News: October UK theatre news update

We’re beginning to see the fruits of some more of the lockdown programming that has seen theatres across England respond in a variety of impressive ways

Nottingham Playhouse’s Unlocked Festival continues to rocket up the must-see list as it announces more details. Their local writing commission has ended up with two winners – Wayward Thread’s Hand Me Down and Lapelle’s Factory’s Shuck, both of which will now receive work-in-progress performances as part of the festival.

Casting has also been announced for James Graham’s Bubble, which will star the marvellous Pearl Mackie and the equally marvellous Jessica Raine. They join the likes of Mark Gatiss and Jade Anouka reading ghost stories on
Halloween, new work from Naomi Obeng and a concert starring Rosalie Craig, Sandra Marvin and Jodie Prenger. Continue reading “News: October UK theatre news update”

Review: The Welkin, National Theatre

Lucy Kirkwood returns to the National Theatre with The Welkin, starring a brilliant ensemble led by Maxine Peake

“Nobody blames God when there’s a woman can be blamed instead”

There are moments in Lucy Kirkwood’s new play The Welkin that are just outstanding. The opening tableau of silhouetted women engaged in housework is one for the ages, the early montage of women being empanelled onto a jury is as compelling a piece of social history as has ever been committed to the stage as well as looking stunning, and the final scene is equally full of iconic imagery (that veil, that walk, that ribbon, that realisation!).

Set on the Norfolk/Suffolk borders in 1759, the play focuses on a quirk of English justice at the time. A child has died and Sally Poppy has been sentenced for the crime (by men) but as she is claiming to be pregnant – something which if true, would commute her sentence from death to transportation – a “jury of matrons” must decide if she is telling the truth. Thus 12 local woman are summoned and locked in a room to determine her fate. Continue reading “Review: The Welkin, National Theatre”

News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre

Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor headline a new production of Romeo and Juliet, while Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy star in Gary Owen’s Romeo and Julie, among other big news from the National Theatre

New productions

Simon Godwin returns to the National Theatre to direct Shakespeare’s ROMEO & JULIET following his critically-acclaimed productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Twelfth Night in the Olivier Theatre. Set in modern Italy in a world where Catholic and secular values clash, Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Judy) and Josh O’Connor (The Crown, God’s Own Countryplay the two young lovers who strive to transcend a world of violence and corruption. Fisayo Akinade (The Antipodes, Barber Shop Chroniclesis cast as Mercutio. The production will open in the Olivier Theatre in August 2020.

Set and costume design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting design by Lucy Carter, composition by Michael Bruce and sound design by Christopher Shutt. Continue reading “News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre”

Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”

Review: Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre

“He thinks too much – such men are dangerous”

Though it is billed as ‘a promenade staging’ and the website refers to ‘mob tickets’ and ‘immersive ticket holders’, make no mistake that if you’re in the pit for Julius Caesar, you’re standing. For two hours. There’s a bit of movement, as in five paces that way or this when a new bit of the set has to wheeled into place but don’t be distracted into thinking there’s anything more on offer here than can be gotten further along the South Bank at the Globe (apart from a roof of course, which allows them to charge five times the price, or three times if you book your tickets via TodayTix).

And as with being a groundling, there are decided pros and cons to experiencing theatre this way. The first half of Shakespeare’s political thriller works extremely well under this modern-dress treatment from Nicholas Hytner. As you enter the Bridge’s auditorium, reconceived into the round here, the pit is filled with a rock gig, vendors sell beer and baseball caps, a febrile energy fills the space which carries through to the arrival of David Calder’s populist Caesar with his red cap and puerile slogan ‘Do this!’ (Contemporary allusions are clear but later on you may find the mind gets weirdly drawn to Murdoch more than Trump…).

Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre”

Full cast of the Bridge Theatre’s Julius Caesar announced

The full cast for the Bridge Theatre’s second production – a promenade version of Julius Caesar – has been announced and obviously the news that Adjoa Andoh will be playing Casca is the bee’s knees.

The company is: Adjoa Andoh (Casca), David Calder (Caesar), Leaphia Darko (ensemble), Rosie Ede (Marullus/ Artemidorus), Michelle Fairley (Cassius), Leila Farzad (Decius Brutus), Fred Fergus (Lucius/Cinna the Poet), Zachary Hart (ensemble), Wendy Kweh (Calpurnia), David Morrissey (Mark Antony), Mark Penfold (Caius Ligarius), Abraham Popoola (Trebonius), Sid Sagar (Flavius/Popilius Lena), Nick Sampson (Cinna), Hannah Stokely (Metellus Cimber), Ben Whishaw (Brutus) and Kit Young (Octavius).

