Friday, 31 May 2013

Theatre review: Disgraced

An explosive approach to race relations seems to be a popular way to impress the Pulitzer judges; this year's winner in the drama category was Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced, which sees a dinner party for two interracial couples go horribly wrong. Amir (Hari Dhillon) is a reasonably successful corporate lawyer, a Pakistani-American who changed his last name from Abdullah to Kapoor to put people off the scent that he was raised a Muslim. His white wife Emily (Kirsty Bushell) is an artist; in contrast to Amir who is vocal about having rejected his family's religion, Emily makes paintings that overtly acknowledge the influence of Islam on Western art. Their marriage seems pretty happy on the surface, but their disagreements over religion are a recurring issue - Emily's insistence that Islam is not inherently hate-filled coming up against her husband's argument that his upbringing says otherwise.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Theatre review: The Seagull

I've mentioned many times how much I like it when productions of Chekhov break away from the stereotypical naturalistic staging commonly associated with his work, and how glad I am this is happening more often lately. And now here's a production that not only does that, very successfully, but also looks beyond appearances to throw all sorts of preconceptions about the play out of the window. It's not surprising that the company to do it are Headlong, who've given The Seagull to adaptor John Donnelly and director Blanche McIntyre, and got something new back from them. At the lakeside house of famous actress Irina (Donnelly's text sticks informally to first names) her son Konstantin attempts to get the attention he craves from her by staging an experimental play, starring the local girl he's in love with. When this attempt fails, it sets both Konstantin and some of the people around him on a destructive path his mother remains blithely unaware of.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Theatre review: The Tempest (Shakespeare's Globe)

This year's Globe season goes under the very vague banner of "Season of Plenty," which might as well be called "Stuff! We have lots of stuff!" But for the three large-scale Shakespeare productions at the heart of the season, there has been a bit more of a specific theme, with the three plays most overtly concerned with the supernatural taking the stage. A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth will follow but first up it's The Tempest. The titular storm has been raised by spirits, to cause the shipwreck of the King of Naples and his party, on the way back from a wedding. Twelve years ago, they wronged Prospero, Duke of Milan, and usurped his throne. Now he's become a sorcerer who rules a deserted island, where his enemies wash up - and Prospero has a plan to regain his dukedom and unite the two royal families.

Theatre review: Dido, Queen of Carthage

While I still live a stone's throw from Greenwich Theatre I might as well make use of it, and as I do like a bit of Marlowe Dido, Queen of Carthage was a good bet. It's playing in repertory with Lear in productions by director-designer Ricky Dukes, from Lazarus Theatre Company, with a pretty large ensemble cast.

A handful of Trojan survivors escape the fall of Troy, led by the demigod Aeneas (Joseph Tweddle,) but are shipwrecked off the coast of Libya. Aeneas' mother, the love-goddess Venus (Lucy Hagan-Walker,) comes up with a plan to save her son: She'll put a love spell on the queen of the area, Dido (Alice Brown.) Smitten with Aeneas, Dido will do anything he wants - like repair his ships. But once that's done and he prepares to sail for Italy, Carthage is still left with a powerful woman under a love spell, who's been spurned by the object of her affection.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Theatre review: The Victorian in the Wall

Will Adamsdale's The Victorian in the Wall is at the Royal Court Upstairs in a limbo period between Artistic Directors (although presumably someone had to OK its run?) and has for me an element of déjà vu as I saw a work-in-progress version of the show 18 months ago, as part of the Rough Cuts programme. Guy (Adamsdale) is a writer - or at least, he wrote an award-winning short story in the late '90s. What he actually does best is procrastinate, at the moment over a CBeebies script he's meant to be writing (he's stumped on the characters' motivation.) His long-term girlfriend Fi (Melanie Wilson) has a much more grown-up job (so much so that Guy has no idea what she actually does.) She's also the one who's organised the building works due to take place as the couple gentrify their Victorian East London flat.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Theatre review: Nothing is the End of the World (Except for the End of the World)

