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Posts Tagged ‘Dorfman Theatre’

American playwright Bruce Norris is no stranger to controversy. His Olivier, Tony & Pulitzer winning Clybourne Park was a brilliant and funny look at race and class in his home country. Here he puts sex offenders under the microscope and produces his best play since Clybourne, a remarkably objective 360 degree look at attitudes of and to sex offenders, and society’s reaction and response, something has has been a major preoccupation in this country for some time now.

Four men are effectively under house arrest, tagged and supervised in a group home in downstate Illinois. There are geographic limits for their movement, within which they can work, if they can get it, drive, bus, walk, shop. Their crimes and their address are published, so the fear of attack is never far away. They have no access to the internet or smart phones.

When we first meet them, wheelchair-bound Fred, now an old man, is visited and confronted by Andy, a man he assaulted as a boy, still seeking closure. Andy returns later without his wife for a more angry confrontation. In the second pivotal scene, the police officer in charge of their cases holds court. Her most important task is to present Felix with evidence of his rule breaches.

There are so many issues and angles, all deftly and sensitively handled. Remorse and forgiveness, and lack of, and revenge. The need for punishment but the value of it on its own. Though you’re an an emotional roller-coaster throughout, moving from anger to disgust to sympathy to hopelessness, it’s never played for these emotions and reactions, so objectivity is preserved.

It’s great to welcome Steppenwolf, America’s pre-eminent repertory company, to these shores again and the five fine actors who have made these characters so real – Glenn Davies, Francis Guinan, K Todd Freeman, Eddie Torres and Tim Hopper as Fred’s victim. Our own Cecilia Noble is on blistering form again as Ivy the cop.

If you like your theatre challenging, unsettling and illuminating, head to the NT’s Dorfman post haste.

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Nina Raine’s new play concerns a woman’s attempts to have a child before its too late. Her younger husband Tom leaves her in her late thirties, not wanting the child she does, and she begins to navigate the world of sperm donation. Though it covers a lot of serious issues, it’s an entertaining ride.

Anna approaches many of the men she knows and some she doesn’t, straight and gay, old and young, mostly single, but to no avail. They either decline or agree then subsequently change their minds. She even looks at buying sperm from an online catalogue featuring donor photos and key information like intelligence scores. She discusses options with her family and friends. As time goes on, desperation sets in. We learn a lot about the different options, and issues like ongoing involvement of the donors and the child’s rights.

At first I thought she might be taking the subject lightly, but serious issues are covered well, most notably in a very moving scene where she visits an adult with an anonymous donor father to see things from the child’s perspective. The psychological and emotional strain on women of late child-bearing age wanting children has bern covered before, most recently in the Young Vic’s harrowing contemporary take on Yerma, but this is more specifically about sperm donation, and much lighter in tone, yet just as serious in its own way.

Claudie Blakley is excellent as Anna, on stage virtually the whole time. The rest of the adult cast play two or three roles, with Sam Troughton giving a virtuoso performance as husband Tom and no less than five potential donors, changing character with the turn of the head or a hand brushed through the hair. It’s a simple traverse staging, with characters and props coming from the other two sides and it’s very well paced, the playwright directing.

This is the fourth Raine play tackling important contemporary issues very effectively whilst at the same time providing entertaining, satisfying drama. Well worth a visit.

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This is one of those occasions where writing, design, performances and staging all come together to create something special. Laura Wade’s play may prove to be the year’s best new play. Whilst I find the superlatives thesaurus, you may wish to stop here if you haven’t read any other reviews and you’ve booked to see it; what follows won’t spoil it, but might just take the edge off it.

Judy and Johnny are obsessed with the 50’s, their friends Fran and Marcus share their interest, but less obsessively. All we know about Johnny is that he’s an estate agent who didn’t go to university. Judy was brought up by her feminist mother in a Sussex commune, went to university and became an accountant. Voluntary redundancy gives her the opportunity to give up work and plunge them fully into a 50’s lifestyle, becoming a housewife, aspiring domestic goddess.

Their reserves are disappearing as Johnny’s commission is declining. One less income, and all that retro furniture and clothes which don’t come cheap. Still, they seem completely wrapped up in their fantasy, until Johnny’s failure to get a promotion triggers a series of events involving his new very driven boss Alex, who’s bemused by their lifestyle, and Judy’s mum Sylvia, who disapproves of the patriarchal accoutrements it brings with it. There’s a clever sub-plot involving problems Marcus is having at work.

What I like about Wade’s play is the many layers she achieves, exploring attitudes and behaviour then and now, as Judy and Johnny change as their fantasy progresses, and how that is seen by those left in the here and now. Things are not always what they appear to be, so it often surprises you. We’ve travelled a long way from the 50’s but in many ways not far enough, as juxtaposing the two periods, even one as a fantasy, proves. It’s like a conversation between then and now. Director Tamara Harvey’s production draws you in; even the activity of the scene changes prove captivating.

