157 posts categorized "National Theatre" Feed

Review: Bruce Norris proves theatre can be challenging and entertaining with Downstate, National Theatre

It is a play that challenges your thinking and reactions.

Downstate poster

When I went to see Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park at the Royal Court I wrote: "Norris' skill at handling such a delicate and inflammatory subject in a way that makes you laugh but equally question yourself is quite genius."

And with Downstate he's done it again.

This time rather than tackling racism he's turned his attention to sexual abuse, setting the drama in a house share where four convicted child abusers are living on license having served their jail sentences. 

They are on the sex offenders register, GPS tagged, banned from using the internet and smartphones and restricted to where they can go.

It opens with the quiet, polite, wheel-chair bound Fred (Francis Guinan) being confronted by Andy (Tim Hopper) one of his victims. 

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Review: When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre - 'you must be wondering what the hell is going on?'

Despite committed performances by Blanchett and Dillane, there is something cold and mechanical to what is going on.

Cate Blanchett national theatre poster

Cate Blanchett is clever casting for Martin Crimp's new play When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other at the National Theatre because without her I very much doubt it would have sold out before it opened.

I'm putting my hand up and admit it was her casting that persuaded me to buy tickets, it certainly wasn't the fact that the play is written by Martin Crimp - the last of his I saw I tried to fall asleep to escape the boredom.

But even the thrill of seeing the Oscar/Golden Globe/BAFTA winner on the stage couldn't elevate what was a tedious two hours at the theatre.

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Cate Blanchett play at the National Theatre has an audience member fainting

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National Theatre content advisory warning


If a play is called 'When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other' you expect there to be some uncomfortable moments.

But apparently Martin Crimp's play, which is in preview at the National Theatre, is so explicit a woman in the audience fainted during a performance.

Cate Blanchett and Stephen Dillane star in the production and Katie Mitchell directs.

In fact, Mitchell's name should be a second warning for those of sensitive disposition as she isn't known for shying away from topics and behaviour that aren't an easy watch.

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I've given the theatres where I pay for membership an appraisal - how did they score?

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Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash


You know when you get appraised at work and scored on your performance? Well, I've done the same for the theatres Poly and I have 'friends' memberships for.

Essentially these schemes are ways of theatres raising money and in return, you get perks like priority booking.

Return on 'investment'?

We have memberships at the theatres we visit the most, which means we also buy a lot of tickets, so I wanted to work out what the return on our 'investment' is.

Are we getting bangs for our theatre bucks in terms of enjoyment, after all, you don't go to the theatre to be bored or miserable?

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2018 theatre review: Favourite moments from the surreal to the emotional and some awards

110+ plays and my first visit to the Edinburgh Fringe (15 plays in 6 days), 2018 was quite a year...

Magic and memorable moments:

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Patsy Ferran in My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court. Photo: Helen Murray.

Feeling part of the set:  Sitting on a bean bag on the carpet in Patsy Ferran's 'bedroom' for My Mum's a Twat at the Royal Court (and she said hello to me).

Audience reaction #1: The audience gasping at the 'snap' during a scene in the RSC's Julius Caesar where a little boy's neck 'was broken’. Obviously, no child was harmed etc.

Audience reaction #2: Finding myself stood up singing Amazing Grace with the entire audience at the Royal Court during 'Notes From The Field'.

Actor interaction: Kia Charles winking at me and grinning during Quiz, Noel Coward Theatre (benefits of on-stage seating).

Surreal moment #1: Alex Hassell introducing himself to me and Poly was a bit surreal (stopped myself from blurting out 'I know, I saw you play Prince Hal/Henry V etc.)

But what made it more surreal is that we were in a church hall in Pimlico and after the meet and greet we sat in a circle to watch and sometimes be part of a production of Macbeth.

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2018 theatre review: My favourite plays of the year (and my first six star play)

So I've published my favourite fringe plays list and my least favourite plays list, time now for my best plays of 2018 overall, gleaned from everything I've seen - large productions and small, commercial theatres, subsidised and fringe:

via GIPHY

Misty, Trafalgar Studios

A play which put the pulse back into the West End and as a result was a breath of fresh air.

A Monster Calls, Old Vic

I was nervous about seeing a stage adaptation of a much-loved book but the creativity with which it was staged combined with the performances meant I was an emotional wreck by the end. So much of an emotional wreck, I had to walk around for a bit afterwards to compose myself.

Queens of Sheba, Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe

A play about the dual prejudice of sexism and racism encountered by black women that succeeded in being both angry, uplifting and empowering.

It left me feeling teary in a happy/sad/exhilarated way and ready to march if the call came.

There is another chance to see it at the New Diorama Theatre, Jan 30-Feb 3 as part of the Vault Festival.

Notes from the Field, Royal Court

It was an uncomfortable, seat-squirming, horrifying joy to sit and experience and I gave it an unprecedented six stars. Yes, six stars.

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2018 theatre review: My 10 favourite fringe plays

Edinburgh Fringe media pass2018 was my first year at the Edinburgh Fringe which produced a bumper crop of excellent plays (look out for transfer details) but London has delivered some gems too.

Out of the 50-odd fringe plays there are 10 that really stand out but what strikes me most when revisiting them is how many evoked such a strong emotional reaction.

Yes, some are on the list for being highly entertaining but others made me feel angry or empowered or rebellious, some even a bit teary.

The other thing that strikes me is their diversity in ethnicity and gender balance tipped away from male dominance but I'll be writing more about that in another post.

So, in no particular order:

1. The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall

Based on research into Home Office procedures this exposes the farcical system that asylum-seekers encounter but more than that, how incompetence endangers people's lives. It made me very angry.

2. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Upstairs

It's been an incredible year for Patsy Ferran, kicked off in fine style with this solo performance in a play about a girl's relationship with her mother who has joined a cult. Funny and spirited it also had dark edges.

3. Coconut, Ovalhouse

An effervescent love story and a coming of age story that challenged stereotypes.

4. Flesh and Bone, Soho Theatre upstairs

Shakespeare-esque lyricism combined with East End vernacular cleverly takes you on a revealing and entertaining journey that elevates the stories of those that often overlooked. Shakespeare would, no doubt, have approved.

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Review: Stories, National Theatre - Nina Raine's desperate for a baby drama fails to deliver

Strip out the comic vignettes and the play is left feeling flimsy

IMG_1292One of my favourite plays recently was Hear Me Howl at the Old Red Lion about a woman, approaching 30, under pressure to have a baby when it really wasn't something she wanted to do.

It was refreshing to look at the woman/mother debate from a different angle.

Nina Raine's new play Stories is back to familiar territory: A woman desperately wants a kid.

Unlike Yerma (Billie Piper was cracking in the Young Vic production two years ago) it's not a physical problem, more of a partner problem.

Anna (Claudie Blakley) is 39 and in a long-term relationship with a younger man Joe (Brian Vernel) but on the eve of their IVF treatment he gets cold feet about being a father.

Desire for baby not questioned

Such is her desire for a baby she decides to use a sperm donor but it is a desire that isn't really questioned or examined.

Only once is Anna asked directly why she wants to have a baby - it's a feeling she 'can't explain' - and it isn't debated.

Ideas of legacy/not wanting to die alone are, slightly clunkily, referred to by the recurring appearance of a young girl and flashbacks to Anna's old landlady.

What alternatives?

There is no mention of alternatives such as adoption.

The focus on the pros and cons of using an anonymous sperm donor vs a named donor feels more like a comic device than something to explore in depth.

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That was August in theatre land - news & castings that caught my eye plus hits, misses and celeb spots

August was dominated by Edinburgh for me but the London theatre wheels were still turning; here's my round up of my favourite bits of news, my theatre hits and misses and few celeb spots...(let me know if I missed anything while I was north of the border).

Foxfinder_poster_sept18Sally Field and Bill Pullman in All My Sons, Old Vic - yep Hollywood comes London theatreland next year in a co-production with Headlong (Jeremy Herrin directs). No dates yet but already I can't wait. 

National Theatre's artistic director Rufus Norris steps into the breach - there has been a spate of understudies and theatre staff saving the day when actors are indisposed but last night's performance of Home, I'm Darling saw Norris take to the stage to play Jonny for Richard Harrison.

Foxfinder full cast - You may have missed my July round-up (I did) which (would have) mentioned that Iwan Rheon and Heida Reed had been cast in Foxfinder at the Ambassadors Theatre, well joining them is Paul Nicholls and Bryony Hannah. It opens for preview on September 6.

The Wild Duck, Almeida - Fans of Robert Icke rejoice, he returns to the Almeida with a production of Ibsen's The Wild Duck. Speculation has already started about who will be in the cast.  Opens October 15.

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3 short theatre reviews: The 'meh', the bored and the interval exit

Regular theatre-going is a bit like surfing, sometimes you catch the wave and it carries you exhilarated into shore, sometimes you wipe out only to surface bedraggled and nonplussed. The past week or so has definitely been the latter.

The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre - the 'meh'

Lehman trilogy sign national theatreSimon Russell Beale, Adam Godfrey and the lovely Ben Miles play all the roles - male and female - in the story of the Lehman Brothers.

The brothers arrive in America in the 1850s and we follow them from rags to riches as their family business evolves from cotton retail to investment banking over three generations.

The collapse of Lehmans bank in 2008 - by this stage no longer a family business - is well-trodden ground and as such is virtually a footnote in this play which might be part of the problem because it looms on the horizon throughout.

Grand performances from SRB et al including some amusing gender swaps which are done with a change of demeanour and expression rather than costume, wig and makeup.

The stage revolves with a series of glass-walled offices, a video backdrop adds context and later is used to give the impression of the set rising.

But despite the performances - with live piano accompaniment - and the slick staging I couldn't help asking whether this story genuinely deserved such a grand production - and a lengthy play.

Yes there is an interesting evolution of attitudes towards commerce and making money and contrast between the brothers but is it a unique story, are there others more worthy of telling?

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