American Playwright Bekah Brunstetter's new sci-fi comedy Nothing is the End of the World (Except for the End of the World) was originally written for a performing arts high school, and features in its lineup all the archetypes of a US teen movie: There's the popular but highly-strung class princess, Jessica (Skye Lourie,) her sexually confused jock boyfriend Kit (Christopher Webster,) the angry rock chick Emma (Amanda Hootman,) Esther, whose parents are religious fundamentalists obsessed with the End of Days (Sheena May,) flamboyant drama geek Danny (Robin Crouch) and outcast Lucy (Natalie Kent.) But in their midst is dropped an even bigger pair of outsiders: Godfrey (Dan Crow) and Olive (Lisa Caruccio Came) are artificially intelligent androids built from the bodies of dead humans. Their attempts to assimilate with the human teenagers will be filmed for reality TV.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Theatre review: Chimerica

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: I really don't remember booking a preview performance for this, but think the press night might have been brought back after I booked; it's now next week.

Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica opens at the Almeida complete with three cast members (Benedict Wong, Andrew Leung and David Tse) from Hampstead's just-ended #aiww1, and like that play it looks at the rise of China and how the ruling party treats those who don't toe the line. But as the title suggests this time there's two nations being thrown together, and at the heart of Kirkwood's new play is the relationship between China and America, and how the two nations view each other. Spanning 23 years over two continents, and coming in at over three hours, this is an epic in more ways than one. Set during last year's US Presidential election campaign, the action is haunted by the deaths of protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and especially by that day's best-known image of a lone man standing in front of a row of advancing tanks.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Theatre review: Relatively Speaking

For an Officially Accredited National TreasureTM, there's something very divisive about Alan Ayckbourn. Most of the other theatre bloggers I know seem to hate his work with a fiery vengeance but the newspaper reviewers and much of the public can't get enough - hence the West End revivals that keep coming at a rate of one or two a year. I've never had that strong a response to him either way but since my friend Vanessa is firmly in the "love" camp these revivals are must-sees for us. Lindsay Posner's production of Relatively Speaking toured last year but has now settled into a London run at Wyndham's with the same cast of Felicity Kendal, Jonathan Coy, Max Bennett and Kara Tointon. Kept in the 1960s when the play was written, the production's opening almost suggests a parody of the period's kitchen sink dramas, but soon opens out into something much cosier.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Theatre review: Bullet Catch

This is going to border on a not-review as I don't really feel as if I'm qualified to tell you what it's like to watch Bullet Catch, the second show at the NT's Shed - at least not from the point of view of the audience. Rob Drummond's one-man show isn't a magic show, but it's a show about magic - or at least one that uses magic tricks as part of its narrative. Perhaps the most notorious magic trick ever is the titular bullet catch, in which a volunteer from the audience shoots a live round at the magician, who catches it - usually in his teeth. Notorious because it's the one that's most often proved fatal to the performer. Such was the case with the (fictional, as far as I can tell) Victorian magician Drummond's show focuses on, accidentally killed by a volunteer who then had to live with the psychological consequences (not to mention the police's inquiries.)

Monday, 20 May 2013

Theatre review: Pastoral

Actor Thomas Eccleshare turns playwright with the black comedy Pastoral1, which Steve Marmion directs at Soho Theatre, where centuries of urbanisation can't stem the tide when nature decides to take back the land. Moll (Anna Calder-Marshall) is a pensioner who lives in a tower block in an unnamed English city where, out of a sense of duty for reasons that remain vague, two young men look after her. But today Manz (Hugh Skinner) and Hardy (Richard Riddell) aren't just there to check up on Moll; they want to pack all her things and evacuate her because the city's being invaded. The weeds that have broken through her floor are a clue, as flora and fauna have turned aggressive and overpowered the humans. But plans for escape are put on hold when a family of three arrives at the door looking for a safe place to stay, and the six band together against nature. In any case, Moll's certain the Ocado man will be there with the groceries any time now.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Theatre review: A Human Being Died That Night

