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
As themes go, colonialism, civil war and genocide are not the lightest of fares. On the other hand, music, dance, puppets usually signal a frothier approach. In the Young Vic production of A Season in the Congo, a play by by Aimé Césaire, translated by Ralph Manheim and directed by Joe Wright, the two come together in an unconventional union. The result is engaging and enlightening, always interesting, often heartbreaking.
Play and production are not perfect: far too many scenes revolve around big speeches, some public, some private, speeches nevertheless. They sit well with the important themes of the play but stifle the complexities and subtleties of the human drama. The stylised action both opens up the imagination but occasionally blunts the impact. Not all characters get the sharp definition they deserve.
And yet, the story is so powerful, the staging so inventive and the lead actor so charismatic that the weaknesses fade into the background. Continue reading
Niall Ashdown as Aslaksen and Darrell D’Silva as the Mayor. Photo Keith Pattison
More than a century after its first performance, Henrik Ibsen’s Public Enemy (or An Enemy of the People as it’s better known) remains a play so relevant it’s tempting to think it has been updated for 21st century sensibilities: a scientist discovers that the town spa – the lifeline of the local economy – is polluted. Financial interests, corruption, betrayal and hypocrisy combine for an explosive mix of public and private tragedy. The human nature at its more complex, the attraction of the play is obvious.
For the longest time into the Young Vic production of Ibsen’s play (directed by Richard Jones in a new version by David Harrower), I was unconvinced by its approach. Continue reading
Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge Photo: Alastair Muir
Here are the facts: Edward Petherbridge, while in New Zealand rehearsing King Lear in 2007, suffered a stroke. That experience (the illness, the production that didn’t happen) inspired My Perfect Mind. Here is another fact: the play, written by Kathryn Hunter, Paul Hunter and Petherbridge himself, is simple (two actors playing dozens of parts with the assistance of mundane props) yet difficult to describe. It’s free association, perfectly structured, executed and improvised, through the imagination, emotions, memories and images of a perfect mind. Freud without the couch, the doctor or the breaks. Continue reading
Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins in Constellations. Photo Simon Annand
I am not good with deadlines. Not so much that I miss them but I like pushing the boundaries, doing things last minute. So blogging about my top ten theatre productions for the first half of the year some time in September is entirely in character. And everyone knows the year truly starts in September, right? (That’s my excuse anyway).
Before we move onto the actual list, a little teaser: There are four play starting with C and four plays revolving around exact sciences. It’s fair to say any play starting with C and about exact science is likely to be a huge hit with me. There are two productions from the Sheffield Crucible (more often than not, plays I see in Sheffield end up on my top ten list, Daniel Evans has done a great job), two adaptations by Simon Stephens (as well as being a great writer, he has been everywhere this year), and two plays starring John Heffernan.
In strictly alphabetical order, my top ten theatre productions for the first half of the year: Continue reading
Gala Gordon as Irina, Mariah Gale as Olga & Vanessa Kirby as Masha. Photo Simon Annand
A talented cast, a classic play, a theatre that regularly produces thrilling work (see A Doll’s House only a few weeks ago), where did all go wrong? You might have guessed that this production won’t make it to my top ten of the year, but a word of warning, my negative view of the production is considerably stronger than a mild dislike.
Short disclaimer: I have seen a few plays by Anton Chekhov, but I haven’t seen Three Sisters before. I don’t dislike unconventional interpretations of classic plays, it’s up to every individual production to won me over. But Three Sisters at the Young Vic, adapted and directed by Benedict Andrews, is so far off the mark that at times I felt personally insulted it was wasting my time (and at three hours running time, that’s a lot of time to waste).
The adaptation sets the play in modern times, the actors wear modern, if largely old fashioned, clothes and words like television and hair transplant are used. But the setting is neither naturalistic nor poetic, and that world never comes alive. It’s a vague place for people who probably don’t exist whose suffering is not real. As a result, their conflicts seem small minded and inconsequential. The modern words make the text sound banal, which in turn makes Chekhov’s big ideas sound nonsensical. Continue reading
Hattie Morahan (Nora) and Dominic Rowan (Torvald). Photo by Johan Persson
It’s hard for me to imagine what audiences thought of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House when it premiered in Copenhagen in 1879. Even today, the choices Nora makes at the end of the play have the power to shock (I can imagine a fair amount of tongues wagging if that was to happen in a respectable middle class family today). On the other hand, the triumph of the Young Vic production is not the feminist politics, it’s the people: passionate, relatable, likable people we want to see them through their tough times. It doesn’t quite work that way.
The production, directed by Carrie Cracknell in a new version of the play by Simon Stephens, is set in the 19th century, but it doesn’t have the buttoned up quality of period pieces: Nora (as played by Hattie Morahan) and Torvald (as played by Dominic Rowan) are an immensely sexy couple. Not just beautiful, but full of desire. This is not late 19th century as seen in Cranford. They are respectable in front of other people, but essentially they can’t keep their hands off each other. They are in love, even if they don’t begin to understand each other. Which makes the end of the play all the more heartbreaking: the conflict in the final scene is raw, desperate, physical. The production has a beating pulse going through it, not least because of the immediacy of Simon Stephens’ writing. Continue reading