51 posts categorized "Drama" Feed

Review: An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre or this is why I go to the theatre

An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other RichardThe first thing I have to say is 'thanks' to @mildlybitter. I'd not heard of An Octoroon or Branden Jacob-Jenkins but she recommended his play which is having its European premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and I'm so glad she did.

Jacob-Jenkins has taken Dion Boucicault's 1850s play but made it a play within a play by putting both himself, played by Ken Nwosu, and Boucicault (Kevin Trainor) into the story. But more than that. They talk directly to the audience, argue with each other and also play several of the characters in the original play. It's brilliantly Brechtian, meta and, with a Bre'r-rabbit running around, surreal but I'll come on to all that.

In Boucicault's The Octoroon George (Nwosu) returns home to Louisiana from Paris to find Terrabonne, the plantation he has inherited, is about to be repossessed. Local heiress Dora (Celeste Dodwell) fancies him and a marriage to her could secure the plantation - and the slaves it keeps. But George has fallen for Zoe (Lola Evans) the illegitimate daughter of his uncle from his relationship with a slave who has been brought up as part of the family.

The villain of the piece is wealthy Jacob M'Closky (also played by Nwosu) who wants Zoe for himself despite her having spurned his advances. M'Closky intercepts a cheque which could save Terrabonne and also discovers something about Zoe's legal status which he decides to use to his advantage.

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Review: The Motherf**ker With the Hat, National Theatre

The_Mother_with_the_Hat_poster_notitleThe Lyttleton stage is ink black except for three fire escapes which are suspended from the flies and as the auditorium lights go down they rotate to make way as a tiny bed-sit apartment set slides into view. This is the home of Jackie (Ricardo Chavira) and his girlfriend Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez).

Jackie has just got out of prison, is off drugs and alcohol and has managed to secure a job. He's with the woman he's loved since school and things are looking up except he's just spotted a hat that doesn't belong to him in their apartment.

The discovery sparks suspicion and threatens to undo everything that Jackie has achieved to date but his isn't the only life that could unravel. He retreats to his sponsor Ralph (Alec Newman) who is having his own relationship problems with his wife Victoria (Nathalie Armin), a recovering drug addict.

The skill in the staging of this play is in making the sets look claustrophobic on the vast Lyttleton Stage. There is an ethereal quality as that of Jackie's apartment, Ralph's and his cousin Julio's  (Yul Vázquez) drift into view from out of the darkness. It is incongruous to the high tension of what is unfolding on stage almost like the pauses between rounds of a boxing match or rather something dirtier, a cage fight perhaps.

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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: Robert Holman's Breakfast of Eels, Print Room at the Coronet

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Matthew Tennyson and Andrew Sheridan in a Breakfast of Eels. Photo by Nobby Clark

Simon Stephen's says he is his favourite living playwright but of the two plays of Robert Holman's I've seen it is one all on the appreciation stakes.

Making Noise Quietly didn't really make much of a impression but I was totally blown away by Jonah and Otto. In fact it was the latter, together with the casting of Matthew Tennyson* that had me running to see Holman's play Breakfast of Eels at the Print Room.

The plays are similar in that they are two-handers - Andrew Sheridan joins Tennyson - and both share a beautiful, emotive subtlety.

Tennyson plays Penrose, the only son of a recently deceased judge. The family home is a crumbling mansion in Highgate, North London. His mother died some years earlier and the closest Penrose seems to have to family is Francis (Sheridan) whom you first assume is his brother as they both refer to the judge as 'daddy'. Francis is in fact his father's handyman/gardener, taken in by the family when he was a teenager and Penrose was toddler.

Penrose is a gentle and delicate soul who feels awkward in society and a disappointment to his father. Francis' background is somewhat different, his roots are in the north and he has a love of the land and nature. As they come to terms with their grief the two talk, reminisce and reveal secrets in a way that is quietly probing. Their discourse is slow and considered, the secrets puncturing a contemplative air without melodrama.

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Review: An evening in Tobias Menzies' hotel room (The Fever, May Fair Hotel)

THE_FEVER_-_MAIN'Your room is along the corridor and on the right, the Amber Suite', we are told. On reaching the assigned door it is closed. Should we go straight in? Should we knock? A slow hesitant opening of the door reveals a lounge area, curious looks from those already in residence on the sofas or at the dining table. Some are talking quietly, others are playing with their phones. We spot a space on the window ledge and perch. There is an air of anticipation among the 28 of us in this May Fair Hotel suite.

Then Tobias Menzies appears through a connecting door. He is barefoot and wears a T-Shirt and lounge pants. Silence descends. He looks around the room with something very close to recognition in his face as he catches people's eyes and then he starts talking.

Wallace Shawn's play The Fever is, as this staging might suggest set in a hotel room. The hotel room of the play however is in an unnamed foreign country. It's a poor country, that we learn and Menzies' Man is ill. He describes how his body is shaking and sweating and vomiting but the substance of the dialogue is a man's feverish thoughts. Prostate on the bathroom floor his mind wanders through his past, his childhood and having seen quite a bit of the world he muses on inequality between the rich and poor.

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Review: Bonding, bravery and bleeding in Fear In A Handful of Dust, COG ARTSpace

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Simon Morris and Henry Buck in Fear in a Handful of Dust at COG ARTSpace

A small, dark room above a pub in north London has been transformed into a First World War trench on a French battlefield.

Two rows of seats flank a narrow dirt stage with either end closed off with wooden pallets and corrugated iron. Amid the bullets, bombs and fires raging outside the trench together with the periods of eerie quiet it feels at times claustrophobic and safe.

The play opens with Simon (Jack Morris), an Englishman raised in India, cowering at one end so terrified of the battle raging around him that when Buck (Henry Regan), 'cannon fodder' from Ireland, plops down into the trench he pulls a gun on him thinking him the enemy.

Coming from two very different backgrounds there is a lot more to conquer than fear of the grave situation they find themselves in. Trapped and alone with an enemy sniper waiting for them to raise their head over edge of the trench they bicker and bond and bleed.

Fear in Handful of Dust is a tale both about surviving in terrifying conditions but also about two men learning that bravery has different faces and that they aren't quite as different as appearances, backgrounds and first impressions might suggest. It is a poignant, moving and warm tale of human bonding in very trying circumstances and its staging makes it an almost immersive experience.

There is hope in the humanity amid the horror. For a stripped back, un-glossed First World War tale you can't go wrong. Fear in a Handful of Dust is on at the COG ARTSpace until January 9 and is about an hour and 15 minutes long without an interval.


Review: Alex Waldmann and Peter Egan are Jonah and Otto at Park Theatre

241535_2_previewWasn't that taken with the last Robert Holman play I saw, or rather trio of short plays, under the heading Making Noise Quietly. Hadn't drawn the connection with Jonah and Otto which may have been a good thing because there was something infinitely more compelling about this new work.

As the title suggests its a two-hander Jonah (Alex Waldmann) and Otto (Peter Egan) are two strangers who end up spending a day together where they argue, debate and reveal information about themselves.

Jonah has aggressive outbursts, can do magic tricks and is light fingered in other ways too. He has his baby daughter in tow, in shopping trolley which doubles as a make-shift pram. Otto is a clergyman but doesn't believe in God, has a wife and grown up children who patronise him. He also has penchant for pretty women.

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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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Review: The beautifully bittersweet My Night With Reg at the Donmar Warehouse

20412_fullIt's the 20th anniversary of Kevin Elyot's gay comedy My Night With Reg and while medical science has subsequently made huge leaps in the treatment of Aids this production hasn't lost any of its bittersweet edge.

Set in the flat of Guy (Jonathan Broadbent) the play follows the lives, loves and affairs of a group of gay friends over several years as they adjust to life and the spectre of Aids. The eponymous 'Reg' is like Godot in Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, never seen but pivotal to the plot.

Guy is the cuddly, affable one and the least successful in love mainly because he has held a torch for John (Julian Ovenden) since they were students. John oozes charm and charisma, is independently wealthy and unable to settle down, disappearing for months sometimes years on end until he falls for the wrong person.

Daniel (Geoffrey Streatfeild) and John were best friends at University, swapping lovers and easily falling back into old jokes and teasing when they meet up. Daniel has subsequently settled down with Reg. The group is completed with Eric (Lewis Reeves) a young Brummie barman at the local gay pub and Benny and Bernie (Matt Bardock and Richard Cant) a bickering couple for whom domestic bliss suits one more than the other.

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Review: Drag King Richard III, Riverside Studios

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Bonnie Adair and Anne Zander in Drag King Richard III, Riverside Studios. Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith

This play is full of the unexpected. I didn't expect it to be quite so serious - the title led me to think of something completely different and I didn't expect to be cowering behind the fourth wall having been singled out in a dance scene by one of the actors.

It is, on the whole, a curious piece that is at times devastating in it observations about the life of lesbian and transgender friends and at other times frustrating in its execution.

Writer Terri Power draws inspiration from the words of Shakespeare's Richard III for the character Laurie/Laurence (Anne Zander) who has always fancied girls but feels trapped in her female form.  Richard's description of his outward appearance becomes a reflection of how Laurie feels about herself and how she is perceived by society. Later when Richard's seduction of Anne is re-enacted the angrily delivered description of the King as a "foul deformity" carries a different weight.

These occasional Richard scenes are mingled with the story of Laurie's friendship with lesbian La Femme (Bonnie Adair) through high school until a misunderstanding sets them on different paths. They return to each other later but La Femme struggles with Laurie's decision to have a sex change.

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