Review: It's 'yes' or 'no' answers and The Majority rules, National Theatre

IMG_5112If you don't leave the theatre, after seeing The Majority, talking about the show and feeling challenged then you weren't really paying attention. Part stand up, part story, part morality test, comedian Rob Drummond examines democracy mixing his own story (with added dramatic licence, he admits) and a series of live votes.

As you enter the auditorium you are given a small key pad (pictured) and, during the show, are invited to press one for 'yes' and two for 'no' in relation to a series of statements. The results are displayed moments later on screens as percentages and the majority rules.

The statements on which your opinion is sought start off with basics to establish the make up of the audience and rules (should we allow latecomers, for example) moving on to re-runs of recent referendum votes and a variety of moral dilemmas. Some relate to variations of a scenario involving a deadly runaway train heading towards a group of workmen, others relate to the story Rob Drummond tells.

His story is about a random encounter he had the morning after the Scottish independence referendum and how that took him on a journey across Scotland and into the world of protests, activism, freedom of speech and the far right.

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Review: Ben Whishaw has been spoken to by God in Against, Almeida Theatre

1470x690_AGAINST_NBIn Bakkhai Ben Whishaw played a god. In Against he plays a man who believes he has been spoken to by God. The difference? Well there is a lot less hair for a start.

Luke is a tech billionaire who heard a voice in his head prompting him on a journey to understand violence and change the world.

Assisted by Sheila (Amanda Hale) he decides to go where the violence is and talk to people who’ve been affected - the parents of a high school shooter and a student at a University campus where there was a spate of rapes.

His is a sophisticated and intelligent mind but his approach is relatively simple until he is forced to question what constitutes violence. Can it merely be a physical thing or is the way people are treated by society or capitalism - for example - a form of violence in itself?

While Luke wrestles with the scale and effectiveness of his project, the nature of his fame begins to change. On the one hand he starts to attract followers who see him as something of a spiritual healer or icon on the other, he starts to attract critics.

Ben Whishaw's Dionysus in Bakkhai was seductive, alluring and manipulative whereas Luke has the demeanour of someone who believes he has the light of something in him; he has a Jesus-like quality, gentle, serene and thoughtful - except when it comes to personal relationships. Luke is a good listener particularly in Ben Whishaw's hands. When he is listening, he gradually moves closer to the person who is talking. He looks rapt, an expression that encourages and empathises; perhaps there is a little sign he enjoys it that people are opening up to him. I found myself constantly watching him just in the act of listening.

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Review: The Catastrophists, White Bear Theatre

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The Catastrophists, White Bear Theatre

When Jack Stanley was writing The Catastrophists he couldn't have known that Donald Trump would have been threatening 'fire and fury' on North Korea but it certainly adds an edge to this play about a posh middle class couple having dinner with a couple from the commune next door that is preparing for the end of the world.

Raf (Elizabeth Donnelly) and Harry (Alexander Stutt) have bought a second home in the Cotswolds using money they inherited but, drunk one night, Harry pees on Claudia (Patsy Blower) and Peter's (Edmund Dehn's) yurt. Inviting them over to dinner is Raf and Harry's way of saying sorry.

It opens with an argument between Raf and Harry about whether they should serve crisps or flat bread and guacamole as pre dinner nibbles. Raf believes the latter shows effort, Harry, rather astonishingly given his character, has never heard of guacamole and champions crisps. Raf gets her way and then when their guests arrives full blown social awkwardness pursues - you know the overly insensitive comments that expose social stereotypes, that type of thing. Some in the audience chuckled away others were stony-faced.

Claudia and Peter are, initially, what you'd expect of two people who've dropped out of city jobs to live off the land in a commune but as the play progresses there is something not quite platonic about their ideals and ambitions for their community. We'll gloss over questions about what they actually live on given that they admit the soil isn't any good, they can't grow anything and they slaughtered the one pig they had several years ago. 

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That was July in London Theatre land with a bumper crop of announcements and thesp spots

Loot_460x375After a quiet June, July was a bumper month for announcements and thesp spots...

