Review: Not Talking, Arcola Theatre

This ‘new’ Mike Bartlett’ play is well-acted at the Arcola Theatre but Not Talking can’t quite hide its origins in radio

“If I don’t want to tell anyone, it’s up to me, right?”

A treat here in the premiere of Mike Bartlett’s first-ever play, never seen before in a theatre. But something of a qualified treat, because 2005’s Not Talking was written as a radio play and as sumptuously cast as James Hiller’s production for the Arcola and Defibrillator is (with Kika Markham and David Horovitch), it’s a drama that never really escapes these origins.

The play is constructed as two pairs of two intertwining but distinct monologues – separated by time on the one side, kept apart by emotional distance on the other. Reflecting back on their lives, James and Lucy have the benefit, such as it is, of experience; at the beginning of their potential story, Mark and Amanda find their lives no less blighted by momentous events. Continue reading “Review: Not Talking, Arcola Theatre”

Review: The Tempest, Southwark Playhouse

“Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments”

The RSC may have Simon Russell Beale and cutting-edge digital technology but the Southwark Playhouse has real heart when it comes to The Tempest. I missed the press night, which had the happy consequence of meaning that I actually got to watch this Shakespeare for Schools production with its intended audience, hordes of schoolchildren of mixed ages who, by the show’s end, were thoroughly rapt (though perhaps not quite as tear-stained as I).

Streamlined into 90 interval-less minutes and infused with a real sense of theatrical ingenuity, Amy Draper’s production does a fantastic job of reinterpreting the Bard without dumbing him down. Anchored by a deeply compassionate Prospero from Sarah Malin, this Tempest is rooted in fallibility and forgiveness, the clear-sighted storytelling never letting us forget that it is only in the recognition of the former that we can expect the latter. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: As You Like It, National Theatre

“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad”

For regular theatregoers, it can sometimes feel a bit hard to get excited about the umpteenth production of a play, so much so that I almost didn’t see the winning combination of the much-loved Blanche McIntyre and Michelle Terry until the very end of their run at the Globe this summer. So the news that Polly Findlay was also tackling As You Like It for the National was tempered a little (though it is the first time in 30 years it has played there) but as Rosalind was announced (Rosalie Craig poached from the cast of wonder.land to replace an indisposed Andrea Riseborough), the excitement began to build and the inevitable ticket was purchased and boy am I glad that I did. 

For the transformation of the set into the Forest of Arden is a moment of genuinely breath-taking theatre, Lizzie Clachan pulling the rug from under us and her design to create a most singular vision. And it is one in which enchantment slowly grows with sylvan sound effects created by company members onstage and a choir singing Orlando Gough’s contemporary and complex score (akin if alike to the one he composed for Bakkhai). There’s a lovely conceit in which Alan Williams’ Corins, nominally a shepherd but here more like a forest deity, summons the music every time love is needed to cast its spell, enhancing the magical feel. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, National Theatre”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe

“How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping”

Sometimes I have aspirations of being a serious writer and sometimes, I just want to look at something pretty. And so once it had been established that Simon Bubb was lighting up the stage of the Globe in the touring production of Much Ado About Nothing, #SexyBenedick was born and I quickly got myself into a nearly-sold-out matinée performance to inspect the evidence personally. And it was true, he makes for a most handsome leading man indeed and as it turned out, the play wasn’t half bad either.

I can’t even take credit for the best bit of insight about it. @3rdspearcarrier identified its key success as egalitarianism, this being the first version of the play for a long time that hasn’t been a star vehicle for Beatrice and Benedick and with a cast of eight doubling up and more, the energy of Max Webster’s production emphasises how much of an ensemble show it really is. With the rough and tumble aesthetic of James Cotterill’s easily portable design, there’s something deliciously playful about the whole affair which made it an absolute delight to watch in the early May sunshine. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Gaslight, Salisbury Playhouse

“Every night, I find myself waiting for something” 

Fans of overwrought cod-Victorian melodrama are definitely in for a treat at the Salisbury Playhouse, though I have to say Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gaslight sadly fired up no sparks for me. Perhaps our taste in thrillers has become too sophisticated for such less complicated pleasures as these but the writing is clunky beyond belief, depressingly predictable from the off, and not helped by a production that tries to find a solution in prolonging the agony.

