222 posts categorized "RS/BW - 6DS" Feed

Review: John Heffernan is Macbeth at the Young Vic but he isn't dancing

Macbeth, Young Vic. Photo Richard Hubert Smith

The last Macbeth I saw was on the big screen and starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. It was a powerful, visual, period piece; muscular, bloody and muddy with the Scottish Highlands rain-lashed sweeping landscapes as its back drop.

Fast forward to the Young Vic's current production, directed by Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin, and it couldn't contrast more. This is contemporary setting for starters. The walls of the stark set narrow towards the back of the stage to form a door sized entry point. A segment about two thirds back slides to one side taking with it members of the cast and bringing on others as if everything is slotting into place or being ordered and filed. There are hidden doors everywhere.

In the opening battle the soldiers are dressed to look like a cross between military personnel and crime scene investigators. Rather than dying on the end of a sword, victims are suffocated with plastic bags before having their throats cut. The bodies, wrapped in plastic and gaffer tape, are piled up to be logged by a clip-board wielding official.

The three witches appear dressed in flesh coloured leotards, faces bare of make up. They twitch,  jerk, tremble and shake in an almost inhuman dance. Are they what is hidden in Macbeth's soul, his darkest thoughts, the naked truth?

It is easy to diagnose Fassbender's Macbeth with what we now know as post traumatic stress but for John Heffernan's murderous Scot there is something slightly more unhinged. Lady Macbeth, a strong, cool and elegant Anna Maxwell Martin, points him firmly in the direction of the path towards his perceived destiny but it is Macbeth who runs careering down it.  And in the background the witches lurk.

There are parties for the King, old and new and more dance, a combination of synchronised pulse and fluidity, it is ordered chaos with Macbeth often in the middle of it. But Macbeth isn't dancing, except perhaps in his mind with an agony of purpose that makes you feel sorry for him. In the quieter moments, where it is his conscience and ambitious desire raging, Heffernan speaks with a clarity and comprehension that makes him equal parts scary and pitiable. What you get a sense of is a haunting desperation, perhaps a cognisance of the destructive path he is on but incapable of turning away from.

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Review: You For Me For You, Royal Court upstairs

You For Me For You-Royal Court Upstairs-1198
Wendy Kweh and Katie Leung, You For Me For You, Royal Court. Photo Tristram Kenton

Who doesn't harbour a little curiosity for what life is like in North Korea? Mia Chung's play hints rather than shows, feeling sometimes like Alice through the looking glass crossed with Kafka - or maybe that is what it feels like?

Hunger is a feature - there were empathetic stomach rumblings from the woman sat next to me - the play opens with sisters Minhee (Wendy Kweh) and Junhee (Katie Leung) arguing over who should eat the meagre meal that's been prepared. Minhee is ill and therefore Junhee says she should eat it. Junhee works long hours so Minhee says she should have it. Their polite insistence is almost infuriating. It is Junhee who finally relents or rather is tricked by her sister into eating the food. It is symbolic for what later happens when the siblings decide to try and flee their homeland.

Minhee can't quite let go of the ideals of North Korea, that if you work hard enough everything will be OK. She gets left behind, sort of falls down the rabbit hole, where she goes on a mental journey through her tragic life, encountering absurd bureaucracy, musical rice and frog-like soldiers.

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Review: Anne-Marie Duff and Louise Brealey in the grimy epic Husbands and Sons, National Theatre

Husbands-And-Sons-posterWhy do one DH Lawrence play when you can do three? Ben Power has combined The Daughter-in-Law, A Collier's Friday Night and The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd into one, three-hour play.

Staged with the audience on four sides of the oblong Dorfman space at the National Theatre, there are three wall-less house set ups with a path weaving between them recreating the feel of a village. Two are positioned so that when the inhabitants 'go upstairs' they disappear up the steps between the audience. It's a simple idea that works well.

To get around the fact that those sat on the shorter sides of the oblong stage are much nearer to one household and not another, the audience swaps seats at the interval moving to those diagonally opposite.

The setting is a mining village in the East Midlands and the women of the three households are all married to miners. Anne-Marie Duff plays Mrs Holroyd whose husband Charlie (Martin Marquez) is drunk, abusive and brings home women he's picked up at the pub. Blackmore, an educated man and electrician at the pit has feelings for her.

Louise Brealey plays Minnie, a women who has married Luther (Joe Armstrong) a man who is below her in social standing and financial status. (Great to see them working together again following on from Constellations earlier this year). There is friction between husband and wife with Minnie struggling to adjust to life in the pit village and Luther resentful of the money she has. It is Luther's brother Joe (Matthew Barker) who tries to placate the couple, he still lives at home but harbours an ambition to seek a new life in Australia.

Julia Ford is another Mrs who has married beneath her and has grown distant from her course and verbally brutish husband. Instead she dotes on her student son Ernest (Johnny Gibbon) but he is growing independent, and forging an attachment with a girl his mother dislikes.

In combining the three plays you get a heightened sense of the tragic elements of these women's lives, the entrapment of marriage in a patriarchal society, regret of a wrong choice, repressed emotion and sense of duty. It is understandable that affections become refocused on their children, an affection that can be smothering and destructive in itself. There are shades of DH Lawrence's novels, particularly Sons and Lovers.

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Review: Bertie Carvel is The Hairy Ape, Old Vic Theatre

The-hairy-ape-rehearsal-images-photos-the-old-vic-theatreSaw Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape for the first time three years ago at the Southwark Playhouse. That was a fairly straightforward production that used the small performance space brilliantly to recreate the cramped, noisy, hot belly of an ocean going liner’s engine room.

Really loved the play, the story of a man whose sense of place in the world is challenged and shattered in just the briefest of incidents.

On the vast Old Vic stage – now returned to its traditional proscenium arch layout -  the confines of the engine room is recreated using what looks a bit like a ship packing container. It is painted yellow and there is a barred door on one side giving it a cage-like feel.

The stokers are kicking back with a beer, sweaty and smeared in coal dust, testosterone levels are high. Every now and again you get a sense of the ship lurching with the swell as the men stagger in unison.

Yank (Bertie Carvel) sits slightly apart from the group but is listening, occasionally interjecting. It quickly becomes obvious that he holds some power, some authority over the other men. He can cut off the start of a song with a whip-like command that cracks through the room.

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Hangmen review or how Johnny Flynn stole the show

590x494.fitandcropJohnny Flynn. Actor, musician; I've always had a bit of a soft spot. He's never had the breadth of roles of some of my favourite actors, often playing likeable, quiet, awkward types, but he's got a certain charm on stage. So plaudits for him and casting director Amy Ball who saw Mooney in Martin McDonagh's Hangmen in him.

Mooney is a southerner who walks into the life of  Harry (David Morrissey), Britain's second best hangman, who's from Oldham. He turns up in Harry's wife's pub where the locals take a bit of dislike to what they perceive as strange 'southern' ways but Harry's wife and daughter are charmed.

It is the genius of Martin McDonagh's writing, brought to life by Flynn, that Mooney is an enigma, just as you think you've got him sussed he does something to cast doubts in your mind. McDonagh rubs it in your face, has Mooney discussing the degrees by which he is weird, whether he is creepy or scary. It works beautifully, you sit up and take notice when he's on the stage, you want him on the stage so you can laugh and be a little bit uncomfortable at the same time.

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Review: Tom Hughes is on death row in Ticking, Trafalgar Studios

Niamh Cusack and Tom Hughes in Ticking, Trafalgar Studios. Photo by Bronwen Sharp

My second execution-themed play of the week (Measure for Measure was the first) was a tense and emotional affair.

It's set in a far eastern prison where Simon (Tom Hughes) is visited by his parents (Niamh Cusack and Anthony Head) on the evening of his execution. He's waiting to hear whether he has had a last minute reprieve from the firing squad.

Trafalgar Studios bijou theatre 2 is simply set up as prison waiting room. Institutional, grubby, there is a wooden bench and a chair and a guard always on view. A small hole in a frosted glass and barred window gives Simon a view of the gathered press and crowds outside the prison.

Simon swings from terrified, to resigned, to resentful and it is into this heady mix of heightened emotions he has what could be his last conversation with his mum and dad. Something is eating at him; something has eaten into his relationship with his dad, something that might just get vomited up at this crucial hour. Facing death his life, and that of his parents, come under the spotlight.

Tom Hughes's Simon is at times a brattish, spoilt, entitled, stretching your levels of sympathy. He can be cruel and cutting but also funny, vulnerable and ultimately tragic.

It is Niamh Cusack who really pulls at your heart strings, the mother being ripped to emotional bits and desperately trying, and sometimes failing, to keep it together. The small performance space and proximity to the actors intensifies the emotions as the clock ticks towards Simon's fate. You feel like you are locked in the prison with him.

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Review: the smutty, energetic and chaotic Measure for Measure, Young Vic theatre

M4M_pressThe Duke (Zubin Varla) is telling the audience of his plans to leave Angelo (Paul Ready) in charge of Vienna in the hope that he will clean things up. Behind him is a huge pile of blow up dolls, which the citizen's of Vienna have just been throwing around, the phallus on one of male dolls just to the left of the Duke waggles distractingly. This is Measure for Measure Young Vic style.

