123 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

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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That was my year of theatre-going 2015: The StOlivier awards

89050759_9b7a9cb884_mThere are awards and then there are the StOliviers...

I'm only human award: This goes to Ben Whishaw who, during the Iliad live reading, mispronounced a name did a delightful giggle at his mistake before slipping straight back into character and carrying on. You can see the reading here (roughly 26 mins in for the giggle).

Best food fight: Cast of Rules for Living, National Theatre, who not only managed to mess up the stage but trod and smeared mashed potato into the carpet and on the drapes at all the exits from the Dorfman stage.

Scariest prop: For Carman Disruption at the Almeida I was sat on the front row not far from the life-sized, prone but visibly breathing bull. It was so realistic it freaked me a little bit. If it had moved its head or a leg you wouldn't have have seen me for dust.

Most accident prone production: Ah Wilderness! Young Vic. Props went flying and actors fell over, I wrote a post about it.

I didn't know you had that in you surprise performance award: Lots of surprises this year Tom Sturridge in American Buffalo, David Dawson in The Dazzled but the award goes Johnny Flynn in Hangmen for a performance that meant the first two words I said to Poly after the curtain call were 'Johnny Flynn' to which she replied 'I know'.

The bloody play of the year: The single stream of blood slowly rolling down the stage towards the audience at the end of  Macbeth, Young Vic, was great but the bloody highlight goes to the Almeida's Oresteia. Agamemnon is murdered and his spilled blood slowly seeps out in a growing pool from beneath his corpse.

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Review: An Evening At The Talk House, National Theatre

Evening-At-The-Talk-House-poster_0Wallace Shawn's new play is an odd beast. It's (rather long) set up is a reunion of those involved in a play 10 years earlier at their old haunt The Talk House, for an evening reminiscing and to enjoy host Nellie's (Anna Calder-Marshall) snacks. The Talk House has seen better days but as the former colleagues gather it quickly becomes obvious that the world has perhaps seen better days too.

The world of writer Richard (Josh Hamilton) and the others is one that is familiar and not, as if it is running in parallel, has jumped a track.

spoilers Wallace Shawn's character Dick is a washed up actor who has never replicated his early success and is living temporarily at The Talk House while he recovers from a beating. His friends carried out the violent attack for his own good because he was about to step over the line "you know". It's a warning, a reminder to be nice.

But that isn't the worst of it. There is a Government policy, that no one is supposed to talk about but everyone does, of killing anyone perceived to be a threat. You can get a job choosing targets which meet the criteria like getting a job working in a shop. You can also get a job as one of the assassins, a menial job for those who need the money. There are lots of different ways people can be murdered, not all of them swift, and of course there is discrimination on the method of murder depending on the status and popularity of the person targeted.

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Review: The unsatisfactory Waste, National Theatre

18459_show_landscape_large_01During the interval of Waste the conversation centred on why Rufus Norris had programmed Harley Granville Barker's play.  It was banned by censors in 1907 because one of the married women characters has an affair, gets pregnant and has a back street abortion which results in her death.

Part of the problem with Waste is that while that scenario is sad, it isn't shocking today and once you take out the shock factor you are left with a rather dull political piece about reputation and there are better plays out there that look at this.

Charles Edwards plays Henry Trebell who is persuaded to join the Conservative Party to push through a disestablishment bill which will take church money to create an education programme. Henry is very enthusiastic and committed to the bill. But then his brief affair with Amy O'Connell (Olivia Williams) comes back to haunt him and the scramble begins to save his reputation and the Bill.

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