Review: Hamlet, Bristol Old Vic (live recording for cinema release) - angry Hamlet is a prince of action

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Hamlet, starring Billy Howle, a live recording from Bristol Old Vic

The fat has been cut from this Bristol Old Vic production of Hamlet, leaving the meat of the play. There is no Fortinbras subplot, the ghost and player scenes are stripped to the bare essentials.

It's a minimalist, stark modern set, just doors and a staircase - although the way it is filmed, you don't get to appreciate it in perhaps the same way you would watching it at the theatre. What you do get is the close-ups of the actors.

The only face you don't see is the ghost which is an interesting choice; Hamlet (Billy Howle) doesn't doubt for a second this cloaked, hooded figure is his father, but is it? Does he just want it to be?

Howle's Hamlet, in this trimmed play, becomes a man of action; there is little room for confirmation, doubt and indecision. In fact, he is manic, angry and enraged - mad in purpose or a loose canon?

This contrasts with the cool, quiet of Finbar Lynch's Claudius. If he didn't confess, you wouldn't believe he had a hand in Old Hamlet's murder rather, he is protecting the realm from an heir who swings from irritating to unhinged.

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Review: BLACK SUPERHERO, Royal Court - witty, sharp and entertaining but not the sum of all its parts

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Dyllón Burnside and Danny Lee Wynter in BLACK SUPERHERO, Royal Court, March 2023. Photo: Johan Persson

"I'm holding out for a hero" is Bonnie Tyler's famous song, and it could be the theme tune for David (Danny Lee Wynter) in BLACK SUPERHERO. He's long held a torch for friend King (Dyllón Burnside), who is playing superhero Craw in a low-brow movie franchise.

"I trained at Julliard," he moans while secretly enjoying being recognised.

When King reveals that he and his travel-writer husband Steven (Ben Allen) have decided on an open relationship, David is a beneficiary of King's new liberal sleeping arrangements.

But can David keep himself together long enough not to screw up the one thing he's dreamed about?

Danny Lee Wynter's debut play bursts onto the stage with banter and bitching between David, his sister Syd (Rochenda Sandall) and friend Raheem (Eloka Ivo), who are supposed to be on a night out with King.

Sharp and witty

It sets a crisp pace and witty tone with sharp one-liners as relationships and sex - particularly each other's - getting dissected.

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Review: Further Than The Furthest Thing,Young Vic - charmed by island life but questions remain

08. Cyril Nri and Kirsty Rider in Further than the Furthest Thing at Young Vic (c) Marc Brenner
Cyril Nri and Kirsty Rider in Further than the Furthest Thing at Young Vic March 2023. Photo:(c) Marc Brenner

In Shakespeare's Island play The Tempest, Caliban says: "Be not afeared, the isle is full of noises" should the inhabitants of the remote Atlantic island in Zinnie Harris' play be afraid of the noise under the water or something else?

The noise is undoubtedly distracting Bill (Cyril Nri) from the arrival home of nephew Francis (Archie Madekwe), who has been off-island in Cape Town for months. But Bill does seem to have a demeanour of general anxiety and mild panic - is it a result of past events?

Based loosely on actual events on Tristan da Cunha, the most remote inhabited island in the world, the island of the play offers a simple life where everyone has a patch of land and subsists on what they grow or catch, plus what supplies the occasional boat brings.

Francis' return from Cape Town is an exciting time for his Aunt Mill (Jenna Russell), it's an opportunity to tell him about all the things he's missed, and maybe he's brought some sugar.

The inhabitants have a particular way of speaking with a mixture of accents, there's Scottish, Irish and West Country in there: "How can an h'egg be as bad luck?"

It is both familiar and strange, the people quaint - but theirs is a peculiar life, mostly cut off from the rest of the world.

Francis doesn't bring sugar back to the island,  he brings a stranger, Mr Hansen (Gerald Kyd), a South African businessman who can do sleight-of-hand magic tricks. He wants to build a factory.

