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May 2024

Review: Bluets, Royal Court Theatre - technically impressive but emotionally unengaging.

Bluets Royal Court Theatre building

I haven't read Maggie Nelson's book Bluets, but after watching this stage version adapted by Margaret Perry at the Royal Court Theatre, I don't feel the need to.

It's directed by Katie Mitchell, and given the technical/live film treatment I last saw her use in ...some trace of her at Soho Theatre, which I really enjoyed.

In Bluets, three actors, Emma D'Arcy, Kayla Meikle and Ben Whishaw, play the same character. They stand in a row, each with a table and video camera, and above each is a screen.

They take turns delivering lines, sometimes just a few words, that tell the story of how, after a relationship breaks up, a woman falls in love with the colour blue.

It is voice-over style, so who you see on screen doesn't match who you hear. Only one screen is active at a time, allowing the other performers to set up the next snippet of live film.

The film performance is focused on reenactment/positioning shots to illustrate the story on screen. So the actor will stand side on to the camera, arms positioned to look like they are driving, while footage of a street passing plays behind them, for example.

Among the visual effects are 'walking' along a street, drinking whisky, laying in bed looking at a phone, those sorts of things.

It's technically mesmerising and fascinating to watch, at least for a while. The actors have to remember not only their snippets of dialogue but also all the video cues, where they need to be standing, what props to hold, etc.

But I have problems with it.

Continue reading "Review: Bluets, Royal Court Theatre - technically impressive but emotionally unengaging." »

Review: Romeo & Juliet, Duke of York's Theatre starring Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

Romeo and juliet duke of yorks theatre

Director Jamie Lloyd is behind this new production of Romeo & Juliet with Spider-Man Tom Holland as the star name. He's a director whose work I love, particularly for the way he takes familiar plays and makes you see them differently.

Could he work his magic on this Shakespeare classic and make me like a play I've started to avoid?

I've seen a good handful of productions of Romeo & Juliet, and my main problem has been believability. There has rarely been sufficient chemistry between the star-crossed lovers to make their teenage 3-day meet-fall-in-love-marry-die story feel genuine.

It doesn't help that the 3-day tragi-romance begins with Romeo moping because he's so in love with another girl. (Fickle youth.)

But watching Jamie Lloyd's production, it's like he's asked a mate to hold his pint while he throws an emotional punch.

The staging is stripped back and still. There are a couple of mic stands and a step-down near the front of the stage where the actors sometimes sit.

Jamie Lloyd has embellished this sparse, prop-free backdrop by mixing in live video. A camera projects particular scenes on a huge screen above their heads, creating a cinema-screen-sized close-up.

The handheld camera also allows the actors to roam and break away from the traditional performance space. (At one point, Tom Holland's Romeo goes up onto the roof for a quiet cig.)

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Review: Love's Labour's Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre - contemporary touches adds a freshness

RSC love's labour's lost posters 2024

Love's Labour's Lost, starring Luke Thomson, is the play that got me back to Stratford. It's been years since I jumped on a train to the West Midlands as it's become more of a faff since direct trains from London were ditched (such an idiotic decision).

Was it worth the journey?

Director Emily Burns has brought a contemporary freshness to Love's Labour's Lost. It's set in a luxury, exotic resort where Ferdinand, King of Navarre (Abiola Owokoniran), Berowne (Luke Thomson) and two other friends have signed an oath to study, fast and stay away from women for three years.

Even the Princess of France (Melanie-Joyce Bermudez) and her three ladies are not permitted beyond the grounds where the King insists they meet. However, this permitted 'off-site' doesn't stop Ferdinand falling in love with the Princess, Berowne falling for Rosaline (Ionna Kimbook) and Longville and Dumaine falling for the other two ladies.

Secret wooing, disguises and mistakes with letters ensue.

The contemporary resort setting works well with servants and courtiers becoming spa staff. There are sun loungers, golf tees and a tennis coach. Stripping away the court puts the focus on the men's behaviour. It also fits with the sassy way the women out-wit them and put them in their place.

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Review: Laughing Boy, Jermyn Street Theatre - urgent and emotional

Daniel Rainford  Lee Braithwaite  Alfie Friedman and Janie Dee in Laughing Boy_Jermyn Street Theatre_ photography by Alex Brenner
Daniel Rainford, Lee Braithwaite, Alfie Friedman and Janie Dee in Laughing Boy, Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo by Alex Brenner


Adapted from Sara Ryan's book 'Justice For Laughing Boy' this is a story about a mother's fight to find the truth about her 18-year-old son's death in a bath in an NHS facility.

Connor (Alfie Friedman), or Laughing Boy as his family calls him, has learning difficulties and epilepsy. He likes lorries and buses and often carries around a model of a red double-decker bus.

The play mixes happy family scenes from the past with the lead-up to Connor's admission to the unit and the subsequent campaign to find out what happened.

Connor's absence is, ironically, demonstrated in the fact that he is always there.

The conversation never shifts far from him, but micro-stories and examples of Connor in life are played out in interactions with his family, his comments and questions or when he simply sits playing with his bus.

Aside from Alfie Friedman and Janie Dee, the rest of the cast take on the menagerie of antagonists (medical staff and their representatives) and supporters of the family, lawyers and advisors. 

The stage is plain white, and the back wall curves around and acts as a screen for family photos, text messages, emails and documents. It feels almost like a docudrama, told primarily through Sara's eyes.


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