Joshua Mcguire and (in the background) Jonathan Coy, Paul Chahidi, Gunnar Cauthery. Photo Johan Persson
Is it a play? Is it a comedy gig? Is it an interactive training session? Or maybe an existential thriller? Dazzling and confident, James Graham’s new play Privacy could very well sit under any of these banners but before you have time to consider a label, it has already moved on. Multitasking underlines most of modern life, why not the theatre? All in one, the tour is fast and furious: data, journalism, Mousetrap, Shakespeare, squeaky dolphin, NSA, Google earth, Tesco club cards, and that’s only scratching the surface. (By the corporate name-dropping, it’s evident the Donmar lawyers had to work overtime on this. So much so, they got to be in the play).
Which is not to say Privacy lacks substance. It all ties to a coherent – if unconventional – narrative where the writer is the protagonist, as much of the story as of his own existential and creative crisis. Continue reading
Luke Treadaway as Christopher. Photo by Manuel Harlan
The National Theatre has had a bumper year in its Cottesloe venue, with both This House and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time being sold out at the back of excellent word of mouth and reviews. (I can confirm all good things you heard are true). That kind of success, especially in a small venue like the Cottesloe, is often followed by news of a transfer to a bigger venue and that seems to be the case for both of the above productions: National Theatre has officially announced This House will transfer to the 1,000-plus seater Olivier from February 2013 and now word is the Curious Incident will transfer to the Apollo at the West End from March 2013. None of these is a surprise: by the time most people hear about a good play performed at the Cottesloe, all tickets are gone. In that sense, the transfers are welcome (and in a personal note, I would definitely like to see both plays again) but there are some reservations. Continue reading
Stephen Fry as Malvolio. Photo Simon Annand
Press nights often create the headlines (after all you need a press night in order to have press reviews. Or do you? More about this later), but in the past week press nights ARE in the headlines: Twelfth Night started previews at the Globe, or more accurately started its Globe performances that function as a preview run before the official opening at the Apollo Theatre in November. None of the Globe performances are for the press and the expectation was, at least on the part of the producers, that the production will be reviewed for the first time at the Apollo. It didn’t quite work out that way: the Telegraph prominently run a review under the headline “Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night – First Review” and the Times followed suit a few days later. Both five star reviews I might add, but the producers are not happy: they protest these reviews break the embargo. I can’t help but feel it is a token effort whose main purpose is to prevent a precedent. With Mark Rylance playing Olivia and, especially, Stephen Fry playing Malvolio, did they really believe the press would sit on their hands till November? But I wonder how critics from other papers feel. They have every reason to be unhappy as they played by the rules and punished for it.
On the other hand, the Guardian plays a different game these days: it encourages readers to use its own twitter hashtag #GdnReview, and between this and comments on its blogs, it published the readers views of the production. I am ambivalent about the prominent way the Guardian uses the public’s comments: there is a fine line between encouraging dialogue and encouraging people to give you content for free. As these are difficult and confusing days for the press, there is no easy answer. Continue reading
Philip Glenister as Walter Harrison and Charles Edwards as Jack Weatherill. Photo Johan Persson
I like a production that announces itself with a bang. And This House is such a production. The energy of the first entrance, in addition to the set, both intimate and imposing – the Cottesloe never looked this huge, make a clear statement and from the first few minutes I knew this production will be something special. The next three hours didn’t disappoint.
This House is set in the House of Commons between 1974 and 1979, when Labour, with a tiny majority (or often with no majority at all) was trying to hold onto power. The period has inescapable drama and Margaret Thatcher looms large: not in the choices of the characters but in the mind of the audience, we know the consequence of those choices even if they don’t. The action is largely set in the offices of Tory and Labour whips, with excursions to almost all parts of the building (toilets, corridors, basements, chapel) but we see very little of the House of Commons’ main chamber. This story is set at the bowels of power. The Cottesloe is made to look like the debating chamber but that only reinforces the point: the backstage drama is central to politics, only punctuated by the political debate.
James Graham (who wrote The Man, one of my favourite plays of the last few years) makes a marvellous job of the story: his script is astute, funny but, most of all, interested in the human condition: these people plod along, get confused, are not always clear about what they can achieve. Characters with very few lines are still fleshed out to a poignant presence. This is a world before media spin and expenses scandal. It’s a world where politics – both the debate and backstage action – can relate to real life. The writing has flair and substance, and the result is fast, funny, involving and unexpectedly moving. Continue reading