97 posts categorized "Royal Court" Feed

My favourite plays of 2017...so far #midyearreview #theatre

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2017 is already the year that brought us Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman and my introduction to playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and it's only six months in. There are a further nine plays I couldn't not include in my 'best of so far' list and that was with the bar set very high. I've still got Angels in America, Ben Whishaw in Against, Rory Kinnear in Young Marx and the awarding winning Oslo to come later this year, among many others potential theatre treats - the end of year list is already looking tricky to narrow down.

Anyway, here's what I've enjoyed the most in 2017 so far. Feel free to agree/disagree...

(In no particular order, because that would be too traumatic to do.)

1. Amadeus, National Theatre  This was supposed to be a 2016 play but I gave up my ticket for the early part of the run because of work pressures, good words from @PolyG made me rebook for January and I'm so glad I did. It was a play that unexpectedly floored me. It's returning next year and yes I've got a ticket.

2. Out Their On Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Fringe theatre kicked off in fine style with this brilliantly warm, funny, odd, dark, misfit comedy that was the antidote to everything disturbing that was going on the world at the time. It transferred to Trafalgar Studios 2 and I got to enjoy it all over again.

3. Hamlet, Almeida  I've seen a lot of Hamlet's and there is usually something new in each but Andrew Scott's prince in Robert Icke's production made me look at the play with completely new eyes. Sorry Sherlock but this was a battle that Moriarty definitely won. It's transferred to the West End.

4. An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre  Was tipped off about American playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and this is the first of his plays I've seen. It's a play I could write reams and reams about and reminded me why I love going to the theatre. Gloria, another of his plays is currently on at Hampstead Theatre, it didn't quite make this list but it is still really good.

5. Rotterdam, Arts Theatre  This was in my 'best of' list last year but after a stint off Broadway it's come back to London to the bigger Arts Theatre. It made me laugh, it made me gasp and it made me cry - all that even though I've seen it before and knew exactly what was coming. That's why it's back on the list. It's on until 15 July.

6. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic  It's possibly the only Tom Stoppard play I really like and this was a great production that was lively, entertaining, profound and melancholic . There was a brilliant rapport between the two leads - Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire - and David Haig as The Player was worth the ticket price alone.

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That was May in London theatre-land - casting, transfers, an anniversary and another bumper crop of thesp spots

600Gloria_FINAL_landscapeSmall* Stan fav Colin Morgan has been cast with Game of Thrones’ Ellie Kendrick in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre which just happens to be my newest favourite playwright. So lots of excitement for that. Gloria will also be a 10 year theatre anniversary for me and Colin. I first saw him (and mentally tipped him as one to watch) when he played the lead in Vernon God Little at the Young Vic in 2007.

* Keeping up the Game of Thrones thesp count in London’s theatre land is Natalie Dormer who’s been cast with David Oakes in Venus in Furs at Theatre Royal Haymarket from October.

* Colm Meaney joins Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Apollo Theatre which opens in July.

* Arthur Darvill of Broadchurch fame has been cast in Hir at Bush Theatre which opens on June 15.

* James Graham (This House) has a new political comedy, Labour of Love, coming to the Noel Coward Theatre in September starring Martin Freeman and Sarah Lancashire.

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Review: Family fun, friction and fear in Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, Royal Court

FERRYMAN_Feb17_RoyalCourt_2500x1000-900x600Jez Butterworth's last play, The River, I described as the 'difficult second album' after the stellar success of Jerusalem - obviously it wasn't his second play but you know what I was getting at. I also, with an inadvertent sense of premonition described it as 'palate cleanser before the next big course'. The Ferryman is certainly that big course and not just because it's 3 hours and 15 minutes long and has a cast of 22 (including a baby) but because it is a delicious feast of a play.

The Carney family live on a farm, it's summer and they are about to get the harvest in. It's a happy time, a time of celebration where everyone comes together, working hard during the day, revelling in the evenings. It is a time of traditions that has birthed happy memories for the three generations of the family. But this is 1981 Northern Ireland, hunger strikers are dying in the Maze and the Good Friday agreement is still 17 years away. The spectre of The Troubles looms large and not just in the memories of past events. 

Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) is head of the family and father of seven children with his sickly wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly). Quinn's sister in law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) and son Oisin (Rob Malone) also live at the farm as does his Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy), a fervent Nationalist, his gentle, story-telling Uncle Patrick (Des McAleer) and dementia-riddled Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan) who has brief moments of lucid recollection described by the family as 'visits'.

What Jez Butterworth has written is a piece rich in personality, humour, passion, tension, politics and history and director Sam Mendes has taken a brilliant script and cast and turned it into a superb  tragi-comedy thriller.

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Review: Nuclear War, Royal Court - or plays and plots

379322_770_previewI'm a huge fan of Simon Stephens but I'm not a huge fan of this particular piece of work. His plays can be poetic and lyrical but in Nuclear War he's forged into new territory, collaborating with movement director Imogen Knight for a piece in which the dialogue is interpreted by movement. The result is a 45 minute piece of abstract and odd ideas and abstract and odd dialogue around a woman venturing outside her home.

Watching it was the mental equivalent of chasing the tail of a kite as it swoops through the air, desperately trying to grasp some meaning or coherence or understanding or even just feel something about what was going on in front of me. It's described on the Royal Court website as a 'series of suggestions on desire, death and time' but I'm not sure which of those three, eating oranges through a pair of tights would actually fall under.

The Guardian's two star review online has a handful of comments one of which says: "Film and TV are generally expected to have a plot. Theatre gets a free pass. Even as someone who loves theatre, I've never understood why." And I must admit that I agree. I don't want to be spoon fed - some TV and film is terrible for 'Basil Exposition' - and I'm all for metaphor and symbolism, being challenged and interpretation but I do want a little bit of something, a piece of tail to grasp.

Recently I saw Nina Raine's new play Consent at the National Theatre and to put it simply, it was an interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking story really well told and its been a while since a new piece of theatre successfully ticked all those boxes. It reminded me of why I go to the theatre and what I enjoy about theatre. Nuclear War made me think about what I could have been doing instead. It left me unmoved and grateful it was only 45 minutes long. I'm giving it one star.

 


That was August in London Theatre-land (with a late addition)

9383745446_a248156e8f_zAugust always used to be a quiet month for theatre; it was as if everyone decamped to Edinburgh for the fringe. But even though the Royal Court still shuts up shop, elsewhere it just seems to get busier and busier. There is more fringe - and not just pre-Edinburgh shows - and more productions opening at the bigger theatres. As a result I ended up seeing 12 plays and yes I know there are people that see more than that each month but it's above my average.

* The 'hold the front page' story for the month (and possibly the year) was the announcement of funds to be made available to theatres to improve the ladies toilets. There is general under provision in the older theatres which means long queues and they are often so cramped and badly designed you have to be child-sized to get in and out the cubicles.

* The month was also notable for having only one steamy theatre watching experience and by that I mean the 'joy' of sitting in a non-air conditioned theatre on a hot summer evening with sweat trickling down your back while feeling sorry for the actors because at least you can wear shorts and T-Shirt. Yep thanks to Found III for that one.

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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.


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: 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: 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.

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