News: Jermyn Street Theatre reveals all-star cast for Restoration comedy reading

An all-star cast has assembled for an online reading of William Wycherley’s 1671 comedy Love in a Wood, presented by Jermyn Street Theatre, conceived and directed by Hermione Gulliford, and performed in aid of Equity Charitable Trust.

Word spreads fast in Restoration England. When romantic idealist Valentine makes a secret return from exile in France, he hears whispers that his lover Christina has been untrue. The thing is, Valentine is only jealous because his friend Vincent said that the hapless rogue Ranger had taken a liking to Christina. So, while Vincent and Ranger run amok, Valentine takes it upon himself to discover the truth. But can he see the wood from the trees…? Continue reading “News: Jermyn Street Theatre reveals all-star cast for Restoration comedy reading”

Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“You shouldn’t harm nobody”

It is always good to hear that major UK theatres are co-producing shows, especially with the trans-Pennine co-operation between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Exchange on this production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I couldn’t help but wonder though how the show will make the leap from Leeds to Manchester, from the vast expanse of the Quarry to the intimacy of being in-the-round. Director James Brining has form though, this adaptation was first mounted at the Dundee Rep (and will undergo an additional transformation next year to fill the Wales Millennium Centre) and as a debut for this newly installed Artistic Director, it does feel like a canny choice.

He relocates Sondheim’s musical to the early Thatcher years, arguing her particular brand of socially transformative politics gave rise to as desperate a despondency as is familiar to us from Dickens. But what moving it out of its original Victorian context to something altogether more modern really achieves is to create an altered, and more chilling, sense of horror. It becomes a scarier psychodrama which is light on laughs and somehow more realistic as a serial killer thriller, although one does have to suspend a little disbelief when it comes to some of the finer points of transportation. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: In The Blood, Finborough Theatre

“Five kids and not one of them gotta daddy”

In The Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks was originally scheduled to be the Sunday/Monday play at the Finborough but when Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy was postponed due to the indisposition of one of its actors, In The Blood was promoted to a full run. Parks is a prolific American playwright, the first black woman to win a Pulitzer, but this marks the European premiere of this play, one of two she has written, inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

The story centres on Hester La Negrita, an illiterate mother of five children from different fathers, who lives under a bridge in a rough New York neighbourhood. Her oldest son is teaching her to read and write but she’s struggling even with the letter A and she constantly dreams of getting the ‘leg-up’ she needs to escape her situation. However, we meet a parade of adults in her life who hold her back, her best friend, a social worker, a doctor, a minister and her first lover who all could help her in their own way but who end up just using and exploiting Hester, mainly though her sexuality, leading to tragic conclusions.

Structurally, I found it interesting as there is a mix of the gritty realism of life on the street leavened by the comic possibilities with 5 small children, counterpointed by a series of revelations or confessions from the adult characters proving just how hypocritical the attitudes of the community at large really are. These work especially well in the intimate space of the Finborough, with the unflinching brutal honesty of Parks’ writing impossible to escape.

Natasha Bain does well as Hester, a difficult character to like as she is so naive and trusting in the face of repeated disillusionments but Bain imbues her with a quiet dignity and an undoubted sense that no matter how trying they can sometimes be, she really does love her children. From what I remember of Hawthorne’s book though, I struggled to see too many parallels to Hester Prynne, not something that bothered me greatly but people who book on the strength of the Scarlet Letter connection might be disappointed.

Hester aside, the rest of the cast double up as one of her kids and one of her tormentors to largely very great effect. Vinta Morgan deserves kudos for climbing into an adult sized babygrow, Frances Ashman was particularly impressive as tomboyish Bully and the manipulative Welfare but the whole ensemble should be praised for their versatility and the smoothness of their transitions between the characters.

Joe Schermoly’s design is bleakly simplistic but carefully enhanced by Ben Blaber’s lighting, which is most effective during the ‘confessions’. Altogether, it is a very well-performed, thought-provoking piece of work forcing us to look at how we treat the homeless within society: just don’t go expecting to see a version of The Scarlet Letter.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval, possibly subject to change as this was the final preview)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 4th September
Note: some smoking in second act. The Finborough pub downstairs is closed for renovations so take your own drinks as it does get hot in there.

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews