Review: The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre

“Choke a chicken”

Gruelling Irish dramas seem to pop up with some regularity at the National and Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars is just the latest to test my patience. The play is considered O’Casey’s masterpiece but given that I didn’t last past the interval of Juno and the Paycock here a few years ago, I didn’t enter the Lyttelton with the highest of expectations.

And nor did it meet them. Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin’s revival may possess poignant resonance in marking the centenary of the crucial event it builds up to – the Easter Rising of 1916 – but it also feels like it takes a century to get round to it. A large ensemble populate the tenement building at the heart of the community featured here and they all get their chance to have their considerable say. Continue reading “Review: The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre”

Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola Theatre

“The problem with Hannes is…”

One can always rely on the Arcola to bring interesting writing to light and in the form of the VOLTA International Festival, Artistic Director Andrea Ferran has managed that four times over, bringing together new work by four celebrated international writers, translated into English for the first time – Christopher Chen, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Ewald Palmetshofer and Roland Schimmelpfennig. With four directors, James Perkins designing and an ensemble covering all the shows, it proved to be a fascinating festival and one which deserves more attention than it received.

Caught by San Francisco-based Christopher Chen twists wonderfully around notions of truth and fiction as three separate but interlinked scenes toy with how art plays with and changes under our perceptions. Cressida Brown’s direction cleverly plays up how we all find our own truth in everything, no matter how the subject is approached, preconceived notions shaping us even as they’re deconstructed and always, always making us think about what we’ve just seen. Chen takes no prisoners in the complexity of some of his thinking but it’s fascinating stuff indeed. Continue reading “Review: VOLTA Festival 2015, Arcola Theatre”

Review: She Stoops To Conquer, Theatre Royal Bath

“Pardon me madam. I was always willing to be amused. The folly of most people is rather an object of mirth than uneasiness.”

Restoration comedies fit the Theatre Royal Bath with the snugness of centuries-old comfort but even with Lindsay Posner updating She Stoops To Conquer to the 1920s, it’s hard not to feel that there’s something inherently dusty about this austere venue. Audiences in London have been spoiled for choice with witty reinventions of the genre – Jessica Swale’s brilliant revisionist work on shows like The Rivals and The Busy Body have enlivened the Southwark Playhouse and the National has had raucous takes on The Beaux’ Stratagem (still running) and this very Oliver Goldsmith play effervescently directed by Jamie Lloyd.

But Posner ‘s direction has a near-fatal lugubriousness in the first half which, already weighed down with a considerable amount of scene-setting and expositionary dialogue, makes for very hard going. Sad to say, things are just dull for too long and nowhere near light-heartedly entertaining enough to do justice to this cracking comedy. The tropes of mismatched love affairs, disguised paramours, mistaken identities and wonderfully ambitious women are all present and correct – London gents Marlow and Hastings mistaking the Hardcastles’ country pile for a country inn and have to go a country mile around the houses to undo the damage they inflict and ensure love wins the day. Continue reading “Review: She Stoops To Conquer, Theatre Royal Bath”

Review: Three Sisters, Young Vic

“It’s like a nail being hammered in my head”

Back when the Young Vic announced their forthcoming shows as being A Doll’s House and Three Sisters, I was a little surprised at how safe the programming seemed, on the surface at least. For as it turned out, Ibsen was revitalised by Simon Stephens to stunning effect in one of the shows of the year so far and so expectations were high for Chekhov’s turn, adapted and directed by Benedict Andrews, the Australian auteur whose Cate Blanchett-starring Big and Small proved to be somewhat divisive.

And this production, set in an abstract modern day, also seems set to provoke strong opinion. From Helen Rappaport’s literal translation, Andrews has thoroughly modernised the language of this story of three young women trapped in a stultifying provincial Russian town, dreaming of heady love affairs and escaping to the Moscow of their childhoods yet unable to fully wrest control of their lives from the cruel twists of fate. But dislocating the play from the social and economic context in which Chekhov conceived it seriously undermines a central aspect of the drama.  Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Young Vic”