Review: Medea (starring Helen McCrory), at the National theatre, Olivier stage

Helen McCrory as Medea. Photo Richard Hubert Smith

Helen McCrory as Medea. Photo Richard Hubert Smith

Plainingly speaking, there are two reasons why the National theatre production of Medea* is all shades of brilliant: The first reason is Helen McCrory. The second reason is everything else. With a play like Medea, it’s prim and proper that a star dominates the story. To McCrory’s credit she does it open-heartedly, and to the production’s credit, she doesn’t eclipse everyone else. I don’t use the word “star” casually: Medea is the granddaughter of the god Helios (the sun god, if your greek is rusty). A star is the only option and an eclipse the risk to take.

The play starts with the children’s nurse recounting a story. It’s both the past and the future. It’s not prophecy or premonition, more the natural law driven to its logical conclusion. Inevitability and logic, argument and counter argument play out with fiery passion throughout the play. It’s equations saturated with fire. Ben Power’s adaptation bristles with unquiet energy, Carrie Cracknell creates a world which is as precise as it is dangerous. Continue reading

Review: A Tender Thing, RSC, at the Swan Theatre in Stratford

Richard McCabe as Romeo and Kathryn Hunter as Juliet. Photo Keith Pattison

Is love a tender thing? It is too rough. Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.” At its best, writing a review is my attempt to stay a little longer in the world of the production. Not to explain or dissect, but to stay in a place that I loved. A Tender Things is such a place. Ben Power’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with an old couple facing the only inescapable tragedy love deep into old age can face, is indeed a tender, magical, deeply moving and ultimately joyous thing.

Ben Power rearranges Shakespeare’s text into a new world, but words carry the memory of young love and language leaves space for unspoken sorrows to live. Richard McCabe and Kathryn Hunter, under the direction of Helena Kaut Howson, create a world of two people, a world so complete and perfect, that the ending is the natural and only possible conclusion. (In Shakespeare’s play, the tragedy is there are many solutions to the problem, but none is taken and the story ends in death. In A Tender Thing, the tragedy is the characters have to face the end in the full knowledge that there is one possible conclusion).

Kathryn Hunter, with her vital physicality, gives her Juliet an extraordinary spectrum of emotional and physical life, even as she wastes away. Richard McCabe lives the joy of love and the tragedy of parting with heartbreaking openness. He pulls, pushes, struggles with his glasses like these actions could give an end to his pain. When he gives into it, everything about him crumbles. Their spoken interactions are teasing, silly, warm but their true emotional life is in their physical connection: in one scene Romeo tries to support Juliet who, literally, slips away from him. His distress and resolve reflects everything that is at stake. Continue reading

What will be the National Theatre’s Christmas show and other stories

This August continues to be slow for theatre (after all, we have all been focusing on other exciting events), but casting and other news are hotting up. Here is what caught my eye this past week:

  • Director Jamie Lloyd launches his own production company in association with the Ambassador Theatre Group. The announcement of this new commercial theatre venture comes not long after Michael Grandage announced his West End season of five plays chock full of big names (Simon Russell Beale, Ben Whishaw, Judi Dench, Daniel Radcliffe). Although my¬†wallet undoubtedly suffers when I have to pay West End prices, it’s healthy to have commercial theatre that feels exciting.
  • A couple of years ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company produced and toured Ben Power’s play A Tender Thing, a new way of looking at the story of Romeo and Juliet. I was sad to miss it then, but the play returns at the RSC this autumn, this time with two of my favourite actors, Richard McCabe and Kathryn Hunter. Not missing it this time.
  • Anne Marie Duff at the Donmar was already exciting news, but now the remaining cast for Jean Racine’s Berenice has been announced: Stephen Campbell Moore and Dominic Rowan will join her as husband and lover. In this “perfect tragedy of unfulfilled passion“, it’s a delicious combination.