Review: Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, at the Olivier Stage, National Theatre

John Heffernan as Edward II - Photo Johan Persson

John Heffernan as Edward II – Photo Johan Persson

A play by a young playwright, a young director and a young cast. No, it’s not a National Youth Theatre production in collaboration with the National Theatre – although you should definitely check those out – but Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II performed at the Olivier stage. It’s a five hundred year old play but Marlowe died at 29, most of the actors in the company are in their late twenties and director Joe Hill-Gibbins is 36. The Olivier as a rowdy youth club? You bet, and so much more.

The play is the story of Edward II, King of England, who probably prefers the embrace of his lover Gaveston to ruling England, but rule he must. The power struggles around him involve his wife Isabella, her lover Mortimer, his underage son Edward, his sister Kent, the Barons and the Church. Needless to say it doesn’t end well.

The production spills with energy Continue reading

What’s in store for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company in 2014?

August is a strange month: unless you are on a beach somewhere, it’s like time stood still. Press officers are on holiday, and for someone with attention deficit like myself the trickle of theatre news is torture. But September is around the corner, and the following teasers will lift my spirits till then.

Royal Shakespeare Company will follow Richard II with Henry IV part 1 and 2, The Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Jane Lapotaire will play the Duchess of Gloucester in Richard II and with rehearsals starting in a couple of weeks, the announcement of the remaining cast can’t be far behind.

At the National Theatre, Rufus Norris Continue reading

In Praise of The Pride (with Bertie Carvel, Ben Whishaw, Daniel Evans, Hugh Dancy and more)

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride came back to London last week, timeless, tender, profound and this time unexpectedly topical: the play coincided with protests for Putin’s anti-gay russian laws.

It’s a rare modern play that I remember so many of its past productions: Although aware of the glowing word of mouth I missed the first production in 2008 at the Royal Court and I regret it ever since. Among other things, I had to wait for Almeida’s The Rope several months later to discover Bertie Carvel for myself. And in a case of ex post facto typecasting (I always wanted to use latin in my writing), I always thought that Bertie Carvel played Philip, while in fact he was Oliver.

JJ Field (Philip) and Bertie Carvel (Oliver) in the 1950s. Photo Tristram Kenton

JJ Feild (Philip) and Bertie Carvel (Oliver) in the 1950s. Photo Tristram Kenton

Every time I go to revstan’s flat, Continue reading

Review: Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, at Trafalgar studios

Al Weaver (Oliver) and Harry Hadden Paton (Philip). Photo: Marc Brenner

Al Weaver (Oliver) and Harry Hadden Paton (Philip). Photo: Marc Brenner

After several years of obsessive theatregoing, I have seen my fair share of modern classics being born. There is no thrill like watching a preview of a great new play and seeing the possibilities before anyone else, knowing this secret before it’s revealed to the world. Then, there are the ones that got away: Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride premiered at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in November 2008, and although my friends were raving about it, I never managed to see that production. It doesn’t help that the month’s run at the 80 seats theatre sold out very quickly, especially after reviews were out. Alexi Kaye Campbell went to win The Critics’ Circle Prize for Most Promising Playwright, the play had productions off broaddway and elsewhere in the world before coming back to Sheffield, where I managed to catch up with it for the first time. What a revelation that was.

For all its intricate structure (two timelines criss-crossing) and its bigger theme (human rights we take for granted, all the things we have yet to achieve), The Pride is painfully and joyfully about people. It has a skin on skin quality, the characters – all fully fledged and gloriously flawed – have desires and make choices to break your heart. Continue reading

Review: The Same Deep Water As Me, by Nick Payne, at the Donmar Warehouse

Nigel Lindsay, Daniel Mays and Monica Dolan in The Same Deep Water As Me. Photo Johan Persson

Nigel Lindsay, Daniel Mays and Monica Dolan in The Same Deep Water As Me. Photo Johan Persson

Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of last year’s theatrical highlights: elegant and simple, it took life’s small gestures and launched them into space. It transferred from the 80 seater Royal Court Upstairs to the West End and was nominated for an Olivier award. As his new play starts performances, does he feel the pressure of repeating the success of Constellations?

On the evidence of The Same Deep Water As Me, directed by John Crowley at the Donmar Warehouse, Nick Payne doesn’t seem under pressure at all. On the face of it, it’s a simple story with a simple structure unfolding over several years: its milieu is a solicitor’s firm specialising in personal injury claims. It’s not the kind of profession to brag about and the two solicitors working on the firm bear (and occasionally justify) its unsavoury reputation with a mixture of self delusion and decency.

As with Constellations, dialogue and relationships are impeccable.  Continue reading

Review: Liolà by Luigi Pirandello, at the National Theatre, Lyttelton stage

Aisling O’Sullivan as Croce Azzara, Rory Keenan as Liola. Photo Catherine Ashmore

Aisling O’Sullivan as Croce Azzara, Rory Keenan as Liola. Photo Catherine Ashmore

What does a Luigi Pirandello play look like? A lightness of touch that balances on darker themes, a life force that smashes through existential and moral questions, singing, live music, sunshine. On the evidence of Liolà, all these statements would be true. But Liolà is not a typical Pirandello play, “so light-hearted it doesn’t seem like one of my works” as the author himself admitted. In the National theatre production, directed by Richard Eyre in a version by Tanya Ronder, the tension between Pirandello’s darker preoccupations and the sensual drive of the story make for a delicious spiky treat.

Sicily, summer 1916. Baking sun, almond crops, barefoot children climbing trees. At the centre of it all, Liolà, a young man comfortable in his own skin, unburdened by convention, blazes through life, meets women, makes babies. His seductive power should be destructive but somehow it’s healing. Nimble-footed and nimble-spirited, he has the universe at his fingers (the live band stops playing at his slightest of signs) and turns magic tricks into the real deal. It’s a joy to watch Rory Keenan seduce every breathing soul in the room Continue reading