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October 2017

September 2017

Review: Scripts and 'credit sequences' in The Lie, Menier Chocolate Factory

X300200the P20lie.jpg.pagespeed.ic.lGdKregG8zIf you enjoyed The Truth last year, (it made my 'Best Of list') then you'll enjoy The Lie. It's a similar set up with two couples who are friends.

Alice (Samantha Bond) and her husband Paul (Alexander Hanson) are hosting a dinner party for Michel (Tony Gardner) and Laurence (Alexandra Gilbreath) but prior to the party Alice sees Michele kissing another woman. Should she tell Laurence? Paul thinks it is better, not to say anything, better to lie.

Like The Truth, to say more about the plot would spoil it but at the heart of the play is the moral dilemma whether it is better to lie and protect or tell the truth and potentially hurt. Of course being a Florian Zeller play (translated by Christopher Hampton) he cleverly turns the idea on its head exploring truth, lies and relationships with insight and sharp wit, director Lindsay Posner and the cast bringing the humour beautifully to the surface.

There is something quite genius in the way Alexander Hanson says 'hmmm', his intonation and timing speaks volumes. It is particularly admirable given that he is a late addition to the cast - James Dreyfus had to withdraw for medical reasons - and with only a week of rehearsals under his belt, he was still working off script during the preview I saw. He even managed to put meaning into the manner in which he turned the pages and if he is that good with so little rehearsal time, it bodes well.

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Review: The Blinding Light, Jermyn Street Theatre

JST_Web_528x571_TBLSwedish playwright and poet August Strindberg (Jasper Britton) has locked himself away in a hotel room in Paris, turning his back on his writing career to become an alchemist and find philosopher's stone.

His work is disturbed first by a cleaning lady (Laura Morgan) and then his two wives Siri (Susannah Harker) and Frieda (Gala Gordon) - or is he? Strindberg has become paranoid, he hears voices and thinks there is something or 'they' are in the walls and are out to get him. The women act as a counterpoint to Strindberg, sanity versus a disturbed mind but through their interactions with the writer reveal pieces of his past and give a sense of the man he was before the 'inferno period'.

The stage setting is a sparsely furnished room with opulent painted walls - rich greens, blues and gold in a disordered splashes that perfectly represent Strindberg's state of mind and perhaps the colour of his personality and life. Jasper Britton, dishevelled and in paint-splashed under garments, is a sublime mix of rage, paranoia, determination, fear, lucidity and charm. The latter is important as a shade of the man he was before, a man who could not only attract young women but make them risk their place and position in society to be with him. His conversations with himself are particularly well articulated. 

It is the visits from the women where the play really flies. Yes they represent the voice of reason and have a manner that is satisfyingly non-nonsense compared to Strindberg's 'artistic temperament' but equally there are moments of tenderness and care that make these relationships believable. But what Howard Brenton's play also does is to examine the nature of fame or the need to be creatively a success, to be accepted.

The Blinding Light is play of insight, pain and humour, it is 90 minutes long and is at the Jermyn Street Theatre until October 14.






Review: Juliet Stevenson soars in Wings, Young Vic Theatre #YVWings

WingsWeb3PortraitJuliet Stevenson obviously likes physically challenging roles. The last time I saw her at the Young Vic, she was buried up to her neck for the duration of the play. In Wings she has much more freedom of movement but is suspended in a harness above the stage, only occasionally touching down for brief scenes.

It's a clever device for telling the story of Emily, aviator and wing walker, who suffers a mentally debilitating stroke. For an hour and 15 minutes we watch as she tries to make sense of her surroundings and then how she now views and interacts with the world.

At first she feels like she is in some sort of prison, unable to make out her hospital surroundings, the words in her head not sounding like quite like they should. Her memory plays tricks on her, she cannot determine what is real or what is a dream. She gets snatches of recollection of her life and language, physically representing her feelings as she floats above those trying to help her. Occasionally they pull her back down to earth.

When she is physically more able, the struggle in her head continues, finding the words and memories her damaged brain won't naturally recall. There is a therapy session with fellow stroke sufferers; when asked to point to their elbow one finger points to the corner of the ceiling - it's as if a part of the brain has not so much been disconnected but is slightly out of kilter.

