Review: Harold Pinter shorts at Trafalgar studios, with Andrew Scott and Joanna Lumley

Pinter shorts reviewOne of the interesting aspects of the Jamie Lloyd season at the Trafalgar studios is the additional events running alongside each production: for Macbeth, one-off readings of Scottish plays were performed. With The Hothouse, there is a series of talks and the performance of two Harold Pinter radio plays in front of an audience. When actors such as Andrew Scott, Joanna Lumley and Alun Armstrong are involved, it’s not hard to imagine keen interest. Indeed, there was a full house on Saturday afternoon for the last of three performances of two Pinter shorts, Family Voices and Victoria Station.

I make no secret that I love readings. Some times readings will free performers in ways a production can’t. At Trafalgar studios, in a large and sprawling auditorium, the performance consisted of nothing more than the actors in front of the microphone and a sound technician in a console at Roote’s desk. (We joked beforehand how versatile that desk is). Pinter’s language, with no production to back it up, or rather get in the way, shone for its poetry, double-edged humour, clarity and the sheer delight of the perfect combination of words in any one sentence. Continue reading

Review: Pigeons by Suhayla El-Bushra at the Royal Court Theatre – Downstairs

Parental guidance: this review contains strong language (and some sexual themes). Much like the play.

Pigeons get a bad press. As a character in the new play by Suhayla El-Bushra says, they excrete all over the place and don’t get out of the way when you approach. As it turns out, he is not talking about the birds and he is a bit of a shit himself. Be careful before you agree with him.

The story plays out in playgrounds, backstreets and semi detached houses in inner city neighbourhoods. A bit grim and a bit normal. The characters – most of them young people – are disaffected and bewildered in equal measure. They clash with parents who are present, or long to argue with parents who are not. They perform fellatio in sheds and split drugs in bus stops. Their disaffection mixes with sexual frustration. They turn on each other, and know where to strike in order to inflict the most damage. Some times literally.

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Review: Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable

Paul Zivkovich and Kate Jackson in Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man. Photo: Perou

Paul Zivkovich and Kate Jackson in Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man. Photo: Perou

I thought long and hard how to start this review. Or even whether I should write it. Because Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man plays a trick on you. If it’s performance, where is it? If it’s a walk among someone’s life, random, rambling, often boring, why should I review it?

Admittedly, it’s a gorgeously lit, gorgeously designed walk: motels, boudoirs, bedrooms, forests, trailer parks, sand dunes, diners. People were walking around trying to latch onto the details, find meaning on the minutiae. If there was a story, I didn’t find it. Without the story, the action was falling apart: if I am honest, most of the performed action was banal.

There were interesting elements of passages that would only open if you were there at the right time, like a portal in His Dark Materials. The movement of the audience was fascinating, chasing around what little action there was, converging and dispersing. Continue reading

Review: Death Tax by Lucas Hnath, at the Royal Court Downstairs

death tax review - cast listLucas Hnath’s Death Tax, the second play at Royal Court weekly rep season, starts at the same box of a set The President Has Come to See You occupied, but the similarities end here. While “The President…” was a seat of the pants experience, certainly for the actors, Death Tax is a thoughtful, funny, exposing play about life close to death and life without death. The characters are defined by questions of mortality, money, the moment when their response to a moral and practical challenge changes their life, whether they realise it or not.

The story also makes an interesting leap into the future and imagines a world where immortality is merely a question of funds. Plays rarely step into science fiction territory and, while Death Tax is moderate in its futuristic ambitions, it is still an adventure with a genre theatre rarely touches. More science fiction plays please. Continue reading

Review: The Cripple of Inishmaan (starring Daniel Radcliffe), Noel Coward theatre

Daniel Radcliffe as Billy

Daniel Radcliffe as Billy

The Cripple of Inishmaan, written by Martin McDonagh when he was in his early twenties, is a play about hope. A 1930s community in rural isolated Ireland is overwhelmed by the news of filming in nearby Inishmore. The news acts as a trojan horse of hopes and desires. Crumpled cruel unsophisticated hopes, but hopes nonetheless. Billy hopes to escape. Helen wants to be kissed and not to be groped. Babbybobby wants his wife back. Johnnypateenmike explicitly tells everyone what he wants but it might not be what he means. Some of these hopes aren’t merely unfulfilled, they are futile. Characters repeatedly run against brick walls. When they recover, they turn on each other with unsparing determination and wit. Continue reading

Review: The President Has Come To See You, by Lasha Bugadze, at the Royal Court theatre

the president has come to see you - cast listNew artistic director, new bar. New adventures. Last night was my first time at the Royal Court since Vicky Featherstone took over and some of the changes were immediately apparent. Nice use of space at the bar, mismatched furniture, greater variety at the menu and food served till late. I heartily approve. I can see many more theatre friendships forged there.

