Not-really-a-review: Loot, Park

“You’ve been a widower for three days, have you thought about a second marriage?”

I ummed and aahed a bit about what to write about this one – I saw what I think was the final preview of Loot before a few days to retool before opening night on Wednesday and as with any comedy, especially farce, there’s nothing like doing it live to help it bed in. At the same time, I’m not much of a fan of farce (my fault I fear…) and only really booked for two reasons. 1 – it’s on the list. And 2 – Sinéad Matthews, future queen of all our hearts. She really is fantastic and it’s nice to see a shift in gear from her customary electrifying intensity.

So yeah, I thought Michael Fentiman’s production was funny in parts (though nowhere near as funny as most everyone around me) and impressively sharp-edged and dark for a play that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. But the writing, in its targets, does show its age and there’s no attempt to show Loot as anything but a period piece, which may well tickle the fancy of those a generations on from me but ultimately left me feeling cold on occasion. And if the attempts at laughs come thick and fast, well they have to as much of the humour is dated. Sorry, my dear.

Running time: 2 hours 
Booking until 24th September, then moves to the Watermill in Newbury from 28th September to 21st October

Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Hope Theatre

“There is no God
There are no miracles”

Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle marks its 40th anniversary this year and so it’s as good a time as any to revive this dark drama that was so controversial on its release that the BBC banned it from its original Play For Today slot. It eventually played at Sheffield Crucible a year later and though it received a powerfully acted production (Tessa Peake-Jones, Rupert Friend) at the Arcola in 2012, Matthew Parker’s revival for his Hope Theatre feels perfectly poised to capitalise on its relevance to our fractured society.

Though written and set in the late 70s, Potter’s depiction of far-right politics, racism and homophobia, religious intolerance feels horribly recognisable. The way in which one character rationalises his decision to join the National Front has chilling new currency in this post-Brexit world and the supercilious smile that another character occasionally bares to the audience reflects nothing so much as the arrogance of Nigel Farage. Potter’s dramatic form of evil is naturally much more timeless but you can’t help but draw the parallels here.  Continue reading “Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Hope Theatre”

Review: Linda, Royal Court

“What does getting older mean for a woman?”

There was a point in this performance of Linda where Noma Dumezweni’s eponymous character made an actual risotto, and a bowl of pasta and a sauce for her fussy daughter, all whilst performing script in hand and still somehow ruling the stage of the Royal Court. She was on-book because she was a very last minute replacement for Kim Cattrall (who withdrew on medical advice with just two rehearsals left) but even in this short space of time, there’s a magisterial sense of character brimming from this finest of actors (who’s also preparing for her directorial debut early next year in the upstairs theatre!)

And demonstrating just how capable she is fits in perfectly with Skinner’s larger themes – Linda Wilde is a 55 year old determined not to slip quietly into the background as society suggests, and expects, older women should (apart from Helen Mirren that is…). A marketing guru at a top beauty firm, married to the pleasant Neil and mother to two daughters Alice and Bridget, she’s been spinning the various plates of her life successfully for some time now but the centre of gravity in her world has shifted imperceptibly, forcing a reckoning all around. Continue reading “Review: Linda, Royal Court”

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”

New trailer for A Mad World My Masters

Want to see a trailer for The RSC and ETT’s A Mad World My Masters? Why sure you do.

Sean Foley and Phil Porter’s version of the Thomas Middleton play was a big hit for the RSC in Stratford in 2013 so English Touring Theatre saw it as a good fit to revive and tour around the country. The show is in Brighton this week and goes onto Malvern, Truro, Bath, Darlington, Cambridge and then the Barbican in London from 29th April to 9th May.

Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre

“I wonder how I will make the potatoes understand”

Just a quickie to cover the last of Out of Joint’s rehearsed readings to accompany Our Country’s Good at the St James Theatre which was a world premiere of a new play, Jefferson’s Garden. As a work-in-progress, the convention is not to say too much but I have to say that this will be a play to look out for in the future because I found it an incredibly accomplished piece of work, even at this early stage, and it made for a highly enjoyable afternoon. 

Starting in the midst of the American revolution and stretching from a Quaker farm in Maryland to a politicised Philadelphia to the Virginian gardens of Monticello, Jefferson’s Garden looks at the birth of a nation in all its huge political and social upheaval and examines the price paid by people on all levels, from the statesmen pushing through new laws to the slaves praying for emancipation.  Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre”

Review: The Recruiting Officer rehearsed reading, St James Theatre

“Two and twenty horses killed under me that day”

Accompanying their production of Our Country’s Good, Out of Joint have put together a programme of rehearsed readings of various of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s plays and threw in a bonus reading of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer for good measure. It is a natural choice as it is the play which the convicts of Our Country’s Good are performing and in using the same cast here, the actors are able to play the characters they are ‘rehearsing’ in the other piece which has a lovely neatness about it.

Farquhar’s play is deliciously dry and funny, impressively so for a 1706 Restoration comedy, and even with the limited rehearsal time and the cast having scripts in hand, there was a real sense of the rich comic potential of the material. And having seen it fairly recently at the Donmar Warehouse, it was interesting to see the different choices and dynamics that a new company brought. Ian Redford’s older Kite had a weariness of the soul that felt entirely appropriate, John Hollingworth’s take on Brazen was straighter than Mark Gatiss’ out-and-out fop but no less hilarious for it and the doubling that most of the actors did was impressively done and added to the humour quotient. Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer rehearsed reading, St James Theatre”

Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre

“In my own small way, in just a few hours, I have seen something change”

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good was first produced 25 years ago by Max Stafford-Clark and his Out of Joint company and as it has remained an evergreen success, in no small part due to regular appearances as a set text for students, a revival makes good sense. And with Stafford-Clark taking on directorial duties once again, it makes for a fascinating chance to see an impresario revisiting a work with which he is inextricably linked.

Much of the appeal of Wertenbaker’s work lies in its celebration of theatre as a cultural medium but also as something more, something that can heal and restore the soul. And so as a group of convicts newly transported to Australia are convinced to put on a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – by an officer of reformist tendencies, we see the transformative power of drama and a subtle shift in the way that punishment is viewed as the idea of rehabilitation comes into play. Continue reading “Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre”

Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Arcola Theatre

“All I want is the England I used to know”

There was something depressingly predictable about the announcement of the Arcola’s new development plans for the summer which will involve moving the one space I think does work in their new premises – Studio 2 – down one level into the basement. So it was with a sad heart that I took my seat for the final production in its current state, a rare revival of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle which of course played beautifully to the studio’s strengths.

The intimate space becomes the claustrophobic home of the Bates family with parents Tom and Amy struggling to look after their daughter Pattie who was practically paralysed by a hit-and-run accident two years previously and can’t do anything for herself any more. When a devilishly handsome stranger insinuates his way into their household, claiming to have had a close connection with Pattie before she died, he really puts the cat amongst the pigeons and changes their lives irrevocably. Continue reading “Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Arcola Theatre”