41 posts categorized "Almeida" Feed

"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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Review: Ralph Fiennes is Richard III, Almeida Theatre

RIII_IMAGE_1470x690_72As soon as I stepped into the Almeida auditorium and saw the stage I got the reference. There was a grave-sized earthy hole around which there were spotlights and actors dressed in white, forensic-style jump-suits who were excavating bones. The last to be lifted is a twisted spine which is a macabre sight and sets the tone.

The grave excavation is a nice merging of history and fiction and is used to book end Rupert Goold's production. It was also a promising start to what is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

When Ralph Fiennes' Duke of Gloucester appears for the 'winter of discontent' speech it is a slow, deliberate delivery. He makes sure he has everyone's attention, holding people's gaze. (I've embedded a video of another speech at the bottom of the post to give you a taste.)

His Richard is a snake, slithering slowly, fixing you in his eyes so that you daren't look away but a snake which has a sudden deadly bite. I've seen productions where he's played as a loveable villain - dangerous but charming. There is no such charm here. He is pure evil, prone to occasional violent outbursts, particularly towards women when his violence turns sexual. He is a coward in that respect. He's not a hands-on murderer as he is sometimes portrayed, he leaves that to others, instead he picks his fights with those he can easily overpower.

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Review: When the staging is bigger than the play - Boy, Almeida

Landscape_1470x690_WebThere is a lot going on in the Almeida auditorium and Leo Butler's Boy hasn't even started. The performance space is in the middle and is a travellator that weaves in a wiggly loop through the audience. Actors sit at various points of the slowly moving track coming to within inches of those sat closest.

I say 'sit' because they don't have chairs or any outward sign of support. It is something that immediately fascinates and continues to do so after the play starts when the get up, walk around and then 'sit' on invisible chairs again.

Immediately opposite our seats is the production photographer. Whenever actors glide in front of us he seems to snap away - something that continues throughout. Once the play starts pieces of set are fixed onto the travellator and removed from two points one right next to use. That becomes fascinating to watch too.

And here is the problem. There is so much going on that isn't performance that the plays gets a little bit lost in it all. It doesn't help that the travellator is quite noisy and despite the actors having mics it is sometimes difficult to hear what is being said despite sitting so close.

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That was my year of theatre-going 2015: The StOlivier awards

89050759_9b7a9cb884_mThere are awards and then there are the StOliviers...

I'm only human award: This goes to Ben Whishaw who, during the Iliad live reading, mispronounced a name did a delightful giggle at his mistake before slipping straight back into character and carrying on. You can see the reading here (roughly 26 mins in for the giggle).

Best food fight: Cast of Rules for Living, National Theatre, who not only managed to mess up the stage but trod and smeared mashed potato into the carpet and on the drapes at all the exits from the Dorfman stage.

Scariest prop: For Carman Disruption at the Almeida I was sat on the front row not far from the life-sized, prone but visibly breathing bull. It was so realistic it freaked me a little bit. If it had moved its head or a leg you wouldn't have have seen me for dust.

Most accident prone production: Ah Wilderness! Young Vic. Props went flying and actors fell over, I wrote a post about it.

I didn't know you had that in you surprise performance award: Lots of surprises this year Tom Sturridge in American Buffalo, David Dawson in The Dazzled but the award goes Johnny Flynn in Hangmen for a performance that meant the first two words I said to Poly after the curtain call were 'Johnny Flynn' to which she replied 'I know'.

The bloody play of the year: The single stream of blood slowly rolling down the stage towards the audience at the end of  Macbeth, Young Vic, was great but the bloody highlight goes to the Almeida's Oresteia. Agamemnon is murdered and his spilled blood slowly seeps out in a growing pool from beneath his corpse.

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