Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the National Theatre

Paul Ritter (Ed Boone) and Luke Treadway (Christopher Boone). Photo Manuel Harlan

The National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is directed by Marianne Elliott, adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s best selling, much loved book. Clearly much of the praise that will follow (and there will be lots of it) belongs to them. But also I wanted to get their names out of the way, because, as with the best productions, plays and stories, I don’t want to talk about writers and directors. I want to talk about the story itself and the world it has created.

It is often said that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a story through the eyes of Christopher, a teenager who has Asperger’s syndrome. The play is not so much the world through his eyes but his world: a tangible, emotional, supremely interesting world, with many things still beyond his experience. This world is so richly realised that we, the audience, don’t want to leave it behind: the consensus among my friends was we didn’t want the play to end. Continue reading

Notes on Philadelphia, Here I Come at the Donmar Warehouse

Paul Reid (Gar in Public) and Rory Keenan (Gar in Private). Photo Johan Persson

First previews are difficult. Some times they are strange (you can even see the fear in the actors’ eyes). As I saw the Donmar production of Brian Friel’s “Philadelphia, Here I Come” on its first preview, these are some scribbled notes rather than a review. On the other hand, first preview or not, the production was coming together very nicely, poignant and funny, so I recommend it without reservations.

– The play effortlessly combines the personal and the social. On the surface, it’s entirely focused on personal decisions and stories (to the extent we see the internal life of one character). At the same time, social realities are all too evident: immigration, lack of opportunities, what it means to move away from loved ones in order to realise one’s potential. Ultimately, it focuses on one very common tragedy: people not knowing how to communicate their love for one another.

– Great performances all around, with a particularly impressive turn by Rory Keenan. He manages to be both an illusive and vital presence, often existing at the background, but at the same time changing the temperature of the scene by his mere presence. Continue reading

Five Reasons the London 2012 opening ceremony kicked ass

Better qualified people have been commenting on the ceremony (my current favourite is the Sports Illustrated article), but I figured most of them won’t be able to use “kick ass” in the title. Clearly, this is exactly what the ceremony (and Danny Boyle) did, so it’s entirely appropriate to correct this and to write my personal response to the event. (Further reading: the Illuminations blog has a good selection of articles about the ceremony). In no particular order:

1) It made us proud to be British: many said that exact thing last night. But when I say it, I think it means more: because I am not British. Many of us came from somewhere else and made a home here, and this ceremony, like the best of Britain and, especially, the best of London, made sense of the fact that London is my home too.

2) It was unifying: I don’t mean united in feeling or pride (although it was that too). I refer to that unique moment when everyone was thinking the same thing: “It can’t be her, can it?”. Outside fiction, how often can you have half a billion people having the same thought at the same moment? The deliciousness of a film featuring James Bond and The Queen (the real Queen) is obvious, but it’s worth noting the Sun had printed the story back in April. But it printed on April Fool’s and nobody believed it. Pay attention because it’s unlikely I ‘ll say this about the Sun ever again: how brilliant is that? Continue reading

Review: The Doctor’s Dilemma at the National Theatre

Genevieve O’Reilly (Jennifer Dubedat) and Tom Burke ( Dubedat). Photo Johan Persson

I went to The Doctor’s Dilemma without expectations. I knew nothing about the George Bernard Shaw play (although, unsurprising, it had doctors in it). Even without expectations, in the first twenty minutes or so, the play and production seemed set to disappoint.

Fortunately, I am pleased to report that the initial bad omens were not fulfilled and the evening turned in a very engaging, playful, darkly comic theatrical experience. This is a comedy (maybe) about death and love, where tragic things are funny and funny things are sad.  Not knowing anything about the play proves a huge advantage as the shifting of perceptions is a huge pleasure. A recurring theme is knowledge and deception, but characters and audience end up with very few certainties and answers.

The character of Dubedat needs an actor with huge charisma, and Tom Burke rises to the challenge splendidly. As Dubedat, he is playful without being shallow, mysterious yet transparent, and inappropriately profound. He also pulls, as far as I am concerned at least, a magnificent double bluff that left me feeling a tiny bit guilty. Continue reading

A personal guide to all things Hamlet

David Tennant and Penny Downie in Hamlet, RSC 2008. Photograph Ellie Kurttz

By many standards, I am a Hamlet novice (or even a heretic to the cult): I only have eight stage and four screen Hamlets under my belt, and occasionally I bristle in the news of another stage production announced (there is always another production announced). Do I really want to see another Hamlet so close to the last one?

If that thought crossed my mind, then the David Tennant / Hamlet documentary on BBC2 (part of the Shakespeare Uncovered series) came along to remind me that a) yes, I most definitely want to see another Hamlet (and another one after that) and b) my love for Hamlet predates my obsession for theatre  or Shakespeare, and it will probably outlive them.

