Review: Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall, starring Andrew Scott, at the Shed – National Theatre

Sea_Wall Andrew Scott reviewSome reviews start with a memory: four years ago, at the Bush Library – an open space with stacks of books all over, the same space occupied by the Bush Theatre today, expect without walls, or proper seating or playtexts for wallpaper in the toilets – I saw Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall. I remember entering and two things were worth noting: even though it was ten minutes before the start, Andrew Scott was already pacing on stage and Ben Whishaw was in the audience. And then it started. And many more things were worth noting and remembering and in the end it went down as one of my best (distinct, powerful) experiences at the theatre.

How does the production at the Shed compare with that memory? On the minus side, I knew what was coming (whatever you do, don’t read spoilers). On the plus side, I knew what was coming (somewhere in the first ten minutes, my heart started pounding while the story was about packing for holidays and travel arrangements). Which is the genius of Simon Stephens’ text, and Andrew Scott’s performance and George Perrin’s direction: it’s artful and skilled in not being artful at all, playing out as real life, when a split second of a moment, without an explanation or a calling card or a lesson, punches you in the stomach and leaves you drowning and unable to make sense of anything for the rest of your life. Continue reading

Review: Alistair McDowall’s Talk Show at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

Jonjo O'Neill and the snake. In case you didn't believe me. Photo Helen Murray

Jonjo O’Neill and the snake. In case you didn’t believe me. Photo Helen Murray

This is not the way I wanted to start this review. Or any review for that matter. The evening of July 17th, when I saw Talk Show at the Royal Court, the news that actor Paul Bhattacharjee had been missing for a week was hanging in the air. He had been part of the weekly rep ensemble, playing the president in The President Has Come to See You and the father in Pigeons, and was due to appear in Talk Show. But after the rehearsal on July 10th, he had gone missing. I can’t know how staff and actors at the Royal Court were feeling, but I was unnerved and sad: pit of the stomach sad, hoping that everything would be alright and wondering how this can happen to someone I stood so close to only a couple of weeks before.

With this absurd, even selfish, thought, I sat down to watch Alistair McDowall’s Talk Show directed by Caroline Steineis. The story of three generations of men, all of them struggling to survive financially, emotionally, existentially. The more they need each other, the more they drift apart. Through pride and stubbornness, they barely keep their head above the water. Continue reading

Review: Crookback at the Etcetera theatre

Deciding which productions to see is a balancing act: finite time, finite money and some times the decision is in the details. From the outset, Crookback (at the Etcetera theatre in Camden till July 21st) had two things in its favour: it’s only 70 minutes long and – as the promotional material indicated – it managed to offend the Richard III society. You know the feud is little more than a publicity stunt but it’s intriguing nevertheless. Continue reading

Another look at the Drowned Man: Five things I learned about Punchdrunk (and a few questions)

Paul Zivkovich at the Drowned Man. Photo Perou.

Paul Zivkovich at the Drowned Man. Photo Perou.

I never imagined I ‘d be writing a third blog post about Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man. After all, I regularly fail to write about theatre productions I have seen, such is the nature of blogging in a non professional capacity. But the response to my review of The Drowned Man, with a wide range of fascinating and articulate comments, made me think:

1) The Drowned Man feels like the stadium tour of an indie band. A new audience tries to discover what’s all about and some problems relate to scale: huge space, many people, that indie feeling is not there any more.

2) Punchdrunk has a huge fanbase I knew nothing about. Are their productions better appreciated by fans? Some art is better understood when you already know it’s a vital part of your life: subtleties open up, outsiders are baffled (and often amused, think of sc-ifi geekery and you get the picture). Does Punchdrunk fall into that category? Continue reading

Review: Nicole Beckwith’s Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters), at the Royal Court

From left: Laura Elphinstone, Natasha Gordon, Angela Terence, Debbie Crazen, Anna Calder-Marshall. Photo Helen Murray

From left: Laura Elphinstone, Natasha Gordon, Angela Terence, Debbie Crazen, Anna Calder-Marshall. Photo Helen Murray

The Royal Court Weekly Rep continues, we are at number five of six plays in six weeks. The Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters), written by Nicole Beckwith and directed by Vicky Featherstone, doesn’t hold any mysteries in its title. Seven women, related to each other in different ways, or not at all, grudgingly come together to argue, undermine and occasionally support each other. Men are largely absent. Apart from a boy who died as a child, Ted whose best quality is he is irrelevant and a father who looks like the captain from Love Boat (you need to be of a certain age to appreciate this reference). Continue reading

Review: A Season in The Congo at the Young Vic (starring Chiwetel Ejiofor)

season in the congo reviewAs themes go, colonialism, civil war and genocide are not the lightest of fares. On the other hand, music, dance, puppets usually  signal a frothier approach. In the Young Vic production of A Season in the Congo, a play by by Aimé Césaire, translated by Ralph Manheim and directed by Joe Wright, the two come together in an unconventional union. The result is engaging and enlightening, always interesting, often heartbreaking.

