Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Olivier Theatre’

The 2011 illustrated children’s novel by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by Siobahn Dowd, who had cancer at the time, has already been made into a successful film, released only 18 months ago. It’s harder to imagine a stage adaptation, but this has been entrusted to theatre-maker Sally Cookson, responsible for the NT’s Jane Eyre and Peter Pan, also co-productions with Bristol Old Vic, who’s got plenty of imagination.

Teenage Conor is very close to his mother, and is struggling to cope with her cancer. His dad, who visits, is separated from Conor’s mum and has a new family in the US. His grandmother is practically supportive but emotionally somewhat distant. Conor is being bullied at school. He has fantasies revolving around the yew tree visible from his room (a tree associated with death and from which cancer treatments have been derived). It appears to become a monster and wake him with a nightmare at the same time each night, telling him stories to teach him lessons that will help him come to terms with the situation. In parallel, in reality, Conor has violent outbursts trashing his grandmother’s house and severely injuring his school bully.

Cookson places the story on a white stage in front a white wall. The nightmares are created by projections and a soundscape and the yew tree and monster by ropes and shadows and they are both extraordinary. The live music by Benji Power and Will Bower is integral to the piece. A terrific cast of thirteen play all of the roles, led by Matthew Tennyson, who gives a deeply moving performance as Conor. I engaged more with the story of the illness and its impact than I did with the fantasy, though it often took my breath away. Maybe that’s because I’m not the child it was intended for.

This is creative, captivating storytelling that shouldn’t really work on such a big stage, but does, as Cookson’s work has also done in the Olivier. The younger members of the audience were initially their usual fidgety selves, but in the second half were silent, which tells you a lot about the effectiveness of the storytelling. Under Matthew Warchus, The Old Vic is heading in a very different and fascinating direction, and I’m enjoying the ride.

Read Full Post »

Playwright Rory Mullarkey seems to be very skilled at persuading the artistic directors of some of our high profile theatres to stage his work. If only he was as good at turning his interesting ideas into good plays. The Wolf From The Door was put on Upstairs, his adaptation of The Orestia was staged at Shakespeare’s Globe and Saint George & the Dragon found its way onto the Olivier stage at the National; all of them, like this, half-baked. Where are the dramaturges, literary managers and artistic directors when you need them?

An unemployed man kills time in the market square of a provincial town where a department store employee, on her day off, is showing round her her visiting dad. They decide to marry. The town is hit by multiple bombs, gunfire and lightning. This escalates to war between the ‘red’ and the ‘blue’ sides and before you know it it’s gone global. Cue cannibalism, a plague and an earthquake. All in one day. Sadly, the members of the Fulham Brass Band, who had been entertaining us since before it started, had gone home by 8pm.

They’ve thrown a lot of kitchen sinks into the production, and Chloe Lamford’s ‘design’, Anna Watson’s lighting and a lot of music, dancing and special effects add up to something spectacular. Let’s just say you’re unlikely to dose off. It doesn’t stop boredom though, and doesn’t paper over the lack of a coherent narrative. It feels like a whole load of ideas have thrown up on the Royal Court stage to create an anarchic mess. I thought it was dull. The nine performers, technical team and stage management work really hard.

I couldn’t help thinking how many budding playwrights are being kept of our high profile stages by something that frankly doesn’t deserve to be on them. The title seems to encapsulate it. Yet another disappointing evening at the Royal Court.

Read Full Post »

I last saw this 1980 play by the late Brian Friel in Sam Mendes’ Donmar Warehouse Theatre production twenty-five years ago. Ian Rickson’s revival in the National’s Olivier Theatre makes a virtue of the bigger space and it works even better on this scale, with a superb design by Rae Smith, beautifully lit by Neil Austin, making great use of the Olivier stage (something that lately hasn’t been said that often!).

