187 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

Review: The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor, Old Red Lion

The Past is a Tattooed Sailor (c) Pamela Raith Photography (3)
Nick Finegan as young Napier and Jojo Macari as Joshua in The Past is a Tattooed Sailor, Old Red Lion Theatre (c) Pamela Raith Photography

Simon Blow's debut play is autobiographical, telling the tale of his relationship with his great uncle - the socialite Stephen Tennant. Simon becomes Joshua for the purposes of the play (played by Jojo Macari) and he decides to visit his now reclusive 'uncle Napier' who lives in the family pile outside London. Joshua has lost his parents, inheritance and is adrift, he feels hard done by and sees both a family connection and an opportunity in Uncle Napier but there are other relatives circling too.

Napier (Bernard O'Sullivan) reposes in his boudoir on a chaise longue and 'takes to' Joshua which means regaling him with tales of his youth and the literary and artistic set he was part of - Tennant had a four year relationship with Sigfried Sassoon and is said to have inspired Evelyn Waugh's character Sebastian Flyte. He is narcissistic, obsessed with his youth to the point of denial that he is actually a fat old man. His younger self, played by Nick Finegan, is on hand to remind him, as is his mother (Elizabeth George) who just won't call him her 'Golden Boy' any more.

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Review: The little but fierce Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court

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Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell in Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court

Caryl Churchill’s short play Pigs and Dogs is proof that you don’t need a long play to pack a punch and get across a powerful message.

It clocks in at around 15 minutes long (without an interval the usher jokingly informed as I arrived) and leaves an indelible mark.

Three actors - Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell - perform a series of actual statements made by political leaders and those in influential positions, primarily from African countries. Each of which gets introduced by the phrase “someone said” followed by the name of the person from whom the statement originally came. The theme of the statements is the perceptions of homosexuality, the actors each taking rapid turns with the statements and introductions.

It starts with recent homophobic statements moving into historic reports of homosexual activities that were deemed culturally normal before coming back to the present day. The play is substantially based on the book Boy-Wives and Female-Husband: studies in African homosexualities.

 

Collectively the statements challenge modern homophobic prejudices suggesting where the origins for such attitudes might lie and it isn’t where you might think.

It is a simple idea, simply and brilliantly performed and makes for a powerful, thought-provoking piece of theatre.

Pigs and Dogs runs until July 30 at the Royal Court. It starts at 6.30pm and is unallocated seating - doors normally open 20-25 minutes ahead of the performance. Its £5 and it gets five stars from me.


Review: Modern ghouls in A Haunting, King's Head #Festival46

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James Thackeray in A Haunting

Nathan Lucky Wood's play A Haunting starts with a disembodied voice but this isn't a ghost story in the conventional sense as the voice comes from a computer. It isn't sci-fi either - the voice belongs to a fellow gamer that 15-year-old Mark (James Thackeray) has got chatting to.

The ghost voice (Jake Curran) sends him links to graphic video's of religious extremists committing atrocities and wants to meet up. Mark's mum Anna (Beatrice Curnew) is working late, there are hints that things aren't harmonious at home - is this a set up for him being radicalised? Perhaps, except that the ghost's voice doesn't sound quite right (if there is a right sound).

Mark and the ghost then start describing sexually-laced scenarios, verbally roll-playing. Perhap's ghost is a paedophile, then? Perhaps, but then when he describes his fantasy it is an innocent domestic scene involving cooking Bolognese.

All the time the ghost is trying to persuade Mark to meet and eventually he relents. He is spookily close to where Mark lives and he knows his mobile number. What happens next shines the spotlight in a completely different corner.

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Review: Saving Freddie (the) Fox in Phoebe, King's Head Theatre #Festival46

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E J Martin as Phoebe

Phoebe (EJ Martin) is a quiet sales assistant in an opticians whose outlook on life seems slightly out of step to those around her. Her sister Ingrid (Louise Torres-Ryan) is the favoured child, always busy working for a charity while Phoebe is the one who heads home every Sunday for the family dinner, for all the thanks she gets. Freddie, their brother, has gone missing and that is a concern for Phoebe.

But that isn't the only thing Phoebe has to worry about. A neighbour wants to call in pest control to deal with an urban fox which she feeds and has named... Freddie. As she tries to find one Freddie and keep another hidden, Phoebe has to convince her family that she can stand on her own two feet, fortunately she has a new friend the gentle and awkward Paul (Loz Keystone) to help her.

There are some nice segments of dialogue which are well observed and snappily written - the mother who causes a fuss while loudly proclaiming not to is particularly amusing. The family dynamic is stereotypical sit-com: overbearing mother, spineless father that follows her lead and put upon child. However, there are elements that will no doubt ring true. Given the nature of their parents it is easy to understand why Ingrid stays away.

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Watching a work in progress: Unreachable, Royal Court

Cw-8658-mediumThe Royal Court's artistic director Vicky Featherstone and playwright/director Anthony Neilson made a pre-performance appearance when I saw Unreachable on Tuesday. They wanted to explain that the play was still a work in progress, a major rewrite had happened over the weekend with further rewrites that day. As a result, the actors might still be working off scripts and things might not go as smoothly as you'd expect. We were asked to shout 'good luck' to the actors who were waiting in the wings.

Other than a read-through I've not seen a play performed with scripts in hands or scraps of paper retrieved from pockets.  Naturally, the audience, was very supportive as it invariably is during these sorts of things. It added an extra dimension to the play and the experience - seeing the actors 'feeling' their way through the less familiar parts of the script.

Matt Smith actually played on it at times saying at one point 'that's all I've got'. If there was any frustration with the chopping and changing of the dialogue among the cast it certainly did show, they all looked like they were having a ball and there was quite a bit of corpsing.

