Review: The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead Theatre

“Maybe the only thing we’re obliged to do…is think the unthinkable”

One always knows that when Katie Mitchell’s name appears in connection with a play, then it is bound to be something just a little bit different as she has proved herself to be one of our most original, and consequently divisive, directors. Her latest foray into the theatre is with Simon Stephens’ satirical new play The Trial of Ubu which is just starting at the Hampstead Theatre. Mitchell has recently collaborated with both: Stephens’ play Wastwater left me more than a little bemused at the Royal Court but her installation piece small hours which played as part of the Hampstead Downstairs season last year was quietly, disturbingly excellent.

The Trial of Ubu is quite something else though. Dark, disconcerting and challenging, it really is unlike anything else in London at the moment. I saw it without knowing anything about it, or indeed about the play itself to be honest, aside from having a vague recollection of having heard a mention of Père Ubu once upon a time. And it is obviously up to you how forewarned you want to be about the show, just be aware that what will follow will necessarily contain a few spoilers. Continue reading “Review: The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead Theatre”

DVD Review: Calendar Girls

“I can’t knit or make plum jam, but I can make a bloody victoria sponge…Of course I didn’t make this one, I got it from Marks and Spencer”

I managed to resist the temptation to go and see the stage version of Calendar Girls, the prospect of it never really appealed and though it has now started appearing with regularity on the touring circuit, I still haven’t worked enough desire to make the effort. When the film appeared on the television though in a post-turkey leftovers dinner haze, I couldn’t find the remote and so ended up watching it. I seem to remember quite liking it in the cinema, but something obviously didn’t settle too well in my memory as I’d never revisited on DVD or TV, never mind on stage, despite its epic cast of dames to be.

For much like with The King’s Speech, the feel-good factor that comes from the first viewing just evaporated and what was left was, to me at least, a rather thin film, of limited characterisation and what little there is feels laboured and contrived. A problem I guess that results from trying to dramatise a real life story, but one which felt rather exposed when rewatching the film. Continue reading “DVD Review: Calendar Girls”

Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre

“What is there more?”

The Kitchen was one of Arnold Wesker’s first plays and follows on from the Royal Court’s well-received (if not by me) Chicken Soup with Barley in a year which has been something of a revival for Wesker. Written in 1959 and inspired by his own experiences of working in the catering industry, it is set in 1957 in the basement kitchen of a large London restaurant, the Tivoli. The dynamics of a swirling multi-cultural mass of chefs, waitresses and kitchen porters are exposed as they slowly build to the mad rush of a huge lunchtime service. Playing in the Olivier at the National Theatre, this was a late preview performance.

Director Bijan Sheibani has assembled a cast of 30 who rush about Giles Cadle’s circular kitchen set with increasing fervour as prep turns into service and the banter with all its personal enmities, tribal groupings and rivalries between kitchen staff and dining-room staff becomes increasingly fraught, and of course largely forgotten as the rush passes and the calm of the afternoon allows for a more reflective atmosphere. The less intense evening service provides a final act is no less dramatic though as slow burning stories finally explode. Continue reading “Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre”

Review: Greenland, National Theatre

“It’s like we’re conducting a big, massive experiment…”

Pulling together narratives and investigative work from four playwrights, Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne around the ever-current issue of climate change, Greenland is the latest play at the National Theatre to tackle this issue, following on from Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London last year. Based on interviews with scientists, politicians, money-makers and philosophers, woven together by dramaturg Ben Power and directed by Bijan Sheibani, this is a highly ambitious, challenging piece of work and though this was the first preview, it seems that some of these challenges might be a little too much.

Predictably, multiple strands of story run parallel, some explored and revisited more than others as the narrative shifts around, there are occasional intersections but these are perfunctory rather than integral to the stories. Amongst everything, there’s a young woman moved to drop out of university to become a climate change activist; two women in a therapy session (there was division in the group as to whether they were mother/daughter or a lesbian couple, but it really isn’t that important) who are being driven apart by the strident ‘green’ views of one of them; two guys bird-watching in Greenland, one of whom has been doing it for 40 years; a Labour politician struggling to make a difference leading up to and at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. All are trying to make sense of the conflicting viewpoints around the issue and figuring out who to trust and what, if anything, can be done. Continue reading “Review: Greenland, National Theatre”