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Review: Mediocre White Male, King's Head Theatre - a gradual shift makes a powerful point

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Will Close is the Mediocre White Male, King's Head Theatre March 2023

The mediocre white male of the title, or MWM as he's referred to by a colleague, is angry. His school friends have moved on, and he's stuck playing a talking statue at the local stately home.

To make matters worse, he's been sent on a gender awareness course for referring to his female colleagues as 'girls'.

He yearns for the past when life was simpler, there was banter, and he knew where he stood.

But this isn't a story of unfulfilled ambition and navigating a world that is "politically correct". Well, it is, but over the course of an hour, our MWM (played by Will Close) reveals more and more about himself that sheds him in a different light.

He is a man who doesn't take rejection well or accept responsibility. He's also incapable of understanding a different perspective. MWM is prone to using phrases like 'nobody told me' and 'how was I supposed to know'.

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Review: The Journey to Venice, Finborough Theatre - funny, charming and bittersweet

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Annabel Leventon and Tim Hardy in The Journey to Venice, Finborough Theatre, Mar 23. Photo: Simon Annand

What do you do when your escape mechanism from the pain of past events is no longer available to you?

Edith (Annabel Leventon) and Oscar Tellman (Tim Hardy) enjoyed travelling when they were younger and able. It was diverting - a distraction. But now, in their later years, their bodies and budget don't allow them to venture far outside their flat. So they improvise.

Bjorg Vik's play invites you into the world of Edith and Oscar, and it is a world full of literature, poetry, imagination, and pretend travels.

There is teasing, laughter, vivid recollections, sensible shoes and packed lunches. So evocative are their recreated trips that plumber Christopher (Nathan Welsh) and home help Charlotte (Vivian) both get drawn in, 'travelling' with them to Venice.

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Review: Women, Beware The Devil, Almeida Theatre

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Women, Beware the Devil,  Almeida Theatre Feb 2023

Women, Beware The Devil at the Almeida Theatre is a difficult play to pin down.

It starts in the modern day with the 'literal' devil (Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea) breaking the fourth wall to lament how he isn't evoked or blamed for anything anymore. He also cheekily spoils the plot of the play.

We are then catapulted to the 17th century to the home of Lady Elizabeth (Lydia Leonard) and her brother Edward (Leo Bill).

It's a castle, literally and figuratively. For Elizabeth, it's a place which represents family and tradition but also somewhere she has some agency as an unmarried woman.

However, the cost of repairs is crippling the family finances, and Edward has no inclination to marry the rich and beautiful Katherine (Ioanna Kimbook) that Elizabeth has lined up. Katherine comes from new money rather than the gentry and is too easy for Edward - he prefers the maids.

So Elizabeth turns to Agnes (Alison Oliver), about whom rumours of witchcraft swirl. While the house's maids live in fear of witches and don't trust Agnes, Elizabeth sees an opportunity to solve a problem.

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Review: The Beach House, Park Theatre - female relationships in the spotlight

Gemma Lawrence and Kathryn Bond in The Beach House, Park Theatre, Feb 2023. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge

They say moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. What happens when you move to your dream beachfront home that is 'in need of renovation', you have a baby on the way, and your relationship is evolving fast?

Add a flighty sister, and you've got the premise for Jo Harper's new play, The Beach House at the Park Theatre.

Couple Liv (Gemma Lawrence) and Kate (Kathryn Bond) have much to be excited about in this new chapter of their relationship. It's a shame then that Kate has a strained relationship with her younger sibling Jenny (Gemma Barnett).

The latter's life lacks the stability of her sister's. Jenny's chosen career is as a dancer, which means stints working away at a circus or on a cruise, and her relationship with her boyfriend is in choppy water.

Deep down, does Jenny want to be like her stable sister, or does she want what her sister has?

But Liv and Kate's relationship isn't as plain sailing as it might initially appear.

Kate is in a rush to return to work after their daughter is born, and Liv, when not looking after the baby, takes sanctuary in a glass or two of wine.

