Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Theatre review: James I - The Key Will Keep The Lock

Laurie Sansom inaugurates his time in charge of the National Theatre of Scotland in epically ambitious fashion, in a co-production with the other National Theatre, Rona Munro's The James Plays. This trilogy of new history plays - a genre that's definitely back in fashion at the moment - looks at the first three King Jameses of Scotland, beginning right in the middle of the period Shakespeare looked at in his own English histories. At the start of James I - The Key Will Keep The Lock, Henry V (Jamie Sives) rules England, but not for much longer: The dysentery that would kill him is taking hold. In an attempt to leave one less source of conflict for his infant son to rule over, Henry frees his prisoner, King James of Scotland, who's been held hostage in England for 18 years. In return for being returned to his throne, James (James McArdle) is expected to pay a hefty ransom, which Henry hopes will leave the country too poor to wander South of the border; but James has other ideas.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Theatre review: Teh Internet is Serious Business

I can't believe they missed the obvious typo in the title of Tim Price's Teh Internet is Serious Business - surely that should be "SRS BZNS?" It's the story of the "hacktivists" of Anonymous and LulzSec, and the second show in a row at the Royal Court Downstairs most of whose action takes place online. But both in tone and style it differs a lot from The Nether, as one major stipulation Price gave director Hamish Pirie was that he couldn't use video screens or projection to represent the internet. So, in Chloe Lamford's design, data is represented by a huge ball pit downstage, setting the scene for a - sometimes dangerously - playful world. Following the death of his stepfather, Jake Davis (Sexy Scottish Peter Pan Kevin Guthrie) is crippled by agoraphobia. Barely leaving his bedroom in the Shetlands, his only social outlet is the messageboard 4chan.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Theatre review: Doctor Scroggy's War

In among the patchy track record of new writing at Shakespeare's Globe, there's a few writers who get it just right. Howard Brenton has a better hit rate than most, returning for a third premiere at the venue after the huge success of his Anne Boleyn. The bloody theme of this summer's season is inspired by the centenary of World War I, and Brenton's Doctor Scroggy's War is the only play to deal with it directly. It follows Jack Twigg (Will Featherstone,) a London lad who's the first of his family to go to Oxford, where he makes aristocratic friends like Lord Ralph Dulwich (Joe Jameson.) The two become officers together, but Jack's knowledge of military history and tactical mind see him quickly promoted above his upper-class friend; although what seems like him having ideas above him station gets him into trouble with Field-Marshall French (Paul Rider.)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Theatre review: The Love & Devotion of Ridley Smith

A couple of years ago there was an unsurprising glut of plays about evil bankers; Miran Hadzic's full-length debut looks at one who'd rather not be so evil any more. The Love & Devotion of Ridley Smith follows the eponymous investment banker (Tom Machell) as, encouraged by his boss, he goes ahead with the sale of some stock he knows is toxic, to a man he knows can ill afford to take the fall. The sale is a triumph for Ridley and his company but the man he offloaded it onto kills himself when the truth comes out. His boss Janet (Terry Diab) breaks this news as if it's a minor detail, but it crushes Ridley. Having befriended a possibly-homeless street artist, with a steady supply of sayings about possessions being meaningless, Ridley quits his job and asks Freddie (Stewart Lockwood) to take him out into the countryside and teach him how to be an artist.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Theatre review: As You Like It (Southwark Playhouse)

Southwark Playhouse's productions of Shakespeare are few and far between, but when they do tackle him - that hipster Shrew a few years back was a memorable one - they deliver.


I'm hard to please when it comes to As You Like It: As the first Shakespeare comedy I ever saw it's the one that made me fall in love with them, and I - unfairly, and involuntarily - tend to judge how well the lines are played against past favourites. But I hardly found myself doing that at all during Derek Bond's production, which has its own take on the comedy, and is hard to beat for heart and pure silly joy.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Theatre review: The Dog, the Night and the Knife

I never know quite what I'm going to get with Marius von Mayenburg, some of whose work I've found really memorable, other times it's left me cold. I think it comes down to how much directors of English-language productions are willing to embrace the heavy directorial touch common in European theatre, and which von Mayenburg is probably writing for. Translated, as usual, by Maja Zade, The Dog, the Night and the Knife falls somewhere in the middle in its UK premiere production at the Arcola. M (Michael Edwards) finds himself in a dark alley in a city he doesn't recognise. All he remembers of his recent past is that he had mussels for dinner - in fact this may be all he remembers of his entire life. A man in the alley is looking for his lost dog, then suddenly pulls a knife on M and gives him a flesh-wound; but in self-defence M grabs the knife and fatally stabs him.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Theatre review: Albion

