89 posts categorized "Off West End" Feed

Review: Britannicus, Lyric Hammersmith - toxic family power struggles and misplaced sympathy

At its heart, Britannicus at the Lyric Hammersmith is a drama about a toxic family who happens to be the ruling class. Agrippina (Sirine Saba), Claudius' fourth wife, persuaded her husband to adopt her son Nero (William Robinson) and make him his heir, passing over Britannicus (Nathaniel Curtis), his son by his third wife.

Britannicus Lyric Hammersmith poster

Nero has spent the early part of his reign as an inspiring leader, but he is suffocating under the control of his mother, so he starts freezing her out, which triggers a power battle between the two. Then he falls in love with Junia (Shyvonne Ahmmad), Britannicus' fiancée, and things get really nasty.

The play might be called Britannicus, but it's really about Nero and his mother.

Robinson's Nero is like a hormonal teenager at times, petulant and peevish. At others, he is dangerous and erratic; his mood turns on a dime in behaviour that reminds me of more than one comic book villain.

Little boy lost

But there are also faint signs of a simple desire to be loved, which emerge in rare moments of tenderness with those around him. When pitted directly against his mother, he can appear like a little boy lost—someone who wanted hugs rather than being groomed for power.

And as a result, despite the terrible things he does, I did feel sorry for him on occasion.

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Guest review: Scandaltown, Lyric Hammersmith - 'a bingo board of Twitter hashtags'

The last 24 months have been pandemonium, writes Aceil Haddad, events have been dramatic and satirical. Coupled with the ludicrous nature of social media, you’d think you'd have plenty to script. Except it doesn't quite work in Mike Bartlett's play Scandaltown.

Scandaltown lyric hammersmith official artwork

This adult-pantomime-meets-Blackadder approach does muster a handful of laughs, though more interesting is seeing who laughs when.

Bartlett explores many topics in his topsy turvy play; it’s a bingo board of Twitter hashtags - on par with Just Like That - exploring #capitalism #LGBTQ+ #Partygate #likeforlike #snowflakes.

Bartlett is trying to explore the hypocrisy of the righteous left and the entitled right, demonstrating the similarities of these superficially opposite positions; whilst navigating the role of power and influence in today’s world.

Concepts well worth exploring, certainly, and the theatre is a great place to do this, but at times the play felt lazy, the dialogue inauthentic, and the RP accent exhausting.

One of the greatest issues we are facing as a society is ‘us vs them’, which takes many guises; north vs south, doers vs sayers, left vs right, but there is no resolution.

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Review: The Two Character Play, Hampstead Theatre - siblings make for an odd couple in a mixed play

The stage at Hampstead Theatre is part set, backstage equipment and lighting rigs. Zubin Varla's Felice is trying to prep the area for a performance, after which he practices a few lines from a play he's writing, delivering them to a camera on the stage, the image projected onto the back wall. 

The Two Character Play Image 9 Zubin Varla Photo © Marc Brenner
The Two Character Play: Zubin Varla. Photo © Marc Brenner

It is one of the ways high tech equipment is used in The Two Character Play - one of the later works by Tennessee Williams. It plants it firmly in two different times and is perhaps a cheeky nod to digital theatre during lockdown.

Felice is an actor as well as a writer, but the company he is touring with has upped and left him and his actor sister Claire (Kate O'Flynn). The note they leave declares that the two are insane.

Even their manager has abandoned them.

Claire arrives all skittish and wants to cancel the evening's performance but Felice insists they do The Two Character Play instead. Claire agrees, but only if she can make cuts as they go, something she will signal by playing a C-sharp on the piano.

The Two Character Play Image 4 L-R Kate O%u2019Flynn  Zubin Varla Photo © Marc Brenner
The Two Character Play:  L-R Kate O'Flynn &  Zubin Varla Photo © Marc Brenner

They warn each other they might dry and have to improvise, but 'the show must go on'.

And so, the play within the play begins. Claire frustrates Felice with her random cuts, and Felice has to run 'off-stage' to change cassette tapes with the music.

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Review: The Sunset Limited, Boulevard Theatre - great performances, problematic play

Cormac McCarthy isn't known for cheery topics as anyone who has sat through (or read) The Road will testify and his play The Sunset Limited is no exception.

Gary-Beadle-and-Jasper-Britton-in-Sunset-Limited.-Photo-Marc-Brenner
Gary Beadle and Jasper Britton in The Sunset Limited. Photo: Marc Brenner


But where there was the drama of danger and survival in the apocalyptic The Road, in The Sunset Limited drama is somewhat lacking.

It's a two-hander between two unnamed men identified, somewhat ironically given their immovable viewpoints, as Black (Gary Beadle) and White (Jasper Britton).

Black is an ex-con who stops White, a professor, jumping in front of a commuter train - the eponymous Sunset Limited. He sits him down in his tenement apartment to persuade him that life is worth living after all.

Faith vs faithless

The reformed criminal has found god while White remains a staunch atheist admitting that the thought of meeting people in an afterlife fills him with horror.

They debate each other's views, neither conceding ground only occasionally acknowledging a particular view or train of thought as good.

And this is the problem with The Sunset Limited, as interesting as the debate is, there isn't any tension perhaps mild frustration from White that Black won't let him leave.

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End of year review: My favourite theatre of 2019, a year of dazzling performances, wit, drama and tears

It's been tough but I've managed to whittle down my 'best theatre of 2019' list to 10 plays, well, one isn't actually a play but deserves a place nonetheless. So here goes, in no particular order:

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

1. Downstate, National Theatre

A challenging, difficult play with humour and wit inflected with wisdom that carefully balanced entertainment without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter.

2. Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre

I wasn't that enamoured with Jamie Lloyd's season of Pinter shorts and then came along Betrayal and it was utterly breathtaking.

The sparse script was layered with nuanced performances from Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox. What wasn't said screamed loud.

3. Seven Methods For Killing Kylie Jenner, Royal Court upstairs

This made a lot of what is on stage in London look stodgy and staid. A fresh and achingly contemporary play that cleverly and boldly tackled social media and what it reveals about modern society.

4. Hansard, National Theatre

One of those plays that get mentioned a lot in theatre conversations, this was an extremely witty and acerbic political drama/comedy which had an unexpected emotional punch.

I loved it also for its balance approached in scrutinising both left and right-leaning politics.

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Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Almeida Theatre or where has the magnetic Lydia Wilson been?

Lydia Wilson is back on stage, hurrah! Haven't seen her since she played Kate in Charles III back in 2014 and seeing her as the Duchess of Malfi reminded me how much I've missed her on stage. 

Lydia wilson duchess of malfi

And it was a great way to round off my year of theatre-going, I love a good, gruesome piece of Jacobean drama.

The Duchess of Malfi is a revenge tragedy sparked by the widowed Duchess deciding to defy her powerful brothers and not only marry but marry 'beneath her'.

Her siblings' instructions are motivated by a desire to inherit the Duchess' wealth, snobbery and, in the case of her deranged twin Ferdinand (Jack Riddiford) incestuous lust.

Power and greed

It is a play about power and greed and women's lack of currency in society.

The threat to the Duchess is evidence even before her secret marriage to Antonio (Khalid Abdalla) her gentle former steward.

When her brother picks up a dagger, a family heirloom, during a conversation her nervousness and discomfort marks him out as already dangerous and volatile.

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10 plays from the past 10 years that stand out - for a variety of reasons (not necessarily overly worthy ones)

Here is a snapshot of my favourite theatre from the past 10 years. I say 'favourite', I've tried not to overthink it, these are simply the plays that stand out most in my memory, the ones I talk about if people ask.

Theatre tickets
Stan's growing pile of theatre tickets


The list is not about plays that broke new ground or changed the theatre landscape - there are plenty of those lists around already - rather these plays just had something in them that I remember fondly.

To say that it has been tough narrowing it down to 10 is an understatement but I get another go next year because my blog is 10 in April. (There, I spoilt the surprise.)

In no particular order (the links are through to my reviews):

1. After the Dance, National Theatre

This is a play that gets talked about in 'theatre circles' a lot. It had a uniformly standout cast and I can still remember Nancy Carroll's snot crying.

