Chimerica Take Two – Not a review

Watching Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica the other day, I was reminded of a story I had forgotten. Even if you know little about the play, you have seen the photograph of the lone man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen square in 1989. How this moment in time spurs and ties the story of Chimerica is the genius of the play.

But the photograph reminded me of another man in front of a tank. In November 1973, a massive demonstration against the greek military junta centered around the Athens polytechnic and gathered momentum. Eventually, tanks were called in and twenty four civilians were killed. Another man threw himself in front of a tank. The film below captures the moment and when I was growing up I saw it dozens of times.

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Review: Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood, at the Almeida theatre (a Headlong co-production)

Photo Jeff Widener / AP / Press Association Images

Photo Jeff Widener / AP / Press Association Images

From Wikipedia: Chimerica is a neologism coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick describing the symbiotic relationship between China and the United States. In truth, Lucy Kirkwood’s new play, ambitious, incisive and complex, has much in common with the legendary chimera, a creature made with parts from various animals. The play, similarly, wants to be many things (political, character driven, suspenseful, probing the big picture and the tiny details) and in a wondrous deeply moving way it succeeds.

The play spans three decades, starting at a hotel off Tiananmen square in 1989. Three characters take centre stage: an american journalist, a chinese teacher, an english marketing researcher. Colleagues, bosses, relatives, acquaintances, politicians, the authorities swarm around them. At the heart of it a quest,  with press freedom, people’s souls and safety at stake. In fact, this is a story where the stakes are always high: whether it’s friendship, love, morals, livelihoods, nothing is trivialised. There are no perfect choices. Holding onto the moral high ground becomes a sin in its own right. Continue reading

In Praise of Douglas Hodge: Albin sings A Little More Mascara

With only a few days before the first performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the return of Douglas Hodge to the London stage, it’s only appropriate to remember the 2008 Menier (and West End) production of La Cage Aux Folles.

Douglas Hodge as Albin is one of my favourite performances of all time, moving, light, truthful, a precious and personal memory from the first time I saw the production at the Menier. Repeat visits to the Playhouse theatre were exhilarating – with one memorable scene having Zaza / Albin singing I Am What I Am, taking the wig off and bursting to the street from a side door in full drag.

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From the archive: David Tennant talks about working with Greg Doran (audio – 2008)

I have never hidden (or moderated) my excitement for the upcoming Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard II. David Tennant’s most recent work in Stratford – with Hamlet but also Love’s Labour’s Lost – holds some of my best theatre memories and I am unashamedly overexcited by the prospect of seeing him again in a favourite Shakespeare play under the direction of Greg Doran. (Very few names of the remaining cast have been announced, but if Michael Pennington and Oliver Ford Davies are any indication, I won’t be disappointed).

In place of a countdown – or just because I was poking around my archives – here is a short audio clip of David Tennant talking about Greg Doran and the way he works with the actors. Continue reading

Review: Henrik Ibsen’s Public Enemy at the Young Vic

Niall Ashdown and Darrell D'Silva. Photo Keith Pattison

Niall Ashdown as Aslaksen and Darrell D’Silva as the Mayor. Photo Keith Pattison

More than a century after its first performance, Henrik Ibsen’s Public Enemy (or An Enemy of the People as it’s better known) remains a play so relevant it’s tempting to think it has been updated for 21st century sensibilities: a scientist discovers that the town spa – the lifeline of the local economy – is polluted. Financial interests, corruption, betrayal and hypocrisy combine for an explosive mix of public and private tragedy. The human nature at its more complex, the attraction of the play is obvious.

For the longest time into the Young Vic production of Ibsen’s play (directed by Richard Jones in a new version by David Harrower), I was unconvinced by its approach. Continue reading

Review: The Hothouse at Trafalgar Studios (starring Simon Russell Beale and John Simm)

John Simm, Simon Russell Beale, Harry Melling, promotional photo for The Hothouse. Photo Jay Brooks

John Simm, Simon Russell Beale, Harry Melling, promotional photo for The Hothouse. Photo Jay Brooks

When the cast was announced for Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse at the Trafalgar Studios, my immediate reaction was delighted disbelief: the headline (and the poster) can only accommodate two stars, but make no mistake, any of the five principal actors would get top billing in another production. They just happen to be on the same ensemble piece, and the challenge for director Jamie Lloyd (who must have worked true magic to assemble such a cast) was not to squander their talent. On this evidence, there was nothing to fear.

Pinter’s play as directed by Lloyd is a comedy with such hellish vibe that could easily be one’s worst nightmare. On Christmas day five characters rattle around a mental institution, dark secrets, hidden motives and increasingly disturbed behaviour oozing through their pores like sweat. These are merely the staff. In fact we never see any of the patients who, when referenced, seem balanced and compassionate. The staff, it’s a different story. This is a furnace of a production: not only due to the reference of the title but also because of the hermetically sealed environment. These characters live inside the pressure cooker, long string of words (that shouldn’t make sense but they do in a disturbingly funny way) delivered with the violence of steam escaping. No one sees in, they can’t see out. It’s chilling, scary, funny and chilling again. On a loop. Continue reading