79 posts categorized "Almeida" Feed

Review: A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre - truth and lies in theatre

Tanya Reynolds and Samuel Adewunmi for A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner
Tanya Reynolds and Samuel Adewunmi in A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner

The wedding between Layla and Joel is back on, having found a new venue at the Trafalgar Theatre.

Sam Holcroft's play A Mirror, which won rave reviews when it opened at the Almeida Theatre, has brought its lies to the West End.

That isn't a spoiler, it tells us the play is a lie in a tagline. And we, the audience, are complicit; we play along as wedding guests, standing for the bride and later to take an oath.

But for which lie are we complicit?

Inspired by Sam Holcroft's visit to North Korea, this is a play about culture in a repressive regime. What theatre is suitable for public consumption in the eyes of the state? Who is it for, and what does theatre mean in that scenario?

It is also about the truth and lies of theatre arts.

Layla and Joel's wedding is a performance, not so much a play within a play but a play to hide a play. 

That play follows Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), the director at the Ministry of Culture, who believes he is a connoisseur of the arts and wants to improve the quality of what gets approved for performance.

When a play written by car mechanic Adem (Samuel Adewunmi) lands on his desk, it contains so many infractions of what is 'acceptable' theatre that Čelik should report him to the Ministry of Security.

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2023 theatre round up - top 10 favourite plays (and 4 least favourite)

Best of theatre 2023 montage

It feels like theatre returned with a splash in 2023 after the dark days of Covid. I saw 62 and a half plays (64 and a half, including second viewings) across London's plethora of theatres, from tiny pubs to big West End stages.

Here are my favourite 10 plays - in no particular order (links are to the full review).

1. No One, Omnibus Theatre

This was a fun, lively and inventive storytelling, with brilliant fight scenes.

2. Linck and Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre

Based on a real same-sex couple living in the 18th Century Prussia, this was a witty, effervescent and heartbreaking play.

Mediocre white male king's head theatre

3. Mediocre White Male, King's Head Theatre

Subtle shifts and throwaway remarks build to make a powerful point.

4. A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre (and Savoy Theatre)

A harrowing and compelling play that utterly flawed me and I had to go back and see it again.

5. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre and Noel Coward Theatre

Superb performances in this sharp, funny and interesting play. So good, I had to see it twice.

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Review: Portia Coughlan, Almeida Theatre - a play that got under my skin

Portia Coughlan

At the interval during Portia Coughlan at the Almeida, I turned to my friend and said, 'it's very Greek tragedy'. At that point, I hadn't seen the Almeida's behind-the-scenes video in which Alison Oliver, who plays Portia, says: "It's very Greek in terms of the extremities she goes through".

I'd been careful to avoid any information about the play so I could sit down and watch without preconceived ideas.

Which seems a good time to do a spoiler warning. There may be more detail than I would typically include in this. Click away now if that's not your bag.

When we first meet Portia, she's still in her night dress and already drinking. It's her birthday, but her mood isn't exactly celebratory. Her emotions are strained by the absence of her twin brother Gabriel, who died 15 years earlier.

She is dismissive, distant and harsh to her loving husband and neglectful of her three children. This isn't a person in a good place.

Pain and grief roll off her in waves, but there is a desire for something. Sometimes it's a desire to forget, perhaps to feel something else or escape. During the day, she seeks out sex with lovers as well as drink.

There is also a desire for something more destructive; she doesn't seem to care about being seen.

But equally, she feels acutely her family's silence around Gabriel. Her family are unsympathetic, and she takes their reprimands silently - most of the time.

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Review: A Mirror, Almeida Theatre - a play that continually surprises

A Mirror Almeida promo poster

I was intrigued about A Mirror before I even got to my seat. Its description on the website doesn't give much away (and I don't like to read any interviews until afterwards).

The Almeida foyer is decked out ready for a wedding celebration. But alongside pink ribbons and pastel balloons, there is a huge Oath of Allegiance on the wall and notices from the Ministry of Culture reminding you of the rules and regulations.

That contrast in tone - celebration and authority - is emblematic of Sam Holcroft's play which has you thinking you are watching one thing, only for the curtain to be ripped back to reveal something else.

