The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #9

“Man is a giddy thing”

Much Ado About Nothing

Quite a bold gambit here, as Jessica Swale’s Sicily-set scenes are interpolated with Jeremy Herrin’s glorious 2011 production. And most glorious within that production, Eve Best’s heart-breaking, life-affirming recounting of a star dancing is placed front and centre. So Katherine Parkinson and Samuel West are up against it a bit, swanning luxuriously but longfully around the Villa Ida in Messina, never too far from Best and Charles Edwards doing Beatrice and Benedick as well as they ever have been done.


All’s Well That Ends Well
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Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola Theatre

“The problem with Hannes is…”

One can always rely on the Arcola to bring interesting writing to light and in the form of the VOLTA International Festival, Artistic Director Andrea Ferran has managed that four times over, bringing together new work by four celebrated international writers, translated into English for the first time – Christopher Chen, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Ewald Palmetshofer and Roland Schimmelpfennig. With four directors, James Perkins designing and an ensemble covering all the shows, it proved to be a fascinating festival and one which deserves more attention than it received.

Caught by San Francisco-based Christopher Chen twists wonderfully around notions of truth and fiction as three separate but interlinked scenes toy with how art plays with and changes under our perceptions. Cressida Brown’s direction cleverly plays up how we all find our own truth in everything, no matter how the subject is approached, preconceived notions shaping us even as they’re deconstructed and always, always making us think about what we’ve just seen. Chen takes no prisoners in the complexity of some of his thinking but it’s fascinating stuff indeed. Continue reading “Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange

“Love is just a better way to hurt each other”

Ellen McDougall’s debut production for the Royal Exchange is actually a trans-Pennine affair as once Anna Karenina wraps up in Manchester, the show will be heading over the hills (stopping at a Betty’s Tea Room en route as must surely be done) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, along with Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone with which it plays in rep. It is always pleasing to see this kind of regional collaboration actually coming to fruition as it does provide reassurances that the arts are finding the best ways to work through these financially straitened times.

It helps of course when the work is of this quality. Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s famed novel is very much unafraid to cut and reconfigure the story into something overtly theatrical as characters break out of the narrative to introduce themselves and provide short cuts through the author’s tangled web of nineteenth century Russian aristocracy. Clifford, and McDougall, also pull in the focus so that the counterpoint of Anna’s fast-burning passion with the dashing Vronsky and Levin’s hard-fought love for Katy becomes the beating heart of the matter. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange”

Review: God Bless The Child, Royal Court

“What would you do differently next time Badger?”

The first thing that strikes you as you enter the Royal Court’s upstairs space for God Bless The Child is the complete immersiveness of Chloe Lamford’s set design. It may sound clichéd but it really does feel like you’re stepping into a primary school classroom and the level of detail is so pitch-perfect, it isn’t long before you utterly forget where you are and get swept up in reading the various school projects on the wall and admiring the crayon-colouring of the flags of the world. It’s a great start to what emerges as a slyly subversive play that shows you’re never too young to be a revolutionary.

As with Vivienne Franzmann and Mogadishu, Molly Davies brings a wealth of teaching experience to her playwriting after many years in the job and in shows in the little details of its characters. The enthusiasm with which Ony Uhiara’s youthful Ms Newsome seizes on new teaching initiative Badger Do Best, the cautious eye on finances that Nikki Amuka-Bird’s head Ms Evitt maintains, the seen-it-all pragmatism of old-school teaching assistant Mrs Bradley, perfectly cast in Julie Hesmondhalgh. And as government-appointed educational Svengali, Amanda Abbington’s Sali Rayner has a chilling evangelical zeal.

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Review: Eye of a Needle, Southwark Playhouse

“I am black, I am gay, do you think these people want me in their country?”

For all that it is one of the most provocative of hot-button topics, the workings of the current UK immigration system remains a mystery to many and so there is a fascination to Chris MacDonald’s debut play which if anywhere near the truth, indicates it must be one of the most harrowing places to work. Eye of the Needle shows us the world of an Immigration Detention Centre through the eyes of not-quite-a-newcomer Laurence, a junior caseworker struggling to keep himself detached from the work.

Initially, he’s more interested in funding a nightlife in Dalston’s finest watering holes, regularly rocking up to work with a hangover and barely stifling giggles as he asks gay asylum seekers the ridiculous requirement to provide some sort of proof of their sexuality. An early scene does find the humour here but the laughter is soon cut off as a big case lands on his desk, that of Ugandan gay rights activist Natale, and finally the gravity of his position within the UKBA, and the power he wields over the lives of his caseload, begins to sink in. Continue reading “Review: Eye of a Needle, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Idomeneus, Gate Theatre

 
“All could be well. Everything could be difficult.”

There’s a wonderful synchronicity in the arrival of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Idomeneus at the Gate Theatre at the same time that the divisive Mr Burns is in residence at the Almeida, both plays toy wonderfully with ideas of cultural narrative and how stories get passed down through the generations. And it is tempting to think that had this opened first – with its reference point being classicist-friendly Greek tragedy as opposed to the apparently alienating The Simpsons – the response to that latter play might have been a little different with the larger theme already established in the mind.