Review: The Trap, Omnibus

“The predictability of human desperation is incredible”

Set over a long night of the soul for the employees of a payday loans company, Kieran Lynn’s play The Trap is described as “a biting new comedy”. And for once, it does actually provide a fair few laughs, of the decidedly darkly comic sort, as it simultaneously shines an uncompromising light on the seedier end of capitalist society – the market for short-term loans and the predatory way in which the most-in-need are tempted in.

We open with Tom and Clem breaking into an office to steal money from a safe there, and it soon turns out that they are disgruntled employees trying to pull a fast one. But Lynn’s trick is to show how the perils of debt stretch far and wide and so they are eventually joined by branch manager Alan (gambling addict) and regional manager Meryl (mortgaged to the hilt) who are also searching for an quick route to assuage their financial woes. Continue reading “Review: The Trap, Omnibus”

Review: Snow in Midsummer, Swan

“Why do you silence me?”

A break from the old routine for the RSC here, with a play from the 13th century. Not only that, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s Snow in Midsummer is an adaptation of Yuan dynasty drama The Injustice Done to Dou E by Guan Hanqing, marking a key milestone in the venerable institution’s avowed change of policy after the The Orphan of Zhao debacle in 2012. Transplanting the narrative into contemporary China, Cowhig and director Justin Audibert smash the ancient and the modern together to startling effect.

Dou Yi (Katie Leung) was a young widow executed for murder in the industrial town of New Harmony, proclaiming her innocence all the while and cursing the community in her final moments. The play starts properly three years later with her curse having come to pass, drought has devastated the area and local factories are on the brink of closure, Dou Yi’s spirit restlessly haunting them all, determinedly awaiting exoneration. A newly arrived businesswoman (Wendy Kweh) scents a takeover but as her young daughter’s dreams take a disturbing turn, she can’t help but get sucked into this world. Continue reading “Review: Snow in Midsummer, Swan”

Review: Boy, Almeida

“I want to go to Sports Direct”

The august surroundings and let’s face it, the regular clientele of the Almeida wouldn’t immediately make you think it but Islington – the London borough in which it is situated – has the second highest level of child poverty in the nation. The wealth of somewhere like Barnsbury is barely a stone’s throw from deprived areas like the Bemerton Estate and its an issue which simply isn’t getting any better as evidenced by the horrendously out-of-touch approach to wealth of the current administration – “I obviously can’t point to the source of every bit of money…”

Someone who has no choice but to know exactly where every penny is coming from is Liam, the protagonist in Leo Butler’s Boy. Aged 17, he’s got no job, no cash, no motivation and worst of all in this digital age, no smartphone. Emotionally constrained by his teenage inarticulacy, he opts to wander out from his native South London to set off on a journey to try and connect with an old schoolfriend and en meandering route, he encounters a city at its coldest, finding painful isolation even in the most crowded of streets. Continue reading “Review: Boy, Almeida”

Review: You For Me For You, Royal Court

“Perhaps a flock of cranes will appear soon, winging their way from Pyongyang”

One can imagine co-stars Kwong Loke and Andrew Leung at a Christmas party or somesuch, making conversation with someone else who asks them who they are playing in the Royal Court show they’re both in. Loke would say ‘Doctor/Well/Rice Musician/Farm Hand/Disembodied Voice/Delivery Person/Neighbour/Teacher’ and Leung would say well I’m only a ‘Smuggler/Frog/Man In Bear Suit/Soldier/Clerk/Youngsup’ and the other person would nod politely and then say ‘but have you seen Hangmen‘.

This gives you something of a sense of the mystical scope of Mia Chung’s You For Me For You and the journeys that her protagonists, two North Korean sisters, take in her delicious confection of a play. Minhee and Junhee want nothing more than for the other to be strong and healthy but under the unblinking eye of Great Leader Kim Jong-Il, food and medicine and hope are scarce and so they decide to flee. But as they make the arduous journey to the border and are asked to make a huge sacrifice, the sisters are torn apart. Continue reading “Review: You For Me For You, Royal Court”