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Posts Tagged ‘Young Vic Theatre’

The Young Vic main house has had another of its extraordinary makeovers; this time Miriam Buether has recreated Calais’ refugee camp, the so-called Jungle. We walked through one of its houses and a shop to reach our seats in the restaurant in a segment named Afghanistan. The audience are either at tables with benches, or on the sides looking in. The performers are all around, scenes popping up everywhere. This is something only theatre can do.

Though there had been makeshift camps there before, the play concerns the last incarnation, from 2014 to 2016, when the population were largely from Africa and the Middle East. The segments of the space are all named after the countries they come from, as were the sections of the camp. Playwrights Joe Murphy & Joe Robertson were there for seven months, setting up and running the Good Chance Theatre inside the camp, named after the words used for the regular attempts to reach the UK, and the piece feels completely authentic.

Starting close to it’s end, before moving back to its creation, we experience these people’s lives in vivid detail. I hadn’t really grasped before how this was a complete town, with church, mosque, school, shops and a restaurant. Five British charity workers and do-gooders from very diverse backgrounds contribute to the organisation, though there are representatives of the various communities who bring a kind of democracy and promote harmony.

We hear individual stories, witness conflicts, see friendships formed and bonded, understand their aspirations and how they are exploited and abused. It’s deeply moving, but there are many moments of warmth and humour. Both the good and bad in people is exposed, but never judgementally, though the failure of governments and other institutions is. How on earth could humanity allow this to happen?

Everything, from the writing, staging by Stephen Daldry & Justin Martin, all of the design elements and eighteen deeply passionate and committed performances contribute to bringing us the stark truth. I do hope it can be seen by many more than the Young Vic can accommodate by some sort of cinema or TV screening. Though the Jungle has been demolished, there are still refugees in Calais and elsewhere and their stories must be told, in the hope they will be heard by, and will prick the consciences of those who can bring about change.

Good Chance, the Young Vic and the National Theatre have collaborated to create urgent and important theatre.

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For an island with a population of only seventy thousand, Anglesey appears to have more than it’s fair share of theatrical eccentrics. First there was Shon Dale-Jones aka Hugh Hughes, ‘emerging artist’ and storyteller, now Seiriol Davis, the composer and lead performer of this quirky show about another Anglesey eccentric, Henry Paget, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey, a cross-dressing thespian who lost a fortune and died young.

With the assistance of Matthew Blake and Dylan Townley, Davies tells the story of the Marquess, and in particular his thespian career, performing Wilde and Shakespeare amongst others, touring the UK with his shows, featuring his idiosyncratic dances, and his early death in Monte Carlo after squandering his entire annual income (£11m at today’s value).

The songs are rather good and the whole thing is a quirky camp curiosity which seems to have the spirit of the man who inspired it. It has a cheeky, playfulness about it, a permanent twinkle in its eye, one long wink. All three performances are excellent and the design is a delight. It was impossible not to smile throughout.

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In a first in my 35 or so years of regular theatre-going, there was a libation ceremony at the beginning of this play. The CEO of the London Borough of Southwark credited and thanked those whose funds had enabled the production before pouring wine over the stage! This apparently replicated what happened when the play was first performed.

This is a 2500-year-old feminist play about a boatload of women who flee North Africa to avoid enforced marriage. In Argos, the Greek citizens democratically vote to give them asylum and send their pursuing menfolk packing before questioning the value of migrants. 2500 years ago!

Playwright David Greig has adapted Aeschylus and its mostly performed by a community chorus of 24 women, with a similar number towards the end representing the citizens of Argos. They speak, sing and chant in unison and move as one. There’s brilliantly atmospheric percussion and pipe accompaniment. It’s got an extraordinary energy about it, and a contemporary feel; the vocals even sound like rap at times, and the movement could be contemporary dance.

I loved Ramin Gray’s production, Sasha Milavic Davies’ choreography and John Browne’s music. There was something very thrilling and exciting about such an old play coming alive for a modern audience, and one of the best community projects I’ve ever experienced.

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I only know American playwright Arthur Kopit’s work for musical theatre – books for Nine, High Society and Phantom (the other one!). This 1978 stage play started on the radio and it seems to me that it was way ahead of its time; a complex examination of the effect of a stroke.

Our protagonist is aviator and wing-walker Emily Stilson, who suffers a stroke. We see her struggling to come to terms with her condition, but we’re seeing it from her perspective – the confusion and intense frustration, like being inside a nightmare. In hospital, we witness medical examinations and therapies, most notably for speech, though some of what we see are memories, often jumbled up. It really is an insight into brain damage and in particular aphasia. It’s only 75 minutes long but I’m not sure I could have taken more as it is a bit relentless.

Kopit’s notes and stage directions are very comprehensive, and director Natalie Abrahami seems to have respected these, but at the same time created an inventive staging. There’s a simple moving platform with moving translucent curtains, but most important of all, inspired by her career, is that Juliet Stevenson spends almost the entire play ‘flying’, only occasionally touching the ground. It’s a brave, virtuoso performance by a fine actress. One of the consequences, though, is that everyone else seemed like a mere ‘extra’.

It hasn’t been seen here for over thirty years, and I’m glad I caught it. It is insightful, and it’s superbly staged, but I didn’t find it wholly satisfying and rather depressing. Perhaps it was too close to home.

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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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