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Posts Tagged ‘Royal Court Theatre’

This is the fourth Caryl Churchill play I’ve seen in the last twelve months – three revivals (two of which I’d seen before) and one new play(s). I first saw this seventeen years ago at the Royal Court with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig. Cloning was a hot topic at the time. Eight years later there was a certain frisson seeing a real father and son – Timothy & Sam West – playing it at the Menier, something that was tried again at the Young Vic in 2015 with John & Rex Shrapnel. So this is my third exposure and I’m still confused. That’s Caryl Churchill for you.

It’s set in the home of Salter, where he is visited by someone who turns out to be a clone of his son, who was sent to some sort of home by his father when he was struggling after the suicide of his wife. Salter realises the doctors have created more than one clone and is preoccupied with suing them. His actual son then visits, furious with his father about the cloning. Salter now says he was just trying to have a second chance to bring up a son properly. The first clone returns, knowing the truth, now hating Salter. After another visit from his real son, now very troubled, Salter invites another of the clones, Michael, who proves to be very normal and unfazed by it all.

Polly Findlay’s excellent staging plays out in five scenes over sixty minutes, superbly performed by Colin Morgan as all of the boys and Roger Allam as Salter. In Lizzie Clachan’s clever set we’re in the same room, but from a different perspective in each scene, miraculously transforming in the darkness between them. It’s a much more realistic setting than previous productions, and Morgan is much better at creating different personalities than his predecessors. The nature versus nurture debate is interesting, but I was left wanting to understand more about Salter and the doctor’s motivations, and the extent of and reasons for the cloning.

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One of the most positive things about 2019 was that more new plays and new musicals made my shortlist than revivals of either; new work appears to be thriving, theatre is alive.

BEST NEW PLAY

I struggled to chose one, so I’ve chosen four!

Laura Wade’s pirandellian The Watsons* at the Menier, clever and hilarious, The Doctor* at the Almeida, a tense and thrilling debate about medical ethics, How Not to Drown at the Traverse in Edinburgh, the deeply moving personal experience of one refugee and Jellyfish at the NT Dorfman, a funny and heart-warming love story, against all odds

There were another fifteen I could have chosen, including Downstate, Faith Hope & Charity and Secret River at the NT, The End of History and A Kind of People* at the Royal Court, The Son and Snowflake* at the Kiln, The Hunt at the Almeida, A German Life at the Bridge, After Edward at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Appropriate at the Donmar, A Very Peculiar Poison at the Old Vic and Shook at Southwark Playhouse. Our Lady of Kibeho at Stratford East was a candidate, though I saw it in Northampton. My other out of town contender was The Patient Gloria at the Traverse in Edinburgh. I started the year seeing Sweat at the Donmar, but I sneaked that into the 2018 list!

BEST REVIVAL

Death of a Salesman* at the Young Vic.

This was a decisive win, though my shortlist also included All My Sons and Present Laughter at the Old Vic, Master Harold & the Boys and Rutherford & Son at the NT Lyttleton, the promenade A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge, Noises Off* at the Lyric Hammersmith and Little Baby Jesus at the Orange Tree.

BEST NEW MUSICAL

Shared between Come From Away* in the West End and Amelie* at the Watermill in Newbury, now at The Other Palace, with Dear Evan Hansen*, This Is My Family at the Minerva in Chichester and one-woman show Honest Amy* at the Pleasance in Edinburgh very close indeed.

Honourable mentions to & Juliet* in the West End, Ghost Quartet* at the new Boulevard, The Bridges of Madison County at the Menier, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Fiver at Southwark Playhouse, Operation Mincemeat* at The New Diorama and The Season in Northampton.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

Another that has to be shared, between the Menier’s The Boy Friend* and The Mill at Sonning’s Singin’ in the Rain*

I also enjoyed Sweet Charity* at the Donmar, Blues in the Night at the Kiln, Falsettos at the Other Palace and The Hired Man at the Queens Hornchurch, and out-of-town visits to Assassins and Kiss Me Kate at the Watermill Newbury and Oklahoma in Chichester.

