Review: The Normal Heart, National Theatre

Heartbreaking but fiercely essential work. Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart receives a masterful revival courtesy of Dominic Cooke at the National Theatre

“The only way we’ll have real pride is when we demand recognition of a culture that isn’t just sexual”

A flame lit in respectful silence, shirts whipped off to the pulsing synthline of ‘I Feel Love’, the opening moments of Dominic Cooke’s revival of Larry Kramer’s 1985 play The Normal Heart are full of Pride and perfectly encapsulate one of the key dilemmas haunting its characters. It is New York City in the early 1980s and writer and activist Ned Weeks is struggling to make the wider world understand what to him seems obvious, an unidentified disease is scything through the gay community in alarming numbers.

Plays about AIDS have tended to the operatic in scale – Angels in America and The Inheritance both sprawling over two lengthy parts. So by comparison, The Normal Heart is over in a flicker, coming in well under three hours. And my lord is that a good thing, as the second half in particular is punishingly, essentially, brutal. Prior to the interval, there’s a beautiful sense of world-building – Weeks and his pals bonding over their shared need to do something, battling over the best way to do it. And Weeks also falls in love for the first time, a scene of combative flirting is as entertaining as it is erotic.

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Rehearsal images for The Normal Heart released

The National Theatre has released rehearsal images by Helen Maybanks for Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart a co-production with Fictionhouse, being performed in the Olivier Theatre in September 2021. Directed by Dominic Cooke, Kramer’s largely autobiographical play about the AIDS crisis in 1980 New York has not been performed professionally in London since its European premiere in 1986.

Ben Daniels will perform the role of Ned Weeks, the co-founder of an AIDS advocacy group fighting to change the world around him, with Robert Bowman, Richard Cant, Liz Carr, Jonathan Dryden Taylor, Dino Fetscher, Daniel Krikler, Daniel Monks, Elander Moore, Luke Norris, Henry Nott, Lucas Rush, Freddie Stabb, Samuel Thomas and Danny Lee Wynter completing the company.

Set design by Vicki Mortimer, costume design by Lisa Duncan, lighting design by Paule Constable, sound design by Carolyn Downing and fight direction by Bret Yount. The Normal Heart will be in the Olivier theatre from 23rd September until 6th November 2021. Continue reading “Rehearsal images for The Normal Heart released”

News: National Theatre On Sale, July 2021 – January 2022

The National Theatre will return to performances with full capacity audiences from later this month. Additional seating will now be available for performances of After Life from 27 July alongside the previously-announced productions Rockets and Blue Lights in the Dorfman theatre and Paradise in the Olivier theatre, with extra tickets going on sale to the public from Monday 19 July.  

Tickets for The Normal Heart, East is East, Manor and Hex on sale to the public from Friday 30 July. Continue reading “News: National Theatre On Sale, July 2021 – January 2022”

News: The National Theatre announces 2021-22 programming and launches National Theatre Together

The National Theatre announces new programming and launches a major new campaign for its future, National Theatre Together

The National Theatre has announced its programming until the start of next year with productions on all three South Bank stages as well as three major UK tours, two productions on Broadway, a return to cinemas, and a new feature film to be broadcast on television this autumn. In the week the theatre reopened for audiences again, six new productions were announced, and five productions halted by the pandemic were confirmed to return to the South Bank.  

It has also announced the public launch of National Theatre Together, a new campaign with people at its heart, highlighting the importance of creativity and collaboration with theatre-makers and communities, for young people and audiences. The campaign cements the NT’s commitment to the people of this country and will raise vital funds for the theatre’s ambitious recovery post-pandemic.  Continue reading “News: The National Theatre announces 2021-22 programming and launches National Theatre Together”

