39 posts categorized "Southwark Playhouse" Feed

Review: The grimly poetic Debris at Southwark Playhouse

Debris, Harry McEntire (Michael) and Leila Mimmack (Michelle), photo credit Richard Davenport RWD187
Harry McEntire and Leila Mimmack in Debris, Southwark Playhouse Photo by Richard Davenport

I'm a huge Philip Ridley fan and Dennis Kelly's writing reminds me of him. Kelly's play Debris -  receiving a 10th anniversary brush down at the Southwark Playhouse - has a similar poetry, a potent mix of shockingly grim reality, black humour and a narrative that is evocative and affecting.

Brother and sister Michael (Harry McEntire) and Michelle (Leila Mimmack) recount the story of their lives blending fantasy and reality with a child's interpretation and some scarily mature observations. It jumps back and forth in time and between the siblings eventually drawing everything together.

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Review: Three Sisters at the Southwark Playhouse

Three_Sisters_Web_circle2This production of Chekhov's Three Sisters is a version by Anya Reiss who has modernised the language and placed the sisters in a British enclave, in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, from where the British army is about to withdraw. The characters have mobile phones and iPads and rather than wanting to return to Moscow the sisters want to return to London.

The problem with going down this path is one of context. The basic premise of Chekhov's play is that the three woman are trapped in a man's world, unable to fulfil their desires and return home because they can't do so without their brother Andrei. Those constraints just don't exist in this modern context and the production just reminded me of that fact all the way through.

In the same way that my inner voice is screaming "just sell the friggin' cherry orchard" in this I just wanted to yell: "get onto Expedia and book yourself a flight". And in the same context would Masha stay with her husband whom she resents?

Stuck in a place they don't want to be the three sisters and their army friends philosophise on their place in society, their worth and happiness. However, all this got clouded by the modernity of the setting and considering its trimmed running time - 2 hours 10 including interval - it felt a little slow and stodgy.

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Review: Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts at the Southwark Playhouse

Superior-Donuts-011
Production photo by Tristram Kenton

The two Tracy Letts-penned films I've seen were distinctive for their bitter sharpness exposing darker, uglier aspects of human nature often viscerally. His new play, Superior Donuts at the Southwark Playhouse is far gentler by comparison; while not shying away from the darker aspects of life it is generally more subtly done.

Arthur (Mitchell Mullen) is the son of Polish immigrants and runs the family doughnut shop in a poor suburb of Chicago. Well I say run it, he seems to be running it into the ground as the Starbucks gentrification of the neighbourhood creeps ever closer. He gives away doughnuts to his regulars: a homeless woman, two local cops and a Russian immigrant - the latter wants to buy Arthur's store.

Arthur's previous assistant has quit, essentially over an argument about politics and is suspected of being behind the vandalism the store has suffered. When 21-year old Franco (Jonathan Livingston) turns up to take over the job he is full of ambition and plans for the shop but Arthur isn't immediately convinced.

At its heart this is an unlikely friendship story. Arthur is depressed and haunted by the past. He dodged the draft during the Vietnam war fleeing to Canada, his ex-wife has just died and he hasn't seen his daughter for years. Franco is the antithesis, full of life and ideas. He's just finished writing his first novel which he started when he was 14 but he too has a past which is starting to catch up with him.

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Review: Jekyll and Hyde at the Southwark Playhouse

JekyllandHydeImageFlipping The Bird's re-imagining of the famous Jekyll and Hyde story garnered five star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and has now transferred to the Southwark Playhouse for a short run. In it playwright Jonathan Holloway has turned Dr Jekyll into a woman conducting mysterious experiments the result of which are graphically revealed towards the end of the piece.

The Jekyll and Hyde story, still set in Victorian times, is introduced by two sort of narrators the premise being one is trying to buy Jekyll's diary from the other. They also play various instruments - a live soundtrack to help generate atmosphere to this supposedly creepy and grim tale.

The problem is that the notes in the programme from director Jessica Edwards make the play sound far more interesting than it actually is. The characters feel under developed, for example, Edwards would have us believe that the female Dr Jekyll violently alters herself as a response to the restrictions on women during the Victorian age when, in fact, her behaviour just comes across as a bit odd and the plot overly contrived.

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Review: Max Irons in Farragut North at the Southwark Playhouse

FarragutImageHe was the charming, womanising medieval King Edward in the small screen adaptation of The White Lady but now Max Iron's has turned his attention to a charming, potty-mouthed political PR in Farragut North, the Beau Willimon play currently in preview at the Southwark Playhouse.

There are no swords and and armour here instead the characters use rhetoric and guile to manipulate voters in a Democrat caucus.

Irons plays Stephen the bright and talented communications manager whose loyalty to his campaign manager, Paul (Shaun Williamson), is tested when the campaign manager of the rival candidate offers him a job.

Willimon's script is sharp and punchy and deserves a delivery to match. This is play of high drama and tension and the soup├žon of nerves visible from the cast (this was the first preview) only added to the atmosphere.

Irons' Stephen oozes the necessary charm to make his success and confidence believable but it is as things start to fall apart that we see a darker less composed and ultimately more interesting side to the character. There were a couple of forgotten lines but it is nonetheless a convincing performance, winning the audience over despite the characters obvious flaws.  And, no doubt, he will relax and gain more confidence as the run progresses.

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Review and production photos: the moving Billy Budd @swkplay

BBThere's a nauticaul theme developing at the Southwark Playhouse. Next week Titanic opens to previews in The Large and last night Billy Budd opened in The Little.

Covered in dirt, sweat and blood that reminded me of another nautical play Southwark put on, Hairy Ape, good soul Billy is impressed upon a Navy ship that is sailing off to fight the French.

Adapted from Herman Melville's novel Billy (Charlie Archer) is an orphan, a stammerer and a simple and gentle soul who sees the good in everyone but that doesn't mean he can't handle himself, quickly winning over moody, bully Jenkins (Iain Batchelor) by standing up to him.

But there is one person Billy just can't win over: Claggart, the man at arms (Gerrard McArthur). The relationship between these two men is fascinating. While the rest of the crew can see that Claggart is out to get Billy, Billy think he is his friend.

Why Claggart takes a dislike to Billy is the sort of thing that would come up as a question on an English exam or give psychoanalysts hours of couch time, such is the subtext in their encounters.

Is Claggart afraid of Billy because Billy isn't scared of him? Does Billy's goodness remind him of what he lacks? At times I was reminded of that line Gertrude says to Hamlet in the closet scene: "Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul".

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A bit of Tanzi Libre and Southwark Playhouse's new space

Saw 30 minutes of Southwark Playhouse's inaugural production at their new venue last night. It wasn't a bad production, that had me ducking out but unfortunately cast injury.

The show, Tanzi Libre, is set in the world of wrestling with each scene a sort of mock bout so the injury isn't a massive surprise although nobody realised at the time that anything was awry. The actor is OK - I should add - taken to hospital as a precaution.

At first it just appeared that we were having an interval, although no one was entirely sure whether to leave their seats or not. Then the stage manager came out and told us what had happened.
That the actor concerned is OK is the most important thing.

What I saw of Tanzi Libre was certainly interesting and different. It was livel, with the audience, sat on four sides of a wrestling ring and encouraged to cheer, shout and boo. Although I'm not entirely convinced that telling someones life story through the medium of wrestling was going to work completely - the portrayal of baby Tanzi being pushed about by her mother was distressing even if it was entirely acted by adults - I still would have liked to have seen where it went.

So in lieu of the review I thought I'd write a bit about Southwark's new space, the theatre's home for probably the next five years while their old venue is redeveloped as part if major work at London Bridge.

It is much brighter and airier than their former under the arches home, no damp smell either. The bar area is full of the familiar mismatched chairs, tables and sofas with lots of little nooks and crannies - certainly a place that would be pleasant to meet for a drink.

Tanzi Libre is in the large performance space which is a nice size and bodes well for different seating configurations.

The rumbling of trains overhead that added so much atmosphere to the London Bridge venue is absent but the team at the Southwark Playhouse have succeeded in recreating the essence and vibe of their old venue. Looking forward to going back.


A year in London theatreland: arrivals, departures and angering members

7671532902_4ddcb26e44It's certainly been an Olympic year in London theatreland, 2012 has seen a slew of hellos and goodbyes, theatres riling those paying for membership schemes and, despite the recession, new theatres.

Departures include the announcement that Michael Boyd will step down as artistic director at the RSC with Greg Doran taking over next year. With the new theatres open and established in Stratford Upon Avon, perhaps Doran will be able to devote some attention to a permanent London home for the company. 

Dominic Cooke also announced he was leaving the Royal Court with National Theatre of Scotland's Vicky Featherstone taking the helm in April next year.

Meanwhile it was hello to Josie Rourke who began her tenure as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse (more on her first year in a future post) while Mandani Younis stepped into her vacated shoes at the Bush Theatre.

And a sort of hello as Michael Grandage launched his first season of plays in the West End following his departure from the Donmar Warehouse. He attracted some impressive acting names to the Donmar and his new West End season isn't any different but more on what I'm looking forward to in another post (yes I have time on my hands) and no prizes for guessing which production is top of my 'can't wait for' list.

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Review: The Seagull @swkplay and why it's becoming one of my favourite plays

116530496_ARTS_Seag_355494cMy mum would sometimes ask me, when I was visiting, what I had seen at the theatre and I remember one time mentioning 'Hamlet again' to which her response was 'surely you know the story by now?'. I tried then to explain the appeal of that play, its many layers and different interpretations that made every new production a draw.

The Seagull is rapidly becoming 'a Hamlet' in that after seeing just two productions, this latest at the Southwark Playhouse, I could quite happily go and see another version tomorrow, should there be one to see.

I'm not familiar enough with the more traditional translations of Chekhov's play to judge how much artistic licence playwright Anya Reiss's has taken in her 'version' so I can only judge on how believable and natural the dialogue sounded and on both points it gets the thumbs up.

In fact, the modern dialogue worked perfectly within the modern setting. Konstantin (Joseph Drake) writes on a laptop, Arkadina (Sasha Waddell) can't get a signal on her mobile and Masha (Emily Dobbs) plays music on her iPod, dresses Goth-like and smokes spliffs.

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Review: The Busybody and the but...

ImagesBit of a tricky one this because there was much to enjoy about the revival of this early 18th century comedy by Susanna Centlivre.

Its plot is standard fare: young people being kept from their beaus and/or inheritances by their parents/guardians except to add to the comedy, as the name suggests Busybody has a busybody - Marplot - who is nosey, gets the wrong end of the stick and generally makes things worse by trying to help.

The acting is a little obvious at times from some of the less experienced cast members but there are some genuinely funny moments and it is simply and effectively staged with just a few pieces of stage furnishing being worked very well. And, it will shock those who know of my views of musicals, there are also some nice little musical interludes (I'm not adverse to the odd song in a play I just don't want a whole album's worth).

Jessica Swales, who adapted and directed, adds effective little modern flourishes such as the opening 'number' which is about asking the audience not to run away because the play is written by a woman and goes on to name check a whole gamut of talented women playwrights right up to Anya Reiss.

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