Review: Table, National Theatre

“I have a world map on my door.
‘We’ll see if we can find Lichfield on it later’.”

As the Cottesloe becomes the Dorfman, among other changes, the National Theatre has erected a temporary space called The Shed to keep a third working venue in their complex and opening the programme there, is this original play Table by Tanya Ronder. A family saga that stretches across several generations from 19thcentury Staffordshire to modern day London, taking in trips to hippy communes and East African missions, and with a rather gentle grace, it explores the way in which the actions of our parents impact on the people we become and how easy it is to irrevocably hurt the ones we love.

It’s a densely told story, made more complex by a fracturing of the timeline which sees the focus constantly shifting between time periods, and it may take some getting used to. Rufus Norris marshals his deeply talented cast of nine, who cover thirty characters across six generations of the Best family, with a highly engaging playfulness but it does take a little time for the key pieces to come into focus and for the play to really coalesce into something affecting. But when it does get there, and it was the second half for me, its gentle energy and reflective charm make for a winning combination. Continue reading “Review: Table, National Theatre”

Re-review: Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee, ENO at the Coliseum

“This is the language of heaven”

It wasn’t intention to revisit Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee now it has arrived at the ENO’s home at the Coliseum, but as I haven’t learned to respond to any offer along the lines of “I have a spare ticket…” in anything but the affirmative, that was where I ended up tonight. I actually caught this show last year when it premiered as part of the Manchester International Festival (review can be read here) and though my feelings were decidedly mixed, they were generally positive, especially given that the work was still raw and fresh, only having recently come out of workshopping. A year down the line, changes have been made to the show, but I have to admit that my feelings were still largely quite ambivalent.

Based on the historically significant, if neglected, figure of Elizabethan Dr John Dee, Albarn and director Rufus Norris have created something of a spectacle, but even after the refinements that have been made, it remains something of a perplexing piece. Dee’s biography reads as a thing of great fascination, a key advisor to Elizabeth I, he was a man whose extraordinary breadth of knowledge took in astrology, alchemy, philosophy, mathematics and much more besides but when this unquenchable thirst lead him to increasingly dabble in the occult, he sowed the seeds of his own downfall. But you would be hard-pressed to gather much of this from the events onstage. Continue reading “Re-review: Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee, ENO at the Coliseum”

Review: All New People, Duke of York’s Theatre

“We’re all in pain, Charlie”

Zach Braff’s debut play All New People premiered off-Broadway last year with the new playwright remaining behind the scenes. But for its arrival into the West End, after a short UK tour, the Scrubs star has taken up the lead role as the suicidal Charlie. He’s shut himself away in a New Jersey beach house in the depth of winter to do the deed, but his solitude is interrupted by the arrival of three misfits who set about infuriating him yet ultimately helping to shift his outlook in the subtlest of ways.

Yet the play is anything but subtle. The cutaways to flashbacks to explain why each of the characters has ended up in this particular circumstance offer amusing cameos from a range of stars, but rob scenes of their dramatic impetus; the destruction of a bead-filled piece of African art sets up some painfully contrived pratfalls; the continued recourse to (sometimes highly amusing) one-liners; the clunky shoehorning in of the show’s title in a moment of cod-philosophy in the final moments. The clumsy construction of the play’s components is frequently laid bare and the lack of finesse in the writing all too apparent. Continue reading “Review: All New People, Duke of York’s Theatre”

Review: Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The reward of sin is death”

The tale of Faust is one which is seemingly never far from our stages in one form or another, whether it is opera, another opera or Icelandic acrobatics. But Christopher Marlowe can lay claim to perhaps being the first to dramatise this story back in Elizabethan times and this production of Doctor Faustus marks the first time it will have been performed at Shakespeare’s Globe.

A strange mixture of dark tragedy and broad comedy, the play looks at the danger of recklessly pursuing the quest for knowledge, power and wealth without due responsibility. Faustus, tired of his life of dusty scholarship, makes a pact with the Devil exchanging his soul after death for 24 years of service from his trusty servant Mephistopheles. Blinded by the material benefits that easy access to the dark arts garners him, the reality of eternal damnation doesn’t hit until far too late. Continue reading “Review: Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Polar Bears, Donmar Warehouse

“Where’s Kay, is she in Oslo? No, she’s in the cellar.”

Polar Bears is quite a coup for the Donmar Warehouse, being the first play written by celebrated novelist Mark Haddon. After the huge success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which featured a lead character with Asperger’s Syndrome and its follow-up A Spot of Bother, Haddon has now turned his hand to the theatre.

If you can, I would recommend going into this play with as little knowledge of it as possible, as it really does enhance the whole effect of it to no end. The review that follows does not contain any plot spoilers per se but it does discuss the nature and structure of the play which in itself is a bit spoilery, so if you’ve not seen it yet and you intend to, look away now! (But do come back afterwards xx) Continue reading “Review: Polar Bears, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Rosmersholm, Almeida Theatre

Rosmersholm is one of Ibsen’s lesser performed plays and is presented at the Almeida Theatre in a new version here by Mike Poulton. It is also notable for marking the return to the stage of the wonderful Helen McCrory, an Islington local, and one of my favourite actresses.

Rosmer, a former pastor, is oppressed by a whole series of factors: his conservative ancestry, guilt over his wife’s suicide and loss of religious faith. But, aided by his companion, Rebecca West, he believes he can set out on a new path of missionary idealism. This, however, turns out to be a fantasy as he is not strong in his new path, society turns against him and his new democratic ideals, his closeness to West makes them become a subject of scandal, and as Rebecca has her own demons too, sets them on a path where the weight of the past threatens everything.

Continue reading “Review: Rosmersholm, Almeida Theatre”