Juliet Stevenson, looks completely at home on the wire moving with an elegance and grace that I'm sure belies the effort and difficulty. It works well as a visual representation of what Emily is going through - and what flying means to her. There is a sense of the freedom she feels when she is up in the air, a freedom she perhaps doesn't enjoy when on solid ground.

There are other moments of insight too but it feels that if the flying device was removed there wouldn't be quite enough in the play to properly sustain the narrative. I'm giving Wings four stars and it runs at the Young Vic until Nov 4.

Review: Corpses and coffins in Loot, Park Theatre

This review contains potential spoilers
. There is an open coffin on the stage. I have a thing about bodies in boxes and its freaking me out a little bit - that's no dummy body. Fortunately once the play starts, its pace is such that it works as a distraction until there is something else that makes me squirm in my seat - but I'll come onto that.

Joe Orton's dark farce takes place on the day of Mrs McLeavy's funeral. Her nurse, Mrs McMahon (Sinead Matthews), is a devout Catholic but her motives are more financial. Hal McLeavy (Sam Frenchum) and his friend Dennis (Calvin Demba) also have their own motives for being interested in the funeral - the bank next door to the funeral parlour (where Dennis works) has been robbed. Throw in a straight-laced and gullible widower (Ian Redford) and a suspicious but unscrupulous copper (Christopher Fulford) and you've got a play of scheming, manipulation, dodging and evasion.

There is great farcical comedy here as a game of cat and mouse ensues with Mr McLeavy a pawn in the middle. It is brilliantly executed but for the fact that Mrs McLeavy's body does come in for quite a bit of manhandling which is where the seat squirming comes in. It's a personal thing and I'm sure doesn't bother everyone in the same way, but I find it hard laughing when an old lady's body (remember this isn't a dummy) is being stripped and then stuffed unceremoniously into a cupboard. Full marks to Anah Rudin who plays the corpse though (she got a cheer at the curtain call).

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Review: Waiting For Godot back as an existential sit com at the Arts Theatre

Patrick ODonnell_Nick Devlin 0209
Patrick O'Donnell & Nick Devlin, Waiting For Godot

I have a fondness for Samuel Beckett's play Waiting For Godot not just because it was one of my A-Level English set texts but because I remember the moment those weird and monotonous words (in my teenage mind) leapt with emotional gusto off the page when we were taken to see it performed at the National Theatre. It wasn't funny in the classroom, it was funny on stage - and sad and lots of other things and this production made me love the play and that moment of words and performance bringing life and meaning all over again.

Patrick O'Donnell's Estragon (Gogo) and Nick Devlin's Vladimir (Didi) - the two friends who pass the time while waiting for Godot - reminded me a little of a comic duo, a sort of Morcambe and Wise. Devlin's Didi is the straight man, the Ernie Wise and O'Donnell the more silly and mischievous Eric Morcambe. 

As they pass the time telling their stories, debating, bickering, and in Gogo's case occasionally falling asleep they present Beckett's play as a kind of existential sit-com. O'Donnell has such an expressive face and a knack for comic timing the chuckles and laughs bubble through the play.

When landowner Pozzo (Paul Kealyn) and his almost entirely mute slave Lucky (Paul Elliot) arrive it affords the opportunity for more physical humour - there is a brilliantly funny sequence involving Lucky's bags. When Lucky 'thinks' it is a masterclass in non-verbal reaction from all three.

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Review: Tom Hiddleston is a huggy Hamlet in Kenneth Branagh's stagey production, RADA

RADA's Hamlet (l-r): Eleanor de Rohan, Caroline Martin, Tom Hiddleston and Ayesha Antoine. Credit Johan Persson

A spotlight picks out Tom Hiddleston's Hamlet sat at an upright piano. He plays and sings; the lyrics are familiar and it takes a second or two to place them - these are Ophelia's words taken from when she is lamenting the death of her father. Giving these words to Hamlet is interesting not least because opening the play with the Prince mourning his father death reminded me of how Tom Hiddleston's friend Benedict Cumberbatch opened his Hamlet with a similar display of melancholy. 