A vintage year, I’d say. It’s worth recording that 60% of my shortlist originated in subsidised theatres, underlining the importance of public funding of quality theatre. 20% took me out of London to places like Chichester, Newbury and Northampton, a vital part of the UK’s theatrical scene. Only two of these 48 shows originated in the West End, and they both came from Broadway. The regions, the fringe and arts funding are all crucial to making and maintaining the UK as the global leader it is.

The starred shows are either still running or transferring, so they can still be seen, though some close this week.

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This is an impressive new play by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, multi-layered, covering lots of relevant contemporary issues. It illustrates how seemingly happy lives can unravel very quickly, triggered by just one event. Though ultimately very sad, I found it enthralling; I particularly liked it’s objectivity and authenticity. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen at the Royal Court in recent years.

Gary & Nicky are struggling financially but are happily married, both working, with three kids. Gary’s friend Mark and sister Karen are often around, and Mo and Anjum, friends through their children, are regular visitors too, all currently preoccupied with preparations for their kids’ school fair and their respective son’s next schools. On Mark’s birthday, Gary & Mark’s boss Victoria comes back from the pub with them. She seems lonely and rather envious of this close community. She drinks a bit too much and makes some racist comments that sends this close-knit group along a path that leads to the destruction of relationships in just two weeks.

In Michael Buffong’s production, the play grabs you quickly and maintains its pace and engagement for the whole 100 minutes without interval. Anna Fleischle’s clever design moves us speedily from Gary & Nicky’s council flat to Gary & Mark’s workplace, and back. It’s a great set of performances, particularly given the emotional journey’s they all have to make, from seven fine actors. At first all of their characters are sympathetic, but by the end it’s really only one, as each does or displays something that loses our empathy with them.

There’s a thread running between this and two other new plays I’ve seen this month – Fairview and Snowflake – but this is in many ways the best. A definite recommendation from me.

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I think I would best describe this intriguing play by Ed Thomas as Samuel Beckett meets Dylan Thomas. It’s dialogue is poetic and it’s story is obscure, something I often turn against, but here I found it rather captivating.

John Daniel and his wife Noni are the last inhabitants of Bear Ridge. They’ve had to close their butchers shop. The post office has stopped delivering mail and their phone line has been cut. Their shop assistant & slaughter-man Ifan William has stayed with them. We don’t exactly know why Bear Ridge is being deserted, though it appears to be the result of a war of some sorts. Fighter planes occasionally fly overhead and an army man, The Captain, pays a visit.

Their conversation ranges from their plight to reminiscences about a happier past and reflections on tragedy, when we learn that John Daniel & Noni’s son, and Ifan William’s best friend, went to university to study philosophy but was killed because he spoke ‘the old language’. The Captain, a clearly tortured soul, has his own tragic story to tell. I’m still trying to piece it all together, with an intriguing note in the play-script suggesting it is ‘semi-autobiographical’.

Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola are both terrific as the couple at the centre of the story, with fine support from Sion Daniel Young as Ifan William and Jason Hughes as The Captain. Cai Dyfan’s design is hugely atmospheric, the exit of the walls representing the decline, as is the music and sound design. The Royal Court’s AD Vicky Featherstone co-directs with the playwright.

National Theatre Wales has gone through a difficult time of late, but it’s good to see them back, and in London, with this Royal Court co-production. I suspect I will be processing it for some time yet.

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When this evening was announced, it was three new short plays by Caryl Churchill. Now a fourth has been added, longer than the other three added together, which makes it the longest evening of new Churchill work in ages. I’ve tired of her descent into minimalism of late, also finding earlier works haven’t stood the test of time when revived, but this is a real return to form, a veritable theatrical feast.

The first half consists of three short works, with the inspired idea of front of curtain entertainment between them. The first is an intriguing piece about a glass girl. The characters perform on an elevated white shelf, which at one point is clearly a mantelpiece with ornaments that come alive, but at other times not. The second play features a god on a cloud and a boy playing on the ground, the god giving us a manic telling of Greek myths. In the third, a serial wife killer’s friends discuss him and his crimes and how they should react.

In the longest play, we’re in the home of Dot and Jimmy, cousins who live together, neither of whom work. In most of the short scenes, they are visited by Niamh, a distant cousin from Ireland who has recently moved near them, and Rob, a homeless man Jimmy has befriended during his runs in the park, mostly separately, but sometimes at the same time. Dot has a past and an intriguing object, both of which are revealed.

