Lloyd Owen as Mike and Imelda Staunton as Margaret in Good People. Photo Johan Persson
In a pattern frequently repeated in my life, I am about six weeks late in posting my top ten list from the first half of the year. I could have easily moved on, but 2014 is shaping into a vintage year, and I wanted to put a mark in the sand before the end of the year top ten becomes a hard and merciless business. In strict alphabetical order, the best – and favourite – productions of the first six months of 2014.
A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic(aka the Revival): it’s hard to describe how brilliant Arthur Miller’s A View from The Bridge was. Directed by Ivo Van Hove with Mark Strong as Eddie Carbone, text, acting and directorial decisions came together in a seamless union. The result was a beating heart at the palm of your hand, exhilarating and horrifying in equal measures. Eddie Carbone describing the smell of coffee will stay with me forever. What do we remember, heh?
Birdland at the Royal Court (aka the Rock descent into hell): Simon Stephens’ Birdland is not perfect. Yet it lodged under my skin more than other – more perfect (and yes, I know I shouldn’t be using a comparative construct) – productions. It had the blackest black and an aching at its bones. You can see home but you can never go back.
Blurred Lines at the Shed, National Theatre(aka the feminist rock concert): in a line of plays constructed like jazz music (pieces coming together and apart at will), Nick Payne’s and Carrie Cracknell’s Blurred Lines was incendiary, prickly and put the cat among the pigeons. And it was fun. Continue reading →
Anthony Calf as Nikolai, Joshua James as Arkady. Photo Johan Persson
In a cunning piece of programming, the Donmar follows James Graham’s Privacy – the most un-Donmar of productions – with Brian Friel’s Fathers and Sons (adapted from the novel of Ivan Turgenev). If Privacy was brilliant in unexpected ways, Fathers and Sons has the emotional richness and acute lyricism that characterise Donmar productions at their best. Let’s be clear: if the Lyndsey Turner directed production doesn’t rewrite the theatrical book, that’s not a criticism in any way.
The story is set in mid 19th century Russia with two young men, Arkady and Bazarov, returning home for the summer. University has opened their eyes to a whole new world and they buzz with the enormity of it all. Back home, they are faced with rich if neglected estates, middle-class ideas, lives preoccupied with the soil, and harvest, and sex. The purity of their idealism is put to the test as the social landscape changes rapidly and irrevocably. The conflict between young and old has the inevitability of a clock ticking but none of the clichés. Don’t assume you know how interactions will play out: Arkady’s father dots on his new baby born out of wedlock. Bazarov’s father idolises his son.
Adrian Scarborough as George Tesman and Sheridan Smith as Hedda Gabler. Photo Johan Persson
Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic, with Sheridan Smith in the title role, was always destined to be a much talked production: a successful star in a famous and demanding role is catnip for the media: I expect that, come Thursday morning, the headline “Is Sheridan Smith’s Hedda a hit?” will show up in the papers – hopefully in the front page. But theatre isn’t meant to be a test, and without a hint of nervousness or acknowledging the expectations, this production, directed with huge confidence by Anna Mackmin, bypasses the media hype and does what great theatre should do: it’s thrilling, visceral and fresh.
I ‘ll start with the set (designed by Lez Brotherston), partly because it’s the first thing we see: multiple glass panels and huge windows, they create depth but also give out a bottomless feeling, like if someone could fall into this world and never manage to come up for air. First scene, at night, Hedda silently stalks the house like a ghost and admittedly, this made me a bit nervous: I am not a big fan of additional scenes bolted at the beginning of a play, seemingly for the star to appear first. But soon it became clear I had nothing to be nervous about: the production, as well as beautiful to look at (the costumes alone are a marvel), brings this world alive and makes you look at it with fresh eyes. Continue reading →
Paul Reid (Gar in Public) and Rory Keenan (Gar in Private). Photo Johan Persson
First previews are difficult. Some times they are strange (you can even see the fear in the actors’ eyes). As I saw the Donmar production of Brian Friel’s “Philadelphia, Here I Come” on its first preview, these are some scribbled notes rather than a review. On the other hand, first preview or not, the production was coming together very nicely, poignant and funny, so I recommend it without reservations.
– The play effortlessly combines the personal and the social. On the surface, it’s entirely focused on personal decisions and stories (to the extent we see the internal life of one character). At the same time, social realities are all too evident: immigration, lack of opportunities, what it means to move away from loved ones in order to realise one’s potential. Ultimately, it focuses on one very common tragedy: people not knowing how to communicate their love for one another.
– Great performances all around, with a particularly impressive turn by Rory Keenan. He manages to be both an illusive and vital presence, often existing at the background, but at the same time changing the temperature of the scene by his mere presence. Continue reading →