News: Casting and extension announced for The Ocean at the End of the Lane

As rehearsals begin today, the cast is announced for the West End transfer of the National Theatre’s critically acclaimed production (not least by me) of The Ocean at the End of the Lanebased on the best-selling novel by Neil Gaiman, which will extend its run at the Duke of York’s Theatre to 23 April 2022.

The 16-strong cast is: Ruby AblettJames Bamford (Boy), Emma BownCharlie CameronJeff D’SangalangKieran GarlandSiubhan Harrison (Ginnie Hempstock), Miranda HeathPenny Layden (Old Mrs Hempstock), Tom MackleyCharleen QwayeGrace Hogg-Robinson (Sis), Laura Rogers (Ursula), Nicolas Tennant (Dad), Nia Towle (Lettie Hempstock) and Peter Twose.

Adapted by Joel Horwood and directed by Katy Rudd, The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins previews at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 23 October. Due to popular demand the limited run will extend for a final 10 weeks until 23 April 2022. Continue reading “News: Casting and extension announced for The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

DVD Review: What You Will

“It’s brilliant not to be me”

On my way to Bristol to see Filter take on Macbeth, I thought I would take the opportunity to watch What You Will, a mockumentary that follows an innovative theatre company as they put on a touring production of Twelfth Night. It comes off a little like the behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques as actors play actors who are in turn acting, so Ferdy Roberts plays a guy called Greg who plays Malvolio in the show – it’s a disarming and discombobulating approach which never quite settles in my opinion.

This devised approach clearly has great appeal for the Filter company and the way they work but it is hard not to think that it overcomplicates the matter somewhat. For when it just plays out, it is really very amusing. The trials of a touring theatre company – the precious egos, the heavy drinking, the thwarted ambitions, the strained relationships, the poor ticket sales, the last minute crises, all are played out as they travel the country touring their show professionally but barely holding it together personally. Continue reading “DVD Review: What You Will”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear”
 

Whether considered a problem play or no, the fact that All’s Well That Ends Well is performed relatively infrequently is testament to the inherent difficulties of the play. Helena’s relentless pursuit of a man who does not love her, her determination to have them betrothed, the way she later inveigles her way into his bed, the story is an uneasy tale to take in a world of more enlightened sexual politics and though Nancy Meckler’s production for the RSC, here in Newcastle for a week, shines a fantastical light on the play (although not as successfully as the National’s excellent Grimm-like version from 2009) I think the issue around its uncommon revival is more careful avoidance rather than criminal neglect. 

Joanna Horton is good as the poor physician’s daughter who is adopted by the Countess of Rousillon yet finds herself falling in love with her ‘brother’, Alex Waldmann as a Prince Harry-inspired Bertram who soon heads abroad pretty sharpish. She follows him to the French court, winning the favour of the King by utilising her father’s knowledge and persuading him to offer Bertram’s unwilling hand in marriage as reward. Again he flees (this time to the battlefield) and again she follows, determined to get her man even if it means tricking him into bed and as one is meant to assume with the ginger Prince, combat has a maturing effect meaning that he allegedly becomes quite the catch and her doggedness is thus rewarded. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“I am that he, that poor unfortunate he”

As You Like It is one of those plays that I find hard to get too excited about since I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times. And Maria Aberg’s production for the RSC came with the additional baggage of over-enthusiastic acclaim from certain quarters that usually leave me sceptical but when in Newcastle the same week as the RSC… As suspected, the Laura Marling soundtrack riled me, its folks stylings seeming somewhat faux for a reason I can’t really articulate without resorting to calling it smug. But in Pippa Nixon, it has a truly excellent Rosalind.

Set in a Glastonbury-inspired Forest of Arden, Nixon is startling as a genuinely androgynous figure once transformed, making the scenes with Alex Waldmann’s Orlando a thrilling experience in its gender-questioning ardour. And she’s a compelling presence throughout whether battling her fierce father or coaching her would-be lover in the school of romance. It all builds into a touching finale of nuptial bliss, which eventually wore down most of my scepticism, but I’m not entirely convinced that the setting works so well elsewhere. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Brevity is the soul of wit”
 

I can’t say I wasn’t warned… Work has seen me up in the north-east for a few days this month and so coinciding with the RSC’s short residency at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle which sees one of their ensembles putting on the three shows from their bit of the summer season. And I’d been told that their Hamlet was a difficult beast but I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how awful I would find it.

David Farr’s modern(ish) take eschews star casting for the integrity of this ensemble, giving Jonathan Slinger the opportunity to take on this most celebrated of roles, but it is a chance they take so thoroughly by the horns with Slinger’s determination to put his own stamp thereon, it never feels real or organic, just a strained effort to be different. And at 3 hours 40 minutes, it is a lot to bear. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: After Troy, Shaw Theatre

“Was there another Troy for her to burn?”

