Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Photo: Marilyn Kingwill

Writer: Lucy Kirkwood

Director: Lucy Morrison

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If you have booked tickets to see That Is Not Who I Am, new writer Dave Davidson’s thriller about identity theft, prepare to be surprised or perhaps, disappointed. No, it is not yet another cancellation due to Covid; the reason is that neither the play nor the playwright actually exists. They are no more than a smokescreen for the real play, Lucy Kirkwood’s Rapture, a work which we are told is deemed to be so explosive that its mere existence needed to be kept under wraps.

Kirkwood showed all the instincts of an investigative journalist when sifting through video evidence from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre to find inspiration for her 2013 hit drama, Chimerica. Here, she uses similar techniques to probe events much closer to home in the United Kingdom in revealing the story of Noah and Celeste Quilter from their first meeting on a blind date in 2011 through to a conclusion in December 2021. Spoilers will be avoided in the review which follows.

Noah is an ex-serviceman, Celeste a nurse in the National Health Service. Their dinner date is awkward, but they find chemistry and boast afterwards that they left the restaurant without paying the bill; Kirkwood quotes evidence to suggest that this version of events could be untrue. So all is not what it seems, but, more concerning, the couple sense that their innocent conversation is being overheard. They go on to move in together, marry and have a baby daughter, building a home in which they have only each other to interact with and trust. All the time, their paranoia about being listened to and watched grows.

Played by Jake Davies and Siena Kelly, Noah and Celeste are simply “two of us”, living ordinary, unremarkable lives. As such, they are completely believable and it takes interjections by Kirkwood herself, played by Priyanga Burford, as narrator to remind us that something is dreadfully amiss. Burford’s anxious tone and urgent delivery ratchet up tension as we watch the couple transform from sceptics who question the establishment, climate change, the pandemic and so on, into neo revolutionaries with almost a million followers on their You Tube channel.

Working together, the writer and director Lucy Morrison make thrilling theatre. Designer Naomi Dawson’s ingenious revolving set frames the claustrophobic world of a couple glued together, with the narrator and stage hands roaming around outside it to suggest constant intrusions on their privacy. Their minds become taken over by conspiracy theories and every conspiracy theory is seen to be part of a bigger conspiracy theory

Ironically, Kirkwood’s play is itself planting a conspiracy theory and, cleverly, she casts doubt on the conclusions which she is reaching. She invites us to trust in the thoroughness of her research, make our own decisions, mull over the implications thereof and then shudder.

Performance date: 16 June 2022

Photo: Marc Brenner

Writer: Anupama Chandrasekhar

Director: Indhu Rubasingham

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How long does it take for a real life murder to become a laughing matter? 74 years perhaps? The question arises because of Anupama Chandrasekhar’s new play about the 1948 assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, father of the Indian nation. The play surprises everyone by setting out its stall as a frivolous comedy, only moving on to grittier stuff when the action is well underway.

The assassin, Nathuram Godse (Shubham Saraf) is convicted and awaiting execution. Saraf steps forward and addresses the audience directly, picking out individual members and prowling around in the manner of a stand-up comic. “Forget the Attenborough film and Sir Ben Kingsley” he advises, adding a quiet sideways chuckle. The irreverence is irresistible and Saraf, never off stage, is terrific.

Director Indhu Rubasingham’s expansive production uses the adaptability of the Olivier stage rather than formal sets. With a company of 19, some crowd scenes are thrilling, but others are confusing. When the comedy diminishes, the production frequently loses its way. The play is presented as an epic history story on a grand scale, a concept that is not entirely consistent with the humorous writing.

Godse tells the story of how he came to commit the infamous deed, starting with his first chance encounter with Gandhi (Paul Bazely) at the age of seven. His superstitious parents believed that only their daughters survived infancy and so they raised him as a girl. This gives Saraf another opportunity to milk the comedy by donning drag. Eventually, Godse strikes out for his own freedom and champions the cause of his nation’s freedom from British Colonial rule.

