149 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

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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10 plays I'm really looking forward to seeing in London 2018

Julius Caesar, Bridge TheatrePrompted by the Daily Telegraph's rather uninspiring and quite frankly lazy list of upcoming theatre treats - three plays which have already opened? Oh come on - here's my list of what I'm already really excited about seeing in the first half of 2018*.

1. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Theatre - Patsy Ferran, I love Patsy Ferran and this is the first of two plays she's doing in 2018 and it's a solo piece *insert big smile here*

2. Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre - Ben Whishaw playing Brutus alongside David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley and the chance to mingle with the Roman mob? Already booked to see it twice.

3. The Brothers Size, Young Vic - Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney who also penned Oscar best picture winner Moonlight (which I loved) and starring Sope Dirisu who was brilliant in One Night In Miami at the Donmar and the RSC's Coriolanus.

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Quick review: The brilliant Beginning, National Theatre

Beginning-2160x2160-sfw-50Still catching up post hols, hence the quick review but I loved this play. It's set at the end of Laura's (Justine Mitchell) flat-warming party when all the guests have left apart from one: Danny (Sam Troughton). She's confidence, sassy; he uses slightly laddish humour to try and mask his nerves. For an hour and forty minutes the two talk, drink and make fish finger sandwiches.

Do they have more in common than initial appearances would suggest, is this the start of something and what is that 'something'?

It's a play that slowly unwraps the layers of two characters through their interactions and exchanges like a pass the parcel present and it is done in a way that is smart, wry, funny and moving. David Eldridge's play avoids cliches and stereotypes giving us two very human and identifiable characters whose life experiences and dilemmas are fresh and contemporary.

Performed with seemingly effortless skill I was gripped, I laughed out loud a lot and I may have had a tear in my eye. And if that isn't enough the soundtrack is great and there is a superb dance scene. I'm so glad this has got a transfer into the West End: From January 15 it is at the Ambassadors Theatre in Covent Garden.

 


Review: The classic with modern touches Jane Eyre, National Theatre

Jane-eyre-whatsonwidget_1280x720-sfwThere was an awful lot I loved about Jane Eyre or Jane Uhrr as many of the characters in the play say her name with a northern accent. It would be easy choice to have costumes and set faithful to the period of the novel but what director Sally Cookson and designer Michael Vale have done is keep a sense of the time with the costumes and odd bit of furniture but use an abstract set; a sort of wooden frame with walkways, platforms, ramps and ladders.

The set doesn't move instead the changing landscape of Jane's (Nadia Clifford) journey is represented using movement, lighting, music and and occasionally snatches of song. The latter are often contemporary, chosen for their lyrics but sung in an operatic style - Gnarls Barkley's Crazy is a particularly genius choice.

In choosing to have a stripped back set design it allows for more inventive and dramatic theatrical devices - outfits lowering from the ceiling, wind machines and floaty veils and real flames. However none of this detracts from the characters and the narrative, rather it enhances so that while you get a fast-paced and vigorous production, it still oozes atmosphere, passion and tenderness. The soul of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel of freedom, loneliness and love is there in abundance.

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Review: The oddly entertaining Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre

St-george-and-the-dragon-2160x2160_0Rory Mullarkey's new play Saint George and the Dragon is odd.

Saw it during preview and there were a few teething problems with the fancier aspects of the staging (which isn't that unusual during preview for a big production like this) so I don't feel I got the full 'wow'* but still got the essence of the play.

It's a clunky allegorical tale that starts off feeling like a piece of children's theatre as we learn the history of Saint George (John Heffernan) and how he saves England from a dragon (Julian Bleach). We then fast forward to the industrial revolution with the same set of town's folk although for them only a year has passed. There is a new dragon to destroy in the new era but this dragon is more difficult to kill because he's representative of an establishment setting rules and regulations that benefit the few.

Then we jump forward to the current day, again only a year for the characters of the play, and there is yet another dragon representing another dark side humanity for George to destroy.

At the interval I couldn't help thinking there must be more to it and hoped it was leading up to something really clever but it wasn't. It's too black and white with goodies and baddies and only one character - Henry (Richard Goulding) - who switches. OK so the point is that the 'dragon' is in all of us but even so.

There is a nice point of reference from the first dragon encounter which brings things almost full circle but otherwise it felt like a lot of effort for something that didn't really delve much beneath the surface.

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