26 posts categorized "Outside London" Feed

Review: Hidden passions and audience reactions in Desire Under the Elms, Sheffield Crucible

Casting-Announced-for-Desire-Under-The-ElmsThere was one of those audible audience reaction moments during Desire Under The Elms. I'm not talking about laughter, I'm talking about a sharp intake of breath, even a few 'oh's' around the auditorium.

I haven't seen many Eugene O'Neill plays but all those I've seen seem to expose the pure, often blind, power of certain human emotions. He pops the lid of the shaken soda bottle and Desire Under The Elms is no exception as the audience response demonstrates.

It's a farm setting, mud stage with wheat crop at the back, a water pump, pieces of farm equipments and then at various points pieces of furniture - a table, a bed etc are brought on.  Eben (Michael Shea) and his older half brothers have been left to work their father Ephraim's (Matthew Kelly) farm as he has disappeared. There is no love lost between the siblings and also with their father. The older brothers want to leave, head west to the gold fields to make their fortune while Eben wants to take control of the farm believing it is rightly his as it belonged to his late mother.

We hear a lot about Ephraim  from the brothers and it heightens the expectation of his inevitable arrival. When he does arrive he has a new young wife Abbie (Aoife Duffin) in tow. He walks slowly with a slight stoop, looks frail but he is anything but. He soon puts Eben in his place, the animosity towards him from his children is well deserved, this is not a loving father rather one that would rather burn the farm to the ground than leave it to his wastrel sons.

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Review: RSC's gender swap Salome, Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon

Salome-production-photos_-June-2017_2017_Photo-by-Isaac-James-_c_-RSC_220811-e1497002267411This is my first Salome and my first Salome had a man - Matthew Tennyson - playing the titular character. The decision does raise the question of why give over lead female part to a man - it's not like there are a plethora of meaty lead roles for woman. Having not seen a woman play Salome I can't judge what the decision adds or detracts, other than the fact that it immediately pushes the play towards being about a broader spectrum of gender.

It is a sexually charged production that feels like the characters have just stepped away from a Bacchanalian orgy, the residual revelry and lust hanging in the air, the stage lit like an after hours club. A male singer stalks in leather hot pants and bondage-like straps. The male dominated court of King Herod (Matthew Pidgeon) is suited but with ties long discarded and top buttons undone. The soldiers wear white vests showing off their muscular arms even the prophet Iokanaan (Gavin Fowler), when he escapes from his cell beneath the stage, wears nothing but tight underwear.

Matthew Tennyson's Salome, dressed in a body skimming satin slip and high heels is at times feminine and masculine, chaste and flirtatious, victim and vengeful. There is no mistaking the impact s/he has on her step father Herod, there is carnal desire written all over his face when he looks at him/her. It is alarming to watch. Even at his/her most masculine there is a delicacy to Matthew Tennyson's Salome that makes his/her situation feel dangerous. 

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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.

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Review: James Graham's The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace Theatre

Paines Plough's production of The Angry Brigade, photo by Richard Davenport

Harry Melling's police chief is vigorously swirling a biscuit in his cup of tea. It is small act of rebellion from a man who's wife, he tells his colleague, doesn't like him 'dunking' and marks one end of the spectrum of rebellion that is explored in The Angry Brigade.

The title of James Graham's new play refers to a real life group who in 1971 were Britain's answer to Germany's Baader Meinhof and France's 1st of May guerrilla groups. It was a period of youth-led discontent with bombing campaigns and protests about authority, class divide and capitalism. 

Graham says he was inspired by the ignited passions to protest seen in more recent years, a stark contrast to the apathy of his 30-something generation when they were at University. Passion for a cause is something that shines through on both sides of the narrative.

The first act follows the police investigation into a spate of bombings of political figures, public buildings and retailers. The police are at first baffled by the anonymity of the group calling themselves The Angry Brigade and it becomes a cat and mouse game to identify them.

In the second half the story is seen through the eyes of The Angry Brigade themselves as they set up operations from a flat in Stoke Newington.

Despite exploring events of more than 40 years ago you can't help draw parallels with contemporary issues. It is a depressing undertone but one that doesn't resonate fully until after the play is over.

Graham and director James Grieve take you on a journey that is laced with humour, fun and inventiveness. The police may represent order and law but the biscuit dunking is just the start. Those tasked with investigating The Angry Brigade are encouraged to forget the usual rules of workplace formality, banter and teasing ensues.

On Twitter I asked Graham if the playful humour in the first half was an act of rebellion in itself to which he replied: "Humour as a weapon has always intrigued me. Certainly think it shows resistance to expectations/the status quo..."

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Review: Maxine Peake is Hamlet at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

Katie West and Maxine Peake in rehearsals for Hamlet at the Royal Exchange

This production will be remembered not just for Maxine Peake's superb youthful take on the Dane but for being the first Hamlet I've seen to really feel like a family drama.

There are few servants and no Fortinbras and the threat of war so that courtly life and politics feel peripheral. Sarah Francom's production focuses instead on the family politics: a remarriage and an uncle with a hell of a skeleton in the closet.

Peake, with partially shaved hair and androgynous look made Hamlet nervous, youthful and full of petulant energy that worried and exacerbated his parents. Gertrude (Barbara Marten) looked like a mother torn between her new husband and troubled son.

*Warning of production spoilers*

And Peake's Hamlet was certainly troubled. It's the first time in a while I've seen a Hamlet that felt like the Prince was genuinely on the verge of breakdown, barely keeping it together. To this end the To be or not to be speech was moved to much later in the play, just after the closet scene (and the interval) giving it added despair after what was an angry and fear-driven murder.

