44 posts categorized "Almeida" Feed

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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My favourite plays of 2017...so far #midyearreview #theatre

via GIPHY 

2017 is already the year that brought us Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman and my introduction to playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and it's only six months in. There are a further nine plays I couldn't not include in my 'best of so far' list and that was with the bar set very high. I've still got Angels in America, Ben Whishaw in Against, Rory Kinnear in Young Marx and the awarding winning Oslo to come later this year, among many others potential theatre treats - the end of year list is already looking tricky to narrow down.

Anyway, here's what I've enjoyed the most in 2017 so far. Feel free to agree/disagree...

(In no particular order, because that would be too traumatic to do.)

1. Amadeus, National Theatre  This was supposed to be a 2016 play but I gave up my ticket for the early part of the run because of work pressures, good words from @PolyG made me rebook for January and I'm so glad I did. It was a play that unexpectedly floored me. It's returning next year and yes I've got a ticket.

2. Out Their On Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Fringe theatre kicked off in fine style with this brilliantly warm, funny, odd, dark, misfit comedy that was the antidote to everything disturbing that was going on the world at the time. It transferred to Trafalgar Studios 2 and I got to enjoy it all over again.

3. Hamlet, Almeida  I've seen a lot of Hamlet's and there is usually something new in each but Andrew Scott's prince in Robert Icke's production made me look at the play with completely new eyes. Sorry Sherlock but this was a battle that Moriarty definitely won. It's transferred to the West End.

4. An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre  Was tipped off about American playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and this is the first of his plays I've seen. It's a play I could write reams and reams about and reminded me why I love going to the theatre. Gloria, another of his plays is currently on at Hampstead Theatre, it didn't quite make this list but it is still really good.

5. Rotterdam, Arts Theatre  This was in my 'best of' list last year but after a stint off Broadway it's come back to London to the bigger Arts Theatre. It made me laugh, it made me gasp and it made me cry - all that even though I've seen it before and knew exactly what was coming. That's why it's back on the list. It's on until 15 July.

6. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic  It's possibly the only Tom Stoppard play I really like and this was a great production that was lively, entertaining, profound and melancholic . There was a brilliant rapport between the two leads - Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire - and David Haig as The Player was worth the ticket price alone.

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Review: Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle make newspaper history in Ink, Almeida Theatre

1470x690One of the early scenes of James Graham's Fleet Street-set play Ink sees Bertie Carvel's Rupert Murdoch at a meeting to officially sign the deal that will put The Sun newspaper in his ownership. It's 1969 and the men in suits shake hands and ask after each other's wives who naturally 'send their love'. Murdoch waits quietly while this goes on then asks if the foreplay is over and if they can now get on with the fucking.

It is a symbol of his forthright, no nonsense style that was to disrupt Fleet Street and change the British newspaper industry. It also sort of sums up the two halves of the play. The first half has the fun, laughs and sharp wit as it follows Murdoch's chosen editor Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle) putting together the editorial team and the content for the first issue under new ownership. The second half gets more serious and looks at the consequences of the direction in which he has taken the paper.

Lamb is tasked with making The Sun 'fun' and boosting its flagging circulation, pushing it ahead of The Mirror which is outselling its rival quite considerably.

What Murdoch gives Lamb is permission to disrupt the accepted norm; just because newspapers have never done something, doesn't mean they shouldn't. Why give readers what you think they want when you can give them what they actually do want. Lamb rises to the challenge and while the strategy behind his approach seems in some ways so obvious now, it was radical at the time. However, there are also lines he is given that could apply to the media now.

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"Alas he is mad" - How Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, scared me

Hamlet_1470x690_version_3REVIEW (contains potential spoilers) In 2011 Michael Sheen played Hamlet as the inmate of a mental hospital at the Young Vic hallucinating ghosts and prone to ranting and raving. Since then we've had a string of comparatively sane Hamlets, that is until now. The big difference in Robert Icke's approach, compared to Ian Rickson's, is in the process of the decline, the gradual loss of faculty.