As far as I am concerned, Hamlet is black magic.  Even if we occasionally stray away, we (all of us, audience, actors, everyone) are bound to it and we return. David Tennant said as much at the end of the programme. My intention here isn’t to review the BBC2 documentary (the Hamlet Weblog has done it much better than I could, let’s briefly say that it was as simple and complex and exciting as it should be) but to list some additional (and personal) Hamlet treasures: Continue reading

Podcasts and Audio content relating to theatre – the Definitive List

(And by “definitive” I mean the ones I like).

I love audio content of any description. Audio content plus theatre combines two of my favourite things, and this is a quick rundown of theatre podcasts (or rather audio content relating to theatre) that I visit on a regular basis. The order is random, so make sure you go through the whole list as some of the gems are right at the end. Continue reading

Review: Timon of Athens at the National Theatre

Simon Russell Beale and company at Timon of Athens. Photo Johan Persson

At the interval of the National Theatre production, my friend revstan and I were having a quick peak at the wikipedia entry for Timon of Athens (we were wondering about authoring issues if you need to know), and immediately started questioning this wikipedia statement: “[Timon Of Athens] is generally regarded as one of Shakespeare’s most obscure and difficult works”. Watching the production directed by Nic Hytner, I can’t see what’s difficult about this play.

In fact, the first thought that crossed my mind when the performance started was how 21st century the play feels. I don’t merely mean it has contemporary echoes. The impression left by the production is that the play had to wait four hundred years to find its proper setting. When Flavia said: “They answer, in a joint and corporate voice, …”, I had to look the quote up and make sure Nic Hytner hadn’t tampered with the language (he hadn’t). Shakespeare’s plot, language and characters find the perfect setting in Hytner’s modern production (21st century London complete with Occupy tents, riots and renaming of art spaces after rich donors – wouldn’t it be fun to watch the production alongside the National’s rich corporate partners?) that it’s hard to think it done any other way. Continue reading

Review: Propeller’s Henry V

Tony Bell (Mistress Quickly), Vince Leigh (Pistol) & company. Photo Manuel Harlan

Comedy of Errors and Richard III first introduced me to Edward Hall’s Propeller company last year, but it doesn’t take much to realise this theatre group is something special: a team of people (and they are very much a team) playing Shakespeare with all the simplicity, fearlessness and enjoyment that Shakespeare deserves. Their approach doesn’t seem that complicated: they will do anything to make the plays fly. Nothing is out of bounds: songs (any songs), pop culture references, gags, slapstick, gore (of course) and cross dressing (it’s an all male company) are the norm. The more limited their means, the more imaginative the use of the smallest prop or sound. On the other hand, this is not a “throw it to the wall and see what sticks” approach. The end results are so crisp and fluent that easily betray the discipline by which the plays are approached. Continue reading

In Praise of Bertie Carvel

For the time I have spent talking about Bertie Carvel (to my friends, to other theatregoers, to anyone who will listen frankly), you would think I have seen him on stage in everything he has done. In fact, I have only seen him in two roles: as Rupert Cavell in The Rope (Almeida) and as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda.

Bertie Carvel in The Pride. Photo Stephen Cummiskey

To my great regret, I missed him in Alexi Kaye Cambell’s The Pride (Royal Court) and his television work doesn’t really count: on tv he is allowed – or limited, depending on how you look at it – to be the handsome man that he is, but Bertie Carvel thrives when he looks nothing like himself. Or rather when he looks nothing like any human being has ever lived. It’s hard to avoid that often, on stage, he looks rather strange. And as much as I don’t care about actors who transform themselves, in his case I will make an exception. Continue reading

Review: A Doll’s House at the Young Vic

Hattie Morahan (Nora) and Dominic Rowan (Torvald). Photo by Johan Persson

It’s hard for me to imagine what audiences thought of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House when it premiered in Copenhagen in 1879. Even today, the choices Nora makes at the end of the play have the power to shock (I can imagine a fair amount of tongues wagging if that was to happen in a respectable middle class family today). On the other hand, the triumph of the Young Vic production is not the feminist politics, it’s the people: passionate, relatable, likable people we want to see them through their tough times. It doesn’t quite work that way.

The production, directed by Carrie Cracknell in a new version of the play by Simon Stephens, is set in the 19th century, but it doesn’t have the buttoned up quality of period pieces:  Nora (as played by Hattie Morahan) and Torvald (as played by Dominic Rowan) are an immensely sexy couple. Not just beautiful, but full of desire. This is not late 19th century as seen in Cranford. They are respectable in front of other people, but essentially they can’t keep their hands off each other. They are in love, even if they don’t begin to understand each other. Which makes the end of the play all the more heartbreaking: the conflict in the final scene is raw, desperate, physical. The production has a beating pulse going through it, not least because of the immediacy of Simon Stephens’ writing. Continue reading