The story continues with our “hero” attending school at Pune and beginning an apprenticeship as a tailor, frequently crossing paths with his eventual victim. He becomes a passionate supporter of a Hindu  India, free from Britain and, as the comedy diminishes, this is where the play’s problems begin. We are now asked to take this figure of fun seriously as a red blooded revolutionary, at odds with Gandhi’s advocacy of pacifism as a weapon of warfare, and the transition is hard to accept.

As independence draws nearer, the play goes deeper into the murky waters of Indian politics, involving Gandhi and India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru (Marc Elliott). The contentious issue is partition of Hindu India and Moslem Pakistan, rushed through by a British  government intent on what Godse describes as “a quick Brexit”. Many will already be familiar with the history (if only from having seen that Attenborough film) and the play adds little to it, but it seems that partition is the assassin’s chief grievance against Gandhi. Given the benefit of hindsight, Chandrasekhar sees a catastrophic error that would lead to genocide, human rights abuses, nuclear proliferation and decades of simmering conflict, although the writer puts the words into the mouth of the doomed Godse, for whom it is foresight.

The Father and the Assassin is a mixed bag, elevated by Saraf’s central performance. This is a personal triumph for him. He owns the stage from start to finish and makes what could have resembled a wearying dissertation on Indian political history at least bearable and frequently entertaining, even though nothing in this story is really a laughing matter.

Performance date: 19 May 2022

Old Bridge (Bush Theatre)

Posted: October 28, 2021 in Uncategorized

Writer: Igor Memic

Director: Selma Dimitrijevic

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It is possible to think of wartime atrocities either as part of distant history or, in a modern context, as taking place on far away continents. However, we must not forget how recent and how close to our own doorstep were the conflicts that followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. British writer Igor Memic’s 2020 Papatango Prize-winning drama serves as a chilling jolt to the memory.

The story begins in 1988, when the city of Mostar, located in modern day Bosnia and Herzegovina, is still part of Yugoslavia. The historic landmark Old Bridge spans the river which divides the city, vaguely on ethnic lines. It brings communities together, never more so than on one day each Summer when it becomes the scene of a diving competition. Mili (Dino Kelly), a young man from another city, joins the competition and jumps from the bridge, catching the eye of local girl, Mina (Saffron Coomber). She is watching with her friends Leila (Rosie Gray) and Sasha (Emilio Iannucci), the joker in the pack until the jokes turn sour.

Mostar’s people identify as Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Albanian and so on; they may be Catholic, or Moslem, or Jewish. Their lives are inter-connected but shifting in ways that Mili likens to a Rubik’s Cube. Mina and Mili fall in love, but the play does not turn into an updating of Romeo and Juliet; the couple’s dreams are shattered not by their own family or ethnic divisions, but by the horrors of the warfare that begins to rage all around them. 

Memic does not concern himself with politics and he teaches us few specific details of the wars taking place in the Balkans region at that time. His focus is solely on the play’s characters, assessing the impact of epic events on their lives. Director Selma Dimitrijevic’s production, on a wide stage, unadorned by formal sets and with few props, conveys a sense of small people caught up in a vast tide of uncontrollable events, but this sometimes comes at the expense of projecting the intimacy of close friendships.

The writer gives the play a historical perspective through the eyes of Emina, who serves as a form of narrator, looking back from around 30 years later. Occasionally, it feels as if this character is being over used; we want the four young people to speak more for themselves and the actors playing them to expand the characters and perform all of their stories. However, much of Memic’s most lyrical and graphic writing falls to Emina and Susan Lawson-Reynolds is a commanding presence, speaking it with great clarity and emotional intensity.

