Last night, as the performance of Hero finished and the discussion on twitter started, I was asked whether I had seen Kin, E.V. Crowe’s previous work for the Royal Court. The answer is no, in fact I have no knowledge of any of her plays. Often the audience’s experience is framed by expectation, in this case my experience is framed by the lack of it.
Hero is the story of Danny, openly gay and teacher in a primary school, who lives with his husband Joe somewhere in the south of England. The couple, excited and apprehensive, has just entered the process for adopting a child. Their friends, Jamie and Lisa, are trying to have a baby themselves. A small incident snowballs, and the four characters make decisions or take action that will show them in different, often unflattering, light. The play says we might not be as liberal as we think. It’s not a startling thought but a personal and character driven response to that revelation would make for a fascinating play. Hero is frustratingly close to being that play, but too often it favours argument and gags at the expense of psychological truth.
Sally Hawkins as Marianne and Rafe Spall as Roland. Photo Johan Persson
Last night at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, Nick Payne’s Constellations won the award for Best Play and for anyone who saw the production earlier in the year, this was hardly a surprise: Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs was a jewel of a play in its perfect space: 70 minutes, two actors, a space that barely holds eighty people, a play that takes the microscopic and the immense and shows them in bright, unexpected, intimate shades.
In that sense, transferring Constellations to the West End was a gamble: in two performances the Duke of York’s can fit almost as many people as they saw Constellations in its entire Royal Court run. Scale and perspective have changed, design and light have adjusted but the production has lost none of its power. If you can’t be in the middle of this world as you were at the Royal Court, you can still savour it, enjoy its beauty and dissect it.
Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Magistrate was not the first choice for a Christmas show at the National, but as Christmas productions go, it’s a perfect seasonal treat: expertly directed by Timothy Sheader, it’s light footed, frothy, witty, with a twinkle in its eye and a spring in its step.
For anyone familiar with 19th century farce, the plot has few surprises: Agatha Farringdon, a young widow with a son, married the Magistrate Mr Posket and a little lie at the time of her wedding has complicated her life ever since. The more she tries to cover it, the more things twist and turn out of her control. At the same time, her husband and son succumb into their own temptations, as a result two imperfect worlds collide with – as they say – unforeseen consequences.
The plot might be less than surprising but the fun is in the spaces in between: Continue reading →
In the end it was the smell that did it. I admit it, it’s an unusual thing to praise a stage production for but it’s the first thing you notice entering the Almeida auditorium: the smell of damp earth. And for someone like me, who worries that poetic might be just another word for vague and anaemic, it was the perfect calling card. The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, written by Nick Dear and directed with extreme assurance by Richard Eyre, might be about words and art and poetry but it’s the smells and sounds that take centre stage.
The second thing that makes an impression is the space: the whole of the Almeida stage is open and uncluttered save for some balls of hay and the dark damp earth. All scenes, in people’s living rooms or the streets of London, take place upon dark soil. A few weeks back, I complained that the sand on the Donmar stage made Berenice look uncertain. Here the effect is exactly the opposite: everything is grounded, even Edward Thomas’ ghosts or flights of fancy.
In all the best productions there is always a moment when I, in the audience, feel this is the best place in the world to be. In The Effect, the new play by Lucy Prebble as directed by Rupert Goold, that moment came half way through the first part when, in a surprising turn, Jonjo O’ Neil displays some unexpected talents. For a play grappling with serious and fascinating questions, this was a moment of uncomplicated bliss.
But can I trust this feeling? If my feelings can be traced to and manipulated by chemical changes, are they mine? Does it matter? The four characters in the Effect struggle with these questions with various degrees of passion, desperation and urgency. At the same time, life relentlessly moves forward without waiting for the answers. Things happen faster than people can process. And Lucy Prebble’s play, sparkling with humour, wit, ideas and warmth, finds a way to capture the emotional and physical bewilderment and joy as well as the scientific questions. This is science sitting squarely in the middle of everyday life as it should be.
Frances de la Tour as Dorothy, Linda Bassett as Iris. Photo Alastair Muir
“Decay is a kind of progress”. Alan Bennett’s new play is about people: people you want around, people who spoil things, people who let you down, people who can’t turn back the clock or move forward. And when it focuses on people, it does what an Alan Bennett play does best: sees in them colours nobody else can see.
The problem is the play often strays away and loses its way. There are points to be made and they are made again and again. Some characters, like Miles Jupp’s Bevan and Nicholas le Prevost’s Lumsden, are little more than mouthpieces and take up too much time. A cheeky business with an adult film is appropriately silly and perfectly enjoyable but eventually it can’t resist temptation (pun intended) and starts straining credibility. There is repetition and deviation (even if it avoids hesitation), and in those moments the play feels vague, unsettled. Even time has a hazy quality: the characters talk about the past as if it is a fairy tale. Continue reading →
Let’s take a moment to savour this: David Tennant as Richard II directed by Greg Doran. There have been rumours for a while but lately the discussion has been louder and it seems it will happen: David Tennant will play Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Company some time in late 2013 or early 2014, under the direction of Greg Doran in the new artistic director’s first season. David Tennant is in no small part responsible for my theatre obsession the last few years and my excitement for this news is unfettered. I will be clearly spending the next eighteen months dreaming of the Deposition Scene and who will play Bolingbroke. Chiwetel Ejiofor is my choice. It’s perfect and it needs to happen. Continue reading →
I love rehearsed readings. Perfect little pleasures especially if I am darting across London mid afternoon to catch one while everyone else is toiling away in offices. Last Wednesday (October 31st, Halloween no less), the Donmar Warehouse, in celebration of their current production of Berenice, held a special reading of Bajazet, another Racine play translated by Alan Hollinghurst. As it’s often the case with rehearsed readings, the cast was a theatre producer’s wet dream: Hayley Atwell as Roxanne, Alex Jennings as Acomat, James McAvoy as Bajazet, Ruth Negga as Atalide, Rosie Jones as Zatime, Georgina Rich as Zaire and Kurt Egyiawan as Osmin. Under the direction of Josie Rourke, the afternoon was a very special treat indeed. Continue reading →