Former social worker Chris Thompson only had his first play Carthage staged earlier this year, but with the second he's already experimenting with form in a way many more experienced playwrights rarely do. Inspired by an image from a far-right rally in which a rainbow flag was among the banners, Albion looks at the insidious ways extremists make their ideas seem more palatable. Jayson (Tony Clay) runs the karaoke at his brother's pub, The Albion, in Tower Hamlets. As well as being the landlord, Paul (Steve John Shepherd) is the leader of a right-wing party, the English Protection Army. They're seen as racist thugs by the media, and ever since his soldier sister Poppy (Nicola Harrison) was killed in Afghanistan, the ranks have been harder to control - especially his deputy Kyle, who was Poppy's boyfriend. But he himself is part of Paul's plan to make the EPA look inclusive: Kyle (Delroy Atkinson) is black; and Jayson is openly gay.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Theatre review: The Woman in the Moon

The Elizabethans were big believers in Astrology, and Shakespeare often has characters stop and bemoan the influence of celestial bodies on their lives. John Lyly, thought to have been a big influence on Shakespeare, had gone one step further in The Woman in the Moon, in which they take a very hands-on interest in the plot. It's a sort of alternative creation myth, where four shepherds (Joel Davey, Rhys Bevan, James Askill and Robert Heard) have seen the sorts of things their sheep get up to and complain to Nature (Julia Sandiford) about the lack of any human females so they can join in the fun. So Nature creates the first woman, Pandora (Bella Heesom.) She may have done a bit too good a job though, as the stars and planets resent the appearance of something as luminous as themselves on Earth. They resolve to use their very different influences on her, taking turns to affect her moods until both Pandora and her various suitors have been driven to distraction.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Theatre review: Ghost From a Perfect Place

Philip Ridley's fascination with all things relating to his native East End resulted in his screenplay for the 1990 film The Krays. East End gangsters and the peculiar brand of nostalgia they inspire were a theme he revisited four years later in Ghost From a Perfect Place, although this being Ridley's stage work it occupies an even stranger universe than the real one. The Perfect Place in question is the past, when Bow was terrorised by a gang led by Travis Flood. They were responsible for a number of bodies in the cement of the flyover as well as some lifelong scarring in those who crossed them and survived, and their leader in particular, known as the man with the lily in his lapel, inspired such fear that crowds would part like the Red Sea for him. And yet the locals remember these as "the heydays." As the police started to catch up with the gang he took his money and fled to America, but now Travis (Michael Feast) has returned for one last look at what used to be his turf.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Theatre review: Ballyturk

Enda Walsh and his regular collaborator Cillian Murphy reunite for Ballyturk, and while this time Murphy doesn't have to carry the whole show on his own like in Misterman, he must be using as much energy as if he was on stage alone again. Walsh is frequently compared to Samuel Beckett, and while the debt he owes has always been obvious, I've always found Walsh's work easier to like, displaying as it does a much better sense of the theatrical than Beckett's, which I find better on the page than on the stage. In Ballyturk the influence is more apparent than ever: Two men who may or may not be brothers, 1 (Murphy) and 2 (Mikel Murfi) are trapped in a windowless, doorless room and have been for longer than they can remember. Their waking hours are built around routines they must follow: Most important of these is that when the cuckoo clock chimes, they must take on the persona of a resident of the fictional village of Ballyturk, and act out their daily lives.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Re-review: The Play That Goes Wrong

The original Play That Goes Wrong made it into my Top Ten shows of last year. A big word-of mouth hit, it extended its run a couple of timss before playing Edinburgh, then a new vresion toured the country earlier this year. This longer, touring version is the one that's now returned to Lodnod, getting a boner fide West End transfer to the Duchess. How it will fare will, I think, come down to wrod-of-mouth again: I'll be sorry to see it fail as it's still excellent, but the lack of star power could hamper it. But it can't have the biggest overheads compared to many big shows, so if it sticks around long enough to get on the tourists' radar, it could be come afixture. And it really should, because while in now way sophisticated, it's full of the kind of humour that's univresal. As well as a new second act, the show now comes with a new set (deigned by Nigel Hook) with numerous new dongers dongers on its two levels.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Theatre review: The Wolf From the Door

Revolution comes in the form of a black comedy fantasy in the first show of the Royal Court's new season, Rory Mullarkey's The Wolf From the Door. 25-year-old Leo (Calvin Demba) is jobless and homeless, but claims to be able to survive without eating, drinking, sleeping or sweating. When he meets eccentric aristocrat Lady Catherine at a train station and she takes him home, he assumes she wants him for sex, but her plans for him are much grander, and odder. Catherine (Anna Chancellor) is a leading light in an underground network of rebels and terrorists who've been meeting for months in innocuous-seeming groups to plot the overthrow of society. Discovering Leo, with his lack of apparent ties to that society, is the final piece of the puzzle, a figurehead for the revolution who will lead the country when the dust settles.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Theatre review: True West

