Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange

“I’m not interested in your perfect functions”

It is often the case with lesser performed works by well-known playwrights that there’s a reason why they don’t occupy the same place in the canon, and so it was with this production of Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play Orpheus Descending which I managed to squeeze into the end of a hectic work trip to Manchester. It is unmistakeably his work: elements like the oppressive heat of the Deep South, repressed passion and a mismatched couple are present and correct. But there’s also a lugubrious pace and a patchwork quilt of superfluous supporting characters which helps to explain its relative obscurity.

Lady Torrance is an unhappily married Mississippi store-owner whose head is well and truly turned with the arrival of handsome young drifter Val. He’s escaping his past but finds himself in the most stifling kind of narrow-minded community as they react against him. At the same time though, he offers the potential of a way out for Lady who dares to dream of a more liberated future, but the constraints of her present circumstances and the ever-powerful echoes of the horrific past mean nothing is easy. Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange”

Re-review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith

“I sometimes think I’m the best person in this town”

Returning to the Lyric Hammersmith for a two week run before a national tour, Punk Rock premiered a year ago to great success and introduced me to great performances from the likes of Tom Sturridge and Henry Lloyd-Hughes, but particularly Jessica Raine who is tearing up the stage at the National in Earthquakes in London and is my tip for great things in the near future. It is the same production team here but with a rejigged cast, three originals remain with a sea of new faces, two of whom are making their professional stage debuts.

Set in a private school in Stockport and following some sixth-formers over a few months as they deal with the pressures of mock A-Levels and the tantalising glimpse of university and the freedom from their current life it offers. It sweeps over a range of teen issues, bullying both by text and physically, inappropriate crushes, fears about the future and university, sexual confusion, self-harming, in an impressive manner, never lingering too long on any but not patronising them either as the relationships between them become the focal point as we reach the shocking climax. Continue reading “Re-review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith

Marking the beginning of Sean Holmes’ artistic directorship of the Lyric Hammersmith, Punk Rock is a new play written by Simon Stephens. It looks at the experiences of seven teenagers as they negotiate their final years of private school in Stockport, with the pressure of imminent mock exams looming on top of their regular adolescent trials and tribulations. The punk rock of the title is limited to short bursts which mark the scene changes, which i have to say was a blessing for me!

The company is made up of young people (thankfully there’s no 30 year olds dressing up embarassingly as schoolboys) with a combination of some experienced actors and some debutantes. This definitely adds to the freshness of the production, which is handsomely mounted, the library set looking very convincing. The action opens with new girl Lily meeting the somewhat kooky Will who is keen to impress the newcomer but finds his plans skewered by the arrival of other schoolmates into the library. Continue reading “Review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith”