143 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

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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Amadeus (National Theatre) or crying more the second time around

Review: Amadeus National Theatre screen shot Poly urged me to see Amadeus last year after I missed seeing it with her and I was so glad she did, I gave it five stars.

So when it was announced it was returning this year, I had to see it again. Would it live up to the very fond memories I had?

What I liked so much about Amadeus the first time wasn't just the spectacle - the costumes, live music, beautiful snippets of opera, the craziness and craft of the production - but how it packed an unexpected emotional punch.

This time I knew what was coming, and that made it so much worse. Happier scenes took on a bitter taste. I started seeing shadows where before I'd seen light.

There was a poignancy to the music that hadn't been to perceptible to my ears first time around.

It becomes a tragedy in slow motion and one I was powerless to stop. When you don't know the story, you can hope for a different outcome, perhaps even expect it.  

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John, National Theatre or why I left a play at the 2nd interval

John_2160x2160I'm not a quitter. Well I am, sometimes. I very, very occasionally walk out of plays at the interval - ones I've paid for that is, never when I've been asked to review.

There have been occasions when I've just been really tired, busy at work and the pull of heading home and crawling under the duvet outweighs the need to find out what happens or see the story through.

If I'm really into a play, it doesn't matter how tired I am. Very occasionally something will just be poor quality but most likely it will be a lack of engagement, a lack of care or interest in the characters or story or what the play is trying to say that has me heading for the door, rather than the quality of the acting or production.

It happens with books too. If I'm not yearning to find out what happens next, looking forward to my precious pre-bed reading time then it gets spiked and I move onto something else.

My philosophy is that life is just too short. There isn't enough time to see everything I want to see and read everything I want to read so why waste time on something I'm not really enjoying when I could be spending it on something I might love.

I left the play John at the second interval this week. There were some great moments - mostly involving the character Genevieve - but the bits in between just left me unmoved.

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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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