Anyone who's followed London theatre in the last few years must surely be excited about the prospect of Noma Dumezweni and Matthew Marsh being pitted against each other in a dramatic two-hander. Psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela's book A Human Being Died That Night chronicled her meetings with notorious South African police colonel Eugene de Kock, known as Prime Evil for his many crimes against humanity. In Nicholas Wright's stage adaptation, Pumla (Dumezweni) is serving on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when de Kock's request to meet with the widows of three of his victims piques her interest. She arranges a series of meetings in prison where de Kock (Marsh) is serving 212 years, eager to explore the thin line between the majority of the population and those it deems to be evil. Her prime rule of not emotionally connecting with him is soon broken and she is forced to confront the fact that a "monster" is created out of the same humanity as everyone else.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Theatre review: Platonov: Sons Without Fathers

The play usually titled Platonov is a bit of a Chekhov curiosity: A six-hour early play never performed in his lifetime, it was discovered locked away after the playwright's death and has been the subject of various attempts to rework it into something less unwieldy. Helena Kaut-Howson's version, titled Sons Without Fathers, focuses on the title character and the other younger figures in the story. Misha Platonov (Jack Laskey, The Bastard Love-Child of David Tennant And Daniel Radcliffe) is the 30-year-old schoolteacher in a remote Russian village. His youthful optimism gone, he's now the poster-boy for a disaffected generation - in Kaut-Howson's modernised production they find themselves a couple of decades after the fall of communism without a new ideal to replace it. Misha's search for a new meaning for his life leads, inevitably, to disaster.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Theatre review: Public Enemy

The Young Vic's reinvention of classic texts continues, and after a big hit with A Doll's House last year they turn to Ibsen again. This time though it's the team behind Government Inspector tackling the play, and as that was one of the rare shows I've left at the interval (and I wasn't even the only theatre blogger to do so) I approached Public Enemy with a bit of trepidation. Miriam Buether has once again lent a psychedelic edge to the design, fitting in with the 1970s feel director Richard Jones brings to David Harrower's translation. It's another of the wide, shallow stages Buether favours at the Young Vic, and it's not great for sightlines if you're at the front and particularly the edge of a row like we were - cricked necks are to be had. The general update from the 1880s to the 1970s works, though, and takes Ibsen's characters out of the familiar setting.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Theatre review: Larisa and the Merchants

The effervescent Larisa (Jennifer Kidd) is poor but popular with the men of her small port town on the Volga; her lack of a dowry is the only reason she's not yet married. Her relationship with the aristocratic Sergei (Sam Phillips) ended in heartbreak and, on the rebound, she's accepted the proposal of the smitten, penniless civil servant Karandyshev (Ben Addis.) When Sergei returns to town there's clearly still something between the two, but as Larisa is tempted to leave her fiancé for a man who's already betrayed her once, she doesn't know how close she is to its happening again: Having lost most of his money, Sergei has agreed to marry an heiress so he can restore his fortunes, and living in the style to which he's accustomed will always trump any feelings he might have for Larisa.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Theatre review: The Match Box

Actors making a first foray into writing or directing for the stage is going to be a bit of a meme this summer. First up is Lia Williams who turns director for Frank McGuinness' new play, a monologue first seen in Liverpool last year. The Match Box takes place in a battered holiday home on a remote Irish island where Sal, a Liverpudlian of Irish descent (Leanne Best) now lives alone. A single mother, her 12-year-old daughter was caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting and killed. Sal's story is of course a heartbreaking one of loss, and her inability to process her grief is powerfully conveyed. But when the dust settles and it becomes clear the killers will never be brought to justice, the play starts to enter even darker territory: Sal and her parents start to mutter things about revenge, but did they really have anything to do with the violent fate of the prime suspects?

