Episode 1 of Unprecedented features strong writing from James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly
“It’s clear that everything’s going to be different…
and then again, I’m scared that things won’t be different”
It is with an admirable speed with which Headlong and Century Films have pulled together Unprecedented, a theatrical response to the impact of lockdown on society. Conceived, written, filmed and produced in lockdown, and now airing on BBC4, some of our most exciting playwright and a cast of over 50 really have pulled together impressively and this first instalment of three short plays is certainly promising.
Necessity is the mother of invention, or something, and so all three use digital conferencing technology in one way or another and if anything, there’s no bigger marker in the way that our relationships to each other have been altered than this. How many of us even knew what Zoom was in January? And between them, writers James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly deftly sketch some of these changes. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1”
Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.
Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”
Denis O’Hare shines as Tartuffe in Blanche McIntyre’s directorial debut at the National Theatre
“We don’t have orgies here, this is Highgate”
The lure of the guru is one which has always been strong for the rich and powerful and from Rasputin to Steve Hilton, there’s always some long-haired, barefoot chancer to ready step in. This partly explains why Molière’s Tartuffe remains so popular today and also why it is so ripe for adaptation, as it done here in this new version by John Donnelly, directed by Blanche McIntyre in her National Theatre debut (and how to marvellous to see her here, I’ve been a fan since her days at the Finborough).
Relocated to a hyper-rich, modern-day Highgate – Robert Jones’ opulent design is full of the type of wonderful pieces of furniture you normally only see in shop windows on the King’s Road – Orgon’s family have become concerned at his increasing devotion to his new guru figure Tartuffe. And in Denis O’Hare’s hand, you can see why – he’s quite the charismatic chancer, he spends the pre-show roaming the auditorium giving out flowers and affirmations even though it may, at first glance, just look like someone has come in off the street. Continue reading “Review: Tartuffe, National Theatre”
All sorts of goodies were announced today for the upcoming slate of productions at the National Theatre, including Small Island, Peter Gynt, and Top Girls
Small Island, a new play adapted by Helen Edmundson from Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning bestselling novel, will open in the Olivier Theatre in May. Directed by Rufus Norris, the play journeys from Jamaica to Britain through the Second World War to 1948, the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Small Island follows the intricately connected stories of Hortense, newly arrived in London, landlady Queenie and servicemen Gilbert and Bernard. Hope and humanity meet stubborn reality as, with epic sweep, the play uncovers the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK. Hundreds of tickets for every performance available at £15. Small Island will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as part of NT Live. Continue reading “News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference”
“I’m not gay…look at me, I’m a footballer”
It’s no mean feat for an LGBT Film Festival to reach its 30th anniversary, but BFI Flare has managed just that and opening its 2016 programme is The Pass, the debut feature film from Ben A. Williams. An adaptation of the John Donnelly play of the same name which played at the Royal Court in 2014, three of the four cast members return to the parts they played on stage – with Arinze Kene subbing in for Gary Carr – and Donnelly remains onboard on screenplay duties (and possibly half-time oranges, who knows!).
Spread over a decade in which footballer Jason rises from academy young buck to full-time Premiership squad member to one of the most famous players in the world, The Pass looks at what such a journey might do to a young man, particularly one who is questioning his sexuality and to those who are left by the wayside. On the eve of a crucial game, Russell Tovey’s Jason and team-mate Ade, played by Kene, are going stir-crazy in a Romanian hotel room, both aware of how crucial the next 24 hours will be but unprepared for what the next 24 minutes will unleash as homoerotic horseplay becomes, well, pretty much homosexual. Continue reading “Film Review: The Pass, BFI Flare”
“Sometimes you feel tired. Or angry. Sometimes you get horny”
Football is a game of two halves, The Pass is a play of two halves and between the words and the images, this review definitely made up of two halves. Set in the high-stakes world of celebrity football, John Donnelly’s play spreads over three scenes set over twelve years, starting with young bucks Jason and Ade on the cusp of making their first team debuts in a Champions League dead rubber in Bulgaria. But in their shared hotel room the night before, it seems like they might be interested in sharing more than just tactics.
But though homosexuality in football may be the headline grabber, especially in these post-Hitzlsperger times, Donnelly is just as interested in exploring the corrosive effects that accompanies the leap into superstardom for the lucky few. As the play jumps forward seven years, and then another five, we see Jason’s career goes stratospheric whilst Ade’s languishes, but professional success comes at personal cost – especially in the strait-laced world of the beautiful game – as we see just how far Jason is willing to go to protect his position.