It is not the last we see of Tom Hiddleston's varied talents, later he will dance with 'Rosacrantz' (Ayesha Antoine) and 'Guildastern' (Eleanor de Rohan), picking up Rosacrantz and spinning her around and later throwing her onto the sofa for 'japes'. He's a lively Hamlet and a huggy Hamlet, throwing his arms around Horatia (Caroline Martin) and his friends when they arrive, then later Ophelia (Kathryn Wilder) and hugging tightly his mother (Lolita Chakrabarti) in the closet scene - he even hugs Laertes before the start of the duel. There is a lot of passion in those hugs.

And, in his skinny black jeans with black pea coat collar turned up - or hoodie or tight t-shirt - he cuts a dashing figure, his lean, muscular frame combined with his energy is an altar to health and vitality. He may be wearing black but you can picture him still going for long runs or to the gym to work out.

But, and this is where the Tom Hiddleston fans may want to turn away, there is otherwise little sign of what is going on beneath the surface of this Hamlet. There are sparks of affection - a lovely tender moment between him and Ophelia for example - but I didn't feel him. Yes, he shouts and gets angry but he gives little in his performance that would tell you what is really going on in his head. Likewise with the soliloquies; they are technically flawless but I didn't feel like the tears or sentiment came from anywhere deep. I've laughed, cried, been frustrated by, been afraid of and afraid for Hamlet in past productions but for Tom Hiddleston's I didn't feel anything. The blame for this, I think partly lays in the direction.

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That was August in London (and Stratford) theatre-land with a bit of a Hamlet theme

Tom Hiddleston as Hamlet, photo Johan Persson

* The lucky charms came out in August as it was announced that Tom Hiddleston would play Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh, for a limited run at RADA as a fundraiser for the drama school. The lucky charms were for the ticket ballot, the only way to see the production. My stars were aligned or at least @PolyG’s were. Can’t wait. (Production photos here on What's On Stage.)

* And while we are on the topic of Hamlet, Andrew Scott/Robert Icke's amazing production is due to be broadcast by BBC 2 next year. It opened at the Almeida earlier this year before transferring to the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre and has set the bar high for Hamlets, so no pressure Tom/Ken.

* Another Hamlet related bit of news (kinda), Jonathan Slinger - a former RSC Hamlet  -  has been cast in Trouble in Mind at the Print Rooms at the Coronet.

* Stan-fav and RSC regular, Jasper Britton, is starring in a new Howard Brenton play, The Blinding Light, at the Jermyn Street Theatre from September 6.

* And still with the RSC, if you fancy a unique souvenir of a favourite production get down to Stratford on Sep 23 for the company's costume sale.

* Elsewhere, Samantha Bond and Richard Dreyfus have been cast in the Florian Zeller's play The Lie at Menier Chocolate Factory from September 14.

* Michelle Dockery has been widely reported as joining Brian Cranston in the Ivo Van Hove directed Network although there is nothing on the National Theatre website, as yet, to reflect this.

* The amazing Rachael Stirling has been cast in Labour of Love - and so has Tamsin Greig who is replacing Sarah Lancashire who has pulled out of the production. It opens for previews at the Noel Coward Theatre at the end of September.

* And this is particularly lovely casting news, Oliver Chris and Nancy Carroll will join Rory Kinnear in Young Marx, the inaugural production at the new Bridge Theatre which opens on October 18.


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Review: Shock jock and celebrity in Talk Radio, Old Red Lion

Talk Radio  Matthew Jure (courtesy Cameron Harle) 4
Talk Radio: Matthew Jure, courtesy Cameron Harle

I'm of the generation that remembers The James Whale Radio Show, his confrontational style with phone in guests and the way he put the phone down on callers he didn't like or grew impatient with. It was sport to try and get on the show and say something rude before getting cut off. In Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio - getting its London premiere after 30 years - Barry Champlain (Matthew Jure) is a Cleveland shock jock in the same vein.

He's intelligent, knowledgeable with whip crack wit and retorts. He plays devil's advocate with dizzying contrariness fuelled by drink and lines of cocaine. He loathes his fans almost as much as he loathes himself and treats those around him with equal contempt.

On the eve of his show getting syndicated we watch him through the glass of the (brilliantly realised) radio studio. The show runs at lightning speed rattling through callers that represent the underbelly of hate and prejudice through to the inane, odd and tedious, and yet simultaneously we watch the slow motion car crash that is Champlain heading for self destruct.

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