Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

“This family can take care of its own”

The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.

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DVD Review: Birthday Girl

“Are you a giraffe?”

Birthday Girl is a rather odd little thing, a 2001 film from Jez Butterworth (he of Jerusalem) that seemed to slip under the radar somewhat. It’s not brilliant but by the same token it isn’t terrible either and plenty worse films have made bigger waves. Ben Chaplin’s John is hapless in St Albans (is there anything else you can be there? ;-)), having no luck in love and so resorting to getting himself a Russian mail-order bride called Nadia. She turns up in the form of Nicole Kidman, who else, and though she can’t speak a word of English, she indulges his S&M fantasies and so job’s, it would seem, a good’un.

But it’s no happily ever after, Nadia’s two rough cousins soon turn up on the doorstep (played by Frenchmen Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz, assumedly because the Russians were out on the day they were casting?) and John’s job as a bank clerk turns out to be rather important. Their unpredictable violence pulls John deep into a morass of deception and criminality but after the mid-film twists take place, the movie runs out of energy and trundles towards a rather uninspired ending that no amount of random Brit cameos (Ben Miller, Reece Shearsmith) can rescue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Birthday Girl”

Review: The River, Circle in the Square

“You will try to remember. How you felt. You’ll try to be back there. To live it again. But you can’t get back there. You can never go back.”

Cripes. They say you should never go back (so obviously I booked two Royal Court transfers that I’ve already seen for this trip to Broadway) and this one proved to be a case in point. Jez Butterworth’s The River was the talk of the town when it opened at the Royal Court Upstairs back in 2012, mainly because of the ridiculous booking system that meant there were no advance tickets available. And when it opened recently on Broadway, all the chat was similarly diverted from the play at hand by Hugh Jackman’s biceps and a raft of articles about audience (mis)behaviour.

Which is a shame, as it is a strikingly poetic piece of theatre, intriguingly and obtusely written by Butterworth as an opaque study of masculinity and relationships and mystery and trout-fishing. I enjoyed it considerably in London but was quite happy to give it a miss in NY until I found out Cush Jumbo had been cast in this production, an odd choice perhaps, given the location, but a tempting one for me as I’ve much enjoyed her work. Too tempting as it turned out, as it over-rode the misgivings I had about returning to the show, which were apparent upon the moment I took my seat. Continue reading “Review: The River, Circle in the Square”

(P)review: Mojo, Harold Pinter

“I promise not to squeeze your nuts”

So I’m trying the preview thing again, talking about a show that has just opened rather than reviewing it per se, offering more of an overview and little tidbits that will hopefully whet the appetite of people keen to know more about the show, without giving too much away. Press night is 13th November.

Much of theatre marketing has long been about putting bums on seats and so posters for shows up and down the land often feature ‘im or ‘er off the telly front and centre, hoping that a bit of canny casting will draw in interested audiences. The West End of course has a little more pulling power and so for this first major revival of Jez Butterworth’s Mojo, the cast of six includes some high-wattage ‘im off that thing, including

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Review: The River, Royal Court

“I’m not entirely sure what love is”

Despite being prepared for all kinds of brouhaha with the specially instituted booking system for The River, Jez Butterworth’s new play upstairs at the Royal Court – tickets only available on the day of performance, 30 in person and the rest online – when it came to it, I only had to refresh the website twice at 9am to get my tickets (I recommend logging into your account first) so hopefully, it may be less of a trial than might be currently considered. Butterworth’s last play here was the behemoth that became Jerusalem (and yes, I am one of the few people that wasn’t much of a fan…) but I did enjoy his more intimate Parlour Song for the Almeida and so expectations were at a nicely manageable level.

Which is always a good place to be, especially when it enables one to fully appreciate a play free from too much baggage. For The River is a piece of gorgeously sensitive writing, utterly beguiling in its subtle deconstruction of the way we conduct ourselves in relationships -the facades erected, the lies told, the declarations made, the pasts conveniently ignored. An introspective look at what it means to be intimate with someone and the importance of honesty in conjunction with that, it combines the highly naturalistic world realised by Ultz with the almost magical, poetic language of Butterworth which swims with unknowing purpose, occasionally catching the light beautifully like the sea trout in the story, negotiating the swells of the river back to its spawning ground.    Continue reading “Review: The River, Royal Court”

Winners of the 2009 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Actor
Simon Russell Beale, The Winter’s Tale
WINNER Mark Rylance, Jerusalem
Ken Stott, A View From the Bridge
Samuel West, Enron

The Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress
Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County
Penny Downie, Helen
Juliet Stevenson, Duet for One
WINNER Rachel Weisz, A Streetcar Named Desire Continue reading “Winners of the 2009 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: Jerusalem, Royal Court

My heart sank when I saw the running time for this play: another play at the Royal Court over 3 hours long. After Grasses of a Thousand Colours sucked the life out of my companion (he left after two hours) and numbed my bum unforgivably, I even thought about shifting these tickets to someone else. But upon reflection, I remembered that the playwright, Jez Butterworth, was also responsible for the excellent Parlour Song which I enjoyed hugely at the Almeida earlier this year, and so off I trotted to Sloane Square.

Jerusalem is a new play, a dark comedy, which purports to be a critical look at what it means to be English in these times and specifically explores this issue of identity in rural England. Set on St George’s Day, the central character is a man called George Byron who lives in a caravan, and who has built up a little community of sorts around him, living a life of general hedonism and with little care for traditional ideas of society. However, Byron’s easy life looks to be coming to a halt as the walls start closing in on him: his children, eviction notices and angry fathers are just some of the things he has to face up to. Continue reading “Review: Jerusalem, Royal Court”

Review: Parlour Song, Almeida Theatre

The latest instalment of the Spring programme at Islington’s Almeida theatre is the European première of Parlour Song, written by Jez Buttersworth. It tells the story of Ned (Toby Jones) and Joy (Amanda Drew), a couple living in apparently suburban mediocrity, and their neighbour Dale (Andrew Lincoln). After 11 years of faithful marriage to Ned, Joy’s eye is caught by the younger, fitter Dale, though it seems more through boredom than actual real desire for him, and they start an affair as Ned continues his work as a demolition worker across the country, yet everytime he arrives back home, he finds more and more of his possessions have disappeared.

Speeding through without an interval, the writing is really sharp and completely captures the way in which people often relate to each other, loading their seemingly innocuous conversation with layers of meaning. Ned and Joy’s marital harmony is revealed to be paper-thin, and Ned and Dale’s forced jokiness and blokiness highlights the lack of real kinship or intimacy between the two, and also disguises Dale’s betrayal of his neighbour. Continue reading “Review: Parlour Song, Almeida Theatre”