222 posts categorized "RS/BW - 6DS" Feed

Review: The RSC's Death of a Salesman with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter

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L-R - Alex Hassell (Biff), Harriet Walter (Linda Loman), Antony Sher (Willy Loman) and Sam Marks (Happy). Photo: Ellie Kurttz

There are lots of things that seem appropriate about the RSC staging a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

It is a play that is rich in ideas like Shakespeare's, is a grim as any of his tragedies and has at its heart dreams and illusions like some of his best plays.

Then there is the cast. Antony Sher who plays Willy Loman was last seen playing Falstaff in Henry IV*, a character steeped in his own illusions and dreams. Falstaff is part father figure, part rascally chum to Prince Hal who sees through him and rejects him. Alex Hassell played Prince Hal and in Death of a Salesman play's Willy's son Biff who ultimately rejects his father's principles.

And, like many of the themes of Shakespeare's plays, Death of a Salesman feels as pertinent today as when it was first performed in 1949.

Willy has been a salesman for thirty or so years, travelling far and wide. He believes that being liked is the key to success and yet has never quite attained the success he has dreamed about. He and his wife Linda (Harriet Walter) are getting close to paying off the mortgage on their house but times are tough and Willy isn't bringing in as much commission as he once was.

His elder son Biff has returned home having been working as a farm hand and there are tensions between father and son which Linda is constantly trying to sooth. Happy (Sam Marks) is the younger son and has gone into business and believes a big promotion is just around the corner.

Willy has started talking to himself and these form a series of flashbacks through which we learn of the family's past, how Biff was the apple of his father's eye and going to do great things but then something went wrong.

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Review: RSC's superb Oppenheimer comes to London

Photo: Keith Pattison

J Robert 'Oppy' Oppenheimer (John Hefferenan), the father of the atomic bomb, is gregarious, a lover of women, leans politically towards the communist party and is highly driven by his work.

This is a multi-layered play about science, academia, politics and humanity and Oppy has to grapple with them all.

The play starts pre-war with Oppy as a lecturer with political leanings. A man who likes to socialise, has a lover and hangs out with card holding members of the communist party. When the war begins to rage he is employed by the Government to work on a bomb that could bring things to an end. Ensconced on a secret military encampment in New Mexico with the sole purpose of developing the weapon with a team of fellow academics, he comes under scrutiny and suspicion over his politics.

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Review: Juliette Binoche is a considered Antigone in a subtle production


Juliette Binoche as Antigone. Photograph: Jan Versweyveld

Ivo van Hove who brought us the emotionally charged A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic last year (and now transferred to the West End) has taken quite a different tack with Greek tragedy Antigone.

The stage is slightly more dressed but this is play that despite being cut to an hour and 40 minutes straight through feels considered and unrushed. The actors take their time so that you become just as absorbed in what they are doing - where a hand falls, a posture or gesture - as you are in what they are saying.

When Antigone (Binoche) appears, walking slowly in a wind which ruffles her lose clothing and sends rubbish shuffling across the stage, it is emblematic of the quiet battle to come with Creon over the burial of her traitorous brother.

Once she sets in motion events by telling her sister she will bury Polynices, against Creon's wishes, a huge sun like disc appears, marking a slow time to her tragic demise and Creon's downfall. Images are projected against the back drop, ordinary scenes of people from different parts of the world, a reminder of life going on that is cemented in the final scene when we get a snippet of Lou Reed's Heroin.

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Review: Tom Stoppard's new one, The Hard Problem, Dorfman Theatre

Hard_Problem_poster_notitleLots of excitement about this, the new Tom Stoppard play. Would I love it like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or feel ambivalent like I do about Arcadia. Well the answer is neither.

Like Arcadia, science is at the heart of this play. The Hard Problem of the title is whether human consciousness can be scientifically explained. Is the brain just a very sophisticated computer or is there something else? 

The story centres on Hilary (Olivia Vinall) a psychology grad embarking on a career at a top brain science institute. However, aside from grappling with the growing emphasis on biological research Hilary is also grappling with her past.

In Arcadia Stoppard weaves a human story around the science and those are the bits I like. The science or rather maths and physics, to be precise, go over my head. In The Hard Problem there is also a human story but it feels tacked on and you can see the plot trajectory from a mile away. It also doesn't help generate any dramatic tension or audience investment when most of the characters are unlikeable.

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Review: James McAvoy is certifiably good in The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

244093_2_previewJames McAvoy is a monk, an aristocrat, JC, God and the devil. He is Jack the son of an Earl and  possibly a paranoid schizophrenic but he might also be the only sane one in his upper crust family. This is the setting of Peter Barnes 1968 sharply comic play The Ruling Class.

When Jack's father the 13th Earl of Gurney dies in an accident involving a tutu and a silk noose it opens up a power struggle for control of the estate. Jack, his only surviving son, is a voluntary patient at a private psychiatric clinic but his shrink, Dr Herder (Elliot Levey), thinks he can cure him. His uncle Sir Charlie Gurney (Ron Cook) wants him certified before he embarrasses the family but not before there is a new heir to the Gurney estate.

What unfolds on stage can be described as like watching some sort of absurd nightmarish dream - but in a good way, a really good way. It is like being inside the head of insane genius who likes to break into occasional song and dance routines (the most genius juxtaposition of the song Dry Bones and plot you'll ever see). Oh and the insane genius likes to ride a unicycle.

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Review: Frolicking fun it's the RSC's The Shoemaker's Holiday, Swan Theatre


L-R Joel MacCormack, David Troughton and Josh O'Connor in the RSC's The Shoemaker's Holiday

The Shoemaker's Holiday is the second comedy I've seen this week that has a slightly bitter edge. Thomas Dekker's play has a far more gentle bite than George Bernard Shaw's The Widowers Houses as Dekker had to be careful to veil his political comments but beneath the fun and frolics it is there if look closely enough.


Two pairs of lovers form the heart of the story. Rowland Lacy (Josh O'Connor) is the nephew of an Earl who has fallen for Rose (Thomasin Rand), the daughter of the Mayor of London but their relatives disapprove and he is sent away to fight in French wars.

Determined to woo his lady he sends his cousin to France in his place and disguises himself as a Dutch shoemaker, a craft he has learnt after falling on hard times. He gains employment at master shoemaker Simon Eyre's workshop (David Troughton).

Meanwhile one of Eyre's journeymen, Ralph (Daniel Boyd) is conscripted into the army leaving his young wife Jane (Hedydd Dylan) to fend for herself and fend off suitors when she knows not whether he is alive or dead.

The camaraderie and loyalty of the shoemakers knits the stories together with that of the rise in fortune and political power of the eccentric Eyre.

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Review: Accolade, St James Theatre in a contemporary context and a rising star

Alexander Hanson and Abigail Cruttenden in Accolade, St James Theatre

Accolade is a brilliantly written and performed play but I couldn't decide whether it was of its time or transcends its 1950's setting.

It shocked sensitive middle class audiences at the time it was first staged not only for the infidelity plotline but the manner of that infidelity. Sitting watching it 60 years later it feels shocking for what I think is a very different reason.

Written by Emlyn Williams, it follows the story of avant garde novelist and family man Will Trenting (Alexander Hanson) who is about to be knighted in the New Year honours. Will leads a double life and his publisher is worried that the press will find out.

He likes to escape from the social constraints of his middle class life to spend time in pubs in less salubrious parts of London and throwing orgiastic parties. The social and sexual freedom not only liberates him but also inspires his plots and some of his characters in his award winning novels. Its a necessary relief valve which enables him to carry on living among the higher ranks of society.

Playing the artistic temperament or literary equivalent to a method actor off against something more acceptable to a conservative society is not the only way in which Williams was wrong-footing his audience at the time.  He also gives Will an understanding and accepting wife  in the form of Rona (Abigail Cruttenden) who confesses to having always been attracted to his wilder, impulsive side. And, his friends from his other life husband and wife Harold (Jay Taylor) and Phyllis (Olivia Darnley) seem like all round good eggs who just happen to go swinging on the weekends. It's all very matter of fact for them.

You can see how all this would have caused a sharp intake of breath. In 2014 it takes a lot more than all of this to shock. Perhaps Rona's acceptance and understanding is a little surprising but then had it been otherwise it would have made this a very different play.

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Review: Back to school in God Bless The Child, Royal Court

590x494.fitandcropThe Royal Court's upstairs theatre has gone back to school. The space has been transformed into a primary-age classroom complete with wall displays, little tables and chairs and book corner. It's probably the most complete transformation of a theatre space I've seen with the audience seated in plastic institutional style chairs around the very edge as if part of the classroom.

It must be quite spooky for the younger members of the cast who play the pupils and are central to the story both physically and thematically.

Molly Davies's new play is about a former children's TV presenter and author Sali Rayner (Amanda Abbington) who has devised a new system of teaching based around Badger Do Best and his woodland friends. The classroom in which the play is set is one of three around the country which is trialling the system before the government decides whether to fund phase three of its development. There is a substantial grant on offer for the school awarded the final trial stage, a grant that would enable the school to finish a much needed extension.

The problem is that the kids aren't stupid or rather one in particular - Louis (Bobby Smalldridge*). He sees through the moral manipulation of Badger Do Best and starts to make up his own stories which soon have the class doing what he wants.

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Review: James Graham's The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace Theatre

Paines Plough's production of The Angry Brigade, photo by Richard Davenport

Harry Melling's police chief is vigorously swirling a biscuit in his cup of tea. It is small act of rebellion from a man who's wife, he tells his colleague, doesn't like him 'dunking' and marks one end of the spectrum of rebellion that is explored in The Angry Brigade.

The title of James Graham's new play refers to a real life group who in 1971 were Britain's answer to Germany's Baader Meinhof and France's 1st of May guerrilla groups. It was a period of youth-led discontent with bombing campaigns and protests about authority, class divide and capitalism. 

Graham says he was inspired by the ignited passions to protest seen in more recent years, a stark contrast to the apathy of his 30-something generation when they were at University. Passion for a cause is something that shines through on both sides of the narrative.

The first act follows the police investigation into a spate of bombings of political figures, public buildings and retailers. The police are at first baffled by the anonymity of the group calling themselves The Angry Brigade and it becomes a cat and mouse game to identify them.

In the second half the story is seen through the eyes of The Angry Brigade themselves as they set up operations from a flat in Stoke Newington.

Despite exploring events of more than 40 years ago you can't help draw parallels with contemporary issues. It is a depressing undertone but one that doesn't resonate fully until after the play is over.

Graham and director James Grieve take you on a journey that is laced with humour, fun and inventiveness. The police may represent order and law but the biscuit dunking is just the start. Those tasked with investigating The Angry Brigade are encouraged to forget the usual rules of workplace formality, banter and teasing ensues.

On Twitter I asked Graham if the playful humour in the first half was an act of rebellion in itself to which he replied: "Humour as a weapon has always intrigued me. Certainly think it shows resistance to expectations/the status quo..."

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Review James III: The True Mirror, National Theatre

Sophie Grabol and Jamies Sives in James III: The True Mirror

James III feels the most contemporary and sexy of the three James Play. There is pre-performance entertainment, the cast dancing to folk covers of popular tunes (Lorde's Royals making its second stage appearance this year) so make sure you get to your seat early.

The fun and frolics and flying kilts set the tone of James III's (Jamie Sives) court; he is a King that likes the arts, entertainment, fine wine, women and men, everything except his kingly duties. And that is the tension in this play in a plot that has shades of Shakespeare's Richard II.

James is on a journey to self destruction as he angers the rich noblemen who sit in his court. He is vain, narcissistic, jealous and dismissive. He turns up late to Parliament inappropriately dressed and arranges himself on his thrown like a petulant teenager. He is jealous of his son's youth and is cruel as a result. He also takes it out on his wife Margaret (Sophie Grabol of The Killing fame) whom he he wants all for himself.

But, for all that Jamie Sives gives the King a cheekiness and a sense of fun that make for a lovable if vexing character. When vanity leads him to employing a choir to follow him around and lighten up the dull moments you can't help but laugh and secretly be envious that he's done it (because you would if you could).

Unlike Richard II who believed that divine right would win the day, James seems aware that he is leading himself to his downfall, he's just going to have as much fun as he can en route.

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