330 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

Review: Bones, Park Theatre - rugby, mental health and toxic masculinity

Bones park theatre poster

Hot on the heels of Dear England at the National Theatre, which explores mental health and emotions in the England men's football team, we have Bones at the Park Theatre, which looks at men's mental health through the prism of a rugby team.

Both plays highlight some of the negative impacts of toxic masculinity, which forces self-reliance and emotional repression.

In Lewis Aaron Wood's play, the rugby team throws gendered insults and references to sexual acts with each other's mothers. Problems are 'solved' by drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

The story centres on Ed (Ronan Cullen), who is a reluctant participant despite scoring the winning try in an important game and is considering drastic measures to get out of the next big match.

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Review: Dear England, National Theatre - I'm not a football fan but...

Dear England National Theatre June 23
I'm not a football fan, but I am a James Graham fan, so I had to see his new play Dear England at the National Theatre, based on Gareth Southgate's management of the England team.

It starts with Southgate (Joseph Fiennes) being offered the job and bringing in psychologist Pippa Grange (Gina McKee) to help find out what is missing from the team's performance.

Naturally, a training program that incorporates talking about feelings, as well as skills and tactics, gets pushback from the team and the coaches.

The first half of the play focuses on that dive into the psychological blocks and trying to win the players over to the different approach as they prepare for the first World Cup under Southgate's management.

There is a particular focus on penalty shootouts which have long been the England team's Achilles heel.

Once the story reaches the World Cup, the games are recreated with just the England team, their movement 'on the pitch' and the sound effects of the ball being kicked and the crowd. It is evocative. 

And having highlighted the behind-the-scenes drama of the penalty shootouts, the tension is successfully recreated despite knowing the overall outcome.

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Review: All Of It, Royal Court Theatre: Mesmerising performance from Kate O'Flynn

All of It royal court kate o'flynn photo tristam kenton
Kate O'Flynn in All of It, Royal Court, June 2023. Photo: Tristam Kenton

In three short plays performed as monologues by Kate O'Flynn, writer Alistair McDowall explores authenticity, the inner vs outer self.

Northleigh, 1940, the first play, starts explosively with the poetic story of mythical creatures. But it's all in the head of a woman who escapes into books as often as possible.

But they aren't the sort of books a woman 'should' be reading, so she hides them. Later she has a conversation with her father in their Morrison shelter; it is ordinary, domestic and mundane.

Which is the authentic self, and what is the role of society in shaping or hindering that?

In Stereo, the second play, ordinariness again collides with less ordinary, often in an amusing way. Inner thoughts are observations and descriptions, and the self is divided, appearing in different parts of a house:

"I hear myself moving around downstairs I was keeping out of my way"

Is the voice the house? Perhaps. Just as the self has divided, so do the voices. It becomes a cacophony of inner monologues with nothing distinguishable. Which did beg the question, what was the point other than to create a noise of dialogue?

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Review: The Motive and The Cue, National Theatre - a joy to watch

The Motive and the cue national theatre april 2023
In Jack Thorne's The Motive and the Cue, we are given not one but two plays. Set around the rehearsal period for the famed Broadway production of Hamlet, directed by Sir John Gielgud (Mark Gatiss) and starring Richard Burton (Johnny Flynn), you go behind the scenes as they get ready for opening night, and you get snippets of Hamlet as they rehearse.

Gielgud's star is waning, and working with Burton, while an unlikely pairing, is a calculated move to boost his career. Burton is looking to add credibility to his starry career by working with Gielgud.

He starts the play by apologising to the rest of the cast for the crowd of fans outside the rehearsal room. He's recently married Elizabeth Taylor  (Tuppence Middleton), which has elevated his star status further.

The plan is for an unconventional production of Shakespeare's classic play (unconventional for the time). Gielgud wants a stripped-back set akin to the rehearsal room and for the actors to wear their rehearsal attire rather than costumes. (Yes, it's meta.)

Simple ideas and complications

Naturally, the 'relaxed' simplicity causes complications with the choices of rehearsal outfits becoming more considered and tailored. 

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Review: BLACK SUPERHERO, Royal Court - witty, sharp and entertaining but not the sum of all its parts

Dyllon Burnside danny lee wynter black superhero royal court johan persson
Dyllón Burnside and Danny Lee Wynter in BLACK SUPERHERO, Royal Court, March 2023. Photo: Johan Persson

"I'm holding out for a hero" is Bonnie Tyler's famous song, and it could be the theme tune for David (Danny Lee Wynter) in BLACK SUPERHERO. He's long held a torch for friend King (Dyllón Burnside), who is playing superhero Craw in a low-brow movie franchise.

"I trained at Julliard," he moans while secretly enjoying being recognised.

When King reveals that he and his travel-writer husband Steven (Ben Allen) have decided on an open relationship, David is a beneficiary of King's new liberal sleeping arrangements.

But can David keep himself together long enough not to screw up the one thing he's dreamed about?

Danny Lee Wynter's debut play bursts onto the stage with banter and bitching between David, his sister Syd (Rochenda Sandall) and friend Raheem (Eloka Ivo), who are supposed to be on a night out with King.

Sharp and witty

It sets a crisp pace and witty tone with sharp one-liners as relationships and sex - particularly each other's - getting dissected.

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Review: Mediocre White Male, King's Head Theatre - a gradual shift makes a powerful point

Mediocre white male 2023 Press Image
Will Close is the Mediocre White Male, King's Head Theatre March 2023

The mediocre white male of the title, or MWM as he's referred to by a colleague, is angry. His school friends have moved on, and he's stuck playing a talking statue at the local stately home.

