July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

Review: Macbeth, Watermill

As good as the effort is here at the Watermill, I can’t help but feel it is time to give the Macbeths a rest – it ain’t all that as a play!

“What’s done is done”

Circumstances prevailed against me getting to see the Watermill’s Macbeth before its final day so I’m cheating by just firing up a mini-review. Truth be told, I only really booked for Paul Hart’s production on the strength of his track record in re-imagining Shakespeare so successfully – I had no real desire to see this particular play again, so soon after two major disappointments at the National and the RSC.

And as inventive the approach is here – music suffused throughout, an ensemble always split 50:50, adventurous creatives onhand – I can’t help but feel that Macbeth is oversold as a play. Any (if not all) attempts to update it seem doomed to some kind of failure as it really does resist modernisation. Billy Postlethwaite does a decent job as the Scottish king but I think I’ll be resisting seeing this play again anytime soon.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Pamela Raith
Macbeth is booking at the Watermill Theatre until 30th March

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”

Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse

I like almost everything about The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre apart from the main performance…

“I am not going out of my mind, my mind is going out of me”

Mark Gatiss has been getting rave reviews for his performance in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse but for me, there was just a little bit too much of
for my liking. There’s lots to love in Adam Penfold’s production, particularly in key supporting roles like Adrian Scarborough’s Dr Willis and Debra Gillett’s Queen Charlotte, and some of the smaller parts like Nadia Albina’s Fitzroy and Jack Holden’s Greville.

And I enjoyed that Penfold cast several of the ostensibly male parts with women, allowing the likes of Louise Jameson and Stephanie Jacob. Throw in a lusciously opulent design from Robert Jones and strikingly dramatic lighting from Richard Howell, and it’s a real theatrical treat, a real statement of intent from this nicely ambitious artistic director.  Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: The Mother, Tricycle

“Living with my son again is the best thing that could possibly happen to me; apart from your death”

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? The extraordinary success of The Father, now back in the West End for a second run ahead of a UK tour, has resulted in the Tricycle inviting another Florian Zeller play over from Bath. And if The Mother doesn’t quite scale the same heights of exquisite agony, it houses another storming lead role for another great British actor, Gina McKee following in Kenneth Cranham’s esteemed footsteps.

In the bleached white desolation of Mark Bailey’s design, wife and mother Anne is being hollowed out by depression. Triggered in the main by her adult son Nicholas’ departure from the family home, her sense of empty-nest-syndrome is exacerbated by her severe doubts about her 25 year long marriage to Peter, an upcoming trip to Leicester for a conference masking what she thinks is an affair, her confusion multiplied by her fondness for a bottle, pills or alcohol, either will do. Continue reading “Review: The Mother, Tricycle”

Review: Brave New World, Royal and Derngate

“Everyone belongs to everyone else”

Depictions of dystopian near-future worlds are two-a-penny these days so what makes Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World so striking is that it was written in 1932. Its foretelling of a society dominated by technology, loveless sex and capitalist greed has obvious resonance today and so it makes sense for a stage adaptation, co-produced by Northampton’s Royal and Derngate and The Touring Consortium Theatre Company. Dawn King, she of the excellent Foxfinder, discreetly reshapes the narrative to its new form but doesn’t actually interfere too much with the source material.

Creatively, director James Dacre has gathered an excellent team around him who deliver great results in Naomi Dawson’s impressive retro-futuristic design Original music by These New Puritans mixes with George Dennis’ icy sound design to provide a vivid soundscape, and Colin Grenfell’s lighting complements Keith Skretch’s video work to create a strong visual aesthetic that probably errs to high-end contemporary rather than all-out futuristic, its targeted advertisements, corporate shininess and civil liberties-impinging data collection already a reality.  Continue reading “Review: Brave New World, Royal and Derngate”

Review: Our Ajax, Southwark Playhouse

“Now I know war makes men lose all sense of themselves”

Like Caroline Bird last year for the Gate, Timberlake Wertenbaker has looked to tales of Ancient Greece to create a new play that speaks of the unique trials of modern warfare and the demands it places on soldiers from “Troy, Flanders, Basra, Helmand” and beyond. Our Ajax draws on Sophocles’ Ajax as well as dialogues with people serving in the armed forces right now, but as with Bird’s The Trojan Women, there are difficulties in combining the Hellenic elements – not least the presence of divine power – with the all-too-real scenario of modern-day desert combat.

