Review: Alistair McDowall’s Talk Show at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

Jonjo O'Neill and the snake. In case you didn't believe me. Photo Helen Murray

Jonjo O’Neill and the snake. In case you didn’t believe me. Photo Helen Murray

This is not the way I wanted to start this review. Or any review for that matter. The evening of July 17th, when I saw Talk Show at the Royal Court, the news that actor Paul Bhattacharjee had been missing for a week was hanging in the air. He had been part of the weekly rep ensemble, playing the president in The President Has Come to See You and the father in Pigeons, and was due to appear in Talk Show. But after the rehearsal on July 10th, he had gone missing. I can’t know how staff and actors at the Royal Court were feeling, but I was unnerved and sad: pit of the stomach sad, hoping that everything would be alright and wondering how this can happen to someone I stood so close to only a couple of weeks before.

With this absurd, even selfish, thought, I sat down to watch Alistair McDowall’s Talk Show directed by Caroline Steineis. The story of three generations of men, all of them struggling to survive financially, emotionally, existentially. The more they need each other, the more they drift apart. Through pride and stubbornness, they barely keep their head above the water. Continue reading

Review: Nicole Beckwith’s Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters), at the Royal Court

From left: Laura Elphinstone, Natasha Gordon, Angela Terence, Debbie Crazen, Anna Calder-Marshall. Photo Helen Murray

From left: Laura Elphinstone, Natasha Gordon, Angela Terence, Debbie Crazen, Anna Calder-Marshall. Photo Helen Murray

The Royal Court Weekly Rep continues, we are at number five of six plays in six weeks. The Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters), written by Nicole Beckwith and directed by Vicky Featherstone, doesn’t hold any mysteries in its title. Seven women, related to each other in different ways, or not at all, grudgingly come together to argue, undermine and occasionally support each other. Men are largely absent. Apart from a boy who died as a child, Ted whose best quality is he is irrelevant and a father who looks like the captain from Love Boat (you need to be of a certain age to appreciate this reference). Continue reading

Review: Clare Lizzimore’s Mint at the Royal Court Downstairs

Laura Elphinstone as Stephanie and Sam Troughton as Alan. Photo Helen Murray

Laura Elphinstone as Stephanie and Sam Troughton as Alan. Photo Helen Murray

That was unexpected: could it be that the Royal Court weekly rep season, rough, quick and unpolished, produced one of the best acting performances of the year? When the time comes and I look back on 2013, I have little doubt Sam Troughton playing Alan in Clare Lizzimore’s Mint will be a definitive theatre moment of the year.

Mint tracks Alan, a 26 year old prisoner, through the next seven years of his life: prison visits, relocations, release. Family relationships, dreams, world events, personal milestones for loved ones. Alan is forced to watch from the sidelines, trapped physically and emotionally. He is desperate to connect, wrestle some control back and find his way. He struggles too hard to see that everyone is moving away. Continue reading

Review: Pigeons by Suhayla El-Bushra at the Royal Court Theatre – Downstairs

Parental guidance: this review contains strong language (and some sexual themes). Much like the play.

Pigeons get a bad press. As a character in the new play by Suhayla El-Bushra says, they excrete all over the place and don’t get out of the way when you approach. As it turns out, he is not talking about the birds and he is a bit of a shit himself. Be careful before you agree with him.

The story plays out in playgrounds, backstreets and semi detached houses in inner city neighbourhoods. A bit grim and a bit normal. The characters – most of them young people – are disaffected and bewildered in equal measure. They clash with parents who are present, or long to argue with parents who are not. They perform fellatio in sheds and split drugs in bus stops. Their disaffection mixes with sexual frustration. They turn on each other, and know where to strike in order to inflict the most damage. Some times literally.

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Review: Death Tax by Lucas Hnath, at the Royal Court Downstairs

death tax review - cast listLucas Hnath’s Death Tax, the second play at Royal Court weekly rep season, starts at the same box of a set The President Has Come to See You occupied, but the similarities end here. While “The President…” was a seat of the pants experience, certainly for the actors, Death Tax is a thoughtful, funny, exposing play about life close to death and life without death. The characters are defined by questions of mortality, money, the moment when their response to a moral and practical challenge changes their life, whether they realise it or not.

The story also makes an interesting leap into the future and imagines a world where immortality is merely a question of funds. Plays rarely step into science fiction territory and, while Death Tax is moderate in its futuristic ambitions, it is still an adventure with a genre theatre rarely touches. More science fiction plays please. Continue reading

Review: The President Has Come To See You, by Lasha Bugadze, at the Royal Court theatre

the president has come to see you - cast listNew artistic director, new bar. New adventures. Last night was my first time at the Royal Court since Vicky Featherstone took over and some of the changes were immediately apparent. Nice use of space at the bar, mismatched furniture, greater variety at the menu and food served till late. I heartily approve. I can see many more theatre friendships forged there.

New adventures, new rules. The President Has Come to See You, by georgian playwright Lasha Bugadze, is the first of six new plays performed by the same cast who only has a week to rehearse and perform each play. It’s fast, exciting, a little bit messy, and there is not enough time to feel the panic.

The play, with an exceptionally interesting premise, certainly lived up to all of the above. The story skids along the public and the private, the historical and the fictional: it’s August 2008, Georgia is at war with Russia, the BBC news readers sound as grave and as urgent as the circumstances demand. The georgian president has a nervous breakdown (who wouldn’t?), and takes to the streets. He meets people even more stressed than he is: reality tv contestants, young men forced to join the army, a dog owner who looks more unhinged than his savage dog. His chief of police bursts into tears. A (pregnant) man in a dress starts to look positively serene. Continue reading