Review: Karagula, Styx

“He had no way of knowing it would get so out of control”

Full disclosure – I saw a preview of Karagula, one which lasted until 11pm and so you may rightly assume that it left me disgruntled. But I’m my own worst enemy sometimes, I’m not the biggest fan of Philip Ridley when he’s erring on the fractured narrative side and I had been warned. But Radiant Vermin was so good, Mercury Fur shines brightly in the memory, and Ridley’s own poetry had left me very well inclined towards him when news of this new production broke.

Mounted by D.E.M. Productions and PIGDOG in a location initially kept secret but now revealed as Styx, a converted ambulance station in Tottenham Hale, Karagula is a wildly ambitious thing, claiming to be one of the largest productions ever mounted Off-West-End. And in some ways, you can see it, the attention to detail in some of the costumes, the sheer sweep of the universes that it covers, the audacity of the satire attempted on dissolute Western behaviour patterns. Continue reading “Review: Karagula, Styx”

Radio Review: Time and the Conways / Jailbird Lover / The Benefit of Time

“You don’t know what day it is today”

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to any radio drama but the prospect of an all star cast doing JB Priestley’s Time and the Conways was something I couldn’t resist and under David Hunter’s direction, it was a truly beautiful piece of work. The aching lyricism of the play and its innovative (extremely so for the time) non-linear structure have long been a favourite and so to see them get the luxury treatment here, headed up by Harriet Walter as Mrs Conway, is just fantastic.

The play looks at the fortunes of the Conway family as they celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the daughters Kay in 1919 and then flicks forward 19 years where we see straightaway what has become of them. And as their lot mirrors that of the class system in Britain, it isn’t a happy one. Walter’s brittle blitheness as she tries to ignore the financial situation is blissful, Anna Madeley and Rupert Evans are just gorgeous as Alan and Kay – the two decent ones out of the whole bunch – and Colin Guthrie’s piano adds an elegiac beauty. Sublime. Continue reading “Radio Review: Time and the Conways / Jailbird Lover / The Benefit of Time”

Review: Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

“What kind of man would you be without the theatre”

I can’t lie – I had rather low expectations when it came to the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, not helped by rewatching the film recently and marvelling at how it managed to win 7 Academy Awards back in 1999. But I equally have to admit to being swept away by Declan Donellan’s production of Lee Hall’s adaptation which is set to open this week at the Noël Coward Theatre, it managing to find an identity of its own (after a relatively slow start) to try and recapture the hearts of audiences anew.

Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay saw Shakespeare as a jobbing playwright, tussling for commissions with friendly rival Kit Marlowe and dealing with a particularly sticky case of writer’s block. With his unhappily married wife and kids sequestered in Stratford-upon-Avon, he embarks on a forbidden affair with noblewoman Viola de Lesseps, who has her own battles to face in being denied the career on the stage that she craves and being married off to the obnoxious Wessex. Their romantic strife thus provides the creative spark for Will to write Romeo and Juliet.

Where the film did work for me was in the overload of Shakespearean puns worked into the script, often wittily suggesting that the bard took inspiration from all around him; where it did not was with the central romance which lacked any real sense of passion for me. Funnily enough, the converse was pretty much true here. Tom Bateman’s freshly appealing Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s hugely characterful Viola have enormous chemistry and theirs is a romance to root for.

Instead, the repeated gags of references to other Shakespeare plays prove to be something of a hindrance, occasionally interrupting the flow of the show –(the ‘out damned spot’ bit takes way too long of a set-up although the payoff is fun) – and often falling flat. Without them being cleverly worked in (like ‘tomorrow’ ‘and tomorrow’), they lose their impact, Will just declaring ‘oh brave new world’ as he schtups Viola doesn’t really mean anything at all. Equally, the delayed John Webster joke flew over the heads of the majority of this particular audience!

Fortunately there’s much more to the production as well. Paddy Cunneen’s highly atmospheric music is sung and played live onstage, Nick Ormerod’s inventive design allows for both the intimate and the grand, and the brightness of the supporting cast – David Oakes’ twinkle-eyed Marlowe, Ferdy Roberts’ Fenniman, David Ganly’s Burbage and Paul Chahidi’s Henslowe just to name a few, give real life to the Elizabethan theatrical world.