Continue reading “Review: The Pass, Royal Court”
“Art can’t be made into a spectacle; you can’t put it in a box”
There’s something quite remarkable about the boldness with which Blanche McIntyre has reinterpreted Chekhov’s perennial classic The Seagull for Headlong. Gone is the stuffy country house to be replaced by Laura Hopkins’ expressionistic, open space and the formality of the Russian’s words has been supplanted by John Donnelly’s fresh new version which refocuses the play’s centre away from melodrama to something sharper, funnier, more powerful even. This is an interpretation that genuinely makes the play feel new.
McIntyre introduces notes of meta-theatre to push home the exploration of the nature of art and artists that now sits at the heart of the play – the house lights come up as characters direct their soliloquies straight to the audience, the blank rear wall becomes the page of a notebook complete with significant changing scribbles, the stark simplicity of the set allowing for a deeper intellectual excavation of the issues of art and love and creativity and sex. And it is a compelling mixture, all pushing along the vital narrative and driving these familiar characters to their predestined fates with a fresh new verve. Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace”
“Gentlemen, let the race begin”
Nicolas Kent’s final hurrah at the Tricycle Theatre, which he has patiently nurtured into fine battling form as a theatre really at the cutting edge of hot-topic drama, is this multi-authored two-part epic – The Bomb – a partial history. Inviting nine authors to respond to the debate (or more accurately the lack thereof) around nuclear weapons, Kent has pieced together a stimulating and challenging piece of theatre, divided into two parts, which can be experienced separately on different nights or one after the other on certain days, in a seven-hour marathon, which is how I did it (and probably how I’d recommend to it).
Part one is labelled First Blast: Proliferation and focuses on the period 1940-1992 as nuclear weapons became a horrendous reality as Japan found out to its cost and then a terrible threat to all as the Cold War descended between the superpowers of the USA and the USSR, and more and more countries sought to gain nuclear capabilities for themselves, threatening imbalances right across the globe. The attempts to control the spread of nuclear weaponry is also dealt with as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into being and international pressure exerted to try and bring everyone into the fold. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – First Blast, Tricycle Theatre”
“What’s the message, that we’re nutters?!”
The final play in the first half of the Tricycle’s The Bomb was John Donnelly’s Little Russians, a black comedy about a Ukrainian family looking to make a quick buck selling the decrepit nuclear missile abandoned in their back yard after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Brothers Yuri and Andrei do a deal with wandering Russian soldier Vladimir to use his contacts to sell the weapon on the black market but his eye is caught by their mother Irina who then makes her own arrangement with Vlad. And when the arms dealer finally arrives, they all try to double-cross each other in order to get the best deal but the Russian/American joint force hunting for the missing missile are getting ever closer all the time.
With its outright comedic tone – the Ukrainians are given Irish accents here and there’s more than a hint of Father Ted mentalness – Little Russians felt really quite different to the rest of the works we had seen in responding in this manner. The disintegration of the USSR created unwitting nuclear states in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine who were quick to wield the bargaining card of security against Russia rather than surrendering them for decommissioning and with opportunistic mercenaries on the make in lawless tranches of the country, they posed a serious threat. Continue reading “Review: Little Russians, Tricycle Theatre”
“In general, a sense of possibility…”
If you’re interested in theatre and aged between 15 and 21 (or 25 if in full time education – potentially involving some non traditional education, like distance learning programs) and live in London, then you could do a lot worse than joining the Young Friend of the Almeida Scheme which offers a world of unique opportunities to learn about, engage with and create theatre, all for the princely sum of £5. This range of activities includes LAB, a year-long project in which young people create a new production specifically for young people, this year is John Donnelly’s new play Encourage the Others which forms the centrepiece of The Young Friends Festival, part of the larger Almeida Festival running throughout July.
The festival pulls together a series of events for young people both as participants and performers inspired the Almeida’s programme over the last year and the production has followed the same logic. Donnelly worked with the group of 14 young actors over a six month period, developing the play as his understanding of what themes had affected them most and what they thought the key issues were, affecting young people in society today. The result is Encourage the Others, a short but powerful piece placing the youth of today in the driving seat as they make their voice heard and assert control – over themselves, over the audience, over society… Continue reading “Not-A-Review: Encourage the Others, Young Friends of the Almeida”