147 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

Best (and worst) of London theatre for 2018...so far...and the actress in two plays on the list

As the halfway mark of 2018 rushes past, it's time to reflect on the highlights and low lights of London's theatre productions so far (edit: scroll to the bottom for the most read posts).

julius caesar bridge theatre Rev stan
Julius Caesar warm-up gig, Bridge Theatre. Photo: Rev Stan

I'm not sure whether it's a reflection of more varied programming generally or just where my interests predominantly lie these days but it's a list dominated by women protagonists and BAME stories.

Best of the big stuff (West End and off West End)

Girls and Boys, Royal Court

Carey Mulligan's performance is a tour de force, precise, subtle and complex. It is a devastating and brilliant piece of theatre and it's transferred to the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York Theatre where it runs until July 22.

The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse

Like My Night With Reg crossed with God's Own Country and the steamiest flirtation on stage for a long while.

Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre

Stuff with Ben Whishaw in it doesn't always make it into my best of lists but being part of the mob was at times like being at a rock concert, a rally and in the middle of a war - never thought I'd enjoy standing at the theatre.

The Great Wave, National Theatre

Had no prior knowledge about the true events this play is based on but it proved the adage that the truth really can be stranger than fiction.

Summer and Smoke, Almeida

The first of two appearances on this list for Patsy Ferran, Summer and Smoke was a delicate, yet tense and heartbreaking play and I'm so glad it's got a transfer to the West End. See ATG's official website for details.

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Two transfers - An Octoroon and Sea Wall - are they as good in bigger venues? Or a shout out for diversity.

It's great to see small production transfer to bigger venues so more people get to experience them but there is always a danger they lose something in a larger space.

An Octoroon national theatre posterAnd so it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I have been to see two transfers recently - An Octoroon and Sea Wall.

An Octoroon first wowed me at the Orange Tree in Richmond where it served as a reminder of why I go to the theatre. (You can read my original review of An Octoroon here.)

Same intimacy?

Its transfer is to the Dorfman at the National Theatre which is a great choice as the space is flexible so the original staging, with the audience on four sides, can easily be recreated.

You would think it would lose some of its intimacy in the bigger venue but it didn't.

And crucially An Octoroon is a testament to not only why we need plays that reflect a more diverse narrative but also why theatres need to be attracting a more diverse audience.

By diverse I'm talking about both age and ethnicity.

Less staid

I've written before the difference it makes sitting in an audience that is more reflective of London's population, it makes for a less staid, less vanilla theatre-going experience.

And so it was for An Octoroon, right from the very beginning when the fourth wall was broken and there was a verbal response to actor Ken Nwosu's greeting when he came on stage.

This was an audience engaged and gripped from the outset and it just heightens your own enjoyment being part of that collective experience.

Go see An Octoroon if you can get a ticket. It's just as brilliant at the Dorfman, details at the end of the post.

 

 

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Review: Vanessa Kirby plays an unravelling modern, rich bitch Julie, National Theatre

The big test for this production is in how you feel about Julie at the end

Polly Stenham's modern version of Strindberg's Miss Julie sees the titular character (played by Vanessa Kirby) as a coke snorting, rich bitch and Jean (Eric Kofi Abrefa) as her father's ambitious chauffeur.

Julie National theatreOpening to the pounding clubby beats of Julie's birthday party she is in the crowd of guests but not really part of it, something which will be played on throughout the play as party-goers drift in and out without paying her any attention.

Easy to dislike

Kirby gives her a convincing complexity. She is easy to dislike - a manipulator with petulant and combustible mood swings. A woman of a privileged who takes no responsibility and can only be trusted with pocket money from her trust fund.

Her father, we hear, avoids her when she drinks because it reminds him of her mother who committed suicide.

If it isn't to get his attention perhaps it is punishment for his new relationship.

Backdrop of grief

Her mother is key to unlocking Julie. Her behaviour has to be viewed against a backdrop of grief and perhaps even post-traumatic shock having been the one to find the body. 

She's also recently been painfully dumped by her fiance; all fuel to add to her fiery behaviour and the relationship that will unfold between her and Jean.

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Review: language, storytelling and leaving wanting more - Translations, National Theatre

Such a naive giddiness of emotion is ripe for tragedy

Translations national theatre poster colin morganColin Morgan's Owen is one of those airily bright and bubbly people who you suspect gets on with everyone.

He returns from the city to the small farming community where he grew up; he's earning good money as a translator for the English army which is mapping the area.

Ciaran Hinds' Hugh - Owen's alcoholic father - scratches a living as a teacher, entering the classroom with an authority that drapes the room in silence. He teaches Latin and Greek but refuses to teach English.

Owen's work includes anglicising the names of local landmarks for the map. He doesn't see the point of keeping eccentric old names which were born out of long forgotten local stories.

Hugh is more protectionist, wedded to tradition and the classics.

What should your relationship with the past and cultural traditions be?

'Frenemies'

The question is explored through the colourful characters that make up this small Irish community and its 'frenemy' relationship with the English soldiers.

It is this relationship that forms the narrative drive: Developing feelings and misunderstandings breed tension.

As does the pregnant absence of the 'Donnelly twins', the mere mention of which elicits uncomfortable looks.

They are playwright Brian Friel's equivalent of a Chekhov Gun.

Love triangle

There is also a love triangle. Owen's brother Manus (Seamus O'Hara) is in love with Maire (Judith Roddy) who has entered into a relationship with Yolland (Adetomiwa Edun), one of the English soldiers.

Yolland has a romanticised view of Ireland, wants to learn the local language and feels uncomfortable anglicising the Irish names.

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Round up: That was April in London theatre - Monster casting and A-list actor spots

MTNEW* I'm excited and nervous about the forthcoming stage adaptation of Patrick Ness’s novel A Monster Calls (the book is a favourite) but I couldn’t think of a better actor than Matthew Tennyson to take on the lead Conor. The production will have a run at the Bristol Old Vic from May 31 and the Old Vic from July 7.

* David Haig’s play Pressure (in which he also stars) is transferring from Park Theatre to the Ambassadors following a successful run at the Finsbury venue. Malcolm Sinclair and Laura Rogers co-star.

* Stan-fav Adam Gillen has been cast in Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios, which stars Orlando Bloom and I'm really looking forward to seeing him in something very different to Amadeus. You can see photos of the cast in rehearsal over at What's On Stage and previews start on May 18.

* Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre has been renamed the Kiln Theatre post refurbishment with a new season that includes the UK premiere of Florian Zeller’s The Son.

* In a new twist on role swapping (recent role swaps: Mary Stuart, Almeida; RSC's Doctor Faustus and NT's Frankenstein to name just three) Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden are to alternate playing Isabella and Angelo in Measure For Measure at the Donmar Warehouse.

* There is part of me that is excited and really curious and part of me that thinks: 'Gimmick to get repeated visits'. There is one version I'd particularly like to see but no way of knowing, having booked at ticket whether I'll get it. Previews start September 28.

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Why we need more plays like Nine Night and less like Absolute Hell

It was a delight to be part of such an engaged audience and one which is more reflective of London's diversity. And it doesn't happen anywhere near as much as it should do.

I saw Absolute Hell and Nine Night on consecutive nights and seeing the latter served to highlight all that I felt was wrong with the former.

Nine-night-mobileherospot-2160x2160pxAn unfair comparison you might say but there are parallels between the two plays and they also represent where theatreland is at the moment and where it should be moving.

First, a bit about Nine Night, although if you want to read a full review I suggest starting with Ought To Be Clowns which is spot on.

Family tension

It is a new play by Natasha Gordon set in the London house of a Jamaican family where they are observing the traditional nine nights of mourning after mother, grandmother and great-grandmother Gloria dies.

This traditional way of mourning involves inviting friends and family over for food, drink (lots of drink) and dancing.

Grief coupled with having extended family in such close proximity for an extended period inevitably means tension. Secrets are unearthed, prejudices and hurts are revealed.

Rich and vibrant characters

Rodney Ackland's Absolute Hell (see my review here) is similarly set in one location and both plays have rich and vibrant characters but from here the two diverge.

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Review: Absolute Hell (or absolute heaven?), National Theatre

The play itself feels peripheral in plot and depth of characters; there's a lot of it and a lot of them and as a result it lacks substance and tension.

Absolute Hell is a big play. It has a cast that when stood in a single line barely fits across the vast Lyttelton stage and in early previews its running time was 3 hours and 40 minutes including two 15 minute intervals.
The running time has been substantially cut to 3 hours partly helped by replacing the second 15-minute interval with a 5-minute pause.

Absolute-hell-whatson-1280x720And you know what I'm going to say: It could still be shorter.

That isn't a reflection of the cast, who are superb but the play itself which feels peripheral in plot and depth of characters; there's a lot of it and a lot of them but it lacks substance and tension.

It is set in a seedy private members club in Soho immediately after the second world war where regulars spend night after night drinking, flirting and bickering themselves into some sort of numbness. 

They are certainly a colourful bunch of characters - writers, servicemen, artists, journalists, filmmakers, heiresses - and headed by the glamorous, needy, alcoholic owner of the club Christine (Kate Fleetwood).

The war is over, a change of Government is on the horizon but their partying is more about escape and routine than anything joyful.

