Review: Kaspar, Southwark Playhouse at Arch 6

“I’ve been sentenced to reality”

Kaspar is a play by Peter Handke, put on here in a collaboration between Aya Theatre Company and Dreckly Productions with the support of Southwark Playhouse who are running the bookings. With the additional support of Network Rail, they’ve taken over a disused office complex under one of the railway arches close to Southwark tube station to create a pop-up theatre (complete with bar). Handke is an avant-garde Austrian writer, considered a major contemporary European force, but he is rarely performed in the UK: indeed the only experience I have of his work is the National’s The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other, with its 400+ characters, wordlessly crossing the stage.

This work is based on a true story, of Kasper Hauser who was discovered in a town square, languageless but for a single sentence and subsequently taken under the wing of a series of public figures to teach and civilise him. It turned out he’d been kept prisoner in a room all his life and though responding to the attempts to make him ‘normal’, he continually struggled to retain the inner life he had developed. Handke developed this story into a more abstract play, exploring the notions behind it about the coercive power of language to force people into accepted social constructs and limit the expression of the true individual. Continue reading “Review: Kaspar, Southwark Playhouse at Arch 6”

Review: The Master Builder, Almeida Theatre

“I have underwear in my haversack”

I have made no secret of my issues with Ibsen on this blog: he is a playwright whom I have never really ‘got’ and whose enduring popularity at theatre houses baffles me, I struggle to see what relevance much of his work has to audiences today. So when the Almeida announced a production of The Master Builder as their winter show it was with a slightly heavy heart that I booked tickets: I do try to keep my mind open to the chance that one day something might suddenly click, indeed I was in Manchester to see The Lady From The Sea just last week. And funnily enough, if you had to pick two Ibsen plays to see this close together, then it might as well be these two as to my surprise, they feature a recurring character in Hilde Wangel.

With a new translation by Kenneth McLeish, director Travis Preston has created a minimalist, modern-dress production of this cautionary tale of the drive for ambition at all costs. Halvard Solness is a self-made master builder, lacking in training but dominant in his small town world with a towering reputation that he zealously protects. This single-mindedness has had a corrosive effect on those around him though: his employees fear him and his wife is a mere shadow of her former self, the couple having suffered unimaginable tragedy with the death of twin sons and the ramifications of which still reverberate strongly for both of them. Into this world arrives Hilde, a young woman who claims a past connection with Solness and offers an alternative to the emotional paralysis that characterises his life but one which leads up a dangerous path. I must admit to being quite pleased to see a modern-day version of an Ibsen work for once, but having never seen The Master Builder before, you will have read elsewhere for commentary on any changes that have been made. Continue reading “Review: The Master Builder, Almeida Theatre”

Review: Macbeth, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly” 

And first a moan. I’d intentionally booked front row seats for this back in December, so upon arrival I was a little surprised to find that there was another row of seats in front of ours, row AA which is set a little closer to the ground but with nowhere near sufficient a rake to prevent people’s heads being seriously in the way. This extra row was added in to sell extra tickets due to it being a sellout and whilst I’m happy for the Barbican with their success here, I’m most annoyed that it subsequently affected my enjoyment of the evening.

Cheek by Jowl return to London with their interpretation of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s examination of the cost of chasing power and limitless ambition without responsibility, using their trademark inventiveness to create an otherworldly experience. Setting up in the Silk Street Theatre at the Barbican, there is excellent use of the space throughout the play: the opening haze-filled scene seems to take place in a seemingly endless void, later on the rear wall is used most effectively with spotlights and shadows thrown up. So much is left dark or in shadow, the audience is left to let their imagination fill in the gaps. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican”