182 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

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?

Continue reading "Review: Mike Bartlett's Wild, Hampstead Theatre" »

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.

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

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.

Continue reading "Review: Why I prefer Alistair McDowall's Pomona to X (Royal Court)" »

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.

Continue reading "Review: A Kingdom for a Stage, Chelsea Theatre" »

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.

Continue reading "Review: Nick Paynes' Elegy, Donmar Warehouse" »

Review: When the staging is bigger than the play - Boy, Almeida

Landscape_1470x690_WebThere is a lot going on in the Almeida auditorium and Leo Butler's Boy hasn't even started. The performance space is in the middle and is a travellator that weaves in a wiggly loop through the audience. Actors sit at various points of the slowly moving track coming to within inches of those sat closest.

I say 'sit' because they don't have chairs or any outward sign of support. It is something that immediately fascinates and continues to do so after the play starts when the get up, walk around and then 'sit' on invisible chairs again.

Immediately opposite our seats is the production photographer. Whenever actors glide in front of us he seems to snap away - something that continues throughout. Once the play starts pieces of set are fixed onto the travellator and removed from two points one right next to use. That becomes fascinating to watch too.

And here is the problem. There is so much going on that isn't performance that the plays gets a little bit lost in it all. It doesn't help that the travellator is quite noisy and despite the actors having mics it is sometimes difficult to hear what is being said despite sitting so close.

Continue reading "Review: When the staging is bigger than the play - Boy, Almeida" »

Review: Jack O'Connell - black boxers and potting the black in The Nap, Sheffield Crucible

The_Nap1-xlarge_trans++svEi3P8Qkw0HLYn_ZSpox602VQT6XhEWMIwOXdx7beMI'm sat on the front row at the Sheffield Crucible watching Jack O'Connell play snooker. Is this actually happening? I've been a huge Jack O'Connell fan since seeing him in indie films Starred Up* and 71 and have really wanted to see him on stage. So there is that.

Then there is the snooker. Long before theatre (yes there was a time before) the Crucible, in my mind, was the home of the snooker world championships. We were a snooker family, gathering around the TV to watch games and all had our favourite players. It was the time of Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Jimmy White and Stephen Henry (my favourite) and I dreamed of watching a game at the Crucible.

These past and present passions have been brought together thanks to Richard Wilson and Richard Bean. Richard Wilson, who is associate director at the Crucible always wanted to do a play about snooker there and Richard Bean agreed to write one. And so, voilá, I'm sitting watching Jack O'Connell play snooker.

He plays Dylan Stokes a young, up-coming player from a rough background who credits snooker with saving his life. His dad (Mark Addy) is an ex con and his mum (Esther Coles) is an alcoholic petty criminal. His career to date has been funded by Waxy Chuff (Louise Gold) a transgender crime boss who happens to be a former lover of his mum's. As his career starts to take off they all want a bit of him and the guardians of the game want a urine sample and to know if he's been asked to throw a game.

Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors had me aching with laughter and The Nap too is stuffed with belly laughs but while One Man was a farce here it is more one liners and there is a thriller element too and not just from the pressure of playing the games. Making Dylan a vegetarian means obvious jokes but where the play really comes into its own is in the Malapropisms and mixing up of common phrases: "He's a child effigy" and "There's no smoke without salmon" are two of my favourites. Richard Bean was a stand up comic and at times the script is almost like a string of quick fire jokes.

Continue reading "Review: Jack O'Connell - black boxers and potting the black in The Nap, Sheffield Crucible" »

Review: A journey of ups and downs, Correspondence, Old Red Lion Theatre

Correspondence (c) Richard Lakos (7)
Joe Attewell as Ben in Correspondence, Old Red Lion. Photo by Richard Lakos

Ben (Joe Attewell) is a quiet, curious 16-year-old living in Stockport. His parents are separated and bicker. He doesn't seem to have many friends not unless you count Syrian teen Jibreel (Ali Ariaie) with whom he chats on XBox Live and Harriet (a brilliantly feisty Jill McAusland) who bullies him and calls him 'Shitbiscuit'.

He edits the school newspaper and is interested in what is going on in the world - his contemporaries lack of interest dismays him. He is a typical teenager a mixture of idealism, optimism, confusion and frustration.

Set at a time when the Arab Spring was in its hopeful infancy, Jibreel disappears from XBox live. Ben fears he's been arrested and decides to go on a rescue mission.

And this is where I starting having a problem with Lucinda Burnett's play. Up until this point it's a solid family/teen drama. Joe Attewell is a convincing and endearing teenager and the dialogue between the friends is witty and sometimes laugh out loud funny. But when Ben bunks off school to jet off to Syria - Harriet is a last minute addition to the trip - it felt contrived and stretched credibility.

While Ben is in Syria he has a psychotic episode the aftermath of which reminded me of little of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Once he returns home the play satisfyingly resumes and there are poignant moments as Ben reconnects with his life and with Jibreel.

Revolution in the middle east and mental health are weighty topics to tackle but in an hour and a half it doesn't feel like either are given a proper airing. There are moments that hint at what could have been a more wholly powerful piece - being reminded of the optimistic beginnings of the Arab Spring, for example. But ultimately I only travelled part of the way on Ben's journey. It's getting three and a half stars from me because there were bits of it I really enjoyed.

Correspondence is an hour and a half and runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until April 2.

Review: I See You, Royal Court Theatre upstairs

I_See_You-large_trans++YFziz8YEm6VE5aYFlxYehSem-Qse8IphuPOElFEbsmQThere are moments when you are watching playwright and performer Mongiwekhaya's I See You at the Royal Court that it feels like it's been pulled straight from a Kafka novel.

Ben (Bayo Gbadamosi), a black South African law student, has met Skinn (Jordan Baker) a street-wise white girl at a club and they are stopped in her car by two black police officers. Ben is bundled into the back of the police van and supposedly taken off to a police station for a breathalyser test. So far, so un-Kafkaesque but once he is there he is asked to sign form but isn't allowed to read what he's signing.  When he refuses he is documented as uncooperative.

It is the start of a physically and psychologically violent evening for Ben in which he is being punished for something that isn't his fault. I See You is essentially a play about identity. Buthelezi (Desmond Dube) who arrests Ben fought to overturn apartheid only to find that he has paved the way for a new, educated generation who seem to take freedom for granted and who can't even speak their mother tongue. He feels cast aside after his sacrifices and the horrors he experienced while fighting. He takes it out on Ben who was brought up outside South Africa and only speaks English.

Continue reading "Review: I See You, Royal Court Theatre upstairs" »

Review: Moving on from the past in Weald, Finborough Theatre

(c) Alex Brenner, no usage without credit; Weald (Snuffbox) @ Finborough Theatre 6
David Crellin and Dan Parr as Sam and Jim in Weald, Finborough Theatre. Photo courtesy of Alex Brenner

Daniel Foxsmith's play Weald is set on a livery yard in rural England. Jim (Dan Parr) has returned there looking for work after six years away and Sam (David Crellin) reluctantly agrees. His reluctance speaks silently of past trouble between the two and Foxsmith's play slowly unravels their history. But there is more to it than that.

 Sam is steady and methodical but grumpy, there is an underlying toxic mix of betrayal and regret which gradually comes to the surface. Jim is full of youthful exuberance, a whirlwind in Sam's quiet routine, but it is an emotional ruse to hide or deny his true feelings.

Ironically Jim needs the stability of the work with the horses in order to move forward, while his return seems to push Sam deeper into the past. There is also bitter irony in that what Sam wanted most in his life but couldn't have, Jim achieves by accident and doesn't really appreciate or not initially at least.

Continue reading "Review: Moving on from the past in Weald, Finborough Theatre" »