Review: A Season in The Congo at the Young Vic (starring Chiwetel Ejiofor)

season in the congo reviewAs themes go, colonialism, civil war and genocide are not the lightest of fares. On the other hand, music, dance, puppets usually  signal a frothier approach. In the Young Vic production of A Season in the Congo, a play by by Aimé Césaire, translated by Ralph Manheim and directed by Joe Wright, the two come together in an unconventional union. The result is engaging and enlightening, always interesting, often heartbreaking.

Play and production are not perfect: far too many scenes revolve around big speeches, some public, some private, speeches nevertheless. They sit well with the important themes of the play but stifle the complexities and subtleties of the human drama. The stylised action both opens up the imagination but occasionally blunts the impact. Not all characters get the  sharp definition they deserve.

And yet, the story is so powerful, the staging so inventive and the lead actor so charismatic that the weaknesses fade into the background. Continue reading

Review: Trelawny of the Wells, by Arthur Wing Pinero (& Patrick Marber), at the Donmar Warehouse

The Trelawny of the Wells company. Photo Johan Persson

The Trelawny of the Wells company. Photo Johan Persson

Within a few seconds of the performance starting, I knew I was going to love Joe Wright’s production of Trelawny of the Wells. The set, with the simplicity and elegance of a puzzle box, is a pleasure to look at, and the first few moments of the production are so joyously startling that, as a calling card, are hard to beat. If that’s me being uncritical, so be it. Some plays are meant to make you happy and on the evidence of this production, I don’t see why I should resist it.

The story touches on things I love: it’s a play about actors. And eventually a play within a play. In 150 years, few things have changed: actors are still gypsies, a little bit touched, envied, loved, disrespected, outrageous, generous and petty in the same breath and looking for a way out. Rose Trelawny is the brightest most talented star of her company but is giving theatre up for the love of a young man from an aristocratic family. Two worlds are set on a collision course.

Continue reading