Widely considered an American classic and included by the National Theatre in its list of the 100 best plays of the 20th century, Sam Shepard's 1980 play True West comes to the Tricycle in a production by Phillip Breen that originated at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre. His mother (Barbara Rafferty) having gone on holiday to Alaska, screenwriter Austin (Eugene O'Hare) is housesitting for her, using her Hollywood condo as a place to write his screenplay and meet with producers who may be interested in it. But there's little chance of peace when the brother he hasn't seen in five years turns up unexpectedly: Lee (Alex Ferns) is a filthy, drunken drifter who spends most of his life wandering the desert alone, his few trips to civilization mainly for the purpose of burgling people's houses. The nervous, nerdy Austin is clearly afraid of his borderline-feral brother and hopes to get rid of him, but when Lee crashes a meeting with a producer it looks like they'll be stuck together a while longer.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Theatre review: The Me Plays

The first half of September has been packed with monologues and here's two more - in verse - at the Old Red Lion courtesy of writer-performer Andrew Maddock and director Ryan Bradley. The Me Plays open with Junkie, in which Maddock's "Me" character prepares for a first date with a girl he met on Tinder. Nervous about his flabby body putting her off, he buys a new red jumper he hopes she'll like, but is quickly as unsure about that as he is about everything else. As he reminisces about his childhood in the mid-'90s, he reflects on the difficulty of getting hold of pornography in those days, and the ease of access "in this digital age," a refrain he keeps coming back to. It turns out this is what he's talking about when he calls himself a junkie, and his easy reliance on watching other people have sex may be getting in the way of him doing it for real, as well as causing his previous relationship to end. Then again, the cause and effect between these three things in his life may be more complicated.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Theatre review: The Dreaming

No, The Dreaming isn't a musical theatre adaptation of The Sandman - I don't even know if you should feel relieved or disappointed by that. In fact Howard Goodall and Charles Hart's musical transplants the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream to a rural part of England in 1913. The names have changed but the plotlines are much the same: Charlotte (Holly Julier) has run away to marry Alexander (Alastair Hill) followed by David (Joshua Tonks) who also loves her, and Jennifer (Rachel Flynn,) who loves David. Meanwhile the local vicar (Michael Chance) is bringing together a group of locals to perform a mummers' play about Saint George slaying the dragon. Both groups find their lives complicated when they get caught in the middle of an argument between Sylvia (Daisy Tonge) and Angel (Christopher Hancock,) leaders of the magical Woodlanders.

Theatre review: Reptember - Duende / Faust / The Rape of Lucrece

Last trip to the New Diorama for now, for three monologues to conclude the Reptember season in which The Faction showcase their actors and creatives. Kate Sawyer is one of the company's regular members who most often impresses me, and she and director Rachel Valentine Smith have come up with the most innovative of the nine pieces in terms of staging. Lorca's Duende is a lecture on the titular, indefinable Spanish word, something akin to "je ne sais quoi" or "the X factor" but with an inherent melancholy. Sawyer arrives on stage dressed like a clown1 to deliver the lecture, but freezes on seeing the audience. In a solution reminiscent of Analog.Ue, she plays a tape of herself speaking the words, while acting out the beats, playing slides and music to help illustrate her points. Lorca's essay makes some interesting points about the awareness of life's transitory nature being a vital component of great art; Sawyer and Valentine Smith update it to include the unlikely despair in Kylie Minogue's "Better The Devil You Know" and reveal something of a crush on Nick Cave. It's playful and innovative but with touches of the Duende it discusses.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Theatre review: Fully Committed

To mark ten years as the expensive face of off-West End theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory have revived one of their earliest hits, the one-man show Fully Committed. The actor who originated the role, Mark Setlock takes the directing reins, while Kevin Bishop plays Sam, a wannabe actor who's not had much success, and a recent rejection from an HBO drama has hit particularly hard. To pay the bills he has a job taking reservations for a New York restaurant, currently the trendiest place in town, and as a result people are willing to try all sorts of tricks to get a table. It's the runup to Christmas and both his co-workers have failed to turn up, so Sam is left on his own in a grim basement to take calls from people pulling rank, threatening and bribing him to get ahead of the queue, while upstairs in the restaurant and kitchen his colleagues are happy to pile on more indignities.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare's Globe)

