3 short theatre reviews: The 'meh', the bored and the interval exit

Regular theatre-going is a bit like surfing, sometimes you catch the wave and it carries you exhilarated into shore, sometimes you wipe out only to surface bedraggled and nonplussed. The past week or so has definitely been the latter.

The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre - the 'meh'

Lehman trilogy sign national theatreSimon Russell Beale, Adam Godfrey and the lovely Ben Miles play all the roles - male and female - in the story of the Lehman Brothers.

The brothers arrive in America in the 1850s and we follow them from rags to riches as their family business evolves from cotton retail to investment banking over three generations.

The collapse of Lehmans bank in 2008 - by this stage no longer a family business - is well-trodden ground and as such is virtually a footnote in this play which might be part of the problem because it looms on the horizon throughout.

Grand performances from SRB et al including some amusing gender swaps which are done with a change of demeanour and expression rather than costume, wig and makeup.

The stage revolves with a series of glass-walled offices, a video backdrop adds context and later is used to give the impression of the set rising.

But despite the performances - with live piano accompaniment - and the slick staging I couldn't help asking whether this story genuinely deserved such a grand production - and a lengthy play.

Yes there is an interesting evolution of attitudes towards commerce and making money and contrast between the brothers but is it a unique story, are there others more worthy of telling?

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Edinburgh Fringe interview: Director Madelaine Moore on bloody unlikeable female characters in play Ladykiller

Director Madelaine Moore talks about Ladykiller, its charmingly murderous female lead, preparing for the Fringe and what she's looking forward to seeing. And writer Madeline Gould pops in to talk about creating murderous characters.

Madelaine MooreWhy is Ladykiller a must see at this year's Edinburgh Fringe?

Ladykiller really is unlike any character you have seen on stage before. She is unlikeable. She says and does all the things you might fantasise about doing when someone wrongs you, but wouldn't dare... mainly because they would mostly be illegal.

She's a character who toes the line between victim and perpetrator with such saucy alacrity.

She manages to charm the pants off you while covered in blood up to her elbows, and with a dead body at her feet.

At previews as well as loud guffaws we've had a woman mime a tiny fist pump while quietly hissing "YESSSS!" and another who would not (could not) look at Hannah (McClean who plays 'Her') throughout the show.

My favourite audience quote so far has been, "so dark it was like a beautiful black hole."

With that darkness, we wanted to push the boundaries, because for us it was really about answering the question, how much is too much? It's going to be very interesting to see how audiences answer that! 

Writer Madeline Gould is described as having a knowledge of serial killers, women in crime and all things generally gruesome which is 'second to none’ - dare we ask how come?

So Maddie, and me to a certain extent, both have a fascination with people who kill; serial killers in particular.

I used to have a collection of books about serial killers that lived next to my bed until I realised it might look a bit weird to anyone who made it in that far, so I got rid of them. But Maddie is a voracious reader, podcast fan and researcher so she's really gone in. 

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Review: End of the Pier, Park Theatre - not the sum of all its parts

Danny Robins new play End of the Pier is at times very funny, it touches on some important issues but I'm not sure it fully does them justice and here's why.

Les Dennis & Blake Harrison (l-r) in End of the Pier at Park Theatre. Photo by Simon Annand 0216
Les Dennis & Blake Harrison (l-r) in End of the Pier at Park Theatre. Photo by Simon Annand

First a bit about the play. It's set in Blackpool where former 80s comic and household name Bobby (Les Dennis) gets by on pantomimes and summer seasons having fallen spectacularly from grace.

His son Mike (Blake Harrison) is a successful comedian and about to record a second TV series. His fiancé Jenna (Tala Gouveia) is high up in the BBC and expecting their first child.

Mike turns up on father's doorstep looking for help after an incident at his stag do threatens his career.

The play explores changing attitudes to comedy, what is cruel and discriminatory and what is a joke.

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Edinburgh Fringe interview: Su Pollard on her fringe debut and what she wants to see while she's there

Su Pollard will be making her Edinburgh Fringe debut starring in Harpy, a play written especially for her by Fringe-first winner Philip Meeks.

Su_Pollard-hary-edinburgh-fringeIn this preview interview, she talks about playing Birdie, a woman ostracised by her neighbours because of her hoarding, embarking on her first fringe and what she wants to see when she isn't performing.

How does it feel to have a play specially commissioned for you?
 
When I first met the playwright Philip Meeks about three years ago he said he was going to write something for me.  

I don’t think either of us thought much more about it until Suzanna Rosenthal suggested it because we knew each other.  

I’ve often been asked to go to Edinburgh but I’ve either been busy with other shows or the right play hasn’t been sent my way.  

What’s fantastic about this is I’ve been there from the start and Philip’s told me about every stage of his thinking and the writing process.  I feel as if I’ve really helped to create the role.

What was it about Birdie that made you want to play her?
 
Because she’s a woman of my age with a story to tell and believe me when you hit your sixties the great parts become few and far between.  

As soon as Philip said her story was about her hoarding the whole concept of hoarding seemed to be everywhere. In the papers, on the telly, I had friends admitting to suffering from it.

I realised it’s a phenomenon that people are fascinated by and it’s a dilemma people are facing increasingly because of the times we’re living in.  

So Birdie's story is very real and relevant and touches many people.

Her story also touches on the idea of mental health and how we all probably suffer from it. But what makes society decide who’s mad and who’s not these days when all our values and ideas seem to be getting eroded away on a daily basis.
 

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A Monster Calls, Old Vic - the hardest review I've written

If the interaction between Conor and the Monster is wrong it could damage the integrity of the story, diminish its impact.

Reviews can be hard to write for many reasons. Sometimes you might struggle to find the right words or worry about not doing justice to something you thought was really good.

0ld-vic-a-monster-calls

But this review of A Monster Calls at the Old Vic is the hardest review I've had to write because the subject matter of the play touches on raw nerves.

*Potential plot spoiler alert*

When the book by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd came out a close friend, knowing I'm a fan of Ness's writing, advised against reading it for a while because my Mum had very recently died.

It wasn't sudden, my Mum was ill and we knew she was going to die. It was the same with my Dad a few years earlier.  Saying goodbye on those occasions is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

In many ways, I was lucky losing my parents when I'd already had a good chunk of my life with them, unlike Conor, the protagonist of A Monster Calls, who is 13-years-old and dealing with a seriously sick mother.

Emotional triggers

But there is still a lot in his story that triggers painful emotional memories.

When I did finally read the book two years later it reduced me to a sobbing wreck. I saw it as a sign of a great adaptation when the film had a similar effect.

Some might say I'm a glutton for punishment going to see the film (and now the stage adaptation) but I see it as cathartic. It is cathartic.

A successful adaptation?

Still, I was nervous about how successful the stage adaptation would be.

The story is a modern fable blending fantasy and reality and has a walking, talking tree as a central character.

If the interaction between Conor and the Monster is wrong it could damage the integrity of the story, diminish its impact.

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Review: East End vernacular meets Shakespeare to create a revealing lyricism in Flesh and Bone, Soho Theatre

Its rich lyricism is matched by an angry energy but also a sense of love, loyalty and camaraderie.

Elliot Warren and Olivia Brady in Flesh and Bone  credit of Owen Baker
Elliot Warren and Olivia Brady in Flesh and Bone. Photo: Owen Baker

Flesh and Bone is an everyday tale of 'oi oi savaloy' East End working classes but told with a revealing Shakespearean lyricism.

It opens with 'What a piece of work is a man' but then uncouples from Hamlet's speech to talk about power, greed, love, hate, lust and fear.

Clever writing

Words like 'maketh' and 'coinage' mix with 'rock and roll' giving it the feel of something that is both familiar, contemporary and yet of another time. This is the cleverness of Elliot Warren's writing. 

Warren delivers the speech as Terrence, one of those lads we'll discover who reacts with his fists a little bit too quickly. He is a wide boy and the antithesis of the sage, considered poetry he speaks or is he?

 

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London theatre June highlights: Game of Thrones stars tread the boards and a bumper crop of celeb spots

June was a big month for new production and casting announcements, here are the ones that caught my eye including two Game of Thrones actors heading to the stage.

• Angela Carter novel Wise Children has been adapted for the stage by Emma Rice for the Old Vic Autumn Season. Rice will also direct and previews start on October 8.

Kit Harington Doctor Faustus
Kit Harington previously appeared in the bloody Doctor Faustus and is set to star in True West.

 

• After Donmar's The Way of the World at the Donmar earlier this year, there is more restoration comedy to look forward to, this time William Congreve's play The Double Dealer which opens at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond on December 7.

• And talking of the Donmar, Michael Longhurst has been announced as the replacement to Josie O'Rourke as artistic director. He takes over in March 2019.

• Hollywood star Cate Blanchett is going to be treading the boards at the National Theatre with Stephen Dillane. Yay. What is tempering my excitement is it's a Martin Crimp play with a pretentious title and directed by marmite director Katie Mitchell. So torn about whether to see this one.

• Game of Thrones' Jon Snow aka Kit Harington is following up his turn in the bloody Doctor Faustus starring in Sam Shepherd's True West with Johnny Flynn at the Vaudeville Theatre. Previews from November 23. 

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Underbelly review: Sassy, cheeky and playful Circa's Peepshow - sweet dreams are made of this

You leave feeling like you've experienced something like a strange but comforting dream; sweet, sassy and definitely sparkling with spectacle.

Underbelly Circa Peep Show Production the other richard
Circa's Peepshow, photo by The Other Richard

A combination of dance tumbles and seemingly impossible acrobatics Circa's Peepshow has more about it than just human daring, physical ability and skill.

Moments akin to an interpretative movement piece suggest - at different times - metamorphosis, mechanical breakdown or something from natural the world.

Sometimes an individual, sometimes performed collectively like one organic mass, interweaving the dance-like movements with small but impressive physical feats that might build to something quite spectacular that has the audience astonished.

Sassy and sexy

Throughout the show is injected with a sassiness, a sexiness but also something that is cheeky, playful and innocent.

The pace varies. There are beautiful gliding movements forming static shapes that feel at home in the natural world but incongruous with the human body that is creating them.

Faster piece exudes muscular energy often coupled with an almost bolshy rough and tumble, bodies hitting the stage with such crashes as to draw sharp intakes of breath from those watching.

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Advice for a first time Edinburgh Fringe reviewer

In more than a decade of blogging about theatre, I've never been to the Edinburgh Fringe but that is changing this year.

I'm going with the Network of Independent Critics for a week and I'm stupidly excited and slightly overwhelmed already - all tactical and survival advice gratefully received.

My main focus for the festival is intersectional theatre - plays not musicals - and I'm looking to do some preview interviews in the run up.

If you have a production that might fit the bill and are open to reviewers, do get in touch via Email Me which is just below 'About' in the right-hand column.

via GIPHY


Review: RSC's Imperium I: Conspirator & Imperium II: Dictator, Gielgud Theatre or has Trump parody become a cliché?

This is in many ways a polished production but with most of the action set away from the battle fields it does start to feel like you are a spectator at a very long chess game.

According to chat in the toilet queue, when Boris Johnson came to see Imperium he commented to a member of staff that he'd come to see real politicians - or words to that effect. (Edit 10/7: Did the play inspire his recent metaphorical stabbing of Theresa May in the back?)

9-RSCs-IMPERIUM-Part-I-Conspirator-in-the-West-End-Credit-Manuel-Harlan
Richard McCabe and Peter De Jersey in the RSC's Imperium, Gielgud Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Given what unfolds in Imperium I: Conspirator and Imperium II: Dictator namely the deplorable display of ego and power lust it doesn't feel like it contrasts too greatly with the current UK political landscape. 

Technically two stand-alone plays, Conspirator and Dictator tell the story of Cicero (Richard McCabe) a lawyer turned politician during the rise and fall of Julius Caesar (Peter de Jersey).

Running gags

There are running gags and a continuity of characters with narrative arcs that thread through the two plays so I'm not sure how Dictator would stand up if you saw it in isolation.

Based on Robert Harris' Cicero novels, the story is told by Tiro (a charming Joseph Kloska) Cicero's sensible assistant and biographer.

He breaks the fourth wall drawing you along with amusing observations and recaps.

Conspirator follows Cicero's rise against all the odds. He is from a relatively humble background compared to his political peers but is clever, quick thinking and a skilled orator.

His wife Terentia (Siobhan Redmond) is wealthy and supports his ambitions.

Noble aims

He is a family man, dotes on his daughter Tullia (Jade Croot) and wants to ensure democracy endures and is corruption-free.

Noble aims but challenging in an environment where power and status are everything and money can easily sway.

Julius Caesar appears to be a man of the people but Cicero sees through him, sees his dangerous hunger for ultimate power.

Chess-like battle

A political battle to stop his rise ensues,  a chess-like game of moves and counter moves always trying to stay one step ahead of each other.

Cicero teeters on the edge of righteous bore, blinkered by his goals and past successes but by the end of Conspirator he has failed to stop Caesar and past decisions come back to haunt him. 

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