* The cast for The Divide, the new Alan Ayckbourn play, was announced. Clare Burt will be joined by Sophie Melville, Sian Thomas and Finty Williams. It opens at the Edinburgh Fringe this week (8 Aug) and then at the Old Vic from Jan 30.

* It was a month of former Globe artistic director announcements starting with Dominic Dromgoole who has announced an Oscar Wilde season at the Vaudeville Theatre including Lady Windermere’s Fan directed by Kathy Burke and A Woman of No Importance starring Eve Best.

* Then the Old Vic announced that Emma Rice’s production company, Wise Children, would have a residency at the Old Vic. The first production next year will be an adaptation of an Angela Carter novel. Goodie.

* Stan-fav Sinead Matthews has been cast in Loot at Park Theatre (picture) which also exciting because it’s been many years since I last saw a production of Loot.

* Much lauded on Broadway, the UK production of Oslo (National Theatre and West End) has found its leads: Toby Stephens and Lydia Leonard.

* This Christmas will see the battle of the stage Scrooges. Rhys Ifans is playing Scrooge in an Old Vic production of A Christmas Carol while Phil Davis is playing same character in the RSC’s version in Stratford. Already looking forward to compare and contrasts.

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Review and production pictures: The art of acerbic wit and self defence in Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

Production photos by Marc Brenner

The kitchen set of Alexi Kaye Campbell's play Apologia is framed like a picture. Later art historian and successful writer Kristin (Stockard Channing) will describe a moment of revelation she had when looking at a renaissance painting but as family and friends are reunited for her birthday dinner that won't be the only revelation.

Kristin is smart, acerbic, pragmatic and opinionated - she certainly doesn't hold back. She protested in the 1960s, is an atheist and has a picture of Karl Marx in her downstairs loo. Her son Peter (Joseph Millson) works for a bank "that rapes the third world" and Simon (also Joseph Millson) can't keep a job and is suffering from depression. Neither are impressed that their mother has omitted them from her recently published biography - it re-opens old wounds.

Peter's girlfriend Trudi (Laura Carmichael) is the type of American Kristin says she left the States to get away from. She is nice, vanilla sweet and an easy target for Kristin's sarcasm: "You're a Christian, I'm thrilled for you.". Simon's girlfriend Claire (Freema Agyeman) is also an easy target: She is an actress on a soap opera. Having been impressed by a performance Claire gave in a fringe production of The Doll's House Kristin is disappointed by her career direction - and penchant for designer dresses. Kristin seeks an authenticity of purpose in people to match that of her own. However, it takes someone Kristin doesn't expect to expose it as a mask, as a means of self preservation and self defence.

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Fringe review: Did The Wasp at the Jermyn Street Theatre have a sting in its tail?

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Lisa Gorgin and Selina Giles in The Wasp. Photo by Andreas Grieger

The Wasp didn't get off on the right foot for me. It immediately falls into easy stereotypes of the working and middle classes and struggled to pull attention away from that until much later in the play.

We are introduced to two women who are meeting in a cafe, they are former school friends who haven't seen each other for 20 years. Carla (Lisa Gorgin) is common sounding, casual clothes, hair Croydon facelift style, pregnant with her fifth, smoking, works in Morrison's and is strapped for cash. She drinks builders tea and chews gum.

Heather (Selina Giles) is smartly dressed, professional looking, neat conventional hair, middle class accent and obviously reasonably well off. She 'rescues' a latte and later drinks camomile tea to be 'good'.

The stereotypes don't stop with appearances. Carla, we learn, had a physically abusive father and takes it out on people at school, people like Heather who comes from a loving, stable home. Naturally.

Where the play gets a little more interesting is in the proposal that Heather has for Carla. At first it seems outlandish and unbelievable but it's a narrative to stick with because it comes good in the way writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm unpacks the history between, and of, these two women and how that is shaping the terms of their reunion. And the pay off does have a little sting.