Jenny and Liv are increasingly pushed together as Kate doubles down on her work and career.

The stage contains little more than a wooden storage chest into which clothing and baby items are regularly tidied and occasionally a box, bucket or pouffe.

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Review: Trouble in Butetown, Donmar Warehouse

Do you ever watch a play and enjoy it enough while watching it but then at the end, as you leave the theatre, realise it won't leave a mark on you?

The blunt way of putting it is 'good but forgettable'. That's kind of how I felt about Trouble in Butetown at the Donmar Warehouse.

The characters are interesting enough and good enough company, but you don't quite get to know them sufficiently for them to get under your skin.

There are some interesting themes, but being a period and social history, I know little about it didn’t reveal enough to quite transport me there.


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Review: Linck & Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre - witty, effervescent and heartbreaking

Helena Wilson and Maggie Bain in Linck & Mülhahn_ Credit Helen Murray_53
Helena Wilson and Maggie Bain in Linck & Mülhahn, Hampstead Theatre, Feb 2023. Photo: Helen Murray

Writer Ruby Thomas was in the British Library when she came across a reference Linck and Mulhahn, a same-sex couple in 18th Century Prussia who'd been living as husband and wife.

Using what information she could find as starting point and imagining the rest, Thomas has written a witty, effervescent and heartbreaking play about their relationship, secret life and the subsequent outing.

It starts with Linck (Maggie Bain) living as a man - Anastasius - so they can be a soldier and Catharina Mulhahn (Helena Wilson) fighting her mother's attempts to match her with a suitable husband.

Anastasius is a skilled soldier and well-respected. Catharina is rebellious, constantly pushing against the boundaries society places on her sex. A chance encounter at a dressmakers shop sees the two verbally sparring; they fizzle and spark in each other's company.

There is an honesty in their biting, yet playful, exchanges that ignites something. When Catharina, with typical forwardness, proposes marriage Anastasius has to reveal that they aren't all they seem.

But Catharina is undeterred, and the two marry and set up a home together. Anastasius, who has now left the army, works as a dressmaker's apprentice and encourages Catharina to write.

It is a blissful existence built on a foundation of love and equality until Catharina's bored mother starts to dig into her 'son'-in-law's past.

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Review: Phaedra, National Theatre - superb performances and distracting staging

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Phaedra, National Theatre, February 2023, starring Janet McTeer and Assaad Bouab

Phaedra at the National Theatre started with writer/director Simon Stone making a speech about this being the first run-through. He asked for our indulgence if things didn't quite go smoothly, blaming himself for any issues.

During the opening scene, there was nothing noticeable, the problems came when there were scene changes and subtitles later on - but I'll come back to that because, at its core, this version of the Phaedra story and the performances are superb.

All the action takes place in a glass cube, similar to Yerma at the Young Vic, which Stone also directed. The story is transferred to modern Britain; Phaedra becomes 'Helen' (Janet McTeer), a politician and Oxford graduate from an affluent background.

Her husband Hugo (Paul Chihadi) is a diplomat of Iranian descent - he chose the name Hugo because no one could pronounce his Iranian name.

Helen and Hugo have a grown-up married daughter Isolde (Mackenzie Davis), and a 14-year-old son Declan (Archie Barnes).

Family dynamics

We find the family at home, along with Isolde's husband Eric (John Macmillan), teasing and bickering while preparing for the arrival of a guest for dinner. They talk rapidly, interrupting each other or having several conversations at once. It feels relaxed and uninhibited.

When their guest Sofiane (Assaad Bouab), arrives, the atmosphere changes; there is excitement, awkwardness, and curiosity. Sofiane is the son of a Moroccan man Helen had an intense holiday romance with when travelling with Oxford chums as a student. 

Sofiane is the spit of his father, who died in a car crash while he was having his affair with Helen.

While not technically a stepson as in the original story, Stone instead has created a more complex dynamic.

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