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Posts Tagged ‘Royal Court Theatre’

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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debbie tucker green is a highly original playwright, and the first scene of this three-part study of modern racism and its historical origins is brilliant, a mother and son discussing how behaviour, posture, body language and facial expressions will be interpreted when he is apprehended. From here, we see what happens when a playwright directs their own work i.e. no-one to challenge her indulgence in overlong scenes which lead to more becoming less.

The first part is a series of scenes, mostly monologues and duologues, where the participants, British and American, all black, share their experiences of racism. It’s brilliant and insightful at the start, but loses you as it goes on and on. The second part is what seems to be a series of discussions between an arrogant, patronising white professor and his black female student about the motivation for gun crimes, and the different interpretation of black and white perpetrators, again interesting but overlong. The third part is a series of video Vox Pop interviews, firstly by white Americans reading out segregation period rules and then white Brits doing the same about slavery, yet again pushed too far.

The playwright is making a direct link between slavery and segregation and contemporary racism, which is perfectly valid, but she fails to acknowledge any progress or offer any hope, and I think there is reason for both. Beautifully performed on a spare stage, the play’s only problem is its structure and length, 2h10m without a break. By lacking objectivity and labouring her points, I felt she weakened her argument, which some judicious editing could have dealt with, hence my point about directing her own work. Who was there to challenge the playwright and help transform the writing from the page to the stage more effectively?

A disappointment from a playwright I have so far admired.

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This was one of those punts where I didn’t really know what I was in for but had a suspicion it might not be for me, but hey I like a bit of theatrical adventure. Good to report it paid back.

You wouldn’t need a whole postage stamp to write down what I know about grime, but I took a twenty-something, so I had a short course before and after (there are so many musical genres and sub-genres these days, its very complicated). Debris Stevenson starts by telling us she studied classical poets but learnt more from grime artist Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 debut album Boy in da Corner and she was going to give us her take on it.

Once you work out it’s the true story of her early life, you settle into a fascinating tale told in rap, dance, dialogue and music with three others – Kirubel Belay, Cassie Clare & Jammz – playing people in her life like her mum, brother and school friends. It’s a clever and audacious combination of ingredients that come together to create something rather fresh and original, though some of the rap was so fast, with lots of impenetrable slang, and it did feel like Part One, ending as it does before she even goes to University. I very much liked Jacob Hughes’ black, yellow and white design.

When we were asked to get to our feet, I looked around to see an extraordinary combination of reactions from Court regulars and newbies and it all seemed rather surreal. Great to see something genuinely original and very different on this stage though and me, an unlikely recruit. I think my grime name is gonna be Gazza.

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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.

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I rather liked Thomas Eccleshare’s quirky multi-layered SciFi satire, combining the use and abuse of technology, parent / child relationships and grief. An intriguing, highly original piece.

Harry likes to tinker and considers himself a king of the flatpack. He and his wife Max start with small projects, then graduate to building themselves a replacement son, Jan. From here the story of their lost son Nick is interwoven with the development of their new one, until malfunctions begin to cause chaos and ruin relationships with neighbours Paul, Laurie and their daughter Amy. Along the way we see how parents mould their children’s attitudes and values and how helpless they can be when they grow up.

There are something like fifty scenes in 100 minutes, which is at first irritating, until you get into the rhythm of the scene changes, where props arrive and leave on conveyors, members of the cast move robotically & jumpily and the small cinema-screen-like space enlarges and opens up. I was impressed by Cai Dyfan’s design. It’s a fine ensemble, but I have to single out Brian Vernal, who plays Jan and Nick with some deft switching between and within characters.

The play got me thinking a lot about where technology and AI in particular might be taking us, but also about how we mould real human beings too and how grief can lead to desperation. A thought-provoking, well executed piece expertly staged by Hamish Pirie.

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