This Globe season has taken us  to Troy, Egypt and Jerusalem, so it's in keeping that their final Shakespeare production of the year has also been given a Middle-Eastern flavour. Although Blanche McIntyre hasn't let the Arabian Nights setting of her Comedy of Errors stop her from throwing in all kinds of more recent references from Quidditch to Looney Tunes. This early comedy may be Shakespeare's shortest play but 2 hours 25 minutes still feels pleasingly brisk, especially as McIntyre has added a lengthy silent comedy opening, introducing us to Dromio of Ephesus (Jamie Wilkes) as he clambers perilously around the stage. It sets up this Dromio as the slapstick twin, while Dromio of Syracuse (Brodie Ross) will prove to be the one with more word-play and witticisms in his arsenal.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Theatre review: Breeders

Opening a new season for young producers at the St James Theatre is Ben Ockrent's new play Breeders, an appealing sitcom with a strong comedy cast. Self-help book writer Andrea (Tamzin Outhwaite) and family lawyer Caroline (Angela Griffin) are a well-off lesbian couple who've recently got married and bought a large fixer-upper house together, but with their biological clocks ticking they're starting to wish for a family to fill it with. Andrea's dream is that they can have what a straight couple does, a baby that shares both parents' DNA, but the only way to do that is for her brother Jimmy (Nicholas Burns) to be the sperm donor for Caro's pregnancy. He says yes, but when they can't agree over what his legal rights to the child will be the plan changes: He and his girlfriend Sharon (Jemima Rooper) will move in with the couple and they'll all raise the child together.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Theatre review: Land of Our Fathers

Another play about miners at the start of the Thatcher years, although any influence she might have on the men's fates is a purely metaphorical one in Chris Urch's Land of Our Fathers. But it's hard not to see a symbolism in the play opening on the election day that would first take Thatcher to power, with the roof caving in on six Welsh miners, leaving them trapped in a tunnel. As with Wonderland, we have a newcomer to the job to guide us into the darkness, but not only has Mostyn's (Joshua Price) first day been disastrous, the others are quick to point the finger at him for causing the accident. After a shaky start Mostyn manages to befriend the oldest member of the team, Bomber (Clive Merrison,) who in true Lethal Weapon style is days away from retirement when disaster strikes. As they wait for rescue they try to dig themselves out from the inside, led by Chopper (Patrick Brennan.) but the boss' ineffectiveness and impatience may be in part because of a secret he's keeping.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Theatre review: The Return of the Soldier

Charles Miller and Tim Sanders' new chamber musical The Return of the Soldier is based on the 1918 novel by Rebecca West, an early literary response to the First World War and the physical and mental toll it took not only on the combatants but on the people left behind. Captain Christopher Baldry (Stewart Clarke) is sent home from the front with shell-shock, and he immediately sets about reconnecting with the woman he loves. Unfortunately this isn't his wife, but his holiday romance from a decade earlier. He's completely forgotten Kitty (Zoe Rainey,) his wife of seven years, and plans instead on proposing to Margaret (Laura Pitt-Pulford.) But she too has since got married, to the kind-hearted but sickly William (Michael Matus.) In an attempt to help cure his amnesia, Chris is allowed to meet with Margaret, but it turns out neither of them is ready to give the other up now they've found each other again.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Theatre review: The Flouers o'Edinburgh

The Finborough is, surprisingly enough, the only London theatre to be marking the upcoming independence referendum in Scotland. It does so with the mini-season Scotland Decides/Tha Alba a'taghadh 2014, which has as its centrepiece a comic look at the social consequences of merging two nations who'd spent much of their history at war. First seen in 1948, Robert McLellan's The Flouers o'Edinburgh is set among the noble, if not as well-off as they used to be, denizens of Georgian Edinburgh. Girzie (Jenny Lee) has lost her lands and fortune, but finds solace in fiery niece Kate (Leigh Lothian.) Forbidding herself from marrying her good friend Sir Charles (Kevin McMonagle) until her brother returns from the army, Girzie puts her efforts intsead into finding a husband and stability for Kate. Sir Charles' son seems a perfect candidate, as he and Kate were good friends as children.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Theatre review: Reptember - Prometheus Bound / Dog's Dialogue / John Gabriel Borkmann

Straight back to the New Diorama for another in its trilogy of trilogies, Reptember. As I mentioned in my earlier review, this sees The Faction adapt classic texts into monologues, and this bill opens with the most liberal adaptation so far: Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound provides only the inspiration for Will Gore's short play, which takes the story of eternal punishment and puts it in a much more human context: The company's artistic director Mark Leipacher takes to the stage as a Prometheus working behind a bar, but with a dark past as a terrorist and torturer. The people he once worked with are now running the country, but that doesn't mean he's safe from having his past come back to haunt him, and the punishments he one meted out are visited upon him in turn. It's an interesting idea but, opening with Leipacher standing up a ladder and apparently bound there, director Rachel Valentine Smith doesn't quite bring a sense of movement to the piece, and this static feeling infects the whole evening.

Theatre review: Reptember - The Man With the Flower in His Mouth / Medea / Metamorphosis

I've been plugging ambitious rep company The Faction for a few years now, but by the end of this year's season I was starting to wonder if their choices of text and style of production were in danger of becoming a bit predictable. Almost as if they heard me, for the first time they've announced a September repertory season at the New Diorama in addition to their usual January/February one, with a new direction both in style and presentation - and if the latter involves Tom Radford rolling sweatily around the floor with his top off that's just a bonus. Reptember is a trio of triple-bills, each of the 9 plays being adaptations - some looser than others - of classic works. But unlike most of the source material, these new versions are monologues, performed by regular members of the ensemble and a couple of guest actors.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Theatre review: Chicken Shop

Bruntwood Prize winner Anna Jordan's Chicken Shop tackles both a coming-of-age story and a horrific social issue, a combination of subjects that could have conflicted, but it more or less pulls it off. Sixteen-year-old Hendrix (Jesse Rutherford) has been raised by his gay mother Hillary (Angela Bull) and her ex-partner Meg, but that relationship fell apart and Meg has long since moved out. Hillary has now moved in her new girlfriend Kate (Millie Reeves,) a flaky Australian in her twenties, whom Hendrix is attracted to and irritated by in equal measure. Bullied at school on the assumption that the son of gay parents must be gay himself, he tries to prove his sexuality to himself as much as anyone by visiting a brothel above a fried chicken shop. The naïve teenager isn't just nervous about sex, he's totally unprepared for the reality of Moldovan prostitute Luminita (Lucy Roslyn,) kept locked in her room 24/7 by her pimp Leko (John Last,) forbidden from opening the window and fed only on the chicken from the shop below.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Theatre review: Little Revolution

Alecky Blythe's biggest hit, the verbatim musical London Road, debuted in 2011, but away from the theatre that year's biggest news story was one that Blythe was out recording as the basis for her latest play. Little Revolution debuts three years on from the riots and looting that followed the killing of Mark Duggan by police, and focuses in particular on Hackney. Joe Hill-Gibbins' production goes back to Blythe's trademark performance style, which sees the play's "script" edited as an audio file from original interviews; the actors perform with earpieces through which this is played, so their performances retain the pace and cadences of the real people they're portraying. In keeping with the chaotic events it deals with the play has a particularly rough-and-ready feel, Ian MacNeil's design seeming to have almost blasted the Almeida apart to form a chipboard in-the-round set.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Theatre review: Punishment Without Revenge (El Castigo sin Venganza)

With Globe to Globe now a regular fixture, it seems a natural next step for the Globe’s annual international strand to expand its horizons and let the foreign companies bring some of their own national classics back to the South Bank. Equally obvious as a starting point are Shakespeare’s near-contemporaries of the Spanish Golden Age, and though Lope de Vega is thought to have written over 2000 plays, there seems to be some consensus that Punishment Without Revenge (El Castigo sin Venganza) is one of his best. I saw an English-language production earlier this year, so it was comparatively fresh in my memory, enough to help me with the story in this production by Spain's Fundación Siglo de Oro company. The Duke of Ferrara (Jesús Fuente) takes a young wife for appearances' sake, but his infamous womanising doesn't let up in the slightest, leaving Casandra (Alejandra Mayo) humiliated. When the Duke is recruited to a crusade, he leaves Casandra in the care of his bastard son Federico (Rodrigo Arribas,) who's been in love with her since he first saw her.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Theatre review: Toast

The second Richard Bean play I've seen this year, and the second to make reference to the Pitcairn islands - and we haven't even got to the one actually called Pitcairn. Instead this is a revival of his first play, which takes inspiration from Bean's job in a bread factory in his year out before university. Toast is set some time in the 1970s in the break room of a Hull bread factory; a time when the trade unions were at their most powerful, but although there's recently been a strike for higher pay, it was a complete failure. This may be because the union rep, Colin (Will Barton) is ineffectual, but it could just as well be because strike action would be a hard ask for people who barely ever seem to leave the ovens. Working anything up to 80-hour weeks, some, like Peter (Matt Sutton) have families to support, but for the likes of Cecil (Simon Greenall) and Nellie (Matthew Kelly) the job seems to be a genuine part of them.