Review: Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, at the Young Vic

Juliet Stevenson as Winnie. Photo Johan Persson

Juliet Stevenson as Winnie. Photo Johan Persson

This is going to be less a review than any other. Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – not to be confused with Happy Days the musical, currently on tour – is, to me, completely disarming. Part¬†Rorschach test, part word porn, part the noises of one’s dying sanity, it’s hallucinatory as much as anything. It’s intoxicating, unknowable, almost sinful. It’s hard to know where my critical eye (as weak and easily seduced as it is) lost its way.

Winnie talks. She has nothing but talk. Willie is present but out of (her) sight. Do people exist when we don’t see them? Is our voice meaningful if no one hears it? Is death real if no one witnesses it?

Happy Days¬† is some times discussed as a triumph of resilience. But isn’t that too straight a reading for such unfathomable play? Continue reading

Review: Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn – Hampstead theatre

Shannon Tarbet (Avery), Polly Adams (Alice) and Emilia Fox (Catherine). Photo Alastair Muir

Shannon Tarbet (Avery), Polly Adams (Alice) and Emilia Fox (Catherine). Photo Alastair Muir

Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw was a popular and a critical success at the Almeida in 2011, so a new play by her, a play about women, their choices, their desires, their stumblings and recalibrations, felt like an exciting prospect. Therefore, it saddens me to say “Rapture, Blister, Burn”, directed by Peter DuBois in the main stage of the Hampstead theatre, is overall a disappointment.

Much of the problem is with the dramatic structure of the play, or lack of it. Two thirds are spent setting the scene, with hardly any plot development. Continue reading

Review: King Lear (starring Simon Russell Beale) at the National Theatre, Olivier stage

Anna Maxwell Martin (Regan), Simon Russell Beale (Lear). Photo Mark Douet

Anna Maxwell Martin (Regan), Simon Russell Beale (Lear). Photo Mark Douet

There are three things you should know about Sam Mendes’ production of King Lear: it’s modern dress (more about it later), it achieves quite a few revelatory moments in the interpretation of the text (more about them later) and has a brilliant Lear in Simon Russell Beale. Maybe it’s true of King Lear what is true of Hamlet: it’s easier to have a brilliant central performance than having a brilliant production. If Sam Mendes’ King Lear falls short of true greatness, that’s more of an observation than criticism. The experience is rich and the rewards many, and any shortcomings become part of an intensely rich dialogue with the audience.

Simon Russell Beale’s Lear (short, with his head sunk in his body and quite reminiscent of Stalin in Collaborators) starts to show signs of deterioration early on. In the first scene, he has everyone under his thumb, unpleasant, mean, revengeful but his unstable mood picks through already. Did I miss the power of the king? I don’t think so. His bileful behaviour with Goneril in Act I, Scene IV is relentless and stomach-churning but underpinned with the abyss looking back. The moment he catches on – “O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven. Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!” – feels like an explosion, it creates a vacuum around him. Continue reading

Review: Suhayla El-Bushra’s Cuckoo at the Unicorn Theatre

Eden Howard (Jenny) Kate Lassman-Long (Nadine). Photo Manuel Harlan

Eden Howard (Jenny) Kate Lassman-Long (Nadine). Photo Manuel Harlan

Suhayla El-Bushra’s Pigeons was one of the more interesting offerings of the weekpy rep season at the Royal Court theatre last summer. A playwright with an honest yet playful voice, she taps into the energy of teenage life knocking against an adult world that has lost its way.

Her play Cuckoo, currently playing at the Unicorn theatre, shows many of the same virtues (and establishes an avian theme, as a friend pointed out). The world of Nadine and Jenny, two fifteen year olds with an unlikely friendship, explodes with energy, pathos, desires, disappointment and unspoken needs. The teenage girls struggle to understand themselves but their inner life is lucid and sparkling with possibilities. By contrast, the adults are either absent (Nadine’s mother never shows up) or absent in spirit (Jenny’s mum is confused and confusing. Her liberal ideas reach as far as Africa but don’t open her eyes to her own world). Continue reading

Review: John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe

duchess of malfi sam wanamaker playhouse posterWhat comes first, the play or the venue? John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, with Gemma Arterton in the lead, always had the making of a significant theatrical event, but as the first production in the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (the indoor jewel in the Globe’s crown), the focus is equally divided between play and theatrical space.

Let’s briefly talk about the venue: The excitement of the new indoor theatre – part of the original Globe vision and several years in the making – shivers in the air and the space is predictably beautiful but surprising in other ways. I was somewhat unprepared for how small it was. Even to my untrained eye, the architecture is recognisably that of an Elizabethan theatre but everything is scaled down. The feel is that of a dollhouse. Not unpleasant but definitely unusual.

As for Dominic Dromgoole’s production, it bristles with attention to detail Continue reading

What happened to the characters in Jez Butterworth’s Mojo?

You know how it is. One thing led to another and a casual conversation turned inspiration to map the future of all the characters in Jez Butterworth’s Mojo. Thanks to revstan and @emst for contributions and ill-judged encouragement.

Without permission and with sincere apologies to Jez Butterworth. References to the 2013 production at the Harold Pinter theatre, directed by Ian Rickson.

L to R: Ben Whishaw (Baby), Sweets (Rupert Grint), Skinny (Colin Morgan), Potts (Daniel Mays), Mickey (Brendan Coyle). Photo Geraint Lewis

L to R: Ben Whishaw (Baby), Sweets (Rupert Grint), Skinny (Colin Morgan), Potts (Daniel Mays), Mickey (Brendan Coyle). Photo Geraint Lewis

SPOILERS for the play. I mean it. Continue reading

My top ten theatre productions of 2013

As You Like It. Pippan Nixon and Alex Waldmann. Photo Alastair Muir

As You Like It. Pippan Nixon and Alex Waldmann. Photo Alastair Muir

These are the 2013 productions that stuck in my dreams and didn’t want to shift. In strict alphabetical order, because selecting ten for the list was hard enough.

American Psycho, Almeida theatre: the energy and clarity of the production juxtaposed with Patrick Bateman’s nihilism made for an unforgettable experience. Hell in pastel colours and blood splatters. And eighties pop songs. Matt Smith plays the absence of a soul magnificently.

As You Like It, Royal Shakespeare Company: Discovery of love and freedom played out with such openness in Maria Aberg’s production that in the end I wanted to cry with joy. Pippa Nixon was luminous (and as Ganymede she looked like a young K.D. Lang – that can only be a plus) and Alex Waldmann matched her soulful playfulness every step of the way. Continue reading