Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
Such pleasure in watching Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins onstage plus The Height of the Storm at the Wyndham’s Theatre is great for post-show reconstruction of this deconstructed story
“What would I do without you? What would become of me without you?”
As Florian Zeller returns to the London stage with his latest play The Height of the Storm, you get something of the sense that British theatre is patting itself on the back saying ‘look, we do do European theatre’. But as with Ivo van Hove’s continued presence here, there’s a risk that familiarity will breed contempt as the risk of employing European theatremakers is mitigated by picking the same ones over and over.
Which is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that, whilst I enjoyed this immensely, I wonder if we’re approaching diminishing returns territory with Zeller. The Father was an extraordinary piece of storytelling in its disorientating structure and The Height of the Storm occupies a similar territory as we join long-married André and Madeleine and their two daughters and try to work out who is alive, who is dead, and just how many mushrooms there are onstage. Continue reading “Review: The Height of the Storm, Wyndham’s”
Such amazing casting news came our way yesterday, with not one but two of my absolute faves returning to the London stage in the coming months. The starrier of the two is Cate Blanchett, who will appear with Stephen Dillane in a brand new play by Martin Crimp’s directed by Katie Mitchell at the National Theatre in January 2019. The play is enigmatically entitled When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – Twelve Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. (The torture presumably being the absolute scrum there’ll be to get tickets, as the show is going into the NT’s most intimate space, the Dorfman.)
The Hampstead’s failure to engage properly with issues of female creative representation on its main stage (out of seven shows for 2017, only one was written by a woman and none were directed by women) has meant it has dropped off my must-see list of theatres. But on reading the synopsis of Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude– adapted by Nicholas Wright, directed by Jonathan Kent, designed, lit and sounded out by men too natch – with its lead female protagonist, I was persuaded to revisit my stance.
And in some ways, I’m glad I did. For that leading character, Miss Roach, is played by the ever-marvellous Fenella Woolgar and she’s partnered by Lucy Cohu, another favourite actress, and there are moments in this gently played Second World War-set story that shimmer with effectiveness. Bombed out of her home by the Blitz, Miss Roach (“I do have a first name, but I don’t encourage people to use it”) finds herself swept up in a different type of conflict at the Henley-on-Thames boarding house where she now resides. Continue reading “Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead Theatre”
South London based site-specific theatre company Baseless Fabric are presenting David Mamet’s rarely performed short plays Reunion and Dark Pony in libraries across South London as part of National Libraries Week 2017. The plays are two of David Mamet’s earliest work, first produced in the US in 1976 and 1977 respectively and both feature David Schaal and Siu-see Hung in their casts.
Both of the plays explore father and daughter relationships and the audience will be immersed in the worlds of these plays in the unique and atmospheric library environments during National Libraries Week 2017 to raise awareness of exciting events happening in local libraries and bring theatre to people in their local library space. Artistic Director Joanna Turner directs with Set & Costume Designer Bex Kemp, creating a site-responsive design in each library space.
“You don’t know anything about anything, George, and if what they say about the movies is true, you’ll go far”
The end of the silent movie era and the arrival of the talkies has proved fertile ground for many a storyteller, not least Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s immortal Singin’ in the Rain, but Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s Once In A Lifetimehas a serious claim to being one of the first, premiering as it did in 1930 and its influence is plain to see. It has received major revivals from Trevor Nunn at the RSC (1979) and Edward Hall at the National (2005) and now it is the turn of Richard Jones at the Young Vic, in a production notable for marking the theatrical stage debut of Harry Enfield.
In a new adaptation by Hart’s son Christopher, Once In A Lifetime follows the trials and tribulations of three workaday vaudeville artists from New York who decide to throw in their lot and ship out to Hollywood. With the first ever talking motion picture doing great business, they opt to capitalise on the trend by opening an elocution school to help all those actors who suddenly need to speak on screen but even in its earliest days, the crowded corridors of Tinseltown prove a tough nut to crack with any number of wannabe starlets, studio heads and screenwriters competing for the limelight. Continue reading “Review: Once In A Lifetime, Young Vic”
As I might have predicted after the soaring heights of Series 3, the fourth season of Ripper Street didn’t quite live up to its forerunner. Then again, how could it after the epic sweep of the storytelling had so much of the finale about it in terms of where it left its key characters – Matthew Macfadyen’s Reid, Jerome Flynn’s Drake, Adam Rothenberg’s Jackson and MyAnna Buring’s Susan – picking up the pieces to carry on was always going to be difficult.
To recap, Reid had given up the police force after being reunited with his previously-thought-dead daughter Mathilda, and Susan’s momentous struggle against the patriarchal strictures of society (and also the nefarious entanglements of her actual father) saw her and Jackson end up behind bars, having also drawn Reid and the promoted Drake into the exacting of an individual kind of justice. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4”
When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.
And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”
For some reason or other, I stopped watching the second series of Ripper Street midway through and it’s taken me until now to finally finish it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s more likely to do with running out of time to watch it on the iPlayer or something but anyhoo, I’ve managed it now. My review of Series 1 (which I thoroughly appreciated) is over here and I have to say that that enjoyment has continued, even if I do have a few reservations about its female voices.
It’s a shame that in a crime procedural led by three men, two of the leading supporting female characters did not return for this second series. DI Reid’s wife and kind-of-mistress (Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu) are both MIA, losing all the work done to establish them, and though Leanne Best is introduced as a local politician who can’t help but flirt with Reid (he’s played by Matthew Macfadyen after all), the overall weight of the series does thus feel a little unbalanced. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 2”
“She got all dressed up and went to a sexy club in Ipswich”
In the characterful, if chilly, auditorium of former cinema The Coronet, actor Jamie Glover has returned to the world of directing with this little-seen debut play from Peter Shaffer (he of Equus and Amadeus). Set in the 1950s,Five Finger Exercise follows the Harrington family as they retire to their Suffolk country cottage to try and ease their dysfunctional ways but the employment of a young German tutor shatters what uneasy peace existed as his interactions with each cause mayhem and meltdown.
In some ways it is quintessentially English, hints of Coward-like playfulness and Rattiganesque repression but as a programme note points out, Shaffer’s time in the US as a young man is just as much in evidence with the ferocity of the emotion that spills out here. Strapping and handsome Walter thinks he found the ideal family unit in which to seek refuge from his Nazi officer father but one by one, he releases something in each Harrington that simply won’t go back. Continue reading “Review Five Finger Exercise, Print Room”