Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre

Antony and Cleopatra is a lengthy evening at the National Theatre but one which pays rich rewards, particularly in Sophie Okonedo’s majestic performance

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me”

Or Cleopatra and Antony as it turns out. Ralph Fiennes is plenty good in Simon Godwin’s modern-dress production of Antony and Cleopatra for the National Theatre, but Sophie Okonedo is sit-up, shut-up, stand-up amazing as she holds the ancient world and the entirety of the Olivier Theatre in her hand (and then wipes it clean with a look of disdain, as she wittily does after a messenger slobbers kisses all over it at one point). It is often acclaimed as one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles for women but an actor still has to do great things with it and here, Okonedo more than delivers.

In the opulent cerulean blue of Hildegard Bechtler’s design with its sunken pools and luxury, and in the magnificent array of statuesque costumes by Evie Gurney (such capes!!), her Cleopatra is a figure of immense poise. Even in her most capricious moments, there’s a knowing, performative quality to her that demonstrates just how much she’s controlling the narrative here, even when left alone by her Antony. And when together, there’s a palpable, mature connection between them – made all the more tragic by a prologue that presents a tableau of the final scene – their destinies entwining even as they’re increasingly doomed. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre”

News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

So much goodness announced here in the National Theatre’s near future – particularly excited for Nine Night’s transfer, what looks like a leading role for Siân Brooke and the prospect of Joanna Riding’s ‘Losing My Mind’. 

National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

Nine Night, Natasha Gordon’s critically acclaimed debut play transfers to the West End following a sold-out run at the NT

Further cast announced for Antony and Cleopatra alongside Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, playing from September

Cast confirmed for world premiere of David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running, including Siân Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire

Peter Brook returns to direct at the National Theatre for the first time in 50 years with The Prisoner, co-directed with Marie-Hélène Estienne

Following the acclaimed Consent, Nina Raine returns to the NT with her new play Stories starring Claudie Blakley

Anthony Neilson makes his NT debut with new play The Tell-Tale Heart, based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe

Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding to join the cast of Follies alongside Janie Dee and Peter Forbes, returning to the Olivier Theatre in February 2019

War Horse returns to the NT marking the centenary of Armistice Day

Antony and Cleopatra and I’m Not Running to  broadcast to 65 countries worldwide as part of NT Live

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in the UK gaining the right to vote, the NT stages Courage Everywhere; a series of rehearsed readings, talks and screenings Continue reading “News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019”

Review: Network, National Theatre

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”

 With Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale – a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston – has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he’s going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling ‘prophet’.

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers – as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers’ box…the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. Continue reading “Review: Network, National Theatre”

Review: Queer Theatre – Wig Out, National

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

“Here
Where one night can leave you legendary
Or a subsidiary”

The world has changed just a little in the decade or so since Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote Wig Out. McCraney is now an Oscar-winning writer after the phenomenal success of Moonlight (based on one of his unproduced plays) and RuPaul has dragged drag into the mainstream by its charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. So to see the play now is an entirely different prospect than its 2008 production at the Royal Court and an interesting example of how cultural touchstones shift.

Wig Out feels intimately connected to Paris Is Burning (if you’ve not seen it, to Netflix with you now) in its focus on ball culture in the black and Latino gay communities of New York and we get to see it fully turned out as the House of Light take on their rivals in the House of Diabolique. The ball scene is an unalloyed pleasure as outré performance follows outré performance (Craig Stein and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith took the honours for the night) and really make you want to see a fully fledged production.

Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Wig Out, National”

Review: Les Blancs, National

“Do you think the rape of a continent dissolves in cigarette smoke?”

To think that just a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t ever seen a play by Lorraine Hansberry and now I’ve seen two – the extraordinary A Raisin in the Sun which has now completed its UK tour and this new production of Les Blancs at the National. The sad reality is that there isn’t much more to see now, pancreatic cancer taking her life at just 34, but what a startling legacy this writer left of theatre that delves uncompromisingly into issues of race and identity, that remains as pertinent today as it did the mid-twentieth century when she was writing.

