Review: My White Best Friend, Bunker Theatre

My White Best Friend (and even more letters left unsaid) sees the Bunker Theatre start the process of going out in a blaze of glory

“It’s all we can do to listen”

There’s a couple of months before the Bunker Theatre closes its doors but it does seem a rather wonderful f*** you to bring back their inordinately successful mini-festival and sell out every night before the run even started. Developers may gain from taking over this space but as evidenced here in this kind of forward-thinking, thought-provoking production, London’s theatre ecology stands to lose a lot.  

Co-curated by Rachel De-Lahay and Milli Bhatia (who also directs), My White Best Friend (and even more letters left unsaid) is a raucous piece of gig theatre, centred on a provocation to a range of cracking writers to write letters “that say the unsaid to the people that matter most”. Those letters are then read to a standing audience, sight unseen by different actors every night. And there’s a DJ-led afterparty too, even on a Monday night! Continue reading “Review: My White Best Friend, Bunker Theatre”

Review: Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp., Royal Court

Fancy a new Caryl Churchill play? Well here’s four of ’em. Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. impresses at the Royal Court

True story, I’d intended this review of Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. to be much more formally adventurous than my usual four paragraphs. But my coding ain’t up to scratch and real life intervened to take up time and so I’m just using normal words and format to express my admiration for this quartet of new Caryl Churchill plays.

Directed by James Macdonald, they’re an often extraordinary combination, circling around ideas of myths and stories with her customary precision and linguistic expertise. Married to the ingenuity of Miriam Buether’s set designs, each cannily different to the other as they loom out of the darkness of Jack Knowles’ lighting, it is a full-on auditory treat. And that’s before we even mention a cast that includes Deborah Findlay and Toby Jones. Continue reading “Review: Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp., Royal Court”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

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!”

Review: Oil, Almeida,

“I left a man I loved so much, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t die. It makes you strong”

I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it along to Oil – my original date being derailed by travel chaos and a busy Autumn schedule meaning I could barely find space. But space I found eventually and whilst I’m glad that I got to see Ella Hickson’s new play, for me it didn’t quite live up to the (admittedly high) expectations that had been built up over its run at the Almeida. It’s still good, and often very good, especially in its lead performances from Anne-Marie Duff and Yolanda Kettle, but I just didn’t connect with the play at large.

There’s no doubting the scale of the ambition here, the epic form tackled with gusto as the play’s timeline stretches over 150 years with mother and daughter May and Amy playing out their five scenes ranging from the late nineteenth century to the near future. And whilst society’s connection to and reliance upon oil is under the microscope, so too is the evolving role of women in that society, its changes explored by the time-travelling nature of the writing and the visionary production by Carrie Cracknell. Continue reading “Review: Oil, Almeida,”

Review: Cleansed, National

“Felt it.
Here. Inside.
Here.”

I think I have to admit to liking the idea of Katie Mitchell more than the reality. In the build-up to each appearance her productions makes on these shores, long-form pieces emerge, delving into her practise, and some of the mystery behind why she has become so totemic a figure in European theatre yet still regarded with some suspicion by parts of the British establishment (qv this piece in the Guardian). And I think yeah, she is different but maybe this time I’ll get it, maybe this time instead of just being challenged as an audience member, I’ll feel connected to her work too.

Safe to say though that Sarah Kane’s Cleansed was not the production for this breakthrough to occur. A notable event in marking Kane’s debut at the National Theatre and also a long-awaited return for Mitchell to the main programme on the South Bank after years of being frozen out by Hytner’s reluctance to let her loose on anything but children’s shows, it is naturally a hugely challenging event. Warnings abound of graphic scenes of physical and sexual violence, fainters have been reported at several performances (I reckon at least a couple of those must have been faking it just to get early release though), once again we ain’t in Kansas. Continue reading “Review: Cleansed, National”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond

“People are not so dreadful when you know them”

And so to the second of three The Glass Menageries in a month for me. Ellen McDougall’s production for Headlong has already played extensive runs in Leeds and Liverpool before nipping down to Richmond and Warwick for a week each and I was glad of the opportunity to see this most intriguing of directors (Henry the Fifth, Idomeneus, Anna Karenina) take on Tennessee Williams’ classic memory play. With ‘a frustrated mother, a daughter lost in her imagination, and a son intent on rebellion’, all this family needs to tip it right over the edge is an inopportune visit from a gentleman caller.

Whereas Samuel Hodges layered up the Wingfields’ existence with a scrapbook full of video references and visual cues, McDougall goes the opposite way in stripping the play to its bare bones, excavating existence through bodies alone with minimal props. Fly Davis’ design suspends the black box of Tom’s mind above water in which naturally only he can paddle, a space in which his memories play out or are perhaps trapped, like the characters themselves. A staircase at the rear leads only into darkness, there’s no real escape possible from the drudgery of life with all its anecdotes repeated ad nauseam.  Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond”

The 2014 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize

Susannah Fielding, for Portia in The Merchant of Venice (Almeida Theatre)

Second prize

Tom Mothersdale, for Yasha in The Cherry Orchard (Young Vic)

Third prize

Cynthia Erivo, for Poins and Earl of Douglas in Henry IV (Donmar Warehouse)

Commendations

Stefano Braschi, for Soranzo in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe)
Rebecca Collingwood, for Blanche in Widowers’ Houses (Orange Tree Theatre)
Ncuti Gatwa, for Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (HOME, Manchester)
Emma Hall, for Phaedra, Aphrodite, and Artemis in Hippolytos (Antic Face, at The Colepit)
Jennifer Kirby, for Lady Percy in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Daisy May, for Celia in As You Like It (Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol)
Frances McNamee, for Finea in A Lady of Little Sense (Theatre Royal, Bath)
Ekow Quartey, for Hans in Spring Awakening (touring production by Headlong/West Yorkshire Playhouse/Nuffield Theatre)
Michael Shelford, for Willie Mossop in Hobson’s Choice (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)
Thalissa Teixeira, for Chorus in Electra (Old Vic)