Lydia Wilson as Kate Middleton, Oliver Chris as Prince William. Photo Johan Persson
What’s in a premise? The tag line for Mike Bartlett’s new play King Charles III is “a future history play” and he goes at it no holds barred and makes good on that promise. The Queen is dead, prince Charles becomes Charles III, and then what? What will happen? What can happen? The play draws much of its energy from making that imaginative leap, and Bartlett follows through, jumping from stone to stone, drawing the inevitable conclusions. (The events of the play have a hardwired logic but are unlikely. Bartlett’s trick is to make then look like a parallel universe and not a magic mirror. Maybe his inspiration is The Adventures of Luther Arkwright as much as Shakespeare). Bartlett plays effortlessly with verse and Shakespearean references and the result is very very clever.
In fact, a tad too clever. The play can’t resist winking to the audience, as a result the dynamic in the room often turned toxic. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
From left: Adam James as Tony, Eleanor Matsuura as Isobel and Sam Troughton as Thomas. Photo Robert Day.
Towards the end of Mike Bartlett’s Bull*, as performed at the Crucible Studio under the direction of Clare Lizzimore, I looked across the stage at members of the audience sitting opposite me: a woman was watching with her mouth open and a horrified expression. A man had his head slightly bowed, like he wished not to see but not able to stop himself. All with good reason: the last ten minutes of the play are as brutal and horrifying as anything I have seen on stage. And all that, without a drop of blood or physical violence.
But let’s get back to the beginning: as the back page of the text points out “Two jobs. Three candidates. This would be a really bad time to have a stain on your shirt”. Or maybe, this would be a bad time to imagine you have a stain on your shirt. Tony, Isobel and Thomas are waiting for a meeting with their boss. One of them will get fired. No decisions made yet but one of them doesn’t stand a chance. There is a horrifying inevitability to the proceedings.
Mike Bartlett’s language is disturbingly familiar. For anyone steeped in office politics, it rings true. Small mind games easily escalate. The text is also loaded with cultural values: efficiency, presentation, class, culling, Darwinian theories. What happens on stage is the concentrated version of every day office life. In small increments, it feels stressful. In this snapshot, it feels unbearable. And the responsibility lies with everyone. Continue reading →