Hamilton sets his story in the household of the Manninghams, where he is a moustache-twirling, cackling fiend and she is a near-hysterical waif of a thing firmly under his thumb, leaving us in no doubt as to what’s afoot when the question is raised of whether she is losing her sanity or some more nefarious plan is in action. On and on it goes as their staff are drawn into the narrative along with an inquisitive detective but there’s so little to their parts, barely a hint of the characterisation that would lift the majority of the play from just being functional.  Continue reading “Review: Gaslight, Salisbury Playhouse”

Review: The Father / The Broken Word, Radio 3/4

“Love between sexes is war”

Laurie Slade’s adaptation of Strindberg’s The Father was commissioned for Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre last year, but now makes its radio debut as part of Radio 3 season of classics focusing on the changes for women in the late nineteenth century. It is a blistering look at the power struggle in a marriage as two middle-class parents differ hugely on the upbringing of their daughter and clash monumentously in an all-out war to get their own way.

The decks are hardly equally stacked in this version of the battle of the sexes, Strindberg’s own response to Ibsen’s novel take on gender relations in A Doll’s House, as Laura unleashes the limited tools at her disposal to blacken the name of the Captain and cast seeds of doubt about the paternity of Bertha, literally stopping at nothing as the thin line between love and hate drives her to ever more extreme action. Continue reading “Review: The Father / The Broken Word, Radio 3/4”

TV Review: Luther, Series 3

 “You assert this fabulous moral conscience John, this adherence to unwritten law”

Despite finding Ruth Wilson’s performance as Alice Morgan one of the greatest things on TV, it was with a slightly heavy heart that I heard she would be returning to Luther for its third series. The way in which she was crowbarred into the second was no great success and I feared that familiarity might breed yet more contempt, but my faith in writer/creator Neil Cross was strong enough to see me through, along with the news that favourite-in-these-parts Elliot Cowan would be part of the guest cast. 

The 4 part series essentially took the form of two 2-parters – the first making literal the horror trope of there being something under the bed and the second exploring vigilante justice, along with a series-long story which saw Internal Affairs turn the heat on Luther himself, trying to get to the bottom of just why so many of the people around him ended up dead. This latter strand didn’t really work for me, rehashing Dermot Crowley’s Schenk’s original role in the show, and adding a note of false jeopardy that never felt like it was going to go anywhere substantive.
Continue reading “TV Review: Luther, Series 3”

Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre

“We are tiny, tiny fragments of miniscule cogs in a grand and fabulously random collision”

If it ain’t broke… Adaptor Andrew Upton, director Howard Davies and designer Bunny Christie have had considerable success with previous Russian epics Philistines and The White Guard and so they’ve reunited once again, this time to breathe new life in Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, which has just started its run in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre. Set in a small town in a Russia on the cusp of revolution (1905 rather than 1917), experimental chemist Protasov and his coterie of middle class hangers-on are waltzing through life oblivious to the turmoil outside the gates of their estate, but their tragedy is as much personal as they turn out to be as blind to the needs and desires of each other as well. 

Gorky’s writing is remarkably perceptive throughout the play. Written in 1905 as a direct response to the huge societal changes around him, he skilfully diagnoses the malaise of the self-absorbed bourgeoisie and lays bare the blinkeredness of their cosseted ignorance and the hopelessness of their grandiose idealism. But he does it with a real deftness of touch, creating richly detailed characters who are rarely so insufferable that one’s heart doesn’t ache at the inevitability of the violent collapse of their entire world. Geoffrey Streatfeild’s erudite academic Protasov fully exemplifies this – a man full of an acute sense of the growing importance of science in the world yet an abject failure at maintaining the relationships in his life. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre”