Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘national theatre’

In my view it’s one of theatre’s roles to put up a mirror to our society. Another is to entertain. This play examines the impact of recent welfare changes on the disabled. It managers to do both successfully, and perhaps surprisingly, though less so given it’s written by a stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy who refers to her condition as wobbly.

Jess has a successful career as a therapist. Her parents have been very supportive, as is her flatmate Lottie. She has a lovely Polish carer called Nadia who often goes way beyond her responsibilities. She introduced Jess to Poppy, a younger disabled woman with an extraordinary love of life and bags of energy, charm, cheek and an infectious naughtiness. They are both hit, in different ways, by the introduction of assessments. Jess loses her car and ultimately her job. Poppy becomes bed-bound for 12 hours a day.

Though both challenge their treatment, they react differently. Jess fights back using the appeal process, Poppy gets angry. There’s a pivotal scene at the beginning of the second half at a public meeting with their MP. His responses to theirs, and others, questions is patronising and dismissive. Some in the audience air their views of benefit scroungers and the failure of disabled people to just get on with it and stop whinging, though it soon transpires that some may be plants, so it’s unclear if their views are sincere or stage-managed. Jess makes an important connection with a referred client with alcohol addiction and after his initial dismissiveness of therapy she breaks through, they bond and the connection becomes significant.

Government policy targeted at benefit fraud has created much bigger issues for disabled people. The assessment process isn’t fit for purpose (best judged by the extraordinary number of successful appeals) and the squeeze on the caring services has created more vulnerability and dreadful treatment of the carers, whilst the contractors continue to profit. I’ve long been ashamed that I live in a country which has allowed this to happen, so I guess the play is preaching to the converted in my case, but it isn’t preaching, it’s presenting facts which anyone who approaches them objectively can process for themselves. Given playwright Francesca Martinez’ background, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s littered with laughs which sit comfortably with its campaigning message and prevent it from becoming too earnest and mawkish.

The playwright plays Jess herself in a fine understated performance, with Francesca Mills brilliant as Poppy. They are supported by a fine ensemble of fifteen other actors.

Important and urgent theatre.

Read Full Post »

I was wondering, not for the first time, why Shakespeare chose this title for his play. It seemed to me dismissive of the piece. Then I found out ‘nothing’ was a play on words with ‘noting’ meaning gossip, rumour, overheard discourse in Shakespeare’s day, which is of course the crux of the play. I was also wondering why it’s so long since I saw it last, fifteen years I think, in the Olivier with Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker. I loved that production as I did this one in the Lyttelton by Simon Godwin.

They’ve chosen to set on the Italian Riviera in the Hotel Messina c.1920’s, which allows set designer Anna Fleischle and costume designer Evie Gurney to produce something visually sumptuous and gorgeous. I’d have been happy just looking at it. They’ve added music, with a live band playing in the style of the period from an upper balcony of the hotel. I don’t know the play well enough to know if it has been cut, but with the addition of music and dancing, coming in at 2.5 hours suggests it has.

Don Pedro and his soldiers have returned from the war, settling in at the hotel run by Leonato & Antonia. Claudio falls for their daughter Hero and the whirlwind romance leads to a wedding in next to no time, but enough time for Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother Don John to spread rumours about Hero’s purity, resulting in her being dumped at the alter. The hilarity and jollity increases the gravity of this story and the malevolence of Don John’s plotting. In another plot, Antonia’s niece Beatrice and returning soldier Benedict continue their sniping, whilst ideas are planted in their respective heads that the other really loves them. In this production, their sniping seems more inferred than expressed (cuts?). Of course, it all ends happily.

Katherine Parkinson makes a fine Beatrice whilst John Heffernan, an unsung stage hero, gives a superb comic performance that makes Benedict a perfect match for her. Here, the relationship comes over more loving than spiky from the outset. Ashley Zhangazha has great presence as Don Pedro and there are delightful comic turns from David Fynn as a brilliant Dogberry and Phoebe Horn as Margaret the maid (a professional stage debut no less). I have to confess I was baffled by the decision to play Claudio with some sort of urban street dialect.

It worked brilliantly as a comedy, yet it brought out the underlying impact of gossip and rumour, which can be tragic (Hero & Claudio) or positive (Beatrice & Benedict). Another summer treat at the NT.

Read Full Post »

Though I wanted to see this, I wasn’t prepared to pay the inflated prices for a decent seat. Then an acceptable stalls offer turned up; I have no willpower. It’s another Lincoln Centre transfer, hot on the heels of the overly reverential 2018 The King & I, with Bartlett Sher at the helm, also currently represented in the West End with To Kill A Mockingbird, It exceeded my expectations, particularly because it got to the heart of Shaw’s story, hiding behind all those lovable cockneys. The staging of the second act scene back at Higgins’ home after the ball is masterly in underlining this.

I won’t bother with the story; anyone who doesn’t know it must have been in hiding or hibernation. What it brings out more than other productions is the arrogance and inhumanity of Higgins’ experiment to turn a flower seller into a Duchess and then ignore her whilst he’s celebrating his triumph. The success in doing this owes much to the casting. Harry Hadden-Paton, a musicals virgin if his biography is to be believed, is a revelation as Henry, bringing a more youthful, animated interpretation, most importantly with zero emotional intelligence. Malcolm Sinclair is the perfect sidekick as Colonel Pickering, more benevolent with genuine affection for Eliza. Amara Okereke has already wowed in very different leading roles in Oklahoma & The Boyfriend and here she gives another wonderful performance as a more defiant, feisty Eliza.

If the last year has taught us regular theatregoers anything, it’s that understudies and alternates don’t mean you are shortchanged. On the night I went to see this Adam Vaughan replaced Stephen K. Amos as Doolittle, Heather Jackson covered for Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs Higgins and Annie Wensack stood in for Maureen Beattie as Mrs Pearce, and all three acted like they’ve owned these roles from the outset. Michael Yeargan’s sets are a bit conservative and look a touch dated, but they do make the piece flow seamlessly through it’s many scene changes. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are sumptuous and her hats for the Ascot scene a joy to behold.

It’s unquestionably the best of the 8 shows Lerner & Loewe did together. Their five big hits – Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Camelot, Gigi and this – were very diverse, sometimes bizarre material for musical theatre. It’s 21 years since the last London production of MFL at the NT, transferring to the West End (I even managed to see Martine McCutcheon’s Eliza; many didn’t!) though there was a brilliant small scale revival at The Mill at Sonning just under 5 years ago. This is a lot better than Sher’s The King & I and gave me a new perspective on an old show. I’m really glad that offer came through. Look out for one yourself.

Read Full Post »

I studied Sheridan’s The Rivals for something called ‘O level’ English Literature a lifetime ago. It was one of the first plays I ever saw, in a local school production. I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since, and it’s one of only a few 18th Century comedies that is still regularly produced today, so there have been a number of opportunities to reacquaint myself with it, all of which I’ve enjoyed. The best was on the same stage as this, the NT’s Olivier, 39 years ago, where designer John Gunter built Bath’s Royal Crescent, individual houses coming out and revolving to reveal a variety of interiors, and Sir Michael Hordern getting more laughs just eating a boiled egg that many comedies get in a whole act. Then along comes Richard Bean & Oliver Chris to produce an adaptation set in the Second World War, specifically the Battle of Britain. As it is currently customary, it arrives on the NT’s Olivier stage two years later than planned.

Mrs Malaprop’s country estate has been requisitioned as an air base. The rivals in question are vying for the hand of her niece Lydia Languish. Mrs M. is promoting pilot Jack Absolute, whose father Sir Anthony owns a lot of land in Devon, well the whole county actually. Sikh airman Tony Khattri seeks to woo her with his dodgy poetry and Aussie pilot Bob Acres will do anything to win her hand. Lydia is obsessed by Dudley the aircraft mechanic, a bit of northern rough, but Mrs M’s maid Lucy is determined to see her off. The adaptation works brilliantly, bawdier, naughtier and funnier. It’s littered with both verbal and visual gags. I haven’t laughed so much since Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors eleven whole years ago.