And this is where the show really works, a Noises Off-esque sequence that takes place backstage as a play goes on is really well put together, combining great humour and pathos, and the rivalries and relationships between the playwrights and theatre managers give rise to a wonderful sense of community, ending up as a love letter to the theatre as much to Shakespeare himself.

Photos: Johan Persson
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 25th October

Review: Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions, Soho Theatre

“I’ve been described as the girl next door…by neighbours”

Fresh from Edinburgh where it was part of Northern Stage’s programme, Will Eno’s collection of short plays, Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions, made the transfer to the Soho Theatre to make this a good month for fans of this New York-based playwright. The five pieces are separate but interlinked, insomuch as they complement and reinforce each other with a loose thematic continuity. From the sports coach trying to rationalise a poor season to a man and a woman recording their intros for an online dating service, from an airline spokesperson struggling to deliver a press conference after a plane crash to a photographer and his assistant prepping for a shoot, Eno probes the different ways in which people present themselves, put brave faces on, even in the knowledge of the desperation of their various situations.

Eno’s powerfully evocative use of language brings a poetic charge to much of these, but also demonstrates the different ways in which we use words, as foreplay, as a protective buffer, as a smokescreen, as a way to search for meaning when the point of it all eludes us. The peeling back of the best, and the worst, of the would-be daters reveals lives barely lived; the erudite sports coach unexpectedly holds a mirror, or is it a shield, up to the voracious journalists waiting to tear him to shreds. Continue reading “Review: Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions, Soho Theatre”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Propeller at the Crucible

“Many a man there is”

The second part of Propeller’s current double bill is The Winter’s Tale and much as we did last year for The Comedy of Errors, Boycotting Trends and I (with bonus @3rdspearcarrier) trekked up to Sheffield to catch it early in the substantial tour that follows. It was a little sad but true that Henry V failed to live up to my (sky-high) expectations so I’d aimed for a better job of managing them this time round for this ‘problem play’.

Sicilia is all moon-lit stark, metallic edges, the dark candle-lit atmosphere matching the troubled mind of Leontes, whose tortured jealousy sends him into a frenzy that challenges a lifelong friendship, the will of the gods and the lives of his children and his dear wife Hermione. Robert Hands give his Leontes an anger that subtly builds rather than one that defines his character and thus we feel for him even in his most fevered moments and always see the husband and father that is being lost in the red mist of jealousy – this in turn makes it (slightly) more believable that Hermione might forgive him. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Propeller at the Crucible”

Review: Henry V, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“May I with right and conscience make this claim”

After the phenomenal success of their pairing of Richard III and The Comedy of Errors which toured considerably this year, all-male Shakespeare company Propeller are riding on something of a high. The company has evolved once again with some departures, some new faces and several stalwarts remaining in situ to take on Henry V (which will be accompanied by The Winter’s Tale from next year) which will tour the UK and the world once again, even heading over to Australia and New Zealand in March.

A history play that has war at the very heart of it, Henry V perhaps lends itself more easily than most to updating, the enduring nature of conflict meaning that resonance is sadly never too far away. Propeller, with Michael Pavelka’s design, have adopted a modern feel – costumes point towards early-twentieth century – but one that generally feels more timeless rather than particularly anchored to any specific period with scaffolding units and crates forming a flexible set. The company bring their customary level of reinvigoration to the play, breathing a new physical life into the work and letting their imagination take it to new places. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”

Re-review: The Comedy of Errors, Propeller at Hampstead Theatre

“Alas, poor women! Make us but believe…”

Revisiting The Comedy of Errors, one of the Propeller shows currently residing at the Hampstead Theatre proved to be even more fun than seeing Richard III again as I found myself enjoying it more on second viewing. I actually trekked up to Sheffield to see this at the beginning of their tour and my review of the show from then still stands as there really is little more to add and i’m running out of superlatives with which to describe the guys: “anarchic panache” and “reverentially irreverent” are my personal favourites.

