Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic

“I have a motion much imports your good”

They say things come in threes and as with Oresteias, so too with Measure for Measures. After Cheek by Jowl’s brutally contemporary Russian interpretation and Dominic Dromgoole’s comic version for the Globe, it is now Joe Hill-Gibbins’ turn to put his inimitable stamp on the play for the Young Vic. And from the industrial techno rave that opens the show to the awkward freeze-frame of the Duke’s happy ending – all done in a smidge under two hours – this is very much a modern take on Shakespeare that is bound to ruffle certain feathers whilst stimulating others.

With the licentiousness of Viennese society being represented by scores of inflatable sex toy dolls, the image of which recur throughout this whole production, and the Duke using live video relays to speak to the city, the modern-day feel is overt but non-specific, the point being we could be in any major city where a conservative regime is free to impose its puritanical fervour. And in this mise-en-scène, curated by dramaturg Zoë Svendsen and artfully framed in Miriam Buether’s box-frame set with hidden rear compartment, the story unfolds. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic”

TV Review: Humans Series 1

“You’re just a stupid machine aren’t you”

I wasn’t going to write Humans up but I’ve spoken so enthusiastically about it with several people since I watched the whole thing in three days and so thought I’d better recommend it even further. If there’s any justice in the world, Gemma Chan will win all sorts of awards for her performance as Anita (later Mia), the Synth or human-like android that has become the must-have accessory for domestic service in this parallel present-day universe. 

Anita is bought by the Hawkins family who soon start to twig that something isn’t right in the way she is behaving and as Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s drama continues over its 8 episodes, we come to see that the lines between human and machine have been considerably blurred by technological advancement and its potential to be exploited identified as a key priority for the nefarious powers-that-be.

Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 1”

Re-review: The Nether, Duke of York’s Theatre

“I’ve read the studies. No one has been able to draw a conclusive correlation between virtual behaviour and behaviour in-world.”

Just a quickie for this revisit to US playwright Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, first seen at the Royal Court last summer, which has now transferred to the Duke of York’s and as my colleague for the afternoon said afterwards, isn’t it great to see plays like this with productions like this in the West End. Weighty subjects like the abdication of responsibility in the digital age and the morality of sexual conduct online when it is ostensibly make-believe or “outside consequence” as one character puts it, and a production that reflects its Sloane Square origins in reuniting almost the entire cast without succumbing to big-name casting.

My original review can be read here and it still stands. Es Devlin’s design and Luke Halls’ video work look even better in the larger theatre, hugely slick both in the cool technological sweep of its 2050 setting but also in the elegant evocation of its online world, The Hideaway, where the mind is left to run riot as to what people might get up to in there. Amanda Hale and Stanley Townsend maintain their coolly combative partnership as law enforcer and online maestro respectively and there’s alternately skin-crawling and heart-breaking work from opposite ends of the age spectrum from David Calder and Zoe Brough/Isabella Pappas/Jaime Adler/Perdita Hibbins* (delete as appropriate).

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 25th April

Review: The Nether, Royal Court

“Just because it is virtual doesn’t mean it isn’t real”

There are times when an age guidance notice can seem like mollycoddling, but there are others when they are truly justified. The UK premiere of Jennifer Haley’s play The Nether by Headlong and the Royal Court is most certainly one of the latter cases, recommended for over 18s only as one of the more disturbing plays we are likely to see this year. The play is one of the more devastatingly effective looks at how the internet has shaped the way we live our lives and how society is struggling to keep up with, and govern, this fast-changing world. Writing now, a few days after seeing it, it still haunts my mind – a combination of Jeremy Herrin’s stunningly mounted production and a searingly brutal play.

Haley’s ‘Nether’ is her futuristic version of the internet where virtual reality has been fully integrated, so people are able to create their own realms like webpages. The playwright pushes that to the extreme in ‘The Hideaway’, a world created by Stanley Townsend’s Sims for him and other like-minded souls to act out their paedophiliac tendencies without actually committing any crime as it currently stands. Young detective Morris, Amanda Hale, has hauled Sims in for questioning though as she wants the details of the whole thing so she can shut it down, arguing that even online realms need to be policed, that all our interactions lead to our deeper understanding of the rules of the world. Continue reading “Review: The Nether, Royal Court”

Review: Julius Caesar, Noël Coward Theatre

“Men may construe things after their fashion clean from the purpose of the things themselves”

I hadn’t originally intended to take in Gregory Doran’s all-black version of Julius Caesar for the RSC, not for any particular reason than just that it didn’t really appeal. It seemed that my instincts had paid off when it was announced that, with a rather odd sense of timing, the production would be filmed in Stratford-upon-Avon and shown on television before it made its transfer to London’s Noël Coward Theatre and then on to a UK tour. But upon watching this televised version which mixed location shooting with action filmed on-stage, I was utterly seduced by Doran’s reinterpretation which sees the play relocated into some unspecified modern African dictatorship.

Most of what I said about the production in my review of the film still holds true so I won’t repeat myself too much. Having been spoiled by the intimacy that television cameras provided, it was a little difficult to readjust expectations in light of being seated in the rear stalls. Missing so much of the detailing, and indeed the clarity of much of the text in a couple of heavily-accented places, meant that I never felt quite as connected to the action as I had previously been, an interesting thing to discover given that the live experience is the one that is always trumpeted. Michael Vale’s crumbling set design did look impressive though, with its looming statue an ever-present reminder of the seeming inevitability of oppressive leadership.

Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Noël Coward Theatre”

TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4

“Men, at some times, are masters of their fate”

In the near-overwhelming deluge of Shakespeare love on the BBC which is about to reach its crescendo with the debut of the Hollow Crown season, the decision to film and broadcast the RSC’s current production of Julius Caesar seems a rather perverse one. The show, an all-black adaptation relocated to an unspecified modern African state by director Gregory Doran, has yet to complete its Stratford-upon-Avon run and will embark on a major UK tour including a residency in the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to present it on our televisions – I only hope this does not impact on ticket sales (though given it played on BBC4, one does wonder what viewing figures were actually like…).

Of course, watching a play on screen is not the same as watching it live and though this starts with the opening scene recorded at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the first transition cleverly moves us into location filming and so the production gains a filmic quality which makes use of varied locations, including a return to the RST, direct addresses to camera, ‘found’ cellphone footage and voiceovers to really translate the theatrical interpretation into something new for the screen, as opposed to simply replicating it. The relocation is a simple, yet powerfully effective one, the overthrowing of a military dictator by less than honourable types is something which will seemingly always have currency in the modern world, but more importantly the concept is worn lightly with little shoe-horning necessary to make it work. Instead it flows beautifully and naturally to great effect. Continue reading “TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4”