There are so many star performances I’m not sure I know where to start. Caroline Quentin relishes every malapropism (the play coined the term) and there are way more than in Sheridan’s original, so many that it’s hard to keep up. Peter Forbes is simply terrific as the bombastic Sir Anthony, who eventually gets his girl too. We know how good Kerry Goddard is at comedy from a string of TV performances, well she’s just as good on stage. Jordan Metcalfe’s weak-at-the-knees turn has the same effect as Michael Hordern’s boiled egg. James Corrigan’s creation of Bob Acres from the outback is an absolute delight. Many of them break the fourth wall regularly to superb comic effect.

You’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of director Emily Burns, who appears to have been learning her craft at the feet of masters like Nicholas Hytner and Simon Godwin. Her production is brilliant, and propels her into the directors premiere league in one move. Designer Mark Thompson fills the Olivier stage with the English countryside and a country house, with a nod to John Gunter (intentional or accidentally) when the interiors come out of the house. There’s even a thrilling dance scene choreographed by Lizzi Gee which gives former Strictly contestant Quentin and winner Kelvin Fletcher (playing mechanic Dudley) an opportunity to strut their stuff.

This is a joy from start to finish. I can’t wait to go back and see it all over again.

Read Full Post »

I’ve rarely left the theatre of late feeling totally satisfied by a new play. Until this. The pandemic has made the wait five rather than three years for the second in David Eldridge’s relationships trilogy, but it was well worth the wait. Hopefully, it won’t take as long for the third – End? – as I for one am already full of anticipation.

Like Beginning before it, it’s a two-hander, played in real time over 100 minutes during a sleepless night in Maggie & Gary’s Essex home. Gary’s trajectory from market boy to City slicker is like many of his generation from Essex. It’s enabled him to afford the six-bedroom home, private prep school for daughter Annabel and holidays abroad, at a price. Maggie was late to motherhood, after problems conceiving, and has only recently returned to her career. This should be a success story in so many ways.

It’s a lot more than this personal story, though. It covers universal themes, things so many experience in midlife, many important and prescient issues, as Maggie & Gary’s marriage unravels before your eyes. They include the cost of success and the price (in fulfilment) of motherhood. I found myself connected and emotionally engaged with these, which seem to have become even more urgent during the pandemic, with many people focusing so much more on the work-life balance. If only Maggie and Gary had.

Though they are both regulars on our TV screens, we don’t see enough of Clare Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan on stage. Clare has already provided a cinematic highlight this year with Ali & Ava, now she provides a stage highlight to match it, a woman late to motherhood struggling to bond with her child and achieve the fulfilment her career once provided. Daniel is on an equally captivating roller coaster ride from frustration and despair to helplessness and rage with a character that’s high on ambition, but low on emotional intelligence. These are such visceral, committed performances you can’t help but empathise with their characters. The same creative team – director Polly Findlay and designer Fly Davis – handle the material with the same sensitivity.

You could never have the same intense, deeply rewarding experience as this in any other art form. It’s why I go to the theatre. You’d be completely bonkers to miss it.

Read Full Post »

I have to confess I knew next to nothing about the assassination of Gandhi, and not much more about post-war Indian history. What I knew about the partition I learnt from another play, Howard Brenton’s Drawing the Line. When I was at school history studies focused on Europe and ended in 1939! So if nothing else, I learnt a lot from this play, and the excellent programme.

Indian playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar chooses to tell the story through the eyes of the assassin, Nathuram Godse, interweaving his early life with key events in Gandhi’s life, plus the politics of colonialism, race and religion. He narrates his story, talking directly to the audience with an irreverence, and with contemporary references. This is audacious, but it works.

None of the interested parties come out of that period of history well, the British too focused on a quick fix and the regional players struggling to compromise. Any solution was going to upset someone and it was inevitable that implementation would be fraught and long. The revelation for me was that the love for Gandhi, the ‘father of the country’ wasn’t universal and it was the detractors who felt he was betraying the Hindu cause that dealt the fatal blow.

