20 posts categorized "Classics" Feed

Review: The naked and messy Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Apollo Theatre #YoungVicCat

Cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-photo-by-charlie-gray2Hands up all those who remember Tom Hiddleston taking a shower on stage during Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse? Well Tom Hiddleston and that production hasn't got anything on Jack O'Connell and the Young Vic's Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

The shower is a permanent part of the opulent, minimalist, bedroom set for Tennessee Williams' classic play; thick black carpet, gold walls, black dressing table and chair, black bed with just some fresh flowers on the night stands for colour.

Right at the front of the stage, on the carpet, are six bottles of whisky, a bag of ice and some glasses, towards the back and to one side is the stem of the shower. There is no screen, or shower tray it grows out of the carpet and it becomes something to lean on or sit against as well as a shower. Rather randomly it reminded me of the lamp post in the Chronicles of Narnia - probably because the characters sometimes gather around it.

As the lights come up Brick (Jack O'Connell) is sat naked, under the flow of water (yes it runs straight into the carpet to the delight of the stage manager I'm sure), while his wife Maggie (Sienna Miller) talks incessantly about nothing and everything.

It is Brick's family home and preparations are underway for Big Daddy's (Colm Meaney) 65th birthday party but there is more than just blowing out candles on the cake at stake. Big Daddy is a rich land owner who's just had a cancer scare and there are ambitions and expectations among the wider family which, it quickly becomes clear, has led to rivalries. This isn't the Walton's.

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Review: #AlmeidaGreeks season kicks off with the emotionally charged Oresteia

Oresteia-at-the-almeida-theatre_lia-williams-in-oresteia-photo-david-stuart_302924c4cf9ef727a6c02e6ec1ef47e1Each of the intervals during the three hours, forty minutes running time of the Almeida Theatre's Oresteia is announced as a break by the Chorus (Rudi Dharmalingam). We are instructed to return within the designated time or be refused admittance, and there are clocks counting down the minutes and seconds just to make sure you know.

It isn't as much of a gimmick as it first appears but part of a theatrical device that only becomes clear as the play progresses although it works brilliantly at getting everyone back in their seats for a prompt start.

The clocks are not the only way that director Robert Icke plays with time during this powerful production and neither is it the first time he plays with the audience.

Oresteia, the first in the Almeida's Greeks season, was originally three plays telling the story of Orestes (Luke Thompson) the son of Klytemnestra (Lia Williams) and Agamemnon (Angus Wright). In this adaptation by Icke he melts the three into one story but introduces elements that are usually told in other Greek tragedies. For example, rather than starting the play at the return of Agamemnon from the Trojan war he begins with the events leading up to his departure it helps put Klytemnestra and Orestes' behaviour into context.

In Icke's Oresteia what you get is the story of a family torn apart by faith and tragedy which raises questions about justice and revenge. Agamemnon's lands are threatened by war and he puts his faith in the Gods whom he believes have sent him a sign: He must kill his youngest daughter to ensure victory. It is an act he naturally agonises over: is the death of his treasured daughter worth it to save many other lives? It makes for a powerful, emotionally charged and disturbing first act and includes ones of the most distressing scenes I've watched in the theatre.

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Review: The RSC's Death of a Salesman with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter

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L-R - Alex Hassell (Biff), Harriet Walter (Linda Loman), Antony Sher (Willy Loman) and Sam Marks (Happy). Photo: Ellie Kurttz

There are lots of things that seem appropriate about the RSC staging a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

It is a play that is rich in ideas like Shakespeare's, is a grim as any of his tragedies and has at its heart dreams and illusions like some of his best plays.

Then there is the cast. Antony Sher who plays Willy Loman was last seen playing Falstaff in Henry IV*, a character steeped in his own illusions and dreams. Falstaff is part father figure, part rascally chum to Prince Hal who sees through him and rejects him. Alex Hassell played Prince Hal and in Death of a Salesman play's Willy's son Biff who ultimately rejects his father's principles.

