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Posts Tagged ‘Young Vic Theatre’

I found this a somewhat strange evening, not what I was expecting, very much a show in two halves, one uncomfortable and one captivating.

It’s subtitled ‘a story about me and Nina Simone’ and in the first half Josette Bushell-Mingo is holding a conversation with the deceased Nina Simone along the lines of ‘nothing’s changed’ when it comes to civil rights, for which Nina was a very vocal champion; in contemporary terminology, black lives matter. It gets very angry and though it’s justifiable anger, I found it very unsettling, particularly when she is imagining which members of the audience would be killed if she were a gunman like those who have perpetrated such crimes against black people. 

There are a few songs in this half, but it’s mostly a rant. I couldn’t decide if it was rehearsed or improvised, the slickness suggesting the former, but the faces of the band members and the deadly silence of the audience suggesting the latter. Very edgy, but very uncomfortable. If I’d been on the end of a row at the back I might just have slipped out. Was this the right place, time and audience? 

Then the band strike up, she returns, looking stunning without the afro wig of the first part, a vision in black and gold, for an uplifting and thrilling mini-concert where she interprets Nina’s songs brilliantly, accompanied by the terrific trio of musicians. Wow!

A strange concoction indeed.

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There was a time when I thought Brecht was rather earnest and somewhat dated, but Arturo Ui scrubbed up well at the Donmar Warehouse last month and now Life of Galileo comes out even fresher at the Young Vic. I’ve been critical of some theatre’s exaggerated claims of resonance with contemporary issues like Brexit and Trump of late, but at times I felt this could have been a current debate between evolutionists and Darwin denying creationists or climate change scientists and that other religion, big businesses, and their puppet president.

It follows Galileo’s story reasonably faithfully, from his application of the Dutch telescope invention to validate Copernicus’ theory of the solar system to his own original theories and inventions. Along the way, he has to pussyfoot around the control freakery of the catholic church and even the inquisition. He appears to recant, much to the disappointment of his followers, but in reality he’s buying time and continuing his work clandestinely. His promotion of truth through science even impacts his family, scuppering his daughter’s marriage to a nobleman.

Designer Lizzie Clachan has configured the theatre in-the-round, with audience members in a central pit, surrounded by a circular walkway with four bigger playing areas around it. There’s a giant dome overhead, upon which there are stunning projections by 59 Productions, from the planets to the ceilings of buildings and the sky, and excellent lighting by Jon Clark. Tom Rowlands soundtrack adds much. Joe Wright’s production is hugely inventive, but it’s not at all gimmicky. Everything seemed to be in keeping with the material and the satirical, even anarchic spirit of Brecht.

Brendan Cowell, who we last saw here in Yerma, is terrific as Galileo, a very physical and very emotional performance; his engagement with the audience is such that at times you feel you’re at his lecture, or in a personal conversation with him. He has an excellent supporting cast, from which I would single out Billy Howle, who plays five roles, most notably Galileo’s pupil Andrea from aged 10 to his adulthood journey to more science-friendly The Netherlands.

Another captivating evening at the Young Vic.

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When you’ve seen a play tens of times, you invariably focus on the interpretation you are now watching. For the first half of this heavily cut ‘Dream’ I couldn’t get the questions ‘what are you getting at here?’ and ‘where are you going with this?’ out of my head. In fact, they weren’t fully answered by the end.

The Young Vic has acquired a giant mud pit with a mirror wall behind it, in which the whole play takes place. Perhaps it’s a comment on the state of our countryside 400 years on? Running at just two unbroken hours, director Joe Hill-Gibbins has dispensed with most of the fairies (or maybe they walked out in protest at their working environment). The story is intact until the end, where madness seems to have replaced marriages (some would say they are the same thing). Puck has gone part-time, and the only fairy doesn’t really have her heart in it, though she sings beautifully. The spells are lame, and Bottom’s relationship with Hippolyta appears to continue with Titania. 

The two things it got right, in my view, are the chaotic who-loves-who scene (despite the lame spells) and one of the funniest rude mechanicals plays I’ve ever seen, courtesy of some sublime comic acting by Geoff Aymer, Aaron Heffernan, Douggie McMeekin, Sam Cox and a completely unrecognisable Leo Bill as Bottom. 

I’m not a purist; I just didn’t get it. It veered too far from Shakespeare’s original for me and just wasn’t anywhere near magical enough.

