Review: Imperium II – Dictator, Gielgud

In which Imperium II: Dictator continues a compelling look at (Roman) politics at the Gielgud Theatre but in which I also feel obliged to point out just how male-heavy Imperium skews 

“We are at the mercy of the people of Rome”

Previously on Imperium

  • we enjoyed ourselves
  • we struggled to differentiate between the many names beginning with C
  • we puzzled at why people wore their togas with one bit draped impractically over a forearm
  • we marvelled at how shiny everyone’s leather sandals seemed to be
  • and we grieved at how woefully the wonderful Siobhán Redmond was underused, at how indeed the whole production treats women

The second part of this summer’s Roman epic – Imperium II: Dictator – continues much in the same vein as the first. Mike Poulton’s adaptation capturing much of the sweeping vistas of Robert Harris’ Cicero novels, and Richard McCabe excelling as that noble Cicero who increasingly reveals himself as all-too–hubristically-human.  

But as we reach the seventh hour of drama in this testosterone-heavy world, you can’t help but feel that the women, both of the time and of this company, are relatively hard done by. Between the male gaze of Harris to Poulton to Doran to McCabe, the relentless focus on the political over the personal doesn’t give us much sense of Cicero the man versus Cicero the politician. Continue reading “Review: Imperium II – Dictator, Gielgud”

Review: Imperium I – Conspirator, Gielgud

Imperium I: Conspirator is the entertaining first part of the seven hours of a proper Roman epic from the RSC (thankfully with air-con in the Gielgud Theatre)

“Stupid people tend to vote for stupid people”

With the weather as it is, there are worse ways to spend a day in London than in the blissfully air-conditioned Gielgud Theatre. There, you can partake in the near seven hours of the two-part theatrical extravaganza that is Imperium. First seen at the RSC last winter, Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ Cicero novels have a suitably epic feel to them and, anchored by an excellent lead performance from Richard McCabe, also have a real thrill factor.

The first part – Imperium I: Conspirator – follows Roman consul Cicero’s valiant efforts to defend the republic and the rule of law against rebellion and rivalries. And in the hands of McCabe, his silky rhetoric is a joy to behold as he secures his primacy, relying on political manipulation where necessary. Whether defeating Joe Dixon’s Catiline, trying to outmanoeuvre Nicholas Armfield’s slippery Clodius or pin down the wildly ambitious young buck named Julius Caesar (a superb Peter de Jersey), his actions are gripping.  Continue reading “Review: Imperium I – Conspirator, Gielgud”

Review: Kenny Morgan, Arcola

“Say what you like but there’s been a crime committed. More than one I should say–”

As Helen McCrory scorches the earth beneath her with a transcendental take on Hester Collyer, the lead part in Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the time felt right to then take in Mike Poulton’s Kenny Morgan. In this play, Poulton draws back the veil that society demanded Rattigan draw over his intended original subject, dramatising the real events that inspired the deep tragedy of his writing.

For Rattigan drew directly from his own life – a ten year relationship with a man named Kenny Morgan ended due to his lover’s depression and as he ricocheted into a destructive new relationship, Rattigan had to look on helplessly as Morgan spiralled ever deeper into tragedy. At a time when both suicide and homosexuality were illegal, it is no wonder the playwright opted to code The Deep Blue Sea. Continue reading “Review: Kenny Morgan, Arcola”

Nominations for 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award (Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Ayad Akhtar, The Invisible Hand
Halley Feiffer, I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Elizabeth Irwin, My Mañana Comes
Markus Potter, Stalking the Bogeyman
Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Peter Gallagher, On the Twentieth Century
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town Continue reading “Nominations for 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards”

Review: A Tale of Two Cities, Royal & Derngate

“Repression is the only lasting philosophy”

Although not intentionally, this year I’ve been racing through the list of theatres (and towns) I haven’t been to before and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate is the latest to be ticked off. This production of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities marks the beginning of James Dacre’s tenure as Artistic Director there and though I have no way to compare it with what usually takes place on stage here, it feels like a hugely ambitious piece of work and a definite statement of intent.

Most of this comes from the team he has gathered. Mike Poulton’s sleek adaptation of the novel surely confirms him as the country’s foremost translator from page to stage, Oscar winner Rachel Portman provides a hugely atmospheric score which swells to fill the auditorium, and the use of a community ensemble gives credibility to the world of the play, creating a most effective baying mob in Mike Britton’s beautiful set which effortlessly switches location as the story dictates. Continue reading “Review: A Tale of Two Cities, Royal & Derngate”

Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre

“He needs to be on the side of the light”

Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the Booker Price twice when the literary behemoth that was Wolf Hall was followed up by the equally considerable Bring Up The Bodies. And whilst we wait for the third part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy – The Mirror and the Light – thoughts have turned quickly to adaptation. The BBC will be airing a six-part version by Peter Straughan in the future but the RSC have readied a theatrical interpretation of the novels by Mike Poulton which is now playing in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The shows can be seen separately, but are clearly designed to fit together (Wolf Hall has as close as the theatre gets to a cliffhanger ending!) and there are opportunities to see them on the same day.

