TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1

Episode 1 of Unprecedented features strong writing from James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly 

“It’s clear that everything’s going to be different…
and then again, I’m scared that things won’t be different”

It is with an admirable speed with which Headlong and Century Films have pulled together Unprecedented, a theatrical response to the impact of lockdown on society. Conceived, written, filmed and produced in lockdown, and now airing on BBC4, some of our most exciting playwright and a cast of over 50 really have pulled together impressively and this first instalment of three short plays is certainly promising.

Necessity is the mother of invention, or something, and so all three use digital conferencing technology in one way or another and if anything, there’s no bigger marker in the way that our relationships to each other have been altered than this. How many of us even knew what Zoom was in January? And between them, writers James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly deftly sketch some of these changes.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1”

News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation

Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”

Review: The Process, Bunker Theatre

BAZ Productions’ The Process proves bold and striking in its use of BSL and spoken English, if a little flawed too, now running at the Bunker Theatre

“Would you like me to speak for myself?”

You can’t say they didn’t warn you. Captions like “no-one will understand everything” and “no two people can have the same experience” flash up on the wall before The Process starts – “that is how it is meant to be” we’re gently but insistently told.  For this is a story told in both BSL and spoken English, with overlaps and gaps deliberately built in, probing at our need to understand everything, exemplifying that for some, that is an unimaginable luxury.

Sarah Bedi’s play posits a near-dystopia (ie sometime soon after 31st January…!) where notions of personal economic cost have become a major driver in a political system where the power of the state is becoming monolithic. Jo Kay, a Deaf entrepreneur, has developed the app which is being used to measure people’s contributions and costs to society but though she is ostensibly being celebrated as part of the establishment, she soon sees her tool weaponised against her. Continue reading “Review: The Process, Bunker Theatre”

Review: Anatomy of a Suicide, Royal Court

“I’ll stay
I will try to stay
For as long as I possibly can

I promise”

Beautiful yet undeniably brutal, Anatomy of a Suicide has all the shimmering disquiet of a half-remembered dream, a blurred imagining of people, places and things that coalesce into something deeply profound. Constructed by playwright Alice Birch and director Katie Mitchell, it revels in a hugely exciting formal inventiveness (even the playtext is stunning to look at) but is also filled with a repressed emotionality that is often bruising to watch.

The play contains three narrative strands, set in different times, which are performed simultaneously on the same stage. Across the decades from the 1970s to the 2030s, the lives of Carol, Anna and Bonnie play out with strange echoes and motifs recurring until we realise how interconnected they are. Anna is Carol’s daughter, Bonnie is Anna’s and it is more than blood that they share, Birch suggests a shared legacy of severe depression. Continue reading “Review: Anatomy of a Suicide, Royal Court”

Casting news for Persuasion and Anatomy of a Suicide

 
I’ve already written of my excitement for the forthcoming Persuasion  and the announcement of the cast hasn’t lessened the thrill at all. Lara Rossi takes on the role of Austen’s heroine Anne alongside Samuel Edward-Cook as Captain Wentworth. The cast is completed by Geraldine Alexander, Antony Bunsee, Helen Cripps, Cassie Layton, Caroline Moroney, Dorian Simpson and Arthur Wilson. 

Directing them is Jeff James, “one of the UK’s most original young theatre makers”, who has adapted and is directing this bold retelling of Jane Austen’s final masterpiece at the Royal Exchange Theatre. Designed by Alex Lowde this contemporary production of Austen’s beautifully crafted novel discards the bonnets and trappings of formal life for a startlingly modern vision of Austen. Developed in collaboration with dramaturg James Yeatman and with sound design from the award-winning Ben and Max Ringham, Persuasion runs from 25 May to 24 June 2017.

Continue reading “Casting news for Persuasion and Anatomy of a Suicide”

Review: The Oresteia, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Why must we go over and over the woes of the past?”

There’s something a little unfortunate about labelling your version of Aeschylus’ The Oresteia as “a radical reinvention” when Robert Icke’s extraordinary reinterpretation of the same source material for the Almeida has now successfully transferred to the West End. Nevertheless, Rory Mullarkey’s adaptation for Shakespeare’s Globe also emerges as something rather arresting, not least in director Adele Thomas’ canny use of creatives pushing well outside the visual (and aural) aesthetic normally associated with this venue.

Hannah Clark’s design pulls on a wide range of influences to provide a wealth of striking images – niche cinema like Angelopolous’ The Travelling Players (the almost shifty looking Chorus) and Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain (Clytemnestra’s magnificent posturing) mix with contemporary security uniforms (the opening messenger) and traditional Greek costumery as we know it (Agamemnon’s battle-dress). Along with Mira Calix’s diverse (including electronics) score, it’s an eclectic mix to be sure but one that pays off to create an out-of-time strangeness which really suits the production.

Mullarkey’s textual adaptation is also an unwieldly collation of disparate elements, poetic rhythm slips into modern-day colloquialisms, epic speeches slides into operatic sung passages. The shifts may be a little jarring at times but again the cumulative effect is rather impressive. The three acts follow the woes of the House of Atreus – Agamemnon sees the war veteran suffer at the vengeful hands of his wife Clytemnestra for sacrificing their daughter, The Libation Bearers sees her suffer at the hands of her son for killing his dad and The Eumenides pops him on trial and established trial by jury, as you do.

Continue reading “Review: The Oresteia, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Which is the wiser here, Justice or Iniquity?”

You don’t get many Measure for Measures for the pound, in the grand scheme, so Outgoing Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole probably thought he was onto a winner in choosing it to be part of his final summer season and indeed the last play he’ll direct as AD. But these things come in threes and we’ve been blessed with two other major productions – Cheek by Jowl’s Russian-language version shook the rafters of the Barbican earlier this year and Joe Hill-Gibbons promises to do the same at the Young Vic with Romola Garai in the Autumn.

But no matter, we can be assured of diverse interpretations – for the first two at least – and Dromgoole’s version for the Globe does precisely what he does best, unfussily traditional productions blessed with a striking clarity (best evidenced by his superlative 2013 A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Here, we get to see Mariah Gale, one of our finest young Shakespeareans, deliver a stunning account of one of Shakespeare’s more complex female characters in Isabella and we also bear witness to Dominic Rowan ascending to the leading man status (with which he has arguably merely flirted before) as Vincentio. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Are you out of your princely wits?”

Review the seat or review the play? Whilst I’d love to just focus on The Duchess of Malfi, the experience at the newly constructed Sam Wanamaker feels so inextricably entwined with the level of (dis)comfort that comes from the seating and exacerbated by ticket prices that are best described as hefty and take little real account of the relatively restricted view many of them offer. It’s all very well for critics to dismiss such concerns when they’re not having to compromise on sightlines due to cost but it all adds up to a very real part of one’s theatrical experience. 

So safe to say, I was hugely uncomfortable for large parts of the afternoon and bitter about the price I was paying for the privilege. But having been exhorted to go and see the play due to it being a decent piece of drama (and crucially far superior to Jamie Lloyd’s recent version which I loathed) I kept reminding myself that the tip was a good one. And it is impossible to deny that Dominic Dromgoole’s production is a strong one, well suited to the unique charms of this new theatrical space which is lit entirely by candles.  Continue reading “Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would lose my life rather than my honesty”

Anne Boleyn marks the first new play in this year’s programme at Shakespeare’s Globe. Written by Howard Brenton, it features Miranda Raison in the title role, continuing a character that she also plays in Shakespeare’s own Henry VIII, also playing in rep. This is a review of the first preview, so please bear that in mind whilst reading my thoughts below.
 
The play covers the life of Anne Boleyn from her time in court as one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting, through her developing relationship with Henry VIII and the ideals of Protestant reform, ideas that ultimately caused her downfall but also sowed the seeds for the huge upheaval that culminated in the Civil War. What Brenton has done though, is to couple this story with the story of James I trying to establish control over a sceptical kingdom and varied religious groupings, centring around his commission of a new translation of the Bible. James is haunted, literally, by Anne’s ghost and her legacy and the two combine to great effect. Continue reading “Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe”