291 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

Review: Manor, National Theatre - unsatisfying hodgepodge

As the stage was plunged into darkness at the end of Manor on the National Theatre's Lyttelton stage, I was thinking: What was the point?  

The applause died down and the actors left the stage, I turned to my friend who said what I was thinking before I had the chance.

National Theatre at night
Manor is on the Lyttelton stage at the National Theatre

Manor is an odd play and one that will divide given the mixed response from those sitting around us.

Set in a crumbling restoration-era manor house, on a stormy day with floodwaters rising, Lady Diana Stuckley (Nancy Carroll) is arguing with her husband Pete (Owen McDonnell).

He's off his tits on drugs (to put it bluntly), but the row whiffs of a marriage long past its sell-by date.

When daughter Isis (Liádan Dunlea) appears, there is no cessation of hostilities, and the mood doesn't get any better when strangers start arriving seeking shelter from the storm.

There's Ripley (Michele Austin), a nurse training to be a doctor and moody teenage daughter (Dora) Shaniqua Okwok, who were staying at a nearby holiday cottage.

And the charismatic-as-a-snake, Ted Farrier (Shaun Evans), who is the leader of a far-right group, accompanied by his blind girlfriend Amy (Ruth Forrest) and loyal recruit Anton (Peter Bray) in tow.

Local vicar Fiske (David Hargreaves) and unemployed youth Perry (Edward Judge), who lives in a caravan nearby, make up the group.

Remind you of something?

The set-up immediately reminded me of The Mousetrap, but while Manor is described as darkly comic on the National Theatre website, there isn't a great deal to laugh at unless you find fat-shaming funny.

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Review: Rare Earth Mettle, Royal Court Theatre - humour carries this meaty play

Al Smith's new play Rare Earth Mettle at the Royal Court is a meaty piece that covers a lot of ground, ironic considering the central premise is about the fight for control over one piece of land.

Rare Earth Metal

In Bolivia, Kimsa (Carlo Albán) scratches a living showing tourists around the remnants of colonial silver mines, including a British train, but the land he lives on is rich in the rare and valuable mineral lithium.

Billionaire Henry Finn (Arthur Darvill) wants to buy the land to mine the lithium for batteries for his new range of electric cars. Anna (Genevieve O'Reilly) is a doctor who wants the lithium because research tentatively shows that lithium helps improve mental health.

And Nayra (Jaye Griffiths) wants to use it for political (and financial) gain.

On the surface, there is something inherently good about all their motives - green cars, better health and a leader who wants to make life better for indigenous people.

Tarnished motives

But as the play unfolds, those motives are increasingly tarnished by the devious, corrupt and illegal means they'll go to reach their end goals.

If the play was focused purely on the debate over good motives badly executed, it would make for a really interesting and provocative play, particularly given the sharp wit and humour that weaves through it - more of that in a moment.

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Review: Camp Siegfried, Old Vic Theatre - teen romance and radicalisation

Camp Siegfried is more than a German-themed summer camp for German Americans in 1938 Long Island; alongside all the usual fun activities, Nazi doctrines are openly pedalled.

Old Vic Camp Siegfried
Camp Siegfried, Old Vic, Sept 2021. Photo: Rev Stan

The camp is based on a real Camp Siegfried, which operated in the 1930s and included flower beds in the shape of swastikas.

Bess Wohl's play sets the innocence of a teen romance against a backdrop of fascist grooming.

Our teenagers, played by Patsy Ferran and Luke Thallon, are in the process of finding out who they are and what they want out of life. They are impressionable but without realising it. 

Thallon's Him is 17 and already fully immersed in the camp and its values, having visited several times before. He spots Ferran's Her, a shy 16-year old and makes a bee-line towards her.

It's her first camp, she's there with an Aunt and not finding it easy. The marching bands are loud, she doesn't like dancing and is no good at sports or anything outdoorsy.

Romance is encouraged

As the two hang out together more and more, we learn of how 'romance' is encouraged to further the Nazi cause and, through camp gossip, how the reality is often inexperienced fumblings and embarrassment, not the great love and conquest most anticipate. 

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Review: After Life, National Theatre - a bittersweet, warm, fuzzy glow of a play

If you had to choose one memory to take with you into the afterlife, what would you choose - and how would you choose? This is the premise of After Life, adapted by Jack Thorne from a film by Hirokazu Kore-eda.

After Life flyer at the National Theatre
After Life, National Theatre Dorfman stage

And it's an intriguing concept. One which gnaws at your mind while you are watching the story unfold in front of you.

Set in a sort of in-between place - kinda like 'King's Cross station' in the Harry Potter book - where people go for a week after they die. It looks a bit like a 1940/50's Government department, bureaucratic and grey.

The back wall of the Dorfman stage is floor to ceiling metal filing draws. There is a ladder on tracks of the sort you see in old libraries to help the staff reach the higher draws.

Its staff are there to guide the newly deceased in their choice of memory and then recreate it for them so they can pass on with their chosen memory.

Challenges and mistakes

They have their own issues and challenges, make mistakes and occasionally face a moral dilemma. It adds a rich layer to the story, another layer of humanity.

Naturally, different people respond to the place and the task they have in different ways.