Death and killing run through all four plays, though they are often very funny. They appear to be modern spins on old tales – Greek myths, Bluebeard and a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson – though I can’t identify the fourth. James Macdonald’s staging is clever, Miriam Buether’s design is stunning and the acting is brilliant, with Tom Mothersdale giving a virtuoso performance as the god and Deborah Findlay and Toby Jones acting masterclasses in the final play.

It’s been a long wait, so all the more welcome.

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Writer Jack Thorne has covered a very wide range of subjects in his stage and TV work, including adaptations of other’s material. This one is inspired by his own family history and I liked it a lot, but it could be that it resonates more with my generation.

It takes place at three points in time, each ten years apart, in the shabby chic home of David & Sal near Newbury. On each occasion their three children are either living there or visiting, and a meal is being prepared or delivered. They are idealistic lefties, old labour, regularly protesting or supporting causes. They’ve tried hard to pass on their values to their children whilst at the same time encouraging independent thought.

In 1997, just after the general election which elected New Labour, daughter Polly is home from Cambridge where she’s studying law, son Carl brings home his posh new girlfriend Harriet and wayward teen Tom is late home from school where’s he’s been in a drug related detention. The focus of this act is Carl & girlfriend Harriet’s bombshell. In 2007, Carl, who is now part of his father-in-law’s hotel business, comes with Harriet but without their children. Polly has sold her soul to corporate law and Tom is even more troubled. They’ve been called home to discuss their inheritance, but Tom becomes the centre of attention when his troubled soul erupts. In 2017, they’re there for a funeral, Polly now an associate partner in her law firm, Carl & Harriet’s marriage in trouble and Tom still trying to find his way in the world.

In between acts, the intervening years are signalled by changes of props, items and the calendar, with highly effective dance and movement staged by Steven Hoggett. The play tells the story of one family’s journey from the point at which the children leave the nest, whilst at the same time charting the concurrent political and social changes and in particular the differences in values and attitudes between the generations. The dialogue sparkles and the characters are well drawn. It all felt very authentic to me, perhaps because I’m of the same generation as David & Sal.

Leslie Sharp’s Sal and Kate Flynn’s Polly are occasionally overplayed. David Morrissey was more restrained and ultimately moving as David. I really liked Sam Swainsbury and Zoe Boyle as Carl and Harriett and Laurie Davidson was particularly good at conveys the three very different Tom’s. John Tiffany’s finely tuned direction and Grace Smart’s superb design bring the story alive.

Thorne yet again proves both his talent and his range, one of the most exciting of this extraordinary new generation of playwrights.

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Mark Ravenhill’s new play is tackling the issues of power, control and abuse that have become everyday topics since Operation Yew Tree and #metoo, but he’s wisely chosen historical corporal punishment in schools as the vehicle for the debate, something that doesn’t carry the baggage of recent events.

School Deputy Head Edward is in his last week before retirement after 45 years in teaching. He’s under siege at home with his wife Maureen, baying crowds of hundreds outside. His estranged daughter Anna has turned up unexpectedly. We learn that knowledge of his caning of pupils, before it became illegal 30 years ago, has spread and is what’s brought the crowds to his door. The headmaster is due to arrive to discuss his farewell party.

It covers a lot of ground. Anna is a believer in Academy schools, very much a modern educationalist, a contrast with her father’s traditional approach, which makes for an interesting discussion in itself. She appears to have been on the receiving end of abuse as a child, which challenges Edward’s ‘doing his job’ defence. Maureen seems to have turned a blind eye, which may make her complicit. The crowd represents our contemporary mob mentality. Shouldn’t we forget what happened so long ago?

It’s a very interesting and objective debate; I found my sympathies changing more than once. As drama, though, it’s very static. All three performances – Alun Armstrong, Maggie Steed & Nicola Walker – are riveting, but they are too much like talking heads, it feels a bit contrived and its overlong. The one room set, with a ceiling that lowers as Edward becomes trapped, seemed a bit over-engineered to me.

A welcome debate which doesn’t really make an entirely satisfying play.

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