Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by David Hare (after the book by Katherine Boo) – National Theatre, Olivier stage

Behind_The_Beautiful_Forevers_posterBehind the Beautiful Forevers, David Hare’s new play adapted from Katherine Boo’s book of the same title and directed by Rufus Norris, is set in the slumps of Mumbai, in the shadow of big hotels and the international airport. As with all stories with a strong sense of place, it opens up to universal understanding. I immediately saw its relevance, even though I can’t speak of its authenticity. (Shamefully my experience of Mumbai and its slumps is limited to watching Slumdog Millionaire. Which is no experience at all). On  the other hand, the feel of the play authenticates against itself: it’s a real world. And not a happy one.

It’s easy to say the play is grim, more difficult to explain why. Grim is the wrong word. It creates tension between the energy of the place (high-octane, outspoken, confident) and perceptions (or preconceptions) of the situation: the darkness isn’t due to poverty (that would be patronising) nor the awful things happening throughout the story. Poverty is ever present but lack of resources doesn’t equal lack of resilience, not always, and these people are nothing if not resilient. But, and this is the astonishingly grim fact, poor and rich have learned the same wrong lesson. Learned it in different ways (the rich with a silver spoon in their mouth, the poor with a kick in the teeth) but the same lesson nevertheless: the road to happiness involves screwing other people. This dark thought pollinates small sins and tragedy multiplies. Continue reading

What’s in store for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company in 2014?

August is a strange month: unless you are on a beach somewhere, it’s like time stood still. Press officers are on holiday, and for someone with attention deficit like myself the trickle of theatre news is torture. But September is around the corner, and the following teasers will lift my spirits till then.

Royal Shakespeare Company will follow Richard II with Henry IV part 1 and 2, The Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Jane Lapotaire will play the Duchess of Gloucester in Richard II and with rehearsals starting in a couple of weeks, the announcement of the remaining cast can’t be far behind.

At the National Theatre, Rufus Norris Continue reading

Review: The Amen Corner by James Baldwin at the National Theatre

amen_corner_Marianne Jean-Baptiste_reviewOccasionally reviews can (and should) be simple. Like simply saying “go and watch this”. Not because there is nothing else to say but  because the message needs to be loud and clear and not get lost among convoluted comments and explanations. James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner at the National Theatre is one of those productions.

James Baldwin’s play, taking place in an African-American community in Harlem after World War II, addresses questions of god, love, desire, gossip, human weakness, poverty, music and the shadow of racial prejudice in the early 1950s. It could have been dry, confusing, overambitious. Instead, as directed by Rufus Norris in an exquisite production, it’s effortlessly poignant. It’s life, not as we know it, but as some people did, and it cuts like a knife. Continue reading