Hansberry didn’t get to complete Les Blancs before her death and so this final text was adapted by her sometime husband and collaborator Robert Nemiroff and it is directed here by Yaël Farber, making her National Theatre debut after her highly acclaimed 2014 The Crucible for the Old Vic. And people who saw that production will instantly recognise Farber’s modus operandi as this show opens in a highly atmospheric manner – a group of matriarchs, led by musical director Joyce Moholoagae, chanting and singing in Xhosa to leave us in no doubt what continent we’re on. Continue reading “Review: Les Blancs, National”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I did not think I should live till I were married”

In a brief programme note, Gregory Doran declares he’s “sticking his neck out” to suggest that Much Ado About Nothing may also have been known as Love’s Labour’s Won during Shakespeare’s lifetime and thus makes a novel yet inspired partnership with Love’s Labour’s Lost in an RSC double bill. Whether true or not is by and by in the end (though Shakespearean scholars will doubtless disagree) as Christopher Luscombe’s cross-cast productions combine to great effect as well as standing proud in their own right in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Where Love’s Labour’s Lost was set just before the outbreak of the Great War, Love’s Labour’s Won picks up English society as peace has finally been achieved and the Christmas of 1918 might at last be a merry one and from the outset, it feels like a more fitting interpretation. Beatrice’s independence of mind having been nurtured by the freedom of being able to work; Don John arriving as a soul-weary, battle-scarred PTSD sufferer; the rush of Claudio, Benedick, even Pedro to thoughts of marriage an emotional response to an unimaginably traumatic conflict – there’s a pleasing fit to it all. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You that way: we this way”

Always a fan of a project, the RSC have paired up Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – which they posit may have been once known as Love’s Labour’s Won – relocated the plays to an England either side of the First World War and let Christopher Luscombe loose at them with a single company, led by Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry. The RSC have hit on a cracker in uniting this pair, reuniting them in fact as they are RADA chums of old, with the wry looks and crackling tension between Berowne and Rosalind clear from the off.

A truly excellent comic actor, Bennett has the wonderful gift of always seeming on the verge of corpsing and for Berowne, it really works. The last to be co-opted into the King of Navarre’s aesthetic scheme of abstinence for him and three buddies, the first to point fingers when incriminating love poems start to appear once ladies arrive on the scene, Bennett shows us that this is a man well aware of the daftness of the enterprise he’s gotten swept up in. But he’s also an actor of much depth as he conveys the genuine sense of surprise that accompanies his own unexpected tumble head over heels and the crushing heartbreak of the play’s end. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Orlando, Royal Exchange

“Their morals were not ours”

Time for a confession – though I know I should have, I’ve not partaken of either Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel or Sally Potter’s 1992 Tilda Swinton-starring film adaptation of Orlando. So my trip to see the stage version by Sarah Ruhl at the Royal Exchange was actually my first experience of the story of a time-travelling, gender-swapping, history-defying nobleman, which is given highly theatrical life by Max Webster’s production which features Suranne Jones in the leading role.

It is strikingly done – Webster uses Liz Ranken’s movement and Vicki Amedume’s aerial knowledge to create a highly physical world which plays up the comedy of the story. From a sexually voracious Elizabeth I who is most taken with her pageboy to a gorgeous evocation of the arrival of electricity, the silly and the sublime co-exist, often in the form of the chorus of three men who narrate the action and populate the many small scenes. Continue reading “Review: Orlando, Royal Exchange”

Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Old Vic

“I account this world a tedious theatre, for I do play a part in’t ‘gainst my will”

Usual caveats and all that, this was an early preview of The Duchess of Malfi that I caught at the Old Vic, and so bear that in mind throughout. Positive comments on previews never seem to cause any controversy but without giving too much away about the direction this review (of a preview) will take, that is hardly likely to be the issue here. I have to say that for the first time, especially at a big theatre, I really felt like I was watching something in the middle of its creative process, that really was still trying to find its feet. Which I suppose is what some would argue the preview period is about but when ticket prices of up to £45 are being charged, it does feel a bit rich.

Marking Jamie Lloyd’s directorial debut at the Old Vic, this revival of The Duchess of Malfi was largely most anticipated by me for attracting Eve Best back onto the London stage (though Lloyd’s treatment of She Stoops To Conquer also quite whetted the appetite). Her Beatrice in the Globe’s Much Ado About Nothing really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime performances that I’ll remember for years to come, and so though it went against my natural instincts, I forked out for a good stalls seat (Row F) for this in anticipation of theatrical yumminess. What I got though was something else, a half-baked cake of a show with what feels like a set of serious misjudgements and lasted well over three hours.

This was first experience of The Duchess of Malfi (I’m choosing to skate over the Punchdrunk interpretation as little of it made any impact on me) and so I wonder how much of a difference that made for me. Upon being widowed, the Duchess takes a new lover, below her class, and marries him secretly as her two brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, are determined to control her life and when they find out what she has done, during which time she has had 3 children by him (although how she got away with this I’m not entirely sure), they exact a chilling, oppressive revenge on her. Continue reading “Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Old Vic”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”