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January 2018

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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Production photos: Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley & David Morrissey in Julius Caesar

Looks like those of the audience who have standing or "promenade" tickets can get really close to the action in Nicholas Hytner's Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre. Should be fun.

Starring Ben Whishaw as Brutus, Michelle Fairley as Cassius and David Morrissey as Mark Antony, Julius Caesar is at the Bridge Theatre until April 15.



Theatre interview: Naomi Westerman on co-writing, feminist twists and having a play at #VaultFestival

Actress and writer Naomi has two plays at London's Vault Festival, here she talks about Double Infemnity which she co-wrote with Jennifer Cerys and Catherine O'Shea.

Naomi westermanDouble Infemnity is described as a 'feminist interpretation of crime noir’. Given the exposure of inequality and the treatment of women working in the creative and entertainment industries in recent months, how much do you think the landscape has shifted? 

This is a great question. The landscape has massively shifted over the past few months; what counts is making sure this leads to real and lasting change.

Although I have always been aware of the issues surrounding gender inequality and harassment in theatre (that's a large part of why I founded a female theatre company Little but Fierce) the events of the last few months have made me question just how much I took that inequality for granted, and how powerless I felt when confronted by it.

I had some very negative experiences as an actress where I felt I had no recourse other than to walk away. I'm proud of Little but Fierce and all we've achieved, but all-female work is sometimes at risk of being ghettoised within the mainstream theatre industry, and it's a shame mainstream work is still sometimes an unsafe or exploitative place for women.

The responsibility shouldn't be on women to police an industry that marginalises them. I do think society and the entertainment industry are waking up to the potential and commercial and artistic power of female-led stories, and I believe we will reach gender parity.

What part did it play in inspiring the piece and what else inspired you co-writers Jennifer Cerys and Catherine O'Shea?
I came up with the idea for Double Infemnity last summer, when I was working on several wonderful but quite stressful writing commissions. I wanted to create something without those pressures where I could write whatever I wanted, that was fun and bolshy.

Then #MeToo happened, and the play felt much more urgent. I and my co-writers Jennifer Cerys and Catherine O'Shea were writing the play while the Weinstein and Spacey (et al) scandals were happening, and that definitely influenced the play.

Double Infemnity is quite comedic but there's a sharp satire belying the anger that our main character feels. We researched the period and the noir genre, but a lot was inspired by our own experiences: objectification; sexism in the workplace; double standards; period cramps...

Continue reading "Theatre interview: Naomi Westerman on co-writing, feminist twists and having a play at #VaultFestival" »

Review: Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street Theatre - reflections of an extraordinary woman

Peggy Guggenheim (Judy Rosenblatt), daughter of one of the less wealthy Guggenheims - "lowly millionaires not billionaires", is teasing the Italian press from the balcony of her Venice palazzo while deciding what to wear for an interview.

Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street TheatreShe roots through a pile of designer dresses bemoaning the fact that her maid has taken the day off and reminiscing about each garment.

If you don't know much about Peggy Guggenheim then this opening scene is a great introduction touching upon the key ingredients of her life and personality: Art, love and family.

Peggy Guggenheim isn't a shrinking violet, she is demanding, intelligent, flirtatious and loving and that is just scratching the surface.

Writer Lanie Robertson gives us three scenes from which to paint a portrait of this extraordinary woman who must have been both fascinating, fun and infuriating to be around.

In each scene we see Peggy in a real-time scenario dealing with things like gallery directors and preparing for her artist daughter's opening exhibition, as well as hearing her recollections about her life and the people in it.

She talks about the night, during the Second World War, when the Nazi's came knocking on her door in the South of France as casually as she talks about spending two days in bed with Samuel Beckett.

Giving oral sex is mentioned in the same breath as having cocktails - this is a woman who is certainly not ashamed of having a sexual appetite and satisfying it.

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John, National Theatre or why I left a play at the 2nd interval

John_2160x2160I'm not a quitter. Well I am, sometimes. I very, very occasionally walk out of plays at the interval - ones I've paid for that is, never when I've been asked to review.

There have been occasions when I've just been really tired, busy at work and the pull of heading home and crawling under the duvet outweighs the need to find out what happens or see the story through.

If I'm really into a play, it doesn't matter how tired I am. Very occasionally something will just be poor quality but most likely it will be a lack of engagement, a lack of care or interest in the characters or story or what the play is trying to say that has me heading for the door, rather than the quality of the acting or production.

It happens with books too. If I'm not yearning to find out what happens next, looking forward to my precious pre-bed reading time then it gets spiked and I move onto something else.

My philosophy is that life is just too short. There isn't enough time to see everything I want to see and read everything I want to read so why waste time on something I'm not really enjoying when I could be spending it on something I might love.

I left the play John at the second interval this week. There were some great moments - mostly involving the character Genevieve - but the bits in between just left me unmoved.

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Rehearsal photos and hoping for third time lucky with The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse

The York Realist will be the third Peter Gill play I've seen at the Donmar Warehouse.  I didn't think much of the first two, Small Change and Versaille, so I'm hoping for third time lucky.

It's got a great cast but that has never really been my problem, it's always been the plays.

This one has promising sounding synopsis: A love affair between two young men in 1960s Yorkshire. I will know in a few week's time if I'm a convert.

In the meantime here are the rehearsal photos and the play is at the Donmar Warehouse from 8 February to 24 March.



Review: The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall - farcical and dark asylum seeker tale

I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so angry while watching a play. Angry at story steeped in a ridiculous incompetence from those that hold sway over the lives of others.