Throughout the play, Old Bridge is seen as a symbol of division and unification, destruction and renewal. Memic gives us a powerful and moving reminder of the fragility of the peace that we take too easily for granted,

Performance date: 27 October 2021

Writer: Harold Pinter Director: Alice Hamilton

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It has been a long wait. Celebrating its 60th birthday, Hampstead Theatre announced a “greatest hits” season early in 2020, starting with a revival of Harold Pinter’s one-act classic The Dumb Waiter, which received its world premiere here in 1960. When the play was staged in the West End only last year, it formed half of a double bill and eyebrows were raised at the prospect of paying normal ticket prices for a mere 55 minutes of theatre (with no interval, but plenty of Pinter pauses). Now, many months later, the production finally hits the stage in a socially distanced environment and such reservations feel irrelevant. All that theatre-starved audiences should want to do is rejoice at its arrival.

The play could be viewed as a sinister comedy or an absurdist thriller and even its title has alternative interpretations. Ben and Gus are hit men despatched by an unseen Mr Big to a derelict building in Birmingham to await the arrival of their mysterious next victim. It is a Friday and Aston Villa may or may not be playing at home to Spurs that weekend. In James Perkins’ bleak design, single beds stand on opposite sides of their undecorated room. They taunt each other with inconsequential small talk and then, with a rumble and thud, a dumb waiter appears from what is, apparently, a cafeteria above. It contains orders for meals and drinks, but the gas supply to the kitchen has been cut off and the ingredients needed to fulfil the orders are not available. They respond by sending up what little they can find – a packet of crisps, a stale Eccles cake, a half-pint of sour milk, etc.

An air of foreboding hangs over Alice Hamilton’s production from the outset. Tempo is key, as the famous pauses are followed by rat-a-tat exchanges and then more silence. Questions are asked and left unanswered and clues are placed alluding to the play’s ultimate twist, which, itself, asks yet more questions. The writer is teasing the audience continuously; nothing is what it seems, nor as, in a real world, it could possibly be. The uncertainty keeps us as much on edge as it does Ben and Gus.

Alec Newman’s Ben has the marks of seniority, but his assertiveness is undermined by suggestions of deep unease; we suspect that he knows more than he is letting on either to Gus or to us. Shane Zaza’s Gus is, at times, a gormless junior, but his failure to obtain answers to the most obvious questions drives him into an anguished frenzy. Together, the actors master the tones and rhythms of Pinter’s multi-layered dialogue to near perfection..

Inevitably, this play has been likened to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, but Hamilton’s meticulously detailed revival shows us that Pinter’s early work has a clear identity of its own. This short, sharp theatrical treat has been well worth waiting for.

Performance date: 8 December 2020

The Weatherman (Park Theatre)

Posted: August 23, 2019 in Uncategorized

Writer: Eugene O’Hare      Director: Alice Hamilton

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In the first of his two plays receiving their world premieres at the Park Theatre this year, Eugene O’Hare turns to a retro style of black comedy in order to explore deeply disturbing modern themes.

At first glance, The Weatherman appears to be an undisguised homage to Harold Pinter’s 1960 play, The Caretaker. Two middle-aged, down-and-out East London men share a dilapidated one-bedroomed flat, owned by a ruthless gangster. The early dialogue is infused with Pinteresque absurdism – “it creeps up on you when you least expect it you see – Christmas; the bastard” – and brings reminders of ‘60s television sitcoms centring on bickering, dysfunctional London families, such as Steptoe and Son. 

Director Alice Hamilton seems happy for the opening scenes to be played for comedy, while ensuring that, also in the style of Pinter, a sense of hidden menace is ever present. This is a flat where every arrival (bar one) is preceded by loud thumping on the stairs. Designer James Perkins’ set is a cheaply-furnished kitchen diner, with only murk discernible beyond its windows.

O’Rourke (Alec Newman) is the dominant flatmate, but a man of few words. We know that he is angry, but, for a long time, we have no idea why. Beezer (Mark Hadfield) is a shambolic drunkard who claims that he could have been a meteorologist if he had put his mind to it. He still forecasts the weather every day. Their landlord is Dollar, played by David Schaal with a veneer of benevolence masking deep-rooted evil. Dollar is an East End villain who exploits his victims without mercy, but also possesses a warped vision of family and loyalty. “She was a crook and a womaniser, but she was still my mother” he boasts, tearfully.

