Review: The Nether, Royal Court

“Just because it is virtual doesn’t mean it isn’t real”

There are times when an age guidance notice can seem like mollycoddling, but there are others when they are truly justified. The UK premiere of Jennifer Haley’s play The Nether by Headlong and the Royal Court is most certainly one of the latter cases, recommended for over 18s only as one of the more disturbing plays we are likely to see this year. The play is one of the more devastatingly effective looks at how the internet has shaped the way we live our lives and how society is struggling to keep up with, and govern, this fast-changing world. Writing now, a few days after seeing it, it still haunts my mind – a combination of Jeremy Herrin’s stunningly mounted production and a searingly brutal play.

Haley’s ‘Nether’ is her futuristic version of the internet where virtual reality has been fully integrated, so people are able to create their own realms like webpages. The playwright pushes that to the extreme in ‘The Hideaway’, a world created by Stanley Townsend’s Sims for him and other like-minded souls to act out their paedophiliac tendencies without actually committing any crime as it currently stands. Young detective Morris, Amanda Hale, has hauled Sims in for questioning though as she wants the details of the whole thing so she can shut it down, arguing that even online realms need to be policed, that all our interactions lead to our deeper understanding of the rules of the world. Continue reading “Review: The Nether, Royal Court”

Review: Eldorado, Arcola Theatre

“I don’t know anything about lobsters”

Sadly not a sequel to the escapades of Pilar and Marcus, this Eldorado is the UK premiere of Marius von Mayenburg’s 2004 play, translated by Maja Zade. It is also the first production by new theatre company Mongrel Thumb and it makes for an ambitiously bold opening statement, albeit one that is likely to have as many detractors as it does fans. von Mayenburg’s work is inscrutably European in feel (Fireface at the Young Vic is my other experience of him) and Simon Dormandy’s production can only do so much to open it up.

Which means audiences at the Arcola will have to be, well, a little less British, a bit more adventurous in accepting von Mayenburg’s version of the world. His El Dorado is a modern day urban sprawl in which property is king, so much so that even though war is raging close by, investors are excited at the potential for building on the battlefields left behind. The rush for colonisation can’t hide the cultural malaise of a society on the edge of despair though, unhappiness manifesting itself in the strangest and most pervasive of ways – lobsters, cupboards, forests, piano lids. Continue reading “Review: Eldorado, Arcola Theatre”

Review: The Domino Heart, Finborough Theatre

“After all, my little one, our life is this moment. This one. Gone. In a heartbeat.”

‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’ The mysteries of the heart have long enthralled songwriters but Canadian writer Matthew Edison has used this enduring fascination to fashion a most affecting play in the form of The Domino Heart. Three people sit on the stage of the Finborough as the show opens but they’re completely separate, isolated from one another and lost in the gravity of the situation that faces each of them. For though they are strangers, there is something that connects them, binding them together metaphysically even though they might not ever realise it.

‘Piece of my Heart’ Cara’s husband has been killed in a car crash and she is wracked with guilt for arguing with him just beforehand. Mortimer is a Reverend in his 70s whose fear of death is matched only by his fear of not having lived (and loved). And Leo is a brash corporate type whose only real pleasure comes from making money with the rest of life a pointless distraction to him. But as he takes his shirt off, we see that he has received a heart transplant and not only that, it is a domino heart, one which has been already rejected by a recipient and therefore has carried on down the chain.  Continue reading “Review: The Domino Heart, Finborough Theatre”

DVD Review: Murderland

“You’re not a child any more”

As the first DVD I put on to start my Lucy Cohu marathon, my heart sank a little when her first appearance in Murderland was as the main subject in a photograph of a murder scene. But as her face was on the cover, I hoped that her role would be more than just a fleeting one in this 2009 ITV drama. Written by David Pirie, the three-parter examines the lasting impact of a violent crime and the mysteries surrounding it, viewed from the shifting perspectives of the murdered woman, her traumatised daughter and the investigating detective.

