Barely-a-review: The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Downstairs

An excellent Jade Anouka leads the cast of Ella Road’s debut play The Phlebotomist at the Hampstead Downstairs

“All these people are getting their dating profiles blood-verified. You know, shouldn’t we just go for the people we fancy?”

The Phlebotomist may be a little

but it’s also 

in the way that it takes a scalpel to a near-future obsession with eugenics that is less dystopian than creepily credible.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson
The Phlebotomist is running at the Hampstead Downstairs until 19th May

Not-a-Review: Bad Roads, Royal Court

“A body without a head in a body bag just doesn’t turn me on”

Was no fan of Natal’ya Vorozhbit’s Bad Roads I’m afraid. Plays about war in the Ukraine will perhaps predictably be brutal but the experience of watching it doesn’t have to be the same way. Vicky Featherstone’s trailblazing at the Royal Court gets her a long way but it’s hard not to feel the programming has been decidedly mixed and something of a challenge. Too much, for me, in this case.

Running time: 23rd December
Booking until 95 minutes (without interval)

                     

 

DVD Review: The Physician

“How pale and tedious this world would be without mystery” 

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Noah Gordon, 2013 film The Physician is a slight oddity in being a German big-budget movie that just happens to be in English. Directed by Philipp Stölzl (who also directed Madonna’s ‘American Pie’ video in amongst a varied career), it has the epic sweep of a properly big production and with stars such as Sir Ben Kingsley and Stellan Skarsgård at the helm, alongside the swooningly handsome lead Tom Payne, it is surprising that it didn’t get a wider release, only now making it onto DVD in the UK.

For it is a hugely fascinating story, following young Robert Cole (Payne) who, once orphaned in 11th century England, vows to study medicine, hoping to find the answers to the illness that took his mother and also to explain his ability to foresee death. First attached to a rough-around-the-edges travelling surgeon (Skarsgård), Rob’s aptitude for medicine soon becomes apparent and a chance meeting with a surgeon of advanced knowledge sends him onto Isfahan in Persia, where the great scholar Ibn Sina (Kingsley) runs the most advanced medical school in the world.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Physician”

Review: Dara, National Theatre

“I am Muslim, but my humanness is shared with anyone and everyone. If we choose to love one special person, does it mean that they are the only person worth loving? ‘To you, your religion, to me, mine’. ‘There is no obligation in religion’ – straight from the Quran. We cannot force our religion upon others.”

For all the gnashing of teeth about how ‘national’ Rufus Norris’ newly announced debut season as AD at the NT is or isn’t, there’s actually something much more significant happening right now as part of Nicholas Hytner’s finale. The press attention may be on Tom Stoppard’s return to the stage but over in the Lyttelton, the first South Asian play to run at this South Bank venue is doing that most idealised of theatrical practices – reaching out and engaging with new audiences.

I saw a late preview of Shahid Nadeem’s Dara and I was blown away at how mixed a crowd I was taking my seat with – there’s undoubtedly a more sophisticated debate to be had about people wanting to see stories they can directly connect with rather than being more adventurous but still, it felt like a significant enough matter that I wanted to make mention of. And as critics will be seeing the show with a more than likely traditional press night audience, it isn’t something they’ll necessarily pick up on. Continue reading “Review: Dara, National Theatre”

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre

“The world doesn’t work in our favour”

Rufus Norris is set to take over the artistic directorship of the National Theatre in April next year but makes an admirably bold move in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Adapted by David Hare from the 2012 non-fiction work of the same name by Katherine Boo, who spent three years living, investigating and writing about life in the Indian slum of Annawadi which lies in the shadow of Mumbai airport, it’s sprawling and scrappy yet epic and enlightening as it elucidates something of what it means to be this far below the poverty line. It is rarely comfortable viewing but its unflinching and unsentimental approach feels essential.

Whether accurate or overemphasised, a strongly matriarchal societal structure emerges in this version of Annawadi as wives and mothers seize the initiative in the face of feckless husbands and sheer necessity. Which results in the pleasing preponderance of excellent female roles – Stephanie Street’s Sikh Asha is the fixer for the entire neighbourhood, putting work at the expense of even a special birthday party her kids have put on; Thusitha Jayasundera’s crippled Fatima is a cyclone of malevolent anger that dominates her household; and Meera Syal’s practical Zehrunisa looks set to secure her family’s future out of the slum with some canny deal-making. Continue reading “Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre”

Review: The Djinns of Eidgah, Royal Court

“Gar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast”

Interesting art can transcend basic notions of comprehension, cutting deep to a visceral place of goosebumps and adrenalin rushes that crosses linguistic barriers, just listening to this recital of a piece of Sufi poetry moves me in an unexpectedly extraordinary way even after repeated listens. The above quote of another piece also by poet Amir Khusro (If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here) which prefaces Abhishek Majumdar’s complex Kashmir-set play The Djinns of Eidgah which provoked a similar reaction in me upstairs at the Royal Court.

Not that the play isn’t in English, but rather its reach is ambitiously grand and encompasses subjects that I would be a fool to profess any substantial knowledge of. Through the trials of young Kashmiri orphans Ashrafi and Bilal, Majumdar’s writing explores the state of being ‘inbetween’ – whether in the brutal, and ongoing, realities of being torn between India and Pakistan; or in the fable-like hinterland between life and death, explored through the Central Asian oral history tradition of dastaan and the legends of Amir Hamza. Reality and fantasy are intermingled, politics and people dissected, both head and heart engaged to create a melancholic minor masterpiece.  Continue reading “Review: The Djinns of Eidgah, Royal Court”