Review: The Seagull, Open Air Theatre

“Life in the country is just so bloody boring”

Someone wiser than I pointed out that the only way you could do The Seagull at the Open Air Theatre was to be thoroughly iconoclastic, ruffling those Chekhovian feathers into something brasher, bolder and less contained. And there is no doubting that that is what Torben Betts’ new version and Matthew Dunster’s directorial vision have set out to do here, ramping up the comedic elements (of the first half at least) but sacrificing much of the counterbalancing tragedy that customarily gives the Russian writer’s work its depth. 

There’s some good work here – Janie Dee’s skittish Arkadina is a delight as she vainly tries to cling onto a long-gone girliishness (though impressive barre work!), Lisa Diveney’s Kirsten Stewart-ish Masha is well-realised in all her agonised inaction, and Jon Bausor’s striking design tilts a giant mirror at 45 degrees to the floor to both open up and expose the world of the tortured souls in this country estate. But the prevailing mood is one of something close to glibness, as the frivolity of the updating comes up hard against the traditional period setting.  Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Wildefire, Hampstead Theatre

“To them, we are nothing but a bunch of racist, sexist, overpaid thugs in uniform”

In what turned out to be my second Maria Aberg production in quick succession, I got something of a crash course in just why people talk about this director so excitedly. Here, she takes Roy Williams’ urban police thriller Wildefire and elides its scenes into a single downwards spiral as policewoman Gail Wilde takes on a South London posting but finds herself unprepared for the intense trials and tribulations of life in the Met.

Aberg and Williams do a magnificent job at conjuring a world that is at once innately distrustful of the police yet also guilty of inculcating that distrust. Out of the shadows of James Farncombe’s lighting and the nooks and crannies of Naomi Dawson’s open yet functional design, urban nightmares spill forth whether fighting football fans, council estate domestic abusers or the suffocating menace of disaffected hoodies with nothing to lose. Continue reading “Review: Wildefire, Hampstead Theatre”

DVD Review: Frankenstein

Even goddesses sometime make mis-steps and this modern-day rewriting of Frankenstein by Jed Mercurio probably fits closer to that category than anything else I’ve seen her in. A 2007 ITV special, it adapted Mary Shelley’s story into a contemporary world of stem cells and genetic engineering and cast McCrory as the lead, Doctor Victoria Frankenstein if you will. The new take is superficially surprisingly effective as the main thrust of the story is that Victoria is running an organ-growing experiment – the Universal Xenograft project – and is extremely motivated by the fact her young son is suffering from a terminal disease, his only hope being multiple organ transplant… As his condition worsens, so her desperation increases, resulting in her injecting her son William’s blood into the procedure though it is too late to save him. This has unexpected consequences though and in the murky void between bioethics and unscrupulous moneymen, the experiment is allowed to continue though no-one is sure exactly what has been created.

The emotional power of the story is heightened by the simple gender switch, McCrory excels at evoking the earth-shattering grief of a mother nursing her dying child and struggling to come to terms with the reality of his condition. That she channels her energies into her research is unsurprising and it is not by chance that it takes 9 months for the being – the UX – to enter the world. The relationship that then develops between creature and creator is then a most twisted one because of the genetic material contained within, part of her dead son is in the UX and in her grieving state, the lines become blurred. Contrasted against this relationship is the cold calculating mind of Victoria’s boss, Professor Pretorius – a steely turn from Lindsay Duncan – who is alive to the monetary and business potential that has come from this huge scientific breakthough. Victoria’s estranged husband also reappears on the scene though he is not all he seems as he has his own designs on the UX. Continue reading “DVD Review: Frankenstein”

Review: Mogadishu, Lyric Hammersmith

“Everyone has problems, he just needs a good slap”

Mogadishu is a new play by Vivienne Franzmann which was one of four winners of the Bruntwood Prize, a playwriting competition. It premiered at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, where it received the royal seal of approval from my Mum and Dad and Aunty Jean but it has now transferred to the Lyric Hammersmith.

White liberal teacher Amanda intervenes in a playground fight when she sees known troublemaker Jason bullying a younger pupil at their inner-city London secondary school but finds herself pushed and shoved to the ground in the ensuing fracas. She is anxious not to see him punished though, conscious of the social consequences for uneducated young black men, but when he flips the table and accuses her of physical and racial abuse, the security of Amanda’s world is shattered with her fitness to be a teacher, even a mother, called into question.

Julia Ford plays Amanda with a powerful dignity, well-intentioned to the end no matter what the cost and her scenes with Ian Bartholomew’s acting headteacher Chris, hamstrung by a world of bureaucracy, child protection legislation and the desire to be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’ ring with a depressing honesty. Shannon Tarbet as her daughter, and also a pupil at the same school, stole the show for me with a stunning intensity as she deals with her own issues and rages at the passivity of her mother. Continue reading “Review: Mogadishu, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Love the Sinner, National Theatre

“It’s a bit niche isn’t it Michael…”

Love the Sinner is a world premiere of a play by Drew Pautz, slotting into the Cottesloe at the National Theatre. The play looks at a number of the key moral challenges facing the Christian church, starting off at a conference of international bishops somewhere in Africa trying to reach consensus on how Christianity has to come to deal with homosexuality in the modern world. We then see one of the volunteers at the meeting, Michael, after a brief sexual encounter with one of the African porters and follow him as he returns to his closeted lifestyle back in the UK and battles his own personal demons and the challenges that his faith poses in an evermore secular world.

Whilst Love the Sinner may look at some of these moral challenges, it doesn’t attempt to address any of them to any depth to quite frustrating effect. The opening scene concerns a sequestered group of bishops from different countries trying to come to agreement over the Church’s position on homosexuality and how to deal with same-sex relationships. The issues are bounded about for a bit with the African side defending their homophobic intolerance in the face of the pleas of the more liberal Western clerics, but then once the scene ends, the topic is dropped without resolution. Continue reading “Review: Love the Sinner, National Theatre”