We’re in rural Ireland in 1833, in an independent and potentially illegal ‘Hedge School’, giving a classical education to adults in Latin and Irish. The school is run by Hugh and his son Manus. Hugh’s other son Owen is working as a translator for the British army, which is mapping this part of Ireland, renaming places in English. When British army Lieutenant Yolland and Manus’ girlfriend fall for each other, events take a dramatic turn. The disappearance of Yolland incurs the wrath of the British, who threaten to kill animals, evict people and demolish homes. The true purpose of the British forces mission becomes clear.

It all takes place in a school room, with a large green space behind and brooding clouds above providing an atmospheric and evocative picture of rural Ireland. It takes a while before you realise the Irish are speaking Irish (Gaelic) and the British speaking English; at this time English was rarely spoken by the people of Ireland. Ciaran Hinds is great as Hugh, with Seamus O’Hare as Manus and Colin Morgan as Owen both excellent. In a fine supporting cast, Dermot Crowley shines as the erudite, knowledgable but often drunk Jimmy Jack Cassie, who studies Greek and Latin.

This is an excellent revival of a fascinating play, anchored in history, beautifully staged and performed.

Read Full Post »

Reading his biography in the programme, it appears this is the National Theatre’s Director Rufus Norris’ first Shakespeare production. Perhaps he should have asked one of his predecessors for some coaching. He’s fallen into the trap of swamping it with concept and directorial conceit, losing the essence of Shakespeare’s play in the process.

His two big ideas seem to be to set it in some sort of dystopian present / future and to ramp up the magic; the latter works better than the former. In the process he’s lost the psychological depth of the story, the subtlety of the characterisations and much of the verse is chewed and spat out rather than spoken, sometimes competing with the soundscape. It’s dark, bleak and relentless and actors of the calibre of Rory Kinnear, Anne-Marie Duff and Patrick O’Kane struggle to shine.

Rae Smith’s design has an arc platform on the revolve which is used to great effect; otherwise it’s all hanging black plastic, concrete rooms, tacky furniture and grubby clothes. There are a lot of severed heads in clear plastic bags. The soundscape has eerie wind instruments. The lighting is striking, but ever so dark, so that you are sometimes straining your eyes trying to work out who’s speaking.

It’s not all bad – some scenes work well, like Macduff learning of the fate of his children, Macbeth finding his dead wife and the weird sisters during the final battle, but much of it was un-engaging. When it ended some 20-25 minutes before the published time, the shortest Macbeth I’ve ever seen, I wondered if they’d lost confidence in it themselves.

A big disappointment.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Another half-baked new play on the high profile Olivier stage. Following hot on the heels of Common, Rory Mullarkey’s good idea doesn’t really work in its present form. This brings into question the NT’s QC process again. Were Rufus Norris, his deputy Ben Power and head of New Work Emily McLaughlin all on holiday at the same time?

It’s an allegory of the history of England which uses its patron saint St. George to take us to three periods. First he arrives in mediaeval times where the dragon ruler is about to sacrifice sweet Elsa on his feast day. He overcomes him and liberates the people. In the industrial revolution, the evil dragon capitalist is in control and George frees them again, this time by helping them to take control of their own destiny. Finally, in modern times, the dragon is within us all and liberation seemingly impossible. Here, the English football team is used as a metaphor – again, a good idea. The same characters appear in each scene, behaving as if only a short time has elapsed between them.

It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t engage, it doesn’t bite, it’s rarely funny and its too long, so you find your mind wandering, thinking about the next meal or drink or what you could be doing with your time and money. Rae Smith’s design is excellent; in fact, there’s not much wrong with Lyndsey Turner’s staging. I felt sorry for John Heffernan, a favourite actor of mine, doing his best, imprisoned in this misguided piece. In a pretty empty theatre (so rare at the NT, particularly in the very accessibly priced Travelex Season), with a fair few not returning after the interval, it just fell flat I’m afraid.

