Review: Napoleon Disrobed, Arcola Theatre - riotous, surreal and silly fun

What if Napoleon hadn't died in exile but had escaped using a body double? This is the opening premise of Napoleon Disrobed which has been adapted by Told By An Idiot from the novel The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys.

Napoleon disrobed arcola manuel Harlan
Ayesha Antoine and Paul Hunter in Napoleon Disrobed, Arcola Theatre. Photo Manuel Harlan

In what is a fun, silly, surreal and quirky piece we see the historical figure, played with brilliant Englishness by Paul Hunter, navigating modern-day Europe, trying to live the life of an ordinary person and not get spotted.

Until, that is, he wants people to know who he really is and that is where his problems really start and where the themes of the play start to bubble to the surface.

His story becomes a series of connected sketches that get more and more random - playing tennis with a frying pan and an inflatable fruit random.

Living in Paris with a melon seller 'Ostrich' (Ayesha Antoine), his friends grow concerned by his increasing insistence that he is indeed Napoleon.

So, they take him to a hospital and, in a nice piece of audience interaction, he is shown all the other people who insist they too are the French statesman.

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Review: Philip Ridley's Angry, Southwark Playhouse or not angry, more disappointed

I love Philip Ridley's plays but this one isn't going to challenge my favourites.

Angry is written as six gender neutral monologues and night to night actors Georgie Henley and Tyrone Huntley switch which monologues they perform.

The suggestion is that there will be gender nuances in the performance or gender tensions in the stories or that it might challenge how you perceived the stories based on your own gender. The suggestion is that it will be intriguing enough that you'll want to watch it another night with the actors performing the alternate monologues.


But the problem is there was no gender tension in these particular stories; in fact there wasn't a single moment when I was curious about how a story would play out performed by the alternate actor. Or where I felt challenged.

Instead it felt merely like a ploy to get repeat visits.

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Review: Carey Mulligan is stunning in Girls and Boys, Royal Court Theatre

Carey Mulligan's performance is a tour de force, precise, subtle and complex.

Carey Mulligan has a twinkle in her eye. She stands at the front of the stage, hands in pockets, telling the story of how she met her future husband with the precise timing of stand up comic.

Her unnamed character is bright and sassy, she's decided to break out of the shallow fug of drink, drugs and casual sex and take herself wherever in the world the pin in a map lands.

carey mulligan girls and boys royal court marc brennerIt is on these travels that she spots a man in a queue at the airport whom she takes an instant dislike to.

When the back drop lifts to reveal a modern, smart living room and kitchen Carey Mulligan slips effortlessly into the role of harassed, working mother trying to look after two small children.

You don't need them there for her to convince you that they are, you can almost hear their voices when she negotiates with them.

We'll return to this domestic scene at intervals, always her with her children.

When the backdrop returns she fills in the gaps about her life outside her children, her flourishing career and relationship with her husband.

But this isn't a story of meet, fall in love, get married, have kids. Neither is it story of growing up or of following your dream. Well it is, it is all of those things but there is more to it than that.

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Review: The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse or why 2 men flirting is sexiest thing on the stage

Sexy, funny, full of heart and great characters with the added comfort of one of them always putting the kettle on

There is a moment in The York Realist which reminded me of that shower scene with Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus.

It involves Yorkshire farmhand George (Ben Batt) stripped to the waist and washing in the kitchen sink after a hard day's work but while Hiddleston's shower scene was calculated to show the weary and battle-injured Coriolanus, this scene was all about the look on the face of an observer. 

Ben Batt (George) and Jonathan Bailey (John)  in The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse  directed by Robert Hastie. Photo by Johan Persson
Ben Batt (George) and Jonathan Bailey (John) in The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse. Photo by Johan Persson

John (Jonathan Bailey) is the assistant director on an amateur production of the Mystery Plays in nearby York who has come to persuade George to return to rehearsals.

When he catches a glimpse of George's damp, muscular torso it leaves you in no doubt about his feelings.

Another parallel that sprung to mind was last year's film God's Own Country which was also a gay love story set in rural Yorkshire.

The York Realist is far less explicit than God's Own Country, it is all flirtation, all expectation but boy is it sexy. The invisible chemistry is electric. Lines about Vaseline got extra laughs, I'm sure, to ease the tension. 

 

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Interview: Max Lindsay on directing Philip Ridley's gender neutral, role swapping new play Angry #SouthwarkPlayhouse

Philip Ridley’s new play Angry (Southwark Playhouse) has an interesting structure, can you explain how it is going to work?

AngryWebSo Angry consists of 6 monologues that will be performed by both of the actors. However each night we are mixing up which actor performs which monologue.

Both of the actors [Georgie Henley and Tyrone Huntley] will be performing each night but will take turns as to who performs which monologue dependent on which version you see. So you can come and see Version 1 and get a completely different experience to when you come to see Version 2.

Really excitingly Philip has written all of the monologues so that they are gender neutral which means we have been able to really look at what these mean from a male and a female perspective. They come to life very differently.

How did you approach directing a gender neutral piece?

A lot of it stemmed from research that I did for both a female and male perspective but also from the conversations we had as a company. It was really important for the cast to feed in to that because the only way we are going to find truth in these monologues is filtering it through them.

And, how do rehearsals work when the actors are going to be performing the same monologues - is it a collaborative process?

We started off having a couple of days together to discuss all of the monologues and decide the routes we were going to go down with them. We played around with the characters and the interpretations.

It was so useful for us all to understand the different routes we were going to take so that we could push them apart further or bring them closer together dependent on what we wanted to achieve.

After that I was working with one performer at a time in very intense rehearsals. I work incredibly collaboratively so it was a lot of throwing ideas in to the mix and playing before finding what was right between the two of us.

It was then really down to my eye to ensure that things were playing the way we wanted them to.

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Review: Hayley Atwell is ruthlessly good in Dry Powder, Hampstead Theatre #HTDryPowder

A feisty, fast-paced play, that delivers some witty one liners and a whole lot to think about

DryPowderNewsWhen Sarah Burgess wrote her play Dry Powder about New York-based private equity company it was pre-Trump presidency and yet when I was watching the play I couldn't help thinking 'what would Donald do?'.

At the start of the play Rick's (Aidan McArdle) firm is going through a PR storm because the same day as laying off staff at a company he'd just bought, he threw a lavish engagement party.

Co-founder Seth (Tom Riley) has unearthed a bargain deal which he believes will put the company back in favour with the public eye: A troubled American suitcase manufacturer whom he believes that with the right management could get back on its feet and deliver a healthy return.

Profit or positive PR

His fellow co-founder Jenny (Hayley Atwell) has another plan, one that is less risky, will deliver better returns but won't deliver the positive PR as jobs won't be protected. Jenny doesn't care about PR, she cares about profit.

Seth has (developed?) a conscious about what he does, he wants to create more than profit, particularly given the firms damaged reputation. He's got to know Jeff (Joseph Balderrama), the CEO of the suitcase company and they are seemingly on the same page.

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January theatre round up: Big (big) name castings, highs, lows and lots of actor spots.

The Inheritance Young Vic
Vanessa Redgrave joins the cast of The Inheritance, Young Vic

Theatre gets me through the dark days of January, here are my highlights from the new play and casting announcements, favourite things I saw (and the low moment).  And, thanks to the Julius Caesar press night, there was a bumper crop of actor, director and writer spots too...

* Forbes Mason, who will forever be known as the Lucifer in pants, thanks to Jamie Lloyd's Doctor Faustus, has been cast in the Almeida's Summer and Smoke which opens later this month. Did I mention how much I'm looking forward to seeing Patsy Ferran, who also stars, in that?

* Josie Rourke announced she is stepping down as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse next year after eight years in the role. My highlights of her tenure, if you were to ask me for the first things that spring to mind, would be the Tom Hiddleston Coriolanus (incidentally my review of that is my most popular post and has been viewed nearly 15,000 times), the all women Shakespeare series and James Graham's Privacy. There are plenty of others but those are what stick most in my mind.

* Vanessa Redgrave (yes Vanessa Redgrave!) has been cast in The Inheritance at the Young Vic which opens next month. I could listen to her voice for hours. Also announced in the cast are Stan-fav's Kyle Soller, Michael Marcus and Luke Thallon plus a whole bunch of new names I’m looking forward to getting to know over a double play day.

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Attracting next generation of theatre-goers doesn't necessarily alienate older audiences

This headline for a Daily Express review of the Bridge Theatre's immersive Julius Caesar production implies that it is for young people, not people like me who are old enough to be a young persons parent.

