135 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

My best of theatre list for 2017 - with some rom-com, Chekhov and Christmas surprises

If you'd told me at the start of the year that there would be a rom-com, a Chekhov and a Christmas play on my best of list, I'd have laughed in your face. Just goes to show you should always expect the unexpected...here are my favourite plays of 2017, in no particular order and links are to my reviews.

An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard
An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard

Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre

Let's face it most rom-coms are a bit rubbish - they generally aren't that funny - but this tale of modern romance had me guffawing with laughter and I wasn't on my own.

An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre

This is a play that reminded me why I love going to the theatre and I could write pages on it. Thought-provoking, sometime uncomfortable to watch and yet it was still entertaining. It's transferring to the National Theatre in June and I'll definitely be getting a ticket.

Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

In my review I said: "Apologia is a play of sharp humour and depth that slowly breaks down the defences to reveal something raw and emotional. You will laugh and you will have a lump in your throat." It was also a great play for female characters.

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre and Trafalgar Studios 2

This odd-ball, misfit comedy was a breath of fresh air and it got a much deserved transfer so I got to enjoy it a second time.

Hamlet, Almeida

Up there as one of the best Hamlet productions I've seen, it made me see the play anew.

BU21, Trafalgar Studios 2

Writer Stuart Slade took real testimonies from terrorist attacks around the world and used them to create a story around a fictional attack in London. The result was an honest, awkward and funny piece that was also really clever.

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Review: Network, National Theatre - 70s TV news drama has fresh relevance

Today the battle might have shifted towards garnering clicks, likes and downloads but the fundamental desire to tap into the zeitgeist, to be popular, is the same as it was back when Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay for Network 40 years ago.

Bryan Cranston, Network, National TheatreAnd the story of the fall and rise of news anchor Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) in the battle to attract viewers and revenue isn't just relevant for these particular themes but it also taps into a whole host of contemporary issues. It's quite startling.

Howard, faced with the ending of his career, says he will commit suicide on air.

His chance at an apology, a final dignified broadcast, turns into a rant about life being bullshit which pushes up ratings and becomes something to be exploited by ambitious TV producer Diana Christensen (Michelle Dockery).

Inadvertently, he has tapped into some key feelings of societal discontent: high unemployment, rising fuel prices and globalisation which exploits cheap labour outside of America. Any of that sound familiar?

Diana's exploitation of the mentally unstable Howard is a precursor to reality TV and perhaps YouTube and social media where it is just as fine to laugh at people as it is with. Where sensationalisation takes over.

Network touches on fake news and echo chambers; giving people what they like, what resonates with their preconceived ideas and feeding fears or pressing emotive buttons rather than presenting balance, varied opinions or challenging ideas.

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10 plays I'm really looking forward to seeing in London 2018

Julius Caesar, Bridge TheatrePrompted by the Daily Telegraph's rather uninspiring and quite frankly lazy list of upcoming theatre treats - three plays which have already opened? Oh come on - here's my list of what I'm already really excited about seeing in the first half of 2018*.

1. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Theatre - Patsy Ferran, I love Patsy Ferran and this is the first of two plays she's doing in 2018 and it's a solo piece *insert big smile here*

2. Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre - Ben Whishaw playing Brutus alongside David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley and the chance to mingle with the Roman mob? Already booked to see it twice.

3. The Brothers Size, Young Vic - Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney who also penned Oscar best picture winner Moonlight (which I loved) and starring Sope Dirisu who was brilliant in One Night In Miami at the Donmar and the RSC's Coriolanus.

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Quick review: The brilliant Beginning, National Theatre

Beginning-2160x2160-sfw-50Still catching up post hols, hence the quick review but I loved this play. It's set at the end of Laura's (Justine Mitchell) flat-warming party when all the guests have left apart from one: Danny (Sam Troughton). She's confidence, sassy; he uses slightly laddish humour to try and mask his nerves. For an hour and forty minutes the two talk, drink and make fish finger sandwiches.

Do they have more in common than initial appearances would suggest, is this the start of something and what is that 'something'?

It's a play that slowly unwraps the layers of two characters through their interactions and exchanges like a pass the parcel present and it is done in a way that is smart, wry, funny and moving. David Eldridge's play avoids cliches and stereotypes giving us two very human and identifiable characters whose life experiences and dilemmas are fresh and contemporary.

Performed with seemingly effortless skill I was gripped, I laughed out loud a lot and I may have had a tear in my eye. And if that isn't enough the soundtrack is great and there is a superb dance scene. I'm so glad this has got a transfer into the West End: From January 15 it is at the Ambassadors Theatre in Covent Garden.

 


Review: The classic with modern touches Jane Eyre, National Theatre

Jane-eyre-whatsonwidget_1280x720-sfwThere was an awful lot I loved about Jane Eyre or Jane Uhrr as many of the characters in the play say her name with a northern accent. It would be easy choice to have costumes and set faithful to the period of the novel but what director Sally Cookson and designer Michael Vale have done is keep a sense of the time with the costumes and odd bit of furniture but use an abstract set; a sort of wooden frame with walkways, platforms, ramps and ladders.

The set doesn't move instead the changing landscape of Jane's (Nadia Clifford) journey is represented using movement, lighting, music and and occasionally snatches of song. The latter are often contemporary, chosen for their lyrics but sung in an operatic style - Gnarls Barkley's Crazy is a particularly genius choice.

In choosing to have a stripped back set design it allows for more inventive and dramatic theatrical devices - outfits lowering from the ceiling, wind machines and floaty veils and real flames. However none of this detracts from the characters and the narrative, rather it enhances so that while you get a fast-paced and vigorous production, it still oozes atmosphere, passion and tenderness. The soul of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel of freedom, loneliness and love is there in abundance.