Monday, 13 May 2013

Theatre review: King Lear (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

King Lear divides his kingdom between the two of his daughters who flatter him the most, banishing the third for her refusal to play the courtly game. But words turn out to mean little when all your power's gone, and when Goneril and Regan refuse him the honours he still expects, Lear is cast out to the elements. Storms, war and madness bring the former king down to man at his most basic level, and in the process he learns what it means to be human. Following Hamlet and As You Like It in past years, King Lear is the latest play to get the patented Shakespeare's Globe stripped-down treatment, in a touring production that this week pitches up on home ground. Eight actors plus two musicians, 1940s costumes and a lot of doubling are used to tell one of Shakespeare's best-known stories.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Theatre review: The Play That Goes Wrong

I'd been put off by the uninspired title from seeing The Play That Goes Wrong's initial run at the Old Red Lion, but some very enthusiastic recommendations saw me give it a go as it gets a West End stint at Trafalgar 2. Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer's farce sees the chaotic Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society take on cosy murder mystery "The Murder at Haversham Manor" and be defeated by it at every turn. This framing device gets the briefest of introductions from a surly techie (Rob Falconer) whose preoccupation with finding his Duran Duran CDs will later distract him from his work; before we launch straight into the disastrous first night, and the discovery of a dead body (Joshua Elliott) that doesn't look all that dead. Especially when the other actors keep treading on him.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Theatre review: The Hothouse

I thought part of the idea behind Jamie Lloyd's Trafalgar Transformed season was that there'd be a different configuration for every production? Perhaps I was misinformed, as the second show in the season is again in traverse, in a similar set-up to the one used for Macbeth.

This second show is The Hothouse, a Harold Pinter play but not one that's remotely typical of his work. It's not quite a black comedy, not really a farce and doesn't reach the depths of subtlety that many of his plays do, but it is entertaining, in a twisted way. Roote (Simon Russell Beale) runs a nameless mental institution, assisted by the ruthlessly efficient (or just ruthless) Gibbs (John Simm.) It's Christmas Day but any festive cheer is dulled by the death of one patient, and the fact that another has given birth to the child of a staff member. Most of the staff seem to have an idea of the father's identity, so the hunt is on for a scapegoat - the junior Lamb (Harry Melling) fits the bill.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Theatre review: Passion Play

Married for 25 years, Eleanor (Zoë Wanamaker) and James (Owen Teale) are in their fifties, grandparents, with both their love and mutual sexual attraction seemingly undimmed by time. When their friend dies, he leaves behind the much younger woman he left his wife for. The couple remain on friendly terms with Kate (Annabel Scholey) but her request for James' help in researching a book has an ulterior motive: Kate makes a habit of going after older married men, and he's her new target. Peter Nichols' Passion Play arrives in the West End in a revival from David Leveaux, and appears at first to be a pretty straightforwardly told story of infidelity, as James' initial dislike of Kate starts to give way to her vampish charms, until eventually he finds himself in love and obsessed. But about 20 minutes into the play it takes an unexpected stylistic turn.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Theatre review: As You Like It (Marjanishvili Theatre / Globe to Globe)

Although I sampled last year's Globe to Globe festival of foreign-language Shakespeare, I kind of felt as if I cheated as only one of the shows I saw was in a language I don't understand. I'll be making up for it a bit this year though as the Globe is scattering a few repeat visits throughout its 2013 season, and I'll be checking out 3 of the 4 returning shows. First up, a production I'd had recommended to me as the highlight of the 2012 season, As You Like It in the Georgian language, performed by Tbilisi's Marjanishvili Theatre company. Although Lasha Bugadze's version of the text doesn't seem to be too literal a translation, with the occasional change and extra scene, for the most part this feels absolutely like the As You Like It I know and love, the story of various people exiled to the forest by a usurping duke, in particular his niece Rosalind (Ketevan Shatirishvili) and the disinherited nobleman Orlando (Nika Kuchava) with whom she's fallen in love.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Theatre review: Ten Plagues

On meeting Mark Ravenhill a few years ago, Marc Almond asked to be considered should any of the playwright's future works require a small singing role. Instead, Ravenhill and composer Conor Mitchell presented Almond with Ten Plagues, a solo performance of a song cycle about London's great plague of 1665. Settling into the appropriately decayed walls of Wilton's Music Hall, Ten Plagues sees the singer as a lone survivor. A barrister, judging by the wig he wears at the start, this man appears to have had the option to, as most of the well-off did, escape London for the disease-free countryside. He remains stubbornly in the city though, attempting to avoid the disease while also becoming fascinated with it, almost daring it to infect him. He also fixates on the effects on the body, and the unceremonious way in which the dead are disposed of.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Theatre review: Travels With My Aunt

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Travels With My Aunt invites the critics in on Wednesday.

