Review: Cleansed, National Theatre

“Felt it.
Here. Inside.
Here.”

I think I have to admit to liking the idea of Katie Mitchell more than the reality. In the build-up to each appearance her productions makes on these shores, long-form pieces emerge, delving into her practise, and some of the mystery behind why she has become so totemic a figure in European theatre yet still regarded with some suspicion by parts of the British establishment (qv this piece in the Guardian). And I think yeah, she is different but maybe this time I’ll get it, maybe this time instead of just being challenged as an audience member, I’ll feel connected to her work too.

Safe to say though that Sarah Kane’s Cleansed was not the production for this breakthrough to occur. A notable event in marking Kane’s debut at the National Theatre and also a long-awaited return for Mitchell to the main programme on the South Bank after years of being frozen out by Hytner’s reluctance to let her loose on anything but children’s shows, it is naturally a hugely challenging event. Warnings abound of graphic scenes of physical and sexual violence, fainters have been reported at several performances (I reckon at least a couple of those must have been faking it just to get early release though), once again we ain’t in Kansas. Continue reading “Review: Cleansed, National Theatre”

Review: The Moderate Soprano, Hampstead Theatre

“The people of Tunbridge Wells seemed strangely indifferent to Parsifal”

Urgh. The presence of national treasures Nancy Carroll and Roger Allam meant that there was never any doubt about booking a ticket for The Moderate Soprano at the Hampstead Theatre. But sequestered in the salubrious surroundings of Swiss Cottage, David Hare’s tale of the life of John Christie – the founder of the Glyndebourne opera festival – has the feel of ultimate #firstworldproblems with zero theatrical imperative behind it, unless of course you’re the ones dropping £200 plus for tickets there.

The very fact that Glyndebourne were involved in the commissioning of the play tells you what level we’re operating on, a self-congratulatory tome of rose-tinted biography and operatic in-jokes but even that makes it sound more interesting than it actually is. Jeremy Herrin’s production is extraordinarily, fatally, lacking in anything resembling drama for a large proportion of its running time, its staid storytelling quickening no pulses, its static staging troubling no snoozers. Continue reading “Review: The Moderate Soprano, Hampstead Theatre”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Review: What The Women Did, Southwark Playhouse

“Any of our group would walk out with a German, a Hindu or a Belgian.
‘Oh no, not a Belgian'” 

The centenary of the First World War will doubtless be marked in many a way in the nation’s theatre so the Southwark Playhouse have wisely got in early with this triple bill of lesser known plays which focuses on those left behind. What The Women Did features three works which delve into the experiences of not just the mothers, wives and girlfriends, but all the women who got on with the job of making society continue in such horrific circumstances, showing the difficulties faced in day-to-day living.

Gwen John’s Luck of War explores the unfortunate awkwardness, that must have been more common than is ever acknowledged, experienced by Ann Hemingway as her presumed dead husband turns up on the doorstep on crutches. It’s awkward because assuming herself a widow, she has remarried and thus is now a bigamist. Victoria Gee’s brummie bolshiness is of course thrown by the situation, but the short play wraps up a little too tweely to really have an impact.  Continue reading “Review: What The Women Did, Southwark Playhouse”

Short Film Review #11

The latest set of short films that have crossed my path.

I haven’t covered any animated films before, but the voice cast for Cooked was just too irresistible, featuring as it does Katherine Parkinson, Stephen Mangan and David Morrissey. And I’m glad I did as this tale of an everyday love triangle between a walrus, a lobster and a seal by German animators Jens & Anna is just adorable. My limited experience in the field makes the comparison with Aardman’s work a little lazy but it really does have some of the same fresh and quirky sense of humour about it and visually it looks really impressive, using a variety of techniques to create something that feels nicely different. At barely six minutes long, you should definitely give this a watch. Continue reading “Short Film Review #11”

Review: The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead Theatre

“Maybe the only thing we’re obliged to do…is think the unthinkable”

One always knows that when Katie Mitchell’s name appears in connection with a play, then it is bound to be something just a little bit different as she has proved herself to be one of our most original, and consequently divisive, directors. Her latest foray into the theatre is with Simon Stephens’ satirical new play The Trial of Ubu which is just starting at the Hampstead Theatre. Mitchell has recently collaborated with both: Stephens’ play Wastwater left me more than a little bemused at the Royal Court but her installation piece small hours which played as part of the Hampstead Downstairs season last year was quietly, disturbingly excellent.

The Trial of Ubu is quite something else though. Dark, disconcerting and challenging, it really is unlike anything else in London at the moment. I saw it without knowing anything about it, or indeed about the play itself to be honest, aside from having a vague recollection of having heard a mention of Père Ubu once upon a time. And it is obviously up to you how forewarned you want to be about the show, just be aware that what will follow will necessarily contain a few spoilers. Continue reading “Review: The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead Theatre”