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 →
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 →
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.
After watching Simon Stephens’ Birdland, I jotted down a few words as a reminder of my first reaction: death, His Dark Materials, Neil Young, drowning not waving, pink and yellow, you can never go home, anti-vampire, thick black. Reading them, I hope they convey some of the play’s excitement, if not the lucidity and precision and sheer confidence with which this world unfolds.
Paul is losing his mind. It’s not the indulgence or the pampering. It’s the absence of an internal life, extinguished by the constant gaze of others. Paul doesn’t know who he is because all others do. He is the anti-vampire, his reflection everywhere, more real than the real thing. He lies like he tells the truth, and he tells the truth like he lies. Death courts him by the sheer absence of life. He tries to transcend himself, but some time somewhere he crossed a line and he can’t go back.
Paul and Johnny. Johnny and Paul. Johnny escapes the gaze, can go for a walk, fall in love. Johnny still knows home. Their friendship survives everything but them being together. In one scene, they are as close as they will ever be, just before they explode apart. Continue reading →
Andrew Scott as Angel in Original Sin. 2002 Sheffield Crucible. Photo Simon Walker
We are only a few weeks away from the first performances of Simon Stephens’ Birdland at the Royal Court. So much excitement riding on this: Andrew Scott in a Simon Stephens play (Sea Wall anyone?) directed by Carrie Cracknell. No pressure but anything less than superlative might be a disappointment.
This is not Andrew Scott’s first theatrical appearance since he played Moriarty (there is no way around it, for certain actors in certain roles there is before and after). He always stuck very close to the stage, all the way back to his native Ireland and Abbey theatre. My first introduction to his talents was at a Royal Court rehearsed reading in early 2009. (I had to look it up but the play was The Uncertainty Of The Situation (Die Unsicherheit der Sachlage) by Philipp Loehle. The cast – take a deep breath – included Katherine Parkinson, Jeff Rawle, Paul Ready, Samuel West). Once I saw him on stage, I always kept tabs, I wanted to have that rush again.
But this was seven years after he played Angel in Peter Gill’s Original Sin, after Frank Wedekind’s Lulu. The production premiered in Sheffield Crucible with mixed reviews but I can’t help to feel bawled over by its subject matter: “Angel, a spell-bindingly beautiful boy is plucked from the streets to be the plaything of a wealthy newspaper proprietor. Continue reading →
If you read this blog, chances are you already had strong recommendations about Blurred Lines, a play “created by Nick Payne and Carrie Cracknell, devised by the Company with poetry by Michaela Coel”. (This is a direct quote from the National Theatre website, I didn’t want to get it wrong). “Recommendations” puts it somewhat mildly. Among the “feminist” plays currently performing in London, Blurred Lines (taking its title from the Robin Thicke song, yes THAT Robin Thicke song) is the rock n’ roll concert. People love it, scream for it (as the girls next to me did at the curtain call), adore it. And with very good reason.
Hattie Morahan (Nora) and Dominic Rowan (Torvald). Photo by Johan Persson
It’s hard for me to imagine what audiences thought of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House when it premiered in Copenhagen in 1879. Even today, the choices Nora makes at the end of the play have the power to shock (I can imagine a fair amount of tongues wagging if that was to happen in a respectable middle class family today). On the other hand, the triumph of the Young Vic production is not the feminist politics, it’s the people: passionate, relatable, likable people we want to see them through their tough times. It doesn’t quite work that way.
The production, directed by Carrie Cracknell in a new version of the play by Simon Stephens, is set in the 19th century, but it doesn’t have the buttoned up quality of period pieces: Nora (as played by Hattie Morahan) and Torvald (as played by Dominic Rowan) are an immensely sexy couple. Not just beautiful, but full of desire. This is not late 19th century as seen in Cranford. They are respectable in front of other people, but essentially they can’t keep their hands off each other. They are in love, even if they don’t begin to understand each other. Which makes the end of the play all the more heartbreaking: the conflict in the final scene is raw, desperate, physical. The production has a beating pulse going through it, not least because of the immediacy of Simon Stephens’ writing. Continue reading →