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April 2017

Review: While We're Here, Bush Theatre Studio

Tessa Peake-Jones and Andrew French in While We're Here at thenew Bush Studio. Credit Mark Douet
Tessa Peake-Jones and Andrew French in While We're Here at thenew Bush Studio. Photo: Mark Douet

Carol (Tessa Peake-Jones) is making up the sofa in her Havant home for Eddie (Andrew French) to sleep on. A chance meeting has thrown the former lovers together; they've not seen each other for 20 years and he's got no where to stay. She's happy to help, happy to have the company as her daughter has moved out. Eddie babbles with nerves and Carol is awkwardly sweet, something has been kindled.

There is a lot of humour in their chit chat as they share their views on TV, the local area and news stories but that chat is pregnant with their own philosophy, how they attempt to rationalise and organise their lives to get through. As the two get re-acquainted we learn of Eddie's struggles with mental health and Carol's loneliness and sense of regret.

At times they are on the same page, leaping on those moments of understanding while at others they are worlds apart. Both have built their own safety nets, Eddie keeps moving while Carol stays still making few changes. Eddie returning to her life ignites a spark that might break her out of the shell, seduced as she is by the potential rekindling of their romance. Eddie, however, is driven by a bleakly fatalistic outlook, believing happiness is transitory and consequently fearful of what he sees as the inevitable end.

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Review: Lenny Henry in the irresistible Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar Warehouse

Lennyhenryw500h500Before I had even taken my seat at the Donmar, I'd spoken to two actors and shaken Lenny Henry's hand. It's all part of the Donmar's transformation for the Bruce Norris adaptation of Brecht's play - The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. The stalls - stage and seating - have been removed and replaced to create a space decked out as a late night jazz cafe complete with wooden tables and chairs to fit the new setting of prohibition era Chicago.

The cast mingle with the audience as they arrive in the building and then in the theatre chatting as if you are cafe customers. The reason behind some of the conversations only becomes apparent as the play properly starts - PolyG and I were asked by Lenny Henry's Arturo Ui if we'd stand up when he requested during the play, naturally we agreed. If you are sat at the front - even in the circle - you may be roped in.

In Norris' adaptation our Brechtian villain is a gangster who wants respect as well as power and will be as ruthless as he needs to be to get there. However this is a far less intimidating Arturo than I have seen in other adaptations. The fact that his protection racket targets grocers and in particular the cauliflower importers and sellers gives you a taste of the tone.

It is an Arturo Ui which is frothy and fun, with unsubtle references to Donald Trump and blatant parallels with the likes of Richard III - Norris also manages to weave in excerpts from several other Shakespeare plays including 'To be or not to be'. There are also tantalising snatches of popular songs sung live in a lounge jazz style, it becomes a game of name that tune - try and guess the song from a verse or two of familiar lyrics sung in an unfamiliar way. Nat King Cole's Nature Boy gets its second stage outing in as many years too (it was the song playing at the start of Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet).

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Review: Jude Law in Obsession, Barbican Theatre

ImageObsession is the latest production from Ivo Van Hove and the second in a trio of plays he has at the Barbican Theatre this year. Based on the 1943 Italian film which in turn based on James Cain's controversial crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, it is set in a nondescript café run by a Giuseppe (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) and his much younger wife Hanna (Halina Reijn). When handsome drifter Gino (Jude Law) turns up, Hanna is quickly charmed and Giuseppe is initially suspicious but when he proves useful around the café Giuseppe lets him stay, inadvertently sealing the fate of all three.

It is a dark and brooding play full of Van Hove's trademarks - close ups of key scenes projected as video on the back and side walls of the stage, stripped back dialogue (Simon Stephens has done the adaptation) and pregnant pauses which are punctured by passionate physical encounters and outbursts. The huge Barbican stage is sparse, a cafe counter which is Hanna's domain, a truck engine suspended in the middle which is Giuseppe's and a old-fashioned square basin which is used for washing.

There is an ordinariness to much of what goes on, Van Hove lingering on the domestic routine. It accentuates the physicality of those moments when a more raw, primal emotion breaks through. There is something of a pacing, impatient animal in Jude Law's performance that marks him as dangerous charmer from the outset.