In a world where the acronym PTSD is chillingly familiar, this Ajax is a decorated Lieutenant Colonel who flips over the edge when he is passed over for a promotion to Brigadier which goes to rival Odysseus instead. But though his devoted battalion recognise what is happening, there are no structures in this version of the military to deal with such crises and so as Wertenbaker unpicks the varied reasons for Ajax’s mental collapse, there’s an inexorable slide towards tragedy that spans from the personal to the institutional. Continue reading “Review: Our Ajax, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Longing, Hampstead Theatre

“Is there no room for love in your philosophy of life?”

One of the reasons Fawlty Towers remains so highly respected is because it managed that rare feat of going out on a high after making just 12 episodes. And though the reasons for the relatively limited dramatic output of Anton Chekhov may be more to do with his untimely demise, the ethos seems to me to remain similar – the handful of plays that he left behind should be celebrated as such. But he was also a prolific writer of short stories and spotting an opportunity to enrich the canon, novelist William Boyd has fashioned a new play – Longing – from two of them, directed by Nina Raine (her of the astounding Tribes) at the Hampstead Theatre.   

Boyd has used one of Chekhov’s longest stories My Life and “taken its core and impacted it on” one of his most obscure A Visit to Friends and what results is a story of distinctly Chekhovian flavour but one calls to mind numerous of his other plays rather equalling them in their depth and richness. Kolia is invited the summer estate of some old friends but what he thinks will be a relaxing break turns into something much more complex as long-buried emotions come up against current dramas in typically tragicomic fashion. And there’s much to recognise: an ageing woman laments the summer estate she is no longer in possession of, another dares to dream of the love she has sacrificed for a working life, somebody longs to get back to Moscow…these are all highly familiar themes and though they are skilfully woven together by Boyd, there is rarely a sense of dramatic impetus compelling this particular story to be told or ultimately justifying the exercise at large. Continue reading “Review: Longing, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Fireface, Young Vic

“There’s a naked man in here who says our children should be committed”

Tucked away in the intimate Clare studio at the back of the Young Vic is Fireface, a 1997 work by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, directed by Sam Pritchard, the winner of the 2012 JMK Award for visionary new theatre directors. And with the aid of an intriguingly strong cast and Amanda Stoodley’s wide chipboard frame of a set, forming a timber cage for a dysfunctional family to play out their not-inconsiderable dramas, Pritchard has certainly made the most of his opportunity.

Quite how one judges his measure of success though is a matter of debate. He clearly has a keen eye for the highly theatrical: switching from having the actors sitting facing the audience and speaking their lines out to us rather than to each other to a more naturalistic style with a dizzying frequency and overlapping the scenes to increase the disconcerting effect of estrangement. It initially feels apt as a way to evoke the disquiet at the heart of this family home where Kurt and Olga are seething with teenage injustice, railing against their distracted parents and exploring an increasingly too-close bond full of burning desire. Continue reading “Review: Fireface, Young Vic”

The 2011 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

OPERA
Albert Herring, Royal Northern College of Music
Gianni Schicchi, English Touring Opera, Buxton Opera House
Lucia di Lammermoor, Clonter Opera
The Portrait, Opera North, The Lowry
Utopia Ltd, Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, Buxton Opera House

DANCE
Carlos Acosta, The Lowry
Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet,The Lowry
Danish Dance Theatre, Triple Bill, The Lowry
Richard Alston Dance Company, Triple Bill, The Lowry Continue reading “The 2011 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”