57 posts categorized "Young Vic" Feed

"Alas he is mad" - How Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, scared me

Hamlet_1470x690_version_3REVIEW (contains potential spoilers) In 2011 Michael Sheen played Hamlet as the inmate of a mental hospital at the Young Vic hallucinating ghosts and prone to ranting and raving. Since then we've had a string of comparatively sane Hamlets, that is until now. The big difference in Robert Icke's approach, compared to Ian Rickson's, is in the process of the decline, the gradual loss of faculty.

The pomp and ceremony of court have been stripped away much like the Royal Exchange production which starred Maxine Peake. This is a modern royal family with modern, minimalist Scandi decor within their ancient castle - you get glimpses of the stone corridors via security cameras. Indeed the security cameras and the occasional appearance of suit and ear-piece wearing heavy are one of the few concessions to the fact that this is a royal family. The politics and threats of war are kept to TV news reports (in Danish with subtitles)

It is a loving family too, relaxed and at home in each others company or at least the extended family unit is. Ophelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a daddy's girl and Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) is genial and tactile, you get the sense that Laertes (Luke Thompson) and Ophelia are like a much loved nephew and niece. They sit relaxed on a sofa together just like any other family. After Gertrude and Claudius's (Angus Wright) wedding party, the newly weds are drunk and giggly and roll around lustfully. And, while Hamlet (Andrew Scott) is the quietly grieving and melancholy son, when he and Ophelia are alone there appears to be a genuine love or at least affection between them.

Under Robert Icke's direction there is back story in every gesture, touch and look in these opening scenes which makes the betrayals, hurts and horrors to come all the more stark. It is also a perfect back drop against which Hamlet and Ophelia can lose their minds. And this is what sets this production apart. Andrew Scott's delicate soul Hamlet is slowly pulled apart by grief, the weight of revelation about his father's death and the way his uncle and Polonius (Peter Wight) try to manipulate him.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream stuck in the mud at the Young Vic

AMNDREVIEW It's about 20 minutes into Joe Hill-Gibbin's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Young Vic and I'm starting to wonder if the set designer and wardrobe department have fallen out. The entire stage is a thick mud pit and a lot of the cast is wearing white or pale colours.

At first I thought the theme was going to be 'damp summer music festival' as there were wellies and summer skirts and the odd rucksack but no, it wasn't that. Some of the cast certainly weren't dressed for a festival, more for an evening in the city and most quickly dispensed with wellies and shoes anyway.

There wasn't any reference to the mud, not even comic, it was just there and you couldn't ignore it because the actors couldn't walk (or run) in it normally. It was tiring watching them. OK so they could face plant without injury; which was funny the first time. A little bit the second time but after that...

Then about half way through the two hour running time I started to worry that this was just a convoluted way of having some mud wrestling. There was a lot of rolling around in the dirt and the fights between the four lovers got more physical but fortunately it didn't properly go there. It makes you think 'yuk', or 'that must cold and horrible' or 'a bugger to wash out'. It doesn't make you think about the play.

The silver lining of the production were the mechanicals and Puck. Leo Bill's shirt-less, pot-bellied Bottom in skinny jeans with tights on his head was a beacon of sunny mirth as were the rest of the troupe. Aaron Heffernan's Thisbe was a masterclass in acting bad acting and Lloyd Hutchinson's Puck had an amusing disdain for proceedings throughout.

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Review: Sparkling fun and Harry Enfield in Once In A Lifetime, Young Vic Theatre

OIAL_326This time of year needs a bit of fun and sparkle from theatreland and the Young Vic's Once In A Lifetime fits the bill perfectly.

The story is about an artistic gold rush; Hollywood's first ever talking motion picture is a massive hit and there is a scramble to produce more. The problem is that Hollywood's actors are silent movie stars not used to speaking on camera. Down on their luck variety performers Jerry (Kevin Bishop), May (Claudie Blakley) and nice but dim George (John Marquez) spy a business opportunity and jump on a cross-country train to California to set up a speech school.

On the way they meet celebrity gossip columnist Helen Hobart (Lucy Cohu) whom they wheedle into helping them with an introduction to movie mogul Herman Glogaur (Harry Enfield).

Cue what is part farce, part satire on theatre and Hollywood types who look down on each other and where guile rather than talent, luck rather than intelligence gets you ahead. It is a shallow, glamourous and opulent world full of champagne and sequins (mainly on Lucy Cohu's amazing dresses) where there are so many egos and administrative layers that it swallows people (and money) up.

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Review: Trade, Young Vic

FA705385_942longThree different women, an idyllic Caribbean resort and one man that binds them. Debbie Tucker Green's play examines ideas of feminism, sex and power.

There is a young woman (Ayesha Antoine) who's saved up for a holiday with her friends, an older woman (Jo Martin) who is a repeat visitor and a local (Sharon Duncan Brewster) who earns money braiding tourists' hair on the beach. Each thinks they are better than the other - savvy and independent; each feels they are the master of their own destiny, make their own decisions and have choices.

The women talk, laugh, argue, at times allied and at others alienated in commonalities and differences of belief and experience.  But gradually, over the course of 60 minutes their ideas  and feelings of independence are challenged.

Debbie Tucker Green's sharp script uses a mixture of natural dialogue with something more stylised where the lines are short, sometimes just words, delivered in quick succession switching swiftly between each of the protagonists. Certain lines are repeated like a musical refrain that hangs in the air. Its effect is powerful melting the woman's individuality and differences into something more homogeneous - a collective of differences.

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Review: The Nest, Young Vic

326x326nestMarried couple Martha (Caoilfhionn Dunne) and Kurt (Laurence Kinlan) live in a bedsit and are expecting a baby. Kurt works long hours determined to provide everything their child will need. Their life is ordinary, their conversations are ordinary and their hopes and dreams are ordinary until Kurt takes on one job that has consequences he couldn't have foreseen.

Conor McPherson has translated Franz Xaver Kroetz play setting it in Ireland and adding in enough colloquial dialogue for it to feel comfortably at home. Ian Rickson directs in a style that allows the script to breath with much of the communication between the couple coming through body language. The problem is that the play doesn't feel meaty enough to quite support this pace of performance.

Everything plods along smoothly for Martha and Kurt for what seems a long time. It is interesting for a while discerning the dynamics of their relationship - from their planning for the baby, the impact it has on their every day life and how they perceive parenting - but after a while it feels a little sluggish.

There is one particularly dynamic and dramatic scene which is brilliantly performed by Laurence Kinlan and it is blackly funny but it isn't quite enough to lift the play. The Nest has two great performances but it is a play that feels like it just drifts along and I'm not sure I'll remember it in a few weeks time.

It is one hour and 45 minutes long without an interval and I'm giving it an OK three stars. It runs at the Young Vic Theatre until Nov 26.


Review: The uplifting A Man of Good Hope, Young Vic

AMOGH326OK so I've seen The Three Penny Opera this year and now musical/opera A Man of Good Hope. What's going on? Don't worry you won't be reading my reviews of Wicked or The Lion King any time soon. I was drawn to A Man of Good Hope partly because of the story and partly because of Isango Ensemble. Isango has adapted Jonny Steinberg's book about a refuge's journey across Africa.

Four actors play Somali Asad through his life - two men, a woman and child actor Phielo Makitle (who shares the role with Siphosethu Juta). The play starts with an adult Asad talking to writer Jonny Steinberg while keeping one eye nervously on the look out for gangs we then go back to his childhood home in Somalia and the events that led to his 8-year old self becoming a refugee.

It is a story of violence, rejection and loneliness but it is also a story of ingenuity, resourcefulness, hard work - and hope. Using a mixture of African choral music and classical European opera it doesn't shy away from the harsh reality of life as a refuge or politics but it nonetheless remains an uplifting story. The danger with this sort of subject matter is to be didactic, to try to manipulate the audience but A Man Of Good Hope is subtly thought-provoking as well as entertaining*.

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Another knock out performance from Billie Piper in Yerma, Young Vic

Yerma-Sq326REVIEW: There was an occasional drip of water onto the stage during Yerma. It was a leak rather than part of the staging, an indicator of what was to come - the drip being to rain what a gun prop is to a gun shot. And, inadvertently, it was an appropriate omen for a play about a woman who wants children but whose difficulty in conceiving leads her down a dark and stormy path.

This is a contemporary version of Lorca's 1930's play by Australian Simon Stone who also directs. The subject matter transfers really well to the 21st century - in fact there is arguably more to explore around the topic given that IVF is now an option and couples can have tests to find out if there are fertility problems.

Stone's production is also contemporary. He puts the actors in a glass oblong like they are specimens trapped between pieces of glass for the audience to examine. The play is divided up into chapters with a black out for the very clever scene changes.

Billie Piper plays the protagonist - although she is never referred to by name - with Australian actor Brendan Cowell as her husband 'John'. They are a liberal, middle-class hipster couple. He does something which involves jetting off to client meetings and she's a journalist with a successful lifestyle blog. They buy a big house in a dodgy neighbourhood and she wants to fill it with a couple of kids.