News: Cast announced for Royal Court’s Living Newspaper

Michele Austin, Natalie Dew, Georgie Fellows, Zainab Hasan, Camille Mallet de Chauny, Rebekah Murrell, Amaka Okafor, Kimberley Okoye, Alexzandra Sarmiento, Irfan Shamji, Sophie Stone, Ragevan Vasan and Danny Lee Wynter have been cast in Edition 1 of the Royal Court Theatre’s  Living Newspaper: A Counter Narrative.  Continue reading “News: Cast announced for Royal Court’s Living Newspaper”

News: Friday theatre update from the National Theatre, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Roles We’ll Never Play

Friday theatre news from the National Theatre, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Roles We’ll Never Play

In a canny move, the National Theatre is bringing panto to its main stage as Jude Christian and Cariad Lloyd’s hilarious and heartfelt version of Dick Whittington, first staged at Lyric Hammersmith in 2018 and freshly updated for 2020, will open in the socially distanced Olivier theatre on 11th December.  

Directed by Ned Bennett, this wild and inventive production explores what it is like to come from a small town and arrive in a big city today, exploring the ideas of community and togetherness. Initial casting includes Dickie Beau, Amy Booth-Steel, Lawrence Hodgson-Mullings​, Georgina Onuorah, and Cleve September 

They have also announced the next show to open as part of the Olivier in-the-round season in February 2021 is Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, in a co-production with Fictionhouse. Directed by Dominic CookeKramer’s largely autobiographical play about the AIDS crisis in 1980 New York has not been performed professionally in London since its European premiere in 1986. Ben Daniels will perform the role of Ned Weeks, the co-founder of an AIDS advocacy group fighting to change the world around him, with Danny Lee Wynter as Tommy Boatwright, Daniel Monks as Mickey Marcus and Stanley Townsend as Ben Weeks. Vicki Mortimer is Set Designer and Paule Constable is Lighting Designer.  

Tickets for The Normal Heart will go on sale from the end of November.  Continue reading “News: Friday theatre update from the National Theatre, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Roles We’ll Never Play”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nuffield Southampton Theatres

“I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it”

The first of what will be three productions of The Glass Menagerie in a month for me is Samuel Hodges’ directorial debut for Southampton’s Nuffield, where he happens to be Artistic Director and CEO. And taking a detailed look at Tennessee Williams’ original script for his most affecting of memory plays, he’s come up with a strikingly original vision for his production, an overtly theatrical rumination on the nature of storytelling and its challenges, particularly when the narrative is so intimately linked to one’s own experiences, as in the strongly autobiographical elements here.

So Danny Lee Wynter’s Tom, our notable narrator, begins the play at a mixing desk in the middle of the auditorium from where he declares he has “tricks in his pocket” and to where he periodically returns to comment on and further conduct and control the telling of his story. At times he grabs a microphone and climbs to the lip of the stage, reciting his lines as his presence is mimed by the others in the scene, at times he’s fully present in the play. And later, he’s a ghostly figure hugging the wall of the theatre – watching on ashamed, appalled, agonised as his actions wreak unintended havoc on his beloved emotionally fragile sister. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nuffield Southampton Theatres”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic

“He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age”

There was certainly a raised eyebrow or 3 when it was announced that the leads in Mark Rylance’s take on Much Ado About Nothing for the Old Vic would be Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. Neither have previously taken on the roles of the warring Beatrice and Benedick and having worked together recently on Driving Miss Daisy (which others liked even if I didn’t), their’s is a pairing with history. But undoubted quality aside, it is a brave move to cast so daringly and with a production that relocates Shakespeare’s play to England in 1944. 

Does it work? Making the Aragonese soldiers into a company of GIs has a visual impact that works well and turning Sigh No More into a bluesy harmonica-driven ditty is inspired. But putting Shakespeare’s language into the mouths of American soldiers doesn’t always work “my Lord…” and without wanting to open too far the can of worms that is the subject of race, I’m not so sure the lack of comment on a 1940s inter-racial marriage, never mind the issues of honour flung about later, really flies. Messina as the home front is neat though, making the Watch a Dad’s Army-style collection of ragbags and kids (including one called Beryl, maybe?). 

Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic”