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Posts Tagged ‘Young Vic 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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This is billed as ‘a radical new version of Henrik Ibsen’s play’, so radical that it has three settings 150 years apart and three of each of five characters (children are offstage and the former nanny, maid and porter are dispensed with). I sometimes don’t like versions that steer a long way from the original, but this is very clever and I liked it a lot. Somewhat ironically, my female companion didn’t agree.

It’s played out in three parallel periods – 1918, at the end of the war as women vote for the first time; 1968, when contraception and abortion bring huge societal change, and 2018, when #metoo brings a new wave of feminism to the world. There’s a Nora in each period, the actress doubling up as her friend Christine in another period. The other three characters are husband Thomas (Torvald), Christine’s old flame and Nora’s nemesis Nathan (Nils) and Thomas’ friend Daniel (Rank), three of each. Despite this, I thought it was surprisingly faithful to the original.

The play interweaves the periods, with the story moving forward within them rather than repeating, and it’s deftly done. The deception that Nora has made in order to protect her family comes back to haunt her, Nathan using it to protect himself and his job. Christine’s history with Nathan and Daniel’s illness are both introduced, and every character’s behaviour and attitudes reflect the period, though nothing really changes, which is playwright Stef Smith’s point. I’m not sure she needed the Noras’ summary direct to the audience at the end to underline it, though.

It must be very hard to switch character and period as you turn your body and / or put on a scarf, but Anna Russell-Martin, Natalie Klamar and Amaka Okafor do it seamlessly. The men just have to change period (!), but this too is well handled by Luke Norris as Thomas, Mark Arends as Nathan and Zephryn Taitte as Daniel. Clothes, chairs and doorways are the only signposts of a change in period in Tom Piper’s pleasing impressionistic design, with Lee Curran’s lighting and Michael John McCarthy’s soundscape adding much atmosphere. Elizabeth Freestone’s staging makes the complex structure perfectly lucid.

I admired it for it’s cleverness and skilled execution and felt it was true to the spirit of Ibsen’s original. I’ll be fascinated to see whether others will be with me or my companion!

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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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I’m pleased I saw this before I saw any reviews, though its going to be interesting reading them. It’s difficult to say much withouts spoilers, but I’ll try. Whatever you think of Jackie Sibbles Drury’s Pulitzer prizewinning play, it will certainly generate a debate.

Her subject is the perceptions, preconceptions and attitudes white people have of black people and the stereotypes that result. In the first part we’re watching a black middle class family in what feels like an American TV sitcom. They’re about to celebrate grandma’s birthday. I can best describe the second part as ‘gogglebox, sound only’ as the first part is repeated and extended. The table is laid, and some, and grandma and the remaining guests arrive. I would describe the third part as ‘invasion of the sitcom’. In the fourth part the audience are set a challenge, take some time to rise to it, and the first part characters leave the stage.

She has some good points to make, but they lose their impact under the weight of its heavy-handedness. The first part gets a bit dull, as you’re waiting to see where its going, the second part is way too long, the third is surreal and OTT and the fourth somewhat manipulative and preachy. I’m afraid she lost my engagement with the message by metaphorically hitting me on the head for 100 minutes. It’s clever, it’s original, its brave, it’s well performed, and Tom Scutt’s design is brilliant, but it’s too forthright and angry and this becomes counter-productive.

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I leave director Yael Farber’s productions emotionally drained. Her work has a visceral, even mystical quality, and this adaptation of Lorca’s 1933 play about tribal and family feuds and loyalties is no exception.

Marina Carr’s adaptation is set in rural Ireland, though it doesn’t really change the play; family feuds are universal. The groom is about to marry the bride (we don’t know their names) and the play opens with his widowed mother and her widowed father agreeing the match. The bride has a past with Leonardo of the ‘gypsy’ Felix family, arch enemies of the groom’s family, but he has subsequently married and has a child, with another due. Despite this, he returns and there is a clear sexual frisson between him and the bride.

