Review: Precision and poise in Compagnie XY's #ItsNotYetMidnight, Roundhouse

Compagnie XY's It's Not Yet Midnight... (courtesy of David Levene) 5
Compagnie XY's It's Not Yet Midnight...Photo courtesy of David Levene

There is a group of 20 or so people on stage. The men are dressed in shirts and trousers, some with braces or waistcoats. Women similarly in shirts some with school girl style skirts or trousers. A push and shove breaks out building into full blown brawl.

All you can hear is the sound of their exerted breath and the slap of limbs or bodies hitting the stage. It looks quite vicious, frenetic but for the acrobatic flourishes which add incongruous moments of something more balletic.

It is dizzying to watch and a mere teaser for what is to come from French acrobatic troupe Compagnie XY's new show It's Not Yet Midnight. From here you are taken on a breathtaking journey of strength, poise, precision and co-ordination.

There are startling set pieces - double human height huddles that rotate, slowly collapse and then 'grow' again and then scenes where there are a multitude of feats being enacted on stage at the same time. Some of them are small no doubt looking much easier to do than they actually are - two people 'dancing' on the shoulders of one person, which you really have to see to fully appreciate, for example.

The pace quickens and slows, quickens and slows like heart beat, sometimes there is music, sometimes not, sometimes there are dance sequences or moments of comedy but all the time the stage oozes atmosphere.

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Coming soon: My picks from London's fringe theatre

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The Gap in the Light, New Diorama

Feel I should apologise as I've been a bit lax in publishing my fringe theatre picks for the last couple of months (blame the day job). Anyway to remedy that, here are a handful of forthcoming productions that look interesting.

Globalisation When work knows no borders, what's the cost? Alexandra Badea's explosive drama The Pulverised is a portrait of globalisation’s far-reaching grip on our working lives. A quality assurance officer from France, a call centre manager from Senegal, a factory worker from China, and an engineer from Romania - in four corners of the world, they are all engaged in one struggle: the multinational conglomerate they work for is trying to engulf their every waking moment. Arcola Theatre, Dalston - 3.30/8pm start, 90 minutes.

19th Century feminist icon Award-winning journalist Paul Mason's debut play The Divine Chaos of Starry Things is based on the memoirs of 19th century French feminist Louise Michel. The production examines the agony of the defeat and exile of the Parisian women revolutionaries deported to the remote Pacific island of New Caledonia, their depression and isolation upon arrival and loss of hope as dreams of escape fade and a new reality descends. White Bear Theatre, Kennington, 25 April to 20 May, 3pm/4pm/7.30pm.

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Review: Nina Raine's funny, sharp and intelligent Consent, National Theatre

Consent-2160x2160Playwright Nina Raine's previous plays have tackled social integration in the deaf community and the NHS, in Consent she takes on justice and the notion of consent.

At the centre of the play is a rape case which two lawyer friends are working on - Edward (Ben Chaplin) is defending and Tim (Pip Carter) is prosecuting. However, this isn't a courtroom drama, instead it focuses on how the case challenges and resonates through the relationships of Edward, Tim and their circle of friends.

Edward and Kitty (Anna Maxwell Martin) have just had their first baby and Edward wants another but Kitty isn't keen. There are tensions in Jake (Adam James) and Rachel's (Priyanga Burford) marriage as Rachel suspects he is having an affair and bit-part actress Zara (Daisy Haggard) is desperate for a baby but can't seem to find the right man - could the slightly dull Tim be the perfect match?

Gayle (Heather Craney), the victim in the rape trial lives a world away from the privileged friends but her case raises questions of how justice is best served. Is cold objectivity best or should the process allow for some empathy? It is far more complex than it initially seems. On the one hand an emotional detachment seems to be the fairest approach but, when the barristers cross examination technique is dissected, it reveals it to be a game of cold intellectual chess, more about winning than perhaps what is morally right.

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Rehearsal photos and irresistible prospect of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui with Lenny Henry, Donmar Warehouse

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is the play in the Donmar's current season I'm most excited to see. Why? Well, Lenny Henry was one of the iconic TV stars of my childhood. I grew up with Tiswas (which my mum hated us watching), Three of a Kind, the Comic Strip and the Lenny Henry Show and it's been six years since I last saw him on stage in A Comedy of Errors at the National.

So there is that. But it's also the play. It's a brutal satire which I've seen given such a wide variety of treatments including a version with puppets by Marmite director Katie Mitchell at Hampstead Theatre and Cheek By Jowl's bonkers French dinner party at the Barbican. What will the Donmar do? I suspect it won't be quite as radical as those two productions but nonetheless?

At the very least it feels like a wholly appropriate time to have a production of this play about the abuse of power.  It's a new translation by Bruce Norris - the king of uncomfortable laughs with plays such as Clybourne Park - and set in prohibition era Chicago. I'm expecting something powerful, that doesn't hold it's punches and I feel like I need to see some theatre like that.  So fingers crossed for when I get to see it later this month.

 

 


That was March in London theatre land - and a bumper crop of thesp spots

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Keith Stevenson in Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre (c) Erika Boxler

* The Almeida's excellent production of Hamlet starring Andrew Scott is transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End in June.

* And...not to take away from Hamlet's success but putting the tickets on sale at midnight, on a Saturday for Almeida members was an odd decision not least because, if Twitter is anything to go by, there were glitches with the ATG Tickets website and apparently no customer services/tech support available to sort it at that time of night.

* One of my favourite plays of 2016 - Rotterdam - is transferring to Broadway. OK, so not technically London theatre but it was such a great play and production I’m really pleased to see it doing well.

* Back in London and fringe plays doing well, the excellent Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, which I saw at the White Bear back in January is transferring to Trafalgar Studios 2 in May. Yep, I will be seeing it again because I liked it that much.

* Stan-Fav Simon Stephens is adapting The Seagull (one of the only Chekhov plays I actually like) for a production at the Lyric Hammersmith starring Lesley Sharp in the Autumn.

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Review: Contemporary tragedy in Custody, Ovalhouse

Custody (courtesy Lidia Crisafulli) 7
Custody (courtesy Lidia Crisafulli)

Custody is a play about the impact of a contemporary tragedy. Brian - brother, lover and son - is killed in police custody and as his family fight for justice they also fight to come to terms with his death in their own way.

The play's inventive opening has the four actors taking a policeman's seemingly innocent description of the events of Brian's death, breaking them down into repeated words and phrases so that they take on an ironic power and brutality of their own. 

Then we head back to the evening of the tragedy painting a picture of Brian and family life. It is jovial with friendly joshing, warmth and amusing motherly reprimands. This is interwoven with Brian's final hours, the cast of four taking it in turns to play him so that the sketches gradually reveal the full horrific picture.

The action then moves to the aftermath. Sister's (Kiké Brimah) energy and grief is channelled into the fight to bring the policemen responsible to justice. Brother (Urbain Hayo) becomes resentful and distant, rudderless and careless in his pursuits.  Lover and fiancée (Sacharissa Claxton) can't move on and feels not only the loss of Brian but also the loss of the family network as they close ranks. And Mother (Karlina Grace-Paseda) is haunted by the memory of her son, which challenges her faith and her mental stability in a way that reminded me a little of Hamlet/Ophelia.

The injustice and tragedy of Brian's death is played out in those close to him more than in the actual legal proceedings although verdict announcements  are nicely timed to generate maximum anticipation and tension.

While the play never manages to fully recapture the power and heft of the opening scenes it is nonetheless an interesting dissection of human grief in awfully tragic circumstances.  Cleverly and skilfully told in a mixture of styles I'm giving it four stars. It's 80 minutes long and it at Ovalhouse in Oval until April 8.

 


Review: Lost in Business Translation in Chinglish, Park Theatre

Chinglish - Lobo Chan  Candy Ma  Windson Liong and Gyuri Sarossy  (courtesy Richard Davenport for The Other Richard)
Chinglish - Lobo Chan Candy Ma Windson Liong and Gyuri Sarossy Photo courtesy of Richard Davenport for The Other Richard

Remember the film Lost in Translation when an ageing actor played by Bill Murray is given badly translated instructions from a Japanese director? David Henry Hwang's play Chinglish plays out a similar scenario but with an American business man Daniel Cavanaugh (Gyuri Sarossy) trying to navigate a business deal in China for his Cleveland-based signage company.

The play opens with Daniel giving a talk on how to do business in China, three years after trying to secure that first deal. He illustrates his key point about taking your own translator by showing a series of signs that have been amusingly mistranslated. The narrative then takes us back to the time of the deal when Daniel has enlisted the help of 'business consultant' Peter (Duncan Harte) who has been living in China for several years and whom can help him navigate the business culture. In China, Peter tells Daniel, building a relationship with potential business partners is key.

And so we get an interesting and often amusing study on not just the differences in doing businesses but also relationships both of which are often cleverly illustrated through bad translation. The initial business meeting sets the tone with Peter acting as Daniel's translator and Miss Qian (Siu-see Hung) amusingly out of her depth as the translator for Cai Guoliang (Lobo Chan) and Xi Yan (Candy Ma) with whom Daniel is trying to do the deal. We see the accurate translation in subtitles above the stage while Miss Qian gives her own version. It is slickly done.

