My review can be seen at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/never-mind-the-botox-white-bear-theatre-london/
The National is fully entitled to give a rare revival to what is arguably one of the most important British plays of the 20th Century. Written by Shelagh Delaney and first staged in 1958, the play differs from the works of other playwrights breaking through at the same time (Osborne, Wesker) in that it is not used as a platform for airing political ideas, it is purely and simply a human drama with a working class setting. It is astonishing that Delaney wrote it at the age of just 18 and still more so that she had the confidence and the courage to confront the taboos and prejudices of her era – teenage pregnancy, racism, homophobia – head on. We are told that Delaney wrote it to prove that she could do better than Terence Rattigan and, in the sense of how ordinary people can relate to the play, she succeeded; yet, in terms of dramatic structure and characterisation, her debt to Rattigan’s influence is perhaps greater than she would have cared to admit. Of course, the play’s shock value has now dissipated, but what remains in Bijan Sheibani’s production is a very fine drama indeed, still highly relevant in the modern age and filled with warmth, emotion and natural humour. The story concerns Jo, a teenage schoolgirl and her slutty, self-centred mother, Helen, who live in a dingy, damp, Salford flat which can boast stunning views of the local gas works; Helen marries a drunk, whilst Jo becomes pregnant after a reckless fling with a black sailor and then co-habits with a gay student. Kate O’Flynn is marvellous as Jo (presumably based on Delaney herself), rebellious, grounded, optimistic and determined to overcome whatever obstacles life throws in her way; she embodies the spirit of the new Britain that was then emerging. The wonderful Lesley Sharp fits the part of Helen as if she was born to play it, managing to be both comic and tragic at the same time. 1950s style jazz music and dancing during scene changes add brightness and flavour and the problem that the Lyttelton stage poses for intimate dramas is resolved by effectively using only half of it. True, the set is grander than it needs to be, but at least it does not overwhelm the play. Shelagh Delaney died just over two years ago and this production is a fitting tribute to her.
My review can be seen at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/a-hard-rain-above-the-stag-london/
Not to be confused with another show that is going the rounds at the moment, this is Samuel Beckett’s play built on sand and there is no Fonz in sight. Juliet Stephenson up to her waist in sand is perhaps 50% short of what might have improved Truly, Madly, Deeply, but that is unkind because she is a consummate stage actor and, in this monologue (with occasional interruptions), she is terrific. Having only her voice and her facial expressions to work with, she plays Winnie, a woman who fakes jollity and sees every bottle as half full, whilst almost bursting with inner rage. Her husband (David Beames) is living in a nearby hole and he makes occasional appearances, even speaking a few short lines, but, mostly, this play is about the fortitude of Winnie. Being Beckett, there is no logic, no reason is given why Winnie is stuck in a pile of sand and hardly any mention is made of the fact, we just see it. Maybe Beckett intends the sand as a metaphor for disability, social disadvantage, or the mundanity of ordinary life, but it matters little because the playwright merely needs to plant such ideas in our heads and then let them free to swim around. The set, an enormous bank of sand, is a wonder to behold and the surreal image of Winnie, a middle-aged, lower middle class woman, protruding from it wearing a pale blue 1960s hat, is one that will live in the memory for a very long time. A rare treat.
My review can be seen at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-one-soho-theatre-london/
The last time I saw Daniel Kitson, he sat down for over 90 minutes and talked constantly. On this occasion, he walks around for the same amount of time and speaks not a word. The starting premise is a garage filled with old junk, including countless tape recorders of all shapes and sizes which are piled up on a table at the very back of the stage. The table is in bright light throughout, but the rest of the stage is barely lit at all. Kitson then proceeds to remove the recorders one by one, match them with their accessories, carry them downstage, connect them to power and amplifiers and play the tapes on each. The recordings are of Kitson’s voice telling the stories of Thomas and Trudie, separated in time by 36 years. The characters live dull, uninteresting lives, but Kitson’s objective is to make the mundane seem significant, using richly descriptive prose and astute observations of the minutiae of everyday living. Embracing themes on the nature of memories and memorabilia, the show is often funny, but more often poignant. Kitson’s strenuous labours, working as a kind of stage technician, themselves give importance to the insignificant and this show’s unusual format, which distances the audience from the characters, produces the very weird effect of bringing us closer to them. As with other Kitson shows, it seems a little too long, but it builds to achieve an emotional power that was unexpected, so much so that I found myself crying for much of the last 20 minutes. An entertainment that is completely unique.
Starting in Nottingham, Headlong’s adaptation of George Orwell’s classic novel has been going the rounds for several months now, picking up almost universal critical praise on its way. Therefore, there is a temptation to emulate the story’s hero, Winston Smith, and defy conventional thought by labelling it complete and utter rubbish, deserving of an immediate place in Room 101. But that would be a lie, because this really is 100 minutes of the most electrifying theatre. In terms of set and costumes, the production remains rooted in 1940s Britain, but adaptors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have extended Orwell’s dystopian vision to the modern day and a century further into the future. Their biggest challenge must have been to replicate the shock effect that the book had upon readers in the immediate post-War era for modern theatre audiences who know Big Brother as a reality television series, are used to being watched by security cameras as they walk down every street and live in a world where media manipulation dominates all areas of life. Yet shock us they do, partly because of the durability of the original work and partly because of their total mastery of theatrical skills. We are startled by visual images, changing sets, blinding light followed by total darkness, projections of images and films on to a screen above the stage; we face a constant bombardment on our senses, whilst, at the same time, a spare and faithful script is giving a rigorous workout to our brains. Every second of the running time is bleak and discomforting, but also mesmerising. In a strong ensemble, Mark Arends’ Winston is an everyman of unheroic appearance, Hara Yannas’ Julia is alluring and ambiguous and Tim Dutton’s O’Brien is a cold and efficient bureaucrat. A final word of praise to the Almeida for putting many of its rivals to shame by again producing a superb programme that is packed with fascinating information. Top marks all round.