Ben Whishaw, Rupert Grint, Colin Morgan, Daniel Mays, Brendan Coyle. Photo Nigel Norrington
Last night was an important night in the calendar. It was the last performance of Mojo at the Harold Pinter theatre, and that would have been significant enough, but for me it was also the official end of theatrical 2013, a vintage year by all accounts. Others are articulate in analysing cutting edge trends, but what I loved about 2013 was the abundance of productions that generated feverish excitement. In the last few months of the year, London theatres were full of people bouncing from Richard II to Coriolanus, Americhan Psycho to Mojo, but also productions without major stars: The Light Princess at the National, or The Pride at Trafalgar studios. Earlier in the year, Edward II (again at the National), Macbeth at Trafalgar and the Cripple of Inishmaan at Noel Coward had similar audiences.
Not all productions had been sold out successes and some of the enthusiasm was instigated and channelled through the presence of a famous actor, but what I loved was the absence of austere and po-faced reactions. Some people took these productions to their (fannish) heart and tumblr exploded with the sublime and the ridiculous. Continue reading →
You know how it is. One thing led to another and a casual conversation turned inspiration to map the future of all the characters in Jez Butterworth’s Mojo. Thanks to revstan and @emst for contributions and ill-judged encouragement.
Without permission and with sincere apologies to Jez Butterworth. References to the 2013 production at the Harold Pinter theatre, directed by Ian Rickson.
L to R: Ben Whishaw (Baby), Sweets (Rupert Grint), Skinny (Colin Morgan), Potts (Daniel Mays), Mickey (Brendan Coyle). Photo Geraint Lewis
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 →
“There’s nothing like having your dad cut in two to clear the brain”
Despite seeing a rehearsed reading of Jez Butterworth’s Mojo in 2006, I didn’t remember much about it before going to see Ian Rickson’s production at the Harold Pinter theatre. Which is just as well, because discovering it in this vibrant full blooded (and occasionally bloodied) production was a real pleasure. Trying to untangle its secrets and pulling at its different threads (its plot, its aesthetic, its language) is a game best enjoyed in the dark. Its backdrop, a 1950s Soho club after hours, is the perfect setting for such an enterprise.
The play, a naturalistic look at the dark heart of the Soho underworld, all wrapped as a base under siege story and a battle for succession, is sprinkled with a touch of Tarantino and is a maze hiding hope and trepidation. The language is full of riffs going further and further until you tense with fear they will drag you off the cliff. Its humour is chewed at the edges, equally funny and scary. Early on, the thumping of the music synchronises with the thumping of hearts. Thrills and fear become indistinguishable. Continue reading →
Nigel Lindsay, Daniel Mays and Monica Dolan in The Same Deep Water As Me. Photo Johan Persson
Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of last year’s theatrical highlights: elegant and simple, it took life’s small gestures and launched them into space. It transferred from the 80 seater Royal Court Upstairs to the West End and was nominated for an Olivier award. As his new play starts performances, does he feel the pressure of repeating the success of Constellations?
On the evidence of The Same Deep Water As Me, directed by John Crowley at the Donmar Warehouse, Nick Payne doesn’t seem under pressure at all. On the face of it, it’s a simple story with a simple structure unfolding over several years: its milieu is a solicitor’s firm specialising in personal injury claims. It’s not the kind of profession to brag about and the two solicitors working on the firm bear (and occasionally justify) its unsavoury reputation with a mixture of self delusion and decency.
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.
Last night, as the performance of Hero finished and the discussion on twitter started, I was asked whether I had seen Kin, E.V. Crowe’s previous work for the Royal Court. The answer is no, in fact I have no knowledge of any of her plays. Often the audience’s experience is framed by expectation, in this case my experience is framed by the lack of it.
Hero is the story of Danny, openly gay and teacher in a primary school, who lives with his husband Joe somewhere in the south of England. The couple, excited and apprehensive, has just entered the process for adopting a child. Their friends, Jamie and Lisa, are trying to have a baby themselves. A small incident snowballs, and the four characters make decisions or take action that will show them in different, often unflattering, light. The play says we might not be as liberal as we think. It’s not a startling thought but a personal and character driven response to that revelation would make for a fascinating play. Hero is frustratingly close to being that play, but too often it favours argument and gags at the expense of psychological truth.