As to the play itself, I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't expecting a raucous comedy, satirising the film industry and acting profession.

Naturally it is difficult to review something that could change fundamentally between when I saw it and press night. Indeed, since starting to write this, I found an interview with Anthony Neilson and Matt Smith which describes a plot that is unrecognisable from that which I saw, so if you have seen it post press night I'm curious to know whether it has changed fundamentally since.

Matt Smith plays Maxim, a film director who won the Palm d'Or for his first full length feature and is now working on his second film. The award has brought with it recognition and a much bigger budget with the politics that entails but he is 'an artist' with the stereotypical artistic temperament (think: self-serving, childish, egotist). He would rather walk away and risk financial ruin than compromise.

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Review: Mike Bartlett's Wild, Hampstead Theatre

Caoilfhionn Dunne (Woman) and Jack Farthing (Andrew) in Wild at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey (5)
Caoilfhionn Dunne (Woman) and Jack Farthing (Andrew) in Wild at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

Andrew (Jack Farthing) is alone in a nondescript hotel room. He's done something big, something which takes him from sitting in KFC with his girlfriend one week to hiding out in a hotel in Moscow the next. Sound familiar? It should, Mike Bartlett's new play at Hampstead Theatre was inspired by Edward Snowden, whistle blower and revealer of secrets that the powers that be never wanted revealed.

A woman arrives (Caoilfhionn Dunne) who may or may not be there to help him. Her identity and purpose is an enigma. There are hints that she is from a Wiki-type company - there are references to 'him' which imply Julian Assange - she is also calculated and manipulative. One moment she is his friend, one moment not. She teases, jokes, is personal, aloof and she claims to know more about Andrew than he knows about himself. There is something about her that is disquieting.

After she has left a man (John Mackay) turns up and from what he say, Andrew thinks he's also from Wiki but he claims not to know who the woman is. He is also difficult to make out giving chocolate with one hand while blackmailing with the other - never has someone opening a bag been quite so tense.

Bartlett's play is unnerving. It puts you in the shoes of Andrew, has you groping around for the truth of the situation, questioning who and what information you can trust. In a recent interview on Radio 4's Front Row he drew parallels with the recent EU referendum - how could people make an informed choice when they didn't know who or what to believe, when you can't put your trust in the people in power who can you trust?

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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: Why I prefer Alistair McDowall's Pomona to X (Royal Court)

X-118I was three quarters of the way through the first half of Alistair McDowall's new play X at the Royal Court and it was pressing the right buttons to give me nightmares.

It's set inside one room on a space station on Pluto where the crew are awaiting a spacecraft to pick them up and take them back to earth. Only it is late and all the lines of communication with earth have gone silent. As the crew wait for news with varying degrees of patience and panic one of them says they have seen something outside. It's an alien thing you see (don't laugh). I had to sleep with the light on after watching the film Signs. And it doesn't help that outside the one window at the back of the set it is dark. I'm thinking: if something appears at that window I might freak out.

Then something happens that seems to normalise the situation. Sort of. This is Alistair McDowall after all. It's difficult to explain without giving too much away but it's like someone took a pin to a balloon and pop, the tension is gone. And it never gets it back.

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Review: A Kingdom for a Stage, Chelsea Theatre

A Kingdom for a Stage (c) Charlene Segeral (4)
Jonathan Coote in A Kingdom for a Stage Photo: Charlene Segeral

As we celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death Tony Diggle's new play imagines that the Bard is still around, sort of. He's in a writers limbo between heaven and hell.

There is an intimidating cockney Angel Gabriel (Christopher Knott) who keeps Shakespeare (Jonathan Coote) and fellow writers Ben Johnson (Alex Murphy), Christopher Marlowe (Edwin Wright) and George Bernard Shaw (Richard Ward) in line while Puck (Sue Appleby) tries to keep them out of line. Shakespeare, with Pucks help, wants to visit earth to see The Globe and check out his legacy and what he sees whilst there inspires him to write a new play much to the dismay of the other writers.

This is all well and good but in addition to the action flitting between 'heaven' and earth, Diggle also takes us back in time to Shakespeare as a young man (Dan Wheeler) on the cusp of success and then, later on, at the end of his life. Here we see Shakespeare conflicted between creative success and being at home where his family need him.

And here lies the problem. The individual elements are in themselves fine but as a collective it creates a play of such diverse tone that it is difficult to make out what exactly Diggle is trying to convey. When Shakespeare makes it to earth he quickly realises that certain things have not changed in 400 years but this feels almost perfunctory amid everything else that is going on.

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Review: Nick Paynes' Elegy, Donmar Warehouse

ElegyIf the choice was to slowly succumb to a debilitating and fatal disease such as Alzheimers or have your brain repaired but lose up to 15 years of your memories what would you do? If you were married to the person making that choice and your wife would unlikely remember you afterwards would you encourage them to have the operation?

At the beginning of the play we see the aftermath of that decision. Zoe Wanamaker's character has had the treatment and no longer recognises or remembers her wife (Barbara Flynn) and her doctor (Nina Sosanya) is trying to assist them both. Subsequent scenes, like snatches of memory, reveal what life was like before the operation and the lead up to the decision.

Set in the future Nick Payne imagines a set of new human conditions and dilemmas as the result of medical advances. The doctor represents the science side of the equation. She has problems explaining things without using medical terminology and also has problems with the emotional aspects of the procedure. The human dilemma, a loss of identity, a loss of a loved one mentally but not physically, the debate about whether it is the right answer to the medical condition comes through the story of the married women.

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