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Review: The oddly entertaining Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre

St-george-and-the-dragon-2160x2160_0Rory Mullarkey's new play Saint George and the Dragon is odd.

Saw it during preview and there were a few teething problems with the fancier aspects of the staging (which isn't that unusual during preview for a big production like this) so I don't feel I got the full 'wow'* but still got the essence of the play.

It's a clunky allegorical tale that starts off feeling like a piece of children's theatre as we learn the history of Saint George (John Heffernan) and how he saves England from a dragon (Julian Bleach). We then fast forward to the industrial revolution with the same set of town's folk although for them only a year has passed. There is a new dragon to destroy in the new era but this dragon is more difficult to kill because he's representative of an establishment setting rules and regulations that benefit the few.

Then we jump forward to the current day, again only a year for the characters of the play, and there is yet another dragon representing another dark side humanity for George to destroy.

At the interval I couldn't help thinking there must be more to it and hoped it was leading up to something really clever but it wasn't. It's too black and white with goodies and baddies and only one character - Henry (Richard Goulding) - who switches. OK so the point is that the 'dragon' is in all of us but even so.

There is a nice point of reference from the first dragon encounter which brings things almost full circle but otherwise it felt like a lot of effort for something that didn't really delve much beneath the surface.

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That was August in London (and Stratford) theatre-land with a bit of a Hamlet theme

Hamlet
Tom Hiddleston as Hamlet, photo Johan Persson

* The lucky charms came out in August as it was announced that Tom Hiddleston would play Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh, for a limited run at RADA as a fund raiser for the drama school. The lucky charms were for the ticket ballot, the only way to see the production. My stars were aligned or at least @PolyG’s were. Can’t wait. (Production photos here on What's On Stage.)

* And while we are on the topic of Hamlet, Andrew Scott/Robert Icke's amazing production is due to be broadcast by BBC 2 next year. It opened at the Almeida earlier this year before transferring to the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre and has set the bar high for Hamlets, so no pressure Tom/Ken.

* Another Hamlet related bit of news (kinda), Jonathan Slinger - a former RSC Hamlet  -  has been cast in Trouble in Mind at the Print Rooms at the Coronet.

* Stan-fav and RSC regular, Jasper Britton, is starring in a new Howard Brenton play, The Blinding Light, at the Jermyn Street Theatre from September 6.

* And still with the RSC, if you fancy a unique souvenir of a favourite production get down to Stratford on Sep 23 for the company's costume sale.

* Elsewhere, Samantha Bond and Richard Dreyfus have been cast in the Florian Zeller's play The Lie at Menier Chocolate Factory from September 14.

* Michelle Dockery has been widely reported as joining Brian Cranston in the Ivo Van Hove directed Network although there is nothing on the National Theatre website, as yet, to reflect this.

* The amazing Rachael Stirling has been cast in Labour of Love - and so has Tamsin Greig who is replacing Sarah Lancashire who has pulled out of the production. It opens for previews at the Noel Coward Theatre at the end of September.

* And this is particularly lovely casting news, Oliver Chris and Nancy Carroll will join Rory Kinnear in Young Marx, the inaugural production at the new Bridge Theatre which opens on October 18.

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Review: Life, the universe and family drama in Mosquitoes, National Theatre

Mosquitoes-v2-1280x720There are five ways the world will end, we are told by a scientist (Paul Hilton), but Luke's (Joseph Quinn) world is ending, not because of particles and black holes but because of that incident, in the bedroom of the only girl that talks to him.

Luke is clever and bright, he comes from an intelligent family. His mum Alice (Olivia Williams) is a brilliant scientist working on the Hadron Collider, his grandmother Karen (Amanda Boxer) was also a scientist and his grandfather won a Nobel prize. His aunt Jenny (Olivia Colman), on the other hand, prefers reading horoscopes and Googling answers to questions. Luke thinks she is stupid and so secretly does Alice and, not so secretly, so does, Karen.

As the Hadron Collider is about to be switched on tragedy throws the family together and it will be more than particles colliding in Geneva.

Mosquitoes mixes art and science examining intellect versus emotion and the extraneous variables that human nature brings to life. It puts family and parenting under the spotlight; Luke and Alice may be clever with computers and physics but they stumble when it comes to relationships. Jenny is led by emotion, making decisions that her family would say lack intellectual rigour, with painful 'told you so' consequences but she shouldn't necessarily be written off, there are stronger bonds and human needs that science can't help with or explain.

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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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Common thoughts (the play not just general ramblings) - now with a post press night PS

1280x720_ntgds_ak_common_rollout11_0-1OK so given my dilemma, which I wrote about this morning, and the response I've had, I decided to put some thoughts down about Common at the National Theatre. If you haven't read my previous post I'll preface all this by saying it was third preview I saw and the fourth preview was cancelled to work on the production, so what you subsequently see, if you are are seeing it, might be quite different.

First the synopsis. It's a new play by DC Moore set in the 18th century during the time of enclosure. Mary (the always wonderful Anne-Marie Duff) is returning from London to the place she grew up. She's done well for herself in London using wit, charm and guile, elevating herself from poor country girl to a woman of apparent means and fine clothes. She isn't immediately recognised and isn't exactly welcome either.

She's a potty-mouthed protagonist who tells the audience up front not to believe anything she says. So her return may be to rekindle an old love, it may be to get revenge on the man who broke up that relationship, it may be to help galvanise the locals to resist enclosure and upset the local land owner or it may be just to wreak a bit of havoc because she can.

And this is where the problems start. The play is a sort of love/revenge/history with explorations of Christianity vs paganism, witchcraft, industrialisation, rural economics and sociology but it doesn't properly nail any of these things partly because the central plot line isn't always coherent enough from which to hang the themes.

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