Review: Mike Barlett’s An Intervention at Watford Palace theatre (a co-production with Paines Plough)

John Hollingworth and Rachael Stirling. Photo Kevin Cummins

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

Review: Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall, starring Andrew Scott, at the Shed – National Theatre

Sea_Wall Andrew Scott reviewSome reviews start with a memory: four years ago, at the Bush Library – an open space with stacks of books all over, the same space occupied by the Bush Theatre today, expect without walls, or proper seating or playtexts for wallpaper in the toilets – I saw Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall. I remember entering and two things were worth noting: even though it was ten minutes before the start, Andrew Scott was already pacing on stage and Ben Whishaw was in the audience. And then it started. And many more things were worth noting and remembering and in the end it went down as one of my best (distinct, powerful) experiences at the theatre.

How does the production at the Shed compare with that memory? On the minus side, I knew what was coming (whatever you do, don’t read spoilers). On the plus side, I knew what was coming (somewhere in the first ten minutes, my heart started pounding while the story was about packing for holidays and travel arrangements). Which is the genius of Simon Stephens’ text, and Andrew Scott’s performance and George Perrin’s direction: it’s artful and skilled in not being artful at all, playing out as real life, when a split second of a moment, without an explanation or a calling card or a lesson, punches you in the stomach and leaves you drowning and unable to make sense of anything for the rest of your life. Continue reading

Review: Three plays by Nick Payne, Duncan Macmillan, Penelope Skinner at the Roundabout

Maya Alexander and Andrew Sheridan in One Day When We Were Young. Photo: Elyse Marks

After a few weeks where my theatre consisted of Shakespeare, Ibsen, a revival of an eighties play and a Chekhov that didn’t look like Chekhov, it was great pleasure to go back to new writing. With a packed schedule and within twenty four hours, I saw four plays from four young playwrights (you are getting old when the playwrights start looking younger): first it was This House by James Graham at the National Theatre, and the next day, the Roundabout season, three plays in a single afternoon, produced by Paines Plough and Sheffield Theatres and performed at the Shoreditch Town Hall.

Three playwrights, all under 35, three different visions all performed in the same intimate, almost inescapable, space:

One Day When We Were Young by Nick Payne: My favourite piece of the day, especially the second act, tenderly performed by Andrew Sheridan and Maya Alexander. Nick Payne is currently riding an immense high, with Constellations at the Royal Court being a huge success (and transferring to the West End) and his play “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” playing in New York. “One Day When We Were Young” is a story of an unlikely and brief love affair that marks two people in different ways for the next sixty years. Payne’s writing probes difficult places of loneliness and heartbreak, and the actors, especially Andrew Sheridan (who has the rare ability of drawing you in so effectively and with so little fanfare that takes you by surprise) make the play justice. Continue reading