Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

(P)review: King Lear, National Theatre

“We cry that we are come to this great stage of fools” 

One of the hottest tickets of the New Year is undoubtedly Sam Mendes and Simon Russell Beale tackling King Lear for the National Theatre, a show which has now started previews in the Olivier. I saw it tonight but as press night is a week away next Thursday, I’m opting to preview the show rather than reviewing it per se, offering tasters and teasers about what to expect whilst trying my best to avoid spoilers.First up, you can read an interview here with Simon Russell Beale about how he got his hair did. I assume more features and things are due this weekend as this was the only one I could find about this production. The show currently comes in at a shade under 3 hours 30 minutes and though my initial reaction was along the lines of

Continue reading “(P)review: King Lear, National Theatre”

Review: Black Jesus, Finborough Theatre

“I decided who would be saved and who would be condemned. I took that responsibility for others and now I take it for myself”

The investigation of war crimes in Africa has already had one intriguing exploration on London’s stages this year in the excellent A Human Being Died That Night at the Hampstead but where that play focused on South Africa, Anders Lustgarten’s Black Jesus looks at contemporary Zimbabwe, the damage that Robert Mugabe’s regime has inflicted, and the possibilities of reaching any kind of resolution when the scars of conflict cut so deep.

It is set in the near future, where a Truth and Justice Commission has been set up to explore the crimes of the past. Eunice Ncube (the excellent Debbie Korley) is tasked with interviewing Gabriel (Paapa Essiedu, in a rich vein of form at the moment) one of the key members of a brutal youth militia movement called the Green Bombers, who crushed untold enemies with violence and remains a thoroughly intimidating figure. Continue reading “Review: Black Jesus, Finborough Theatre”

Review: Outside on the Street, Arcola Theatre

“You must have a Christian name you little pessimist”

As the Edinburgh Festival disgorges shows left right and centre into London theatres, it can still be a bit of challenge what to go and see – the cacophony of critical voices only really allows a small handful of must-see shows to emerge and the rest are left to fight for their own bit of London’s crowded turf. The choice to go and see Invertigo’s Outside on the Street at the Arcola was largely guided by my previous experience with the company when they brilliantly brought a Welsh-language play – Saer Doliau – to the Finborough earlier this year. But their mission to adventure into all kinds of unfamiliar European work and so this play sees them tackle this post-WWII tale by Wolfgang Borchert.

Partly based on his own experiences of escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp and returning to a war-devastated Hamburg, Borchert delves into something of the effects of a cataclysmic war, where not only physical destruction but emotional damage has been inflicted in the most overwhelming of ways and whether there is any possible way back from there. The central character is Sergeant Beckmann, who returns from Siberia to find his wife has taken a lover, his parents are dead, his city is ruined and in an act of desperation, decides to take his life by throwing himself into the Elbe. But the river sends him back into the world from whence he embarks on a torrid journey full of characters both real and imagined, surreally searching for any kind of solace he can find. Continue reading “Review: Outside on the Street, Arcola Theatre”

The 2012 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize

Ashley Zhangazha, for Ross in Macbeth (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield)

Second prize

Amy Morgan, for Margery Pinchwife in The Country Wife (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

Third prize

Lara Rossi, for Dol Common in The Alchemist (Liverpool Playhouse)

Commendations

Jade Anouka, for Calpurnia, Metellus Cimber, and Pindarus in Julius Caesar (Donmar Warehouse)
Alys Daroy, for Yelena in The Wood Demon (Theatre Collection)
Holly Earl, for Bertha in The Father (Belgrade Theatre, Coventry)
Kurt Egyiawan, for Arsace in Berenice (Donmar Warehouse)
Paapa Essiedu, for Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Johnny Flynn, for Viola in Twelfth Night (Globe Theatre and West End)
Aysha Kala, for Maid in Much Ado About Nothing (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Vanessa Kirby, for Masha in Three Sisters (Young Vic)
Simon Manyonda, for Lucius in Julius Caesar (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Luke Norris, for The Soldier in Antigone (National Theatre)
Ailish Symons, for Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest (Lyric Theatre, Belfast)
Ellie Turner, for Fanny Hawthorn in Hindle Wakes (Finborough Theatre)

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Hang the trifle, woman”

I think I only made it Stratford once last year, partly a consequence of so much of the RSC’s work playing in London as part of one festival or another, but once the casting was announced for The Merry Wives of Windsor, I knew I would be making the trip to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre once again. This production of Shakespeare’s comedy of middle-class trials and tribulations is in modern dress but the reference point is closer to the British sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s and as with many of those television shows, it has its high points and its low points.

Alexandra Gilbreath and Sylvestra Le Touzel were thankfully the production’s highlight as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively. I’ve long been a devotee of Gilbreath and she remains an utter joy to watch on the stage. Superficially she’s something of an Essex wife here but we soon see the playful intelligence that lies behind the animal print and there’s much to enjoy as she deploys her flirtatious verve and feminine wiles – her final costume nearly converted me I tell you. And the contrast against Le Touzel is well worked: though a doughtier figure born of country life, they make believable firm friends and there’s a lovely constancy to the emotiveness with which she speaks, she touches the heart just as effectively as she tickles the ribs. Continue reading “Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”