132 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

REVIEW: The little play on the big stage - Ugly Lies the Bone, National Theatre

Ugly-lies-the-bone-2160x2160-sfwUgly Lies The Bone is the story of Jess (Kate Fleetwood) an Afghan war veteran who returns home to Florida after suffering severe burns on her last tour. She is undertaking virtual reality therapy to cope with the pain and as part of the therapy has to create a fantasy world that she can retreat to. It is supposed to distract her from her debilitating injuries and pain but what she really wants is to recreate her old life.

Everything has changed since her last tour including her family and friends and she must find a way of forging new relationships. Jess's sister (Olivia Darnley) wants to her in cotton wool and for her to get on with her new idiot boyfriend (Kris Marshall). And Jess's ex (Ralf Little) has married. She wants to go back to teaching but people want to put her in a back room where no one can see her scarred face.

The staging is pretty spectacular. The sides and back of the stage curve upwards as if you are looking at everything through VR glasses. Images are projected onto this all encompassing backdrop - the VR landscape Jess creates, the streetscape of her Florida home town complete with traffic moving on the roads or the night sky. Visually it is really impressive.

You can sense a 'but' coming can't you? And there is one. Despite the performances the play feels neither as funny as it wants to be nor as hard hitting given the subject matter. I think the problem is that it is a little play that would suit a smaller stage in a more intimate theatre not the vast Lyttleton. The visual feast we are presented with over powers, even distracts from the play making it difficult to get emotional purchase.

Yes there are a few laugh out loud moments and the odd line that makes you gasp but in the end the staging is like the cotton wool that Jess's sister wants to wrap her up in which is a real shame. I give it three stars.

It is one hour and 35 minutes without an interval and is at the National Theatre until June 6.

REVIEW How Amadeus at the National Theatre floored me.

Adam Gillen and Lucian Msamati in Amadeus, National Theatre. Photo Marc Brenner

When I sat down to watch Amadeus at the National Theatre I was expecting to laugh, to be entertained, to be dazzled by the 18th century opulence, live music and operatic singing but I wasn't expecting to cry.

Peter Shaffer's play - which the National has just announced will return next year - is the story of successful and renowned court composer Salieri (Lucian Msamati) whose position, love of music and faith is challenged when the prodigiously talented, extremely precocious and obstreperous young Mozart (Adam Gillen) arrives in Vienna.

Mozart's skill at musical composition is so exceptional it makes everyone else, including Salieri, look mediocre and he isn't happy with that. But neither is he happy with the fact that God seems to have bestowed such an amazing talent on such an uncouth and uncivilised youth when he himself is a devout Catholic. The mixture of jealousy and contempt starts to eat him up and he plots to halt the march of Mozart's growing success.

This production is a spectacle with the Southbank Sinfonia performing live on stage and professional singers taking the parts of Salieri's pupil and Mozart's performers. The costumes are lavish as befits the 18th century court in Vienna - with the odd modern touch such as Mozart's Dr Marten boots and bleached blond white hair.

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Review: Ruth Wilson in Ivo Van Hove's noirish Hedda Gabler, National Theatre

Hedda_header_1200x650The Lyttleton stage is a huge white box just one large window on the left hand side, a video entry screen and two guns in a presentation case adorns one of the walls (and we all know what Chekhov had to say about guns hanging on walls). Furniture is sparse: a grubby white sofa, a piano, piano stool and two chairs one of which is occupied by a maid for most of the play as if she is guarding the entrance or exit. On the floor by the window there are a variety of buckets filled with bunches of fresh flowers.

Hedda (Ruth Wilson) is slumped over the piano, half-heartedly playing snatches of tunes over and over. People reunite around her, excited and happy, her presence is an idea, an ideal and one that we'll soon learn she won't live up to, doesn't want to live up to.

Society, circumstance and choice has led her to this room, in this apartment. She was a catch, admired by many and allowed herself to get caught out of fear of what would happen if she didn't. Her husband Tesman (Kyle Soller) is a moderately successful academic, pleased as punch with his catch but his career is his mistress.

Hedda is a woman boxed in by society and by her choices and her struggle is one of a person in quick sand: the more she struggles the further she sinks. She attempts to exert power and control over the people around her but how much is calculated, a perverse entertainment and how much is a knee-jerk reaction with a petulant disregard for the consequences?

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Review: Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki in David Hare's The Red Barn, National Theatre

Theredbarn_2578x1128_0Our first glimpses of the principal cast in The Red Barn is through square or oblong framing which shrink or widen to reveal more or less in a style that is reminiscent of the opening credits of a 60s or 70s TV series or film.

It is 1969 Connecticut, a snow storm is raging and two couples on their way home from a party - Ingrid and Donald (Hope Davis and Mark Strong) and Mona and Ray (Elizabeth Debicki and Nigel Whitmey) - have had to abandon their car and head on foot in the blizzard to Ingrid and Donald's home. Not all of them make it there safely.

The narrative jumps back and forth between the party and the events following the storm. There is a tension from the outset and not just because of the dangers of the storm. David Hare's script tells you only so much, everything else is in the body language and the pauses. This is a play that is brimming with pregnant pauses. It is a master class of understated performance. During the pitch darkness of scene changes there are phone calls, stripped of visual clues it becomes all about the tone and delivery.

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Theatre hottie and girl crush of the month - August edition

After watching Matthew Lewis in Unfaithful - you know, the Harry Potter child actor who got all hot when he grew up - I was asked if he would be my hottie of the month. Unfortunately for Matthew the bar had already been set exceptionally high because of Platonov with Stan fav James (makes me a bit giggly) McArdle.

He would have walked it even without the long johns - if you've seen the play you will know what I mean. To say that I'm stupidly excited about Angels in America next year is an understatement and I haven't even got the tickets yet.

And my girl crush is linked because it is Nina Sosanya who plays the intelligent, feisty and elegant Anna in Platonov. So here are a couple of pics of James and Nina both deserving the hottie/crush status:



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That was August in London Theatre-land (with a late addition)

9383745446_a248156e8f_zAugust always used to be a quiet month for theatre; it was as if everyone decamped to Edinburgh for the fringe. But even though the Royal Court still shuts up shop, elsewhere it just seems to get busier and busier. There is more fringe - and not just pre-Edinburgh shows - and more productions opening at the bigger theatres. As a result I ended up seeing 12 plays and yes I know there are people that see more than that each month but it's above my average.

* The 'hold the front page' story for the month (and possibly the year) was the announcement of funds to be made available to theatres to improve the ladies toilets. There is general under provision in the older theatres which means long queues and they are often so cramped and badly designed you have to be child-sized to get in and out the cubicles.

* The month was also notable for having only one steamy theatre watching experience and by that I mean the 'joy' of sitting in a non-air conditioned theatre on a hot summer evening with sweat trickling down your back while feeling sorry for the actors because at least you can wear shorts and T-Shirt. Yep thanks to Found III for that one.

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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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