126 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

Review: Making Konstantin conspicuous in his absence in The Seagull, National Theatre #YoungChekhov

Joshua James and Anna Chancellor in The Seagull. Photo Johan Persson.

Chekhov's Hamlet obsession is most evident in The Seagull, not just from the direct references but also in the triangle of mother-son-uncle or in this case mother's new lover; it is probably why it is one of my favourites.

There is no murdering to get ahead instead the oppression is more subtle. We have a self-obsessed actress mother - Arkadina (Anna Chancellor) who has to be the centre of attention and her lover Trigorin (Geoffrey Streatfeild) a famous novelist who is equally self-centred. Brought up always at the side of the stage looking on, Konstantin (Joshua James) Arkadina's son has identity issues and thinks becoming a successful writer will solve it.

He has a germ of writing talent but is deaf to the few compliments he receives instead he grows jealous of Trigorin and resentful.  To make matters worse the object of his affection - Nina (Olivia Vinall) - only has eyes for the older writer. Meanwhile Masha (Jade Williams) just can't seem to catch Konstantin's eye. He has no money to escape the family's secluded lakeside home and his mother won't help or is incapable of helping.

It would be easy to play Konstantin purely as a melancholy and whiny youth but Joshua James succeeds in showing glimmers of a bubblier side which his mother inadvertently tramples. There is also a balancing act in portraying a character who is often overlooked by most of those around him without making him forgettable. You notice James and miss him when he is gone although you don't always notice him leaving or arriving on the stage - perhaps mirroring how he flits in and out of his mother's consciousness.

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Review: Finding sympathy for Ivanov, National Theatre #YoungChekhov

Geoffrey Streatfeild as Ivanov. Image by Johan Persson

I've only seen Ivanov once before, the Kenneth Branagh's version in 2008 and that one was also notable for starring a pre-Loki Tom Hiddleston as the straight-laced Lvov. Re-reading my review I seemed to have enjoyed it more than I remember. That was back in the early days of my theatre-going when I knew little of Chekhov and his plays and this time around I did miss the element of surprise.

Geoffrey Streatfeild plays Ivanov a man who, with the benefit of modern medicine, would be diagnosed as suffering from depression. He finds little joy in day to day life; he has fallen out of love with his wife Anna (Nina Sosanya) a Jew disowned by her family for marrying outside the faith who is now dying of tuberculosis. He is also in debt.

Lvov (James McArdle), the doctor attending his wife, and a self-proclaimed 'honest' man advises Ivanov to take his wife to Crimea for the good of her health but he says he hasn't the money and instead spends his evenings visiting neighbours for which Lvov constantly berates him.

The only glimmer of happiness for Ivanov is Sasha (Olivia Vinall), the daughter of his creditor, who has fallen in love with him and whom he can't seem to resist. She is determined to chase away the dark clouds in his mind and restore Ivanov to his happier former self. Meanwhile the gossips - and Lvov - think he is after Sasha for her fortune.

Ivanov is man who is in a hole and still digging. He seems aware of the impact of his behaviour which makes him feel all the more wretched but  he is incapable of making amends. Perhaps he believes himself to be a lost cause.

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Review - Who knew Chekhov could be funny? Platonov, National Theatre #YoungChekhov

James McArdle and Nina Sosanya in Platonov

I have a feeling I've commented once before on a Chekhov play being surprisingly funny*. I'm told that the man himself thought he was funny but when I mentioned to a friend that I was seeing three Chekhov plays in a day, she commented 'make sure you've got your tissues and razor blades' which is my more usual response.

Platonov, or at least this production of it, is very funny at times, the second half even teeters on farce, and it was a great way to kick off a three-play day. I think James McArdle can take a big chunk of the credit. He plays the titular character: a disillusioned school teacher who is also a hopeless ladies man.

He is married to a woman who adores him - something he can't comprehend - but has also caught the eye of the educated, widowed landlowner Anna Petrovna (Nina Sosanya). He likes the fact that she is intelligent, something that other men see as a disadvantage. Nina's step son is married to Sofiya (Olivia Vinall), a great beauty who has also fallen for Platonov's charms and wants to run away with him.

Completing his tail of admirers is Maria Grekova (Sarah Twomey) who hates him - but really loves him. Platonov enjoys toying with her and can be quite cruel but McArdle gives the character enough charm that you can mostly forgive him. As the juggling of admirers gets more difficult to pull off he hits the bottle. It is as if he has settled down to watch his own car crash in slow motion.

