Review: Pinter 3, Harold Pinter Theatre - appreciating but not connecting

The very style of writing and performance, the visual and audio references while serving to emphasise the thematic points of the piece equally serve to isolate any emotional connection.

Pinter 3 flyerA mournful/despairing tune is playing in the auditorium, probably Radiohead or Thom York. The stage - an almost entirely sideless cube - slowly rotates and the seated Tamsin Greig glides around with it.

The audience carries on chatting or studying their phones as is the way - nothing to see here, it hasn't started so we won't pay attention.

It feels appropriate given the themes that are to come in this, the third collection of Pinter's short works in Jamie Lloyd's Pinter at the Pinter season.

When the lights dim and Greig does speak from her seated position it is with the aid of a microphone, her voice soft, Irish accent, her words lyrical. 

Stark contrasts

It is a stark contrast to Keith Allen who sits next to her: loud, gruff and matter of fact. No microphone.

They talk but not with each other. There is a hint of past intimacy, a hint of pride, a confession and a sense of loneliness and unfulfillment.

Two people who live together but have lost a connection somewhere along the way.

Cover version conclusion

A slow cover version of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart concludes the piece which is titled 'Landscape'.

However, the very style of writing and performance, visual and audio references while serving to emphasise the thematic points of the piece equally serve to isolate any emotional connection.

It left me admiring the technicality of the performances and the skill of the writing but it didn't bring any twinges of empathy, in fact, it left me feeling as cold and unmoved as their relationship.

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Review: RSC's Don Quixote, Garrick Theatre - fun and poignancy but differing opinions on the 'musical' elements

Their adventures are vividly and cleverly brought to life utilising a variety of media including puppetry, acrobatics and wire work but it is the small, often background detail which richly elevates this production.

Rufus-Hound-and-David-Threlfall-in-the-Royal-Shakespeare-Companys-Don-Quixote.-London-2018.-Photography-by-Manuel-Harlan
Rufus Hound and David Threlfall in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Don Quixote London 2018. Photography by Manuel Harlan.

It's taken two years for the RSC's hit Don Quixote to make it to the West End with David Threlfall and Rufus Hound reprising their roles as the hapless knight errant and his squire.

Adapted by James Fenton it not only notches up the famous scenes from Miguel de Cervantes novel but the production design and direction find new niches of humour and fun.

It tells the story of Don Quixote (Threlfall) who, having read too many romantic novels, decides he is a knight errant and sets upon a mission to restore chivalry.

He takes with him illiterate farmer Sancho (Hound) to act as his squire and in the first half, we see them embroiled in a series of absurd scrapes brought about by Don Quixote's delusions and fantastical notions.

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From scratch to full production, a fringe play to look out for in London next year

 

Lipstick Production Shot_Credit Flavia Fraser-Cannon
Lipstick: A fairy tale of Iran. Photo: Flavia Fraser-Cannon
[Lipstick: A fairy tale of modern Iran] is a colourful, vibrant piece with darker edges utilising various genres from boylesque, drag, Vaudeville and storytelling.

I was invited to a scratch performance of Sarah Chew's Lipstick: A fairy tale of modern Iran back in March and loved it. I wrote then that I wanted to see a fully fleshed out production and now I'll get the chance.

It's returning to the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham from Feb 26 to Mar 24 as part of the 96 Festival which is a celebration of queerness and theatre. 

The play is based on Sarah Chew's own experiences while on a theatre residency in Iran in 2010 just as riots were breaking out over a contested election and I can highly recommend it.

Related reading:

Thoughts on the scratch performance.

Interview with Sarah Chew

 


Interview: writer Lisa Carroll on not festishising Ireland and laughing at her own jokes

Lisa Carroll's play Cuckoo opens at the Soho Theatre next week and follows two teenagers escaping bullies and seeking a new identity in another country. Here she talks about the inspiration behind the play, determining what is funny and how she got started as a playwright. 

Lisa Carroll

Cuckoo’s two central characters leave Dublin for London and you are an Irish playwright living in London - how much is the play based on your own experiences?

I came up with the idea for Cuckoo shortly after I made the decision to move from Dublin to London. Emigration has always been a pertinent part of the Irish experience and I wanted to explore ideas of home and what it means to leave.

Particularly after the financial crash, there was an exodus of young people from Ireland, and I knew the play could speak to that.

I used to live near Crumlin, where the play is set, and had close friends from the area.

Crumlin sits outside Dublin city centre and is full of vibrant, sparky, fascinating people, and I wanted to try and capture that unique energy on the page.

The Crumlin dialect is fast, ferocious and nuanced. I feel strongly about writing Ireland as I see it, today, rather than the wistful, nostalgic and often fetishised version Ireland we often see represented on stage.

While the idea of what it means to leave Ireland is inspired by my own experience of doing so, beyond that the play is entirely fictional, from the heightened world to the characters and events.

All I knew when I started writing Cuckoo was that I wanted to create two compelling central characters: Iona, a boisterous, larger-than-life young woman, full of spark and potential, but who was seen as simply ‘too much’ by the people around her.

Cuckoo  Soho Theatre (Courtesy of David Gill) (3)
Cuckoo, Soho Theatre. Photo by David Gill.

And Pingu, who steadfastly identifies as non-binary in a highly gendered world. Pingu has made the decision not to speak, in order not to have to constantly advocate for their right just to be themselves.

It was around these two characters and their desire to find their tribe in London that I built the play.

The play explores themes of gender identity and a sense of belonging, do you think social media makes it harder for teenagers growing up?

Being a teenager has always been a trying time and I think it always will be.

I think in general social media hasn’t changed us as a species, so much as drawn out and exacerbated our already deeply flawed nature, only in new ways.

Being a teenager has always been a phase of uncertainty trying to carve out your identity.

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Review: A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Bridge Theatre - does Martin McDonagh's new play measure up?

A Very Very Very Dark Matter is a fairytale of human ugliness and evil but it is also a toy that isn't working properly.

IMG_4103Martin McDonagh's new play is a (very) dark fairytale with colonial undertones.

Who else's imagination could put Hans Christian Anderson (Jim Broadbent), a one-legged black pigmy woman called Marjory (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles) and two bloody, time-travelling Belgian twins in the same story?

The question is whether it works.

McDonagh's Anderson is the antithesis of what you'd expect the writer of fairy-tales to be like but there may be a very good explanation for that.

Dark secret

He is self-centred, vain and politically incorrect, to put it mildly, and has a dark secret in the form of Marjory, whom he keeps locked up in a glass-sided box in his puppet-strewn attic.

Marjory is from the Congo, clever, sharp and capable, having survived the massacre of her people engineered by Belgian King Leopold II.

But she has more problems to deal with than merely being a prisoner, she is also a person of interest for the murderous twins.

Awkward laughter and guilty giggles

The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with swear words as well as the sort of lines that have you laughing awkwardly - or guiltily giggling as I did a couple of times.

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Review: RSC's Macbeth, Barbican Theatre - there's a water cooler but are there water cooler moments?

Is it ironic that the most powerful scene in the play comes in a rare moment of silence and stillness, a scene when the Macbeths are nowhere to be seen?

Macbeth production photos_ 2018_2018_Photo by Richard Davenport _c_ RSC_245921
Niamh Cusack and Christopher Ecclestone in Macbeth. Photo by Richard Davenport © RSC

Watching RSC's latest production of Macbeth I began to wonder if the production designer is a fan of Ivo Van Hove given the number of reminders I had of Kings of War and Roman Tragedies.

And then there was the water-cooler to wonder about and what that signified but I'll come back to that.

First the Van Hove 'references'; think digital timers, notching up murders and actors in glass-walled rooms performing with the help of microphones - the sound was a little muddy.

Even the set styling, what little furniture there was, had a hint of European mixed with dull 1960's office reception (cheap chairs and pot plants).

Manic Macbeths

Onto this backdrop is injected two manic Macbeths, three primly-dressed, sweet-smiling girls and gore-soaked murder victims.

Christopher Eccleston's Macbeth immediately strikes as a loud, manly, muscular military leader.

When he has his moment of doubt about his wife's plans it is the barest of wobbles and displayed almost as a physical reaction.

Powerful insults

When Lady Macbeth (Niamh Cusack) accuses him of being unmanly the words are powerful insults that easily goad him into action after which murder comes with a desperate ease but for the bloody corpses that haunt him.

Lady Macbeth has matching energy. When she reads her husbands account of the weird sisters' prophecy she is almost beside herself with excitement. 

The descent into madness comes as little surprise as if they were already teetering on the edge.