The play moves into even darker territory when Dollar brings to the flat Mara (Niamh James), a 12-year-old Romanian girl. The offer that O’Rourke and Beezer can’t refuse is six months free of rent and some extra cash. The terms are that they look after the girl and only allow her out of the flat when Dollar’s heavy, Turkey (Cyril Nri) accompanies her for a “job”. Fortunately, both writer and director realise that there is nothing remotely funny about child trafficking for prostitution and the delicate balance between comedy and drama is carefully maintained.

The most memorable and moving scene comes at the beginning of the second act when O’Rourke sits with Mara, folding old clothes for despatch to a charity shop and he sets about offloading all his problems, knowing fully that the girl has no understanding of English. Newman finds all the pathos in his character and in the desperate situation. O’Hare is writing about the terrors of exploitation and he offers the bleak prognosis that the dice will always be loaded against the exploited. Mara, lying on a camp bed at the front of the stage while the nastiness unfolds behind her, creates a profoundly unsettling image.

For all its humour, The Weatherman has a gloomy outlook on human nature. However, bold, if derivative, writing and outstanding acting make the production genuinely suspenseful and absorbing.

Performance date: 21 August 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

Writer: Harold Pinter      Director: Patrick Marber

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We may expect works by Harold Pinter to be dark, comedic and enigmatic and this collection of short plays, the fifth in Jamie Lloyd’s ambitious Pinter at the Pinter season, delivers to varying degrees in all those respects. However, there is a more specific unifying theme here, that of human disconnection and loneliness.

The Room is Pinter’s first play, written in 1957, and the writer’s depiction of London working class life at that time is indeed grim. The setting is a bed sitting room in an old house that is freezing cold in the basement and progressively gets more damp as it rises. Outside on the deserted streets it is a bleak Winter afternoon. The room, realised starkly in Soutra Gilmour’s design and Richard Howell’s lighting, is occupied by a married couple,  Rose and Bert.

Jane Horrocks is quietly affecting as Rose. Her appearance, in dull housecoat and turban, could be modelled on Hilda Ogden and her Lancashire accent tells us that she does not really belong here. She chatters incessantly while Bert says nothing, but Rupert Graves’ performance suggests that his silence could be a controlling mechanism. Writing in an era when psychological domestic abuse would have been barely acknowledged, Pinter shows remarkable insight.

The characters have no back stories and they are given no lives outside a room where we sense hidden menace in all corners. The writer’s skill lies in not pinpointing any exact threat until the very end. Could the threat come from Nicholas Woodeson’s sinister landlord, or from a young couple (Luke Thallon and Emma Naomi) looking for a room (perhaps this same room) to rent? Maybe a blind stranger (Colin McFarlane) is bringing something worse than just a message for Rose. The denouement is shocking.

Victoria Station could have been written when Pinter was stuck in traffic, sitting in the back of a minicab and listening to anonymous disembodied voices floating across the airwaves. The 10-minute play is little more than a comedy sketch, first performed on radio in 1982, but the visual image here of two men, both in small boxes, separated by the width of the stage, reinforces a sense of their isolation. McFarlane is the conscientious controller frustrated in his attempts to have a sensible conversation with Graves’ gormless driver. A lucrative fare awaits at Victoria Station, but, before the arrival of Sat Nav, the driver has no idea where the station is. Pinter’s take on distant communications in the days of radio is wryly amusing and leaves us wondering what he might have made of social media.

Family Voices (1981), also written for radio, explores the paradox of family members being inextricably bound together and irresistibly torn apart. Thallon plays a young man who is alone and talking into thin air to the parents from whom he is estranged. He shares the inconsequential trivia of his daily life with them, and the actor, moving from calm confidence to frenzied anguish shows us the desperation of someone who is crying out for help and hearing no response. Horrocks plays the now widowed mother, also alone and talking to her absent son The vacant expression on her face shows reciprocated pain and abandonment. Graves appears briefly as the dead father/husband, but, essentially, this is a profoundly moving two-hander. When mother and son come within touching distance of each other on stage, the chasm between them is at its most apparent and it is heartbreaking.

