Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre

“I don’t like it when he calls it a movie”

Perhaps I am more ignorant of Jewish terminology than I ought to be, but I do find it a little surprising that the blurb for Nicholas Wright’s new play for the National Theatre, Travelling Light, simply states that it takes place in “a shtetl in Eastern Europe”. I’d no idea what a shtetl was, didn’t notice any explicatory reference in the text and over the last couple of days have asked a few people, none of whom knew either. The internet informs me it is a small town with a largely Jewish population, but it does seem an odd assumption of knowledge to make (or perhaps it is just indicative of how few Jewish friends I actually have…) In any case, that this is the detail that sticks most in my mind after seeing the show is indicative of how little I cared for it.

Set in the early 1900s, the play – still in previews – centres on Motl Mendl, a young Jewish photographer whose dreams and ambitions as he discovers the burgeoning art form of motion pictures set him on a path that will see him end up in Hollywood. But before he makes it big, he needs to extricate himself from domestic village life and that is easier said than done as they are a group of real ‘characters’ one and all. Chief among these is Jacob Bindel, an illiterate timber merchant who is so enthused about the potential of film-making that he stumps up the money needed to keep Motl from emigrating (for the time being at least) and to make a movie in their very own village. Or shtetl. Continue reading “Review: Travelling Light, National Theatre”

Review: Cock, Radio 3

”You want your boyfriend’s help with the woman you’re sleeping with”

I don’t listen to the radio much at all, but when Twitter notified me of the broadcasting of Mike Bartlett’s play Cock on Radio 3, with the original cast intact, I decided to make an exception. It was a play that I very much enjoyed when I saw it at the Royal Court Upstairs back in December 2009 and Bartlett has emerged as one of my favourite new writers, especially when he is focusing on the sharp intimate edges of human relationships.

Cock focuses on John’s difficulties when he realises how fluid his sexuality is. During a rough patch with his boyfriend, he has a random hook-up with a woman he has seen before on his daily commute and his eyes are opened to a whole world of new possibilities. But as he decides what, and who, he wants, the pressure from the others to make a choice increases.

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Review: King Lear, Donmar Warehouse

 “The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say”
 
So what ought I say? Well, this is actually my first time seeing King Lear, it was never a play I studied at school, college or university and it was never been one that I’ve ever really wanted to see. Consequently, I’ve managed to avoid it and its story but when Sir Derek Jacobi was announced in the role in a Donmar Warehouse production directed once again by Michael Grandage, the lure of seeing this play, oft regarded as one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, finally proved too great and so I booked for the first of three previews and it was well I decided when I did as this has become one of the hot tickets of the winter.

It was actually a genuine pleasure seeing such a play without knowing the plot, I was gripped in a way I’ve rarely been whilst watching Shakespeare as an adult and this tale of murder, malice, love, families, avarice, maiming, madness, deceit, remorse and so much death surprised me time and time again with its examination of human frailties. For those of you (and I don’t imagine there are many) who don’t know the plot, Lear is the aged King of Britain who chooses to abdicate and divide his kingdom into three to share amongst his daughters. But when the youngest refuses to make a public declaration of love and the Earl of Kent defends her, both are banished from the kingdom, leaving the older two daughters to inherit with their husbands and thus the seeds of treachery and revenge are planted as their ambition grows, throwing Lear’s world into chaos and threatening his very sanity. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Cock, Royal Court

“Maybe you’re the most complicated sexual being that ever existed”

Staged in the round upstairs at the Royal Court, inside a three tier plywood ring (which unfortunately put both me and my companion in mind of the set of Big Brother’s Big Mouth), the provocatively named Cock is a play which is performed without artifice, without props, just remarkably intense acting and the suggestive power of movement. Ben Whishaw plays John, a gay man tumbling out of a long term relationship with an older man, M (Andrew Scott) and finding unexpected solace in the arms of a woman, W (Katherine Parkinson). What follows is a messy struggle as John finds himself conflicted, not just with his fluctuating sexuality but also with issues of identity and the nature of the relationship that he wants to pursue, whether that be with M or W.

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Review: The Winter’s Tale, Bridge Project at the Old Vic

Accompanying The Cherry Orchard as part of the Bridge Project’s first run of plays which arrived at the Old Vic last month, is The Winter’s Tale, often considered one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’.

Starting off in Sicilia, the play follows childhood friends Leontes and Polixenes, Kings of Sicilia and Bohemia respectively, as Leontes allows his jealousy and paranoia over his pregnant wife to take over. Imprisoning his wife and ordering the murder of his friend, Leontes pushes everyone to the edge to destructive effect, even sending his newborn daughter to her death, a fate from which she is thankfully spared. The second act then jumps ahead 16 years in time to Bohemia, where we see a young couple falling in love and their peculiar parentages equip them with the power to heal the terrible events of the past. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Bridge Project at the Old Vic”

Review: The Cherry Orchard, Bridge Project at the Old Vic

The Bridge Project is a rather ambitious venture: an Anglo-American theatre company formed specially for three years and performing 2 plays a year in repertoire, touring across a number of venues over the world. With Sam Mendes as director, it has attracted a very strong group of actors, who have already formed a cracking ensemble, and I had my first experience with them this week in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic, the final stop in this first year of the Project.
 

The play has a new translation by Tom Stoppard, but given this is the first time I have seen it, I cannot really comment on its merits or otherwise, but the lovely lady sat next to me reassured me it was much more comic than than the last time she had seen it. It tells the story of the return of an aristocratic Russian lady, Ranevskaya, and her family to their hereditary estate since it is being sold off to pay for the mortgage. They are presented with different ways in which the estate could be saved and kept in the family, but the family do nothing and events overtake them as it emerges that their social status no longer affords them the protection that it used to. Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard, Bridge Project at the Old Vic”

Review: Awake and Sing!, Almeida Theatre

Directed by Michael Attenborough who is clearly looking to throw the light on lesser known playwrights here in the UK, Clifford Odets is regarded as a modern great and as important as Eugene O’Neill in the development of modern drama yet arguably remains relatively unknown here.

Awake and Sing is set in the Depression era and following the fortunes of a Jewish family living in the Bronx, it centres around the huge matriarchal figure of Bessie, played by no other than Rizzo herself, Stockard Channing. She keeps her family close around her but they are a motley crew: her husband is a depressed failure, her father is a revolutionary dreamer, her son is disillusioned with life and her daughter has got herself knocked up. In economically incredibly difficult times, Bessie has to make tough decisions to secure the future she desires for everyone, even if it means over-riding their own wishes and desires. Continue reading “Review: Awake and Sing!, Almeida Theatre”