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Posts Tagged ‘Headlong Theatre Company’

The last time I went to Ally Pally was for an audience with the Dali Lama, a force for good. Now it’s for the personification of evil, Richard III. Alexandra Palace Theatre was opened in 1875 but never really found its place in the cultural life of London – too big, too far out, more music hall than theatre. It has now re-opened, restored rather than rebuilt, in a Wiltons kind of way, and its as much of a coup opening with Headlong’s touring RIII, as it is for Headlong to effectively inaugurate it. Win-Win.

It’s a very big space and the production is confined to a small stage, so it struggles to find any intimacy. I found it difficult to engage with the first half, which seemed a bit rushed and workmanlike, the verse sometimes failing to land, but in all fairness this might be partly due to being surrounded by American University students on their year ‘abroad’ (they appeared to find this extraordinary opportunity a sentence) who had yet to learn respectful theatre behaviour. It ramped up significantly in the second half, from my new seat, and by the end became positively thrilling. It’s modern dress, played in a circular space with seven mirrors which revolved to become doors and windows, and a second tier for the most regal scenes. I very much liked the look of it, designed by Chiara Stephenson.

I was very impressed by Tom Mothersdale’s take on RIII, the arch manipulator, evil laced with madness, dragging his contorted body around the stage. With some cuts and some doubling, it’s a small ensemble, but they all impressed. I’m not familiar with the work of director John Haidar, but notwithstanding my difficulty getting into it, I thought it was a fresh and largely exciting take. I loved the ghost of the first to die collecting those that followed him, and when they all returned to haunt Richard it was terrifically staged.

Though it was good to visit the oldest new theatre, I suspect it would have had more impact in other venues on the tour, such as Bristol Old Vic. Still, I enjoyed the spectacular night-time views of London, the good value pre-theatre tapas and a building which oozes history. In another ‘first’, there was a surreal moment in the second half with a heckler who disrupted the show shouting things like ‘This isn’t true. You know its not true’. Richard left the stage and walked up to him in contempt, crowning him and soliciting an even angrier response!

 

 

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This play with music about City traders has a cabaret bar setting. The trading firm is big and successful with a client list to die for. Astrid is one of their top traders. She’s forced to take client’s son Harrison but choses to take Priya, a hungry young British girl of Bangladeshi heritage. She pays a (female) prostitute to talk to her, but this becomes much more. 

The boys in the office are merciless with their banter and pranks, but things go too far at a lap dancing club where they consume way too much alcohol and cocaine and they set up Harrison and Priya. Back at work the firm’s top man Arthur has to resolve things. Priya decides to try and use the situation to her advantage, which won’t be good for Astrid, but it’s a boys world so can a girl really win?

There are songs and there’s dancing and playwright Melissa Bubnic doesn’t exactly hold back on the graphic descriptions and language. It wouldn’t win any awards for subtlety, but neither would the world of greed and excess it exposes and satirises. All of the roles, including the men, are played by women. I thought it was a clever idea and Amy Hodge’s production is audacious and they just about pull it off, though two unbroken hours in a stuffy space with uncomfortable seats made it challenging.

The play revolves around Astrid and Kirsty Bushell is outstanding in this role, with a rather good voice and cheeky audience engagement. Ellora Torchia brilliantly conveys the youthful ambition and ruthlessness of Priya, determined to succeed against the cultural and sexual odds. Helen Schlesinger is superb as big boss Arthur, the most masculine of the women in male roles. Chipo Chung and Emily Barber complete an excellent ensemble and Jennifer Whyte accompanies with brio on grand piano. Joanna Scotcher has ingeniously transformed Bush Hall.

Brash, bold and inventive. Much better than some of the reviews would have you believe.

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This wasn’t an easy watch. Duncan MacMillan’s play concerns an actress’ addiction to drink and drugs and it’s a harrowing affair. It’s something you admire rather than enjoy, but there’s a lot to admire in Jeremy Herrin’s production for Headlong at the NT.

There’s a brilliantly clever and disorientating opening scene, but we’re soon checking into rehab with very raw experiences of reception, withdrawal, group therapy and failures along the way. Our protagonist, Emma / Sarah isn’t very likeable but she is very plausible. She’s rather self-obsessed, with a tendency to talk down, and her commitment to, and motivation for, getting clean isn’t always clear. Her relationships with the medical and care staff and fellow ‘patients’ aren’t good. It’s a rocky road, made more rocky by her own attitude and disposition. Watching it is an intense, sometimes shocking and very emotional experience.

It’s staged in a white plastic structure (designed by Bunny Christie) with the audience in close proximity on the two open sides, which also provide two of the six entrances, settings rising from the floor. This makes for a fast-paced staging. Amongst Jeremy Herrin’s raft of ideas, the representation of her hallucinations is hugely inventive. The production makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty that you are invading someone’s private life, watching something that perhaps you shouldn’t. Though if you have any doubts about the damage drink and drugs can do, you certainly should.

Though it’s a uniformly excellent cast, Denise Gough carries the evening with a stunning central performance, on stage virtually the whole time. Very occasionally you see a performance you know will be a turning point in someone’s career and this is one of those occasions.

Important rather than entertaining, but I’m glad I saw it.

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The most striking thing about this stage adaptation of George Orwell’s novel is how freshly minted it feels; it’s very hard to believe it was written 65 years ago. It’s also surprising how few stage adaptations there have been of such a prophetic and dramatic story.

This one is ‘framed’ by some sort of book club in 2050, seemingly taking its lead from Orwell’s epilogue. Winston steps out of the book club and tells his story in flashback. It’s at its best when it’s at its most chilling – there are moments during his torture when you just have to look away – but it does lack pace a bit in the middle. It’s not in the slightest bit dated and almost completely plausible.

Headlong’s staging is as innovative as ever (Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan, who also adapted it), with big transformations and great use of video in Chloe Lamford’s striking design.  In a fine cast, Mark Arends is a stand-out Winston and Hara Yannas a fine Julia.

They announced its run at the Almeida the day I went to Richmond Theatre, which pissed me off as I’d rather have seen it there, but as much as I admired it, I’m not sure I want to see it again.

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The space is superbly theatrical. A large rectangular room with picture windows at both ends, restaurant booth seating on three sides & a bar on the fourth and a long elevated corridor on one side overlooking the main space, which contains an oval platform surrounded by tables and chairs. We’re in Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top the World Trade Centre, another one of Miriam Buether’s extraordinary designs and the most comfortable place I’ve ever seen ‘site-specific’ theatre!

A large number of ‘playlets’ take place (sequentially not concurrently!) on the platform, on tables, in booths, in the elevated corridor and on the floor. There’s a fair bit of ‘dance / movement’ between scenes (and sometimes part of them) with fine choreography from Scott Ambler.  There’s a superb cast of 13 who play many more roles than that. In conception and execution, it’s all wonderfully theatrical. The trouble is the material…..

……..I was expecting interesting and objective responses to 9/11 from many perspectives, but what I got were some rather slight sketches, few of which said much on their own, let alone together. Regular visits to the annual meetings of 9/11 widows (backwards in time) provides the only link, but not enough was made of this clever device. Many were monologues whose dramatic inertness was amplified by the theatricality of the space and staging. It didn’t educate or enlighten me, it didn’t illuminate anything and it didn’t really entertain me.

I suspect the multiplicity of writers doesn’t help; six more than there are actors (look what three did for Greenland!), but the key issue for me is that it just isn’t bold enough. It seems to be hinting at and skirting over issues rather than tackling them head on. I admire the ambition, but the rewards are limited.

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The space is superbly theatrical. A large rectangular room with picture windows at both ends, restaurant booth seating on three sides & a bar on the fourth and a long elevated corridor on one side overlooking the main space, which contains an oval platform surrounded by tables and chairs. We’re in Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top the World Trade Centre, another one of Miriam Buether’s extraordinary designs and the most comfortable place I’ve ever seen ‘site-specific’ theatre!

A large number of ‘playlets’ take place (sequentially not concurrently!) on the platform, on tables, in booths, in the elevated corridor and on the floor. There’s a fair bit of ‘dance / movement’ between scenes (and sometimes part of them) with fine choreography from Scott Ambler. There’s a superb cast of 13 who play many more roles than that. In conception and execution, it’s all wonderfully theatrical. The trouble is the material…..

……..I was expecting interesting and objective responses to 9/11 from many perspectives, but what I got were some rather slight sketches, few of which said much on their own, let alone together. Regular visits to the annual meetings of 9/11 widows (backwards in time) provides the only link, but not enough was made of this clever device. Many were monologues whose dramatic inertness was amplified by the theatricality of the space and staging. It didn’t educate or enlighten me, it didn’t illuminate anything and it didn’t really entertain me.

I suspect the multiplicity of writers doesn’t help; six more than there are actors (look what three did for Greenland!), but the key issue for me is that it just isn’t bold enough. It seems to be hinting at and skirting over issues rather than tackling them head on. I admire the ambition, but the rewards are limited.

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How disheartening must it be for actors to look out into an auditorium which is not much more than 10% full on a Saturday evening – so it was at Headlong’s visit to Richmond Theatre.

Before it started I would have said that the good people of Richmond are an uncultured bunch more used to thrillers and farce, but by the end I wished I’d been with them watching Britain’s Got Talent or whatever else they were doing.

Why on earth did Oscar Wilde (for it is he) write a charmless, humorless ‘play’ based on a gory biblical scene? It’s more of a dramatised scene than a play and staging it seems rather pointless.

It’s been given a fresh dramatic interpretation on an elevated stage of oily mud (?) with striking lighting and despite the meager audience numbers the cast give it their all, though the shouting hand-ringing and physicality did become rather relentless.

You can try as hard as you like, but with material like this you don’t stand much chance of succeeding.

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