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March 2017

April 2017

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

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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

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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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Review: Precision and poise in Compagnie XY's #ItsNotYetMidnight, Roundhouse

Compagnie XY's It's Not Yet Midnight... (courtesy of David Levene) 5
Compagnie XY's It's Not Yet Midnight...Photo courtesy of David Levene

There is a group of 20 or so people on stage. The men are dressed in shirts and trousers, some with braces or waistcoats. Women similarly in shirts some with school girl style skirts or trousers. A push and shove breaks out building into full blown brawl.

All you can hear is the sound of their exerted breath and the slap of limbs or bodies hitting the stage. It looks quite vicious, frenetic but for the acrobatic flourishes which add incongruous moments of something more balletic.

It is dizzying to watch and a mere teaser for what is to come from French acrobatic troupe Compagnie XY's new show It's Not Yet Midnight. From here you are taken on a breathtaking journey of strength, poise, precision and co-ordination.

There are startling set pieces - double human height huddles that rotate, slowly collapse and then 'grow' again and then scenes where there are a multitude of feats being enacted on stage at the same time. Some of them are small no doubt looking much easier to do than they actually are - two people 'dancing' on the shoulders of one person, which you really have to see to fully appreciate, for example.

The pace quickens and slows, quickens and slows like heart beat, sometimes there is music, sometimes not, sometimes there are dance sequences or moments of comedy but all the time the stage oozes atmosphere.

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Coming soon: My picks from London's fringe theatre

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The Gap in the Light, New Diorama

Feel I should apologise as I've been a bit lax in publishing my fringe theatre picks for the last couple of months (blame the day job). Anyway to remedy that, here are a handful of forthcoming productions that look interesting.

Globalisation When work knows no borders, what's the cost? Alexandra Badea's explosive drama The Pulverised is a portrait of globalisation’s far-reaching grip on our working lives. A quality assurance officer from France, a call centre manager from Senegal, a factory worker from China, and an engineer from Romania - in four corners of the world, they are all engaged in one struggle: the multinational conglomerate they work for is trying to engulf their every waking moment. Arcola Theatre, Dalston - 3.30/8pm start, 90 minutes.

19th Century feminist icon Award-winning journalist Paul Mason's debut play The Divine Chaos of Starry Things is based on the memoirs of 19th century French feminist Louise Michel. The production examines the agony of the defeat and exile of the Parisian women revolutionaries deported to the remote Pacific island of New Caledonia, their depression and isolation upon arrival and loss of hope as dreams of escape fade and a new reality descends. White Bear Theatre, Kennington, 25 April to 20 May, 3pm/4pm/7.30pm.

 

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Review: Nina Raine's funny, sharp and intelligent Consent, National Theatre

Consent-2160x2160Playwright Nina Raine's previous plays have tackled social integration in the deaf community and the NHS, in Consent she takes on justice and the notion of consent.

At the centre of the play is a rape case which two lawyer friends are working on - Edward (Ben Chaplin) is defending and Tim (Pip Carter) is prosecuting. However, this isn't a courtroom drama, instead it focuses on how the case challenges and resonates through the relationships of Edward, Tim and their circle of friends.

Edward and Kitty (Anna Maxwell Martin) have just had their first baby and Edward wants another but Kitty isn't keen. There are tensions in Jake (Adam James) and Rachel's (Priyanga Burford) marriage as Rachel suspects he is having an affair and bit-part actress Zara (Daisy Haggard) is desperate for a baby but can't seem to find the right man - could the slightly dull Tim be the perfect match?

Gayle (Heather Craney), the victim in the rape trial lives a world away from the privileged friends but her case raises questions of how justice is best served. Is cold objectivity best or should the process allow for some empathy? It is far more complex than it initially seems. On the one hand an emotional detachment seems to be the fairest approach but, when the barristers cross examination technique is dissected, it reveals it to be a game of cold intellectual chess, more about winning than perhaps what is morally right.

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Rehearsal photos and irresistible prospect of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui with Lenny Henry, Donmar Warehouse

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is the play in the Donmar's current season I'm most excited to see. Why? Well, Lenny Henry was one of the iconic TV stars of my childhood. I grew up with Tiswas (which my mum hated us watching), Three of a Kind, the Comic Strip and the Lenny Henry Show and it's been six years since I last saw him on stage in A Comedy of Errors at the National.

So there is that. But it's also the play. It's a brutal satire which I've seen given such a wide variety of treatments including a version with puppets by Marmite director Katie Mitchell at Hampstead Theatre and Cheek By Jowl's bonkers French dinner party at the Barbican. What will the Donmar do? I suspect it won't be quite as radical as those two productions but nonetheless?

At the very least it feels like a wholly appropriate time to have a production of this play about the abuse of power.  It's a new translation by Bruce Norris - the king of uncomfortable laughs with plays such as Clybourne Park - and set in prohibition era Chicago. I'm expecting something powerful, that doesn't hold it's punches and I feel like I need to see some theatre like that.  So fingers crossed for when I get to see it later this month.

 

 


That was March in London theatre land - and a bumper crop of thesp spots

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Keith Stevenson in Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre (c) Erika Boxler

* The Almeida's excellent production of Hamlet starring Andrew Scott is transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End in June.

* And...not to take away from Hamlet's success but putting the tickets on sale at midnight, on a Saturday for Almeida members was an odd decision not least because, if Twitter is anything to go by, there were glitches with the ATG Tickets website and apparently no customer services/tech support available to sort it at that time of night.

* One of my favourite plays of 2016 - Rotterdam - is transferring to Broadway. OK, so not technically London theatre but it was such a great play and production I’m really pleased to see it doing well.

* Back in London and fringe plays doing well, the excellent Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, which I saw at the White Bear back in January is transferring to Trafalgar Studios 2 in May. Yep, I will be seeing it again because I liked it that much.

* Stan-Fav Simon Stephens is adapting The Seagull (one of the only Chekhov plays I actually like) for a production at the Lyric Hammersmith starring Lesley Sharp in the Autumn.

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