Little meaningful interaction

And this is the problem. You spend 3 hours with a bunch of people drinking, bitching and lying and occasionally making merry but there is little by way of meaningful interaction between them.

If the lack of meaningful interaction is the point, then it is a point firmly made.

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Review: When truth is stranger than fiction - The Great Wave, National Theatre

It is a thrill ride of a play...It is also a play that leaves you emotionally battered and bruised.

Japanese teenager Hanako (Kirsty Rider) disappears from her local beach one stormy night but her sister Reiko (Kae Alexander) won't accept that she's been murdered or swept away by the sea which is what the authorities conclude.

The-great-wave-mobileherospot-2160x2160What unfolds is a story so extraordinary that if it were fiction you'd describe it as too far-fetched but Francis Turnly's new play is based on real events in Japan and North Korea in the late 1970s and 80s.

Using a revolving set to switch back and forth between locations we follow the aftermath of Hanako's disappearance - the impact it has on her family and friends - and the fate of Hanako herself.

Reiko, feeling misplaced responsibility for her sister's disappearance, makes it her life's mission to find out what happened to Hanako.

She is assisted by school friend Tetsuo (Leo Wan) whose life has simultaneously been ruined having been the prime suspect in Hanako's disappearance.

Until Reiko unearths the truth she can't move on and Kae Alexander gives a performance in which you keenly feel her desperation and anguish.

Hanako, meanwhile, is also marooned by the consequences of that stormy night, trapped in North Korea where she must indoctrinate herself into the ways of an alien society if she has any hope of returning home.

The freedom she enjoyed as a Japanese teenager is thrown into sharp relief against the bureaucratic and dictatorial regime of North Korea.

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Review: Brutal, cold, dystopian Macbeth, National Theatre and a Children of Men comparison

You don't walk away feeling any sense of tragedy merely that you've watched a bunch of unsavoury characters killing each other.

The first time we see Macbeth (Rory Kinnear) in Rufus Norris' production at the National Theatre, he is committing a brutal act of violence on an enemy. It sets the play down a path that doesn't necessarily lead to satisfactory conclusions.

Macbeth-mobileherospot_2160x2160-sfw-5The setting is some point in the future when society seems to have broken down.

It's a landscape of generators, machetes, chest armour held together with parcel tape and clothes and buildings patched-up using whatever is available - mainly polythene it seems.

Only King Duncan (Stephen Boxer) wears a smart, intact, red, tailored suit.

Stylistically it reminded me of parts of Alfonso Cuarón's film Children of Men (which I love), thematically there are similarities too.

The film is about an infertility crisis which leads to societal breakdown and of course Lady Macbeth (Anne-Marie Duff) and her husband are childless.

It could be argued that they seek out self-fulfilment in a desperate and increasingly brutal pursuit of power.

I liked the dark tone of the setting, even the Back to the Future, Doc Brown-esque porter played by Trevor Fox.

And I really liked the witches who were all different in their movements and energy levels and seem to haunt the dark corners of the stage. 

But the characters are nearly as unrelentingly cold and brutal as the landscape they live in and it is easy not to care.

There is no charisma to Rory Kinnear's Macbeth and how can you sympathise with a man - and the woman who spurs him on - who is capable of such horrific acts from the outset?

In this video interview, Rufus Norris describes them as in one sense 'Shakespeare's most happily married couple' but this is no love story or crime of passion.

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January theatre round up: Big (big) name castings, highs, lows and lots of actor spots.

The Inheritance Young Vic
Vanessa Redgrave joins the cast of The Inheritance, Young Vic

Theatre gets me through the dark days of January, here are my highlights from the new play and casting announcements, favourite things I saw (and the low moment).  And, thanks to the Julius Caesar press night, there was a bumper crop of actor, director and writer spots too...

* Forbes Mason, who will forever be known as the Lucifer in pants, thanks to Jamie Lloyd's Doctor Faustus, has been cast in the Almeida's Summer and Smoke which opens later this month. Did I mention how much I'm looking forward to seeing Patsy Ferran, who also stars, in that?

* Josie Rourke announced she is stepping down as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse next year after eight years in the role. My highlights of her tenure, if you were to ask me for the first things that spring to mind, would be the Tom Hiddleston Coriolanus (incidentally my review of that is my most popular post and has been viewed nearly 15,000 times), the all women Shakespeare series and James Graham's Privacy. There are plenty of others but those are what stick most in my mind.

* Vanessa Redgrave (yes Vanessa Redgrave!) has been cast in The Inheritance at the Young Vic which opens next month. I could listen to her voice for hours. Also announced in the cast are Stan-fav's Kyle Soller, Michael Marcus and Luke Thallon plus a whole bunch of new names I’m looking forward to getting to know over a double play day.

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