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July 2016

Review: The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre and why I'm glad I stayed for the second half

Plough-and-the-stars-1280x720I had a problem with The Plough and the Stars at the National Theatre.  I found the combination of rapid delivery and strong Dublin accents made the dialogue difficult to understand at times. Sean O'Casey's script is rich, witty and colourful but I felt I was missing chunks of it.

The characters spend a lot of time bickering and arguing, particularly in the first half and I got the gist but sometimes not more than that. I didn't feel I was comprehending enough of it to fully engage. As a result, I did contemplate leaving at the interval but I stayed and I'm glad I did because the second half felt easier to engage with - there is a lot more action for a start.

It is set around the time of the Easter Rising in Dublin and centres on the people who live in a run down tenement building. There is young married couple Nora and Jack (Judith Roddy and Fionn Walton) whose relationship is coming to the end of the honeymoon period. They live with Nora's Uncle Peter (Lloyd Hutchinson) and Jack's cousin The Young Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor).

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Review: Five star fringe theatre - Rotterdam, Trafalgar Studios

Rotterdam manages to be both funny, warm and deeply moving. Its four characters are carefully drawn and performed and all of them are people you want to spend time with, flaws and all.

Rotterdam - Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine, Courtesy of Piers Foley Photography
Rotterdam - Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine. Photo: Piers Foley Photography

Alice (Alice McCarthy) and Fiona (Anna Martine) are expats living and working in Rotterdam.

They've been a couple for seven years having met in the city and Alice is still plucking up the courage to come out to her parents. Fiona is plucking up the courage to tell Alice that she wants to live as a man.

"I'm not trying to become a man. I think, I know, I already am one [...] In my dreams, I'm a man, every time."

You can draw parallels with The Danish Girl and Rotterdam certainly packs the same emotional punch but it is also lively and contemporary and digs much deeper than the film which attracted Oscar-nods. There aren't mentions of strap-ons in the Danish Girl, for a start.

And Rotterdam is also very funny.

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Review: The little but fierce Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court

Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell in Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court

Caryl Churchill’s short play Pigs and Dogs is proof that you don’t need a long play to pack a punch and get across a powerful message.

It clocks in at around 15 minutes long (without an interval the usher jokingly informed as I arrived) and leaves an indelible mark.

Three actors - Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell - perform a series of actual statements made by political leaders and those in influential positions, primarily from African countries. Each of which gets introduced by the phrase “someone said” followed by the name of the person from whom the statement originally came. The theme of the statements is the perceptions of homosexuality, the actors each taking rapid turns with the statements and introductions.

It starts with recent homophobic statements moving into historic reports of homosexual activities that were deemed culturally normal before coming back to the present day. The play is substantially based on the book Boy-Wives and Female-Husband: studies in African homosexualities.


Collectively the statements challenge modern homophobic prejudices suggesting where the origins for such attitudes might lie and it isn’t where you might think.

It is a simple idea, simply and brilliantly performed and makes for a powerful, thought-provoking piece of theatre.

Pigs and Dogs runs until July 30 at the Royal Court. It starts at 6.30pm and is unallocated seating - doors normally open 20-25 minutes ahead of the performance. Its £5 and it gets five stars from me.

Review: Modern ghouls in A Haunting, King's Head #Festival46

James Thackeray in A Haunting

Nathan Lucky Wood's play A Haunting starts with a disembodied voice but this isn't a ghost story in the conventional sense as the voice comes from a computer. It isn't sci-fi either - the voice belongs to a fellow gamer that 15-year-old Mark (James Thackeray) has got chatting to.

The ghost voice (Jake Curran) sends him links to graphic video's of religious extremists committing atrocities and wants to meet up. Mark's mum Anna (Beatrice Curnew) is working late, there are hints that things aren't harmonious at home - is this a set up for him being radicalised? Perhaps, except that the ghost's voice doesn't sound quite right (if there is a right sound).

Mark and the ghost then start describing sexually-laced scenarios, verbally roll-playing. Perhap's ghost is a paedophile, then? Perhaps, but then when he describes his fantasy it is an innocent domestic scene involving cooking Bolognese.