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3 London theatre stories that caught my attention this week - and an actor encounter

SWEAT Donmar Warehouse Picture Spencer Platt  Getty Images1. Exciting casting announcement at the Donmar 

One of my favourite films growing up in the 80s was The Goonies so imagine my excitement when learning that Martha 'Stef' Plimpton is going to be starring in the Donmar Warehouse's production of Sweat (previews from Dec 7).

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play was written after playwright Lynn Nottage starting spending time in Reading, Pennsylvania - one the poorest cities in America.

2. Trevor Nunn returns to the Jermyn Street Theatre

The Jermyn Street Theatre announced its Spring/Summer 2019 season which sees the return of Trevor Nunn who is directing Agnes Colander, Harley Granville Barker’s play exploring love, sexual attraction and independence.

The play was written in 1900 but was only discovered at the British Library 100 years later and is described as a 'hidden gem'.

It's a revival of a production that ran at the Ustinov Studio at Theatre Royal, Bath earlier this year. Jermyn Street Theatre 12 Feb - 16 Mar.

 

 

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Review: Stories, National Theatre - Nina Raine's desperate for a baby drama fails to deliver

Strip out the comic vignettes and the play is left feeling flimsy

IMG_1292One of my favourite plays recently was Hear Me Howl at the Old Red Lion about a woman, approaching 30, under pressure to have a baby when it really wasn't something she wanted to do.

It was refreshing to look at the woman/mother debate from a different angle.

Nina Raine's new play Stories is back to familiar territory: A woman desperately wants a kid.

Unlike Yerma (Billie Piper was cracking in the Young Vic production two years ago) it's not a physical problem, more of a partner problem.

Anna (Claudie Blakley) is 39 and in a long-term relationship with a younger man Joe (Brian Vernel) but on the eve of their IVF treatment he gets cold feet about being a father.

Desire for baby not questioned

Such is her desire for a baby she decides to use a sperm donor but it is a desire that isn't really questioned or examined.

Only once is Anna asked directly why she wants to have a baby - it's a feeling she 'can't explain' - and it isn't debated.

Ideas of legacy/not wanting to die alone are, slightly clunkily, referred to by the recurring appearance of a young girl and flashbacks to Anna's old landlady.

What alternatives?

There is no mention of alternatives such as adoption.

The focus on the pros and cons of using an anonymous sperm donor vs a named donor feels more like a comic device than something to explore in depth.

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The shameless Ben Whishaw birthday post - my favourite stage performances

Shh, it's a rainy Sunday afternoon... it's Ben Whishaw's birthday so in 'celebration' here are the stage performances of his that are my favourites.

Ben Whishaw Hamlet programmeHamlet, Old Vic

Ok so technically I didn't see him perform it live but I have seen the V&A video recording a couple of times.

His Hamlet made so much sense. He was young, clever, inexperienced, fragile and at times immature and petulant.

Basically, he was a young adult thrown into an extraordinary situation and ill-equipped to cope. 

And he snot cried.

The full review is here which also includes links to related interviews and other tidbits.

Baby in Mojo, Comedy Theatre - now the Harold Pinter

Don't ask how many times I saw this, it was a lot.

It was a move away from the sensitive souls he's very adept at playing, something more akin to Sidney in the film Layer Cake. 

And I liked that, I like to see his versatility, his wilder performance side.

While underneath the surface there is a tragedy to Baby, he presents as someone wildly unpredictable and is dangerous as a result.

He also did a brilliant dance which was a mix of impish, wild abandon and menace.

Read my first thoughts plus links to more detailed reviews.

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3 London theatre stories that caught my attention this week - and some belated actor spots

Twilight-zone-ctt-480wx280h-15389888801. The Twilight Zone to get a West End run

I described the Almeida's Twilight Zone as 'sinister and silly fun' when I saw it in December last year and now it's getting a stint in the West End. It will run from 4 March to 1 June at the Ambassadors Theatre and even if you haven't seen the TV series (I hadn't) it's worth seeing if you want something a little surreal, silly and occasionally thought-provoking.

2. Joe McGann and Josie Lawrence star in US play

The Print Room in Notting Hill will host the first UK production of American literary icon Don DeLillo’s Love-Lies-Bleeding, starring Joe McGann Josie Lawrence.  Described as a perceptive and witty story, it's about a family trying to take death into their own hands and I admit that it had me at 'jet-black humour'. It runs from 9 November to 8 December, find details on the Print Room website.

 

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