182 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

Review: Under Milk Wood, National Theatre, starring Michael Sheen

REVIEW: The National Theatre's production of Under Milk Wood, starring Michael Sheen, was much anticipated and turned into a mixed experience.

Under Milk Wood poster
Back at the National Theatre for Under Milk Wood

It was much anticipated partly because it's my first trip to the National since before the pandemic, in part because I haven't seen Michael Sheen on stage since Hamlet at the Young Vic and partly because I've never seen Under Milk Wood before.

The play is framed in a care home setting, the Milk Wood story, to help an elderly man with dementia remember. We are transported to Welsh fishing village Llareggub (bugger all backwards 🙂) at night, where the residents sleep, their dreams revealed by the narrator (Michael Sheen).

We then follow them into the day and their inner thoughts, which reveal their true feelings - longing, revenge, desire, hope, contentment, frustration, joy and more.

The extraordinary and ordinary

Their thoughts are an extraordinary, emotionally colourful soundtrack to the ordinariness of their day. A day punctured by routine and often mundane tasks.

Michael Sheen's narrator tells us their thoughts using Dylan Thomas' vivid, lyrical language, sometimes with the ensemble playing along as the villagers, sometimes not.

And this is where my experience of watching the play was mixed.

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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: Favourite solo performance

Sometimes plays just have one actor. They might be playing one character, they might be playing many, but they don't have any other actors to play off. It is just them and their performance.

Sunday theatre question solo performance

There are no distractions, it's just you and them.

Do you have a favourite solo performance?

The moment I started thinking about this, I realised it was going to be really tricky to choose a favourite as I've seen some superb solo performances over the years.

So here are a couple of notable mentions... and my overall winner:

Carey Mulligan in Girls and Boys, Royal Court Theatre

A tour de force performance from Carey Mulligan in which she manages to paint a picture of domesticity filling the stage with a family that is only their in our imagination while subtly hinting at something different. It's a play that surprised and a lot of that was down to the delivery.

Cillian Murphy, Misterman, National Theatre

Not only was it a solo performance, it was a solo performance on the Lyttelton stage which is one of the biggest in London. And Cillian Murphy made use of the entire space. It was a superb performance that mixed humour and fun with something darker and sinister, and I still remember it vividly.

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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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Sunday theatre questions: Which play have you seen the most?

Theatre-land is a mixture of new plays and revivals, but there are certain classics which regularly get staged - which have you seen the most? Is there a particular reason why you've seen one play more than any others?

Which play have you seen the most

The hands-down winner for me is Hamlet. I think I've seen 17 or more different productions, but I confess it was less than literary reasons that got me hooked initially.

Yes, Hamlet was one of the set texts in my final year at Uni but that year also saw the release of a film version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson.

He was one of my teen crushes so; naturally, I ran to the cinema to see it and then went back to see it again... and again.

I have no idea if it was well done - I wasn't really watching it for the play - but it helped me get really familiar with the key speeches. Handy when exam time came around.

The very first production

The first stage production of Hamlet I saw was on a student trip to Theatr Clwyd. It was memorable for several reasons no least because one of the actor's costumes caught fire  - it was all fine, quickly stamped out by another actor without even a pause in their speech.

But it wasn't until I saw it again years later - in 2008 - with David Tennant as Hamlet that it really sparked my interest/obsession. The speeches were still familiar, and the production just opened up the play in different ways.

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Sunday theatre question: A screen/book adaptation that worked surprising well on stage

Going to see a much-loved film or book that has been adapted for the stage can conjure up a mixture of feelings from excitement to nerves. Sometimes there is an element of curiosity about how it will be adapted.

So have you seen a screen or stage adaptation that has particularly surprised you in how it was staged?

In the video, I explain my top choice, the National Theatre of Scotland's adaptation of Swedish horror film Let The Right One In which I saw when it transferred to the Royal Court.

I loved the film but never in a million year would have pegged it as a stage adaptation. I approached it with trepidation but was completely blown away by the inventiveness of the staging and how the tone of the film had been captured.