And, like many of the themes of Shakespeare's plays, Death of a Salesman feels as pertinent today as when it was first performed in 1949.

Willy has been a salesman for thirty or so years, travelling far and wide. He believes that being liked is the key to success and yet has never quite attained the success he has dreamed about. He and his wife Linda (Harriet Walter) are getting close to paying off the mortgage on their house but times are tough and Willy isn't bringing in as much commission as he once was.

His elder son Biff has returned home having been working as a farm hand and there are tensions between father and son which Linda is constantly trying to sooth. Happy (Sam Marks) is the younger son and has gone into business and believes a big promotion is just around the corner.

Willy has started talking to himself and these form a series of flashbacks through which we learn of the family's past, how Biff was the apple of his father's eye and going to do great things but then something went wrong.

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Review: Strindberg's The Father at Trafalgar Studios 2

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Emily Dobbs and Alex Ferns in The Father, Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Tristram Kenton

When August Strindberg wrote The Father he was going through marital problems and boy do they show in this tug of love play about two parents fighting over their daughter's education. There's a bit more to it than that, of course, but that is what kicks things off.

Captain (Eastenders' Alex Ferns) is a military officer and scientist and lives in a house with his wife Laura (Emily Dobbs), daughter Bertha (Millie Thew) and nanny (June Watson) together with an unseen nurse and mother-in-law.

He wants to send Bertha to live with a family in town for her education and also to get her away from the influence of the women in the house who have differing religious beliefs. Captain himself is an atheist.

Demonstrating his rights as a father, and the lack of those for Laura as his wife and a mother, he tells her that Bertha is going to be sent away.

Laura uses the only things available to her, her wile and cunning to prevent the plans. She plants seeds of doubt in the Captain's mind about Bertha's paternity and begins to spread rumours about his mental health. Strindberg himself was to suffer from some sort of mental breakdown resulting in hospitalisation just a few years after writing The Father.

So this isn't just a battle about parents who disagree but a battle between the sexes in a misogynistic society and a battle for sanity. Getting Captain sectioned is a cunning move, as he points out to his wife, she needs him alive in order to maintain her lifestyle. (Interesting that this has been programmed at the same time as The Ruling Class on the main stage which is also about getting someone sectioned.)

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Review: Juliette Binoche is a considered Antigone in a subtle production

 

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Juliette Binoche as Antigone. Photograph: Jan Versweyveld

Ivo van Hove who brought us the emotionally charged A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic last year (and now transferred to the West End) has taken quite a different tack with Greek tragedy Antigone.

The stage is slightly more dressed but this is play that despite being cut to an hour and 40 minutes straight through feels considered and unrushed. The actors take their time so that you become just as absorbed in what they are doing - where a hand falls, a posture or gesture - as you are in what they are saying.

When Antigone (Binoche) appears, walking slowly in a wind which ruffles her lose clothing and sends rubbish shuffling across the stage, it is emblematic of the quiet battle to come with Creon over the burial of her traitorous brother.

Once she sets in motion events by telling her sister she will bury Polynices, against Creon's wishes, a huge sun like disc appears, marking a slow time to her tragic demise and Creon's downfall. Images are projected against the back drop, ordinary scenes of people from different parts of the world, a reminder of life going on that is cemented in the final scene when we get a snippet of Lou Reed's Heroin.

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Review: John Hannah is Uncle Vanya, St James Theatre

478x359-v1aHave come to the conclusion that with Chekhov plays I have a preference for the ones with guns in them. It's probably sacrilege to say it but I'm not a massive fan of his work; it's the relentless inevitability. I keep going to productions in the hope that something will click into place. I'm the one trying to change in the relationship, I'll admit.

This was was my first Uncle Vanya, so could it be the missing piece? 

Like all of Chekhov's plays, it seems, the central theme is one of being trapped whether by gender, social status or inaction. The result is a great deal of ennui, prevarication and philosophising on the pointlessness of life. You can start to see why I like the guns.