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Verbatim theatre – real stories, usually obtained through interviews – has taken many forms; actors repeating the words they hear through earphones, the interviews turned into scripts, even sung dialogue. Here we have people on stage speaking for themselves, in this case eleven sex workers.

There are six women, three men and two trans. They include a male escort and a dominatrix. They’re from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of tales to tell; stories of addiction, trafficking, abuse, dysfunctional relationships and loving relationships. The stories are interwoven such that each person’s story unfolds over the whole ninety minutes rather than in sequence. There’s movement, changes of clothes and other stage business to avoid it being just talking heads.

It’s often explicit, sometimes moving and sometimes very funny. Some of the stories have more substance than others. One former singer tells of her crack addiction, her child and her mother, then towards the end proves conclusively that she’s still got it, singing beautifully about her experiences, accompanied brilliantly by another on a grand piano. We hear about their motivation and their golden rules (no real names, always use protection etc.). The trans stories are particularly insightful.

Because they were willingly telling their own stories, it didn’t seem voyeuristic; in fact it seemed therapeutic. I found it informative and fascinating and it’s clearly ground-breaking. They’ve had some help structuring what they want to say as Molly Taylor is credited with ‘Text’, and it’s directed by Mimi Poskitt, but it’s real lives on stage and it makes a strong case for decriminalisation. Well done Look Left Look Right, High Tide & the Young Vic.

 

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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The cast list for the 1979 Trevor Nunn production for the RSC reads like a who’s who of British actors, including Zoe Wanamaker, David Suchet, Juliet Stevenson and the now departed Richard Griffiths and Ian Charleston. Suchet also featured in Edward Hall’s 2001 NT revival. It’s no co-incidence that it’s the RSC & NT that have staged this 1930 Kauffman & Hart comedy, the first of their eight collaborations, in London – it requires big resources. The RSC production famously ended with 15 minutes of song and dance by the full ensemble plus band, which sent you home hopping and skipping. This is a scaled-down, shorter adaptation by Hart’s son for 13 actors playing 22 roles. Mind you, it still needs 8 costume makers and 5 wig technicians!

So here we are another 15 years on, and its the turn of contemporary powerhouse The Young Vic in a fine production by Richard Jones with designs by Hyemi Shin, featuring Harry Enfield’s stage debut. He play’s silent film mogul Glogauer, who finds himself competing with the talkies which he first turned down. As soon as he sees the first talkie, Vaudevillian Jerry Hyland is inspired to sell his act with May Daniels and George Lewis to head West for part of the new action, initially running an elocution school (to teach the formerly silent to talk), until Glogauer comes under the spell of George, who ends up running the studios, himself under the spell of the pretty but talentless Susan Walker, who becomes an unlikley star.

It’s a satire on Hollywood and it’s great fun. Enfield is very good, as indeed is fellow comedian Kevin Bishop as Jerry (though he does have stage acting experience). Favourites Claudie Blakley and John Marquez are on fine form as May and George. Amanda Lawrence gives us another of her show stealing turns as Glogauer’s secretary Miss Leighton and there’s great work from Lucy Cohu as columnist Helen Hobart, Lizzy Connolly as Susan and Adrian Der Gregorian in no less than four roles. The star of the show, though, is Nicky Gillibrand’s magnificent costumes and Cynthia De La Rosa’s wigs, hair and make-up!

Huge seasonal fun.

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I’m not sure I’ve seen anything by German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz before. This one, translated by acclaimed Irish writer Conor McPherson, hails from 1975, though it’s a pretty timeless tale, and a rather good play.

Kurt & Martha are about to have their first child. They tally the expenses they are about to incur, insisting as they do that there’ll be no hand-me-downs. Martha works from home making market research calls, earning a pittance, so lorry driver Kurt takes all the overtime he can get, until a secret assignment brings consequences he could not possibly have predicted. It threatens his marriage, he’s wracked with guilt and remorse and he has to make a big choice about whether to keep the secret or not, with potentially dire consequences whatever action he takes. The pressures to do the best for your family are all too real, and the lengths people will go to very believable.

It’s beautifully performed by Laurence Kinlan, who navigates his character’s emotional roller-coaster really well, and Caoilfhionn Dunne, who’s character’s challenge is how to respond to her husband’s dilemma. There’s an atmospheric soundtrack by P J Harvey no less, which I thought added much to the tension, and both Ian Rickson’s direction and Alyson Cummins’ design serve the play well, bringing you into their home and out into the countryside. 

A very thought-provoking piece which is definitely worth catching.

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