Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.

Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre

“Secretly they was overjoyed”

Rachel Kavanaugh’s glorious take on The Sound of Music two years ago for the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park was a wonderful thing indeed so it is little surprise to see her welcomed back to this venue to tackle another Golden Age classic, this time Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It’s a canny decision as her familiarity with the space shows, utterly unafraid to use its full width and depth for unexpected arrivals, slow reveals and thrilling chase sequences and of course, the coup de théâtre that is the pinnacle of Peter McKintosh’s design which is a real piece of old-fashioned theatre magic.

Kavanaugh also makes small but pointed attempts to address the dubious gender politics of the show, without ever sacrificing the spirit of fun that should always characterise such classic musical theatre. So from the first moment Adam and Milly clap eyes on each other, there’s no doubting that the erotic charge between them is mutual, her lustful glances perhaps even more overt than his. And the strength of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s performance is that she never lets us forget she’s a woman making her own choices, even if its just making the best of a bad lot. It’s not a perfect reconciliation of the issues but it feels enough for her, for now. Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Edge of our Bodies, Gate Theatre

“Sixteen’s a great age. What do you wanna be when you grow up?”

The Gate’s 35th anniversary season Who Does She Think She Is? kicks off with Adam Rapp’s The Edge of our Bodies, a (almost) monologue by the 16 year old New England student Bernadette. She’s tired of the dullness of life, the only bright light on the horizon is a starring role in a forthcoming production of Genet’s The Maids, and so she pops off to New York to see her boyfriend Michael instead of attending class. Oh yeah, and she’s just found out she’s pregnant…

What really makes the play pop though is that it is told from the perspective of her journal and the opening section of the play is ‘read’ almost completely from it, a bravura piece of acting from Shannon Tarbet who works so much meaning into the text, the hesitancy of barely recognising her own thoughts written down, the humour in the random remembrances, the emotional rush of a troubled teenage mind no matter how mature she might seem. Continue reading “Review: The Edge of our Bodies, Gate Theatre”

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”

Review: Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, National Theatre

“I see a change in this Trinidad”

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is a 1953 play by Trinidadian playwright Errol John which has rather fallen into neglect, due to a rough time with contemporary producers who wanted it changed. But Michael Buffong has unearthed it in its original state for the National Theatre and given the Cottesloe an intimate Caribbean-infused flavour in this rather gentle production which I found to be rather enjoyable.

We find ourselves in a run-down part of Port of Spain where a group of neighbours are introduced to us along with the travails of their lives, disrupted somewhat by the raucous  troops returning from the Second World War, as some concentrate on getting through the daily grind and others dream of escape. Two main characters exemplify these differing approaches: Martina Laird’s empathetic Sophia, a stalwart matriarch figure rooted in this homestead and whose heart beats for everyone , and Danny Sapani’s Ephraim who is determined to carve out a better life for himself in England, even as family responsibilities loom large. Continue reading “Review: Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, National Theatre”