259 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

Review: A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Bridge Theatre - does Martin McDonagh's new play measure up?

A Very Very Very Dark Matter is a fairytale of human ugliness and evil but it is also a toy that isn't working properly.

IMG_4103Martin McDonagh's new play is a (very) dark fairytale with colonial undertones.

Who else's imagination could put Hans Christian Anderson (Jim Broadbent), a one-legged black pigmy woman called Marjory (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles) and two bloody, time-travelling Belgian twins in the same story?

The question is whether it works.

McDonagh's Anderson is the antithesis of what you'd expect the writer of fairy-tales to be like but there may be a very good explanation for that.

Dark secret

He is self-centred, vain and politically incorrect, to put it mildly, and has a dark secret in the form of Marjory, whom he keeps locked up in a glass-sided box in his puppet-strewn attic.

Marjory is from the Congo, clever, sharp and capable, having survived the massacre of her people engineered by Belgian King Leopold II.

But she has more problems to deal with than merely being a prisoner, she is also a person of interest for the murderous twins.

Awkward laughter and guilty giggles

The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with swear words as well as the sort of lines that have you laughing awkwardly - or guiltily giggling as I did a couple of times.

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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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Review: The Sword of Alex, White Bear - power and violence overshadows identity debate

Meaningful debate, clever thought and persuasiveness get overshadowed by ego manifested as sneering, sarcasm and physical violence.

The Sword of Alex (c) Valeria Coizza (6)
The Sword of Alex. Photo: Valeria Coizza

Power and identity are at the heart of Rib Davis' play The Sword of Alex.

A confrontation between leader Antonio (Patrick Regis) and Karl (DK Ugonna), one of his ministers who is trying to get independence for the region of Nikal, interweaves with scenes of their own domestic problems.

Antonio's mistress Calantha (Kate Terence) wants to leave him while Karl's wife Gina (Georgia Winters) has similar plans.

The confrontation between the two leaders occurs during a ceasefire when they meet to try and persuade their opponent to back down from hostilities and violence.

Are ego and aggression the problem?

Antonio is arrogant, dismissive, sarcastic and grows aggressive easily. Karl, by comparison, has the demeanour of an underdog but has more fight than first appears.

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Review: Hear Me Howl, Old Red Lion - a fun and considered exploration of female stereotypes

Great to see a play challenging gender stereotypes but doing it in a way that is both fun and considered

Hear Me Howl (c) Will Lepper (1)
Hear Me Howl. Photo: Will Lepper

Jess (Alice Pitt-Carter) is nearly 30, lives with her boyfriend Taj and has an unstimulating office job.

It's an ordinary life, one she feels she is sleepwalking through and frustration grows about the question of when she and Taj are going to get married and have children.

Taj has leanings in that direction (it's not that play) the problem is that Jess doesn't.

Life changing decision

And while she is wrestling with that conundrum, she decides to join a post-punk band but before her first gig, she has to make a life-changing decision.

Written by Lydia Rynne, Hear Me Howl is peppered with references to culture contemporary to the 30-somethings and bubbles with quips and funny observation while handling issues such as pregnancy and abortion with sensitivity and insight.

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Review: Misty, Trafalgar Studios - Putting the pulse back into West End Theatre

A play that stimulates, entertains and enlivens and leaves you feeling like you've been at a gig

IMG_0079Arinzé Kene's play Misty has transferred to the Trafalgar Studios from a sell-out run at the Bush Theatre giving more people the opportunity to see a play that is unlike anything else you'll see in the West End at the moment.

Mixing form, media and performance style, there is a fictional tale told in verse - accompanied by Shiloh Coke on drums and Adrian McLeod on keyboards - about an incident on a night bus that has bigger consequences.

Recollections of a creative journey

This story is intercut with a series of conversations, voicemail messages and narrated emails that illustrate Arinzé's creative journey with amusingly blunt commentary and opinion from friends and family.

His creative journey is further coloured with comically surreal moments, juxtaposing voices, images and performance in unexpected ways that reminded me of the style of filmmaker Charlie Kaufman - think Being John Malkovich, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind etc.

Struggles with orange balloons

All I'll add is that when you are encased in a body-sized orange balloon, the struggle is real.

Peppered with humour and witty observation the play questions storytelling - what is the right story to tell and for whom - examines the impact of gentrification on communities and culture's place in society.

