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

My top ten theatre productions of 2013

As You Like It. Pippan Nixon and Alex Waldmann. Photo Alastair Muir

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

Review: The Light Princess, a new musical by Tori Amos, National theatre, Lyttelton stage

The-Light-Princess_posterThere are productions when I want to dispense with any pretence of articulate thought and gush like an overexcited teenager. They are not merely good, they reclaim something fundamental about theatre as a wild ride. The Light Princess is such a theatrical adventure.

Adapted as a musical by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson from a Scottish fairy tale published in 1864, Marianne Elliott’s production brings together many things I love about theatre: restrictions of live performance – where laws of gravity and physical space need to be obeyed – become a virtue and not a hindrance. Continue reading