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Coming soon: My picks from London's fringe

Living
Living a Little, King's Head Theatre

My picks from London's fringe offerings in the coming weeks.

Clowning about - London's Clown Festival celebrates physical comedy and clown influenced contemporary performance exploring what clown is to the modern performer and their audiences.  Challenging assumptions about the word “clown” and bringing highly entertaining work from across the world to the Capital. Hornsey Town Hall, Crouch End 11-21 May - times vary depending on event.

One man show - Performed entirely nude, Scott-Rowley has created a show for thrill-seekers, putting himself in an eye-opening state of vulnerability. From a mendacious Spiritualist Lecturer to a despondent American Porn Star on the brink of her retirement, over 10 characters he takes the audience on a journey from emotional despair to helpless laughter. This Is Not Culturally Significant, Bunker Theatre, 15 May- 3 Jun, 8pm, 55 minutes. Age 16+ advised.

Absurd comedy drama - With not a zombie in sight, we are taken into a sanctuary of normality while the outside world rots…Living a Little was winner of the 2017 VAULT Festival Origins Award for Outstanding New Work and now transfers to the King's Head Theatre, Islington, May 6 - 14, 5pm/5.45pm/21.45pm, 65 minutes.

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Review: Finding and keeping a roof over your head in Home Truths (cycle one), Bunker Theatre

HOME TRUTHS  RUNS AT THE BUNKER THEATRE 17 APRIL TO  13 MAY (1).Under the sub-heading 'An Incomplete History of Housing Told in Nine Plays' Cardboard Citizen are performing three cycles of three short plays exploring...housing. Playwrights including E V Crowe and Anders Lustgarten have contributed and stories told range in setting from the 1800s right up to present day. They are interspersed with snippets of historical footage and quotes which are allocated to the actors via a 'director'.

Cycle one kicks off with Sonali Bhattacharyya's Slummers. It's the story of 16-year old Polly and her family who make a living in late 18th Century London as milliners, selling their wares on the streets. They've already been displaced once to make way for a new road and are living in  'Old Nichol' - the overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous slums in Shoreditch - when they are approached by a representative of Peabody as being suitable tenants for their new estate. However, six months into their new life and dwelling, they are threatened with eviction.

The piece examines the notion of 'deserving poor' versus 'undeserving poor' - a theme that echoes through the cycle - 'deserving' in this instance seems to mean willing not only to follow the rules but not to question or challenge those that provide.

Bhattacharyya's play aptly exposes the class tension and the powerful strings attached to assistance through the domestic triangle of Polly who wants the benefits of the new home, her mother who wants the benefits of a more just society and the Peabody volunteer who believes what she is doing is right.

Next up was 1970s set The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency by Heathcote Williams with Sarah Woods about an 'estate agency' set up for homeless people. The group monitor empty properties for squatting and broadcast their availability on pirate radio while themselves playing a cat and mouse game with the authorities and their own landlord.

It is fun and lively piece populated with eccentric, clever and caring people but with a serious underbelly - tonally it reminded me of James Graham's The Angry Brigade. The clever way the squatters out-manoeuvre the authorities and landlords feels satisfyingly like a huge two finger salute to the establishment while the personal stories of those who have found themselves homeless serve to demonstrate the challenges and harsh realities of everyday life.

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Bridge Theatre's first season - and what we know about London's newest venue

Are we excited about the new Bridge Theatre's first season which was announced today? Ben Whishaw, David Morrissey, Michelle Fairley, Rory Kinnear (in bouffant wig), Richard Bean and Barney Norris? I would say that is quite exciting.  

But I must admit that my excitement was tempered until I found out what sort of prices and seating the new 900-seat flexible performance space theatre would have. There was nothing on the website and initially I balked at paying £50 for membership, knowing so little - if decent seats were the usual West End prices then trips would be infrequent.

However, an offer came through for half price membership so it felt less of a gamble and actually it paid off because although ticket prices go up to £75 it's been possible to get reasonably positioned seats in the stalls for £25. For Julius Caesar you can go in the pit (presumably it's standing but you get real close to the action) for £25. For The Young Marx, which is the first play when the theatre opens in October, I got front row stalls for £25 and for Nightfall that price bought seats on the third/back row at the side of the thrust. Obviously the proof will be in sight lines when watching but as it's a new theatre, I'm hopeful.

