Book review: Time To Act – Simon Annand

Simon Annand’s Time To Act is a beautiful book of photos capturing actors in the minutes before they go on stage

Tackling the constraints of the pandemic in its own way, Simon Annand’s fantastic new book of photos Time To Act has launched a virtual exhibition of some of the photographs which has now been extended to until Christmas. It’s an ingenious way of sharing some of the hundreds of images from the book and should surely whet the appetite for either just buying it now or putting on your list for Santa to collect soon.

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#ThankyouNick – my top 10 (and then some) National Theatre productions of the Hytner era

“Pass it on, boys. That’s the game I want you to learn. Pass it on”

Ever one to jump on a bandwagon, here’s my contribution to the #ThankyouNick love-in, as Nick Hytner bids farewell to the National Theatre. Narrowing down my favourite productions at the South Bank venue was hugely difficult given the number of shows I’ve seen there since moving to London just over 10 years ago and also in considering other memorable moments – like the joy of getting to see the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Juliette Binoche onstage for the first time, the jaw-dropping design feats like Bunny Christie’s tenement block for Men Should Weep and Mark Tildesley’s clanging bell in Frankenstein, the revelatory Shakespearean moments like Clare Higgins’ awesome Gertrude and the extraordinary emotion of the final scene of Dominic Cooke’s The Comedy of Errors

Anyhoo, here’s my top 10 (plus five honourable mentions) in roughly chronological order.

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Review: Antigone, Barbican

“I heard a voice, like the sound of sorrow

After the huge success of A View From The Bridge (now successfully transferred into the West End), there’s no doubting that Belgian director Ivo van Hove has been sucked into the mainstream consciousness of British theatregoers, hence this sold out run of Antigone at the Barbican. The presence of Oscar winner Juliette Binoche probably helped in that regard but there’s clearly no dimming in the sense of ambition here as this pan-European work, produced by…(deep breath)…the Barbican and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, in association with Toneelgroep Amsterdam, and co-produced by Théâtre de la Ville-Paris, Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen and Edinburgh International Festival, launches an eight month tour across Europe and the USA.

So it’s now the turn of Greek tragedy to get the van Hove treatment, Sophokles’ play has received a new translation here by Canadian poet and classicist Anne Carson which instantly elevates the work into a realm of heightened theatricality as the coils of its language wind elegantly around the ongoing troubles of this royal family. In the aftermath of a civil war in which the sons of Oidipous, Eteokles and Polyneikes, have killed each other fighting over the right to rule Thebes, it is Kreon – the brother of his wife (and mother) Jocasta – who takes the throne. Grieving for the loss of his own son, Kreon institutes a newly authoritarian rule, one which declares Polyneikes a traitor and thus unable to receive burial rites and this incenses Oidipous’ daughter Antigone and the pursuit of honouring her brother puts them in direct conflict. Continue reading “Review: Antigone, Barbican”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

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Review: Mademoiselle Julie, Barbican

“A qui la faute”

Lyn Gardner recently wrote an interesting piece in the Guardian theatre blog about her desire to see more British directors taking a radical approach to classic plays. She used as her prime example for them to take inspiration from as Benedict Andrews’ modern take on Three Sisters at the Young Vic which has been by and large rapturously received, whilst I found it a highly problematic interpretation. And ever the contrarian, I was surprised to find that the critical reception for Mademoiselle Julie – whose run at the Barbican has just finished – was decidedly lukewarm, given that I thought it was excellent. Between directorial innovations, re-readings of the texts and the behaviours of our own critics, it strikes me that there’s something odd about such a dichotomy.

I ought to begin by confessing my complete love for Juliette Binoche. Way back last year when this was first announced (along with Cate Blanchett, that was a good day!), I didn’t hesitate to fork out considerably more money that I am used to in order to get some great stalls seats and it was well worth it, for me at least, and not just because of the thrill of seeing Binoche acting in her mother tongue. Frédéric Fisbach’s production was first seen at the 2011 Festival d’Avignon and re-stages Strindberg’s play in the coolly modernist setting of a swanky penthouse, superbly designed by Laurent P Berger. Terje Sinding has translated the text into French but without updating it, so there are undoubtedly moments where a literal reading of the words creates tension – the nineteenth century references at odds with this contemporary world – the questions of gender hypocrisy, the transience of sexual desire as the basis for relationships and the potentially transformative power of love remain at the heart of the play.  Continue reading “Review: Mademoiselle Julie, Barbican”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”

Review: in-i, National Theatre

in-i marks a remarkable collaboration between dancer/choreographer Akram Khan and actress Juliette Binoche in which they dared each other to push personal and professional boundaries and create a work of art stretching over both their disciplines. The result is in-I, an 70 minute piece of intriguing dance theatre.

It purports to take us through the 14 different words that the Greeks have for love, but for me it felt like one could trace the turbulence of one relationship throughout. Taking us on a journey through this relationship, heavily influenced by his religious upbringing, her fears of domestic violence, as the couple come together, clash, separate, reunite and over again as they both struggle to deal with their innate fierceness. Continue reading “Review: in-i, National Theatre”