John Hollingworth and Rachael Stirling. Photo Kevin Cummins
You know the friend who drinks too much? Or calls you all the time with their problems ignoring yours? Or doesn’t know when to stop being provocative or silly? Or the friend who always gets into romantic relationships with the wrong people, or doesn’t notice when things have changed? Or says the wrong thing, lapses of cruelty, stupidity and pettiness, that hang in the air like a dark cloud? You either know such a friend or are such a friend, or both.
Mike Bartlett goes from a subject hardly anyone knows about (the intimate lives of the Royal family) to a subject everyone knows about: friendships, complicated and imperfect, meetings that – however protracted – remain unresolved, the moment you should have said something and you didn’t, or the moment you turned your back or closed your eyes and something terrible happened. He captures every day conversations (although I don’t remember the last time I used the word honorificabilitudinitatibus) and examines them with a magnifying glass. The hue turns darker and more grotesque, the tension summed up in a phone call you don’t want to answer.
Rachael Stirling (for once out of period clothes and away from period stories) is stunning. She has the indefatigable energy of a clown: persistently funny and bursting with wit and desperation, her character is as confused about herself as she is lucid about others. She perfectly captures that person who is the most remarkable in the room, but also the most annoying and the saddest. Clarity of vision doesn’t bring happiness. John Hollingworth is equally good: his everyday energy has richness and irresistible openness. Continue reading →
Lydia Wilson as Kate Middleton, Oliver Chris as Prince William. Photo Johan Persson
What’s in a premise? The tag line for Mike Bartlett’s new play King Charles III is “a future history play” and he goes at it no holds barred and makes good on that promise. The Queen is dead, prince Charles becomes Charles III, and then what? What will happen? What can happen? The play draws much of its energy from making that imaginative leap, and Bartlett follows through, jumping from stone to stone, drawing the inevitable conclusions. (The events of the play have a hardwired logic but are unlikely. Bartlett’s trick is to make then look like a parallel universe and not a magic mirror. Maybe his inspiration is The Adventures of Luther Arkwright as much as Shakespeare). Bartlett plays effortlessly with verse and Shakespearean references and the result is very very clever.
In fact, a tad too clever. The play can’t resist winking to the audience, as a result the dynamic in the room often turned toxic. Continue reading →
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 →
Charlie Rowe as Ronnie Winslow. Photo Nobby Clark.
What do Terence Rattigan and Mike Bartlett have in common? Making the town of Reading the butt of their jokes apparently. I shouldn’t start my review in such a facetious way, as this fine production of a near perfect play deserves better, but I can’t help it.
But let’s get back to the business at hand: Terence Rattigan’s play, about a small case fought with absolute conviction that justice can’t be measured in a balance sheet, feels fresh, unexpected and rich in every way. With its big themes, small distilled moments and perfectly observed relationships, it is a dream for any director and cast. And Lindsay Posner and his actors grab the opportunity and do it justice.
From left: Adam James as Tony, Eleanor Matsuura as Isobel and Sam Troughton as Thomas. Photo Robert Day.
Towards the end of Mike Bartlett’s Bull*, as performed at the Crucible Studio under the direction of Clare Lizzimore, I looked across the stage at members of the audience sitting opposite me: a woman was watching with her mouth open and a horrified expression. A man had his head slightly bowed, like he wished not to see but not able to stop himself. All with good reason: the last ten minutes of the play are as brutal and horrifying as anything I have seen on stage. And all that, without a drop of blood or physical violence.
But let’s get back to the beginning: as the back page of the text points out “Two jobs. Three candidates. This would be a really bad time to have a stain on your shirt”. Or maybe, this would be a bad time to imagine you have a stain on your shirt. Tony, Isobel and Thomas are waiting for a meeting with their boss. One of them will get fired. No decisions made yet but one of them doesn’t stand a chance. There is a horrifying inevitability to the proceedings.
Mike Bartlett’s language is disturbingly familiar. For anyone steeped in office politics, it rings true. Small mind games easily escalate. The text is also loaded with cultural values: efficiency, presentation, class, culling, Darwinian theories. What happens on stage is the concentrated version of every day office life. In small increments, it feels stressful. In this snapshot, it feels unbearable. And the responsibility lies with everyone. Continue reading →