The bride disappears after the ceremony whilst the party is in progress, and it transpires that she has run away with him. When they are eventually tracked down, the two men fight and the play is propelled to its tragic conclusion. The weaver, the moon and two woodcutters provide a commentary rather than participation, much like a Greek chorus, giving the play much of its spiritual, mystical quality.

It’s a gripping account, with Isobel Waller-Bridge’s music and Natasha Chivers’ lighting combining with Susan Hilferty’s design to give the production an earthiness and brooding, sensual quality. It’s staged in-the-round, with one side containing a wall that lowers to provide a dramatic entrance. Imogen Knight’s suspenseful movement incorporates some rather hypnotic low ariel work. It’s a wonderful cast, including Olwen Fouere as the bitter, defiant mother of the bride and a mesmerising performance from Brid Brennan as the Weaver.

Lorca wrote this play in a divided country, shortly before the Spanish Civil War, and it struck me that he might have been writing about the society in which he lived. The play can be a metaphor for divisions of all sorts – tribes, neighbours, societies, factions – which in many ways makes it resonate eighty-five years on in our very divided world.

Another triumph for the Young Vic.

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Before it even opened at the Manchester International Festival, this show was mired in an authorship dispute, which sadly got more coverage than the work itself; a great shame given the originality and quality of Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s creation. It’s a brilliant cocktail of drama, dance and music which successfully interweaves a personal story with the 20th Century history of the nation of South Africa..

Kaelo is the son of white South African woman Cezanne and black South African man Lundi, a worker on her family’s estate. Given the laws of South Africa at that time, she relocated to London, without Lundi, and brought up Kaelo on her own. As the story begins, we learn that she has recently died and Kaelo is planning to visit South African for the first time to find his father and scatter his mother’s ashes, staying with his grandmother Elzebe, but whilst there he also meets his half-sister Ofentse and learns a lot about the historical events that shaped everyone’s lives.

It’s played on a round stepped platform that revolves, stepped viewing areas replacing seats and a huge drum overhead with projections on the inside. As you arrive, the audience are on the stage dancing to a live DJ set, but leave it as the story begins. There is much dance and movement by the performers in what is a thrilling telling of this family’s story as well as its political and social context and a spiritual dimension which enables Kaelo to observe events he was nowhere near in time or location. In what is a very immersive production, the audience are involved, moving props, dancing and participating like extras, some even getting lines.

The seemingly omnipresent Jon Bausor has created another extraordinary environment incorporating sound and projections. Alfred Enoch as Kaelo performs with great passion and physicality, aided by dancers superbly choreographed by Gregory Maqoma. Joan Iyiola’s Ofentse is a force of nature, filling and commanding the stage. Kurt Egyiawan and Lucy Briggs-Owen bring Kaeola’s deceased parents alive, and Sinead Cusak is totally plausible as Elzebe, the Afrikaner grandmother who feels threatened by all around her.

I thought it was a highly inventive show which paired storytelling with actual history, informative and entertaining in equal measure, accessible to anyone used to or new to theatre, especially a young audience.

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There’s something astonishing and wonderful about having two Arthur Miller classics revived at the same time at theatres on the same street less than 200 meters apart, at the Old and Young Vic’s. They were first staged two years apart, this being his first big hit 72 years ago. I’ve seen a number of great revivals over the years and this one is up there with the best. Seeing it sixteen hours after I’d left Death os a Salesman made me think how alike they are, though this is entirely naturalistic, without flashbacks and imaginary scenes. As productions, they are very different, Jeremy Herrin taking his lead from this naturalism and opting for a more conventional take and a realistic setting. Both however are absolutely unmissable.

It’s just after the end of the Second World War and only one of Joe & Kate Keller’s two sons have returned. Older son Larry is still missing in action, his mother convinced he’s still alive, whilst most think he’s dead. Younger son Chris has survivors guilt, though Larry’s girlfriend Ann is visiting and he is set on proposing marriage, despite his mother’s conviction. Chris works in his dad’s engineering business, which sold faulty parts to the military, resulting in deaths. His father’s business partner Steve Deever, Ann’s dad, took the rap and went to prison, though many think Joe is really to blame.