They have the sort of relationship where they talk openly with each other about sex, teasing each other about their preferences. It is an openness and honesty that gets challenged and tested as she gets more desperate to have children. Turning to her blog to talk about her feelings adds to the strain on their relationship as does her sister (Charlotte Randle) getting pregnant and the arrival of an ex-lover. It adds layers of tension as she grows ever more frustrated with her and John's inability to conceive.

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Review: Mental illness, ethics and ethnicity in Blue/Orange, Young Vic

326x326BOThe last time I had to venture back stage, through an extension of the set, to get to my seat at the Young Vic was when Michael Sheen played Hamlet. This time it is for Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange - is it a coincidence that both are set in institutions? Tables and chairs are askew and abandoned from a earlier story to which we weren't party. The only other clues are segments of oranges, peeled and left, perhaps thrown, perhaps dropped.

Christopher (Daniel Kaluuya) is a day away from release from a mental hospital. He thinks his father is Idi Amin and oranges are blue. He's ready to go home but his doctor Bruce Flaherty (Luke Norris) doesn't think he is. He suspects, rather than suffering from delusions and paranoia he is actually schizophrenic and isn't ready to cope on his own. He wants more time to properly diagnose Christopher. He asks his supervisor Dr Robert Smith (David Haig) for his opinion but Smith just wants a bed free.

This three-hander is a tense and darkly funny piece. Flaherty is young, scrupulous and idealistic. Smith is concerned only with promotion, status and maintaining the status quo. Battle lines are drawn with Christopher in the middle.

It is a play about mental health and how we treat those suffering but it is also about ethics and ethnicity, idealism versus reality. Smith is fiercely ambitious doing anything to protect his career path while Smith is unflinchingly righteous in his pursuit of doing his job.

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Review: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Young Vic (and the Cleansed comparison)

Enews569x364There are parallels between Sarah Kane's Cleansed which is currently playing at the National Theatre and Anna Ryan's adaptation of Eimer McBride's novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing at the Young Vic. I didn't immediately see them but watching the latter reminded me of one of the problems with the former.

Both are very personal stories. I wrote in my review of Cleansed that I felt like a voyeur of someone else's emotional pain but ultimately felt detached from it. A Girl... is a monologue, a stream of consciousness about the life of a girl, her relationship with her family and men as she grows up. You can't be anywhere but with her through the good and the bad times - Aoife Duffin's performance is utterly compelling and holds you transfixed.

It's not a pretty story, it's a very difficult story to watch unfold at times in fact, but instead of using scenes of torture to represent the grim, darker sides of human emotion, as Cleansed does, A Girl's... simple storytelling relies just on Aoife Duffin's performance. She pulls you into the story; there is a connection, a bond, Aoife Duffin disappears and becomes the woman of the story. You witness the horrors she feels, the injustice, the fun and grief.

At times you want to hug her, comfort her, defend her, at times you want to scream at her and shake her. It is an often bleak story, explicit and unflinching but it doesn't push you away. Her struggles, reactions and emotions are not shrouded in the abstract as Cleansed is but instead a sort of poetry. There is a stark lyricism to it.

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That was my year of theatre-going 2015: The StOlivier awards

89050759_9b7a9cb884_mThere are awards and then there are the StOliviers...

I'm only human award: This goes to Ben Whishaw who, during the Iliad live reading, mispronounced a name did a delightful giggle at his mistake before slipping straight back into character and carrying on. You can see the reading here (roughly 26 mins in for the giggle).

Best food fight: Cast of Rules for Living, National Theatre, who not only managed to mess up the stage but trod and smeared mashed potato into the carpet and on the drapes at all the exits from the Dorfman stage.

Scariest prop: For Carman Disruption at the Almeida I was sat on the front row not far from the life-sized, prone but visibly breathing bull. It was so realistic it freaked me a little bit. If it had moved its head or a leg you wouldn't have have seen me for dust.

Most accident prone production: Ah Wilderness! Young Vic. Props went flying and actors fell over, I wrote a post about it.

I didn't know you had that in you surprise performance award: Lots of surprises this year Tom Sturridge in American Buffalo, David Dawson in The Dazzled but the award goes Johnny Flynn in Hangmen for a performance that meant the first two words I said to Poly after the curtain call were 'Johnny Flynn' to which she replied 'I know'.

The bloody play of the year: The single stream of blood slowly rolling down the stage towards the audience at the end of  Macbeth, Young Vic, was great but the bloody highlight goes to the Almeida's Oresteia. Agamemnon is murdered and his spilled blood slowly seeps out in a growing pool from beneath his corpse.

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