64 posts categorized "Donmar Warehouse" Feed

Review: Lenny Henry in the irresistible Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar Warehouse

Lennyhenryw500h500Before I had even taken my seat at the Donmar, I'd spoken to two actors and shaken Lenny Henry's hand. It's all part of the Donmar's transformation for the Bruce Norris adaptation of Brecht's play - The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. The stalls - stage and seating - have been removed and replaced to create a space decked out as a late night jazz cafe complete with wooden tables and chairs to fit the new setting of prohibition era Chicago.

The cast mingle with the audience as they arrive in the building and then in the theatre chatting as if you are cafe customers. The reason behind some of the conversations only becomes apparent as the play properly starts - PolyG and I were asked by Lenny Henry's Arturo Ui if we'd stand up when he requested during the play, naturally we agreed. If you are sat at the front - even in the circle - you may be roped in.

In Norris' adaptation our Brechtian villain is a gangster who wants respect as well as power and will be as ruthless as he needs to be to get there. However this is a far less intimidating Arturo than I have seen in other adaptations. The fact that his protection racket targets grocers and in particular the cauliflower importers and sellers gives you a taste of the tone.

It is an Arturo Ui which is frothy and fun, with unsubtle references to Donald Trump and blatant parallels with the likes of Richard III - Norris also manages to weave in excerpts from several other Shakespeare plays including 'To be or not to be'. There are also tantalising snatches of popular songs sung live in a lounge jazz style, it becomes a game of name that tune - try and guess the song from a verse or two of familiar lyrics sung in an unfamiliar way. Nat King Cole's Nature Boy gets its second stage outing in as many years too (it was the song playing at the start of Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet).

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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.

 

 


REVIEW: Cooking up behind the scenes politics in Limehouse, Donmar Warehouse

Cw-13821-mediumSteve Water's last play at the Donmar Warehouse, Temple, about the anti-capitalist protests outside St Paul's Cathedral, didn't particularly set my world on fire. It was one of those plays that while well done, it wasn't fantastic but neither was is bad. At the time I said I probably wouldn't remember it and that's how I remember it, ironically, for not being memorable.

His new play goes behind the scenes at a meeting of the so called 'Gang of Four' labour politicians who, in 1981, frustrated with the direction of the labour party broke away and set up the Social Democratic Party. It is a fictionalised account of what was discussed by the four - David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill), Shirley Williams (Debra Gillett), Bill Rodgers (Paul Chahidi) and Roy Jenkins (Roger Allam) in the hours leading up to their break from Labour. David Owen's literary agent wife Debbie (Nathalie Armin) suggests he invites his three like-minded colleagues over for an informal brunch in order to persuade them into joining him in breaking away and over an hour and 40 minutes we track their discussions, debate and dilemma.

Given the rift in the current Labour Party, its an obvious piece of history to draw parallels with. However, the play feels structured to give each character their moment of impassioned oratory and once you realise that you are waiting for the next big speech. The rest of the play starts to feel cooked up to contrived to create drama - perhaps knowing how things ultimately end up doesn't help.

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Review + Production photos: Verbal punch up in One Night In Miami, Donmar Warehouse

 

 

Four men in a room: Cassius Clay (Sope Dirisu) on the cusp of becoming Mohammad Ali, singer Sam Cooke (Arinzé Kene), football player Jim Brown (David Ajala) and activist Malcolm X (Francois Battiste). They have gathered to celebrate Clay becoming heavyweight champion of the world. Each is successful and well known - iconic - in their own right but this is on the eve of the civil rights movement and they know the limitations of their fame.

Kemp Powers' punchy play sees a party mood turn into a heated debate about black power, integration and the responsibilities of fame.

Clay is on the one hand supremely confident and yet has gentler, innocent side that is incongruous with his boxing prowess. Brown is pragmatic about milking his fame to get a career in the movies as his football playing days come to an end. He is also acutely aware of how far society will allow him to integrate, telling of his hero's return to his home town only to realise that a white man won't entertain him inside his house.

Cooke has an independent record label where he can promote black artists but also believes in integration. He tells of his determination to find the key to entertaining the white audience and, in one of the highlights of the play, demonstrates his technique leaping off stage to sing directly to people on the front row (yes I was one of them and as Libby Purves gave Arinzé Kene his own star in her rating I'm guessing she was too).

It is Malcolm that is the real challenger of the group and he particularly guns for Cooke whom he thinks should be using his music to spread important messages. He teases him comparing his love songs to Bob Dylan's campaign songs and accusing him of selling out. But Cooke wrong foots him in what is the main bout of the play.

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Review: The Donmar's all female The Tempest, King's Cross

TEMPEST_1263x505If you saw the Phyllida Lloyd-directed all female Henry IV or Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden you'll have an idea of the tone and style of The Tempest which completes a trilogy of plays for the company. If you didn't see them then then the first thing to know is they were powerful pieces with a modern grit and contemporary edge.

The biggest difference between the first two plays and The Tempest is the venue. The Tempest opens at a temporary space outside King's Cross station which is bigger and more spacious (more loos) and has the stage surrounded on four sides by the audience. Julius Caesar and Henry IV are being revived as part of the run at King's Cross.

Each of plays is set in a woman's prison*, a device that is used fully throughout rather than being a flimsy artistic contrivance. In fact it works particularly well with The Tempest; Harriet Walter plays a prisoner serving a long sentence who is playing Prospero. As she recites Prospero's explanation of how he ended up on the island it is difficult not to see it as a sort of incarceration. The setting also highlights other imprisonments - Ariel's by Sycorax, Caliban by Prospero (for the crime of trying to harm his daughter Miranda) and then the magical imprisonment of the nobles shipwrecked on the isle at Propero's command. At the end there is liberty for most but perhaps not not all.

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Review: Finding the truth in Faith Healer, Donmar Warehouse

Faith-Healer-Background-1300x500-2016-updateThe small stage at the Donmar Warehouse is veiled with a curtain of pouring rain, similar to the torrential down pours we've had recently. The rain stops and the stage is revealed for what will be the first of four monologues that make up Brian Friel's play Faith Healer.

It reminded me of driving on a motorway in heavy rain and those brief moments of respite when you pass under a bridge. It is an appropriate image for a play that sees three people telling the same story; they all end up at the same point in the narrative but take different paths to get there.

Frank Hardy (Stephen Dillane) is a faith healer travelling the remote corners of the British Isles with his wife Grace (Gina McKee) and manager Teddy (Ron Cooke). Frank starts the story telling us about a night in a rural pub in his native Ireland and then rewinding to what led them there. Grace follows with her story and then Teddy, finishing with Frank who concludes the story of the night in the pub.

What you get is different versions and different perspectives - some very different perspectives - and Friel leaves you to pick over the different narratives to determine what actually happened and the nature of each of the characters.

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Review: Nick Paynes' Elegy, Donmar Warehouse

ElegyIf the choice was to slowly succumb to a debilitating and fatal disease such as Alzheimers or have your brain repaired but lose up to 15 years of your memories what would you do? If you were married to the person making that choice and your wife would unlikely remember you afterwards would you encourage them to have the operation?

At the beginning of the play we see the aftermath of that decision. Zoe Wanamaker's character has had the treatment and no longer recognises or remembers her wife (Barbara Flynn) and her doctor (Nina Sosanya) is trying to assist them both. Subsequent scenes, like snatches of memory, reveal what life was like before the operation and the lead up to the decision.

Set in the future Nick Payne imagines a set of new human conditions and dilemmas as the result of medical advances. The doctor represents the science side of the equation. She has problems explaining things without using medical terminology and also has problems with the emotional aspects of the procedure. The human dilemma, a loss of identity, a loss of a loved one mentally but not physically, the debate about whether it is the right answer to the medical condition comes through the story of the married women.

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Review: Welcome Home Captain Fox! at the Donmar Warehouse

19990_show_landscape_large_01-1During the interval of Welcome Home, Captain Fox! PolyG said to me 'I nearly didn't recognise Danny Webb' to which I replied 'Danny Webb is in this?' such is his transformation. Once you know it's him it becomes obvious but it's an interesting parallel to the plot of this updated adaptation Jean Anouilh's play La Voyageur San Bagage by Anthony Weigh.

Jean Anouilh's Le Voyageur Sans Bagage
Jean Anouilh's Le Voyageur Sans Bagage

The Captain Fox of the title refers to Rory Keenan's character Gene, a soldier who, has been languishing in an East Berlin prison for 15 years, since World War II, without any memory of who he is. Gene is the name he is given as one of his captures is a Eugene O'Neill fan.

Danny Webb's character DeWitt is a low grade businessman whose socially ambitious wife (Katherine Kingsley) discovers Gene in a military sanitarium and decides that if she can help reunite him with his long lost - and hopefully rich family - it will improve her social status. Top of the list of potential families are the wealthy Fox's who live in a large house by the sea on Long Island and that is where the couple find themselves with Gene.

Welcome Home, Captain Fox! is one of those plays that is actually a lot more interesting than the synopsis would initially suggest. It is not just a case of whether Gene is the missing, presumed dead son of the Fox's, it is also about whether they want him to be their son Jack. And, as Gene finds out more about Jack, whether he actually wants to be that person. It is a play about identity, self perception and whether you can erase the past and start over. That makes it sounds quite serious but it's actually quite funny and a production that will no doubt get funnier as the actors get slicker (I saw an early preview).

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Rehearsal photos: Donmar Warehouse's Welcome Home, Captain Fox! (with the lovely Rory Keenan)

Looking forward to this one, it's a comedy based on a 1930's French play but in this version the action is moved to cold war era America. A soldier, missing presumed dead, returns home but is he really Captain Fox?  Lots of sitting and leaning going on in the rehearsal pics...but doesn't Rory Keenan look cute? Cast also includes Michelle Asante, Barnaby Kay, Katherine Kingsley, Trevor Laird, Sian Thomas, Danny Webb, Fenella Woolgar and Daniel York.

Welcome Home, Captain Fox! previews at the Donmar from Feb 18 and the first tranche of £10 Barclays Front Row tickets go on sale on Monday at 10am.

Photos are by Manuel Harlan, click on the thumbnails for bigger versions.

 

  • Barnaby Kay (George Fox) in rehearsals for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Daniel York (Man in a White Coat and Uncle Job) in rehearsal for Welcome Home Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Danny Webb (Mr De Wit Dupont-Dufort) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Fenella Woolgar (Valerie) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Katherine Kingsley (Mrs Marcee Dupont-Dufort) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Michelle Asante (Juliette) in rehearsals for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan (2)
  • Rory Keenan (Gene) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Sian Thomas (Mrs Fox) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan (2)
  • Trevor Laird (James) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
Trevor Laird (James) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan