Review: The Witness, Royal Court

“You are going to see things that are going to hurt you”

Vivienne Franzmann’s first, Bruntwood-winning, play Mogadishu was a deserved success last year and so her follow-up work for the Royal Court, The Witness, was something I was most definitely looking forward to. And as one enters the upstairs theatre with one of the cleverest and most ingenious in-the-round designs I’ve seen (has anyone done that before?) from Lizzie Clachan, anticipation was certainly high.

Joseph is a war photographer who is now living a quieter life in Hampstead, still processing the grief of becoming a widower and waiting for the return of his adoptive daughter Alex from her first year at Cambridge. He rescued her from the scene of a war crime in Rwanda and changed her life dramatically, but her time away has raised serious questions of identity for her and so her father decides to reveal a secret he has been keeping for a while… Continue reading “Review: The Witness, Royal Court”

Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse

“Such is the breath of kings”

After nearly a decade as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage is bowing out to let Josie Rourke take up the reins and his final production for this theatre is Shakespeare’s Richard II, most notably starring Eddie Redmayne. As the audience enter the auditorium, Redmayne is already poised in high state on his throne, the air heavy with incense in Richard Kent’s gilded Gothic set but we soon see how this regality is but a superficial veneer on a deeply flawed character.

This Richard is a petulant, nervy presence – a little prone to over-gesturing, acting out too many of the lines for my liking “make pale our cheek” is the example that sticks in the mind – as he is more effective in the subtle characterisations, the intensity of his eyes that nervously twitch throughout. This capriciousness is aired most perfectly in the reluctant coronation scene but as a whole but it ends up being rather one-note and missing some complexity, therefore it means that this isn’t a Richard that engenders much sympathy. Only in his final scenes, bereft of crown, sceptre and trappings of state, does he really fly and give beautiful voice to the verse. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Swan, National Theatre

Second up in Double Feature 1 is DC Moore’s The Swan. Set in a South London pub, much as his brilliant one-man show Honest was, the scene is the morning of a funeral and preparations are being made for the wake in this rundown establishment.

At the centre of everything is Jim, a bombastic performance from Trevor Cooper and blessed with some brilliantly inventive swearing, who claims to have been practically born in the pub where his mother was a singer and where he has ruled the roost ever since. Slowly but surely, more people arrive and the picture comes into focus as we come to realise exactly who the funeral was for and what his connection was to each of the characters. Continue reading “Review: The Swan, National Theatre”

The 2010 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize

Gwilym Lee, for Edgar in King Lear (Donmar Warehouse)

Second prize

Zawe Ashton, for Salome in Salome (Headlong Theatre)

Third prize

Vanessa Kirby, for Isabella in Women Beware Women (National Theatre), Rosalind in As You Like It (West Yorkshire Playhouse), and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Octagon Theatre)


Pippa Bennett-Warner, for Cordelia in King Lear (Donmar Warehouse)
Natalie Dormer, for Mitzi in Sweet Nothings (Young Vic)
Susannah Fielding, for Petra in An Enemy of the People (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield)
Melody Grove, for Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest (Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh)
Cush Jumbo, for Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)
Ferdinand Kingsley, for Rosencrantz in Hamlet (National Theatre)
James McArdle, for Malcolm in Macbeth (Shakespeare’s Globe), and Aleksey in A Month in the Country (Chichester Festival Theatre)
Jessica Raine, for Regina in Ghosts (Duchess Theatre)
Catrin Stewart, for Hilde in The Lady from the Sea (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)
Joseph Timms, for John of Lancaster in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Charity Wakefield, for Lydio Languish in The Rivals (Southwark Playhouse)
Ashley Zhangazha, for the King of France in King Lear (Donmar Warehouse)

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: Crocodile, Riverside Studios

“I want to let you speak to me

The fourth play in the Sky Arts Playhouse: Live season, previewing at the Riverside Studios before live transmission on Sky Arts 2 is Crocodile, a new play by Frank McGuinness starring Sinéad Cusack and Pippa Bennett-Warner. A girl has been arrested for committing an unspeakable crime but is refusing to speak. When she gets a visit from a woman who has had legal training in London, the story of what has happened is slowly teased out but in doing so, the woman reveals more about her own motives than she is comfortable with.

Cusack gives a predictably strong performance as Woman, the would-be defence lawyer working in Africa, overly keen to help piece together the mysteries of what has happened whilst trying to conceal the issues in her own life. Bennett-Warner, recently so very good in Ruined, gives another excellent turn here as Girl, holding tightly onto her secret and struggling to be able to articulate the true scope of what has happened to her. She has a graceful stage presence, able to use silence as well as words to convey her depth of emotion and she was extremely good when the balance of power shifted between the two women, really coming into her own and forcing Cusack’s Woman onto the back foot.

There’s a different set up to the previous two shows I’ve seen in this run (I missed Hens due to a wedding): the cage-like box has been replaced by a large stone tray representing a holding cell, with a smattering of furniture. It’s a spare setting which suits the play, though the haze-filled room combined with the considerable heat proved to be a little too soporific. The use of percussion throughout by Corinna Silvester was a choice that didn’t really work for me, I felt it intruded rather than enhanced proceedings and was a real distraction especially at times of great revelation.

Altogether, this was probably my least favourite of this season so far. It was very well acted but just didn’t engage me as completely as the others: this may have been as much to do with the heat as anything, yet there was something missing here for me. Crocodile will be broadcast on Sky Arts 2 at 9pm on Wednesday 30th June should you wish to catch it yourselves.

Running time: 45 minutes
Programme cost: free
Booking until 27th June

Review: Ruined, Almeida Theatre

“People come here to leave behind whatever mess they made out there”

Working in partnership with Amnesty International, the Almeida theatre gives us the European premiere of Ruined, the Pulitzer Prize winning play from Lynn Nottage. It is set at Mama Nadi’s, a bar and brothel in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mama runs her bar with a rod of iron, serving anyone who will pay, no matter what side they are fighting for, along as they leave their weapons and their politics at the bar. As the civil war encroaches ever nearer and two new arrivals who have suffered particularly badly at the hands of soldiers, she is forced to reassess her life of providing women and whiskey without question and decide if it is enough.

As Mama Nadi, Jenny Jules is excellent. She’s rarely off-stage and holds the whole play together with her irrepressible hostessing, able to charm any customer yet possessed of an indomitable spirit, no soldier, no matter how threatening, gets past her with a weapon and she rules over her girls with a rod of iron. Starting off like Brecht’s Mother Courage, a similar profiteer from wartime chaos, her motivations remain mostly ambiguous but as events catch up with her, she becomes much more emotionally engaged. Jules is supported extremely well by Pippa Bennett-Warner as Sophie, bright and beautiful yet ‘ruined’ by a bayonet, Michelle Asante as Salima, gang-raped by soldiers but then even more painfully, shunned by her husband and Kehinde Fadipe as Josephine, the most sexually confident of the three but just as damaged. Together, they form an uncompromising group of women, scarred both inside and out by rebel soldiers, government soldiers, even their own families, and only able to dream of what might be in the (relative) safety of each other’s company. Continue reading “Review: Ruined, Almeida Theatre”