A Mirror is about making theatre when the state decides what is and isn't suitable to be put on stage. And from the moment you step into the decorated foyer, you are part of the narrative.

Inspired by Holcroft's visit to North Korea, Adem (Michael Ward) submits his first play to the Ministry of Culture for approval.

It ends up in the hands of Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), a slightly sinister senior official who happens to have a love - and knowledge - of theatre. He doesn't want to necessarily follow a check list of suitability, but he does have firm ideas about what theatre should and shouldn't be.

He sees talent in Adem if only it can be channelled into material appropriate for public viewing.

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Review: Patsy Ferran and Paul Mescal in A Streetcar Named Desire, Almeida Theatre

Streetcar Named Desire Almeida Theatre Dec 2022 running times

The Almeida's production of A Streetcar Named Desire quickly sold out, presumably helped by the casting of Paul Mescal as Stanley. But the play's drama started before it opened:  A few days before previews began, its Blanche - Lydia Wilson - had to pull out.

Olivier-winner* Patsy Ferran stepped into the breach taking on the lead role, the first week of performances was cancelled to give her some rehearsal time, and the press night was pushed back to January (yes, this performance was an unintended preview).

While it wasn't referenced that Ferran would have a script with her in the stage manager's brief pre-performance speech, she had a black, hardbacked notebook with her throughout. However, it didn't really register for a long time until she seamlessly opened it, glanced at a page and then closed it again without missing a beat.

Seamless performance

In fact, I hardly noticed her looking at it; it was held like a prop as if it was dear possession, an item of comfort that Blanche clings to. And it was the only slight hint of having had so little time to prepare. She was that good.

The other unexpectedly great performance was director Rebecca Frecknall, who stood in to play Eunice.

Pushing last-minute substitutions to one side, this production is a very different beast from others I've seen. For a start, Ferran's Blanche is so fragile. You really get the sense of this being someone who is damaged, rendered delicate with frayed nerves. 

Hers is a sweet charm, an almost innocent flirtation which she can turn on almost like a reflex rather than a more overt sexiness of other portrayals. Her behaviour feels like her protective casing from years of trying to numb past trauma.

Menacing performance from Mescal

I feared for her before the brute that is Stanley had even stepped on stage. And Mescal's Stanley is menacing. Previously only having seen him play very gentle and quiet characters; it was great to watch.

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Review: The Clinic, Almeida Theatre - an intoxicating and befuddling brew

Tea drinking features heavily in Dipo Baruwa-Etti's posh kitchen-set play The Clinic at the Almeida Theatre. But this tea may or may not have intoxicating or calming effects; even those who fervently dislike infusions get a taste for it. 

The Clinic. Mercy Ojelade  Gloria Obianyo  Maynard Eziashi  Donna Berlin  Simon Manyonda. Photo - Marc Brenner (2)
The Clinic, Almeida Theatre Sep 22. Mercy Ojelade, Gloria Obianyo, Maynard Eziashi, Donna Berlin and Simon Manyonda. Photo: Marc Brenner

And that is The Clinic, a mix of contemporary family drama and something more difficult to put a finger on.

It opens with the 60th birthday celebration of Segun (Maynard Eziashi) with his wife Tiwa (Donna Berlin), son Bayo (Simon Manyonda, daughter Ore (Gloria Obianyo) and Bayo's wife Amina (Mercy Ojelade).

The dialogue crackles and sparks; this is a familiar family dynamic that is a mix of love and frustration. There are harsh jibes and sharp digs centring on politics and activism.

Segun is a therapist and author, and Tiwa volunteers at a women's refuge. They have made a comfortable life for themselves and vote Tory. Bayo is in the police, Ore is a junior doctor and both vote labour. Amina is a labour politician.

Job choice comes under scrutiny, as does who is best placed to force change and drive racial equality and what is the most effective tactic. Sparks fly in a fierce, passionate, angry debate that quickly spills over into hurtful remarks.

Into this mix comes Wunmi (Toyin Ayedun-Alase), a suicidal widow with a baby, whom Ore thinks her parents can help.