The Claim  UK Tour - Yusra Warsama  Nick Blakeley and Ncuti Gatwa (courtesy of Paul Samuel White)
The Claim UK Tour - Yusra Warsama Nick Blakeley and Ncuti Gatwa. Photo: Paul Samuel White.

Serge (Ncuti Gatwa) is seeking asylum and has an interview with Home Office officials.

He has been in the UK for a year, lives in a house in Streatham and has a job. His wish is simple: He wants to live, something he feels he can’t do in his home country the Congo.

The story the Home Office staff want to know is why he can’t go back home but it isn't as straightforward as that.

Hindered by the opening of old wounds and a desire to give the right information, the telling of Serge's story is also hampered by language barriers and interruptions. 

One of his interviewers, B (Yusra Warsama) is officious and doesn't speak Serge's language. Her colleague A (Nick Blakeley) is a sympathetic but incompetent translator. Both are distracted by personal issues such as forthcoming holidays and leaving work on time. 

It is a scenario that has the ridiculousness of a farce. However, given his research into the Home Office immigration process writer Tim Cowbury has created a story which takes on a Kafka-esque edge of frustration, dehumanisation and danger.

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Fringe theatre interview: Director Mark Maughan on finding humour in asylum play The Claim

Mark Maughan  director of The Claim - courtesy of Richard Davenport
Mark Maughan director of The Claim. Photo: Richard Davenport

Interview: Director Mark Maughan talks about about his work on new play The Claim which takes a satirical look at the UK's asylum process.

How did you get involved with The Claim and what drew you to the project?
Tim Cowbury (the writer) and I started researching and developing The Claim together back in 2015 and have collaborated on it ever since. I was interested in making a piece about migration, Tim about power and language.

Once we found out about the Home Office’s flawed asylum system, we knew that this was something that needed to reach a wide audience and the subject matter also had enough dramatic potential for us to be drawn to it as artists.
What was your approach in the rehearsal process?
Grit and grace. I am lucky to be surrounded by an absolutely first-rate cast and creative team, but we only had three weeks to rehearse before we met our audience, which went by extraordinarily quickly.

I shared key information from the research and development period with everyone who was new to the team, but most of our time was spent bringing our abstracted world of a real-life process to the stage.

It was also about breaking down the text into manageable chunks and repetition, as there are a lot of words to get through in a relatively short piece.
The Claim takes a satirical look at the UK's asylum process - what role does humour play and how do you balance that with the drama?
Sadly, my reaction to what we learnt about the asylum system was often laughter – at how completely ridiculous it is. Not including that absurdity would have been to misrepresent the reality of the process.

Of course, there is also a lot of drama in the Home Office interview as someone is using their words to fight for their lives, so the piece increasingly takes on this tone as it races towards its conclusion.

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Review: My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court - my first five star play of 2018?

Patsy Ferran’s ‘girl’ is sat in the corner playing a mini Casio keyboard. She says ‘hello’ to me and I go and sit on a red bean bag on the turquoise coloured carpet.

Helen murray-My-Mums-A-Twat-patsy ferran royal court
Patsy Ferran in My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court. Photo: Helen Murray.

We are in a kids bedroom - not a surreal dream but the set of Anoushka Warden's play My Mum's A Twat.  The furniture has glittery stickers on it, there's a shelf of Troll dolls, photos and pictures stuck to the walls.

This room, ironically, becomes a marker for the end of innocent childhood a time before the divorce and marriage to ‘moron’ lead her Mum into a ‘healing’ cult and a journey of estrangement and conflict between mother and daughter.

Patsy Ferran’s girl tells the story bubbling with defiance, resourcefulness and sassiness. You can imagine the pursed lips of the adults in her life.

Her tale unfolds through the prism of child then teen logic but while there is no abuse or great cruelty the perceived emotional abandonment by her Mum smacks hard and there are hints of the pain it causes.

We are transported swiftly from the ‘healing centre’ of her mother’s cult to Canada and back again with effervescent energy, colour and wit but in the still moments the hurt that ripples to the surface is all the more powerful.

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Fringe review: Do opposites attract in Lobster, Theatre503

The gold, helium-filled, party balloon letters at the back of the stage spell out 'Happy Fucking Whatever' which forms an appropriate back drop to this relationship comedy drama in which J (Alexandra Reynolds) seems to represent the 'Happy' part and K (Louise Beresford) the 'Whatever'.

They bump into each other at a party several months after they have split up which becomes the starting point for a journey looking at how they met, fell in love and fell out of it again.

Lobster - Ali Wright-9
L-R Louise Beresford and Alexandra Reynolds in Lobster. Photo Ali Wright

J is one of those naturally happy people. Always cheerful, excited, agreeable and eager to please. She is also traditional wants to get married and have a family.

K has a dry wit and can be sarcastic to the point of coming across like she doesn't care. She's doesn't really know what she wants.

As they recall the details of their first date, they correct and contradict each other. It is charming, and amusing - snappily written and performed - but also perhaps an early sign of how their differences might actually shape their relationship.

At first the light and dark in their personalities complement and it is what they love about each other but life, dreams and experience start to mould things differently.

Lucy Foster's play isn't just a funny drama about the quirks of love and being a couple, it is also a keenly observed look at the complexity of relationships made more so by the complexity of human nature.

Continue reading "Fringe review: Do opposites attract in Lobster, Theatre503" »