Casting news for early September

As some theatres look to a careful reopening and others consolidate their online offers, casting news of four intriguing shows breaks 

The Last Five Years at Southwark Playhouse will star Molly Lynch (Cathy) and Oli Higginson (Jamie) who return to their roles after they were cut short on 16 March. They will be appearing in the show from 1 – 31 October and will be in the same ‘support bubble’ so the show won’t adhere to socially distancing staging.

However, in the venue, there will be strict social distancing measures in place. For full info on that head here and click on the Covid-19 FAQS tab: https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/the-last-five-years/#covidfaqs Continue reading “Casting news for early September”

TV Review: Black Earth Rising

A cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati make Hugo Blick’s complex Black Earth Rising watchable if not quite essential

“That is why I made a deal like that”

A tricky one this. At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Hugo Blick drama (qv The Shadow Line, The Honorable Woman), weighty complex dramas with amazing casts tackling inscrutable global conspiracies. And Black Earth Rising is no different, as it puts the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath under the microscope, examining Western colonial and capitalist attitudes towards Africa along with the role of the Iinternational Criminal Court.

And with a cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, Harriet Walter, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati to name just a few, it is naturally eminently watchable. Coel plays Kate Ashby, a young woman with a complicated relationship with her barrister mother Eve (Walter). Eve adopted Kate from Rwanda years back but her decision to take on a case prosecuting a Tutsi general who, after helping end the genocide, went on to commit war crimes in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, outrages Kate who is also Tutsi.
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Review: King Hedley II, Theatre Royal Stratford East

August Wilson’s King Hedley II is something of a flawed play but it receives a strong production from Nadia Fall here at Theatre Royal Stratford East

“As long as I draw a breath in my body I’m gonna do the right thing for me”

August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle – a series of 10 plays exploring the African American experience in each decade of the 20th century – has some superb plays within it, not least the incendiary Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Fences. As the ninth instalment in the sequence, King Hedley II doesn’t quite live up to those forebears  but Nadia Fall gives it an impressive production here.

Casting Director Lisa Makin was clearly on fire for this project as she gathered established names (Lenny Henry, Martina Laird) and younger talents (Cherelle Skeete – so good in Fun Home, Aaron Pierre) to give a ferocious account of this challenging play. Challenging not only in length at well over 3 hours but also thematically, as it sprawls over too many subjects to ever hope of doing them all justice. Continue reading “Review: King Hedley II, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Royal Court

“How much you think we’re gonna be worth when Freedom comes?”

There is scheduled to be at least another six parts to Suzan-Lori Parks’ ambitious play cycle but don’t let that put you off, the three hours of Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) are well spent in exploring race, slavery and the US civil war and how its pernicious legacy permeates through even to contemporary (US) society. Jo Bonney’s production is not always the easiest to watch but then how could it be, rather it seeks to provoke serious thought and consideration about what it meant – and what it still means – to be free.

To take on such a grand narrative and possibly to alleviate some of the intense seriousness, Parks has playfully borrowed from a range of storytelling techniques, most notably the Greeks, And through them establishes her interpretation of the African-American experience – the magpie nature of Emilio Sosa’s costume design with details both period and present-day, reinforcing the continuing relevance of its message.  Continue reading “Review: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Royal Court”

Review: As You Like It, National Theatre

“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad”

For regular theatregoers, it can sometimes feel a bit hard to get excited about the umpteenth production of a play, so much so that I almost didn’t see the winning combination of the much-loved Blanche McIntyre and Michelle Terry until the very end of their run at the Globe this summer. So the news that Polly Findlay was also tackling As You Like It for the National was tempered a little (though it is the first time in 30 years it has played there) but as Rosalind was announced (Rosalie Craig poached from the cast of wonder.land to replace an indisposed Andrea Riseborough), the excitement began to build and the inevitable ticket was purchased and boy am I glad that I did. 

For the transformation of the set into the Forest of Arden is a moment of genuinely breath-taking theatre, Lizzie Clachan pulling the rug from under us and her design to create a most singular vision. And it is one in which enchantment slowly grows with sylvan sound effects created by company members onstage and a choir singing Orlando Gough’s contemporary and complex score (akin if alike to the one he composed for Bakkhai). There’s a lovely conceit in which Alan Williams’ Corins, nominally a shepherd but here more like a forest deity, summons the music every time love is needed to cast its spell, enhancing the magical feel. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, National Theatre”

Review: Perseverance Drive, Bush Theatre

“I know we have a certain amount of dirty laundry in this family, but is it really necessary to keep on washing it so publicly?” 

Robin Soans’ new play for the Bush Theatre takes a little time to get where it is going but by the time it arrives at its destination, it has gathered into something really rather moving. Perseverance Drive opens in Barbados as the Gillards come together to bury their matriarch Grace. Pentecostal pastor Eli heads up a deeply religious family but not one that is close – one of his sons Joshua has been exiled for being gay, and Nathan and Zek who are both ministers as well have splintered into opposing factions of the church.
 
Their battles are endless – who will get to speak the eulogy, what will happen to their mother’s soul etc etc and though the gospel-inflected ambience created in Madani Younis’ production is powerful, this opening half is a little too static for its own good. Fortunately, after the interval the energy shifts subtly to become much more affecting. It is four years later and now it is Eli’s turn to die in the somewhat less tropical surroundings of a run-down Leytonstone flat but as he slowly shuffles closer to the end of his mortal coil, it is clear that little has really changed.

Continue reading “Review: Perseverance Drive, Bush Theatre”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noël Coward Theatre

It seems to be that yet we sleep, we dream”

The Michael Grandage Company move onto their fourth show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first of two Shakespeares that will finish the season. And given the emphasis of the star wattage that formed the backbone of its publicity, it’s an interesting choice of play due to its ensemble nature and lack of any real star parts. So we get Sheridan Smith in the dual role of Hippolyta and Titania and David Walliams as Nick Bottom the weaver, alongside a company of others many of whom have appeared in previous MGC shows.

Grandage’s main conceit is to locate the play in 1960s England, making the magical forest into a festival-like world of hippies and free love, allowing an unambiguous focus on sex as the driving force of the play. It’s more like an Athena model version of sex than the untrammeled passion of the real thing though – the four lovers parade about the forest in various states of underwear-clad undress, Titania’s seductive ways lure Bottom into an off-stage bower, the hints of amour between the Rude Mechanicals left tantalisingly unexplored. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noël Coward Theatre”