June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates

Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre

Photo © Marc Brenner

Managed to sneak in for the penultimate show of this little-known revival with some barely-known actors in it… Still not really a fan of Pinter though, sorry.

Photo © Marc Brenner

Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican

Photo © Rah Petherbridge Photography

An amusing way to pass an hour that’s for sure. The boozed-up take on the Bard is always at its best with its drunken performer onstage, this time it was an indiscriminately snogging Laertes which was huge fun. The energy sags just a scoch when 

The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican

© Johan Persson

I’ve never seen The Knight of the Burning Pestle before, something about that title really puts me off, but Cheek By Jowl’s Russian company are never one to be ignored and so off I trotted to the Barbican. And I really rather enjoyed myself, despite (or perhaps) because of all the farcical shenanigans. I don’t think I need to see it again though…

Somnium, Sadler’s Wells

Katya Jones becoming a fast favourite on Strictly meant I couldn’t resist a rare foray into the world of dance, and I found this a mostly enjoyable show, a collaboration with husband Neil. Full of variety, the wide range of choreography was a real plus for me – Neil’s duet with b-boy Chris Arias the highlight, the rewind section visually stunning, and a real frisson every time the Joneses come together. The only downside for me was Charles Venn’s awkwardly-plummy-voiced narration, a hackneyed device that may have been dramatically necessary but free from any actual moves, only served to remind us that 6th place on Strictly does not a dancer make.

Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican

© Jan Versweyveld

I’d love to wean Ivo van Hove off his Visconti trip – he clearly finds a huge affinity with his work but it isn’t one that immediately translates and given how much other stuff he does, it’s a shame that it is the Viscontis that keep appearing in the UK – his productions of the Rattigan-like Louis Couperus’ writings have been stunning, I’d love for some of those to be programmed instead. Here, it is fun to see a new company tackling the van Hove aesthetic and there’s abundant talent in the Comédie-Française in this indubitably challenging work.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath

©Nobby Clark

Janie Dee! That’s all.

©Nobby Clark

Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath

©Nobby Clark

I should know better by now, no matter how appealing the cast I’m not suddenly going to love uber-trad productions of the same-old same-olds. Jennifer Saunders is the main draw in Richard Eyre’s production but as solidly good as it is, there’s no inspiration or imagination here.

©Nobby Clark

The Hunt, Almeida

© Marc Brenner

I was a big fan of this, Rupert Goold managing to inject an inordinate amount of tension into proceedings even though I’ve seen and really liked the film on which it is based. Tobias Menzies is outstanding as a man falsely accused of a terrible crime and David Farr’s adaptation works intelligently to probe into our ever-developing cultural understanding of who we believe.

Present Laughter, Old Vic

© Manuel Harlan

In contrast with Bath, this Matthew Warchus production thoroughly reinvigorates Noël Coward for once and proves an outstanding queered-up success. Anchored by a magisterial lead performance from Andrew Scott, this is a cast and creative team on sensational form. Sophie Thompson’s comic dial turned up to just the right level, the visual treat of Rob Howell’s luscious costumes, Indira Varma being the Indira Varma the world needs right now…recommended.

© Manuel Harlan

Europe, Donmar Warehouse

© Marc Brenner

Michael Longhurst’s long-awaited opening show as Artistic Director of the Donmar is a most astute piece of programming. David Greig’s play may be a good 25 years old but has a disturbing pertinence to the state of the world today. It speaks to a nation’s internalised anger, our treatment of refugees, attitudes about borders…compellingly acted – Natalia Tena and Ron Cook are standouts – it is quite the statement of intent. My only bugbear was with Chloe Lamford’s split-level design which never quite clicked for me.

The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva

© Manuel Harlan

A Nancy Carroll/Rachael Stirling double bill is the stuff of my dreams and having the former spearhead the anguished elegance of The Deep Blue Sea was an additional treat. Along with Hadley Fraser, Carroll shines in Paul Foster’s intimately detailed production, perfectly suited to the Minerva and a real treasure. Worth the trip alone.

© Manuel Harlan

Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre

© The Other RIchard

I love Rachael Stirling too much to pass up an all-too-rare opportunity to see her onstage but Kate Hewitt’s production of David Hare’s Plenty proves a bit of a challenge in the large auditorium at Chichester, swallowed up in the large space where most of its emotional articulacy dissipates long before it reaches the audience. 

© The Other RIchard

The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall

Photo © Tristram Kenton

A rare excursion into musical theatre for this South Bank venue, reflective perhaps of the uniqueness of Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza with its  challenging sonic palette. It is an ambitious score which flourishes with the 40-piece orchestra here and performed by a ferociously talented ensemble, proves a complex delight. Renee Fleming and Rob Houchen stand out in this tale of Italian holiday romance whose rather reductive book (Craig Lucas) never quite matches its musical counterpart.

Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street

Photo © S R Taylor Photography

I really wanted to love this tricksy reworking of the Oscar Wilde – available in four different versions as the company of four switch roles to recast the relationships between Dorian and Basil, Henry and Sybil. But for all the experimentation in questions of identity – does it ever really matter if a character is a man or a woman? – Lucy Shaw’s adaptation never quite digs down deep enough to give answers. Tom Littler’s production certainly looks handsome though. 

J’Ouvert, Theatre503

Photo © Helen Murray

The 503 has fallen off my theatregoing list a bit in recent months but this striking show tempted me back, with its vivid evocation of carnival life, refracted through the Grenfell tragedy and personified in the experience of these three women of colour. Flamboyant and ferocious.

Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates

Photo © Michael Wharley

And last up was this rather amiable look at a college frat celebrating the end of their studies with one last big blow-out in Vegas. Looking at how masculinity is shaped in such institutions, Brady Lernihan’s drama could do with a little longer to fully explore the scenarios it posits and the characters it develops. But I enjoyed the work as it was, particularly in its approach to LGBT+ issues in this kind of environment.

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