It’s a surprise that Broadway could stomach this story just two years after the war ended, but they did, and it ran for almost a year and was made into a film just one year later. It’s timeless, as Miller often is, with corporate ethics as much of an issue today, but it’s a family tragedy, so its as much about the complex relationships within and between the Keller’s and the Deever’s. Max Jones’ uber-realistic design places a suburban home and garden on the Old Vic stage in a way that draws you in, seemingly shrinking this big theatre, well at least from the stalls.

Jeremy Herrin’s production is impeccable, building the tension slowly, taking hold of you. As I was across the road the night before, I was in awe of the acting talent on stage. Bill Pullman’s performance as Joe has a naturalism that makes you forget he’s acting. Sally Field is superb as Kate, holding on to hope her son is alive and belief in her husband’s innocence. Colin Morgan navigates Chris’ complex emotional journey brilliantly. This appears to be Jenna Coleman’s stage debut, and an auspicious one it is too. In an excellent supporting cast, I very much admired Oliver Johnstone as George Deever and Sule Rimi and neighbour Dr Jim Bayliss.

How lucky we are to have two outstanding revivals of these modern classics at the same time. The informal Miller fest becomes a Miller feast on The Cut!

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It’s seventy years since this iconic American play first appeared on Broadway, the second of Arthur Miller’s four big hits between 1947 and 1955, and it’s forty years since I first saw it in Michael Rudman’s production for the NT, with Warren Mitchel’s revelatory award-winning performance as Willy Loman. For some reason, I’ve only seen it a few times since, less than the other tree. It’s a timeless piece, and now Marianne Elliott & Miranda Cromwell have breathed new life into it, in an extraordinary revival at the Young Vic.

Most productions focus so much on Willy Loman and his late career meltdown that they ignore the greater sweep of family tragedy and its many layers. Willy is indeed burnt out by a relentless life on the road. When he tries to get his employer to let him return to base, he gets fired. His loyalty and service mean nothing to the son of the man who hired him, and his mental health declines, but added to his woes are the fact that his sons have been disappointments, Biff a failed sportsman who ended up as a farm labourer, Happy a womaniser with a low level job. His wife Linda struggles to manage the tensions and keep the peace. Their neighbour Charley, whose son, a contemporary of Biff, is a successful lawyer, loans them money to keep them afloat. Flashbacks to times past include Willy’s visits to his mistress, once witnessed by Biff, and there are imaginary conversations with his dead Uncle Ben, both interspersed with the family saga’s inevitable progress to its tragic conclusion.

In this production, the Loman’s are a black Brooklyn family and this adds another layer but changes nothing. Wendell Pierce is outstanding as Willy, navigating this emotional roller-coaster of a role with great skill. Sharon D Clarke’s Linda loves her man and her boys but shares his disappointments and frustrations; as stunning a performance as we’ve become used to from this fine actress. Arinze Kene and Martins Imhangbe are simply terrific as Biff and Happy, trying but failing to please, carrying their own disappointments on their shoulders. They are supported by another eight performances in a fine ensemble, including superb cameos from Joseph Mydell as Uncle Ben and Matthew Seadon-Young as Willy’s young employer Howard. Femi Temowo’s music adds much, particularly with fine singers like Sharon D Clarke and Arinze Kene in the company. Anna Fleischle’s design serves the play well.

The unofficial Miller mini-fest reaches it’s pinnacle here with a revival that’s too good to see only once. I’ll be back!

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It’s hard to believe that it’s 17 years since this had its UK premiere at the Donmar. In this terrific production it feels freshly minted, and I can’t help wondering why its taken so long to be revived. We’ve had three other plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis since, most notably 2015’s The Motherf***er With The Hat. which gave the NT’s marketing department an interesting challenge, so its good to look at the first once again.

Set in a New York prison, we meet Lucius, a serial killer waiting for extradition to Florida, where his killing spree started and where the death penalty exists. He has a benevolent guard Charlie in his solitary 23-hour lock up wing. Much younger Angel is awaiting trial for a shooting. He’s moved to the same wing for his own protection after an assault. Charlie leaves and the far from benevolent Valdez is sent to persecute them. The only other character is Angel’s lawyer Mary Jane who visits intermittently to discuss defence strategy and tactics.

