Review: Liolà by Luigi Pirandello, at the National Theatre, Lyttelton stage

Aisling O’Sullivan as Croce Azzara, Rory Keenan as Liola. Photo Catherine Ashmore

Aisling O’Sullivan as Croce Azzara, Rory Keenan as Liola. Photo Catherine Ashmore

What does a Luigi Pirandello play look like? A lightness of touch that balances on darker themes, a life force that smashes through existential and moral questions, singing, live music, sunshine. On the evidence of Liolà, all these statements would be true. But Liolà is not a typical Pirandello play, “so light-hearted it doesn’t seem like one of my works” as the author himself admitted. In the National theatre production, directed by Richard Eyre in a version by Tanya Ronder, the tension between Pirandello’s darker preoccupations and the sensual drive of the story make for a delicious spiky treat.

Sicily, summer 1916. Baking sun, almond crops, barefoot children climbing trees. At the centre of it all, Liolà, a young man comfortable in his own skin, unburdened by convention, blazes through life, meets women, makes babies. His seductive power should be destructive but somehow it’s healing. Nimble-footed and nimble-spirited, he has the universe at his fingers (the live band stops playing at his slightest of signs) and turns magic tricks into the real deal. It’s a joy to watch Rory Keenan seduce every breathing soul in the room Continue reading

Review: Damned by Despair at the National Theatre

Amanda Lawrence as The Devil, Bertie Carvel as Enrico. Photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Do we go to heaven because we have faith or because we do good deeds? This is the central question in Damned by Despair, a play by 17th century spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina, revived at the National theatre in a new version by Frank McGuiness. The distinct possibility that heaven doesn’t exist is not part of this play’s fabric, and I am happy to leave my agnostic beliefs at the door and explore fascinating spiritual questions in their own terms.

Enrico is a total thug, doing unspeakable things (think Reservoir Dogs in Naples), but also has an unwavering  faith in god and a real love for his father. He is ridiculously charismatic, not least because Bertie Carvel can be anything but: his dark streak is laced with something softer and more tender, almost as explosive as the violence itself. Paulo is a monk, whose faith in god hangs on a thread. If the thread breaks, the faith goes. As played by Sebastian Armersto, Paolo is wrapped in himself and his agony failing to engage with the real world (isn’t that more damning than the lack of faith?). The spiritual fates of these two men are locked together to the bitter end. Continue reading

Notes on Philadelphia, Here I Come at the Donmar Warehouse

Paul Reid (Gar in Public) and Rory Keenan (Gar in Private). Photo Johan Persson

First previews are difficult. Some times they are strange (you can even see the fear in the actors’ eyes). As I saw the Donmar production of Brian Friel’s “Philadelphia, Here I Come” on its first preview, these are some scribbled notes rather than a review. On the other hand, first preview or not, the production was coming together very nicely, poignant and funny, so I recommend it without reservations.

– The play effortlessly combines the personal and the social. On the surface, it’s entirely focused on personal decisions and stories (to the extent we see the internal life of one character). At the same time, social realities are all too evident: immigration, lack of opportunities, what it means to move away from loved ones in order to realise one’s potential. Ultimately, it focuses on one very common tragedy: people not knowing how to communicate their love for one another.

– Great performances all around, with a particularly impressive turn by Rory Keenan. He manages to be both an illusive and vital presence, often existing at the background, but at the same time changing the temperature of the scene by his mere presence. Continue reading