some of the Donmar aesthetic to the intimate Studio 2. The play is set in the West Wales childhood home of Menna, a phobic woman who returns home when she receives a disturbing letter from her aunt Iola declaring her intention to end her life. Iola has a tumour and is suffering from dementia and her twin sister Anest – Menna’s mother – is determined to accompany her and the younger woman is caught between the desire to intervene and the recognition that the bond between twins is often inexplicably deep. Continue reading “Review: Salt, Root and Roe, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: For Once, Hampstead Downstairs

“Perhaps this is what everyone else does, perhaps this is what adults do. I can just act happy.”

The Michael Frayn Space downstairs at the Hampstead Theatre has become something of a hot venue. A space for more experimental fare than one might be accustomed to in Swiss Cottage, it has not been a place where press critics have been invited to, instead encouraging audience feedback as plays are developed there. But in a change of policy, the doors to Pentabus Theatre’s For Once were opened and deservedly so, as it is a beautifully written, powerfully affecting play.

It is playwright Tim Price’s debut work, though he is one to watch with an upcoming play forming part of this year’s Donmar at Trafalgar Studios season and another commission for National Theatre Wales appearing next year. And with this three-hander about a family recovering from the aftermath of a terrible car accident that has sent shockwaves through the isolated rural community in which they live, he demonstrates a real skill for sensitive storytelling, resonating with a genuine understanding of the emotional interplay of people struggling to return to everyday life. Continue reading “Review: For Once, Hampstead Downstairs”