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Review: Tweeting, taking photos and the audience on stage, it's the Roman Tragedies experience, Barbican Theatre

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Roman Tragedies, Barbican: About to begin and a warning

Last year's King's of War, at four and half hours long, was just a warm up for Ivo Van Hove's Roman Tragedies in which Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra have been simmered down to a six hour single play. But this isn't just six hours of Shakespeare in Dutch (with English subtitles) Van Hove has taken the notion of a theatre 'experience' (read: long or multiple plays in one day) and then broken the taboos of theatre-going.

Phone off during the performance? Oh no, tweeting and taking pictures is actively encouraged. The traditional 15-20 minute interval has been replaced with a series of 3-5 min scene changes - the voice of an MC tells you how long until the next one. Not that it matters, you can pop out to stretch your legs or take a comfort break whenever you like.

After the first scene change you can change seats or even opt to find somewhere to perch on stage if you wish. There isn't on-stage seating - this production has made that passé - you just find a chair or sofa or something else that is part of the set. There's even a café/bar counter towards the wings where you can purchase a drink or a snack to enjoy during the performance.

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Roman Tragedies, Barbican: Spot @weez and @naomi_jw centre stage

Because the Barbican stage is so big and the set made up of different areas Van Hove once again uses camera's to beam close ups of the actors on a large screen above the stage so you never miss a thing. Once the audience is invited up they become part of the spectacle their reactions and concentration caught in the close ups. It raised a few laughs at times. 

All this serves to put Roman Tragedies firmly on the awards list for 'theatre experience of the year' and for very good reason. It is an experience and one you'll never forget. While it's not necessarily a production to see to get the nuances of the individual plays - there are periods where it starts to wash over you somewhat - you do, however, get a good sense of the narrative and dramatic tensions. And in allowing the audience on stage it serves to demonstrate how public politics and political life is.

It is a production with a handful of really memorable scenes (and moments of startling performance) rather than a whole. Hans Kesting, who was superb as Richard III in King's of War, in this plays Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra and pretty much steels the show. He got a spontaneous round of applause at one point.

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Review: David Tennant is the smutty Don Juan In Soho, Wyndhams Theatre

379395_770_previewI've seen David Tennant play Shakespeare's leads Hamlet, Richard II and Benedick and he's brilliant but I've had a hankering to see him in something more contemporary on stage. Step forward Patrick Marber's Don Juan In Soho, a modern tale of debauched hedonism based loosely on Moliere's Don Juan.

If it was a deliberate move of David Tennant's part to choose a stage project that contrasted with his classical roles then he has succeeded in part at least but I'll come onto that.

Don Juan isn't a play that is going to worry the grey matter, instead is an entertaining romp through 48 hours in the life of the titular character who is the estranged son of a lord. He lives for pleasure and in particular pleasure of the flesh with his trusted, if often reluctant, chauffeur/butler Stan (Adrian Scarborough) to clear up after him. There is nothing too sordid or morally reprehensible that Don Juan won't consider; he doesn't love, he lusts turning on the charm and saying whatever is necessary to get what he wants.

Stan tells us right from the start that he isn't a very nice person and Don Juan's behaviour quickly proves the point and yet when he is doing his worst deeds it doesn't feel shocking, or really that bad. And I'm not sure if this is because David Tennant has too much charm or if that is how the character is drawn. I've heard of some people not returning at the interval but I didn't find anything in the play remotely shocking and I have to confess I was very slightly disappointed by that.

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Review: Young, gay and in love in Run, The Bunker

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Tom Ross-Williams as Yonni in Run, The Bunker

Jewish teenager Yonni's eyes meet Adam's and they are planets circling each other, perfect orbits, in sync. It's as if their relationship is written in the stars.

Against a back drop of growing anti-Semitism outside Yonni's north London community and potential homophobia within it Stephen Laughton's play Run examines young love. Delivered as a monologue by Tom Ross-Williams we follow the blossoming relationship with its ups and downs, discoveries, fun and drama. Stephen Laughton has a keen eye not just for domestic detail but also how first love feels for Yonni something which is reflected in the mixture of vernacular and poetic imagery in the script.

There is humour in Yonni's innocence and intense moments when time seems to stop which all serve to beautifully capture this love story and the growing tensions in the teenager's world.

Tom Ross-Williams' performance is one of innocent joy and the energy of youth indeed he seems to positively glow as if with new found feelings. He has you rooting for Yonni, smiling with him and worrying for him. There are some slightly clunky segments movement but otherwise the story slides easily from episode to episode painting a vivid picture of this first love. 

It's a lovely, simple piece of theatre that is both funny and at times moving and I'm giving it four stars. It's 70 minutes long without an interval and is at the The Bunker in Borough until 1 April.