All the time the ghost is trying to persuade Mark to meet and eventually he relents. He is spookily close to where Mark lives and he knows his mobile number. What happens next shines the spotlight in a completely different corner.

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Review: Saving Freddie (the) Fox in Phoebe, King's Head Theatre #Festival46

E J Martin as Phoebe

Phoebe (EJ Martin) is a quiet sales assistant in an opticians whose outlook on life seems slightly out of step to those around her. Her sister Ingrid (Louise Torres-Ryan) is the favoured child, always busy working for a charity while Phoebe is the one who heads home every Sunday for the family dinner, for all the thanks she gets. Freddie, their brother, has gone missing and that is a concern for Phoebe.

But that isn't the only thing Phoebe has to worry about. A neighbour wants to call in pest control to deal with an urban fox which she feeds and has named... Freddie. As she tries to find one Freddie and keep another hidden, Phoebe has to convince her family that she can stand on her own two feet, fortunately she has a new friend the gentle and awkward Paul (Loz Keystone) to help her.

There are some nice segments of dialogue which are well observed and snappily written - the mother who causes a fuss while loudly proclaiming not to is particularly amusing. The family dynamic is stereotypical sit-com: overbearing mother, spineless father that follows her lead and put upon child. However, there are elements that will no doubt ring true. Given the nature of their parents it is easy to understand why Ingrid stays away.

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Review: In search of relationship closure in Some Girl(s), Park Theatre

Charles Dorfman (Guy) and Roxanne Pallett (Tyler) in Buckland Theatre Company's Some Girl(s) at Park Theatre. Credit Claire Bilyard (7)
Charles Dorfman (Guy) and Roxanne Pallett (Tyler) in Buckland Theatre Company's Some Girl(s) at Park Theatre. Credit Claire Bilyard

Neil LaBute's Some Girl(s) sees 'Guy' (Charles Dorfman) embark on a tour around the US to 'put things right' with four of his ex-girlfriends. He's about to get married so perhaps this is about drawing a line under one chapter of his life as he embarks on another. Perhaps.

Over the four meetings, in four different hotel rooms, in four different cities, we learn more about Guy and the women that have been in his life. With some simple but clever set changes - one anodyne hotel room picture is changed for another, the bed is moved and bedding swapped etc - we are transported from meeting to meeting. 

Sam (Elly Condron) is Guy's High School sweetheart in Seattle. His first romance whom he broke up with shortly before their prom. Sam was a nice, safe, girl and is now married with children but there is something about the break up that still rankles her. Guy fumbles his way through an explanation but not everything rings true.

We then jump to Tyler (Roxanne Pallett) in Chicago. Tyler is the opposite of Sam. She's a free spirited, party girl and sexually adventurous and Guy is tempted by her all over again. But there is more to the meeting, for Tyler, than rekindling old flames. There is a side to her that Guy underestimated during their relationship and she sees through him.

Next is Lindsay (Carolyn Backhouse) in Boston. She's the older woman and the married woman whom he ran out on when they got caught. Lindsay also has Guy's card and proposes an interesting way in which he can make amends for the hurt he caused.

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Review: Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios and why I was a very slightly disappointed

Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Oliver Rosser

Jesse Eisenberg's background is in theatre - acting and more recently writing - but I've only ever seen him on the big screen so I was naturally curious about his play The Spoils. 

It's set in the modern Manhattan apartment of Ben (Jesse Eisenberg) a drinking, weed-smoking wannabe film-maker from a privileged background. He shares the apartment with Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar) who is a Nepalese immigrant studying business on a scholarship.

At one end of the spectrum Ben is the sort of show off that casually feigns indifference at the other he is narcissistic. He won't take rent from Kalyan but it isn't an altruistic move, it is something he does to elevate his own status, something he can hold over him or throw back at him. Kalyan is someone he can parade, show off about, look down on and just occasionally confide in. Us Brits would call Ben a tosser or a C-word - if we used it - Americans would probably call him a jerk.