There's the elderly lady more concerned about her cat, the teenager who settles on a memory very quickly, the young man who refuses to engage with the process and the workaholic who struggles to settle on something meaningful.

The search and recollection of memories provoke a huge mixture of emotions, but amid the maelstrom of anger, hurt, and regret, there are bundles of tender moments and joy.

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Review: Lava, Bush Theatre - 'witty, weighted and lyrical'

Last year a critic described a dramatic response to the Black Lives Matter protests, to which Benedict Lombe contributed, as 'more lecture than theatre'. The quote is projected onto the set of her debut play, Lava, at the Bush Theatre.

Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in 'Lava' at the Bush Theatre. Photo credit Helen Murray_47
Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in 'Lava' at the Bush Theatre. Photo credit: Helen Murray

It appears about three-quarters of the way through the play, a punctuation point, a punch, perhaps a poke but certainly a powerful note that underlines what has gone before and the overarching message of the piece.

What has gone before is the story of a missing first name in a passport. Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo plays Benedict, recounting the story of getting her British passport renewed and finding out why her first name is missing.

Her investigation takes her back to Congo, the country where she was born but much further back in history to colonialism and the years that followed that have shaped her life and the lives of so many.

It is the tale of a family moving from place to place as Benedict's parents seek out a country where they can lead fulfilled lives - and just be.

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Review: Shedding A Skin, Soho Theatre - witty, fun and moving

Myah (Amanda Wilkin) is adrift. She goes from one dead-end job to another, trying to fit in until one day she gets called on to be the 'diversity quota' in her company's photos.

Shedding A Skin_Production_Soho_Helen Murray2 smll
Amanda Wilkin in Shedding A Skin, Soho Theatre. Photo: Helen Murray

She snaps, the restraints are off, and this departure is both dramatic and funny - think less eloquent and powerful speech, more scrawling expletives on the office wall.

On a roll, she walks out from her unsupportive boyfriend and finds herself homeless and jobless. She realises too late that it wasn't a good idea to tell her boyfriend he could do what he wants with all her stuff.

Answering an ad on the Tesco notice board, she finds herself living with an elderly Jamaica lady called Mildred on the 15th floor of a tower block with a broken lift.

This time she's going to try harder to make things work. She's going to get her shit together. No, she is.

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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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Review: Andrew Scott in Three Kings - a master in storytelling, compelling and gripping

If you've ever seen Andrew Scott perform Simon Stephens' monologue Sea Wall you'll know he is a master storyteller, deftly lifting words off the page and turning them into something compelling and gripping.

Andrew Scott Three Kings start

Three Kings, beautifully written by Stephen Beresford, gives him even more scope to sprinkle his performance magic.

Created especially for the Old Vic's In Camera, it is described as a scratch performance but only the lack of embellishments like set and fancy lighting give any sign of this. 

And who needs any of that anyway when you've got 60 minutes of you and Andrew Scott, albeit seen from the other side of a screen.

Funny and heartbreaking

Like Sea Wall, the power is in the story as it is told. And it is a powerful piece Scott drawing out the humour and heartache in equal measure.

Three Kings is about the relationship between a son and his an estranged father.

He meets him briefly at 8 years old but the meeting leaves an indelible mark which will go on shaping their relationship for many years.

His father leaves him a challenge of solving a puzzle involving three coins - the Three Kings of the title.

But it more than a simple test of puzzle-solving, solving this puzzle is hugely weighted.

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Review: Lungs, Old Vic - the 'live' theatre experience and a few thoughts on the play itself (I wasn't blown away)

I never got to see Lungs when it was on stage and I nearly didn't get to see this live online version because of the Old Vic's odd approach to ticketing - charging normal theatre prices for people to sit in their own homes to watch.

Lungs Old Vic on screen

But putting that to one side (I wrote about it here), on the final release of tickets, without expecting to find anything affordable, I managed to snag a £20 ticket.

The Old Vic has tried to inject as much of the live theatre atmosphere into the online experience as possible.

In the run-up to the live performance by Claire Foy and Matt Smith, you hear the hubbub of an audience and the bell that warns people the start is imminent and to take their seats.

It was a nice touch.

The performance itself looks like it's filmed on two cameras so you have the two actors appearing side by side on screen but in different shots.

You only get a sense that they are on the same stage in the occasional wide shot and when one of them walks across the other's shot to take up a new position.

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Review: Black Women Dating White Men - a candid exploration of interracial relationships

There is a lot that is fabulous about Somebody Jones' verbatim play Black Women Dating White Men, one of which is that it works so well on Zoom.

 

BWDWM still
Black Women Dating White Men by Somebody Jones

 

Five black women, sometimes with a glass a wine in hand or in a dressing gown, come together lockdown-style for regular chats via Zoom during which they discuss and share their experiences of being in an interracial relationship.

The nature of Zoom means the characters are at home, while you are watching at home which makes for an intimate experience, it feels like you are part of the chat.

They talk about how their friends and family reacted when they first met their white boyfriends, how they are treated when out and the ups and downs of their relationship.

It's a candid discussion, relaxed and matter of fact, sometimes humourous but no less powerful in what it exposes.

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