Having a Polonia (Gillian Bevan) rather than a Polonius was also an inspired choice. Hamlet has murdered a woman, a mother. Then there is the mother/daughter tension between Polonia and Ophelia (Katie West). It's something very different to that between father/daughter.

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Review: Mike Bartlett's An Intervention, Watford Palace Theatre

Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth in Mike Bartlett's An Intervention

It must be a rarity to see two new plays by the same writer within the space of 10 days. Mike Bartlett has been busy.

An Intervention is a co-production with Watford Palace Theatre and Paines Plough and sees Bartlett return to more simple story-telling of his Cock (tee hee, cannot resist). Rachael Stirling and John Hollingworth play best friends A and B whose friendship is tested to breaking point.

A is a passionate anti-war protester and B thinks intervention is better in the long run. But the argument that sparks a break down of their friendship is only a mask for what is really going on. A likes to drink. A lot. She is the life and soul of the party, always full of energy, witty and fun and that is her life. B, however, sees a different future for himself. He's got a new girlfriend (whom A hates) who has opened the door to a different lifestyle.

Bartlett puts friendship under a magnifying glass and examines what it means. When is it right to intervene, when should you stay quiet and at what point do you throw in the towel?

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Review: Arcadia, Bristol Tobacco Factory

Piers Wehner as Septimus in Arcadia, Bristol Tobacco Factory

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is one of @polyg's favourites, she particularly likes the maths and science in it. Unfortunately for me that is what turns me off. Maths was horrible for me at school and my ignorance on the subject means that chunks of the play just don't connect.

It's not that I don't appreciate the skill and craft of Stoppard's work, it's just that talk of maths is like listening to a foreign language I've only just mastered the pleasantries for. Fortunately Arcadia has much more to it.

Set in the same house but in two different periods, around 180 years apart, the characters of the modern time set about unravelling what happened in the house during the earlier period.

In 1809 Septimus (Piers Wehner) is tutor to the maths obsessed Thomasina (Hannah Lee), in love with her mother (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and having an affair with a married woman who's husband Ezra Chater (Vincenzo Pellegrino) has just found out.

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Review: Simon Stephen's Blindsided, Manchester Royal Exchange

Katie West and Andrew Sheridan in Blindsided. Photo by Kevin Cummins

Simon Stephen's writes specifically for the space at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, something I missed in seeing Port at the Lyttleton theatre just over a year ago.

The Royal Exchange, if you haven't been, is theatre in the round - a type of space most directors seem to shy away from Stephens commented on in a Q&A. It makes for an intimate and exciting performance space the actors appearing from different places and as an audience member you feel like you are leaning in to see something secret that is hidden from the outside world.

Like Port, Stephens has a young female protagonist, in this case 17-year old Cathy (Katie West) who has a young baby. She is studying one A-level in history, has a part time job and her mum Susan (Julie Hesmondhalgh) helps her out with 'little Ruthie'.

Then she meets John (Andrew Sheridan) a trainee accountant with a sideline in burglary. He charms and is charmed by Cathy and their relationship moves fast. Susan doesn't trust John and his flattery, call it gut instinct or experience but she sees through him.

But while John's faults and misdemeanors might make suitable fodder for a play itself it is the effect he has on Cathy and that is the surprise, particularly as it isn't what you'd think.

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Review: Denise Welch and Keith Allen star in Smack Family Robinson but Harry Melling shines

Keith_Allen_and_Denise_Welch_-_Smack_Family_Robinson_-_credit_Jason_KelvinThe Robinson's have a nice house and a comfortable life in suburban Kingston, the fruit of years growing the family's drug dealing business.

Dad Gavin (Keith Allen) has retired leaving son Sean (Harry Melling) to run things. Mum Cath (Denise Welch) has a little florist shop which is used to launder the drugs money. Eldest son Robert (Matthew Wilson) helps out as Sean's driver and muscle.

It is a family that is both functional and dis-functional; a family where loyalty is of paramount importance but in which they follow their own sort of twisted moral code and house rules. For example, such rules dictate that cooking up a hit of heroin is only wrong if you do it in the living room rather than in the kitchen with the fan going.

It is a family that revels in its criminal past and present while perversely believing it upholds some sort criminal code of conduct, a sort of honesty amongst drug dealers. The one exception being daughter Cora (Kate Lamb) who just wants to pass her catering qualifications and get a regular job.

Richard Bean's 2003 play - which has be relocated to Kingston especially for its run at the Rose Theatre - is like a BBC sit com with c-words and serious crime and it kind of works if you don't think about it too much. There is a perverse charm to the Robinson family, a voyeuristic intrigue in seeing they operates behind closed doors, which helps because you do need to root for them in some small way.

There are some great lines and plenty of laugh out loud moments. However, the ease with which violence is discussed and meted out rankles a little alongside the more innocent, obvious humour.

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Chuckling at the Tobacco Factory's Cherry Orchard

TimthumbI don't remember ever chuckling at The Cherry Orchard quite like I did at the Tobacco Factory Theatre on Thursday. Director Andrew Hilton has teased out the wit in Chekhov's play of posh folk with money troubles, cranking up the melodrama and throwing in some physical humour to boot. 

It not only gives the play a lighter touch - in a good way - but makes it all the more entertaining and engaging for it.

The Cherry Orchard isn't a favourite play of mine, as I've mentioned before here, and my irritation with the central characters' inaction remains but in making their deportment so ridiculous it heightens the sense of futility that is at the heart of their behaviour. There is also a warmth in their behaviour you suspect that, deep down, they are aware of their silliness and foibles but it binds them together.

Julia Hills' Ranevskaya has a charm that makes you believe her Paris apartment would be crowded with gentlemen callers and Simon Armstrong's Lopakhin is shrewd but not cold and portrays a genuine warmth and affection for Ranevskaya and her family.

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