It’s not the most sophisticated of crime dramas, truth be told, but it is certainly competently done and intriguingly put together as events start off in the present day with a woman, the ever-wan Amanda Hale, running from her wedding day. Her distress comes from the unsolved murder of her mother some 15 years earlier which she is now determined to solve and visits Robbie Coltrane’s DI Hain to get his help as he was intimately involved in the case – and more so than she realises. The story then flips back to the time of the crime to give an account of what happened. As the show progresses and we, and Carol, find out more and more, the events around the murder are revisited and replayed getting us ever closer to the terrible truth. Continue reading “DVD Review: Murderland”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1”

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, Almeida Theatre

“They are women without men, that’s all”

The list of actresses whom I adore is forever growing and changing but certain women remain constant on it, and one of them – who I never thought I would get to see on stage – is Shohreh Aghdashloo. She completely broke my heart in the film House of Sand and Fog (for which she was Oscar-nominated) and then toyed with our loyalties with a brilliant duplicitous turn in series 4 of 24. So when she was announced as taken on the titular role in the Almeida’s new version of The House of Bernarda Alba, I was ecstatic.

Emily Mann’s adaptation relocates Lorca’s Spanish story to rural Iran and changes a few of the names, but largely keeps the architecture of the play intact (although compressed into 95 minutes here). It is a relocation which is extremely successful, the oppression and repression of female sexuality sadly fitting in as easily here as in Catholic Spain and class issues are common across the world, making this a powerfully affecting, beautifully staged and haunting production that lived up to my every expectation. Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, Almeida Theatre”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”

Review: Wastwater, Royal Court

“There are things which you’ll have done or which you’ll do which live with you for ever and ever”

You know you’re in trouble when a play describes itself as ‘an elliptical triptych’, making a virtue of your own obscureness sets up a challenge from the off and such is the case here with Simon Stephens’ new play Wastwater, directed by Katie Mitchell for the Royal Court (‘wast’ rhyming with cost in case you’re unsure). Three scenes, three locations on the edge of Heathrow Airport, three different couples all on the cusp of life-changing decisions, no interval. (This is a review of the final preview FYI)

Given Katie Mitchell’s penchant for mixing things up, her direction here is relatively straightforward. There’s no infuriating running across the stage, wrapping things up in plastic bags or her video work here, indeed the only notable innovation is a pair of seriously impressive set changes in Lizzie Clachan’s design which creates three strikingly different sets for the three scenes. And they need to be different as the scenes are self-contained, each couple appears just the once as their stories unfold and then Stephens moves us onto the next. Continue reading “Review: Wastwater, Royal Court”

Review: Elektra, Young Vic

“There are times when justice is too big a risk”

Anne Carson’s version of Elektra is the latest play to take up residence in the Maria studio upstairs at the Young Vic. Allegedly having written 123 plays, only 7 of Greek playwright Sophocles’ works still remain, yet they remain ever popular: soon to open at the National Theatre, Moira Buffini’s Welcome to Thebes also takes much from his writing. However, this Elektra is doing things a little differently: no press night, no previews, just opening to its audience, oh and all tickets are completely free (though advance booking is strongly recommended!)

Carrie Cracknell’s debut as Associate Director at the Young Vic is a joint effort with Headlong and so it should come as little surprise that it is an inventive fusion of movement, music and text, creating haunting dreamscapes and evocative imagery that really capture the overwhelming aura of grief permeating this play. The whole play is darkly lit with varying shades of gloom and this allows for some eerie dream sequences to be played out with masked dancers at the start, setting the tone for a haunting exploration of grief and what it will drive people to. Continue reading “Review: Elektra, Young Vic”

Review: Our Class, National

Our Class is a blistering look at the Polish collusion in the atrocities of the Second World War from Polish playwright Tadeusz Słobodzianek, presented here in a new version by Ryan Craig (although given this is a world premiere and someone else is credited with the literal translation, I’m not quite sure what ‘version’ actually means). Taking the Jedwabne massacre as its focal point, a massacre of the entire Jewish population of a village long thought to have been carried out by the Nazis but recently discovered to have actually been the actions of the local Polish people, the play is an attempt to try and understand how the villagers could have turned on each other in such a way and subsequently kept the terrible secret. It does this by following a class of Polish schoolchildren, some Catholic, some Jewish, starting in 1925 and working its way through to the modern day.

I have to admit to initially having my doubts as the play opened with adults pretending to be schoolchildren which is never nice to see, but there was enough humour present to see the scene through as they all talked about what they wanted to be in the future. The cast of ten actually play their characters throughout their lifespan and so my doubts were quickly dispelled as the classmates grew up throughout the 1930s with the twin shadows of Soviet and Nazi invasions shattering their childhood dreams and ultimately setting them against each other to brutal effect. Continue reading “Review: Our Class, National”