Anna Fleischle’s extraordinarily detailed design is stunning, as obsessive as the obsession that drives Judy & Johnny. The period music makes for a superb soundtrack. Katherine Parkinson is terrific as Judy, never leaving the home, so on stage the whole time. Richard Harrington gives a nuanced portrayal as Johnny, revealing insecurities and doubts as well as his devotion to Judy. Kathryn Drysdale and Barnaby Kay are excellent as Fran and Marcus, sometimes contributing nifty period dance routines between scenes. Sian Thomas shines as the mum whose values Judy seems to be rebelling against, as does Sara Gregory as Johnny’s boss, oblivious to his attraction to her.

An unmissable night in the theatre that reminds you why you go.

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This fascinating and rather timely play is actress Natasha Gordon’s hugely impressive playwriting debut. It seems like a breath of fresh air at the NT; the Dorfman was positively buzzing.

Single mother (and grandmother) Lorraine gave up her job to nurse her mother Gloria through her last days with cancer. Gloria came to Britain from Jamaica in the Windrush days (hence its timeliness on the 70th anniversary, even more timely given recent revelations). Lorraine’s brother Robert, his white wife Sophie, Lorraine’s daughter Anita and Gloria’s cousin Maggie and her husband Vince visit during her final hours, and when she dies jointly plan the traditional Jamaican Nine Night ritual and wake. Conflicts emerge between Lorraine and Robert, and both of them and Maggie, and Sophie has a revelation of her own. When step-sister Tanya, left behind by Gloria in Jamaica with her grandmother, arrives more skeletons emerge and the spirituality of the ritual ramps up.

It was clear that those of shared heritage understood more and got more out of it than me, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a fine play and superb performances, chief amongst them Franc Ashman, who is outstanding as put-upon Lorraine, riding an emotional roller-coaster, and Cecilia Noble’s extraordinary creation that is Aunt Maggie. Rajha Shakiry’s uber-realistic London home and Roy Alexander Weise’s assured direction serve the play well.

I might have missed some cultural references (tip – read the programme in advance) and some dialogue from the most heavily accented characters (and the sustained audience laughter), but I still had a rewarding couple of hours of first class theatre.

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Sometimes the theatre can teach you something about recent history that passed you by, even though you lived through it. So it is with this play by Francis Turnly, the story of a group of Japanese coastal dwellers who disappeared in the late 70’s, seemingly abducted by North Korea.

The story is told through the life of one family, single mother Etsuko and her two daughters, Reiko and Hanako. Hanako disappears and Etsuko spends the rest of her life searching for her daughter, and the truth, with the help of Reiko and her friend Tetsuo. She sends out a message in a bottle, literally, on a daily basis. She finds the relatives of other victims and forms a campaign group, but the government is reluctant to take up the cause and the press hesitant about supporting it.

North Korea’s intentions initially seem to be to brainwash and turn those abducted and return them as spies, but this later changed to using them to teach their language and customs to potential spies. Some, like Hanako, are forced to marry and have children. She even finds happiness with Kum-Choi, the husband of her arranged marriage, and their daughter Hana. When relations between the two countries ease, the government acts at last and Etsuko learns the fate of her daughter. Though it’s a personal story, you learn a lot about the post-war geopolitics of East Asia.

Tom Piper’s set revolves to move us between the countries, with illustrative giant projections by Luke Halls, but otherwise Indhu Rubasingham’s staging is fairly conventional, focusing on the storytelling, without distraction. After last year’s ‘yellow face’ controversy, it’s good to see a complete cast of actors of East Asian heritage, with excellent performances all round.

I’m not sure how this particular piece of history passed me by, but I was glad to be informed at last, and given the profile of North Korea in today’s news, its rather timely.

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American playwright Annie Baker seems to have invented her own genre – ‘slow theatre’, as it’s being called. This isn’t as successful as The Flick (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/the-flick), in the same theatre two years ago, as it doesn’t sustain its length as well, but I think its still worth catching – though not everyone does slow, it seems.

It’s set in a B&B run by a lady called Mertis in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Her husband apparently also lives there, but we don’t meet him. Visitors Elias and Jenny have broken a journey there to explore the area’s historical significance. Their relationship is troubled. The only other character is Mertis’ friend Genevieve who pays a couple of visits. She is blind and obsessed by her dead husband’s ongoing presence. The fifth character is the design – Chloe Lamford, with lighting by Peter Mumford and sound by Christopher Shutt – which sometimes performs.

It plays out, slowly, over 3 hours 20 mins, with a forensic attention to detail. It’s intriguing, sometimes funny, but mostly just mysterious. You feel as if you’re peering into the sitting / dining area and hall, which we’re invited into when Mertis pulls back the curtains at the beginning of each act. When characters go upstairs, to the bedrooms named after historical figures, you still hear them talking and moving. Mertis has a lot of stuff, particularly dolls, which are absolutely everywhere. There’s a Christmas tree, so we assume its seasonally appropriate. Elias & Jenny’s relationship, Genevieve’s ‘possession’ and Mertis’ home interweave as the three strands unfold.