Here are some of my other favourite adaptations for stage, tell me about yours in the comments.

Let the Right One In, Royal Court Theatre

A Monster Calls, Old Vic Theatre - the book, written by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd, held a particular place in my heart because I read it not long after my Mum died. There had already been a film version which used CGI to great effect to render the tree-like monster - or is it monster-like tree - of the title and I'd been relieved when that version was reasonably faithful to the book.

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Sunday theatre question: Favourite Winter play

This week's theatre question is inspired by the wintery weather. The weathermen forecast snow for this weekend here in London but instead, it's peeing it down with rain. Not that I mind too much snow is just a pain - on those rare occasions we get it in the city.

Anyway, the prospect of snow got me thinking about plays that either have a wintery setting or remind me of the winter. Watch the video to find out my choice of favourite winter play and let me know your snowy-set play choices in the comments.

If you are looking for some inspiration, here are some other plays that have wintery connections:

The Red Barn, National Theatre - Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki starred in this intriguing and tense play in which a snowstorm throws a group of people together.

On Bear Ridge, Royal Court - The mountain setting, the snowy stage, the actors wrapped in layers against the 'cold' - a beautiful play with a bleak future setting and the weather to match.

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic - The one starring Rhys Ifans had everyone in the audience so giddy that when it started 'snowing' over the stalls there was spontaneous applause. It was such a joyful moment.

And my review of Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios starring James McAvoy which had a distinctly wintery feel.


Sunday theatre question: What combo would be your nightmare theatre production?

If you had a theatre-watching nightmare, one where you were forced to sit an watch something and it was everything you hate, what would that look like for you?

Sunday theatre question

For me, it would be a musical, written by Tom Stoppard and starring Ben Whishaw for reasons I explain in the video below.

There is one Tom Stoppard play I really like and that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead but I've realised over the years that the only reason I like that play is because I love Hamlet and crucially I'm familiar with it.

And that's the problem with Stoppard he relies on a lot of existing knowledge and if the references and ideas aren't familiar then it doesn't make much sense. Which has been the case with all the other plays I've seen.

I'm not one for dumbing down but I find them alienating because I don't have the prerequisite level of knowledge to adequately appreciate them.

And I've tried quite a few - I've seen Arcadia more than once - but after these years of testing, I've come to the conclusion that Stoppard isn't for me.

Here's a couple of reviews of Tom Stoppard plays I've seen:

The great: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Old Vic starring Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire

The tedious: The Hard Problem, Dorfman Theatre

 

 


Sunday theatre question: Who would star in your dream play in 2021?

Hopefully this year we'll see theatres reopening and a semblance of normality returning so with that in mind the first Sunday Theatre question of 2021 is about what your dream play would be and who would star in it.

So pick a genre - or a play if you have one in mind - the actor and/or actress you'd most like to star in it and then share it in the comments.

My choice would be a black comedy starring Ben Whishaw and Monica Dolan for reasons I explain in the video.

Looking forward to reading about your choices and scroll down for my favourite black comedies...

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Lockdown lessons for theatres in audience relations

I've been waiting for Cultural Capital to publish her thoughts about how the National Theatre saved lockdown and what it means for future audience relations.

We've discussed it a couple of times in recent weeks, having both noticed a change in the relationship between theatres and their audiences.

 
Brandan-keller-T29KltN7WK0-unsplash

Without a communal space to congregate in, theatres have had to reach out like never before to find an audience - and without live performance, they've had to be inventive in their offer.

As the piece says, the National Theatre's NT Live has been a boon but even more so has been the 'behind the scenes' Zoom chats with the cast and creatives. You'll have to read the piece to get Cultural Capital's full thoughts about how this might fuel changes.

We have also discussed how theatres have been far more responsive on social media, again reaching out to engage with their audience noticeably more than has been done in the past.

Have theatres realised that they need to build a relationship with their audiences in a far more engaged and meaningful way than they have in the past?

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