Review: Jez Butterworth’s Mojo at the Harold Pinter theatre (with Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan, Rupert Grint)


“There’s nothing like having your dad cut in two to clear the brain”

Despite seeing a rehearsed reading of Jez Butterworth’s Mojo in 2006, I didn’t remember much about it before going to see Ian Rickson’s production at the Harold Pinter theatre. Which is just as well, because discovering it in this vibrant full blooded (and occasionally bloodied) production was a real pleasure. Trying to untangle its secrets and pulling at its different threads (its plot, its aesthetic, its language) is a game best enjoyed in the dark. Its backdrop, a 1950s Soho club after hours, is the perfect setting for such an enterprise.

The play, a naturalistic look at the dark heart of the Soho underworld, all wrapped as a base under siege story and a battle for succession, is sprinkled with a touch of Tarantino and is a maze hiding hope and trepidation. The language is full of riffs going further and further until you tense with fear they will drag you off the cliff. Its humour is chewed at the edges, equally funny and scary. Early on, the thumping of the music synchronises with the thumping of hearts. Thrills and fear become indistinguishable. Continue reading

Five reasons to love Shakespeare (the lowbrow way)

Sometimes I wonder how I got here. I certainly didn’t have the aptitude, the background or the education for it. And I don’t believe it was inevitable or necessary. But what’s not necessary can be vital, and once you breath it, you can’t give it up. And when it comes to Shakespeare, who is neither my job, my livelihood or my educational background, someone has to make the case for the lowbrow, unscholarly pleasures of his plays.

So here are my five reasons for loving Shakespeare.

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Review: Raving by Simon Paisley Day at the Hampstead Theatre

Sarah Hadland as Rosy Robert Webb as Ross

Sarah Hadland as Rosy Robert Webb as Ross

Much of the pleasure of going to the theatre is in the variety, and after gorging myself with Shakespeare, Marlowe and Ibsen in recent weeks, the idea of a sharp contemporary comedy was very appealing. These were my thoughts on my way to the Hampstead theatre on Monday evening but unfortunately Raving, written by Simon Paisley Day and directed by Edward Hall, is not that play. The story of three couples spending a weekend in a remote Welsh cottage could have been material for sharp observations, instead it becomes the ground of an aimless exercise echoing bad sitcoms.

Initial signs were not good. An early joke is about parenthood, how anyone can have children while driving a car requires a licence. I have cringed at that joke even in parties where everyone was too drunk for semi-coherent thought, let alone sharp one-liners. But I was prepared to overlook early problems, hoping the play would hit its stride. Sadly this didn’t happen.

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“Sad stories of the death of kings”: Richard II at the RSC and Edward II at the National Theatre

John Heffernan as Edward, Kyle Soller as Gaveston. Photo Johan Persson

John Heffernan as Edward, Kyle Soller as Gaveston. Photo Johan Persson

From announcement it seemed great timing that Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Richard II were going to be performed so close together, at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company respectively. The stories of two kings forced to abdicate the throne on the way to a violent death, the similarities between the plays make comparing and contrasting tempting. Even more so now that I have seen the productions and they are both in my “I am so in love I want to talk about them all the time” list. In other words, any excuse will do.

Spoiler warning and context: I normally try to avoid spoilers but this is a different kind of post, with plenty of spoilers for the plays and the two aforementioned productions. If you so wish, you can read my (mostly) non  spoilery reviews for Richard II and Edward II. Also I am not a scholar and my understanding of the text comes almost exclusively from performance. My observations relate to these particular productions as seen through my eyes.

Edward and Richard: One would be hard pressed to describe either as good rulers (at least at the time we meet them), but similarities stop there. Edward, as played by John Heffernan, is the rebel barefoot king, defined by his need to love and be loved. It makes him vulnerable, often weak, but opens the soul and makes it easy to be on his side. Richard is far more elusive. His divine right to rule is his default understanding of himself, but at the same time there is an ever present – if well hidden – hollowness to his conviction. It’s the trojan horse that opens the door to his salvation. Richard is not easy to like, and in David Tennant’s performance he never quite surrenders that last scrap of regal entitlement, but there is hope in a man who looks at his downfall in the same uncompromising way he reigned supreme. Continue reading

Review: Richard II (with David Tennant), Royal Shakespeare Company, RST – Stratford upon Avon

Before seeing the new Royal Shakespeare production of Richard II, I wasn’t sure I should review it. I made no secret of the fact I was excited about it but the dark side of anticipation is it builds fortresses between what you want something to be and what it is. Could I be open enough and would the production be strong enough to guide me away from misguided preconceptions? I shouldn’t have worried. In the hands of Greg Doran and his talented cast, the story of a king’s fall from grace takes flight in interesting directions, opens doors I hadn’t seen opened before and more importantly it’s a dramatically thrilling ride.

David Tennant as Richard II. Photo by Kwame Lestrade

David Tennant as Richard II. Photo by Kwame Lestrade

David Tennant’s Richard is not merely a king among men, he is truly the God’s representative on earth and his actions and understanding of himself come from that. For us as a modern audience, it’s an unpalatable notion and Tennant’s Richard is an unpalatable character. He has no moral considerations or understanding of limitations. When he starts to lose support, it’s the start of a transformation process on a molecular level: Continue reading

Review: The Act (created by Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin) at the Ovalhouse theatre

It was only ten days ago ago when I saw a rehearsed reading of a short play based on Peter Wildeblood’s Against The Law. Gay sex as a crime, the decriminilisation of 1967 and people caught in limbo were its themes. The Act, created by Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin, occupies some of the same territory pulling a thread between the then and now in a direct way. Verbatim transcripts, personal anecdotes, imaginative leaps feed into each other to create a world where remaining true to one’s self is as much an act of bravery as it is a lifelong sacrifice. Continue reading

Review: Arnold Wesker’s Roots at the Donmar Warehouse

Roots Arnold Wesker donmar posterMany things can be said about James Mcdonald’s production of Arnold Wesker’s Roots : the language – while grounded and naturalistic – twists and turns like a snake, the performances have vigour and precision and beauty and the set showcases both the small details and the grandeur of the Donmar stage. But ultimately, despite all these pleasures, the production’s structural problems linger in the mind.

Some of these problems come with the play: Wesker is not in a hurry to tell his story. In fact, only one significant event occurs and it comes at the end of the play. None of this would matter if the characters’ interactions played out with energy but at almost three hours and with two intervals, the production loses momentum. Continue reading

Review: The Light Princess, a new musical by Tori Amos, National theatre, Lyttelton stage

The-Light-Princess_posterThere are productions when I want to dispense with any pretence of articulate thought and gush like an overexcited teenager. They are not merely good, they reclaim something fundamental about theatre as a wild ride. The Light Princess is such a theatrical adventure.

Adapted as a musical by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson from a Scottish fairy tale published in 1864, Marianne Elliott’s production brings together many things I love about theatre: restrictions of live performance – where laws of gravity and physical space need to be obeyed – become a virtue and not a hindrance. Continue reading