The discussions between Lucius and Angel are the heart of the piece as we debate responsibility & accountability and redemption. We learn about the prisoners’ motivations and personal histories in what becomes a psychological sparring match. How much do the actions of the victims justify the crime? How much does a tragic past excuse a crime? It’s played out on a traverse stage with moving glass walls / doors with blinding lighting and deafening drums between scenes to keep up the tension. It shocks, though there are flashes of humour that relieve the tension. and your brain almost hurts as you decide what you think about these people and their actions. I found it riveting.

Oberon K A Adjepong (a very welcome visitor from the US) as Lucius and Ukweli Roach as Angel are mesmerising to watch, with great physicality, spitting out dialogue at frenetic speed. Dervla Kirwan is excellent as the Irish American lawyer Mary Jane who we learn a surprising amount about. Joplin Sibtain is terrific as their nemesis Valdez, prodding and provoking them for fun. Matthew Douglas’ Charlie is such a contrast, and comes back to surprise us towards the end.

Director Kate Hewitt and designed Magda Willi have done an excellent job creating the tension which the play needs. Yet more thrilling stuff at the Young Vic.

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Best New Play – The Lehman Trilogy*, The Inheritance* & Sweat*

I find it impossible to choose between these three extraordinary evenings (well, afternoon and evening in the case of the The Inheritance) but they were in very good company with a dozen other new plays in contention. Also at the NT, Home, I’m Darling* and Nine Night* were great, and also at the Young Vic The Convert* became a late addition in December. At the Bush, both Misty and An Adventure impressed (though I saw the former when it transferred to Trafalgar Studios).The remaining London contenders were The Humans at Hampstead Theatre, Pressure at the Park Theatre, Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Wipers Times at the Arts, though these last two weren’t new to London, just me. The Edinburgh Fringe added two, Class* and Ulster American*, both Irish, both at the Traverse and both heading to London, so look out for them. The eight starred are either still running or coming back in 2019, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t seen them already.

Best New Musical – Hamilton*

It opened right at the end of 2017, but I didn’t see it until January 2018 (and again in December 2018). It certainly lives up to the hype and is unquestionably ground-breaking in the same way West Side Story was sixty years before. It was a good year for new musicals, though 40% of my shortlist were out-of-town, headed by Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester, with Pieces of String in Colchester, Miss Littlewood in Stratford and Sting’s The Last Ship mooring briefly in Northampton. Back in London, the Young Vic continued to shine with Fun Home and Twelfth Night and the NT imported Hadestown*. Tina* proved to be in the premiere league of juke-box musicals and SIX* was a breath of fresh air at the Arts. Only four are still running, or coming back.

Best Play Revival – The York Realist and Summer and Smoke*

Another category where I can’t split the top two. The former a gem at the Donmar and the latter shining just as brightly at the Almeida. I didn’t see the Old Vic’s glorious A Christmas Carol* until January, so that was a contender too, along with The Daughter-in-Law* at the Arcola and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in the West End. Then there were four cracking Shakespeare’s – The Bridge Theatre’s promenade Julius Caesar, the RSC’s Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu visiting Hackney Empire, Ian McKellen’s King Lear transfer from Chichester, and the NT’s Anthony & Cleopatra* with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okenedo. Another four still running / coming back.

Best Musical Revival – Company*

The leanest category this year, with Marianne Elliott’s revival of Sondheim’s Company exceeding expectations; I shall be back at the last night. Chichester brought yet more joy with Me & My Girl and right at the end of the year, the Mill at Sonning came up trumps for the third year running with a great favourite of mine, Guys & Dolls* Finally, The Rink at Southwark Playhouse, the only contender this year from the usually more prolific fringe. Two to catch if you haven’t already.

Theatre of the Year – The Young Vic

Though five of my thirty-seven contenders were at the NT, The Young Vic shone even more brightly with four, all new works. Only four originated in the West End, which further emphasises how crucial the subsidised sector and the regions are. You can still see half of them, but some close soon, so get booking!

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