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Rehearsal photos: Christian Cooke and the cast of Knives in Hens, Donmar Warehouse

Coming up in August at the Donmar Warehouse is the intriguingly titled Knives In Hens by David Harrower starring Christian Cooke, Judith Roddy and Matt Ryan. Yael Farber directs. Previews start on August 17 and then it runs until 7 October and to whet your appetite here are some rehearsal photos.

 


Up close and personal: Tales from sitting on the front row at the theatre

The front row is generally my favourite place to sit at the theatre for several reasons. I'm short so it's often the only place that guarantees an uninterrupted view and I don't like having heads bobbing into my eye line.  Being close also means I can see the whites of the actors' eyes, the sweat on their brow, the nervous tremble of their hands but most importantly their facial expressions - if you are sat further back you miss stuff.

And then there are the unexpected incidents that happen when you are sat so close. Stuff like a prop hitting you, landing in your lap or dropping onto the floor by your feet, or the splatter of blood, the flying sand and sugar glass. Then there is the eye contact you make with an actor, an actor squeezing by you to get onto the stage, shaking your hand or saying hello or speaking lines directly to you and an actor falling into your lap when they misjudge the edge of the stage (yep that has happened to me). I've also been blamed by a character when they farted and dragged up on stage to take part.

I watched enviously from row C when Caesar was strangled in an empty seat in the middle of the front row during the Donmar's Julius Caesar. 

While most performances go by without anything like this happening, there is always the chance that it might and it becomes a story to add to the story, an experience to add to the experience. I included some recent 'acquisitions' from my front row seats in my new blog banner, it's nice to give them an airing. (Click on the image for a bigger version.)

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Review: A life in and of music - Nina, Young Vic and Traverse, Edinburgh

NinaWeb3PortraitimageJosette Bushell-Mingo is dressed as Nina Simone, a three piece band on stage plays out a rhythm and she describes the build up to her concert at Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. It is vivid and evocative and you can almost feel the excitement of the occasion.

It also makes an interesting framing device - the piece finishes with Josette performing a mini-concert of Nina Simone songs - for a journey into Nina Simone's songs and the context behind the lyrics. But this isn't merely a history lesson, it is also a lesson in how little has changed.

When Josette unpicks the lyrics of key songs giving back the original meaning, she interweaves them with her own story and accounts of recent racist attacks in the US, UK and beyond. When Nina Simone wrote Mississippi Goddam it was a response to racist killings in Mississippi and a 'f*ck you' to white society. The message was clear then and in telling the story in both a historical and modern context it shines a light on how far society has and hasn't come in 50 odd years.

To drive home the point Josette turns a metaphorical gun back on the audience imagining a scenario where it is white people being shot simply because of the colour of their skin. It is a simple but powerful device that makes an important point, several important points. That injustice, inequality and racism are still alive and the revolution Nina Simone sang about and hoped for still has a long way to go.

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Review: Life, the universe and family drama in Mosquitoes, National Theatre

Mosquitoes-v2-1280x720There are five ways the world will end, we are told by a scientist (Paul Hilton), but Luke's (Joseph Quinn) world is ending, not because of particles and black holes but because of that incident, in the bedroom of the only girl that talks to him.

Luke is clever and bright, he comes from an intelligent family. His mum Alice (Olivia Williams) is a brilliant scientist working on the Hadron Collider, his grandmother Karen (Amanda Boxer) was also a scientist and his grandfather won a Nobel prize. His aunt Jenny (Olivia Colman), on the other hand, prefers reading horoscopes and Googling answers to questions. Luke thinks she is stupid and so secretly does Alice and, not so secretly, so does, Karen.

As the Hadron Collider is about to be switched on tragedy throws the family together and it will be more than particles colliding in Geneva.

Mosquitoes mixes art and science examining intellect versus emotion and the extraneous variables that human nature brings to life. It puts family and parenting under the spotlight; Luke and Alice may be clever with computers and physics but they stumble when it comes to relationships. Jenny is led by emotion, making decisions that her family would say lack intellectual rigour, with painful 'told you so' consequences but she shouldn't necessarily be written off, there are stronger bonds and human needs that science can't help with or explain.

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