The pomp and ceremony of court have been stripped away much like the Royal Exchange production which starred Maxine Peake. This is a modern royal family with modern, minimalist Scandi decor within their ancient castle - you get glimpses of the stone corridors via security cameras. Indeed the security cameras and the occasional appearance of suit and ear-piece wearing heavy are one of the few concessions to the fact that this is a royal family. The politics and threats of war are kept to TV news reports (in Danish with subtitles)

It is a loving family too, relaxed and at home in each others company or at least the extended family unit is. Ophelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a daddy's girl and Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) is genial and tactile, you get the sense that Laertes (Luke Thompson) and Ophelia are like a much loved nephew and niece. They sit relaxed on a sofa together just like any other family. After Gertrude and Claudius's (Angus Wright) wedding party, the newly weds are drunk and giggly and roll around lustfully. And, while Hamlet (Andrew Scott) is the quietly grieving and melancholy son, when he and Ophelia are alone there appears to be a genuine love or at least affection between them.

Under Robert Icke's direction there is back story in every gesture, touch and look in these opening scenes which makes the betrayals, hurts and horrors to come all the more stark. It is also a perfect back drop against which Hamlet and Ophelia can lose their minds. And this is what sets this production apart. Andrew Scott's delicate soul Hamlet is slowly pulled apart by grief, the weight of revelation about his father's death and the way his uncle and Polonius (Peter Wight) try to manipulate him.

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Andrew Scott's Hamlet is in the press but not in the way Cumberham was during previews

Hamlet_1470x690_version_3This article by the Telegraph about Andrew Scott's Hamlet at the Almeida is interesting for two reasons. Firstly because it picks up on some of the issues of long running times and secondly because it both quotes and links to reviews by bloggers who've seen previews.

My regular readers will know that long running times are a personal bug bear - this production of Hamlet rocks in at 4 hours, or it did the night I saw it. It is not very practical for those who don't live locally and have regular jobs to get up for. I luckily don't have too far to get home but it was still 11.45pm before I walked through the door and my usual alarm is 6.30am. Go at the weekend? It's not always possible, beside when you book way in advance as I do there is no way of knowing just how long the running time is.

I remember going to see Michael Sheen's Hamlet at the Young Vic with a friend who lived in Shoreham and he had to leave at the interval because he was worried about missing the last train home. It doesn't make for a relaxing evening if you are constantly worried about when its going to finish.

Now while I think Robert Icke's production and Andrew Scott's performance are both excellent (full thoughts coming soon) I'm sure there is stuff that could be trimmed, indeed the expectation is it will lose around 15 minutes before press night.  And as the run is pretty much sold out the running time doesn't seem to be putting off sufficient numbers to worry box office revenue but it will be publicity I'm sure the Almeida would rather not have.

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Ben Whishaw is back on stage at the Almeida #almeidatheatre

So I wake up to this news in the Guardian:

August will also see the debut of Pulitzer-nominated playwright Christopher Shinn’s new work, Against. Ben Whishaw will play Luke, a tech millionaire convinced he is the next messiah, whose calling is to confront violence in America.

Which is exciting not only because Ben Whishaw is back on stage (obviously) and at the Almeida rather than in the West End but also because it's a contemporary play and it feels like a while (The Pride - half contemporary - so perhaps Cock in 2009?).

James Graham will also debut a new play about newspapers in the 1960s. Given the brilliance of This House (currently enjoying a revival in the West End) this should be cracking.


Review: Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams take turns in Mary Stuart, Almeida Theatre

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Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams, Mary Stuart Almeida Theatre. Photo Miles Aldridge

Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams walk on stage both wearing the same blue velvet trouser suit and a white shirt. Lia calls heads, a coin is spun, it lands and the courtiers bow to Juliet and Lia is stripped of her jacket and shoes and led away. This is the way it will play this time and I am pleased; in my head when I thought of the two actresses I saw Juliet as Queen Elizabeth and Lia as her prisoner Mary, Queen of Scots.

And so the stage is set for Robert Icke's adaptation of Schiller's play of politics, power, religion and family. Elizabeth has kept Mary, her first cousin once removed, imprisoned for many years and is under pressure from her council to do something about her. Mary, through her lineage, has a claim to the English throne, is Catholic seen as a threat to the Protestant Queen Elizabeth.

Mary has been tried in a kangaroo court and found guilty of plotting against Elizabeth but the Queen is reluctant to sign the death warrant. She's also under pressure to marry, itself a political hot potato as without an heir a huge question mark hangs over the succession. Mary, realising she is in grave danger plans, with some trusted sympathisers, to make one final appeal to the Queen.

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Review: Oil, Almeida Theatre

ImageElla Hickson's play Oil is broad in scope, starting in the 1800s and finishing in 2051 and that, in part, is its problem.