To make matters worse, he's been sent on a gender awareness course for referring to his female colleagues as 'girls'.

He yearns for the past when life was simpler, there was banter, and he knew where he stood.

But this isn't a story of unfulfilled ambition and navigating a world that is "politically correct". Well, it is, but over the course of an hour, our MWM (played by Will Close) reveals more and more about himself that sheds him in a different light.

He is a man who doesn't take rejection well or accept responsibility. He's also incapable of understanding a different perspective. MWM is prone to using phrases like 'nobody told me' and 'how was I supposed to know'.

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Review: The Beach House, Park Theatre - female relationships in the spotlight

Gemma Lawrence and Kathryn Bond in The Beach House, Park Theatre, Feb 2023. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge

They say moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. What happens when you move to your dream beachfront home that is 'in need of renovation', you have a baby on the way, and your relationship is evolving fast?

Add a flighty sister, and you've got the premise for Jo Harper's new play, The Beach House at the Park Theatre.

Couple Liv (Gemma Lawrence) and Kate (Kathryn Bond) have much to be excited about in this new chapter of their relationship. It's a shame then that Kate has a strained relationship with her younger sibling Jenny (Gemma Barnett).

The latter's life lacks the stability of her sister's. Jenny's chosen career is as a dancer, which means stints working away at a circus or on a cruise, and her relationship with her boyfriend is in choppy water.

Deep down, does Jenny want to be like her stable sister, or does she want what her sister has?

But Liv and Kate's relationship isn't as plain sailing as it might initially appear.

Kate is in a rush to return to work after their daughter is born, and Liv, when not looking after the baby, takes sanctuary in a glass or two of wine.

Jenny and Liv are increasingly pushed together as Kate doubles down on her work and career.

The stage contains little more than a wooden storage chest into which clothing and baby items are regularly tidied and occasionally a box, bucket or pouffe.

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Review: Trouble in Butetown, Donmar Warehouse

Do you ever watch a play and enjoy it enough while watching it but then at the end, as you leave the theatre, realise it won't leave a mark on you?

The blunt way of putting it is 'good but forgettable'. That's kind of how I felt about Trouble in Butetown at the Donmar Warehouse.

The characters are interesting enough and good enough company, but you don't quite get to know them sufficiently for them to get under your skin.

There are some interesting themes, but being a period and social history, I know little about it didn’t reveal enough to quite transport me there.


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Review: Linck & Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre - witty, effervescent and heartbreaking

Helena Wilson and Maggie Bain in Linck & Mülhahn_ Credit Helen Murray_53
Helena Wilson and Maggie Bain in Linck & Mülhahn, Hampstead Theatre, Feb 2023. Photo: Helen Murray

Writer Ruby Thomas was in the British Library when she came across a reference Linck and Mulhahn, a same-sex couple in 18th Century Prussia who'd been living as husband and wife.

Using what information she could find as starting point and imagining the rest, Thomas has written a witty, effervescent and heartbreaking play about their relationship, secret life and the subsequent outing.

It starts with Linck (Maggie Bain) living as a man - Anastasius - so they can be a soldier and Catharina Mulhahn (Helena Wilson) fighting her mother's attempts to match her with a suitable husband.

Anastasius is a skilled soldier and well-respected. Catharina is rebellious, constantly pushing against the boundaries society places on her sex. A chance encounter at a dressmakers shop sees the two verbally sparring; they fizzle and spark in each other's company.

There is an honesty in their biting, yet playful, exchanges that ignites something. When Catharina, with typical forwardness, proposes marriage Anastasius has to reveal that they aren't all they seem.

But Catharina is undeterred, and the two marry and set up a home together. Anastasius, who has now left the army, works as a dressmaker's apprentice and encourages Catharina to write.

It is a blissful existence built on a foundation of love and equality until Catharina's bored mother starts to dig into her 'son'-in-law's past.

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Review: Phaedra, National Theatre - superb performances and distracting staging

Phaedra National Theatre 2023
Phaedra, National Theatre, February 2023, starring Janet McTeer and Assaad Bouab

Phaedra at the National Theatre started with writer/director Simon Stone making a speech about this being the first run-through. He asked for our indulgence if things didn't quite go smoothly, blaming himself for any issues.

During the opening scene, there was nothing noticeable, the problems came when there were scene changes and subtitles later on - but I'll come back to that because, at its core, this version of the Phaedra story and the performances are superb.

All the action takes place in a glass cube, similar to Yerma at the Young Vic, which Stone also directed. The story is transferred to modern Britain; Phaedra becomes 'Helen' (Janet McTeer), a politician and Oxford graduate from an affluent background.

Her husband Hugo (Paul Chihadi) is a diplomat of Iranian descent - he chose the name Hugo because no one could pronounce his Iranian name.

Helen and Hugo have a grown-up married daughter Isolde (Mackenzie Davis), and a 14-year-old son Declan (Archie Barnes).

Family dynamics

We find the family at home, along with Isolde's husband Eric (John Macmillan), teasing and bickering while preparing for the arrival of a guest for dinner. They talk rapidly, interrupting each other or having several conversations at once. It feels relaxed and uninhibited.

When their guest Sofiane (Assaad Bouab), arrives, the atmosphere changes; there is excitement, awkwardness, and curiosity. Sofiane is the son of a Moroccan man Helen had an intense holiday romance with when travelling with Oxford chums as a student. 

Sofiane is the spit of his father, who died in a car crash while he was having his affair with Helen.

While not technically a stepson as in the original story, Stone instead has created a more complex dynamic.

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