It is a strange play that has elements that are often difficult to reconcile in a modern context - the Duke claiming Isabella (Romola Garai) for his bride when she has just been nearly raped and blackmailed by Angelo.

The Cheek By Jowl Russian version at the Barbican earlier this year was sexy, brutal and had an air of danger. Joe Hill-Gibbin's production is by contrast smutty, energetic and occasionally chaotic.

The stage is divided into two with the rear separated by a wooden screen which has both a door through which characters enter and exit but also slides away to reveal a large space. The to-ing and fro-ing between the two spaces can get a bit chaotic at times and the pace is such that some familiarity with the story is helpful.

Often when the screen is in place a live camera feed projects images of what is going on out of view. The rear space in the main represents the prison where Angelo has locked up the many that have broken his strict laws including Isabella's brother Claudio (Ivanno Jeremiah). It is where all the blow up dolls end up with Pompey amusingly using them to represent prisoners at one point.

Startling close ups of actors faces are projected onto the back wall sometimes as a live back drop to other things that are happening at the front of the stage. But for all the close ups this production lacks some deeper emotion. Garai's Isabella is impassioned but her interactions with her supposedly much loved brother are distant. It makes for an anticlimatic final reveal when she discovers Claudio is actually alive.

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Review: Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King from the back of the stage and a bit of unscripted drama


Love on stage seating; up close to the action, often there is no view quite like it. So when a batch of on stage tickets were released for Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York's for £30 a pop I snapped up a pair.

Now the seating plan didn't really prepare us for where we would be sitting - which was good and bad. Ours were two of eight seats on the musicians balcony above the back of the stage accessed via the back stage area. Squeezed on a cushioned bench, lean back too far and you'd fall on a musician. They are a chatty bunch while waiting to perform.

Getting a quick peek back stage is also fun, particularly when Mark Rylance says 'hello' as you return to your seat before the second half. You also get to hear the mechanics of the performance, bits of set being moved around and the stage manager speaking to Rylance when the performance was stopped. Yes, second time this year I've been at a play when this happened.

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Review: Simon Stephens' elegiac A Song From Far Away, Young Vic

SongFromFarAway_326x326When the lights came up in the auditorium at the end of A Song From Far Away, all I could say to Poly was 'fuck'. It's not a bad thing, far from it. It was a symptom of how Simon Stephens' new play left me feeling emotionally fragile and struggling to articulate just how it made me feel.

Talking to Simon Stephens afterwards (she writes casually like it wasn't a big thing when it was a massive thing) he described it as a sketch and was worried that as a result it wasn't powerful enough. It's what gave it power for me: it's a haunting, emotional ghost of a story about a man whose life is haunted, who is himself a metaphorical ghost living a hollow, disconnected, gossamer existence.

Eelco Smits plays Willem who buys and sells things for a bank in New York. During a Sunday work meeting he gets a phone call from his mum to say his brother Pauli is dead and he needs to come home to Amsterdam.

The story of his journey home, facing what he left behind many years earlier and dealing with the emotional carnage of bereavement is told in a series of letters he writes to Pauli. There are hints of Willem's past and his relationships but when everyone is grieving can anyone be deemed a reliable narrator?

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Review: Rob Brydon and other starry names in Future Conditional at the Old Vic

PosterMatthew Warchus' tenure as artistic director at the Old Vic kicks off with a new comedy about education and has a cast of many. Rob Brydon is the star name being touted on marketing material but in reality this is an ensemble piece.

Tamsin Oglesby's Future Conditional is essentially three plays in one, each with a separate cast, the action swapping between the stories with only two characters crossing over (one seen and one referred to).

In Brydon's segment he plays a teacher at a secondary school telling the story in a series of conversations with his class but for the most part you have to imagine what the pupils are saying because you only hear his side.

Through the teachers eyes we see some of the challenges of the classroom. Juggling the ultra bright and eager to learn Pakistani refugee Alia (Nikki Patel) with the disruptive Jordan who's got problems at home.

It is skillfully written and performed so that it is not just Brydon's physical and verbal reactions that are funny but also the imagined comments from the kids.

And while Brydon is no doubt a draw, for me at least the excitement mainly came from seeing Ben Lloyd-Hughes (see additional 6DS below). He features in a segment set around a Government think tank which is supposed to be advising on educational policy.

The group is a mixture of people from different backgrounds, state and private education with Joshua Maguire (another Stan fav) playing an Oxbridge graduate and ex-Etonian. The debate here is about equality in education and how you maximise the potential of children from poorer backgrounds so that they are on an level playing field with those from affluent backgrounds.

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