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Review: Tom Hollander in Patriots, Almeida Theatre - star performance and penny drop moments

Confession: I sat down to watch the Patriots at the Almeida, not realising that the central character Boris Berezovsky (Tom Hollander) was based on a real person. 🤦🏻  The penny drop moment came when a character previously referred to as 'The Kid' was introduced as Roman Abramovich (Luke Thallon).

Patriots poster
Poster for Patriots, Almeida Theatre July 2022

Peter Morgan's play follows Berezovsky from his position as an influential oligarch who helps to put Vladimir Putin (Will Keen) in power to public enemy and exile.

He has a clever mind, a sharp tongue and is not shy of dropping f-bombs. While his primary motivation, he tells us, is doing what is best for his country, his arrogance says something slightly different. And that arrogance blinds him or skewers his judgement and leads to his downfall.

Tom Hollander plays Berezovsky with wit and swagger; it is a star performance (he got a standing ovation at the end) but not a surprising performance.  

Putin is the only other character that has some traction in the play and is expertly played by Keen. He really embodies the character presenting an uncanny likeness that is quite disconcerting.

Wasted character

It's similar for Thallon, he does bear an uncanny resemblance to the man he is playing. However, his character feels wasted, with little for Thallon to really get his teeth into, particularly given the meatier roles he's had recently (Camp Siegfried and After Life).

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Sunday theatre question: A song you always associate a play

This week's Sunday theatre question is inspired by a comment made on my Instagram post about how a song played during a production of Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre became forever associated with that play.

Sunday theatre question song

It got me thinking about which songs take me back to a play whenever I hear them. 

I've always loved music (just not musicals) and can find songs very evocative of particular times and places, so it isn't surprising that a stand out scene or play can get linked with a song that is played over it in a particular production.

Probably the strongest link is Chris Isaak's Wicked Game which was played during a pivotal scene in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, starring Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby.

It fit so perfectly, tonally and lyrically to what was going on, and whenever I hear it, I think of that play and that scene.

Another song that I always associate with a play is David Bowie's Starman which was used during My Night With Reg at the Donmar Warehouse. It is a song with a bittersweet tone that worked perfectly when it was played for a dance scene at the end of the play.

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Sunday theatre question: Which is your favourite play based on real events?

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and that's how I preambled my review of The Great Wave at the National Theatre back in 2018.

Sunday theatre question based on real events

It was based on real events in the 1970s and 1980s when North Korean agents abducted ordinary people from Japanese beaches in order to steal their identities or learn the Japanese language and culture.

The play follows two sisters one who has been abducted and the other left behind living with her sister's sudden disappearance.  It's a nail-biting, emotional roller coaster of a play that brought to life events I had no knowledge of.

Which is your favourite play based on real events?

The Great Wave is one of several plays based on real events I've really enjoyed over the years, here are some other notable mentions:

Enron, Noel Coward Theatre - Took a very dry subject and made it interesting and entertaining - bonus points for velociraptors and light sabres.

This House, National Theatre - a dusty 1970s political crisis given a high-energy makeover by writer James Graham and director Jeremy Herrin.

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Review: Hymn, Almeida Theatre - brotherly love, eulogies and symbolic savings

The 'Chekhov's gun' in Lolita Chakrabati's Hymn is £10,000 in savings. When it gets mentioned early on, the warning light started flashing in my mind.

Hymn Almeida danny sapani adrian lester photo marc brenner
Hymn, on stage via the screen (Danny Sapani and Adrian Lester, photo Marc Brenner)

It belongs to Benny (Danny Sapani), hard-earned and put by bit by bit over the years.  But it is a victim of the story rather than the driver of the narrative.

Benny has recently found out his father is - or was - a local businessman and turns up at his funeral, where he meets his half-brother Gil (Adrian Lester).

The narrative quickly strides forward to when a strong bond has formed; they share a love of music and, in particular, the music of their youth.

There is a celebratory feel to their friendship - helped by some serious dancing and cool 80s beats - as if making up for the decades of missed shared experiences.

But Benny and Gil's relationship contrasts with that between Gil and their father.

Truthful eulogies

Two eulogies bookend the play. The first is revealed to be not quite truthful in how it represents a relationship while the other we'll never know if it was or not. And that made it a slightly problematic device for me.

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