At first glance, they may not seem the most likely choice for staging – set in the court of Henry VIII as he looks for ways of getting rid of his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he might plant Anne Boleyn in her stead, these are all-too-familiar events. But Mantel’s magic was to tell the story through the eyes and mind of Thomas Cromwell, the wily commoner who worked his way up through the ranks to become one of the most influential man in the realm. Additionally, her magnificent present-tense prose brought Tudor England to life like never before, a rich attention to detail making this universe feel new-minted, as if anything could happen, not just what the history books say. Continue reading “Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre”

Review: Fortune’s Fool, Old Vic

“Oh, my dears…there’s more fun to be had here than at the theatre”

A sense of duty rather than excitement saw me nip into the Old Vic for Fortune’s Fool and to be frank, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Not a play with which I was familiar, I was shocked at how violently it rubbed me up the wrong way, an uneasy blend of Russian country house-driven ennui and farcical shenanigans which sadly felt like an utterly inessential piece of theatre. In retrospect, I can see how it might have appealed as a piece of safe programming but as with much this year at the Old Vic, it is hard to feel artistically enthused there and though this was an early performance in the run and received enthusiastically at the end, I’ve never seen so many newly empty seats post-interval. 


But back to the play. Written in 1848 by Turgenev, Lucy Bailey’s production uses Mike Poulton’s adaptation which was fashioned for Broadway back in 2002 (where it made its debut, though it has been seen in the UK before then). Kuzokvin is a miserable Russian aristocrat who has relied on the kindness of a (long dead) friend for room and board whilst his own property is tied up in legalities. When the newly married heirs to the estate announce they are to arrive, he’s sent into a bit of a tizzy, a situation which is made immeasurably worse when neighbour and fellow aristocrat Tropatchov turns up to join them for a boozy lunch. 


For Tropatchov is also miserable and his ennui manifests itself in an embittered viciousness to his repartee and the first half is taken up with the increasingly drunken antics of these aristocrats and their ever-watchful servants as Richard McCabe’s Tropatchov winds up Iain Glen’s Kuzovkin to excruciating levels of humiliations, but unleashing a shocking revelation which it then takes the second act to resolve. It is hardly ground-breaking stuff but crucially it doesn’t offer up anything much of interest, nothing about it held my attention sufficiently or manage to do much more than try my patience.


McCabe is decent enough but it is a one-note character, something exacerbated by the overused tic he gives his toff of frequently flicking his foppish fringe. Glen has the harder task of marrying tragi- with comedy and doesn’t really pull it off at the moment, the drunkenness a horribly stagy sequence and thoroughly unbelievable. The only pleasure for me came from seeing Alexander Vlahos doing well as the returning heir, nice to see him graduating to larger roles since a great turn in Macbeth earlier this year. So not my cup of tea at all but more than that, it also feels an unsatisfactory (and far-too-female-light) choice of play. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 22nd February

Review: Uncle Vanya, Print Room

“My life no longer has any shape to it”

It was perhaps a little bit of a surprise when the Print Room announced their latest show to be Chekhov’s classic Uncle Vanya, the relatively new theatre having previously concentrated on lesser-known works by playwrights. But any doubts should be seriously allayed by this intimately atmospheric production which utilises a new version by Mike Poulton to lend a fresh dynamic to this tale of corrosive inaction.

Vanya has spent much of his life attending to the affairs of his former brother-in-law Professor Serebryakov, sequestered in a household of misfits in the Russian countryside. But when the professor turns up with his new much younger wife, Vanya is provoked into a period of gloomy self-reflexiveness as he faces up to how much of his life he has wasted. The new arrivals also cause havoc for other residents of the estate as ultimately everyone is forced to confront what might have been. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Print Room”

Review: Judgement Day, The Print Room

“Critics! Do I work to amuse them? Can they judge me as equals? – when they are themselves without my gift.”

Part of the The Print Room’s artistic mandate has been to unearth little-known works by major playwrights to bring them new life and after Alan Ayckbourn and Tennessee Williams, it is Henrik Ibsen’s turn. Here, his final play When We Dead Awaken has been adapted by Mike Poulton into a new version named Judgement Day and in James Dacre’s production, features some luxury casting in both Michael Pennington and Penny Downie working hard in this intimate theatre.

As with much of his later work, Ibsen casts an excoriating self-reflecting view on the life and longevity of the artist. Arnold Rubek is an ageing sculptor, hugely successful with his early work yet now lacking inspiration with both his work which has become perfunctorily commercial and in his personal life, his young wife Maia cares nothing for art and their’s appears to be a mutually antagonistic relationship. However, the arrival of his long-lost muse Irena and the animalistic Baron Ulfheim offers challenges and possibly renewed hope for both of them. Continue reading “Review: Judgement Day, The Print Room”