Review: The Threepenny Opera, National

“There will be no moralising tonight”

Whatever you think a national theatre should be for, I bloody love that Rufus Norris seems to determined to keep diversity near the top of the billing. Whilst it is curious that he’s only committed to ensuring gender equality in terms of the directors and living writers the National Theatre uses by 2021 (I’m sure there’s a reason it takes 5 years), there’s also change happening now in this new production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera.

The first actors we see and hear are George Ikediashi and Jamie Beddard. So what you might say? But they are respectively a cabaret artist better known as Le Gateau Chocolat and a wheelchair-using director, writer, actor, consultant, trainer and workshop leader who has worked across the arts, educational and social sectors (his website). And you begin to see one of the ways how Norris is opening up this venue in an important and hopefully lasting manner. Continue reading “Review: The Threepenny Opera, National”

Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

“I’ve got nothing to look forward to”

There’s something rather apt about members of the Bugsy Malone graduating onto other productions at the Lyric Hammersmith, emphasising the ensemble feel that has taken over the building under Sean Holmes’ stewardship. And in Max Gill (a sensational Fat Sam) and Sophia Decaro (the Tallulah I didn’t see), there’re two young talents deservedly getting the chance to explore a wider range of teenage experience in Holmes’ production of Simon Stephens’ 2001 play Herons.

A brutal look at teen violence and cycles of revenge, it’s a play that’s marked by a truly shocking scene of rape, the haunting sound of which is still echoing in my mind now. Set on the Limehouse Cut, a canal in London’s East End, the ugly desolation and desperation of this world is clear from the off, a world where 14 year old Billy spends his time hiding from bullies and fishing for whatever small fry he can. Though when he becomes the catch of the day, the extent of its viciousness is exposed. Continue reading “Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Song from Far Away, Young Vic

“We exist in the gaps between the sounds that we make”

It’s hard not to be seduced by Ivo van Hove’s Toneelgroep Amsterdam once you’ve experienced them one way or another – there’s a reason I keep travelling to the Netherlands to see them work – and not even Simon Stephens is immune. Having previously adapted Ubu for the company, he has now written monologue Song from Far Away specifically for one of their ensemble members, Eelco Smits, who performs it here at the Young Vic in English.

34 year old banker Willem has relocated to New York but is called back to his native Amsterdam when his younger brother dies. In a haze of casual sex with Brazilians, numerous glasses of Scotch and ginger and disorientating encounters with strangers, his journey back to a family, a home, a country he had abandoned is sketched out through a series of letters he writes to the brother he barely knew whilst coming to realise he barely knows himself. Continue reading “Review: Song from Far Away, Young Vic”

Winners of the 2015 Drama Desk Awards

Outstanding Play:
Clare Barron, You Got Older
Lisa D’Amour, Airline Highway
Anthony Giardina, The City of Conversation
Stephen Adly Guirgis, Between Riverside and Crazy
Elizabeth Irwin, My Manãna Comes
Simon Stephens, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Jack Thorne, Let the Right One In

Outstanding Musical:
An American in Paris
Hamilton
Fly By Night
Pretty Filthy
Something Rotten!
The Visit Continue reading “Winners of the 2015 Drama Desk Awards”

Winners of 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award (Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
WINNER – Ayad Akhtar, The Invisible Hand
Halley Feiffer, I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Elizabeth Irwin, My Mañana Comes
Markus Potter, Stalking the Bogeyman
Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
WINNER – Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Peter Gallagher, On the Twentieth Century
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town Continue reading “Winners of 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards”

Nominations for the 2015 Drama Desk Awards

Outstanding Play:
Clare Barron, You Got Older
Lisa D’Amour, Airline Highway
Anthony Giardina, The City of Conversation
Stephen Adly Guirgis, Between Riverside and Crazy
Elizabeth Irwin, My Manãna Comes
Simon Stephens, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Jack Thorne, Let the Right One In

Outstanding Musical:
An American in Paris
Hamilton
Fly By Night
Pretty Filthy
Something Rotten!
The Visit Continue reading “Nominations for the 2015 Drama Desk Awards”

Review: Carmen Disruption, Almeida Theatre

“I saw everything.
But I didn’t really see a thing”

It is little surprise that the synopsis for Simon Stephens’ new play mentions it takes place in a fractured world, that is pretty much a given for his writing. What proved more surprising for me was how much I connected to Carmen Disruption, this idiosyncratic reinterpretation of Bizet’s opera resonating strongly throughout Lizzie Clachan’s brilliantly distressed design which conspires to lend the Almeida an unmistakeable air of faded grandeur. Just with the barely breathing body of a vanquished bull in the middle of the stage, natch.

This particular fractured world is a nameless European city in which Stephens interlaces five monologues, roughly analogous to the characters we know from Bizet but as if refracted through the shattered lens of an old pair of opera glasses. So Jack Farthing’s Carmen becomes a dangerously sexy rent boy, John Light takes Escamillo from the bull ring to the bear pit as an arrogant trader, this Don José fights through traffic rather than armies in Noma Dumezweni’s achingly moving cabbie, and Micaela’s tragedy remains intact in Katie West’s emotionally raw student. Continue reading “Review: Carmen Disruption, Almeida Theatre”

Nominations for 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award (Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Ayad Akhtar, The Invisible Hand
Halley Feiffer, I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Elizabeth Irwin, My Mañana Comes
Markus Potter, Stalking the Bogeyman
Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Peter Gallagher, On the Twentieth Century
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town Continue reading “Nominations for 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards”

Not-a-Review: The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic

 

I’d love to review Simon Stephens’ version of The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic but Katie Mitchell’s enthusiasm for the naturalistic approach meant I heard very little, and I mean very little of it. It’s not even as if I could see to lip-read either, the crepuscular lighting combining with a propensity to mutter and the choice that several made to speak with their backs to the audience. I’m not commenting on Mitchell’s artistic choices, I’m simply being truthful about how the basic difficulty of just hearing what was going on. And as such, I’m just not inclined to comment on anything more. If you have any sort of hearing problem, I urge you to ensure you get to the captioned performance on 27th November.

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Booking until 29th November

Review: Birdland, Royal Court

“I literally have enough money to buy anything”

It was Scarlett Johansson wot did it. My over-riding thought as Simon Stephens’ Birdland built to its destructive climax was that the alien for Jonathan Glazer’s recent film Under The Skin had somehow infiltrated affairs. The viscous black liquid that surrounds Ian MacNeil’s set slowly rises to encroach on the ever-twisted world of tortured rockstar Paul, threatening to swallow him in its total embrace, an oblivion the man might truly welcome. But it is just a coincidence, although perhaps rooted in some conceptual similarity, there are no aliens here. Or Hollywood superstars.

Instead, Irish legend-in-the-making Andrew Scott plays a hugely successful musician who is on top of the world and coming to the end of going round the world on a huge tour. Whipped into a constant fervour by the corrosive side of celebrity, his personality has become so warped that he can, and does, demand anything he wants, and by and large gets it. Aside from making him a total f*cktard, especially where his best friend and bandmate’s girlfriend is concerned, it also symptomizes the deeper societal malaise of a corrupted capitalist mindset in all its exploitative ugliness. Continue reading “Review: Birdland, Royal Court”