Review: King Lear (starring Frank Langella) at the Minerva theatre, Chichester

King Lear Chichester posterLet’s start with a rhetorical question: Can you have too many King Lears? No matter what the answer, the productions will still come thick and fast. And even if you are tempted to say yes, you soon realise you are wrong. As with all Shakespeare, there is always room for more. The much-anticipated (not least by me) King Lear at the National is only a couple of months away, but first we have the Chichester Festival Theatre production directed by Angus Jackson. Presented at the Minerva theatre (the smaller more intimate space at Chichester), it has its own big name in the title role: Frank Langella is a heavyweight of american theatre and  well acquainted with London stage. The production will transfer to Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York in 2014. In other words, it’s a King Lear that can’t be ignored.

And in many ways, it pays off. It’s clear, concise with strong imagery and drive. Set (by Robert Innes Hopkins) and lighting (by Peter Mumford) are magnificent: much of the light is filtered through asymmetrical columns at the back of the stage, the effect a backlit shadowy fog illuminating tragic souls. Continue reading

Review: The Hothouse at Trafalgar Studios (starring Simon Russell Beale and John Simm)

John Simm, Simon Russell Beale, Harry Melling, promotional photo for The Hothouse. Photo Jay Brooks

John Simm, Simon Russell Beale, Harry Melling, promotional photo for The Hothouse. Photo Jay Brooks

When the cast was announced for Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse at the Trafalgar Studios, my immediate reaction was delighted disbelief: the headline (and the poster) can only accommodate two stars, but make no mistake, any of the five principal actors would get top billing in another production. They just happen to be on the same ensemble piece, and the challenge for director Jamie Lloyd (who must have worked true magic to assemble such a cast) was not to squander their talent. On this evidence, there was nothing to fear.

Pinter’s play as directed by Lloyd is a comedy with such hellish vibe that could easily be one’s worst nightmare. On Christmas day five characters rattle around a mental institution, dark secrets, hidden motives and increasingly disturbed behaviour oozing through their pores like sweat. These are merely the staff. In fact we never see any of the patients who, when referenced, seem balanced and compassionate. The staff, it’s a different story. This is a furnace of a production: not only due to the reference of the title but also because of the hermetically sealed environment. These characters live inside the pressure cooker, long string of words (that shouldn’t make sense but they do in a disturbingly funny way) delivered with the violence of steam escaping. No one sees in, they can’t see out. It’s chilling, scary, funny and chilling again. On a loop. Continue reading

Review: Smack Family Robinson, by Richard Bean – Rose Theatre Kingston

Keith Allen and Denise Welch in rehearsal. Photo by Alastair Muir

Keith Allen and Denise Welch in rehearsal. Photo by Alastair Muir

In recent weeks, I had the opportunity to see the earlier work of two playwrights who are now at the top of their game: Bruce Norris’ Purple Heart, written more than a decade ago, still plays at the Gate Theatre and Richard Bean’s Smack Family Robinson, written in 2003, just started its run at the Rose Theatre Kingston. Both playwrights have gone to receive much acclaim as well as win numerous awards and a look at their early plays is fascinating.

Smack Family Robinson (originally written in 2003 and set in Whitley Bay but updated to present time and Kingston for this production) tells the story of middle class suburbia but with a twist. Or is it twisted middle class suburbia? Either way, the Robinsons are typical in their strong community bonds, their family squabbles, their 60s-free-love values turning into consumerism. On the other hand, their source of income is, one hopes, unusual. The clue is in the title. Tensions between received wisdom and true morality, expectations and reality, are at the heart of the play. Continue reading