I can’t help but feel, that more so with this than RIII, that this is about as definitive an interpretation of the play as I will ever see. RIII has its absolutely delicious moments to be sure but I have seen and can still see other ways of doing the play that would work (if not quite as well) but in terms of getting the laughs out of a Shakespearean comedy, this is in my experience unequalled. Hardly a joke misfires or an eyebrow raises as it is all so finely tuned and carefully interpreted to extract the maximum enjoyment that I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t love this. Continue reading “Re-review: The Comedy of Errors, Propeller at Hampstead Theatre”

Re-review: Richard III, Propeller at Hampstead Theatre

“I like you lads; about your business straight”

It seems only natural that Edward Hall would bring Propeller’s touring double bill of Richard III and The Comedy of Errors to the Hampstead Theatre, he is after all the Artistic Director for both the all-male Shakespeare company and the Swiss Cottage venue, but when the shows were first announced, there was no mention of London in the tour. Keen to have my first Propeller experience, trips were made to Guildford and Sheffield to see the shows and then as sod’s law would have it of course, a short residency in London was announced. Still, I am glad that I got to see the shows earlier, way back in November in the case of Richard III, as it has meant I was able to see them, love them, recommend them to all and sundry as they toured the country and finally get to revisit both shows as I’m pretty sure this is about as good as interpretations of Shakespeare can get.

 My review of Richard III back in November in Guildford can be read here and to be honest and somewhat less than humble, reading it back, I think it is one of my best pieces of writing in capturing how exhilarating a production it is and how enthusiastic I felt about it. Very little of my exceedingly positive opinion has changed and taking in a second viewing allowed me to appreciate some of the smaller details that passed me by first time round as there really are so many inventive touches in here, it feels impossible to soak them all in with a single viewing. Continue reading “Re-review: Richard III, Propeller at Hampstead Theatre”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, Propeller at Sheffield Lyceum

“Men, all divine, the masters of all these”

It is not often that I start off reviews with a negative comment but it must be said that Ed Hall and his Propeller company are naughty, naughty boys. When they announced their tour of their new productions, London was not among the cities and towns being visited so schedules were looked at, train timetables checked and we duly booked trips to Guildford to see Richard III and to Sheffield to see The Comedy of Errors. They then of course announced a short stop at the Hampstead Theatre which would have cut down on my travelling time somewhat. But, they don’t play there until the end of June and having seen both these shows now, I don’t think I could have coped with the anticipation waiting that long as they are sensationally good.

Ephesus has been re-imagined as a Costa del Sol type resort in Michael Pavelka’s design, full of football-shirt wearing blokes, geezers selling fake watches and flirtatious policemen and the air is filled with music, played live by the company who frequently break out into song, mostly snippets of cheesy 80s tunes which are brilliantly done and never outstay their welcome. Most of the ensemble remain onstage throughout, slipping out of their main role and into this group to provide a raft of sound effects straight out of a cartoon which are ridiculously funny and creating amusing moments in group scenes. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, Propeller at Sheffield Lyceum”

Review: Richard III, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

“Thus it is when men are ruled by women”

I have not been lucky enough to catch Propeller, Edward Hall’s all-male Shakespeare company, in my theatregoing thus far and it was only the perseverance of a new friend at Boycotting Trends that convinced me to make the trip (also my first) to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford in order to catch Richard III, the first of their two plays that they will be touring for the next several months in rep with The Comedy of Errors. And boy am I glad that he did, for this reimagining of the history play into a post-modern gothic Victoriana-fest is pretty close to being unmissable.

The story of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of his Plantagenet family yet possessed of a burning ambition to be King and utterly ruthless in his bloodthirsty, backstabbing, blackmailing and brutal climb to the throne, is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays but Edward Hall along with Roger Warren has adapted and re-edited the text into something more dramatically compelling than I remember this play ever being, mainly through incorporating an outrageously comic, even vaudevillian approach to the dastardly deeds that are carried out. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre”