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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

I came to this story fresh, having not read Khaled Hosseini’s novel nor seen the film, and by the interval I was underwhelmed by a fairly pedestrian piece of storytelling that seemed to belong on the fringe rather than in the West End, but after the interval it gained pace and interest.

Amir’s father Baba is a prosperous Afghani and Hussain is the son of his long-standing servant Ali, and they are best friends. Amir turns a blind eye to a violent attack on his friend, then compounds it, seemingly through guilt, by making claims about Hussain’s dishonesty and destroying his relationship with him and his father’s with Ali. When the Taliban begin to take control of the country, Baba and Amir escape to a new life in California. Many years later, after his father has died, Amir visits his former mentor and father’s best friend in Pakistan, who persuades him to return to Kabul to rescue a child. From here, the real truth about Hussain emerges, and propels the story to its happy ending back in Northern California.

It is a very good story and when it got going it drew me in. I liked the onstage music, though I’m not sure it should have started with a solo turn. Matthew Spangler’s adaptation relies too much on narration (by Amir), though this may be the only way to tell such a dense story in a few hours. We’re used to more inventive storytelling on stage these days, and I wondered how much better it might be in the hands of Sally Cookson or Emma Rice. Putting it in the West End, at West End prices builds expectations that I don’t think it fully realises. If it wasn’t an ‘A’ level set text, would it be there? Though it was more than two weeks since its return to the West End, it didn’t seem as slick as by now it should have been.

That said, it eventually captured me and I loved the story, but maybe I should have read the book. In fairness, the standing ovation around me suggested my view was not shared by the majority in the audience.

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The Greenwich & Docklands International Festival is best known for outdoor spectaculars, so its good to see them include a classic play. Flemish company de Roovers first staged it with Antwerp docks passing for the Brooklyn longshore. Now Greenwich Peninsula and the Thames riverbank pose as Red Hook with the skyscrapers of Docklands standing in for lower Manhattan. It’s an inspired idea.

Arthur Miller’s play is like a Greek tragedy, but an Italian American one, involving longshoreman Eddie Carbone, his wife Beatrice, his niece Catherine and two other relatives, Rodolpho and Marco, illegal immigrants from Sicily seeking better lives than they can have in post-war Italy. Eddie is possessive of Catherine; they are close, too close, and as she develops a relationship with Rodolpho, Eddie becomes racked with jealousy, with tragic consequences. I particularly liked the way they represented the way Eddie’s life is turned upside-down by the developing relationship.

At the end of a sweltering week. it was cold and windy and this somehow added dramatic effect, with dust blowing across the playing area and brooding cloud cover above the skyscrapers. The sparseness, with just a platform and chair representing the Carbone living room and the phone box specified in Miller’s stage directions, added to the atmosphere, as does the soundtrack by a live trio. It was reasonably faithful to Miller, but I wish they hadn’t changed the ending, as this added a touch of implausibility to go with its heightened dramatic effect.

With the actors all of a similar age, you do have to suspend disbelief and imagine the youth of Catherine and Rodolpho, and why on earth the lawyer Alfieri broke into a manic dance during one of his later pieces of narration is beyond me, but these were the only things that jarred in an atmospheric telling of a classic tale. 

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Verbatim theatre can be very powerful in presenting real issues, and this look at last year’s referendum is amongst the most powerful I’ve seen; thought-provoking but also highly entertaining. I’m rather glad I missed it at the National in February, as it seems to take on extra meaning post-election, and feels more at home in ‘a people’s theatre’ at the end of it’s 14-venue tour, mostly visiting the cities and towns in which the interviews that it features took place.

Britannia has convened a gathering and Caledonia, Cymru, Northern Ireland, the South West, North East and East Midlands arrive. After pleasantries, each conveys the words of the interviewees from their location, which eventually descend into inaudibility, talking over one another; no-one’s listening. Britannia represents and conveys the words of the politicians – Cameron, Johnson, Gove, Farage and May. Beyond this, each representative presents the best of their country / region in song, dance and poetry, with others commenting. It ends thoughtfully with the voices of the interviewees themselves as the representatives leave the stage. Carol Ann Duffy has put this together expertly.

The ensemble is outstanding, perhaps benefiting from being together for almost four months now. Penny Layden is terrific conveying the politicians. Christian Patterson represented my home country very well; his rendition of Goldfinger a highlight, as was Cavan Clarke’s Irish dance! Stuart McQuarrie is a superbly feisty Scot and Laura Elphinstone a brash Geordie. There were many laughs at the expense of Adam Ewan representing the South West as somewhat new age and Seema Bowri represented the diversity of the East Midlands well. Rufus Norris’ production manages to make this entertaining without belittling the seriousness of the situation, though I did feel uneasy at times laughing at the words of real people.

Excellent, relevant theatre, which does help you understand how we’ve got into this mess, though it didn’t lift my depression over it!

 

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This late 50’s Tennessee Williams play started out as a one-act, two-character piece, until he bolted on another play called Pink Bedroom to form the second act. In this production, you can see the join. The part of the faded movie star, written for Tallulah Bankhead, has always attracted star actresses. I saw Lauren Bacall play it 32 years ago in the West End and Kim Cattrall played her in the last London outing at the Old Vic. Here we have American stage and film actress Marcia Gay Harden, with another American Brian J Smith hot-footing it from his superb turn in The Glass Menagerie in the West End. I assumed, with only a three-week Chichester run, it was West End or Broadway bound.

