Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

“This revolt of thine is like another fall of man”

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn’t newsworthy in and of itself but we don’t and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles – the intrigue of Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter’s Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.

Insofar as Robert Hastie’s modern-dress production has a conceit, it’s of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell’s Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role – and it’s hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry’s head. And from then, it’s a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle’s square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross’ movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Pastoral, Soho Theatre

“They got me outside Habitat”

Thomas Eccleshare’s Pastoral came highly recommended to me, having transferred to the Soho Theatre after premiering at HighTide, but I have to say that this bleakly comic take on ecological catastrophe left me rather cold. All rational people know that whatever ever they offer you, [you] don’t feed the plants, but somebody seems to have ignored that and consequently this version of England is being taken over by the countryside. Hunting for an escape, a small group of people take shelter in a house as they struggle to adapt to their new circumstances but it soon becomes clear that Mother Nature is being a bitch tonight. 

That said, they’re closer to having a kiki than you might think. Eccleshare invests his characters with a mordant sense of humour from the off, primarily in Anna Calder-Marshall’s excellent Moll who rips through her dislikes with zero regard for political correctness. The arrival of a family unit seems to locate us further in single-room sitcom territory, especially as the tales that everyone tells of their disintegrating world are of unlikely sightings such as wild mushrooms growing in Subway, rabbits in Aldi and a babbling brook complete with herons and kingfishers breaking through outside of Nandos. Continue reading “Review: Pastoral, Soho Theatre”

Review: After Miss Julie, Young Vic

“Don’t confuse my appetite”

It is turning out to be the year of the Julie for me: having already taken in one production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie by the Faction theatre company, I have two others lined up with Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange in a new version by David Eldridge and Juliette Binoche taking on Martin Crimp’s interpretation at the Barbican to look forward to. But second up was Patrick Marber’s take, After Miss Julie, at the Young Vic’s Maria studio. Marber relocates the three-hander to a Britain dealing with the Labour landslide victory of 1945 to startling effect.

In a world that can taste huge social change on the tip of its tongue, housekeeper Christine makes kidneys on toast for her (almost fiancé) chauffeur John as the rest of the staff party upstairs. He cheekily cracks open a bottle of the finest wine from the cellar and they gossip about the antics of the daughter of the house but when the self-same Miss Julie appears at the top of the stairs, Natalie Dormer in fierce flirtatious form, with her eye set on toying with Kieran Bew’s thoroughly masculine John, the scene is set for a torrid night of sex, gender politics and class warfare. Continue reading “Review: After Miss Julie, Young Vic”

DVD Review: Macbeth

This filmed version of Macbeth follows on from the well-received Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, that was also captured for posterity but given the filmic treatment rather than just recorded on stage. The entire adult cast, including Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the murderous couple, from the original Chichester production reunited to film this in high definition in the gloomy tunnels and bunker-like rooms at Walbeck Abbey.

Director Rupert Goold relocates the action to the Cold War Era thus making war-torn Scotland something closer to Stalinist Russia:, the hallmarks of fascism are ever-present with giant posters of the ruler dominating rooms, a police state mentality prevailing with torture used to maintain fear and control over the people as the Macbeths seek to sate their bloodlust and desire for the crown through any means necessary.

I’m not too sure how I feel about Stewart as an actor, something about him just turns me off, but he is undoubtedly impressive here, demonstrating a clinical control over the verse and playing the dictator-like ambition turning to paranoid desperation with conviction. Fleetwood’s Lady Macbeth was chillingly effective as the driving force behind this blood-thirsty ambition, portraying a real malevolence that curdles inside her as the loveless marriage begins to crack.

Goold’s assignment of the weird sisters as surgical-masked nurses who are frequently seen around the edges of scenes puts a stronger emphasis on the supernatural side of things, suggesting the ominous inevitability of his fate and perhaps even manipulating it themselves. Polly Frame, Sophie Hunter and Niamh McGrady are all excellent though and the visual and sound effects employed on their performances adds an extra layer of disturbing menace.

As ever, Macduff and Malcolm’s killer scene dragged interminably, but there were nice performances from Tim Treloar as a bookish Ross, Suzanne Burden as the butchered Lady Macduff. But what shines as the biggest benefit to the whole thing is the use of close-ups to really capture the nuances of performances that could well have escaped people on the front row, never mind up in the gods. There’s a level of detail that one is allowed to observe here, that really elevates this from a mere recording of a staged production and demonstrating where this format has a clear value and shouldn’t just be dismissed as ‘no substitute for the real thing’.

Yes, this is not the same thing as going to the theatre but nor is it pretending to be and instead offers an opportunity that couldn’t really be equalled whilst sat in the stalls and made this an interesting and significant thing to watch.

Review: Earthquakes in London, National Theatre

“This room is significantly different because you’re in it”

And boy is it different! The first thing that strikes you as you enter the Cottesloe for Earthquakes in London is not the light jazz elevator music, but the complete reconfiguration of the auditorium inside. An inverted S-shaped catwalk-stage dominates, with bar stools either side for the audience, two raised letterbox stages at either end and a DJ in the corner.

A new play from the pen of Mike Bartlett (he of Cock and also Bull) and a co-production with Rupert Goold’s Headlong company. With a timeline switching around from 1968 to 2525 (though predominantly in the present day), it deals with the threat of climate change and impending planetary collapse by looking at the impact on a family of three sisters each with their own issues and the same estranged father. Continue reading “Review: Earthquakes in London, National Theatre”