Director Patrick Marber’s production is meticulously detailed, carefully paced and faultlessly performed. Seen together, these three studies in urban solitude complement each other and leave a lasting impression that is deeply unsettling.

Performance date: 5 January 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

2017 Theatre Round-up

Posted: December 30, 2017 in Theatre, Uncategorized

2017 has been a vintage year for new plays and spectacular revivals in London. Jez Butterworth delivered a possible masterpiece and James Graham turned prolific with three plays in the West End and another on the way. New musicals were thinner on the ground until very late in the year. The Almeida in Islington continued to showcase challenging work of the highest standard and the National Theatre’s phenomenal run of hit after hit was marred by just two turkeys.

In listing personal favourites, I have considered only shows that opened in 2017 which I saw in 2017. The three most notable omissions are Everybody’s Talking About JamieNetwork and Hamilton, all of which I shall be seeing early in the New Year, so roll on 2018!

FAVOURITE PRODUCTIONS

1. The Ferryman (Royal Court/Gielgud) No exaggeration, Jez Butterworth’s heady cocktail of tragedy, comedy, suspense and romance looks like the early front runner for play of the century.

2. Follies (National Theatre, Olivier) Sondheim on the grandest scale. We may never see its like again.

3. Angels in America (National Theatre, Lyttelton) Drama on the grandest scale (almost 8 hours of it) and unforgettable.

4. Ink (Almeida/Duke of York’s) Topping an incredible year for James Graham, this sets the bar for  fact based theatre at a new high.

5. Hamlet (Almeida/Harold Pinter) Robert Icke’s modern day Hamlet, with Andrew Scott in the title role, is at least as good as any I’ve seen and I’ve seen (far too) many.

6. Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (Wyndham’s) Devastating vision of a star burning herself out.

7. Mosquitos (National Theatre, Dorfman) The Olivias Coleman and Williams prove the Big Bang theory as sisters both bound together and torn apart.

8. On the Town (Regents Park Open Air Theatre) Leonard Bernstein’s music, spctacular choreography and a balmy Summer evening. Who could ask for anything more?

9. Oslo (National Theatre, Lyttelton/Harold Pinter) It takes a great play to show the world how negotiations between nations should be handled.

10. Albion (Almeida) Muddled metaphors, but thoroughly engrossing drama.

 

FAVOURITE PERFORMANCES

Male in a play – Andrew Garfield (Angels in America)

Female in a play – Sara Kestelman (Filthy Business at Hampstead Theatre)

Ensemble in a play – The Ferryman

Male in a musical – Let’s leave this one for either Hamilton or Jamie to claim

Female in a musical – Audra Macdonald (Lady Day…)

Ensemble in a musical: – Follies

 

OTHER FAVOURITES

New play: The Ferryman

New musical: Romantics Anonymous (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Director (play): Sam Mendes (The Ferryman)

Director (musical): Emma Rice (Romantics Anonymous)

 

LEAST FAVOURITES

Obviously I have been selecting shows to see more carefully this year, coming up with a very short list of only three stinkers:

1.  Salomé (National Theatre, Olivier) Overblown and underwritten load of Biblical tosh. Audiences may well have felt entitled to ask for writer/director Yaël Farber’s head on a plate.

2.  Common (National Theatre, Olivier) The great mystery is how anyone could have thought it worthwhile to spread this huge pile of early 19th Century farmyard manure all over the Olivier stage.

3.  The Secret diary of Adrian Mole… (Menier Chocolate Factory) I acknowledge freely that not everyone loathed this as much as I did. Nonetheless, after a disappointing year (apart from Love in Idleness), I am starting to worry that the delightful Menier’s crown is slipping.