There’s a lot to like in the design and performances, but not enough happens at too slow a pace in James Macdonald’s staging. Annie Baker is an original writer, but I do hope she doesn’t trap herself in this slow theatre mode.

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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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We appear to be in a golden age of new plays. Bartlett, Bean, Butterworth, Graham, Kirkwood & Raine have all delivered gems this year and now David Aldridge joins them. His is on a much more intimate scale, but it’s as captivating as any of the others.

It’s the fag end of a party, the early hours of Sunday morning, and the host Laura and guest Danny, who she doesn’t really know, are the last two standing. There is clearly a mutual attraction. He’s damaged – deserted, divorced, estranged and lonely – and socially clumsy. She’s successful and independent, but with no family, also lonely, and too frank, forward and direct for Danny. They play out the difficult first 100 minutes of their relationship in real time.

Though it’s mostly about loneliness and relationships, there are a whole load of other themes including father’s rights, desperation for children, impersonal modern dating methods and more. It’s voyeuristic to watch, but it’s not uncomfortable. The characters are superbly well drawn and the performances of Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton are stunning. Troughton in particular perfectly captures the complex cocktail of emotions and vulnerability of Danny. Polly Findlay’s direction is totally in harmony with the writing and Fly Davis’ uber-realistic design anchors it.

I’ve never thought Eldridge’s work as consistent as other playwrights, but he has produced gems before, notably In Basildon, maybe when he’s writing from experience. Somewhat ironically, he produced the least plausible play about middle-class life, Knot of the Heart at the Almeida, and has now produced the most plausible! This is an enthralling experience, particularly welcome at the NT.

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‘Play’ is a misnomer for this monologue, a hybrid of storytelling and reality theatre. It’s full of questions on which the audience votes using smart gadgets, but these don’t include the most important question – ‘what’s it doing in the National Theatre at twice the price of the fringe, where it belongs?’ That question costs 50p per minute.

Rob Drummond’s examination of democracy starts by establishing the demographic in the room; well, after agreeing on the latecomers policy. To my shock, it was 50% male, 90% white, with the same proportion considering themselves liberal, something they go on to disprove. We later reveal we are 90% Remain. All of this is such a surprise for an NT audience!

In between telling his story, mostly about his encounter and relationship with an activist called Eric, we vote on a lot of propositions, mostly to do with how we’d react to saving or killing people to avoid other deaths, by train. His point seems to be that we’ve become intolerant of differing opinions.

As a performer, he’s quite engaging. I don’t know if Eric is real (seems implausible to me) but if he is, Drummond’s pursuit of him is unhealthy. It’s fitfully engaging, but there’s a lot of time used up with the voting process and the results, though these aren’t really discussed, and in the end I didn’t think it was particularly insightful or revealing.

This is my first experience of Drummond’s work and I left puzzled as to why he has so many major theatrical institutions in his thrall, but then again I had just returned from Edinburgh where you have to work hard in a competitive environment and where this would have cost less than half as much and probably been showered with three star reviews. Come to think of it, that’s what it got here……

 

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Lucy Kirkwood has taken to writing big, complex multi-layered, multi-issue plays. From Sino-American relations to a nuclear incident to particle physics. Think Tim Stoppard, but not so cold and glib, with personal stories for added empathy. I like them. A lot.

Mosquitoes revolves around two sisters – the brilliant Alice, an eminent scientist at CERN in Geneva, and Jenny, a bit of a basket case living in Luton, who seems to believe everything she reads on the internet. Despite the differences they are close, and come to each other’s rescue when needed. Their mum Karen lives with Jenny; she was an eminent scientist in her day too, but perhaps not much of a mother; she’s got an ice cold bite. Alice’s husband disappeared and she’s now in a relationship with Henri. Her troubled teenage son Luke is struggling with bullying at school.

Kirkwood weaves the personal story of these three generations with some mind-blowing science, taking us way beyond now to the possibilities of the distant future, using The Bosun, who seems to be the ghost of Alice’s former husband, as our guide. She writes really sharp dialogue and it’s often very funny, but it sometimes surprises you too, going down quite unpredictable and unexpected paths. I loved the density of the narrative and the meatiness of the dialogue. The personal story has lots of twists and revelations and is simply staged in the round, with a circular floor, a moving circular feature overhead and dramatic lighting and sound effects to convey the science. 

Jenny is a peach of a role which Olivia Coleman clearly relishes and completely inhabits. It’s harder for Olivia Williams to play less emotionally against this, but she does so well. Amanda Boxer is wonderful as mum Karen, seemingly devoid of emotion and fighting dementia, and Joseph Quinn, excellent in Wish List at the Royal Court earlier this year, is hugely impressive as angst ridden lost soul Luke. Rufus Norris’s staging is well paced and captivating, with idiosyncratic scene changes to boot.

This is a very mature play for someone in her early thirties and there’s clearly a lot more to come. I for one can’t wait.

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