Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre

The theatrical magic of the excellent The Ocean at the End of the Lane finds a perfect home at the National Theatre

“A rip in forever where possibilities begin”

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and adapted by Joel Horwood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is pretty much perfection at the National Theatre. Katy Rudd’s production is a triumph of creative endeavour, as she melds her various elements into a couple of hours of real theatrical magic. Key is Steven Hoggett’s inimitable movement, creating a wonderful sense of fluidity throughout, but particularly in the scene changes. The seamless ensemble work that results plays a huge part of the thoroughly enchanting world-building going on here.

That world is the England of fairytales, Sussex farmland where the fabric of the universe is thin. There, a boy meets a girl and in their japes, a monster breaks through from another world, so far so fantasy. But even the simple act of whipping props on and off stage becomes something more profound (the cooker moving just out of Dad’s reach…), manipulating fearsome puppets (designed by Samuel Wyer and directed by Finn Caldwell) makes something of an artistic statement, or just lying on the ground to embody some creature or other finds a similarly strange beauty. Continue reading “Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre”

Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

“I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se.”

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin’s next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it – at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin’s book cycled round and round and Minchin’s not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There’s a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus’ direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

Review: Jefferson’s Garden, Watford Palace Theatre

“We have to ask you to be gender-blind, colour-blind, age-blind, shape-blind, but in all other ways perceptive”

I actually saw a reading of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play Jefferson’s Garden in 2013 when it formed part of the extracurricular activities surrounding the run of Out of Joint’s Our Country’s Good at the St James and blogged quite extensively about it as it was a play that really struck me as one to look out for. Less than two years down the line, it has now received its first production at the hands of director Brigid Larmour and the Watford Palace Theatre where it runs until 21st February and doesn’t appear to have any life anticipated beyond that.

Which is a shame as I do think it is a fine piece of writing. Wertenbaker’s history play takes place during the American War of Independence but makes a sterling case for how the compromises in the creation of a society then have echoed throughout time to become the issues that still blight the USA today. She also plays with the way in which historical narratives are constructed (theatrical ones too) through the voice of a Chorus who stalk the action, identifying the difficulties of converting the dreams of idealism into the practicalities of the real world. Continue reading “Review: Jefferson’s Garden, Watford Palace Theatre”

Review: The Rivals, Richmond Theatre

“There’s a little intricate hussy for you!”

One of my theatrical highlights of the year so far was Celia Imrie in a sparkling production of The Rivals which variously featured audience interaction, recorders, Beyoncé songs and Sam Swainsbury sat on my lap for a while. So, when the Theatre Royal Bath production to be directed by Sir Peter Hall was announced, I was intrigued to see how it would match up. And whilst there is little of the relaxed informality of that Southwark Playhouse version, Hall sticks to what he knows best, gimmick-free, perfectly-cast productions which focus on the writing.

The Rivals is a comedy of manners, set in 18th century Bath amongst the fashionable élite who are there to take the waters and maybe a little gossip and romance on the side. Lydia Languish longs for a romantic elopement such as those of which she has read rather than a conventional marriage and so in order to win her hand, Captain Absolute disguises himself as an impoverished soldier and woos her, despite the disapproval of her guardian, Mrs Malaprop who has her own romantic designs. But Absolute has two rivals for Miss Languish, whose cousin has her own lovelife problems which we observe and the servants are playing their own games resulting in much comedy, chaos and confusion. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Richmond Theatre”