Dirty Great Love Story Production Photos Photo Credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

Dirty Great Love Story Production Photos
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

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“All love stories are good, but the great ones are dirty” we are told as this bubbly 90-minute comedy nears its conclusion. “Dirty” means “messy” (or sometimes not), as we hear a tale of awkward coupling in the age of over-active smart phones and gentrified cities. The characters involved are called Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna, which just happens to be the names of the play’s writers.

The couple enters as if about to perform a comedy double act and, on a white rectangular platform with just two moveable chairs, Richard (Felix Scott) and Katie (Ayesha Antoine) tell us how they met when a stag party and a hen party collided. He is one of the lads, describing himself as “not good-looking in the classical sense”. She is flirtatious, eats gluten-free croissants and is prone to drinking too much. She has been dumped by her boyfriends, he is unlikely to have been in a relationship that reached such a stage. Each regards the other as “not my type” and a night together in a convenient Travel Lodge does little to change that. To anyone who has ever seen a romantic comedy, nothing that follows is even slightly unpredictable as they meet again at a mutual friend’s wedding (not four of them this time) and a christening, but the play’s strength grows out of it’s simplicity and Pia Furtado’s lively. no frills production is content to cash in on the story’s familiarity.

The writing is full of sharp observational comedy, with the added twist that it is in rhyming verse. The laughs are loudest when the rhymes are at their most forced,  Scott and Antoine showing the comic timing to milk them all. They make an endearing pair, self-effacing and innocent as they fumble their ways through the rough and tumble of modern romance. Yes, every situation described in the play is as old as Adam and Eve, but there is a charming freshness running through the writing and the performances that makes it all feel brand new.

Performance date: 25 January 2017

F-cking MenThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

The general concept of Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde, written in 1897, has come around in many guises over the years – the musical Hello Again and David Hare’s The Blue Room are examples – and here Joe DiPietro gives a distinctly modern twist to the old story. This production is a revival of the play that already holds the record (nine months) for a run at the King’s Head. It tells of a chain of lovers linked together by carnal desires, but torn between sexual freedom and commitment. Repeated references to the “only connect” passage in EM Forster’s Howard’s End underline that the play’s central purpose is to examine the nature of connections that people make with each other.. Oh, and in case the title had not given it away, all the characters are gay males, although, in the equal society of 2015, sexual orientation may be regarded as incidental. DiPietro is writing about the wider human condition, but the assertion by one character that the advantage of being gay is not being trapped by monogamy now seems rather ironic. This 90-minute merry-go-round ride begins in a park at night with John (Chris Wills), a rent boy, picking up a soldier (Harper James), who justifies the encounter to himself, unconvincingly, with “you take girls to dinner first, with guys you just have to look”. The soldier develops a taste for the thrill and the danger of casual liaisons and goes to a sauna, where he meets a tutor (Ruben Jones), who then finds it impossible to resist the teasing of a 21-year-old student (Euan Brokie). When the student sets up an internet hook-up with an older man (Jonathan McGarrity), DiPietro begins to explore the fragility of marital fidelity. The man is having this casual dalliance for no better reason than that his spouse (Richard De Lisle) does the same regularly, observing agreed rules (or so he believes). But these scenes ask whether monogamy and promiscuity can ever co-exist without deceit. A porn actor (Haydn Whiteside) who yearns to be valued for more than just his physical attributes, a fringe playwright (Darren Bransford), a closeted Hollywood movie star (Johnathon Neal) and a television chat show host (Richard Stemp) all follow in the chain until, finally, the latter hires the services of John. By its nature, the play is episodic, but Geoffrey Highland’s simply-staged production flows smoothly from scene to scene. It is edgy, acted with conviction and, with soft music such as Ravel’s Bolero heard in the background, tinged with pathos. The play offers a witty and entertaining reflection on the fundamental human dilemma – to commit to someone or to roam free or both? In the final segment, a hint of sentimentality creeps in and DiPietro seems to come down on the side of commitment, but, otherwise, he presents all the cases objectively and leaves us to decide for ourselves.

Performance date: 8 August 2015

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