Who knows though and in some respects, who cares. It really feels like there’s a current vein of theatre that is striking out on its own – it may leave critics scurrying away at intervals or declaring their worst nights ever but by the same token, one might argue that that is how these theatremakers feel whilst sitting through the latest lauded revival of a Noël Coward play (I may or may not have borrowed this idea from someone… ;-)). But at the Almeida, the Royal Court and now the Gate, you can find theatre that really is unafraid to be different – it’s not to say that it is automatically good but even the mere act of stretching what we know as theatre in the UK feels important. Continue reading “Review: Idomeneus, Gate Theatre”

Review: The El. Train, Hoxton Hall

“So the night recedes too, until at last it must die and join all the other long nights in nirvana”

So Ruth Wilson is a god amongst mere mortals, you all know that right? Probably one of the most exciting actresses working at the moment, Hollywood has now come a-calling and she should surely have been a shoo-in for Doctor Who if she were so inclined (although given her inimitable excellence as the devilish Alice Morgan in Luther, perhaps she is destined to be the next regeneration of the Rani…) and so her return to the stage in any shape or form is something to celebrate. And in The El. Train, this triple bill of Eugene O’Neill one-act plays, her artistic wings fledge even further as whilst she appears in the first two, she makes her directorial debut in the third.

Wilson has form with O’Neill of course – her Anna Christie at the Donmar was rightfully hugely lauded and she slips right back into the groove perfectly. She effortlessly holds the stage as the busying Mrs Rowland in Before Breakfast, struggling to make ends meet whilst her feckless husband languishes out of work, ballsily confident whilst yelling at him from the kitchen and sneaking guiltily satisfying sips of grog from the cupboard. Likewise in The Web that follows, her ability to conjure the most intensely felt of emotions at the drop of a hat is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to witness, especially in the intimately historical surroundings of Hoxton Hall. Continue reading “Review: The El. Train, Hoxton Hall”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2

“Fools tell the truth”

Where success lies, so sequels inevitably follow and after the success of Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, a second series following a different case through the legal system was commissioned and broadcast in 2009. Maxine Peake starred as Juliet Miller, the central figure of the show, a housewife and mother thoroughly cowed by an intensely and secretly abusive relationship whose entry into the criminal justice system commences when she finally stabs her husband, a neatly counter-intuitive piece of casting in Matthew Macfadyen.

I enjoyed the first Ben Whishaw-starring series a huge amount and found it a fresh take on the crime genre so a re-run of something similar was never going to have quite the same impact. But although it is a different take on the model, it didn’t grip me in quite the same way, lacking that sense of relatability that came from having a young male protagonist. For this is a much more female-centric drama – domestic violence, mother-and-baby units, work/life balance are just some of the issues at hand as Peake’s Juliet reels from the impact of her actions, the suspicion with which she is treated, the stresses leading up to and during the trial.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2”

Review: The Globe Mysteries, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Open the clouds”

It is rare that one witnesses people encouraging the clouds to open at any performance at the Globe, it seems like a needless temptation of fate! But nevertheless, Tony Harrison works in the phrase into this play and on this occasion at least, the heavens did not open (although Mary did still get assumpted!) Starting off with God and the creation and whipping through key stories from the Bible – ostensibly with messages incorporated for us in modern life – until we reach the last judgement, The Globe Mysteries is Tony Harrison’s own adaptation of his 1977 version of The Mysteries for the National Theatre.

Played with a cast of 14 who cover over 60 roles between them, we move from the Garden of Eden through Noah to the birth and death of Jesus and then beyond. There’s a rough chronology which sees us sweeping through time so that we end up more or less in a modern-day setting around the time of Jesus’ death which means the whole range of the costume department is exploited. Harrison’s text is a rough kind of verse, with rhyming couplets and modern reference points aplenty but it is a deeply traditional set of stories which doesn’t take well to the transfer and overall, I found it to be rather problematic. Continue reading “Review: The Globe Mysteries, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe

“There was a star danced, and under that I was born”

Much Ado About Nothing fans really are in for a treat this summer with two major productions running on either side of the river. The blockbuster version at the Wyndhams has the starrier casting to be sure but there is real delight to be had Bankside too as the Globe have tempted Eve Best from the world of American television (if only for a limited time) to star alongside Charles Edwards in this more traditional, but perhaps more engaging version of this most romantic of Shakespeare’s comedies. Claudio and Hero’s relationship is at the centre of this play and how Don John’s machinations threaten to thwart their true love, but it is in their friends Benedick and Beatrice’s sparring and refusal to admit their mutual love that really elevates this play into something special and that is what we have here at the Globe.

What is comes down to is the most delightful performance from Eve Best as Beatrice, my first opportunity to see her on stage and one which you should not miss. Unafraid to show the vulnerable, almost desperate side to the character as well as the customary sparky humour that serves as her distancing technique, she envelops every single member of the audience in her confiding embrace and I loved her from the start, even whilst cruelly dashing Don Pedro’s hopes. Charles Edwards’ rather foppish Benedick is a brilliant counterpart too, whose public school mannerisms are hilarious and an almost effective way of keeping his heart from bruising. And together they make a beautifully well-matched couple whose eventual union really gladdens the heart. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe”