Review: Happy Ending, Arcola Theatre

“To be or not to be. That is not the question. The question is how to be”

What does cancer look like to you? If it is personified as a dancing Spaniard with crab claws for hands, then I might just have the thing for you. Billed as “a musical-comical fantasy about a subject that people don’t talk about”, Happy Ending runs the risk of becoming a show that people won’t dare to talk about due to a series of baffling decisions pertaining to almost every aspect of a production that is challenging to watch. Naturally, a show about cancer is never going to be easy but it is the misjudgements rather than the subject matter that prove most difficult.

It shouldn’t be like this. The show is based on playwright Anat Gov’s own experience with the disease, which took her life in 2012 and as such, is suffused with acutely observed detail (the overwhelming amount of supplementary medicine, the different coping mechanisms people develop, the mordant humour on the ward) that will be horribly recognisable to many. But in Hilla Bar and director Guy Retallack’s adaptation, something is significantly awry and most crucially, it is with the piped-through musical numbers – which can be counted on the fingers of one hand – by Shlomi Shaban and Michal Solomon.

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Review: The Hundred We Are, Yard Theatre

“Forget how to sit, that’s all we have to do”

I was introduced to Hobo Theatre earlier this year with their production of Hunger set in a bakery but The Hundred We Are sees them occupy a more traditional theatre space at the Yard in Hackney Wick. This award-winning play by Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translated here by Frank Perry, is a bit of a challenge though as three women sift through their memories and experiences, asking questions about the many different lives that we can and do live, and also pondering those that we do not choose.

For the trio, named enigmatically 1, 2 and 3, are all at different stages in the life of a woman and discuss, debate, disagree and engage in dialogue with each other, restating and rebuilding the personal history that makes them who they are, or even who she is. As fragments of the same person, Ida Bonnast’s fresh and fiery young’un, Katherine Manner’s brittle, dissatisfied middle-aged misery, and Karen Archer’s pragmatic voice of experience tussle and tug against each other, only slowly realising how much they need each other. Continue reading “Review: The Hundred We Are, Yard Theatre”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear”

Whether considered a problem play or no, the fact that All’s Well That Ends Well is performed relatively infrequently is testament to the inherent difficulties of the play. Helena’s relentless pursuit of a man who does not love her, her determination to have them betrothed, the way she later inveigles her way into his bed, the story is an uneasy tale to take in a world of more enlightened sexual politics and though Nancy Meckler’s production for the RSC, here in Newcastle for a week, shines a fantastical light on the play (although not as successfully as the National’s excellent Grimm-like version from 2009) I think the issue around its uncommon revival is more careful avoidance rather than criminal neglect. 

Joanna Horton is good as the poor physician’s daughter who is adopted by the Countess of Rousillon yet finds herself falling in love with her ‘brother’, Alex Waldmann as a Prince Harry-inspired Bertram who soon heads abroad pretty sharpish. She follows him to the French court, winning the favour of the King by utilising her father’s knowledge and persuading him to offer Bertram’s unwilling hand in marriage as reward. Again he flees (this time to the battlefield) and again she follows, determined to get her man even if it means tricking him into bed and as one is meant to assume with the ginger Prince, combat has a maturing effect meaning that he allegedly becomes quite the catch and her doggedness is thus rewarded. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“I am that he, that poor unfortunate he”

As You Like It is one of those plays that I find hard to get too excited about since I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times. And Maria Aberg’s production for the RSC came with the additional baggage of over-enthusiastic acclaim from certain quarters that usually leave me sceptical but when in Newcastle the same week as the RSC… As suspected, the Laura Marling soundtrack riled me, its folks stylings seeming somewhat faux for a reason I can’t really articulate without resorting to calling it smug. But in Pippa Nixon, it has a truly excellent Rosalind.

Set in a Glastonbury-inspired Forest of Arden, Nixon is startling as a genuinely androgynous figure once transformed, making the scenes with Alex Waldmann’s Orlando a thrilling experience in its gender-questioning ardour. And she’s a compelling presence throughout whether battling her fierce father or coaching her would-be lover in the school of romance. It all builds into a touching finale of nuptial bliss, which eventually wore down most of my scepticism, but I’m not entirely convinced that the setting works so well elsewhere. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Brevity is the soul of wit”

I can’t say I wasn’t warned… Work has seen me up in the north-east for a few days this month and so coinciding with the RSC’s short residency at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle which sees one of their ensembles putting on the three shows from their bit of the summer season. And I’d been told that their Hamlet was a difficult beast but I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how awful I would find it.

David Farr’s modern(ish) take eschews star casting for the integrity of this ensemble, giving Jonathan Slinger the opportunity to take on this most celebrated of roles, but it is a chance they take so thoroughly by the horns with Slinger’s determination to put his own stamp thereon, it never feels real or organic, just a strained effort to be different. And at 3 hours 40 minutes, it is a lot to bear. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: The Gods Weep, RSC at Hampstead Theatre

“I feel like my soul has been bathed in acid”

You know there is a problem when a phrase like the above resonates strongly with you during a play… After a successful take on events post-Macbeth in Dunsinane comes Dennis Kelly’s The Gods Weep which is very heavily inspired by Kurosawa’s film Ran, which was in turn was influenced by King Lear. Admittedly this was a first preview, but at close to four hours long, and full of chaotic fighting, much blood, dead cats and squirrels and an inordinate amount of swearing, this had the amazing effect of making me actually want to watch paint dry instead: it’s not only the gods who will be weeping by the end of this run.

Replacing the feudal kingdoms of Lear/Ran with its modern-day equivalent, a multi-national corporation, the CEO Colm decides that after a lifetime of building an empire through brutal and savage means, it is time to relinquish power to his two subordinates. However in doing so, he unleashes a bloody power struggle between the two rivals with truly devastating consequences and ramifications which force Colm to face up to a lifetime of questionable decisions. Continue reading “Review: The Gods Weep, RSC at Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Generous, Finborough Theatre

“What do you think politics is? It’s ‘a little bit here’ and ‘a little bit there’, it’s all short-term measures.”

Generous, by Michael Healey, won the Best New Play award in its native Canada in 2007 but has been somewhat neglected here in the UK, so the Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court with its long tradition of supporting Canadian playwrights has given it its first full run.

Structurally, it is described as 2 four-act plays which is just a fancy way of saying there’s four stories on show here. It’s an examination of altruism, the desire to help people and the motivations behind this. The first act of each story makes up the first half and then after we return from the interval, we see the concluding parts, some of which take place 15 years later, and suddenly we see that these disparate stories actually have some connections. Continue reading “Review: Generous, Finborough Theatre”