Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange

“I’m not interested in your perfect functions”

It is often the case with lesser performed works by well-known playwrights that there’s a reason why they don’t occupy the same place in the canon, and so it was with this production of Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play Orpheus Descending which I managed to squeeze into the end of a hectic work trip to Manchester. It is unmistakeably his work: elements like the oppressive heat of the Deep South, repressed passion and a mismatched couple are present and correct. But there’s also a lugubrious pace and a patchwork quilt of superfluous supporting characters which helps to explain its relative obscurity.

Lady Torrance is an unhappily married Mississippi store-owner whose head is well and truly turned with the arrival of handsome young drifter Val. He’s escaping his past but finds himself in the most stifling kind of narrow-minded community as they react against him. At the same time though, he offers the potential of a way out for Lady who dares to dream of a more liberated future, but the constraints of her present circumstances and the ever-powerful echoes of the horrific past mean nothing is easy. Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange”

Review: Lidless, Trafalgar Studios 2

“I learned to love what they were doing to me”

Compellingly performed by a five strong cast, Lidless transfers to the Trafalgar Studios 2 after a well-received run in Edinburgh last year. It is a new play by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig examining the legacy of the Guantánamo Bay interrogations and whether one really can move on from the past. Swept up in the extreme atmosphere, US Army interrogator Alice is one of the most effective workers they have, especially when it comes to a particular detainee Bashir. She takes part in a PTSD drug trial which wipes her memory of all she has been complicit in but fifteen years later, as we see she has started a new life as a florist in Texas with her husband and teenage daughter, Bashir who has not forgotten anything that happened, re-emerges with a pressing demand. His appearance shatters the fragile peace in this family as the ramifications of what Alice has repressed reverberate terribly throughout her family.

It is well acted throughout: Penny Layden’s unquestioning soldier relishes the power thrust into her hands by the military and though she has reinvented herself, Layden suggests that the violence in her is never far from the surface; Greer Dale-Foulkes brings an edgy inquisitiveness as a child in a world full of adults obscuring the truth from her and Antony Bunsee is graceful as the dignified but determined victim, relentlessly pursuing what he sees as his due.

But for a work that won the Yale Drama Series Award for Playwriting in 2009, I was a bit disappointed in the play itself. There’s a anti-US tone which is reflected in the uneasy balance between the two-dimensional US villain versus the more fully-rounded, almost saint-like persecuted victim, but the main problem comes in the mix of the personal and political here as the issues of justified torture in the war against terror are left behind as Lidless becomes a family drama longing for the depths of Greek tragedy and ending up closer to melodramatic, contrived soap opera.

The design by takis reconfigures the Trafalgar Studios 2 in the round for the first time, which isn’t quite the unqualified success one would have hoped. The arresting format that was devised for The Early Bird with its clear Perspex cube in the middle of the Finborough was magnificently effective but here, the illuminated frame that marks the space in the centre of the Trafalgar 2 feels a little superfluous. The bright lighting keeps much of the audience in view but without the sense of complicitness in the proceedings which might have made that work and the direction doesn’t play well in the round, many scenes were fairly static and blocked as if playing in traverse (I would recommend avoiding sitting at either end of the studio, if you can).

At only 75 minutes, Lidless doesn’t outstay its welcome, but with its lack of balance in the portrayal of its main characters, its refusal to entertain the shades of grey inbetween and resorting to coincidence too many times, it ends up stretching credibility rather than examining the questions that it initially poses. This ultimately made it feel like a bit of a missed opportunity, I imagine it will just be preaching to the converted here rather than actually changing anyone’s mind.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 2 April
Note: some bad language and flashing light effects

Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Gentle my lord, sleek o’er your rugged looks; be bright and jovial among your guests to-night “

Opening the 2010 Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank is Lucy Bailey’s production of Macbeth. Fans of the Scottish play are being well-served this year: Cheek By Jowl may now have left the Barbican but you can catch them again in Brighton in May, the Open Air Theatre will be running a re-imagined for kids version in July or you can witness this decidedly less family-friendly production in the Globe.

Katrina Lindsay’s design has clearly taken the circular shape of the theatre into consideration and used the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno as the main inspiration. The Yard is mostly covered with a canopy, with holes for the groundlings to poke their heads through, representing the frozen sinners trapped in the underworld, and it is also populated with the occasional bloodsoaked writhing tortured soul popping up. I can’t comment on how comfortable or otherwise it was, but there’s plenty of room outside of the canopy if you’re not too sure about it: it did look fun though. The weird sisters therefore are the guardians of this final Hell and flow in and out of there onto the stage, trying to drag as many people down with them. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe”