Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre

 “The years roll by and nothing changes”

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five – here’s my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

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Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

“This family can take care of its own”

The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.

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12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:2

“Everything’s just a bit wider apart”

On the second day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…two lovelorn kids

Fifteen Million Merits takes place in a fiercely satirical version of our entertainment culture, where appearing on reality TV is king and everyone else is trapped in a factory-like environment where they must cycle for hours on end to generate all the electricity needed. Forced to watch inane crap on the screens that constantly surround them, their activities are frequently interrupted by adverts, just like on the Channel 4 player!

Daniel Kaluuya’s Bing has inherited 15 million merits from his brother on his passing and decides to use them to enter Jessica Brown Findlay’s Abi into Hot Shots, the X Factor-like show with a scarily vacuous Julia Davis and a sinister Cowell-a-like Rupert Everett. This is the only route out of their slave-like existence but sure enough, nothing is as simple as it seems and as ever, you have to be careful what you wish for. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:2”

Review: Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Fear no more the frown o’ the great”

You wait for a production of relatively little-performed Shakespeare play and then three come along in the same year. Melly Still is doing Cymbeline for the RSC in the summer, Emma Rice is reclaiming and renaming it Imogen for her inaugural season at the Globe and inside at the same venue, it is being performed as part of a run of the Bard’s late plays in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, directed by Sam Yates.

Ah yes, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I’ve not been much of a fan of this theatre, for purely practical reasons rather than artistic ones, but with this programming that has allowed me to tick off Pericles and see Rachael Stirling, Niamh Cusack and John Light onstage, I’ve succumbed to a rash of bookings. With that, I’ve opted to be brutally honest about the experiences as a paying customer. Continue reading “Review: Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola Theatre

“The problem with Hannes is…”

One can always rely on the Arcola to bring interesting writing to light and in the form of the VOLTA International Festival, Artistic Director Andrea Ferran has managed that four times over, bringing together new work by four celebrated international writers, translated into English for the first time – Christopher Chen, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Ewald Palmetshofer and Roland Schimmelpfennig. With four directors, James Perkins designing and an ensemble covering all the shows, it proved to be a fascinating festival and one which deserves more attention than it received.

Caught by San Francisco-based Christopher Chen twists wonderfully around notions of truth and fiction as three separate but interlinked scenes toy with how art plays with and changes under our perceptions. Cressida Brown’s direction cleverly plays up how we all find our own truth in everything, no matter how the subject is approached, preconceived notions shaping us even as they’re deconstructed and always, always making us think about what we’ve just seen. Chen takes no prisoners in the complexity of some of his thinking but it’s fascinating stuff indeed. Continue reading “Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola Theatre”

Review: True West, Tricycle

“I love the smell of toast. It makes me feel like anything is possible. Like a beginning”

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays of the last centuryhas actually proved to be quite useful in ensuring a wider variety in my theatregoing than might otherwise have taken place. With a trusty partner in crime who’s equally determined to tick off the whole list, I’ve seen a few things now that I wouldn’t necessarily have gone to – the notion of a ‘classic’ play isn’t necessarily something that appeals to me in and of itself, I want to be able to make up my own mind thank you very much. But this is a list that knows of what it speaks and this week it sent me to the Tricycle to see Sam Shepard’s 1980 play True West.

And sho’nuff, it’s a stone cold classic. This production premiered at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow last year and whilst it may have taken a while to transfer to London, we should be grateful indeed that it has for Phillip Breen marshals some extraordinary stage work by Eugene O’Hare and Alex Ferns as a pair of dichotomous brothers who represent the split in America itself. The well-put-together Austin is a family man who is an aspiring screenwriter on the cusp of a breakthrough deal in Hollywood, whilst Lee is an altogether more primal spirit, a drifter and a petty thief more at home in the Mojave Desert. When they meet for the first time in five years whilst house-sitting for their ma, sparks inevitably fly. Continue reading “Review: True West, Tricycle”

Review: Red Velvet, Tricycle

“It’s like being at a crosswords”

Indhu Rubasingham keeps it in the family with her opening salvo as Artistic Director at the Tricycle as Lolita Chakrabarti’s first play Red Velvet features her husband Adrian Lester in the main role. But her tale of the experiences of Ira Aldridge, a nineteenth-century African-American actor who caused shockwaves with his performances, offers an intriguing preview of sorts as Lester will be taking on the role of Othello for the National Theatre next year.

For Aldridge was a Shakespearean actor of some renown who toured Europe with many productions and the opening of the play sees him preparing to take on the role of King Lear in a Polish theatre. He’s being interviewed by a journalist about the key moment in his career though, a disastrous attempt to take on the role of Othello which was received with horrific racism (a man blacking up to take on the role was infinitely more preferable) and distaste from nearly all around. Continue reading “Review: Red Velvet, Tricycle”

Review: Our Private Life, Royal Court

“Are you thinking or speaking? Is he thinking or speaking? Am I thinking or speaking?”

Our Private Life, a family parable in three acts and an epilogue by Colombian playwright Pedro Miguel Rozo, is the first play in the Royal Court’s International Playwrights Season – 2 full productions, one each from Latin America and Eastern Europe accompanied by seminars and readings of other works from around the region. Developed in part at their International Residency, Our Private Life or Nuestras Vidas Privadas has been produced in Colombia but appears here in a translation by Simon Scardifield.

Set in an unspecified but rapidly urbanising location in Colombia – a town with the soul of a village or a village with the body of a town – it looks at a family whose veneer of respectability and good standing is severely compromised when a damaging rumour starts to circulate about the father and the young son of one of their former tenants. The shockwaves reverberate internally too though as long-buried secrets edge closer to the surface as the two sons, bipolar-compulsive-fantasist gay Carlos and hyper-masculine, budding businessman Sergio, try to figure out the truth about their childhood amidst all the flying accusations. Continue reading “Review: Our Private Life, Royal Court”