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Posts Tagged ‘Bijan Sheibani’

This play is the second part of a trilogy but was the first to be produced here ten years ago, with part one, In the Red & Brown Water, a year later. We’ve yet to see the third. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has had a couple of other plays at the Royal Court, Wig Out! and Choir Boy, but is most famous for his 2016 Oscar winning film Moonlight. This is a very early revival by the same creative team, led by director Bijan Sheibani.

The Size brothers are reunited when younger brother Oshoosi leaves prison and stays with elder brother Ogun, working with him in his car repair business. A visit from Oshoosi’s fellow prisoner Elegba, a bad influence, threatens the bond between them and their up-and-down relationship is played out before us over 80 minutes. It’s staged without set or props within a chalk circle marked out at the beginning, with red chalk thrown on the floor within it. The actors often announce entrances and exits and other stage directions direct to the audience and there’s very stylised movement and an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s very compelling, even hypnotic and mesmerising, though the apparent Yoruba mythology went over my head and I struggled a bit with the Louisiana dialect.

The three performances are captivating. Anthony Welsh as Elegba is excellent; he was in the original production. Sope Dirisu, after his Cassius Clay in One Night in Miami and Coriolanus for the RSC, continues to impress as Ogun. Newcomer Jonathan Ajayi is hugely impressive as Oshoosi, transitioning from ex-con to childlike young brother as the story unfolds.

It’s good to see it again, ahead of its time now as it was then. It’s a very short run, so catch it while you can.

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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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On Thursday 20th February, I appear to have seen a different show than the one reviewed by the critics. None of them mentioned that Lesley Sharp overacts mercilessly, turning Helen into a caricature of the person Shelagh Delaney wrote, with Kate O’Flynn coming dangerously close to challenging her for the OTT title as the play progressed. She has either diverted from Bijan Sheibani’s direction (the same appeared to happen when I saw The Rise & Fall of Little Voice) or Shebani has decided to send up a 50’s British classic. Frankly, I thought it was a travesty unworthy of a National stage. Carry On Up North.

Written by a very young Delaney in 1958 and produced and directed by Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, this was as much of a landmark show as John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. Brassy barmaid Helen is a shit mother, more interested in her men than her daughter Jo, who is perilously close to following in her footsteps. Helen marries Peter and leaves Jo, now pregnant by a black sailor, to fend for herself in their seedy flat. Art student Geoff befriends Jo and moves in to look after her, until Helen returns professing maternal feelings to hide the fact that Peter has thrown her out.

Hildegard Bechtler’s enormous set is a bit over-engineered for a five-hander virtually set in one room, but it looks authentic. The men appear to be in a different play, with more restrained performances in keeping with the period location and story, particularly Harry Hepple who hits the spot perfectly with his interpretation of Geoff in the second half. If Sharp and O’Flynn were performing as Sheibani intended, this disrespects the memory of both Delaney and Littlewood; if they have veered away from his intentions, it’s just as disrespectful but also unprofessional.

I’ve been disappointed by Sheibani’s work at the NT before – Our Class, Greenland, Damned for Despair – and I’m beginning to wonder why he warrants such prominence in the NT programming. I think I will have to shall steer clear in future because I’m not sure I can stomach such misguided directorial arrogance which Is common at the opera (where they don’t really care what dead composers intended) but less so at the theatre. The mute applause last night suggested I’m not alone.

You have been warned!

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It’s hard not to be affected by so much negative buzz but I tried to approach this with an open mind. I’m partial to a bit of Spanish Golden Age, though I’m more of a Lope de Vega man than a Tirso de Molina man (the latter wrote this) and have fond memories of the RSC’s mini-season eight years ago. Then I remembered that Tirso’s contribution, Tamar’s Revenge, was the weak link in that season…..

…..but nowhere near as weak as this, though I have to confess I only survived the first half; if they were offering free Rioja in the second half, you couldn’t have dragged me back.

It’s one of the tackiest and ugliest sets ever to grace the Olivier stage – a big plastic mountain with three white petals. The opening monologues of Frank McGuiness’ translation / adaptation are forced and turgid.  The worlds of hermit Paulo, intent on penance, and gangster Enrico, destined to burn in hell, collide in one of the most implausible and preposterous set-ups you’ll ever see. After fifty minutes of clumsy staging and histrionic performances, you are thankfully handed an escape manual AKA an interval.

It’s hard to know where the blame lies – writer, adapter or director – but I suspect it’s a bit of all three. I’ve had a bit of a downer on director Bijan Sheibani who’s ‘credits’ include that travesty Greenland, the beyond dull Our Class and a surprisingly flat The Kitchen. You have to question why he’s an NT associate director and why Nick Hytner didn’t pull this before it was too late.

I feel really sorry for the cast, including talents like Bertie Carvell and Amanda Lawrence, who have to suffer this 32 more times to half full houses (with a top price of £32 and most seats at £12). They can’t do a runner like me!

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This was Lorca’s last play, written in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. It remained unperformed for over ten years and wasn’t seen on stage in Spain for almost 30 years. Some believe it was a prophetic metaphor for the tyranny Franco was about to unleash.

Recently widowed Bernarda Alba is presiding over a more personal tyranny, with her mother and five daughters relentlessly bullied and virtually imprisoned. An offstage character is the subject of the attentions of two of the daughters, betrothed to the one with the inheritance (though I’m not sure I understand why she alone is an heiress) and subject of the obsessive attentions of another.

Adapter Emily Mann and director Bijan Sheibani have relocated the play from Spain to Iran and this does help a modern audience identify with the situation, both the personal tyranny and the tyranny outside the walls of the house. The scene where c.30 women in black (20 ‘extras’!) are facing Mecca and praying rams this home. The problem with Lorca’s play is that the first 80% is spent establishing the backgound and creating the oppressive atmosphere which leads to the tragic conclusion; this lack of balance and pace is its weakness. 

Bunny Christie has created an evocative, claustrophobic setting ‘behind the walls’, aided by a superb soundscape from Dan Jones. You really do get a clear understanding of what it must be like living in these circumstances.

The acting throughout is impressive. Shohreh Aghdashloo has great presence as Bernarda. Jane Birtish and Mia Soteriou are excellent as housekeeper and maid, and the actresses playing all five daughters create five very different characters, each of which is completely believable.

It’s not a great play, fascinating but badly paced and somewhat depressing (though it does have moments of humour), but this is a very good production which drew me into the world of Bernarda’s family and the tyranny more than any other.

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Seventeen years is a long time in theatre-going and my reaction to this 1957 Arnold Wesker play is very different today to when I first saw it at the Royal Court in 1994. Somehow it has lost its impact as a play, even if it still impresses as ‘spectacle’ in Bijan Sheibani’s production, which fills the Olivier stage like few productions do.

It’s really a ‘slice of life’ on stage. Many of the characters have their own stories, but there isn’t an overall story as such. It’s a stage picture of life in a busy kitchen in the late 50’s with snatches of social history – but not in enough depth to make it a ‘state of the nation’ play. It’s a very realistic portrait of work and it captures post-war attitudes and habits, but it doesn’t fully satisfy. It takes a while to warm up and the second act is fatally flawed by a dull first half. It would make a better one-acter with 10 minutes cut from the beginning of the first act and 20 from the beginning of the second.

Giles Cadle’s design is one of the best I have seen in the Olivier, though – a completely realistic restaurant kitchen with fine attention to detail. The ensemble is excellent, with Tom Brook standing out as Peter and lovely cameos from Tricia Kelly as Bertha and Ian Burfield as Max. The balletic scenes, where everyone seems to move as one, are stunning too. It’s hard to fault the production, but I’m afraid it doesn’t paper over the cracks in the play. It’s stylish and stylised but it doesn’t grab you and keep you for two hours.

What I thought was a classic appears now to be a play of its time.

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When you’re passionate about a subject, you can become evangelical to ‘spread the word’ and have the opposite effect i.e. put people off rather than turn them on. Such is Greenland, a play about climate change (with a dreadfully corny title) at the NT. A cross between Enron and one of those verbatim plays like The Power of Yes in the same theatre, but nowhere near as effective as either.

Before it starts, there’s a man with a microphone at a round table in the foyer trying very hard to generate a debate amongst a crowd who look as if they regret that the rather good Colombian band have stopped playing. As you leave he’s still there, now getting even less interest form an audience badly in need of a pee and a glass of house red; embarrassing.

There are four playwrights and a dramaturg credited. There are four narrative threads woven together (one from each writer?). Only one really comes to life. There’s the rather patronising one about the ambitions of a black London youth who goes on Deal or No Deal, another about a young girl’s journey as an eco activist, a third about a Cambridge geography student who becomes an ornathologist, and the one that works about the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen. There are other seeming pointless bits about disagreements between some neighbours and a completely unnecessary love affair. It’s 120 uninterrupted minutes (I think they might have dropped the interval during previews for obvious reasons!).

Director Bijan Sheibani and designer Bunny Christie have thrown the kitchen sink at it (in an attempt to bring it to life?). There’s an airline staff dance routine and numerical back projections which owe a lot to Enron (in which the dramaturg was involved!), and an ending straight out of Slava’s Snowshow (though they’re probably all too young to remember this). There’s a curtain of rain at the front of the stage, girls flying in supermarket trolleys and descending on ropes, a very realistic polar bear, flashing lights, loud music and crash bang wallops. Even if they do recycle the vast quantities of paper used, there’s something distasteful about its use…….and they have class acts like Amanda Lawrence and Lyndsey Marshall in the cast.

I didn’t learn much; I would have got more googling ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ for a couple of hours. As it’s at the NT, I suspect they are preaching to the converted like me. Any sceptics in the audience who stayed for the duration are unlikely to be turned and may well have been hardened by the relentless earnestness of it all. Despite the box of tricks, it was actually dull.

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