If the first season is a taste of the type of work and talent involved and it remains possible to get decent seats for £25/30 then the Bridge Theatre might just become a regular haunt.

 


 


Review: Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire in the splendid Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic

Rosencrantz-1
Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire. Photo Manuel Harlan

Joshua McGuire (Guildenstern), who has played Hamlet, is on stage talking to a Hamlet (Luke Mullins) - could Tom Stoppard have anticipated this when he wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead 50 years ago?

Such career progression from tragedy to humourous meta theatre feels wholly apt for this existential play which explores fate versus self determinism. The two minor characters of Shakespeare's play are catapulted centre (back) stage and seem determined to cling to life when literary fate would have it otherwise. 

"There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said - no. But somehow we missed it."

Called to the Danish court by Hamlet's uncle, Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe) and Guildenstern's 'job' is to determine what is wrong with the Prince - the problem is they are out of their depth. Unsure of what they need to do or how to do it they search for structure, rules - clues - to help. They talk themselves into and out of action, bide their time bickering and bury themselves in familiar games while the story of Hamlet plays out on the periphery, often sweeping across the back of a stage like a human curtain being drawn.

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Review: Threads, Hope Theatre

Threads3-Samuel-Lawrence-and-Katharine-Davenport
Threads: Samuel Lawrence and Katharine Davenport. Photo Lidia Crisafulli

Vic (Katherine Davenport) has made a mercy dash to see her ex Charlie (Samuel Lawrence) suspecting he may have done something to himself. He still lives in the flat they shared when she walked out of the relationship five years earlier and he's become a recluse. He is having problems letting go and moving on and seems to think she is too.

The invisible relationship bonds that connect people together, that are difficult to sever is an interesting subject (how do you let go of the past?) but David Lane's play wraps the story up in the supernatural - self-locking doors, flickering light bulbs, medical science defying symptoms etc which are a distraction rather than adding to the narrative or drama. You could see some of it as overt metaphor for being trapped in the past/broken hearted but rather it makes a potentially interesting relationship drama just rather odd at times.

As to the relationship itself there are hints of what Vic and Charlie were like as a couple but very little that sheds any light on what attracted them to each other and led them into the sort of relationship where you share a flat. As a result it is difficult to see why Vic and Charlie were together in the first place which weakens the idea of being tied to the past. The question marks over their past relationship dulls the dramatic impact, tension and any emotional tug of the piece.

There are some nice twists towards the very end of the play - and a particular scene that isn't one for the squeamish - but it feels too little, too late which is a shame.

Threads is at the Hope Theatre in Islington until April 29 and is 70 minutes without an interval.


Review and production photos: Dark, powerful and funny Guards At The Taj, Bush Theatre

Darren Kuppan and Danny Ashok in Guards at the Taj at the Bush Theatre. Credit Marc Brenner.
Darren Kuppan and Danny Ashok in Guards at the Taj at the Bush Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Director Jamie Lloyd has moved on from dark dystopian Philip Ridley plays performed in the basement at Shoreditch Town Hall to something that is arguably even darker but set in 17th century India. Guards at the Taj, at the newly revamped Bush Theatre (thumbs up for the more spacious ground floor), is a play by Pulitzer shortlisted Rajiv Joseph about two friends Humayun (Danny Ashok) and Babur (Darren Kuppan) who are guarding the Taj Mahal.

They've been assigned the lowliest guard duty - the graveyard shift - keeping watch as the finishing touches are made to the mausoleum. With their backs to the construction site they aren't allowed to turn around and look - that is a privilege only afforded the workers and the King - but as dawn starts to light up the sky the temptation grows.

The two characters - and the scenario - have echoes of Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Babur is a stickler for following the rules, knows all the punishments for the various crimes and misdemeanours whereas Humayan is the rule breaker, a dreamer with a head full of fanciful inventions. They aren't supposed to talk but they do. 

However, sneaking a glance at the Taj doesn't have the consequences you might imagine, ironically it is following orders that sets in motion a series of dark and barbaric events that changes their lives and those of thousands of others.

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