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June 2023

Review: Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Theatre Royal Haymarket - satirical farce carries a lot of punches

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Tom Andrews, Tony Gardner and Daniel Rigby in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Theatre Royal Haymarket. Photo: Helen Murray

If this Tom Basden-adapted, Daniel Raggett-directed production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist was a comic book, it would have Blam! Boof! Kapow! written on every page.

Verbal punches come thick and fast in what is a satirical farce aimed squarely at the police.

It is set in a police station where scandal is brewing after the death of an anarchist who was being questioned. Did he jump from the window, or was he pushed?

Enter Maniac (Daniel Rigby); in and out of mental institutions, he is a self-professed actor with a broad repertoire of characters he can (and will) play.

Believing him to be a judge, he encourages the police to re-enact the 'accident' for the benefit of an enquiry. Lies, dodgy procedures and sheer stupidity emerge.

The pace and energy of Rigby's delivery never let up as Basden's script pokes fun at the police, simultaneously exposing the boys in blue's flaws, prejudices and injustice.

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Review: Dear England, National Theatre - I'm not a football fan but...

Dear England National Theatre June 23
I'm not a football fan, but I am a James Graham fan, so I had to see his new play Dear England at the National Theatre, based on Gareth Southgate's management of the England team.

It starts with Southgate (Joseph Fiennes) being offered the job and bringing in psychologist Pippa Grange (Gina McKee) to help find out what is missing from the team's performance.

Naturally, a training program that incorporates talking about feelings, as well as skills and tactics, gets pushback from the team and the coaches.

The first half of the play focuses on that dive into the psychological blocks and trying to win the players over to the different approach as they prepare for the first World Cup under Southgate's management.

There is a particular focus on penalty shootouts which have long been the England team's Achilles heel.

Once the story reaches the World Cup, the games are recreated with just the England team, their movement 'on the pitch' and the sound effects of the ball being kicked and the crowd. It is evocative. 

And having highlighted the behind-the-scenes drama of the penalty shootouts, the tension is successfully recreated despite knowing the overall outcome.

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Review: The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre - abuse of power in the spotlight

Milly Alcock as Abigail Williams  Brian Gleeson as John Proctor and the cast of The Crucible west end. Credit Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Milly Alcock as Abigail Williams, Brian Gleeson as John Proctor and the cast of The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre 2023. Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

What struck me most about the National Theatre's production of The Crucible, which has transferred to the Gielgud Theatre, is the focus on the abuse of power.

Arthur Miller's play is set around the Salem witch trials but was written as an allegory for the McCarthy purge of communists in the 1950s. I've seen productions which highlighted 'otherness' and suspicion of strangers, but here it's about the power imbalance and the misuse of that power.

The Salem community at the centre of the story is a theocracy with little scope for individual freedom. It's a point emphasised in the first church-set scene where Abigail Williams (Milly Alcock) is roughly pulled out of the congregation for 'messing about'.

We then move to the home of Reverend Samuel Parris (Nick Fletcher), where his daughter Betty (Amy Snudden) is in a cold faint, having been 'startled' by her father, who discovered her and her friends dancing in the woods.

The girls have little agency; they are shouted at, ordered around, shaken, pulled and pushed - mostly by men.

Parris' sermons, we learn, focus on fire and brimstone, and so you get a devastating combination of self-preservation and desire.

Rumours and suspicion of witchcraft are rife in the extended community. To protect herself and her friends and cover up what they were really doing, Abigail claims witches made them dance.

The spark of suspicion quickly takes hold, fanned by a community burdened by grudges and petty squabbles.

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Review: Paper Cut, Park Theatre - the life of a gay injured soldier post deployment

Paper Cut Callum Mardy and Tobie Donovan credit Stefan Hanegraaf 5
Paper Cut, Park Theatre June 2023 l-r: Callum Mardy and Joe Bollard. Photo credit: Stefan Hanegraaf

Andrew Rosendorf's play Paper Cut is about an American soldier Kyle (Callum Mardy), on deployment in Afghanistan who is gay and trying to keep that a secret.

An IED puts a sudden end to his active service and career, and we then see him coming to terms with that, his life-changing injuries and his sexuality.

The narrative initially flicks back and forth between his time in Afghanistan and life afterwards. It's a bit slow to start, drip-feeding details of Kyle's past, his relationship with his brother Jack (Joe Bollard), his late army-vet father and his developing friendship with fellow soldier Chuck (Prince Kundai).

It picks up pace as more is revealed about his past actions and experiences, adding context and extra weight to the challenges he faces once outside the army.

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Review: All Of It, Royal Court Theatre: Mesmerising performance from Kate O'Flynn

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Kate O'Flynn in All of It, Royal Court, June 2023. Photo: Tristam Kenton

In three short plays performed as monologues by Kate O'Flynn, writer Alistair McDowall explores authenticity, the inner vs outer self.

Northleigh, 1940, the first play, starts explosively with the poetic story of mythical creatures. But it's all in the head of a woman who escapes into books as often as possible.

But they aren't the sort of books a woman 'should' be reading, so she hides them. Later she has a conversation with her father in their Morrison shelter; it is ordinary, domestic and mundane.

Which is the authentic self, and what is the role of society in shaping or hindering that?

In Stereo, the second play, ordinariness again collides with less ordinary, often in an amusing way. Inner thoughts are observations and descriptions, and the self is divided, appearing in different parts of a house:

"I hear myself moving around downstairs I was keeping out of my way"

Is the voice the house? Perhaps. Just as the self has divided, so do the voices. It becomes a cacophony of inner monologues with nothing distinguishable. Which did beg the question, what was the point other than to create a noise of dialogue?

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