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Review: The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre and why I'm glad I stayed for the second half

Plough-and-the-stars-1280x720I had a problem with The Plough and the Stars at the National Theatre.  I found the combination of rapid delivery and strong Dublin accents made the dialogue difficult to understand at times. Sean O'Casey's script is rich, witty and colourful but I felt I was missing chunks of it.

The characters spend a lot of time bickering and arguing, particularly in the first half and I got the gist but sometimes not more than that. I didn't feel I was comprehending enough of it to fully engage. As a result, I did contemplate leaving at the interval but I stayed and I'm glad I did because the second half felt easier to engage with - there is a lot more action for a start.

It is set around the time of the Easter Rising in Dublin and centres on the people who live in a run down tenement building. There is young married couple Nora and Jack (Judith Roddy and Fionn Walton) whose relationship is coming to the end of the honeymoon period. They live with Nora's Uncle Peter (Lloyd Hutchinson) and Jack's cousin The Young Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor).

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Review: Helen McCrory is both playful and doleful in the gripping The Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre

Tumblr_o32so5LNaE1qci1qdo1_500The Lyttleton Theatre's safety curtain rises to reveal a flat. The walls are gauzy so you can see the corridor and stairs beyond including the upstairs landing. On the floor in front of the fire is a woman covered in a blanket and outside the door someone is calling anxiously for 'Mrs Page'.

Terrence Rattigan's 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea opens with a failed suicide. Hester (Helen McCrory) has taken some aspirin and turned the gas tap on but the attempt ultimately fails for the want of another shilling. It is a moment of control that fails, perhaps.  A moment of control in, what we subsequently discover, is an unhappy, out-of-control life.

The suicide attempt exposes Hester's secret to her neighbours. Freddie Page (Tom Burke) - a former test pilot - isn't her husband but her lover who drinks too much and prefers to spend his weekends playing golf with his friends. Her husband Lord William Colyer (Peter Sullivan) is a High Court judge and has thus far refused to grant her a divorce.

Helen McCrory's Hester is a mixture of doleful, manipulative and charming. There are glimpses of an endearing playfulness as well as a desperation as she realises that she is losing Freddie. She is a woman who realises that her hold on the men in her life is sexual but what she wants is something beyond that.

When Freddie unpacks his heart to her when they first meet has she misread the signs? There is pride too - is it pride that prevents her from accepting her husband's offer she does, after all, light up when he talks about their friends and social life? Lord Collyer is a proud man too but is it pride or love that won't let him give up Hester?

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Review: Ben Miles swaps Cromwell cap for fake tan in Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National Theatre

ThumbFirst I should clarify, Ben Miles, he of Cromwell/Wolf Hall fame, isn't the only member of the cast of Alexi Kaye Campbell's new play to have been sent off to get a fake tan. There is a good reason for getting rid of pasty complexions, as the setting is a holiday home on a small Greek island.

English couple Charlotte (Pippa Nixon) and Theo (Sam Crane) are on a work-cation - Theo is a playwright - and American couple June (Elizabeth McGovan) and Harvey (Ben Miles) are taking a break from Athens where Harvey works for the US government. Charlotte and Theo befriend the Americans at the port, well I say 'befriend', they are English so they invite them over to the house they are renting out of politeness rather than because they particularly like their company.

It is 1960s Greece. Harvey is on the one hand, loud and forthright with his opinions but on the other can be introspective and occasionally poetic. He loves theatre and obsesses over the play Theo is working on but there is also something about Harvey that makes you question quite how genuine he is.

June is warm, friendly and dutiful. She likes to drink. Perhaps it something to numb the boredom of her rootless life, following her husband and his job around the world or is it something else?

Charlotte and Theo seem content, they are a happy couple with a social conscious but romantic notions, something that leads them into making a decision that comes back to haunt them.

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Review: In which Stan goes to see the Threepenny Opera, National Theatre (it's not a musical or is it?)

Threepenny-opera-1280x720_0'It's not a musical, it's a play with songs.' Fast forward to the interval of the National Theatre's Threepenny Opera and Poly admits 'it's got more songs than I remember'. They did start to grate on this non-musical theatre fan and I'd have happily fast forwarded through handful of them. That said the production design, costumes and satirical tone still made for an enjoyable evening.

I have nothing to compare this to so I can't judge the adaptation by Simon Stephens or its faithfulness to the original (I understand director Rufus Norris has been playing around with very different endings). I also can't judge the way the songs are performed etc. - it's all brand new to me.