It opens in the 1880s with a poor, isolated, farming family on a bitterly cold, dark, winter's night (think Mr Burns dark). A man arrives and makes an offer that could change their lives and, as a result of that meeting May (Anne Marie-Duff), a pregnant wife, disappears into the night.

May becomes a recurring character as does her daughter Amy (Yolanda Kettle) who makes her first appearance in the next segment which is set in early 20th century Iran. May is trying to earn enough for them to get a boat ticket home. She is waitressing at a dinner reception where the English are oiling up some Iranians in order to secure a deal. She is made two different offers by two different men.

Next we see May as a senior exec of an oil company in the 1970s. She is dealing with a rebellious teen on one hand and a rebellion in Iran which is threatening business and trade.

The action then jumps to the future. First it is 2021 and Amy is working in a war torn Iraq and her mother wants her to come home, then in 2051 where she is living with her elderly mother and fuel is scarce and expensive. There they are offered a new power source and a means of changing their lives for the better, the play coming full circle.

Aside from the characters of May and Amy there are other common refrains weaving through the narrative: a particular line of dialogue, a particular action or circumstance. It is subtle and there is definitely a clever structure there but the problem is the scope of themes. Hickson touches on feminism, misogyny, power - fuel and political, trade, war, capitalism, xenophobia and parenting, among other things, and as a result it feels like Oil isn't about anything in particular.

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That was August in London Theatre-land (with a late addition)

9383745446_a248156e8f_zAugust always used to be a quiet month for theatre; it was as if everyone decamped to Edinburgh for the fringe. But even though the Royal Court still shuts up shop, elsewhere it just seems to get busier and busier. There is more fringe - and not just pre-Edinburgh shows - and more productions opening at the bigger theatres. As a result I ended up seeing 12 plays and yes I know there are people that see more than that each month but it's above my average.

* The 'hold the front page' story for the month (and possibly the year) was the announcement of funds to be made available to theatres to improve the ladies toilets. There is general under provision in the older theatres which means long queues and they are often so cramped and badly designed you have to be child-sized to get in and out the cubicles.

* The month was also notable for having only one steamy theatre watching experience and by that I mean the 'joy' of sitting in a non-air conditioned theatre on a hot summer evening with sweat trickling down your back while feeling sorry for the actors because at least you can wear shorts and T-Shirt. Yep thanks to Found III for that one.

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Review: White guilt and conflict in They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre

They_Drink_It_In_The_Congo_website_1470x690Stef (Fiona Button), the central character in Adam Brace's new play They Drink It In The Congo, has given up a well paid PR job and is staking her reputation organising a festival of Congolese culture to raise awareness of the atrocities going on in the mineral rich country. Stef has been to the Congo and seen the horrors with her own eyes and wants to do something about it. It is a laudable aim fuelled with an element of white colonial guilt - her family did well out of farming in Kenya - and personal guilt at not being able to look at the injured people she saw.

"Don't look at the wound."

She manipulates her ex and PR friend Tony (Richard Goulding) into helping and wants a third of the organising committee for 'Congo Voice' to be from within the Congolese diaspora. However, things aren't going smoothly, with in-fighting on the steering committee and death threats from Les Combattantes des Londres.

Brace mixes dark humour (and sometime silly humour) with some of the grim realities of conflict in the Congo. We get a five minute history lesson of the country in a pre press conference briefing and then later we get a glimpse of some of what Stef saw during her visit. There are also the more subtle points: Stef who lives in her late father's flat talks about not being able to bury him in Kenya as he wished because the new owners of the farm won't permit it while the Congolese community have been forced to flee their homes.

The human cost is also emphasised in Oudry (Sule Rimi) - a pink suit wearing personification of technology - and later on a tube train when the commuters catch up on celebrity gossip and trivia on devices that no doubt contain minerals mined in the Congo.

But for all that is raised - from white colonial guilt, the politics of the charity sector, ethical consumerism and of course the extremely complex problems of the Congo - it is seeing it through Stef's lense that dominates and that was a problem for me. We learn a lot about her and her motivations - pride, grief, stubbornness and perhaps a little PTS. Yes she represents a stereotype but the more things fall apart the more personal she makes it. At one point she says to her Congolese friend Anne-Marie (Anna-Maria Nabirye) "After everything I have done for you" and she turns up at a wake to try and get support from within the community.

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