Indhu Rubasingham’s production has an organic flow, using the often problematic Olivier stage to great effect, with an impressionistic design by Rajha Shakiry, whose focal point is a giant partly woven cloth. Siddhartha Khosla’s music and Oliver Fenwick’s lighting add atmosphere. It’s a great ensemble of British Asian actors, with Paul Bazely embodying Gandhi and Shubham Saraf a defiant Godse, and a cheeky narrator. Marc Elliott was particularly good as Nehru, independent India’s first leader.

Good to see the NT’s main stage hosting some non-European history for a change, and on an epic scale like this.

Read Full Post »

I don’t think there’s been a stage adaptation of this George Orwell novella in London for thirty-eight years, when Peter Hall put it on in the NT’s Cottesloe Theatre. That was in 1984 – spooky! Orwell’s novel 1984 was last adapted for the stage, very successfully, just eight years ago by Robert Icke at the Almeida and on tour. He’s also responsible for this equally successful page to stage transfer. In the annals of theatre, there is pre-War Horse and post-War Horse. We’re well into the latter epoch, so the key to this one’s success is Toby Olie’s extraordinary puppetry.

Orwell’s allegorical fable is said to be inspired by the Russian revolution, where the push for equality ultimately results in dictatorship, still the case there more than a century later. At Manor Farm the animals, led by one of the pigs, Napoleon, successfully usurp Farmer Jones in their quest for freedom, happiness and equality, with seven commandments outlining their objectives and governing principles. Power of course corrupts and the pigs break them one by one, until Napoleon reinvents himself as a clone of Jones. More animals die in the post-revolutionary days than ever did during it.

The entire ‘cast’ of horses, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks and geese, together with dogs, cats and birds, populate the virtually bare stage, expertly handled by fourteen puppeteers, a few of which also take acting roles. It’s performed at great pace, aided by corrugated iron screens which move from side to side. Electronic displays signpost the scenes, notably the weekly meetings which go from democratic debate and voting to autocratic declarations, tell us how much time has passed and somewhat macabrely announce each loss of life.

Given the number of children and young adults in the audience, it must be a set school text (given the contemporary parallels, surely the present government will stop this soon?!). The speed of the storytelling holds the attention of those in the video & social media age. It drives home Orwell’s satirical points brilliantly, without any heavy-handedness, with occasional black humour, veering to chilling at times.

This is a high quality, accessible work that is likely to provide a positive introduction to live theatre for young people, as well as reminding us all of the fine line between democracy and dictatorship. The visit to Richmond is over, but it can still be seen in Wolverhampton and Bromley.

Read Full Post »

When you go to the revival of a play that once shocked, you usually wonder why. What shocked in the past rarely shocks as much as time passes. Not in this case. John Lahr’s virtually verbatim 1986 play based on Joe Orton’s diaries, which Lahr had only just edited and published, displays behaviour and attitudes, like under-age sex, we find completely unacceptable in 2002.

I was familiar with the 1987 film and 2009 stage play based on Lahr’s 1987 biography of Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, the former adapted by Alan Bennett and the latter by Simon Bent, but I didn’t even know this earlier stage work based on the diaries themselves existed. It apparently started as a 45 minute NT early evening ‘platform’ performance, was almost immediately expanded into a complete play at the Kings Head Theatre and then transferred to the suitably seedy Boulevard Theatre, but hasn’t been seen in London in the 36 years since.

Orton was a working class boy from Leicester who got into RADA in 1951, even more of an achievement then than now given his background. There he met Kenneth Halliwell, with whom he had a complicated relationship. Sixteen years later Halliwell murdered him, then took his own life. They lived in Halliwell’s Islington bedsit the whole of that time, even after Orton had made significant money. Halliwell was a source of ideas for his work, his partner and lover, but Orton was never faithful and Halliwell often felt confused and rejected by him.

Joe’s short playwriting career is based on just two full evening stage plays produced in his lifetime – Educating Mr Sloane & Loot, works which combined irreverence, cynicism and absurdity to great comic effect, a highly original voice. There were other pieces, produced and un-produced, including radio and TV plays, a few one-act plays and a screenplay for The Beatles, and another major play, What the Butler Saw, produced posthumously.