The setting is a grungy, crime-riddled East London on the eve of the King's coronation - which King I don't think really matters. The stage is stripped back with oddments of set the styling and costumes are grimy Victorian music hall/circus with a teaspoon of Madame Jojos and Moulin Rouge added. Protagonist Captain Macheath (a lovely, eye-liner wearing Rory Kinnear) wears a sharp suit lose enough to keep a large and menacing looking knife in his inside pocket. But there is no stage blood, wounds are all done with thick red wool in keeping with the music hall theme. It's the language that is often the most vicious.

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Review: Identity and justice in the powerful Les Blancs, National Theatre

Les_Blancs_1024x5763It is the last days of colonial rule in an unidentified African country. Three hundred years of oppression have led to this. Unrest and violence grows, politics and negotiation are failing: the colonial overlords are determined to hang on. 

Set on a remote, dilapidated mission hospital, a returnee and a visitor step into the growing storm. Tshembe (Danny Sapani) has a new life in England with a European wife and son but has returned to where he grew up for his father's funeral. He's travelled, seen the world and is torn between his African roots, setting his country free from the injustice of colonialism and his new life in the West.

American journalist Charlie Morris (Elliot Cowen) is visiting the mission hospital in order to interview the Reverend who has run it for 40 years. He too sees the injustice of colonial rule, thinks he understands it and thinks he can help. He thinks he is right but this is a play full of people that think they are right and that their actions are justified.

Lorraine Hansberry has filled Les Blancs with interesting characters, each with their own arc which she then expertly weaves into something that becomes much, much bigger and more powerful. Among Tshembe's family is his brother Abioseh (Gary Beadle) who's training to become a priest and is a pacifist who sees merit in what the whites have done to the country. There is Eric (Tunji Kasim)) Tshembe's mixed-race, half-brother who feels the pull of two conflicting cultures and his uncle Peter (Sidney Cole) the seemingly docile and submissive mission servant.

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Sarah Kane + Katie Mitchell: Watching Cleansed at the National Theatre or a review of sorts

Cleansed_picture__gallery_imageSarah Kane's plays are Marmite. Katie Mitchell's directing is Marmite. The National Theatre has put the two together. I sat in my seat with trepidation. This is sort of what happened in an abridged version *spoilers*:

Lights up: Stage is a distressed, paint-peeling, abandoned-looking institution of sort. School perhaps. Michelle Terry is in a red dress. Bell rings. She watches what happens but no one seems to notice she is there.

Man begs for drugs. Is given drugs by 'Tinker' (Stan: Look at lap during graphic injection bit). Man taken away presumably dead.

Male lovers talk about their relationship one wants to hear 'I love you forever' the other can only say 'I love you now'.

'I love you forever' is brutally tortured until he admits he'd save himself, not his lover. It is recorded. (Stan: Look at lap during torture).

Bell rings.

Scary men in black suits and black masks with black umbrellas walk  v   e   r   y     s   l   o   w   l   y across the stage with a cremation urn. (Stan: Smirk thinking of the Twitter conversation about Mitchell and slo-mo had had before the play)

Michelle Terry is noticed for first time. Begs for her dead brother's clothes. Swaps clothes with Matthew Tennyson (Stan: doesn't MT look good in that red dress).

Michelle Terry's brother is alive. They dance, mirroring each other.

Bell rings (you get the idea)

Male lovers are back. Confession under torture is played back. Tested again under torture. (Stan: Examine nails closely) Victim is wheeled off stage.

Men in black suits walking  v   e   r   y     s   l   o   w   l   y again.

Michelle Terry shags brother. Wanders around naked. (Stan: Michelle Terry must be cold.)

Booth is wheeled on. Inside is a woman in stringy red bra and knickers, she dances for Tinker who masturbates. He talks to her through an intercom and says he loves her.

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Possibly the most exciting theatre casting news this year

Andrew Garfield photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

It's only February and already we've had the excitement of Jamie Lloyd directing Kit Harington in Dr Faustus and Dominic Cooper treading the boards again but this week, while I was buried under a ton of work, @Polyg sent me a text that put a huge, huge grin on my face. The text said: "Andrew Garfield in Angels in America at the NT".

The grin was because Garfield is on my list of actors I long to see on stage. I think he's one of the best actors of his generation; there are too many fantastic performances in his body of work to mention individually but I have some highlights.

First up is Kid A a TV drama in which he played Jack who is trying to rebuild his life after being release from prison for a crime he committed as a child.

Then there is Never Let Me Go, a film that has me rocking backwards and forwards sobbing on the sofa every time I watch it. There is one particular scene in which his character finds out that the one thing he's been striving towards for years is a myth. He doesn't say anything, he just lets out a scream so full of hurt and disappointment it breaks your heart. The trailer is one of those that pretty much gives away the entire story but it has the scream.

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