Chance Wayne is a gigolo and his latest customer is Hollywood’s Alexandra Del Lago, travelling incognito as Princess Kosmonopolis (was TW taking the piss?!). Their booze and drug fuelled journey West stops off in his Mississippi home town of St. Cloud so that he can see the love of his life, Heavenly(!). Unbeknown to him, he gave her an STD when he was last back and this resulted in a life-changing medical condition. Oh, and his mother has died and been given an undignified burial by charitable contributions. He’s not good at leaving contact details. Heavenly’s dad is standing for political office on a somewhat disingenuous ticket disguising his racism and they get caught up in the campaign and the revenge plotted by Heavenly’s brother Tom.

It’s not one of TW’s best and the two acts really are a contrast. It does come alive in the second, but it’s sometimes farfetched and overly melodramatic in writing and too reverential and melodramatic in Jonathan Kent’s production. The entire first act takes place in a hotel bedroom, and its asking a lot of the Chichester main stage to create such an intimate setting. The hotel bar scene which takes up much of the second act opens it up, but also shows up the differences. Anthony Ward’s design is excellent, as are the performances, if a bit OTT in the TW way, with Richard Cordery as Boss Finley and Graham Butler as Tom Finlay deserving mention alongside the star pairing.

I’ve never been in such a small audience at Chichester – less than a quarter full, I’d say – which is a puzzle, and a shame for our American guests, who deserve better. I doubt we’ll see it in London, but maybe Broadway? I’ve had a lot of better TW experiences, but I don’t regret the trip.

 

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One of the most moving moments in a lifetime of travel was seeing the mothers of the disappeared in their monthly ritual in Buenos Aires main square just nine years ago. BA was a very different place to my first visit 27 years before that. This show sets out to tell their story through one mother and her disappeared daughter, using ‘political musical cabaret’ as its form.

Our MC is the General. There are two other military men, one in drag most of the time. The story only starts after the cabaret form is established, which takes some 30 minutes – unnecessarily long and dangerously close to losing the audience in too much forced bonhomie. When Ana and her mother Gloria’s story begins, it gets grittier and deeper and in the second half very dark and deeply moving. I very much liked Darren Clark’s eclectic score and lyrics, which tell the story well and add an emotional layer.

The Arcola has been effectively turned into the Coup Coup Club, with an apron stage and cabaret tables in front of the usual seating in an excellent design by Georgia Lowe and Alex Berry. Neil Kelso, who also plays one of the trio of military men, provides very good illusions. Alexander Luttley provides the burlesque edginess with his racy routines. There’s a theatrical coup at the end which movingly reminds you that this is based on true events. Most of the cast of nine double-up as musicians, with very high musical standards. Amy Draper, who had the concept and is its co-storyteller, directs it with passion.

It wasn’t helped by a 35-minute delay in staring, but it is overlong and if they only ditched a lot of the first quarter and edited the rest, they’d have a much better show. That said, I don’t regret my schlep to Dalston on a sweltering evening.

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I was captivated by this piece from the cheeky pre-show audience engagement, when my beard was put under threat, to the deeply moving final scene, where a widowed, childless barber and his eighteen-year-old fatherless customer strike up a relationship.

Inua Ellams play takes us from a London barber shop back-and-forth to similar establishments in Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa, to explore issues of culture and identity for black men of all ages. The stories only connect by their barbershop setting, their themes include politics, family and friendship and somehow it hangs together brilliantly. The music, dance and humour provide an extraordinary warmth. It’s performed brilliantly by a dozen terrific actors, too many to name.

The audience are on all sides and the shop signs around the 1st level illuminate to tell us which barber shop we’re in. The scene changes themselves are highly entertaining and the pace of Bijan Sheibani’s production never lets up for 105 unbroken minutes. Rae Smith’s design conveys the essence of the barbershop settings and different cities and countries. I particularly loved Aline David’s movement, at its best at the end with an inspired dance using barbers capes like bullfighters.

The unlikely midweek matinee audience rose to its feet. I might have to go again.

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Hir is an unofficial, socially-constructed, gender-neutral pronoun, an alternative to he or her. Playwright Taylor Mac is a polymath American artist who challenges conformity and categorisation; someone once described him as Ziggy Stardust meets Tiny Tim. As you can by now imagine, this is a surreal ride.

Isaac returns from three years in the war, as a marine in the mortuary service. He’s had a dishonourable discharge for drug use. While he’s been away, there have been dramatic changes in the family. After years of abusing his wife and children, dad Arnie is ill and now on the receiving end of the abuse. Isaac’s sister is in the process of becoming his brother, encouraged by his mother Paige, who has gone all new age and politically correct and stopped cleaning completely. The house is a tip. Isaac struggles to believe or accept it all and a power struggle with his mother develops.

I’m not entirely sure what the playwright is getting at, but it’s fascinating and expertly staged and performed. Ben Stones’ design has to be seen to be believed. Nadia Fall’s staging continually shocks and surprises. All four performances are outstanding, with favourite Ashley McGuire so extraordinarily matter-of-fact as Paige, contrasting with Arthur Darvill’s highly strung and fragile Isaac.

It wasn’t to everyone’s taste (there were lots failing to return after the interval) but it held and intrigued me, and I’m still processing it.

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