Julius Caesar daily express headlineI have absolutely nothing against encouraging younger audiences. In fact, I much prefer to sit in a diverse group whether it is age, gender and ethnicity - the reaction and response is inevitably going to be more varied and more interesting as a result.

OK so perhaps it's nice to go to Hampstead occasionally and sit in the audience feeling young.

julius caesar bridge theatre ticketBut compartmentalising the generations is like saying that once you get to a certain again you only like Oscar Wilde revivals, productions of Shakespeare performed in ruffs and pantaloons and perhaps some Pinter if you are feeling daring.

I like all sorts of theatre; I love fresh interpretations, new writing, contemporary stories, twists on classics and innovative productions. I'm certainly not a purist or a traditionalist.

Being part of the crowd, standing for Julius Caesar was great fun. I wasn't the only 'older' person, we were a mixed group and that made it better - more representative.

However, if this production is trying to attract a younger audience and I believe it is, then it's somewhat ironic that the standing tickets are referred to as 'promenading'.

I mean this isn't the Victorian age and given that you can be just a few feet away from a murder and end up in the middle of a civil war, it's slightly misleading.

 

 


Amadeus (National Theatre) or crying more the second time around

Review: Amadeus National Theatre screen shot Poly urged me to see Amadeus last year after I missed seeing it with her and I was so glad she did, I gave it five stars.

So when it was announced it was returning this year, I had to see it again. Would it live up to the very fond memories I had?

What I liked so much about Amadeus the first time wasn't just the spectacle - the costumes, live music, beautiful snippets of opera, the craziness and craft of the production - but how it packed an unexpected emotional punch.

This time I knew what was coming, and that made it so much worse. Happier scenes took on a bitter taste. I started seeing shadows where before I'd seen light.

There was a poignancy to the music that hadn't been to perceptible to my ears first time around.

It becomes a tragedy in slow motion and one I was powerless to stop. When you don't know the story, you can hope for a different outcome, perhaps even expect it.  

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Review: It's rock and roll and riot with Ben Whishaw, David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley in Julius Caesar

I'm in a crowd watching a band play rock tunes, it's getting lively and animated.

Merchandise and refreshment sellers weave their way through the rhythmically nodding heads and shuffling feet.  Hands have started clapping along to the music and flags are being waved.

Centre Abraham Popoola - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo credit Manuel Harlan
Centre Abraham Popoola - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo: Manuel Harlan

It's like a gig except it isn't a band name emblazoned on the banners, T-Shirts and posters, it is the face of Julius Caesar (David Calder). This is a political rally and it feels celebratory.

Given the mix of edgier and popular tracks on the band's play list, Julius Caesar is a lot more popular in music circles than President Trump, with whom we are obviously supposed to draw parallels.

When the man himself appears, we are quickly herded to one side with shouts of 'Get out of the way!' by serious-looking, ear-piece wearing security.

This is to become a common occurrence throughout the play - the tone of the herding reflective of whether it is part of the action or to make way for parts of stage rising up out of the floor we are standing on. But more on that later.

Ben Whishaw (Brutus) - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo credit Manuel Harlan
Ben Whishaw (Brutus) - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo: Manuel Harlan

Calder's Julius Caesar is a commanding presence or perhaps the circus around him makes him so.

Ben Whishaw's Brutus is a politely muted form on the periphery of the hullabaloo; afterwards he sits at a café table, drinking red wine and deep in a book which he has to wear glasses to read. This is obviously more his comfort zone.

In fact he is often seen with a book, playing with the glasses in his hand when he has to leave off reading.

He is incongruous to his name: he thinks, he considers, he lacks the brutality of mind and personality that perhaps would mean a different fate.

When he does get angry - the verbal fight between him and Cassius (Michelle Fairley) crackles with tension and there is some superb angry eating by Ben - it is out of frustration that his carefully thought through plans are not quite the success he envisioned.

Mark Antony (David Morrissey), by comparison, is a far more brutish - dangerous - character in many ways. Turning from Caesar's supportive 'yes' man into a Venus fly trap.

Ironically, he uses words far better than the bookish Brutus and crucially he seems to understand the crowd better - another fatal flaw in Brutus and his co-conspirators well-meaning plan.

I've seen the 'Friends, Romans, countrymen...' speech delivered with obvious irony even borderline sarcasm. Morrissey's delivery is the perfect blend of grief, passion and reason - you don't realise cleverness of it until after the crowd has dispersed. From there he is merciless compare to Brutus' mercy. 

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