I would have thought that, during the commissioning and development process, you could see that it wasn’t ready for twenty-one actors, six musicians and the technical resources of one of the country’s biggest stages. I’m ready and willing to accept the odd mistake, but too many on such a high profile stage……

Read Full Post »

It’s thirty years since I saw a large-scale production of this show – it’s first, and only, West End outing – though there were three others in quick succession between 2002 and 2010 – a semi-staged version at the Royal Festival Hall, a delightful fringe production at the Landor and another in Walthamstow during Sondheim’s 80th celebrations. Along with A Little Night Music, it’s never been my favourite Sondheim show, though it contains some of his best songs, but just five days after a stunning revival of that other show in Newbury, here we are at the National being blown away by Dominic Cooke’s sensational production, taking us back to the original Broadway version without interval. Now, where did I put my superlatives thesaurus……

It’s a reunion at the New York theatre where the Weismann Follies were between the wars. It’s about to be demolished and the girls of the 30’s and 40’s have been invited back one last time. Nostalgia gives way to regret for lost love and lost opportunities, as the main characters Buddy & Sally and Ben & Phyllis reminisce. There have been follies in their lives as well as Follies in their careers, and we learn how their relationships were formed and how they progressed. All four have the ‘ghosts’ of their former selves onstage, as do ten of the other stars from the past. Interwoven with their story, and ‘character songs’ as Sondheim calls them, we have routines and turns reenacted and a pastiche called Loveland within which all four leads sing of their individual follies.

Imelda Staunton follows her Mrs Lovett, Rose and Martha with another stupendous performance as Sally. It’s wonderful to see Philip Quast again, on fine form too as Ben, and Janine Dee is a terrific acid-tonged Phyllis, a particularly fine dancer as it turns out. Peter Forbes is less of a musicals regular, but he makes a great Buddy. Another piece of surprising but inspired casting is Di Botcher as Hattie, delivering Broadway Baby as if she was. Tracie Bennett takes I’m Still Here hostage with a particularly ballsy rendition, and the duet between opera singers Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer as older and younger Heidi is another stand-out moment in a show full of them. Dawn Hope’s Stella gamely leads the veterans in a thrilling tap dancing number with their former selves. The National is saved from prosecution by the musicals police by casting a Strallen, Zizzi, as Young Phyllis. This teally is a stunner of a cast.

Dominic Cooke isn’t known for musicals, but teamed with choreographer Bill Deamer, he’s done a great job, an elegant staging which is brash when it needs to be, at other times restrained and often very moving. Vicki Mortimer has created an atmospheric set and fantastic costumes. The unbroken 130 minutes was packed full of showstoppers and by the time we got to Loveland, I was overwhelmed and deeply moved. I think my previous, less enthusiastic reaction is down to timing. I was too young and too new to Sondheim and wasn’t really ready for this show – until now.

To the 37 performers and 21 musicians on stage, and the 200 production staff, and of course Messrs Sondheim & Goldman, it was worth every second of your time and effort. Unforgettable.

Read Full Post »

In just four years and three productions, director Yael Farber has become a firm favourite. This time though, she’s both playwright and director and I often worry that doubling-up leads to a lack of healthy creative tension, and so it is here, I’m afraid.

She first staged this show in Washington DC three years ago, departing from her intention to stage Oscar Wilde’s play and creating her own very different take on this biblical myth. I don’t have a problem with that – it’s all fiction to me – but the dialogue is weak and the structure poor; it just isn’t a good play. She did have a dramaturg, Drew Lichtenberg, but judging by his sycophantic, barely readable programme essay, he isn’t going to challenge anything. So, as playwright, I’m afraid she fails.

As director, her staging is packed full of invention, beauty and captivating imagery. Movement, design, lighting, music and sound all come together cohesively and the virtually continuous singing by two women – Israeli Yasmin Levy and Syrian Lubana Al Quntar – is haunting and extraordinarily beautiful. It lives up to her previous work – Mies Julie, The Crucible and Les Blancs – as a thrilling production, but sadly that isn’t enough.

There is an older Salome (‘nameless’) as narrator and a younger Salome (‘Salome so-called’) who rarely speaks, both beautifully performed by Olwen Fouere and Isabella Nefar respectively. I don’t know what language Ramzi Choukair’s Iokanaan was speaking, and the surtites were so low on the back wall, most were invisible (an easily rectifiable fault, which for some reason hasn’t been rectified!) but I enjoyed the physicality of his performance.

Like Common, sharing the Olivier stage, the play is a bit of a muddle, and it does make one wonder if the QA process at the NT is fit for purpose.

Read Full Post »

The backdrop to D C Moore’s new play is the enclosures of the late 18th / early 19th centuries, the greatest land-grab in history, when power shifted from the many to the few (to coin a topical phrase!). Then he adds a layer of supernatural, magical, pagan stuff. Then he adds the story of Mary returning from London to her village to reunite with her former lesbian lover and whisk her off to the US. It has it’s moments but turns out to be a bit of a muddle, I’m afraid

Before the enclosure acts, all land was common, regardless of ownership. Anyone could grow, graze or rear to make a living and feed their families. The acts gave landowners exclusive use, and most didn’t even employ the disenfranchised. Mary returns to her former home as it is about to become victim to one such act. Her backstory and future plans are interwoven with the political events and the mysterious goings on. Everyone thought she was dead, Laura’s brother King hates her, the Lord fancies her but his henchman Heron loathes her, young boy Eggy Tom befriends her and she ends up as the Lady of the manor.

It does have a boisterousness and an anarchic quality and there’s a lot to like in Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Richard Hudson’s design. There are fine performances from, amongst others, Cush Gumbo as Laura & Lois Chiminba as both Eggy Tom and Young Hannah and a virtuoso one from Anne-Marie Duff as Mary. It lacks pace at times, and not everyone will like the fruity and somewhat incongruous dialogue. It’s biggest issue, though, is that it lacks narrative cohesion and doesn’t really go anywhere.

They’ve chopped some 30 minutes off the published time, which may indicate a troubled birth. Though I liked things about it, I couldn’t honestly recommend it.

Read Full Post »

It’s a long way from my first introduction to Twelfth Night, for something that used to be called ‘O’ levels, to this – 50 years and 130 miles to be precise. This is the freshest production of this play I’ve seen since; it positively sparkles.

When Tamsin Greig was cast as Malvolio, I assumed it was just gender blind casting, but in fact she’s playing Malvolia; the character has had a sex change. This gives the attraction to Olivia another dimension altogether. In fact, one of the striking things about this production is the believable sexual frissons – between various combinations of Orsino, Olivia, Cesario (Viola) & Sebastian as well as Malvolia and Olivia. Another is the success of both the high comedy and the pathos in a production with an extraordinary attention to detail – visual, gestural, postural and linguistic. There are so may lovely touches.

The outstanding cast is high on established comic performers. Oliver Chris brings a humour to Orsino I’ve rarely seen. Tim McMullan and Daniel Rigby are as fine a double-act as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek as you’ll find anywhere. Doon Mackichan’s take on Feste is delightful. Tamsin Greig creates a frumpy Malvolia dressed in black, with a bob hairstyle, that brings the house down and makes her humiliation all the more tragic. Tamara Lawrence and Daniel Ezra are both excellent as the shipwrecked twins and Phoebe Fox brings a cheekiness to Olivia. Somehow, Maria seems to play a much bigger role in the humiliation of Malvolia and is brilliantly played by Niky Wardley. The whole ensemble gels perfectly.

Soutra Gilmour’s design has a central feature which moves us between locations as it moves itself. There are cars, scooters and bikes and her costumes are witty and colourful. Though there are songs in the play, director Simon Godwin appears to put more emphasis on the music (as he did in The Beaux Stratagem) and Shelley Maxwell’s movement contributes a lot to heightening the humour of the piece. It all sits very comfortably on the Olivier stage.

It’s a while since I saw this play, so perhaps that added to my enjoyment of what is indeed a fine revival.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »