News: Chichester Festival Theatre announces summer plans

Artistic Director Daniel Evans and Executive Director Kathy Bourne have announced that Chichester Festival Theatre will reopen its doors with its summer musical: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, running from 5 July – 4 September. 

Daniel Evans directs Gina Beck (Nellie Forbush), Julian Ovenden (Emile de Becque), Joanna Ampil (Bloody Mary), Keir Charles (Luther Billis) and Rob Houchen (Joe Cable). Continue reading “News: Chichester Festival Theatre announces summer plans”

September theatre news, the UK version

Chichester Festival Theatre has announced their Autumn plans and it looks to be a good’un. It includes:
– Sarah Kane’s Crave, directed by Tinuke Craig and starring Erin Doherty and Alfred Enoch, staged in a socially distanced Festival Theatre for 10 performances and live streamed to digital audiences
– for Christmas, a series of festive concerts (including one with Rebeccas Caine and Trehearn), followed by Chichester Festival Youth Theatre in a new version of Pinocchio by Anna Ledwich, directed by Dale Rooks
Michael Ball, Sheila Hancock and Patricia Routledge in conversation with Edward Seckerson
– cabaret and comedy including Frisky & Mannish, The Black Cat Cabaret, Barely Methodical Troupe, Rich Hall, Suzi Ruffell, Russell Kane and Rosie Jones
– music ranging from a celebration of Sondheim with West End stars, to a song recital by Kate Royal, a new concert from Joe Stilgoe and a portrait of Rachmaninoff with Henry Goodman and Lucy Parham Continue reading “September theatre news, the UK version”

Review: Phaedra(s), LIFT 2016 at the Barbican

“Va-t’en fous le camp ne me touche pas ne me parle pas reste avec moi.”

Funny story – I actually bought a ticket to see Phaedra(s) in Paris when it was first announced, such is the hold that Isabelle Huppert has over me. Naturally having done so, a few months later a short run at the Barbican was announced as part of LIFT 2016 and for once, I erred on the side of caution by opting not to head over to the Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe and waiting for its arrival in the UK (something I didn’t do with Kings of War in Amsterdam…)

It probably helped that I had already made the trip to Paris to see Huppert once before, 2014’s Les Fausses Confidences crossed that boundary and I’m glad, for though there was much to appreciate in Phaedra(s), it is extremely challenging too. Stretched over 3 hours 40 minutes with just the single interval, Krzysztof Warlikowski’s multimedia-heavy production stitches together different versions of the story of Phaedra, the wife of Theseus who fell in love with her stepson Hippolytus, with predictably tragic consequences. Continue reading “Review: Phaedra(s), LIFT 2016 at the Barbican”

Review: Cleansed, National Theatre

“Felt it.
Here. Inside.
Here.”

I think I have to admit to liking the idea of Katie Mitchell more than the reality. In the build-up to each appearance her productions makes on these shores, long-form pieces emerge, delving into her practise, and some of the mystery behind why she has become so totemic a figure in European theatre yet still regarded with some suspicion by parts of the British establishment (qv this piece in the Guardian). And I think yeah, she is different but maybe this time I’ll get it, maybe this time instead of just being challenged as an audience member, I’ll feel connected to her work too.

Safe to say though that Sarah Kane’s Cleansed was not the production for this breakthrough to occur. A notable event in marking Kane’s debut at the National Theatre and also a long-awaited return for Mitchell to the main programme on the South Bank after years of being frozen out by Hytner’s reluctance to let her loose on anything but children’s shows, it is naturally a hugely challenging event. Warnings abound of graphic scenes of physical and sexual violence, fainters have been reported at several performances (I reckon at least a couple of those must have been faking it just to get early release though), once again we ain’t in Kansas. Continue reading “Review: Cleansed, National Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”

Review: Blasted, Lyric Hammersmith

“It all has to mean something; otherwise there’s no point”

Running with the tagline “Reviled. Respected. Revived.” Sarah Kane’s Blasted is the latest play to open at the Lyric Hammersmith under Sean Holmes’ artistic direction. I was aware of some of the controversy around this play, the flyer proudly quotes the Daily Mail’s original review “this disgusting feast of filth”, but had avoided reading too much about it as this was my first experience of Sarah Kane’s work and wanted to approach it with fresh eyes. Thus this review (of a preview FYI) is mostly reactive to this production and accompanied by the few nuggets of biographical information procured from my companion over a pre-show slice of cake.

