Review: Hamlet, Almeida Theatre

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” 

The enduring image of Robert Icke’s Hamlet is family – the repeated motif of group of three cleaving together haunts the production as much as Hamlet’s father himself. From the instant and intense bond established between Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes, Icke makes striking emotional sense of the respective grief and ferocity of the latter two, powerfully played by Jessica Brown Findlay and Luke Thompson against Peter Wight’s twinkling charm as their father.

And Icke also gives the tragic visual of Andrew Scott’s Hamlet trying to rebuild his original family unit, joining hands with his mother and the ghost of his father in the midst of the closet scene, willing Juliet Stevenson’s Gertrude to see what he sees, to put things back the way they used to be. And in a stunning montage for the final scene, these trios reform, emphasising the innate happiness of one and the deep tragedy of the other. It is deeply, deeply felt. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Almeida Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2017

2017 is only just over a week away now and the reviewing diary is already filling up! All sorts of headline-grabbing West End shows have already been announced (The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Don Juan In Soho, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia) and the National look to continue a sensational year with another (Twelfth Night, Consent, the heaven-sent Angels in America), so this list is looking a little further afield to the London fringe and some of the UK theatres I hope to get to throughout the year.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

After hearing Elizabeth Newman speak passionately on a panel discussion about women’s theatre, I kinda have a big (intellectual) crush on her, so I’m very keen to see her tackle a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew of the classic Anne Bronte novel in a theatre that is very close to my heart.
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Review: Torn, Royal Court

“What you don’t know doesn’t harm you”

Not for the first time, Ultz’s design disarms you. You enter the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs to find it done up like a community centre, a circle of functional, grey plastic chairs in the middle of the room, a tea and coffee station off to the side. So begins Nathaniel Martello-White’s new play Torn and as Adelle Leonce’s Angel opens up the family meeting that she has called to work through some particularly pressing issues, you think you’ve got a handle on it.

You haven’t. For though it is stripped back, Torn is a fantastically knotty and complex piece of writing: full of fragmented flashbacks; verbose, overlapping dialogue; actors switching characters, sometimes mid-scene. It’s clear Martello-White has been using his time as a writer on attachment at the Royal Court well, for this is brave and ambitious work, both thoughtfully demanding and thought-provoking, it digs deep into the lengths families will go to to protect their own. Continue reading “Review: Torn, Royal Court”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me
I can’t ever die”

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it. Continue reading “Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream”

Re-review: Oresteia, Almeida Theatre

“This cannot be a place where the woman is less important”

There was no chance I wasn’t going to book for Robert Icke’s Oresteia again, I came out of it first time round quite sure that I’d seen one of the shows of the year and on second viewing, I am still firmly of that view. My original review can be read here and there isn’t too much more to be said aside from reiterating wow, wow, wow – how exciting it would be if this heralded just a handful more productions looking towards Europe for their inspiration and succeeding so thrillingly.

So the gauntlet has been laid for the Oresteias yet to come – at the Globe and at Manchester’s HOME, but also for the rest of the Greeks season. Bakkhai may already be sold out with Medea to follow and the anticipation could not be higher.

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 18th July, sold out but returns possible and well worth queuing for

Review: Oresteia, Almeida Theatre

There isn’t one true version. There isn’t. There isn’t one story — a line of truth that stretches start to end.”

I saw Robert Icke’s extraordinary new version of Oresteia on the same day that I watched episode 9 of series 5 of Game of Thrones [here be spoilers] and gods alive, that was a brutal day of dead children. It was also a day of some sensational acting – Stephen Dillane and Tara Fitzgerald both doing excellent work in the North, and Angus Wright and Lia Williams in blistering form in North London in the first show of the Almeida’s Greeks season which on this evidence, looks set to be a thrilling highlight of the year.

Described as an adaptation by Icke of Aeschylus’ trilogy of plays detailing the fall of the House of Atreus, the reality feels more all-encompassing, a transfiguration of the drama(s) into something genuinely new that really examines the nature of Greek tragedies in light of contemporary theatre. Appropriately, Ivo van Hove was in the audience having spoken on a panel discussion earlier in the day, and it was clear to see that Icke is in part paying homage to the Belgian with influences both specific and more general clear to see in the direction here.

Continue reading “Review: Oresteia, Almeida Theatre”

Review: Little Light, Orange Tree Theatre

“All of life’s tragedies folded up into those briefest of moments where your face will be an abiding memory”

Critics went cock-a-hoop for Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again at the RSC yesterday but my first experience of her writing came with Many Moons at Theatre503 in 2011 and a fantastic one it was too. Little Light, which forms part of Paul Miller’s reinvigorating opening season at the Orange Tree, was actually the first play she ever wrote and directed here by David Mercatali, receives a startling premiere which confirms Birch’s status as one to watch.

Little Light starts strongly as a disturbed domestic drama. There are strains evident in Teddy and Alison’s relationship from the start, as they prepare for a special meal in their seaside converted barn, tension crackling as the rituals they have always observed end up slightly off-kilter. They’re waiting for her sister Clarissa but she arrives heavily pregnant and followed unexpectedly by her bedraggled lover Simon, a further deviation from which the occasion spirals out of control into a vortex of grief-fuelled chaos. Continue reading “Review: Little Light, Orange Tree Theatre”