It may continue to be a hit factory, but sometimes the Menier Chocolate Factory makes some very odd programming choices. After last year's aunt-related nostalgia trip we now get another in Graham Greene's Travels With My Aunt, in Giles Havergal's 1989 adaptation, revived here by Christopher Luscombe. Henry Pulling is a retired bank manager who's played things safe all his life. At his mother's funeral he meets her estranged sister, his Aunt Augusta, for the first time, and is sucked into a more bohemian world: Augusta's life has been one of torrid affairs (with an unfortunate preference for war criminals,) smuggling and the worldwide travel that comes with it. In an attempt to finally connect with her nephew, Augusta brings Henry along on her latest series of adventures across Europe, and eventually across the Atlantic to end up in Paraguay - but not before she reveals a few shocking truths about his family history.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Theatre review: Over the Bridge

A rediscovery from 1960, when it caused some controversy in Northern Ireland, Over the Bridge was the first stage play by Sam Thompson, a lifelong worker and union man in the Belfast shipbuilding industry. The play focuses on the trade unions and the way they affected day-to-day work in the 1950s, but also looks back at the mass unemployment of the Great Depression, and forward to how bloody The Troubles would become in the subsequent decades. At the centre of the large cast are union representatives Rabbie (Sam O'Callaghan) and Davy (Robert Calvert,) who form the main line of communication between the workers and the head foreman, Mr Fox (Alan Mooney.) There's an array of problems large and small that threaten daily to halt work under strike action, but as sectarian differences start to become more of an issue, Thompson predicts the threat of physical violence becoming part of daily life as well.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Theatre review: bare

Though under threat of closure the Union Theatre ploughs on with another musical, this time the European premiere of Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo's 2000 show bare. Billed as "the rock musical," it's a coming out story set in a US Catholic boarding school where Jason (Ross William Wild) is the most popular boy. He's also having a secret relationship with his roommate Peter (Michael Vinsen, built in a Matt Damon-making factory.) Jason is happy to keep things as they are, worried not just about the reaction at school to him being gay, but also that the news might turn his father violent. Peter, however, is edging slowly out of the closet and wants his boyfriend to come with him. Their conflicting emotions play out during rehearsals for the school production of (inevitably) Romeo and Juliet.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Theatre review: The Weir

The Donmar Warehouse is more or less being handed over to Conor McPherson for the summer, with the premiere of his new play coming up but first Josie Rourke's revival of the play often called his masterpiece, The Weir. We're in a remote part of Ireland in 1997, where Brendan (Big Favourite Round These Parts Peter McDonald) runs a tiny pub. In a couple of weeks' time it'll be overrun with German backpackers but for the time being Brendan's entire clientele are Jack (Brian Cox) and Jim (Ardal O'Hanlon,) the village's other two resident bachelors. With no wives or children the three have little to do every evening but get drunk together but tonight they have company: Local businessman Finbar (Risteárd Cooper) has been showing around a newcomer to the area, and his tour ends at Brendan's pub. When the attractive Valerie (Dervla Kirwan) arrives, the four men soon launch into colourful local tales to impress her.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Theatre review: Ghosts

Touring company Sell A Door's production of Ibsen's Ghosts has opened its run at Greenwich Theatre but, oddly, doesn't seem to have any subsequent venues planned. Perhaps they got wind of a couple of higher-profile productions planned for later this year and decided to cut their losses? In any case, until the Almeida and ETT versions come along, here's a pretty straightforward telling of the controversial 1881 domestic drama. Mrs Alving (Deborah Blake) has spent the last ten years spending her late husband's fortune on an orphanage that'll bear his name. But this memorial to his good name is just the last part of an ongoing whitewashing of his character, as Alving was a prolific philanderer, and his widow is determined to bury this part of her past. But it becomes impossible to do when her son Oswald (Jason Langley) returns from Paris with a disease that sounds suspiciously like syphilis - it seems Oswald did inherit something from his father after all.