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”

Review: [BLANK], Donmar Warehouse

Much to admire technically in [BLANK] at the Donmar Warehouse but it doesn’t quite land the emotional hit it aims for

“Have you ever felt like you were standing exactly to the left of your life?”

On the face of it, [BLANK] has all the makings of an outright success. With Alice Birch writing and Maria Aberg, this Donmar Warehouse and Clean Break co-production is a powerful indictment of how the vicissitudes of our criminal justice system hit women, and their families, the hardest by far.

And in terms of a text, it is undoubtedly an audacious undertaking, consisting of 100 scenes from which directors can craft their own narratives. Here though is where the production doesn’t quite click, Aberg trying her best to form some, any, kind of flow but the form just doesn’t allow for it. Continue reading “Review: [BLANK], Donmar Warehouse”

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: Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar at King’s Cross

“As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free”

I must confess I hate it when critics roll their reviews of separate shows of a larger ‘event’ into one overarching piece – if you have to buy separate tickets to see the shows, then reviewers should write reviews for each one. Of course, it’s never quite as simple as that, it’s nice to have the space to talk about the whole as well as the constituent parts, but it should be noted that the Shakespeare Trilogy has been just as enjoyable, if not more so, in its individual segments as it was on the epic (and awkwardly timed) trilogy day. 

I have seen all three of the shows before, and reviewed them – Julius Caesar, Henry IV, The Tempest – so that’s my excuse for this composite piece. And for all that Phyllida Lloyd was uber-keen on having the official press response to the trilogy, I have to admit I didn’t see too much artistic merit in running them together. The only real common thread that emerges is Harriet Walter’s epic performance(s) as Hannah, the lifer who is the only character to recur in the prison setting that is used for all three shows. Continue reading “Review: Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar at King’s Cross”

Review: The Tempest, Donmar at King’s Cross

“She did confine thee”

A slightly odd one this, the Donmar’s all-female adaptation of The Tempest opened at the King’s Cross Theatre late last month, but from what I can tell won’t be officially reviewed until 22nd November. The reasoning being that it is part of their Shakespeare Trilogy (productions of Julius Caesar from 28th October and Henry IV from 17th November are being remounted) and on select days, audiences can see all three back-to-back. And that is how director Phyllida Lloyd wants them to be critically reviewed, as an over-arching trilogy, which is all fine and good but tickets are either £90 or £120 for those days and I ain’t here for that (that said, if you’re 25 and under, 25% of the tickets are being made free due to this great scheme). So the majority of people seeing The Tempest will only see The Tempest and that’s why I’m writing this review now.

For this enterprise, the Donmar has decamped to the King’s Cross Theatre and a well-designed temporary space there (sightlines from the back row – F – are fine and dandy) with the audience seated on all four sides of the theatre. The sense of blank newness is perfectly suited to the institutional setting – Lloyd has returned to the prison set-up that has previously served so well – and retained several members of the ensemble including crucially, the glorious Harriet Walter, who has thrived on the opportunity to expand her already superlative Shakespearean experience. So from Brutus to Henry IV, she now ascends to take on the role of Prospero. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Donmar at King’s Cross”

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”

‘Sharon Rooney and the Henrys’ release their cover of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’

“Right now I’m too young to know
How in the future it will affect me when you go”

One of the most striking moments in Phyllida Lloyd’s recent production of Henry IV for the Donmar Warehouse was Sharon Rooney’s extraordinary take on Lady Percy, skewering previous notions of the character to make her a vibrant and passionate equal to her husband. And as she bade him farewell, a lament struck up to the tune of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’, capping off a performance provoked as much thought about Shakespearean gender roles as did the overall all-female casting.

It’s a really lovely tune in its own right but this rendition did feel like something special so it was great hear that it has been recorded under the name of Sharon Rooney and the Henrys and it is now available to download from iTunes here. Profits will benefit organisations that the company have been working closely with like Clean Break Theatre Company and Justice for Women, as well as the Donmar’s outreach work to help women and girls find their voices, exemplified by the company performing Henry IV at the Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets next week.

It’s a cracking tune enlivened by Rooney’s Glaswegian accent, it’s for a cracking set of causes and remember, you don’t want to be the lonely one sitting on your own and sad… Here’s the link again.