This is a real insight into Orton and Halliwell, perhaps the first example of verbatim theatre, though only one voice. Nico Rao Pimpare’s production zips along but has much depth, packing a lot into less than two hours playing time. George Kemp captures the cheeky irreverent charm of Orton whilst Toby Osmond conveys the emotional complexity of Halliwell, both excellent. There are forty-six other characters, including agent Peggy Ramsey, Kenneth’s Williams & Cranham, Paul McCartney & Brian Epstein, their neighbours and Orton’s relatives, all played by just four actors – Jemma Churchill, Jamie Zubairi, Sorcha Kennedy and Ryan Rajan Mal – in a dazzling display of quick-fire role switching.

A very welcome revival that proves to be a fascinating evening.

Read Full Post »

My relationship with verbatim theatre blows hot and cold. The toughest thing for me is the intrusiveness in the subjects’ lives, and sometimes the humour extracted at their expense. It was particularly acute at this because the subjects were minors, and the latter point was accentuated by some people a couple of rows in front who thought the whole thing was an uproarious comedy, their loud laughter jarring.

Alecky Blythe and her team interviewed twelve teenagers over five years from six schools, both state and public, in all four nations of the UK. Each of her ‘collectors’ followed just two subjects. The twelve represent a diversity of sex, race and class. The six hundred hours of recordings have been edited down to three, during which we watch them change and grow up. The actors who portray them also bring alive and populate the piece with their friends, families and teachers.

There are three parts, but its the third, short one, living through the pandemic, which is the most insightful and moving, as we see the impact on their lives, education & careers and mental health. It took a long time to overcome my concerns (not entirely until I read the programme on the way home to discover the subjects had read, and in some cases seen staged, all of their words being used, though not their portrayals) but in the end it proved to be an extraordinary insight into a generation I rarely engage with, and now feel much more empathy for.

It’s worth seeing just for the superb ensemble, who bring both the subjects and their relationships alive, mostly staying on the right side of caricature. Director Daniel Evans further animates this with music, movement and projections. At 3 hours 40 minutes it is too long, though its hard to see how it could be edited further without detriment to the characterisation and storytelling. That said, the part that packed the most punch was half as long as the other two.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, but read the programme interview about the process first, and respect the subjects who have been generous enough to allow us into their lives at a formative stage.

Read Full Post »

Another stage adaptation of a book I haven’t read, Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel, in a version by Emma Rice for her company Wise Children. It’s quite a challenge given it’s a relatively complex tale covering three generations of two families. I felt it succeeded in part, though fell short of Rice’s best work.

It starts brilliantly with a storm, during which Lockwood visits Heathcliff, his landlord, at his moorland home Wuthering Heights. One of Rice’s inspired moves is to make the moors themselves a chorus. From here we are told about the entangled lives of both the Earnshaws, their children Hindley & Catherine and adopted orphan Heathcliff, and the Lintons, with their children Edgar and Isabella, plus the next generation – Hareton, the son of Frances Earnshaw and Cathy Linton and Linton, the son of Isabella and Heathcliff – leading up to that moment.

From soon after the opening until we meet the young Linton at the beginning of the second half, I felt it lost it’s way a bit, the storytelling laboured and somewhat forced and the ingenuity we’ve come to expect from Rice on hold, though in all fairness my companions didn’t agree, so maybe I lost interest / concentration. Anyway, the second half was very much a return to form, both in terms of storytelling and imaginative stagecraft. There’s a lot of movement and music, maybe too much, though the chorus is excellent. The screen backdrop, most effective projecting flights of birds in unison with their creation by books on stage could maybe have been used more.

Ash Hunter is a charismatic Heathcliff, troubled and troubling. Nandi Bhebhe is excellent as the head of the moors, leading their vocal narrative. I really liked Tama Phethean’s characterisation of Hareton, an imposing presence. Katy Owen almost steals the show as the frail young Linton. It’s overlong at 2 hours 50 mins and if they tightened the narrative and lost some of the first half’s ninety minutes it might be a better play. There’s lots to enjoy, though I can’t say it has made me want to read the book.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »