The last time I saw Coriolanus on stage was at Gainsborough studios in 2000. I might not remember much about the production, but one thing impossible to forget was the space. The film studios had been turned into a theatrical space just before their demolition, creating a vast stage in front of a vast auditorium. It’s interesting that my second Coriolanus experience is at the Donmar Warehouse, which is the definition of a small space with vast ambitions.
Intimacy has always been the Donmar’s focus: at the first scene of Coriolanus, a child enters the stage and draws a line on the floor. It could be a playground game but this is war and things take a different turn. Soon there is enough hustle and bustle to suggest civil unrest and bloody battles. (The fight between Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus and Hadley Fraser’s Aufidius is particularly forceful. In such a small space it certainly makes an impact: nothing like being a yard away from swords macheting in the air). Ultimately though, it all comes back to that first image and to close familial relationships. In a thrilling scene at the senate, the speeches make political points as much as personal ones, and it’s this uneasy combination that gives the play its drive.
At the end of the performance, somewhere between curtain call and the lights going up, the woman next to me turned to her companion and said “I could watch it all again right now”. And while I wasn’t quite up to it (this was my third play in as many nights, I was tired and in any case the cast wouldn’t be able to cope), I recognised the sentiment. Because, above else, the musical adaptation of American Psycho captures superbly the nihilistic but addictive exhilaration of the end of the last century. You want more of it at any cost.
The company. Photo Manuel Harlan
After the book by Bret Easton Ellis and the film adaptation (that gave Christian Bale his adult film career), the idea of a musical based on the same material seemed bizarre. In the hands of Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa (book), Duncan Sheik (music and lyrics) and director Rupert Goold, the story of a serial killer finds its natural home: Continue reading
Sean McConaghy as Adam, Anna Bamberger as Evelyn. Photo Maximilien Spielbichler
It’s a happy coincidence that as Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts is playing at the Bush Theatre, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things is playing at the Arcola. Two playwrights with intelligence, artistic integrity and insight but with opposing views, or at least focus, when it comes to the human condition. It’s no spoiler to say that Neil LaBute comes from a darker, more pessimistic place.
The Shape of Things is the story of a brief encounter in a museum that, as these things go, turns into a romantic entanglement. The problem is, not all interested parties approach the relationship the same way. Friendships, self esteem, quotes by Oscar Wilde are under the microscope.
Neil LaBute’s characters want to be good but, overwhelmed by their selfishness, live in a distorted world of neuroses and power play. The mist of myopic self delusion is thick and tangible. Even with LaBute’s acerbic script, the story could have been too nihilistic to care, except the niggling thought some part of it applies to all of us. Continue reading
Martin Quinn as Oskar and Rebecca Benson as Eli. Photo Manuel Harlan
Overhearing discussions at the interval of the performance was to realise the intensity of feeling surrounding the production of Let The Right One In. Directed by John Tiffany and adapted by Jack Thorne based on the book and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it’s the story of a small boy who, in the isolation of his emotional and physical landscape, finds another soul to commit to, and commit he does. Appearances are deceptive, the signs unclear and relationships – human or otherwise – complicated. And then there is blood. Anyone who saw the (swedish) film has a close personal relationship with the story. Talk about great expectations. Continue reading
“The best stories are about dastardly crimes”, Emil says at the start of the play. And so they are. It might be hard to define crime though. Emil thinks drawing mustaches on a statue will land him in prison, and then he meets Mr Snow and becomes the victim of a real crime. And in 1929 Berlin, it all plays out in the shadow of the biggest crime of all.
Daniel Patten as Emil, Stuart McQuarrie as Mr Snow. Photo by Marc Brenner
Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives, adapted for the stage by Carl Miller and directed by Bijan Sheibani, is the story of a small boy going to the big city and growing up by way of solving a crime, finding friends and standing up to authority. The plot is thin, and it occasionally shows. Modern parallels are heavy-handed and the script doesn’t have the snappiness we are used to from other family offerings on screen and stage.