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Review: The Political History of Smack and Crack, Soho Theatre - witty, blunt and poetic

Edward's writing has the wit and bluntness of the Manchester vernacular but is inflected with a sugar-free poetry.

The Political History of Smack and Crack - courtesy of The Other Richard (3)
The Political History of Smack and Crack. Photo: The Other Richard

It's Manchester in the 1980s. Neil (Neil Bell) and Mandy (Eve Steele) are kids, too young to be out at night when they get caught up in the Moss Side riots that were to change the landscape and their futures.

We learn all this later on as the narrative flits back and forth revisiting pivotal moments in their relationship.

Based on writers experiences

Writer Ed Edwards, who has based The Political History of Smack and Crack on his own experiences with narcotics dependency, has his protagonists speak in the third person, telling their own story as if observers.

First and foremost it is a love story, two friends in love with drugs and getting a rise from shoplifting and thieving but also in love with each other in their own way.

A life of drugs and crime don't make for a healthy relationship creating a toxic cocktail of blind camaraderie, encouragement and destruction.

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Review: Life after being a child star in That Girl, Old Red Lion

That Girl manages to be both a unique character study and easily relatable in the way it examines early adulthood.

That Girl is Hatty (Hatty Jones) plucked from obscurity to play the lead in what would become a cult children's film. Now grown up she works in advertising and we find her struggling with adult life transitions.

That GirlHer comfortable routine of work, Turkish takeaways and reading fan mail is under threat as her flatmates are moving out and on with their boyfriends.

Hatty isn't the easiest of people to live with she's needy, self-centred and manipulative - you do wonder how her friends haven't run out of patience with her.

Glimpses of vulnerability

But there is also a vulnerability to her, you get glimpses of it when she talks about her coping mechanisms, in her anxiety attacks and the way she grasps for the familiar.  

There is an immaturity in her behaviour as if she has not been allowed to grow up or perhaps she is trying to reclaim a lost childhood?

It leads her to inappropriate behaviour that doesn't endear her to her friends, isolating her further.

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Interview: Writer Ed Edwards on humour and politics in The Political History of Smack and Crack

Fresh from Edinburgh Fringe: The Political History of Smack and Crack draws on writer Ed Edwards' own experience of narcotics dependency to examine how the politics of the 80s trapped people in poverty and addiction.

Ed Edwards
Ed Edwards

Here the former circus performer talks about the importance of entertainment in theatre ahead of the play's London run at Soho Theatre.

Why is this an important story to tell?

In the political sense, I think it's a question for the progressive movement of knowing your enemy, of course, the enemy changes its face, but its heart remains the same. This is what they did then, what lengths will they go to now? It's a question too of spreading ideas, keeping the truth alive - it's part of what Fidel Castro called for before he died: a battle of ideas.

How important is humour when exploring serious topics such as drug addiction and what part does it play in the narrative?

I think entertainment is the most important thing, humour is a big part of that, but it doesn't mean you can't make people cry too.

You’ve written novels, for radio and TV as well as the stage but you used to be a circus performer - how does it compare?

It's a lot safer writing plays than juggling fire on a slack rope while talking to an audience - but probably not as much fun. Seriously, it's part of what I was saying before, about entertaining an audience.

If you're doing a circus show in Huyton Liverpool and you don't entertain the audience, the kids'll come and take your gear, so I've kind of grown up thinking that was important.

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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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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Revelations, Summerhall - laughter, tears and pin-drop moments

It's a story that sweeps you up in a mixture of warmth, humour and tragedy.

Revelations-700x455Revelations is the final part of a trilogy following the lives of James, Emma, Sarah and Tom - although it works as a standalone as I hadn't seen the first two.

Told as a monologue through the eyes of James (James Rowlands) who has been friends with Sarah since they were kids, Sarah is now married to Emma who is a human rights lawyer.

This is the story of what happens when Sarah and Emma ask James to be their sperm donor so they can have a child.

There are plenty of flashbacks and references to earlier incidents for context but what follows is a story that bubbles with laughter one minute and tension the next.

Rowlands has a (very) small keyboard set up on stage and periodically will record and loop music and sung dialogue which plays along in the background - sometimes a little obtrusively as he yells to be heard over the top.

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