Vanya (John Hannah) has dedicated his life to working the family farm to support his late sister and her husband Serebryakov (Jack Shepherd) an academic whom he reveres. Serebryakov has returned to the farm with a new young wife Yelena (Rebecca Night). He is pompous and throws the house into turmoil unaware not only of the trouble people go to for him but also of sacrifices they have made. 

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Timely Timon @nationaltheatre

Timonofathens13july2012twoEverything about the National Theatre's  production of Timon of Athens (pronounced Ti-mon not Tee-mon as the Greeks do) screams of the current global economic crisis. From the camping protesters at the beginning to back drops of the bank-branded Canary Wharf buildings it resonates and the story itself also feels startlingly contemporary.

Timon (Simon Russell Beale) is generous with his friends. He helps them out without a blink, buys them gifts, gives artists patronage and throws lavish dinner parties. He is generous to the point of bankruptcy but when his debtors come calling and he turns to his friends for help the doors are suddenly closed on him. Generosity of wealth is not even matched in spirit.

Without the back drop of our own financial crisis, I am sure the play would feel very different but here Timon's spending beyond his means, ignoring creditors and the ease with which his followers accept his generosity feels far more symbolic. 

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Antigone review and why I want a radically modern production of a Greek Tragedy

AntigoneAntigone is probably the most rounded Greek tragedy I've seen so far in terms of plot. I normally spend my time while watching the ancient Greek dramas re-writing story lines in my head so as to maximise dramatic tension.

Didn't feel I had to do that with this, it's a straight forward debate between family loyalty and duty to the state. Antigone's brothers have been killed in battle. One was fighting for their uncle, King Creon, the other against. The loyal brother is given burial while the disloyal, Creon decrees, is to be left where he fell on pain of death. Horrified that her brother won't be accepted into the afterlife Antigone buries her brother and gets caught in the process by Creon who decides he can't make exceptions for family. 

And it is all nicely done, given a cold war setting in the operational HQ of the King complete with glass walled offices, desks, filing cabinets and telex machines. Christopher Ecclestone is a scary, determined Creon (I've only ever seen him play formidable and therefore scary characters) while Jodie Whittaker's determination as Antigone has a stoicism and stubbornness.

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Ingeniously positioned loos and Little Eyolf at Jermyn Street Theatre

Little-eyolf_1888118b Prior to my first visit to the Jermyn Street Theatre @3rdspearcarrier tweeted me that it had the most "ingeniously positioned" toilets which immediately made me wonder if I should pay a visit before I left home.

This studio theatre is accessed via steps straight down from the street, passing a cubby-hole serving as box office where I enquired as to the whereabouts of the loos. "Across the stage," was the reply quickly followed by "you can't use them during the performance."

I can just see myself elbowing Imogen Stubbs out of the way to get in before the interval queue forms, well actually I can't, I'm mortified if I so much as clear my throat during a performance. But yes, you do have to cross the small but perfectly formed stage to reach the loos, so I can add Jermyn Street to my list of 'boards I've trod on'. (I nearly wrote 'been on' then but in this context thought better of it.)

Anyway loos schmoose, what was the play like? Well it's set around the Allmers family who have a crippled son Eyolf. Mother Rita (Stubbs) is a hand-wringing, needy woman of heightened passion, seemingly on the verge of hysteria.

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The Rivals and why it gave me writer's block

Images-2 I confess I've been struggling with what to write about the Peter Hall-directed, Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles-starring The Rivals at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

It's not that I didn't enjoy this very polished version of Sheridan's 18th Century comedy because I did. Keith and Bowles demonstrated the skill and experience you'd expect from acting royalty comfortable with period comedy.

Indeed Keith as marriage-plotting Mrs Malaprop with her famous and highly amusing improper use of words and Bowles as her partner-in-plotting, Sir Anthony Absolute, who is always on the verge of a "frenzy" with his son Jack, were almost addictive.

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