On the other hand, brilliance frequently shines through. With over 50 children on stage, the result is not always slick but the energy is explosive. Continue reading
It’s been a good year for history plays. From Edward II at the National, to Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Company to Henry V at the Noel Coward’s, they form a perfect chronological line (even if we leapfrogged over Henry IV), which means I can play silly games: John Heffernan is David Tennant’s great-grandfather and David Tennant is Jude Law’s uncle. It’s not every day you can say that.
Silly games aside, how does Michael Grandage’s production of Henry V fare in comparison? Not too badly it turns out, even if it doesn’t scale the dizzy heights of love I feel for the other two productions. It’s an involving if unambiguous version of the play, and what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in fluency and immediacy. I would have liked a more searching reading, but the production’s pull and drive is undeniable.
Jude Law commands stage and language (not to mention subjects) easily. His Henry V is not complex or questioning, but his straightforward commitment is winning and his steering speeches are underpinned by a warm and intelligent presence.
“Well that was a bit odd” says the hero of Georg Kaiser’s From Morning to Midnight. It is intended as a cutting understatement and it is: what started as an ordinary day (go to work, stamp papers, go home) has turned into something altogether bizarre: our hero (known only as the Clerk) steals money on the mistaken promise of love, goes on the run, seeks spiritual salvation and destroys himself. Oddness is the word of the day in the National Theatre production, directed by Melly Still. Does it amount to more than an oddity? I am not sure. Continue reading
We had a few Macbeths this year, most famously James McAvoy’s – which I loved – and Kenneth Branagh’s and the one at the Little Angel theatre – which I missed but might just be the most glorious of them all.
At the other side of the Atlantic, Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff are opening tonight as M and lady M, the reviews will be here soon enough.
Perfect timing then to hear Ian McDiarmid talk about the legendary 1976 production at the Other Place, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellen. McDiarmid played the Porter and Ross and it is a fascinating account:
(Source: National Theatre podcast, recording of a platform event from August 2011)
Let’s start with a rhetorical question: Can you have too many King Lears? No matter what the answer, the productions will still come thick and fast. And even if you are tempted to say yes, you soon realise you are wrong. As with all Shakespeare, there is always room for more. The much-anticipated (not least by me) King Lear at the National is only a couple of months away, but first we have the Chichester Festival Theatre production directed by Angus Jackson. Presented at the Minerva theatre (the smaller more intimate space at Chichester), it has its own big name in the title role: Frank Langella is a heavyweight of american theatre and well acquainted with London stage. The production will transfer to Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York in 2014. In other words, it’s a King Lear that can’t be ignored.
And in many ways, it pays off. It’s clear, concise with strong imagery and drive. Set (by Robert Innes Hopkins) and lighting (by Peter Mumford) are magnificent: much of the light is filtered through asymmetrical columns at the back of the stage, the effect a backlit shadowy fog illuminating tragic souls. Continue reading
Matthew Macfadyen as Jeeves, Stephen Mangan as Wooster
“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?’” “The mood will pass, sir.”
Theatrical ambition takes many shapes but producing the perfect unrepetant frivolity could well be the most daunting (and one could argue the most honourable) undertaking. Director Sean Foley and writers Robert and David Goodale don’t shy away from the challenge and they declare their intentions right from the start: adapting P G Woodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters for the stage, they call it “Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense”. And you know what? It may well be. That’s high praise from me.
The plot of the book remains largely intact but the conceit of the production finds Wooster putting a play up himself in order to tell the story. This allows for theatrical playfulness to bubble up to the surface. Expectations are challenged, subtle dynamics unsettled, props and scenery manipulated to reveal, hide and distract from the artifice. This is the second time this year when a production teases the notion of the same person playing two characters while both characters appear in the story at the same time. (The Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar played in the same sandbox earlier in the year).