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 →
Anne-Marie Duff (Berenice) and Stephen Campbell Moore (Titus). Photo Johan Persson
Berenice by Jean Racine, in this new production at the Donmar Warehouse, should have been a triumph: Anne-Marie Duff is an actor of rare emotional truth, director Josie Rourke is responsible for some of the most vibrant productions of the last few years and leading men Stephen Campbell Moore and Dominic Rowan are always a joy to watch. In the end, the production is a more tentative effort, some times uncertain, some times tender, which only finds its real power and focus in the last half hour of the play.
The major problem with the production is the design: breathtaking to look at (a wooden bridge overseeing sand dunes and wooden passages) it plays havoc with the performances: walking on sand is tricky, it’s hardly ever graceful and the actors often play emotional scenes off balance (not in a good way). The long wooden bridge takes time to navigate, choices are restricted and certain scenes lose momentum. Continue reading →
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.
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 →