When Ben discovers that his school crush Sarah (Katie Brayben) is going to marry straight-laced banker Ted (Alfie Allen), he is determined to woo her away from him.

Like most characters from this mould,  Ben's behaviour is all puff, part of the wall he's built to protect himself not just from the outside world but also from himself.  He constantly seeks approval while rebutting it. He seeks connection and yet pushes it away. The more desperate he gets the more painful and cringe-worthy his behaviour becomes.

At first the script crackles with a quick-fired wit tinged with black humour but as Ben spirals downwards, so the humour gets darker until you reach a point when it difficult to laugh any more and it is at that moment you start to pity him and how messed up he really is.

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Review: Duelling Production's No Quarter, Network Theatre, Waterloo

No-QuarterIt's not often you get to see a fringe production of a play that is only three years old. Polly Stenham's No Quarter made its debut at the Royal Court Theatre upstairs in January 2013 and I remember it quite vividly so I was curious as to what Duelling Production's take would be.

The play is set in a dishevelled room in a grand, old house that has seen better days. There is a piano, an antique chest and a tatty sofa slouches against the wall. Buckets hang from the ceiling (I kept expecting to hear the plop of water from a leaky roof) and sheets of music make up the flooring - a reference to our protagonist's apparent musical talent.

That protagonist is Robin (Ryan Whittle), who is hiding his mother Lily (Miranda Wilson) after she absconded from her nursing home. Robin, we learn, was home schooled and coddled and, as a result, was ill-prepared for the outside world when Lily finally 'released' him. He is part spoiled child, part tortured artist with the accompanying disagreeable personality traits - he should compare notes with Matt Smith's Maxim in Unreachable.

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Theatre hottie and girl crush of the month - June 2016 edition

Have three contenders for theatre hottie this month. First up is Matthew Marrs who played Jimmy (and all the other characters) in the rather good Odd Shaped Balls at the Old Red Lion. Then there was Alexander Hulme who was the hottest Claudius I've ever seen in Gertrude - The Cry at Theatre N16 (didn't enjoy the play so much). And finally, there was the lovely Jack Farthing in Wild at Hampstead Theatre who even treated us with some shirtless push ups on stage - Wild is on until July 23 and is also rather good.

It's definitely a close run thing but I think I'm going to go for Jack Farthing in Wild:

PR8A7581And here is a bonus 'laughing in rehearsal' pic:

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Watching a work in progress: Unreachable, Royal Court

Cw-8658-mediumThe Royal Court's artistic director Vicky Featherstone and playwright/director Anthony Neilson made a pre-performance appearance when I saw Unreachable on Tuesday. They wanted to explain that the play was still a work in progress, a major rewrite had happened over the weekend with further rewrites that day. As a result, the actors might still be working off scripts and things might not go as smoothly as you'd expect. We were asked to shout 'good luck' to the actors who were waiting in the wings.

Other than a read-through I've not seen a play performed with scripts in hands or scraps of paper retrieved from pockets.  Naturally, the audience was very supportive as it invariably is during these sorts of things. It added an extra dimension to the play and the experience - seeing the actors 'feeling' their way through the less familiar parts of the script.

Matt Smith actually played on it at times saying at one point 'that's all I've got'. If there was any frustration with the chopping and changing of the dialogue among the cast it certainly didn't show, they all looked like they were having a ball and there was quite a bit of corpsing.

As to the play itself, I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't expecting a raucous comedy, satirising the film industry and acting profession.

Naturally, it is difficult to review something that could change fundamentally between when I saw it and press night. Indeed, since starting to write this, I found an interview with Anthony Neilson and Matt Smith which describes a plot that is unrecognisable from that which I saw, so if you have seen it post press night I'm curious to know whether it has changed fundamentally since.

Matt Smith plays Maxim, a film director who won the Palm d'Or for his first full-length feature and is now working on his second film. The award has brought with it recognition and a much bigger budget with the politics that entails but he is 'an artist' with the stereotypical artistic temperament (think: self-serving, childish, egotist). He would rather walk away and risk financial ruin than compromise.

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