Review: August Strindberg’s Miss Julie and Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, Minerva theatre, Chichester

Rosalie Craig and Shaun Evans in Miss Julie. Photo Manuel Harlan

Rosalie Craig and Shaun Evans in Miss Julie. Photo Manuel Harlan

It’s well-known Black Comedy starts in complete darkness but in the double bill at the Minerva theatre in Chichester, so does August Strindberg‘s Miss Julie. A couple of seconds of pitch black until a match strikes and an oil lamp is lit. The Minerva stage has been transformed to an airy and welcoming kitchen of a 19th century mansion. Despite the oil lamp and other equipment, the set wears its period elements lightly. Squint a little and you could be in a modern – if rustic – house. Contemporary echoes run through the whole of the production, a lot of them due to the new adaptation by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. If that weakens the social focus of the story, it brings other pleasures.

The story is preoccupied with class and social mores: the action is set in the kitchen and we are always aware this is working class territory. It’s midsummer’s night, and the mistress of the house starts a cat and mouse sexual game with one of the senior servants. Before the night is out, the power dynamics have shifted several times and in different directions. The strict class structure of 19th century households has no equivalent in 21st century western societies (where social inequality manifests itself in other ways) and the production doesn’t duel on that. The tragedy becomes one of people trapped in their own preconceptions. We have the sense they could escape if they dared to do so. It’s a rich and immediately relatable perspective. Continue reading

Review: James Graham’s Privacy at the Donmar Warehouse

Joshua Mcguire and (in the background) Jonathan Coy, Paul Chahidi, Gunnar Cauthery. Photo Johan Persson

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

Review: The Magistrate at the National Theatre (starring John Lithgow, Nancy Carroll)

Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Magistrate was not the first choice for a Christmas show at the National, but as Christmas productions go, it’s a perfect seasonal treat: expertly directed by Timothy Sheader, it’s light footed, frothy, witty, with a twinkle in its eye and a spring in its step.

For anyone familiar with 19th century farce, the plot has few surprises: Agatha Farringdon, a young widow with a son, married the Magistrate Mr Posket and a little lie at the time of her wedding has complicated her life ever since. The more she tries to cover it, the more things twist and turn out of her control. At the same time, her husband and son succumb into their own temptations, as a result two imperfect worlds collide with – as they say – unforeseen consequences.

The plot might be less than surprising but the fun is in the spaces in between: Continue reading