57 posts categorized "Young Vic" 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: 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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Theatre hottie of the month: September

I knew pretty much from the first week of September when I saw A Song From Far Away at the Young Vic that Eelco Smits would be my hottie of the month. I wasn't wrong. He's very talented.

Eelco Smits in A Song From Far Away © JAN VERSWEYVELD

Theatre hottie catch up just in case you've missed one:

January's theatre hottie 

February's theatre hottie

March's theatre hottie

April's theatre hottie

May's theatre hottie

June's theatre hottie

July's theatre hottie

August's theatre hottie



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: Rory K is Joseph K on the nightmare travellator in The Trial, Young Vic

The_Trial_FINAL_326X326I've only read one Franz Kafka novel and that was purely to impress my then boyfriend who said it was his favourite book. I didn't find it a page turner.

Fast forward a few years and the Gate Theatre put on a play called Joseph K based on Kafka's The Trial. Didn't much enjoy that either mainly because I didn't really understand it.

So, why go and see another stage version of the same novel? Well, there are two reasons. First: it is at the Young Vic which is one of the most exciting and innovative theatres in London and has had a pretty good run of outstanding productions recently. Second: Rory Kinnear. Have long been a fan of his work, even before he wore eye-liner in Last of the Haussmans and then gave an award-winning Iago in Othello.

In The Trial Rory K is playing Josef K and perhaps it's the years that have rolled by since that first Kafka read and the eclectic range of theatre I've watched since the Gate but my appreciation and understanding was far greater this time. Me and Kafka got on much better but that isn't to say I'm now a huge fan.

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Props and an actor go flying in Ah, Wilderness!, Young Vic

Ah-wilderness-007 Ashley Zhangazha and George MacKay in Ah, Wilderness! Photo: Tristram Kenton

Always feel for actors when they've got an awkward stage set to move around. I mean is it not enough for them to have to remember their lines, their cues, the props and act all at the same time? Sloping stages always have me worrying for their ankles but sandy stages, well that's just a recipe for problems. 

Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic has a sandy stage and the first time I saw it there were a few stumbles and wobbles. Last night Janie Dee properly fell over as she was trying to make her exit. The rest of the cast were, of course, pro's with George MacKay's 'Richard' calling out a concerned 'mom' while going to help her.

There was no limping or signs of injury at the curtain call so lets hope that means she was OK. But it wasn't the only mishap in last night's performance. The props seem to take on a life of their own.

In the opening scene Richard and his brother Arthur (Ashley Zhangazha) argue over a book that happened to have a pen clipped to its cover. In the tug of war over the book the pen went flying and nearly hit a man sat on the front row in the face.

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Review: Who'd have thought Eugene O'Neill could be charming and funny - Ah, Wilderness! Young Vic

Ah_Wilderness_326x326The last time I saw Dominic Rowan stumbling on sand was in the Donmar's production of Berenice. This time in Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic his character Sid not only has a sandy stage to contend with but also a bit of a drink problem which makes him unsteady on his feet.

Sid drinks to hide the hurt of rejection from Lily (Susannah Wise); Lily turns down his marriage proposals because he drinks and gambles. It's a vicious circle. But Sid and Lily's is a secondary love story to that of Richard's (George MacKay).

Eugene O'Neill's play is set in the early 1900's Richard is Lily's 16-year-old nephew and Ah, Wilderness! is his coming of age story. He's intelligent and alarms his mother (Janie Dee) by reading Oscar Wilde, Ibsen and Strindberg which she deems unsuitable and inappropriate. He rebels in a bookish way quoting lines of poetry and literature but most importantly he is in the throws of his first love with a girl called Muriel.

The action is set over the course of a sunny Independence weekend by the sea where the family is gathered for celebrations. Richard's mother (Janie Dee) is trying to organise the July 4th dinner, encourage her husband Nat (Martin Marquez) and Sid not to get too drunk and her youngest son is running around setting off fire crackers. And then there is Muriel's father who is on the war path having found Richard's love letters to his daughter.

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Review: Has the Young Vic produced a version of The Cherry Orchard I can finally appreciate?

Kate Duchene and Dominic Rowan in The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic

My two regular readers will know I have a difficult time with Chekhov and in particular The Cherry Orchard. I keep plugging away in the hope that something will click, that it will feel funny and tragic rather than a long, frustrating, philosophical whinge.

It's a slow burn, I'm starting to realise, but the Young Vic may have just ignited a couple more branches.

This version is by Simon Stephens and directed by Katie Mitchell. It's a trim 2 hours straight through and that plays its part. It feels fast paced, characters rushing across the stage - a more traditional proscenium style for the Young Vic - as if time is spinning faster towards the inevitable end.

The frenetic energy contrasts with Madame Ranevskaya (Kate Duchene) mental stasis. And it was that which played the biggest part.

Never before have I been able to connect with Ranevskaya, the lady of the house and owner of the Cherry Orchard. She has always seemed a bit too silly and ridiculous. I've wanted to yell at her 'just sell the bloody Cherry Orchard'. Lopakhin (Dominic Rowan) does actually yell at her to do just that which was a satisfying moment. It made me smile.

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Review: Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster in A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster in A Streetcar Named Desire. Production photo by Johan Persson

Australian director Benedict Andrews burst onto London's theatre scene two years ago with his avant garde production of Chekhov's three sisters - there was a mound of mud and a slowly disappearing stage made up of small square tables. It divided opinion - I loved it flaws and all - so some may approach his production of a Streetcar Named Desire with trepidation.

There is no mud this time but Stella (Vanessa Kirby) and Stanley's (Ben Foster) two room apartment is positioned on a revolve in the centre of the auditorium. As the play begins so does the revolve giving you an ever changing view of the actors.

You have to work to follow the action as sometimes parts of the set slowly obscure what is going on - there are no best seats - but the effect is like emotional voyeurism. The sense of being 'an audience' is heightened but an audience that shouldn't really be watching this domestic drama unfold, you are a rubber-necker passing an emotional car wreck.

It can feel frustrating to begin with as you miss some of the close ups (intrigued by how this is going to be filmed for NT Live) but the performances punch through and that is the power of this play. It is muscular and tense, dripping in emotions and desires both complex and base. From Stanley's first up/down assessment of Blanche's (Gillian Anderson) assets to Stella's raw and guttural sobs at the end.

Anderson's Blanche is trapped in world which is a mixture of her past life and her own fantasy. Her tailored and showy clothes and manners at odds with the urban, earthy Kowalski home where she has sought sanctuary. She regresses as the play progresses to a time of her youth, of flouncy prom dresses and tiaras. In some ways reminded it me of the character Miss Haversham in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (a part she has played on screen opposite Kirby as Estella) a brittle and fragile soul destroyed by one devastating act.

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Review: The Valley of Astonishment at the Young Vic

Valley_326The human brain comes under dramatic scrutiny for the second time this year. Where Nick Payne's Incognito examined the sense of self this looks at memory and people with a condition called synaesthesia.

Directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, it's based on real neurological experiments on synaesthetes who's sensory pathways work in union.  For example when they see letters they become images or sounds become colours.

Kathryn Hunter plays Sammy Costas who can easily memorise lists of random words or numbers with the aid of her synaethesia.

The format feels like a dramatic lecture. It is full of interesting information but whereas Incognito had its feet firmly in the drama camp with a rooted narrative and human experience, this feels like a lecture with bits acted out.

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