But it has a particularly special place in my memory for being the play which turned Benedict Cumberbatch into 'one to watch' for me.

I'd seen him plenty on TV but this catapulted him from jobbing actor to leading man potential in my eyes.

This was before Sherlock hit the screens and as a result, means I can smugly say 'well I've been a fan since before he played Holmes'.

2. Hamlet, Stratford and Hackney Empire

I've seen a lot of Hamlets, more than one a year, and while technically I did see Ben Whishaw's Hamlet for the first time in 2010, it was a recording rather than the live performance so it doesn't count.

Paapa Essiedu's Hamlet for the RSC was the first, since Whishaw's, where I really felt he was a student and acting his age, he was also the most likeable which made the play all the more tragic.

Setting the play in an African country and having Rosencrantz & Guildenstern as 2 of only 3 white characters was also genius because it put them out of their depth in so many more interesting ways.

When I saw it for the second time, in Hackney, a group of teenagers were so swept up in it they leapt up to dance at the end. I don't think there is higher praise than that really.

3. The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

It's the play in which director Jamie Lloyd had James McAvoy unicycling around the stage wearing just his pants. Have no idea why that sticks out in my mind. Ahem.

The play was brilliantly bonkers too. Wish I could see it again.

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Introducing quick video reviews: Fairview, Young Vic Theatre

A few weeks ago I decided to try something new: quick video reviews (reactions) to plays I've just seen.

I've been posting them on my Instagram account and on the Rev Stan Theatre blog Facebook page (connect/like to get all sorts of extra bits and bobs) and thought I might start posting them here on the blog too.

These aren't to replace written reviews, just something extra...and speaking of which I will get around to finishing my full Fairview review but in the meantime, here are some quick thoughts.

Fairview is on at the Young Vic until 23 January 2020.

 


Review: Juliet Stevenson in The Doctor, Almeida - Principles, prejudices and listening to your PR

Robert Icke has certainly made his mark while associate director at the Almeida. Highs include Hamlet with Andrew Scott and Oresteia with Lia Williams although there was also Mr Burns.

The-Doctor-Almeida-programme-ticket

He leaves the Almeida with a challenging piece, his adaptation of the early 20th Century play Professor Bernhardi by Arthur Schnitzler.

Set in a modern hospital, the protagonist is the formidable Ruth Wolff (Juliet Stevenson) dubbed 'BB' (big bad) by her team when she isn't around.

She is an astute and skilled doctor, a leader in Alzheimer's research, focused, inflexible and forthright in her views to the point of rudeness.

'Leaders should lead' is her mantra but playing the game - the politics of management - isn't her strong suit and gets her into big trouble.

A reasonable refusal?

When a 14-year-old girl is admitted with sepsis from a botched home abortion, Wolff refuses to allow a Catholic priest to give her last rights because the girl hasn't given her express wish for the priest to be there and she doesn't want her becoming distressed.

Wolff wants her to have a peaceful death but that message gets lost in the row that ensues and she comes across as obstinate.

It is easy to see the escalating maelstrom that could be prevented by a simple apology but Icke throws so much petrol on the bonfire it's obvious she never stands a chance.

Petrol on the bonfire

Because Wolffe is Jewish, albeit non-practising, she is seen as bigoted.

Because the 14-year-old girl had an abortion, albeit self-administered, the pro-life campaigners see Wolff as pro-abortion.

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Quick review: Wife, Kiln Theatre - smart, vibrant and with a delicious sly dig at theatre

Saw Wife at the Kiln Theatre a few weeks ago but it was a really busy time with work and I got distracted from writing my review - which I now want to quickly rectify because I really enjoyed it.

Wife kiln theatre photo marc brenner
Karen Fishwick (Daisy) and Sirine Saba (Suzannah) in Wife © Marc Brenner

Samuel Adamson's play spans 60 years and while there is a connection between the different generations it isn't as simple as parents, children and grandchildren.

You have to pay attention as it time jumps, seeking out the connection when it isn't always immediately obvious, starting with an encounter in 1959 between a married woman and an actress.

The actress is starring as Nora in Ibsen's A Dolls's House and that first scene sets out the stall for the key themes - gay relationships and the changing role of women within the structure of marriage and family.

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