Review: I Wish To Die Singing – Voices from the Armenian Genocide, Finborough Theatre

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Rather than being spoken, this quote – taken from a 1939 speech by Adolf Hitler – is projected onto the rear wall of the Finborough as you enter, setting the tone for this sobering piece of documentary theatre. Neil McPherson’s I Wish To Die Singing – Voices from the Armenian Genocide is pulled together from a range of sources – eyewitness accounts and personal testimonies, the worlds of academia and poetry, photographs and music, Cher and Kim Kardashian – to mark the precise centenary of the beginnings of the events that later inspired the coining of the very word ‘genocide’ by Raphael Lemkin.

From the history lecture-like beginnings that cover the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a Turkish Republic whose rabid nationalism saw them enter the First World War on the sides of the Germans, to the searing pain of an old man reclaiming long-buried memories of being in the middle of a human catastrophe, Tommo Fowler’s production makes no attempt to sugarcoat this particularly bitter pill. The details of the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and the desert concentration camps to which they were forced to walk are laid out before us, their story told compassionately but clear-sightedly. Continue reading “Review: I Wish To Die Singing – Voices from the Armenian Genocide, Finborough Theatre”

Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Foster’d, illumin’d, cherish’d, kept alive”

I’ve become a bit of a dab hand at making work trips coincide with theatrical opportunities and as with last year, the stars aligned to put me in Newcastle at the same time as the RSC, and to see a Shakespeare play I’d never seen before as well (only six more to go and one of those will come this weekend). Two Gentlemen of Verona doesn’t get anywhere near as much exposure as some of the others, a recognition that as an early play – possibly even the first he ever wrote – it bears the marks of a playwright still very much working his way into his craft.

It also plants the seeds of what would grow into several of his hallmark devices – the liberating freedom of the forest to solve the problems of the town or court, a woman dressed as a man, sudden and random declarations of love – but they’re deployed here with a little clumsiness as the quartet of lovers here wind their way through the trials and tribulations of love’s young dream. Where Simon Godwin’s production succeeds though is in embracing these issues and shifting the tone of the play from a comedy to more of a problem play. Continue reading “Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution, Finborough Theatre

“Let’s leave politics out of the hospital”

Unperformed since it was written in 1972, it has fallen to Urgent Theatre company to make the case for Caryl Churchill’s The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution in this limited run production at the Finborough Theatre, directed by James Russell. And concerned as it is with the ethics of torture and how it impacts on those that carry it out, as well as its direct results, it still carries a currency with modern audiences despite being set in an Algeria still fighting for independence from its colonial power France. 

Churchill used the work of noted psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, namely The Wretched of the Earth, to come up not only with a script that cycles through a number of agents in a psychiatric unit – a civil servant and his distressed family, a sleepless soldier, a snide colleague, a group of patients – but also utilising Fanon himself as a central figure, the doctor to whom they all look to cure their various woes. But it is clear that serious damage has been done, violence perpetrated – whether physical, emotional or cultural – and justified in the name of various causes.  Continue reading “Review: The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution, Finborough Theatre”

Review: La Turista: Café Duende, Morito Tapas Bar

“I have seen the blood of Spain”

“Ni en la vida ni en la guerra se puede triunfar sin fe.” The 1937 words of the Spanish Republican Prime Minister Juan Negrín are draped across the window of Morito Tapas Bar to beckon us into the highly evocative world of La Turista:Café Duende, a piece of dinner theatre that seeks to give a taste not only of some excellent Iberian cuisine but also of life during the Spanish Civil War. The quote translates roughly as “not in life nor war can one succeed without faith” and through Jamie Harper’s intricately pieced-together script, we bear witness to the different kinds of faith that saw people through the most difficult of times.

Hobo Theatre’s aim is to produce theatre in unconventional locations and the crowded intimacy of one of Exmouth Market’s most highly rated eateries certainly fits that bill. The easy conviviality of the space, combined with the realities of informal dining, creates a decidedly non-theatrical environment, an astute choice which fits the suggestively dark moods of La Turista perfectly. Split into four acts, interspersed with three courses of dinner, the show is less concerned with a theatrical narrative than evoking the mysterious spirit of duende, of deep feeling, of an almost spiritual connection with art. Continue reading “Review: La Turista: Café Duende, Morito Tapas Bar”

Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre

“Look on this and learn. Let that be your punishment”

I don’t think there is another director who frustrates me quite as much as Bijan Sheibani. The devastating simplicity with which he tackled 2009’s Our Class and the elegiac beauty he brought to the Iranian-themed Bernarda Alba earlier this year has delighted, but he’s also responsible for making 70 minutes seem like a pained lifetime in Moonlight and threw everything including his kitchen sink into the multi-authored chaotic carnival ride that was Greenland. So it is hard to know what to expect from his work, but it seems sure to provoke strong emotion in me one way or another. Sadly, his latest foray at the National Theatre – Damned by Despair – errs towards the latter of the above categories. It is still in previews to be sure, but it is hard to imagine that this isn’t a fatally flawed production. 

The play is a religious epic from 1625, written by Spanish monk Tirso de Molina, and delves into sticky questions of spirituality such as is heaven is reserved for those who spend a lifetime believing and can non-believers be redeemed through the accomplishment of good deeds. This is subject matter of a deeply different kind to what our more agnostic tastes are now suited, but the difficulties inherent in translating such ideas to a modern audience are simply magnified by a clumsy new version by Frank McGuinness and some baffling directorial choices from Sheibani which swung from cringeworthy to laughable and almost always misguided – I fear some serious trimming will need to be done if there’s any hope for the production. Continue reading “Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre”

Review: Richard III, Riverside Studios

“Oh thou well skilled in curses, stay awhile
And teach me how to curse mine enemies”

So after a nice break away from London, and seven whole days without a play, 2010’s theatregoing resumed with a trip to Richard III at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Part of a season of plays entitled Desire and Destruction presented by the Love and Madness company, an ensemble of 10 actors are covering 3 plays around these ever-resonant themes, of which Richard III is the second to start (Fool For Love opened last week).

One of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works, Richard III is the story of the physically deformed Duke of Gloucester, a fiercely ambitious prince of the House of York whose hunger for the throne leads him down a Machiavellian path of endless murder, betrayals and general naughtiness as nothing will stop him from gaining what he so desires, even though it lays so far from him. Shakespeare played fast and loose with history in writing this play and so it lends itself to interpretation quite nicely (this production is presented in modern dress), being much more a study in uncontrolled ambition and the power of ‘spin’ in order to manipulate situations both publicly and privately to one’s own good. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Riverside Studios”