Photo of the week: David Dawson as Gethin Price in Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians (with bonus David Tennant in the same role)

David Dawson as Gethin Price. Photo Helen Maybanks

David Dawson as Gethin Price. Photo Helen Maybanks

Tonight it’s the BBC4 broadcast of The Duchess of Malfi, as it was performed earlier in the year at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse – Shakespeare’s Globe. This is an important occasion, not least because there has been no Jacobean plays on tv since 1993 (more on the subject at John Wyver’s blog, and if you have the least bit of interest on how theatre translates into other media, you have to follow his writing).

I found the production itself bloodless – figuratively, the luminous beauty of the setting didn’t always translate to the fever of the story and text.  With one exception: David Dawson as Ferdinand, his soul twitching with forbidden desires while his face remained waxed in explosive immobility.

I first saw David Dawson in Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2009. As Gethin Price, the uncompromising idealist of the group walking the line between  madness and genius, David Dawson’s impressive talents were in full display: a feverish performance that combined subtlety and extravagance, threat and charisma in equal measures. I clearly remember him in his big scene, full of drool and snot, both repulsive and attractive. Continue reading

The W list: which actors I most want to see on stage (whom I haven’t seen yet)?

From left to right: Lesley Manville, Julian Wadlam, Gary Oldman, Linda Bassett, Meera Syal, Allan Corduner in Caryl Churchill's  Serious Money. Royal Court 1987

From left to right: Lesley Manville, Julian Wadlam, Gary Oldman, Linda Bassett, Meera Syal, Allan Corduner in Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money. Royal Court 1987

Every theatre goer has one. A list of actors we most want to see on stage and for one reason or another this hasn’t happened. In fact, one of the big pleasures of seeing A View from The Bridge at the Young Vic was to see Mark Strong return to the theatre. Even if the production wasn’t the monumental, searing experience that it is, seeing Mark Strong on live performance would still justify all the excitement in the world. As I have crossed one actor off the list, I hope the remaining will reconsider their long absence and return to the stage sooner rather than later (and on this side of the Atlantic please).

Strictly in alphabetical order:

Michael Fassbender: He is among the most celebrated film actors in recent years but Fassbender’s stage work is negligible. He only has four theatre credits in 12 years, the first one age 17, playing Cinderella’s ugly sister in a pub theatre production of a play called “Fairytales Fairytales 123”; the last theatre credit is in 2006 at the Edinburgh Fringe. He could be like Daniel Day Lewis, one of the best film actors of all time but without significant stage work but I hope this won’t be the case. He ‘s been hanging around with James McAvoy, maybe he ‘ll get inspired or dared into doing stage work. Continue reading

Review: Incognito by Nick Payne, at the Bush theatre (presented by nabokov)

Alison O'Donnell and Paul Hickey - photo Bill Knight

Alison O’Donnell and Paul Hickey – photo Bill Knight

Young british playwrights are on fire. Not only in the sense they are pretty damn good (even if Dominic Cavendish disagrees), but also because they can’t stop writing. In April, Mike Bartlett opened two new plays within a fortnight, and now Nick Payne’s Incognito performs at the Bush theatre, a couple of months after his Blurred Lines performed at the Shed and Symphony at the Vaults and before The Art of Dying at the Royal Court in July. People ask me why I go to the theatre so much. Try keeping up with these guys.

Skimming through the synopsis of the play, you will pick up words like neuroscience and Albert Einstein’s brain (in a jar no less). Associated images of laboratories and 19th century travelling shows spring to mind (this expression – “it springs to mind” – is pertinent. This is how the brain works, making connections and creating narratives). The reality of the production is far more intriguing.  Nick Payne returns to the themes of Constellations: the burning desire for meaning, human warmth and comfort, all held together by a decaying and fragile piece of human tissue. What happens when we lose a memory, a word, a feeling? Can they be so important if they are so easily lost?

As with Constellations, structure is key: Continue reading

Second trip to Birdland at the Royal Court, post-show Q&A, and You ‘re Not as Tall As You Look by Chris Thorpe

Andrew Scott and Alex Price during the Q&A. Photo courtesy of @cumberbatchweb

Andrew Scott and Alex Price during the Q&A. Photo courtesy of @cumberbatchweb

Wednesday evening saw my return trip to Simon Stephens’ Birdland, Every few months, I have a play or production that ignites the imagination and thus repeat viewings are inevitable. Furthermore, this is the only way to fully experience theatre: once is often a necessity but it’s not a preference. Productions are living things, if it’s impractical to be there every night, it doesn’t mean they stay still without our presence (professional critics often seem to forget that).

It’s fun trying to decipher what changed with time (There will be SPOILERS for the rest of the post, so please don’t read if you don’t want to be spoiled): Paul felt more deliberately cruel than in the previous performance. Louis – the superfan – is now holding a magnifying glass when he is meeting Paul. At one point David (the manager) puts drops to Paul’s eyes. At the same time, one of the actresses is at the roof and dropping marbles on a metal bowl held by another actress standing below, thus mimicking the eye-dropping action (and creating a loud clanking sound). On Wednesday night, the actress missed the bowl and the marble rolled all the way to the front of the stage and sank in the water. Some things are the same but now I am able to focus on them differently: I love how the set exposes the backstage area all the way to the exterior wall. When Johnny leaves through the fire escape, he exits directly into the street.

The post show talk was lovely and intimate: Continue reading

Billie Piper in the new Richard Bean play at the National, Ivo van Hove directs Juliette Binoche in Antigone and more

Billie Piper (with Jonjo O'Neill) in The Effect, the last National Theatre production she appeared in. Photo Ellie Kurtz

Billie Piper (with Jonjo O’Neill) in The Effect, the last National Theatre production she appeared in. Photo Ellie Kurtz

In an infrequent series of posts, these are the theatre news that got me excited in recent weeks:

– Word is Billie Piper is in rehearsals for the new Richard Bean play at the National. The play – with the provisional title Hacked – is directed by Nic Hytner, revolves around the phone hacking scandal and should start performances at the Lyttelton as early as June. As there is no official announcement regarding performance dates or tickets yet, the National Theatre is cutting it very fine with this one.

– Another company cutting it fine is the new Jamie Lloyd season at the Trafalgar studios: after the announcement a month ago that Martin Freeman will be playing Richard III with performances starting in July, no further information has been forthcoming. I loved the trio of plays produced last year and I look forward to the new season with – hopefully – a full programme announced soon.

– In other exciting news, Ivo Van Hove will be directing Juliette Binoche in Antigone, with performances at the Barbican next year. Continue reading

Review: Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Exchange Manchester

Ellie Piercy as Beatrice, Paul Ready as Benedick. Photo Jonathan Keenan

Ellie Piercy as Beatrice, Paul Ready as Benedick. Photo Jonathan Keenan

Maria Aberg’s As You Like It, performed in Stratford for the Royal Shakespeare Company last summer, was as beautiful and joyous as a Shakespearean production (or any theatre) can be. Her current production of Much Ado About Nothing for the Royal Exchange Manchester almost scales the same heights – indeed it does in most aspects but for minor reservations.

This is the second Much Ado in recent months set in the second world war. It captures a time of common purpose but also uncertainty, exhilaration and scarcity of means. Away from the battlefields, the men are weary and out of place, the women are in charge in a way previously unthinkable. With the character of Leonato changing sex – and played beautifully by Marty Cruickshank – there is a clear vision of women taking control and changing the world. In that sense, the lies targeted at Hero aren’t a random conspiracy but an ugly throwback threatening a better future.

The spectre of war is subtly present, no more so than when Benedick reasons “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married”. Continue reading