New adventures, new rules. The President Has Come to See You, by georgian playwright Lasha Bugadze, is the first of six new plays performed by the same cast who only has a week to rehearse and perform each play. It’s fast, exciting, a little bit messy, and there is not enough time to feel the panic.

The play, with an exceptionally interesting premise, certainly lived up to all of the above. The story skids along the public and the private, the historical and the fictional: it’s August 2008, Georgia is at war with Russia, the BBC news readers sound as grave and as urgent as the circumstances demand. The georgian president has a nervous breakdown (who wouldn’t?), and takes to the streets. He meets people even more stressed than he is: reality tv contestants, young men forced to join the army, a dog owner who looks more unhinged than his savage dog. His chief of police bursts into tears. A (pregnant) man in a dress starts to look positively serene. Continue reading

Review: Bracken Moor by Alexi Kaye Campbell, a Shared Experience / Tricycle theatre co-production

bracken_moor_tricycle_reviewI always felt an affinity with Alexi Kaye Campbell. He was born and grew up in Athens (like I did) and I idly like to wonder whether our paths has crossed and could he be one of the older boys we fancied from afar at the english speaking school next to mine? Which is an excuse to reminisce about teenage crushes but has little to do with plays (if you discount the fact that almost all artistic adventures start as teenage crushes). But I digress. The point is, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s work gives me a tingle of anticipation, not only because he is one of the most intersting modern playwrights, but also due to our common roots (and he would know exactly what I mean when I talk about this).

Bracken Moor, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play, is named after a fictional (as far as I can tell) moor in Yorkshire. It’s set in the cavey drawing room of a mansion in the 1930s, a mansion built next to a coal mining community. The play is co-produced by Shared Experience, whose previous successes include Mary Shelley, and all these elements start to paint the picture of a gothic morality tale. In fact, it is a gothic morality tale of private tragedy and public responsibility brought to life with elegance, precision and visceral enthusiasm. Try to resist spoilers, the less you know the better. Continue reading

Review: The Amen Corner by James Baldwin at the National Theatre

amen_corner_Marianne Jean-Baptiste_reviewOccasionally reviews can (and should) be simple. Like simply saying “go and watch this”. Not because there is nothing else to say but  because the message needs to be loud and clear and not get lost among convoluted comments and explanations. James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner at the National Theatre is one of those productions.

James Baldwin’s play, taking place in an African-American community in Harlem after World War II, addresses questions of god, love, desire, gossip, human weakness, poverty, music and the shadow of racial prejudice in the early 1950s. It could have been dry, confusing, overambitious. Instead, as directed by Rufus Norris in an exquisite production, it’s effortlessly poignant. It’s life, not as we know it, but as some people did, and it cuts like a knife. Continue reading

Peter’s and Alice’s last date: Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench bid farewell to the Noel Coward theatre

Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw, after a performance on the set of Peter and Alice

Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw, after a performance on the set of Peter and Alice

I don’t go enough to last nights. I am far too impatient and the lure of previews is strong. (There is no elation like experiencing a great new play when hardly anyone, definitely not the people who shaped it, knows how great it is). But the joy of theatre is that every night is different and as previews have a fresh edgy excitement, performances later in the run have maturity and depth.

On the other hand, last nights have a delicious bittersweet recklessness where the play often breaks free, some times with revelatory results. And more than any other performance, there is conspiracy in the air, actors and audience together in an end-of-the-world party. John Logan’s Peter and Alice had its last performance last night, and while the play is still not perfect (occasionally getting backed into a corner as much as its characters), the performance was a joy and a fitting farewell to a production that brought together Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench, two of Britain’s most luminous stage stars, a couple of generations apart but so close in every other way. Continue reading

Review: Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude at the National Theatre

strange interlude poster reviewAs luck has it, in the last week I saw two of the longest productions I am likely to see all year: Lucy kirkwood’s Chimerica at the Almeida – at a hefty 3 hours 10 minutes – followed a few days later by Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude at the National Theatre – at an even more impressive 3 hours 30 minutes. As a regular theatregoer my dirty little secret is long running times make my heart sink. I don’t exactly feel negative towards long shows, but I want them to justify my investment for the better part of four hours. While Chimerica’s ambitious world won my affections, Strange Interlude, despite many fine moments and stellar performances, struggles under a text that goes from compelling to flabby in a heartbeat. Continue reading