After Troy sees Glyn Maxwell creating a new play out of Euripides’ two tragedies, Hecuba and The Women of Troy, both dealing with the experience of the women left behind in the aftermath of the Trojan War with marauding Greek soldiers an ever-present threat. Hecuba and her daughters are the prisoners of warrior Agamemnon and vile king Mestor and as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of the men in their lives, kings, husbands, father, brothers, sons whilst waiting to be delivered into a life of slavery, there are many horrors still yet to come for Hecuba.

Maxwell is a poet and this is evident in the lyrical density of his verse which is tightly constructed with lots of repetition and synchronised dialogue aiming for an epic feel, but slightly undermined by the modern sensibilities that have been introduced in the desire to create something new, the humour and particularly the heavy use of expletives didn’t always feel appropriate and become quite wearing. But it is not just a lyrical piece, it is heavily influenced by movement, the women often express themselves through the medium of dance which becomes as important a part of their vocabulary as words. This is effective at first but as we come to realise that it is only the women who take part in this ritual dancing, the ‘Ancient’ as it were and it is the men who get to swear, wear modern costumes and be funny, the balance of After Troy never quite finds its equilibrium.

The strength of the performances helps to somewhat overcome the density of the material: Eve Matheson’s Hecuba is a force to be reckoned with, a grieving vengeful woman finding dignity where she can in the oppression wrought by the Greek men holding them prisoner. I also enjoyed Rebecca Smith-Williams’ willowy prophetic Cassandra and the beautifully compassionate turn from Oscar Peace as Talthybius, the Greek scribe who comes close to understanding the true horror that his people are wreaking on Troy.

There were moments where it all gets a bit relentless, the subjugation of these women to the masculine military might pushes and pushes but without a real sense of purpose, it is not immediately clear what Maxwell is trying to achieve here. The timelessness of war and the effect is has on people is an enduring truth, but making his victims so recognisably Ancient Greek lessens the impact. But there is a strangely hypnotic quality to proceedings, with its flashes of dark humour in the perils of not listening to women and the power of Matheson’s performance in particular, that stirred something deep inside me, but this was a realisation that hit me on the way home – it would have been much nicer to have that response to the drama that was playing out in front of me.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 23rd April then touring to the Lowry, Salford and the Stephen Joseph, Scarborough

Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre

“I’m losing patience with the patients”

Tiger Country is the third play by Nina Raine, writer of the best play out of all 271 that I saw last year, Tribes (which still gives me goosebumps when I think about it now) so there was nooo expectations lying on this show at all. Actually, it wasn’t too bad as I knew the subject matter here, the modern NHS, was not something that I have any connection to (unlike as in Tribes), but I was still looking forward to seeing another facet to this fast upcoming playwright’s work. Interestingly, Raine also serves as director here at the Hampstead Theatre, this writer/director thing being something which this season at Swiss Cottage has featured heavily (Athol Fugard and Mike Leigh being the other culprits).

Raine’s production reconfigures the space in traverse, allowing for the hustle and bustle of hospital life to be quickly and efficiently portrayed. We see emergencies being rushed in by paramedics, the studied quiet of the operating room, the weariness of the staffroom, private rooms for terminally ill patients, cubicles, wards, offices staffed by a range of medical professionals with varying degrees of enthusiasm, coping with terminal exhaustion and a hierarchy that won’t let go of age-old rivalries between departments. Looking at the personal and professional lives of the medical staff as they deal with the unrelenting pressure to make the right decisions for both their patients and themselves. Continue reading “Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2011

My intention is, honestly, to see less theatre this year and try and regain some semblance of a normal life again on the odd evening. But the curse of advance booking and grabbing cheap(er) tickets whilst you can has meant that there’s already an awful lot of theatre booked for 2011. Some have been booked without a huge deal of enthusiasm, but others have a dangerous amount of anticipation attached to them…and so I present to you, the shows I am most excited about seeing this year (so far).

 
Antonioni Project – Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

The Roman Tragedies was hands down one of the most exhilarating and refreshing theatrical experiences of 2009 and possibly my life, I’m even headed to Amsterdam in May to see a surtitled production of their Angels in America. So when I heard that the same Dutch theatre company were returning to the Barbican in February, tickets were booked instantly and I am feverishly over-excited for this now! Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2011”

Review: The Power Of Yes, National

“The people who have to pay the price are never the ones who benefit”

Commissioned by the National Theatre to respond to the recent financial crisis, David Hare’s latest work arrives at the Lyttleton in an attempt to try and cast some light on the global meltdown and how it was allowed to happen. The Power Of Yes is subtitled ‘A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis’ and is the result of a series of interviews carried out with key players from a range of institutions.

Anthony Calf plays the playwright himself in a quirky set-up as we are instantly informed that this is less of a play and more of a story-telling exercise, and guided by a Financial Times journalist played by the lovely Jemima Rooper, starts to ask the necessary questions to get down to the roots of the crisis and try to apportion culpability. The rate at which these questions are asked, and answered by a sometimes bewildering array of characters, leaves you breathless, but Hare has a knack for anchoring the flow of information to tangible markers. So when one feels in danger of getting lost in the financial jargon, we are hooked right back in with the kind of statistics that bring home the true scale of sums that were involved. Continue reading “Review: The Power Of Yes, National”