Play and production are not perfect: far too many scenes revolve around big speeches, some public, some private, speeches nevertheless. They sit well with the important themes of the play but stifle the complexities and subtleties of the human drama. The stylised action both opens up the imagination but occasionally blunts the impact. Not all characters get the  sharp definition they deserve.

And yet, the story is so powerful, the staging so inventive and the lead actor so charismatic that the weaknesses fade into the background. Continue reading

Review: Clare Lizzimore’s Mint at the Royal Court Downstairs

Laura Elphinstone as Stephanie and Sam Troughton as Alan. Photo Helen Murray

Laura Elphinstone as Stephanie and Sam Troughton as Alan. Photo Helen Murray

That was unexpected: could it be that the Royal Court weekly rep season, rough, quick and unpolished, produced one of the best acting performances of the year? When the time comes and I look back on 2013, I have little doubt Sam Troughton playing Alan in Clare Lizzimore’s Mint will be a definitive theatre moment of the year.

Mint tracks Alan, a 26 year old prisoner, through the next seven years of his life: prison visits, relocations, release. Family relationships, dreams, world events, personal milestones for loved ones. Alan is forced to watch from the sidelines, trapped physically and emotionally. He is desperate to connect, wrestle some control back and find his way. He struggles too hard to see that everyone is moving away. Continue reading

A Curious Night at the Theatre – Part Two, when Christopher meets Ben Whishaw and Andrew Scott

Chris Martin at the Curious Night at the Theatre. Photo Luke Treadaway, hope he doesn't mind I am using it

Chris Martin at the Curious Night at the Theatre. Photo Luke Treadaway, hope he doesn’t mind I am using it

Continued from Part One

Christopher met Q at a secret location in the South Bank (if you don’t go to the theatre, it looked like a secret location. Otherwise, it looked like the National). They talked about viruses, and integrating the lines of radiant and whether you can dig someone if they are not a garden. Q rememebered Moriarty from the time they were together in Mike Bartlett’s Cock and sent Christopher on his way with a flirty “any time, cowboy”.

And back to school where Christopher said goodbye to Jude, heartbroken and disheartened not to have a future with Siobhan. And coming home one day, just like that, Christopher found Moriarty in his living room, cocky (not just because of Mike Bartlett’s Cock) and arrogant and a little bit sexy. Moriarty agreed to let Christopher mess with his computer on one condition: that Christopher can get hundreds of people to sit in one room and switch off their phones in order to engage in a metaphor (which is really a story). A little bit like a play. And here we are. Continue reading

A Curious Night at the Theatre starring Christopher, the Doctor, Q, the Queen & Moriarty (& a guy called Jude Law)

Parental guidance: I don’t intend to take a measured approach with this post. Be warned of breathless and shameless enthusiasm. I am told it’s called squee. I wouldn’t know.

Jude Law and Christopher (Luke Treadaway) on stage at A Curious Night at the Theatre. Photo Ellie Kurttz

Jude Law and Christopher (Luke Treadaway) on stage at A Curious Night at the Theatre. Photo Ellie Kurttz

When a show overruns by 75 minutes, it finishes at close to three hours without interval and no one complains, you know it’s a rare experience. A Curious Night at the Theatre was always destined to be, well, curious: part theatre, part live concert, part charity event, it could all have gone very wrong. In the end, it delivered on all counts: A funny play, party atmosphere, surprises, confetti and £100,000 raised. The curious night was something of a special night.

First things first, it’s theatre after all and there is a new play by Mark Haddon and Simon Stephens: a detective story for Christopher, where he is contacted by the Doctor and entrusted with an important mission: Moriarty – who, as the Doctor admits, looks suspiciously like Andrew Scott – has developed a computer virus and all people coming in contact with it will lose the ability to understand metaphors. “You, and only you Christopher, can rescue the metaphor.” Christopher is hesitant: “Why me?”. “No, no, no” says the Doctor, “the virus started working already”. Christopher doesn’t trust metaphors, which are lies after all, but is convinced to help. The Doctor calls the Queen and, amid some giggling and old fashioned flirting, gets Christopher an invitation to the Buckingham palace. The Queen has, after all, the best contacts.

Continue reading