Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Old Red Lion

“Where words fail, violence prevails”

You enter the Old Red Lion for Thomas Kyd’s Elizabethan revenge thriller The Spanish Tragedy to find that Dexter Morgan has been on the case. Lizzie Leech’s design for the auditorium has it bleached out in antiseptic white, meat hooks hanging front and centre, strips of opaque plastic hanging from the ceiling facilitating the swift despatch of bodies. For there’s a goodly deal of despatching that needs to be done by the time this bloodthirsty lot is done.

Dan Hutton’s production condenses the text down to 85 minutes (and presumably even less, given “additional material by the company” is also credited) but the frame of the story remains intact, with a nifty bit of gender-swapping to boot. Lorenzo (maybe) loves Balthazar who loves Bel-Imperia who loves Horatio, so Lorenzo has Horatio killed which doesn’t sit too well with Hieronimo, his mother who vows revenge. But not Revenge, who is also present in human form along with a ghost called Andrea. Continue reading “Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Old Red Lion”

Review: Chariots of Fire, Gielgud Theatre

“100 metres can feel like a marathon”

For the longest time, I was sure that I didn’t want to see Chariots of Fire, not least because the hoarding for this Hampstead Theatre transfer into the Gielgud finds it necessary to call it Chariots of Fire on stage, as if it could be anything else in a theatre. But Mike Bartlett, who adapted the film, is a writer I like and a change of cast meant Gabriel Vick, an actor whose charms I, erm, appreciate, was able to tempt me there on the final day of the (curtailed) run. The most arresting aspect of Edward Hall’s production is Miriam Buether’s design which snakes a running track around the front stalls and puts audience members on the stage – it makes for constant visual interest and not just for the men in shorts.

As a story set around the Olympics (Paris 1924), when the production was first announced it felt like a bit of a cash-in to the upcoming Games (London 2012) and sure enough, a West End transfer was announced even before it began. And to be honest, I’m not sure that it really stood up as a piece of effective theatre when separated from all the 2012 buzz. I’ve never seen the film so I wonder if this had an impact, but essentially the thrill of having athletically performed athletic races aside, it was rather dull. Continue reading “Review: Chariots of Fire, Gielgud Theatre”

Review: Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, Old Vic Tunnels

“The mind of man is less perturbed by a mystery he cannot explain than by an explanation he cannot understand”

I’ve had something of a varied history in the Old Vic Tunnels since it opened early last year: exciting immersive experiences and one of the worst productions conceivable – I still can’t look at a watering can the same way… And since opening last year, it continued to develop as a performing space, making varied use of the atmospheric arches, and they have now opened up The Screening Room, a brand-new 125-seater space both programmed and run by a team of volunteers to showcase the ‘new’ and offer training and experience in all aspects of theatre creation. The first show mounted here is a double bill of David Mamet radio plays, Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, presented by Theatre6 and MokitaGrit.

The first, short, piece is a one-man-show, David Burt starring as a radio show host playing at agony uncle, reading out letters and dispensing frank advice to his listeners’ personal problems. Silhouettes on the bookshelves behind him enact some of the scenes which adds an extra layer which isn’t strictly necessary as Burt’s sonorous voice and expressive face are more than plenty to guide us through the tangled concerns with a soft but matter-of-fact humour. Continue reading “Review: Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, Old Vic Tunnels”