Review: The River, Royal Court

“I’m not entirely sure what love is”

Despite being prepared for all kinds of brouhaha with the specially instituted booking system for The River, Jez Butterworth’s new play upstairs at the Royal Court – tickets only available on the day of performance, 30 in person and the rest online – when it came to it, I only had to refresh the website twice at 9am to get my tickets (I recommend logging into your account first) so hopefully, it may be less of a trial than might be currently considered. Butterworth’s last play here was the behemoth that became Jerusalem (and yes, I am one of the few people that wasn’t much of a fan…) but I did enjoy his more intimate Parlour Song for the Almeida and so expectations were at a nicely manageable level.

Which is always a good place to be, especially when it enables one to fully appreciate a play free from too much baggage. For The River is a piece of gorgeously sensitive writing, utterly beguiling in its subtle deconstruction of the way we conduct ourselves in relationships -the facades erected, the lies told, the declarations made, the pasts conveniently ignored. An introspective look at what it means to be intimate with someone and the importance of honesty in conjunction with that, it combines the highly naturalistic world realised by Ultz with the almost magical, poetic language of Butterworth which swims with unknowing purpose, occasionally catching the light beautifully like the sea trout in the story, negotiating the swells of the river back to its spawning ground.    Continue reading “Review: The River, Royal Court”

Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse

“Just because he doesn’t say much doesn’t mean that he hasn’t feelings like the rest of us”

Instincts can be useful and they can also be really annoying, especially when you don’t follow them. After three weeks away from the theatre, most of which has been spent lying by a pool in the South-West of France, my first engagement back was at the Donmar Warehouse to see Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! As with most things at theatres such as these, I automatically book for everything as soon as it is released, sometimes it’s the only way to guarantee getting the cheap seats, and so there is rarely any sense of deciding whether I actually want to see something or not. And because it is then cheap, thus one can argue that it doesn’t really matter if I don’t like it – such excellent self-perpetuating logic is needed to ensure I keep getting up early to join the website-crashing scrum of first day booking.

But my tolerance has lessened somewhat as I’m slowly weaning myself off my addiction to theatre (at least to a more manageable position…) and after having unpacked my holiday things and checked the calendar as to when I was next booked in anywhere, my heart was not particularly singing with joy at the prospect of seeing this play. I allowed myself to be persuaded that I needed to “get back on the horse” and that I was just suffering from post-holiday blues – my companion reckoned I wouldn’t have been enthused about any play that didn’t involve me sitting in a hot tub – but in all honesty, my overall impression of Philadelphia… was one of overwhelming ‘meh’. Continue reading “Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Judgment Day, Almeida Theatre

“The train is coming…”

Judgment Day is a play by Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth, which has been translated here at the Almeida theatre by Christoper Hampton. One of the first commissions after Michael Attenborough’s arrival as Artistic Director, Hampton has long been a champion of this writer and this is the first full production of this play in this country. Von Horváth wrote much of his anti-Nazi work in Germany in the 1930s, but opted to remain in the country to study the encroaching rise of Nazism, instead of fleeing like many of his compatriots such as Brecht.

It’s the story of Hudetz, a stationmaster of a small village who, distracted one evening by a popular local girl eager for a kiss, fails to make the necessary signal to a passing train causing a devastating fatal crash. The girl Anna then perjures herself to defend Hudetz as he seeks to escape justice, despite his unhappy wife also witnessing the events. We then see the effects of overwhelming grief on this pair as they struggle to carry on with their lives, exacerbated by the ever-changing moods of the townspeople, whose vicious, bigoted anger seems to be refocused with every new piece of gossip that comes their way. Continue reading “Review: Judgment Day, Almeida Theatre”