Set in a nondescript hotel room, well designed by Paul Wills in a letterbox format, we meet Ian, a sleazy unreconstructed tabloid journalist who has invited Cate up for the evening to seduce her. We soon ascertain that Cate is a naïve young woman, given to epileptic seizures and not a fully compliant partner in what Ian has planned. After a traumatic night, Cate eventually escapes but Ian is left to pay the consequences and then some as an armed soldier storms the room and events take a mightily explosive turn. Hereafter lies spoilers, so be warned.

So after the extremely uncomfortable scenes where Ian forces himself on Cate sexually in all manner of ways, culminating in a brutal rape, the tables are turned as what seems like a civil war is raging outside the hotel and its impact is soon felt as the hotel is blown up. This allows for a starkly effective dismantling of the set and the utilisation of the full depth and height of the Lyric’s stage, enhanced by menacing lighting from Paule Constable, to represent this apocalyptic scenario. And boy do I mean apocalyptic as with this war has come barbarity and so the soldier who invaded the room sodomises Ian and then sucks out his eyeballs. When the soldier then takes his own life, the broken Ian is left to fend for himself in this nightmare world, a confused Cate returns with a baby who then dies and in the most disturbing scene of a play made up of disturbing scenes, Ian is driven by extreme hunger to eat the corpse of the baby. Only in the final moments, does an unexpected show of humanity lift the spirits slightly and suggests the way forward from this darkness.

Kane pulls no punches in her depiction of civilisation gone horribly wrong, the implication being that the capacity for human cruelty stretches from the rape of one individual and inconsideration for others to the annihilation of society through the type of behaviour excused by the pretext of war: it is all just a matter of scale. Given that Blasted was written in 1995, it presages the post-terrorist-atrocities world with an eerie resonance; its warnings being applicable to all sides, a point reinforced by the recent revelations from Wikileaks of cover-ups in Iraq. And in its portrayal of the events: non-consensual sexual activity, masturbation, urination, anal rape, cannibalism, mutilation, Holmes’ production is uncompromisingly bleak: much is unflinchingly, painfully realised right in front of us.

It is shot through with a darkly humourous side too though lest we get too depressed: whether it is the funniest use of the exclamation ‘shit!’ towards the end; Cate surreptitiously turning over the pillow which she has just helped Ian to ejaculate onto or the deadpan comments which accompany many of the atrocities, there’s a bleak comedy, a sense of the ways in which people have to rationalise their behaviour in order to just keep living no matter how hard it may seem, as best portrayed by Aidan Kelly’s intruding soldier. Lydia Wilson plays the stuttering Cate with an unnerving intensity, taking us through manic episodes and her childlike wanderings and Danny Webb is uncompromising in his strident Ian, unafraid of exposing both cancerous body and cancerous soul whilst simultaneously desperate for attention and then suggesting the slow discovery of hidden depths as he is forced onto the most desolate of journeys.

I’m not sure if it was the nature of the audience on the night, the fact that the show provokes comment or a deliberate choice by director Sean Holmes to keep it almost episodic or some combination of all of them but the atmosphere in the theatre was quite peculiar. Whereas the Tricycle’s Broken Glass used live cello music in its interludes to maintain its contemplative air, as the curtain descended for each of the scene changes here, the mood was broken by the instant chatter around me. This production ends up working as a series of thrusts rather than a sustained assault on the senses, possibly better for the nerves this way but it did mean that the evening felt quite disjointed. Hopefully the changes can be speeded up (a definite possibility by opening night I would think) but I’d be tempted to ramp up the volume of the interlude sound effect to preclude too much talking and maintain some of the atmosphere that has been built up. I wasn’t convinced by the use of silences either: used too often and to too little effect, one assumes the intended effect was gravitas but it ended up feeling like delaying tactics.

It is hard to not to view Kane’s work without considering her suicide: indeed many reviewers changed their mind, after reviling its first run, when it was revived at the Royal Court after her death; the literature describes this play as seminal but one does wonder if that reverence has been earned entirely the right way. Coming away from Blasted I was left with the sneaking feeling that there was a little too much of the childish desire just to shock in what I had seen where there could have been more of the deeply moving, as in the montage of images that form most of the final scene which is just hauntingly beautiful to look at. That is not to deny that there is some extremely powerful writing in here, a sense of compassion for humanity no matter how twisted and cruel it gets and the kind of daring imagination that, combined with this clear-sighted production, makes this a confrontational and challenging night at the theatre that will live in the mind.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 20th November
Note: where to start! Full-frontal male nudity, smoking and scenes of a disturbing nature from start to finish, the Lyric advise a 16+ age limit.