Review: The Silence of the Sea (part of the Donmar Trafalgar Season)

(from left) Simona Bitmaté, Finbar Lynch and Leo Bill. Photo by Simon Kane

(from left) Simona Bitmaté, Finbar Lynch and Leo Bill. Photo by Simon Kane

Within a few minutes of the performance starting, I had decided not to review The Silence of the Sea. I was feeling tired and the woman behind me was talking out loud and being thoroughly annoying. My concentration was not what it should be.

What changed my mind? Like the best productions, The Silence of the Sea defied place, time and practical considerations to keep me in rapt attention. Adapted from a book by Vercors, in a version by Anthony Weigh and directed by Simon Evans, the story, set in France during world war II German occupation, has the leanness of hard horrific times. Continue reading

Review: Quartermaine’s Terms, by Simon Gray, at the Wyndhams (starring Rowan Atkinson)

Rowan Atkinson as St John Quartermaine. Photo by Nobby Clark.

Rowan Atkinson as St John Quartermaine. Photo by Nobby Clark.

“I mean these things between people – people one cares for – it’s hard to bear them“. In the middle of the play, this words uttered by St John Quartermaine, land like a bomb. Quickly the moment passes. Most other characters try not to feel, and only care up to a point, they have considerations, alliances, careers, plans to distract them.  St John Quartermaine, played by Rowan Atkinson, has nothing but the staff room at this English school for foreigners.

Simon Gray’s play, written more than 30 years ago, is set in the fringes of Cambridge academia. Tweed jackets, heavy bookcases, leather chairs and croquet, but also frustration as none of these professors play with the big boys. In many other ways, it’s a depressingly modern workplace. Co-workers talk of lifelong friendships and bonds between them, but time and again practicalities get in the way.  Efficiency marches in, the weakest links are cut loose. Leave any man behind. Continue reading

Richard II: Who is fit to abdicate the crown?

davidtennant_richardIt’s been coming for a while, but at last, this past week, it was formally announced that David Tennant will return to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play the title role in Richard II. Greg Doran starts his time as artistic director with an exciting season that, in addition to Tennant’s Richard II, includes stage adaptations of  Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies at the Swan theatre. But undoubtedly the big media story is Tennant as the deposed king.

We have several months to debate actors, performances  and who is going to play Bolingbroke, and Lyn Gardner at the Guardian kicked off the game with a collection of her favourite Richard II moments. It’s breathtaking to see such rich tradition, with the technology providing image and sound at our fingertips. Continue reading

Review: Port by Simon Stephens, at the National Theatre (Lyttelton stage)

Mike Noble, Liz White and Kate O'Flynn in rehearsal. Photo Kevin Cummins.

Mike Noble, Liz White and Kate O’Flynn in rehearsal. Photo Kevin Cummins.

Port is the story of Racheal, a little girl who needs to grow up. If it was a fairy tale, she would go to the woods, slay the dragon, become the woman she wants to be. But this is Stockport in the nineties, there are no mythical feats as rites of passage but boredom, no prospects, parents who don’t know how to love, feral children left to find their way alone in the shadow of the world. It sounds grim and foreboding, but Simon Stephens’ play, as directed by Marianne Elliott, has stubbornness and determination at its heart, and the energy and beauty of youth at its side.

In recent years, Simon Stephens has become one of England’s most prominent playwrights. Continue reading

Review: My Fair Lady, at the Sheffield Crucible

Domini West as professor Higgins, Carly Bawden as Eliza and Antony Calf as colonel Pickering. Photo Donald Cooper.

Domini West as professor Higgins, Carly Bawden as Eliza and Antony Calf as colonel Pickering. Photo Donald Cooper.

Sitting in the audience before the performance of My Fair Lady (as often with the Sheffield Crucible, an audience with a high quota of well known theatre people – Michael Grandage, Cameron Mackintosh and Iain Glen among them), the chatter of the matinee crowd was mixing with the joyous noise of make believe Covent Garden on stage. It wasn’t so much a collision of worlds, as two worlds bleeding into each other. I have a soft spot for any production that attempts to blur the line between stage and audience. In this case, this was the perfect start for the three hours of joy that were to follow.

I haven’t seen My Fair Lady on stage before, and I am not sure I have seen the film version all the way through. But the musical is such a big part of collective consciousness that songs, snippets and images connect the production with rich personal memories. Director Daniel Evans doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel or overthrow tradition: his London is a mythical place, not as grimy and miserable as we know it was, but a place of dreams, for Eliza, Higgins and all of us. The production triumphs because this dreamed place is as vivid and heartfelt as anything in real life. Continue reading

Review: Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore, at Hampstead Theatre

di&viv&roseposterSome plays are like old friends. They don’t try to dazzle you, or overwhelm you. They get under your skin tenderly and quietly. They tease memories and melodies. Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose, as directed by Anna Mackmin for the Hampstead theatre, is such a play.

Which is not to say it is quiet or timid. The story starts with three young women experiencing university life for the first time. And no teenage girl has ever been quiet. The production is full of noise and music and late night energy. It talks about the truths – true loves, true laughter, true fights – we discover when we let our guard down.

The play impresses with its simplicity. Three women meet, become friends, laugh a lot, spend the next twenty years shaping each other’s lives. And then you realise the play is a rarity: Continue reading

Review: No Quarter by Polly Stenham, at the Royal Court Theatre

no quarterPlays are bad for your health. After watching Polly Stenham’s No Quarter, I wanted a fag. And some booze. And to party. Because this is the effect Stenham’s plays have on me: among the crushed mythologies and family secrets and distorted mirrors, I feel all tingly and alive and seduced.

No Quarter is the story of a family. Or all families. And the lies that hold them together. Stenham doesn’t stray far from previous obsessions: mothers and sons, trashing a house, hanging from chandeliers. Her characters start recognisable, almost predictable, but all of them have wild cards up their sleeve. What they know about each other, or themselves, shifts like quick sand. The play’s brilliance is to tease the magic mirror and reveal it as real life. Stenham’s dialogue is stubbornly down to earth, yet fearless and the combination left me stunned and kind of breathless. Continue reading

My five theatre wishes for 2013

This is not the blog post I was planning to write. I am at least two reviews behind (including the magical My Fair Lady at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield), not to mention my looking back at 2012 and half a dozen other unfinished posts. But this post popped up, hurried and urgent, hardly revised, definitely not proofread. It won’t enhance my reputation. You continue at your own peril.

My five theatre wishes for 2013:

1) All theatres to put the running time of their shows at their website. It’s not much to ask, is it? I have a day job to go to the next morning, knowing the running time is indispensable.

2) Tim Walker (of the Sunday Telegraph) to stop reviewing theatre. I don’t even have to justify this.

3) Redesign for theatre websites. Most of them look like they have been designed twenty years ago.

4) The Oliviers to be broadcast on television. But only if they can do it right. And more television coverage for theatre in general.

5) I could ask for more public money for the arts, and better pay for stage actors. And I do. But let’s face it, this is not that kind of post.

Review: Overruled, three plays by George Bernard Shaw, at the Old Red Lion theatre

overrulled-web2-527x158_527x158Thirty-words review: Funny, absurd and ultimately tender, Overruled, the first production of the newly-established Wilmington theatre company, does justice to the language and spirit of George Bernard Shaw.

Will that be enough? Probably not. If I am honest, before the performance, I didn’t know what to expect. Not only was it my first time at the Old Red Lion theatre (an omission on my part as it has a very good reputation), but it was a new company tackling George Bernard Shaw in a space above a pub. Let’s be honest, it could go either way.

In the end, the evening was a perfectly formed and juicy little treat. Three short plays, stretching from frothy silliness to something tender and more profound, give the actors the opportunity to use language, conventions and characters in an exciting and playful balancing act. Continue reading

Five theatre resolutions for 2013

Photo courtesy of the BBC

Photo courtesy of the BBC

New Year, you may have noticed, never mind New Year’s Day 2012 seems only yesterday. If I find who presses fast forward in my life and won’t let go, there will be hell to pay. Till then, here are my resolutions for 2013. What? Is 2014 already?

1) To see more musicals. I decided musicals is the purest form of theatre. Or at least my kind of theatre. At their best, they deliver the purest and more sustainable high. Not that I see theatre as an addiction. Not at all.

2) To read the theatre programmes more carefully. Then, I might know the answer to the question “Do you think Jez Butterworth’s The River covers the theatre trend of post modernism?”. Yes I was asked that. I have no idea what it means.

3) To raise my hand and ask questions in various Q&As. Have you heard the questions asked? I can’t possibly do any worse. Besides, after being scolded by Emma Freud at the National Theatre quiz, public embarrassment holds no fear for me.

4) To solve the mystery, why don’t we all like the same plays? Easy, I just need to put my mind to it.

5) To post more at my blog. After all, my last year’s resolution was to start a blog. I just need to keep it up.

Any resolutions you care to share?