‘Frankenstein’:Part of the National Theatre Live programme
14th June, 2012
“Did I request thee, Maker from my clay
To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?” John Milton, Paradise Lost
I cannot believe that I was narrow minded enough to dismiss the National Theatre’s forthcoming production of Frankenstein when the Pre-booking season landed in my email -inbox. Visions were conjured of the “Hammer Horror” Boris Karloff with a bolt through his neck leaping from the bowels of the stage. Perhaps I had doubts, too, of the Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s directorial debut here. Luckily, there was an opportunity to see the production, albeit, through NT Live. Phew!
I loved teaching the novel to 15 year old boys who were particularly engaged with ideas about Nature and human fallibility. Interestingly, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is subtitled “or, the modern Prometheus”. The boys loved the Greek legend which tells of Prometheus, the Titan who created the human race against the wishes of the gods – his experiment. Zeus punished him by binding him to a rock in the Caucasus and sending an eagle to eat his liver (which grew back every day so the punishment would be everlasting). The subtitle of Shelley’s novel clearly casts Victor Frankenstein in the role of Prometheus. Like the Titan, Frankenstein creates a man and gives him life, and, also like Prometheus, he ultimately endures great torment.
Boyle’s focus is the torment. The opening fifteen minutes delivers a fine piece of physical theatre with the galvanised genesis of the Creature (Cumberbatch) in a startling nude tour de force. A haunting overlay of the Underworld‘s soundtrack reinforces that this ‘birth’ of an adult is not natural; he struggles with horrible spasms and tremors. Cumberbatch inhabits his monster, contorting his body in painful yet visceral contortions; I could not help but wonder whether his body could sustain weekly performances. Continue reading Frankenstein: a stage adaptation by Nick Dear of Mary Shelley’s novel
‘Table’ by Tanya Ronder at The Shed, National Theatre.
April 19th, 2013
‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.’ William Shakespeare
Starring the Table which spans generations: marriage in Lichfield in 1898, and continues through the two world wars to a missionary outpost in 1950s Tanganyika,(now Tanzania) then returns to a hippie commune in late 1960s Herefordshire, and ends up in south London today. Gideon (Paul Hilton) becomes the spirit of the table, leading through song and narrative, the journey of the table. Marks and scratches on the table are inheritance tracks of a troubled man in his eventual attempt to reconnect and find forgiveness.
The weight of the generations carried by the cast of nine, playing twenty three characters between them, is superb even though the character of the Su Linn is irritating.
For a short play, it covers a lot of ground. This is a cleverly written play by Tanya Ronder, and sensitively directed by her partner, Rufus Norris. Their own table which is a record of their relationship provides the inspiration for the play. Yet, three years of intermittent workshops to develop the play have left a slight trace of imbalance particularly in the abrupt sections set in Lichfield. Time-frames are beautifully and seamlessly interwoven by hymns and songs. I wanted to scream when the table’s legs are chopped off! I had to tell myself it’s just a bloody table.
Table is part of the eclectic kick-start of many projects to come in The Shed, the National Theatre’s new space. The theatre’s square construction painted bright red, is located just outside its main entrance in Theatre Square: a substitute venue whilst the Cottosloe becomes the Dorfman, (accolade to Travelex Chairman Lloyd Dorfman).
‘These Shining Lives’ at Park Theatre, Finsbury Park. May 18th, 2013
“The definition of a company doctor is a doctor who takes care of the company”
‘These Shining Lives’ is an unusual play to launch the inaugural season of the new Park Theatre. The timing of this production comes in the wake of the deaths of workers caught in the fire in the garment district of Dhaka Ashulia in November, 2012. It made public one of Bangladeshi’s best secrets: scandalous wages, deathly conditions, and the union-blocking legal code that help keep one of the world’s largest textile communities enslaved by savage corporate profiteering.
Similarly, This Shining Lives exposes the tragedy of exploited female office workers in the 1930s, who worked in a Chicago watch-maker’s sweatshop in the 1920s, delicately apply radium-soaked treatment that would make the dials glow in the dark. By licking the tip of the paintbrush, they made a fine point. Gradually, the girls realise the process of ingestion is poisoning them despite being told otherwise. Through the true story of one victim, Catherine Donohue and her colleagues, the play tracks her campaign to right this wrong, despite suffering bone cancer and necrosis of the jaw.
Charity Wakefield( as Kate)) successfully conveys the combined naivety in the excitement of the opportunities newly available to women in the world of the roaring twenties with tradtional expectations. The tension that arises from Catherine’s vow to make more money than her husband, instead of staying home with her young children, is part of the changing culture of the time. In contrast is the brash yet humane worker, Charlotte, deftly portrayed by Honeysuckle Weeks. Continue reading These Shining Lives
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’: Mark Haddon’s award-winning novel, adapted by Simon Stephens at National Theatre: 8th August, 2012
‘…most people are almost blind and they don’t see most things and there is lots of spare capacity in their heads and it is filled with things which aren’t connected and are silly’
When I first read the Mark Haddon’s novel on which this play is based, I recalled the set book for my teacher training: John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’. Although it is targeted to the effects and uses of advertising and Fine art, and outdated now, it focuses on the need to understand new ways of seeing an object differently. Therefore I had serious doubts as to whether Simon Stephens’s stage adaptation of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ would work as the book relied on first person narrative. Exploring the mind of the teenage protagonist, Christopher Boone, is fraught with unexpected complexity of family relationships and as Christopher self-defines ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties.’ The assumption then is that he has Asperger’s Syndrome – a milder form of Autism that characterises his world view so that there is difficulty in understanding the subtleties of language and social situations, recognising and interpreting other people’s feelings and hates physical contact. As Mark Haddon wished, terminology is rendered redundant.
Christopher turns detective after he discovers a neighbour’s dog has been brutally killed. This very act leads him into situations that are terrifying for him as they are outside his daily routine: his timetable. Later, when Christopher learns the truth about the dead dog, we are totally absorbed by his meticulously building of a railway track around the stage.
Despite being far older than the scripted 15 year old, Luke Treadaway’s outstanding performance as Christopher Boone is both engaging and disabling for the audience, for like him, we become outsiders. The set design by Bunny Christie and digital technology from Finn Ross is breath-taking in the intimate space of the Cottlesloe. One minute glowing, geometric grids convey the comfort zone that the regimen of numbers and logic provides Christopher; another moment, we are seamlessly transported from classroom to the London Underground network. Continue reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
‘Edward II’ by Christopher Marlowe at The National Theatre.
5th September, 2013
‘What are kings, when regiment is gone,
But perfect shadows in a sunshine day?’
‘Edward II’ is not a play I would normally choose but I was curious to see John Heffernan in his first major titled role and Kyle Soller, a young American actor who have had recent praise. As a student, the conspiracy theory that Marlowe may have written the works attributed to Shakespeare also intrigued me.
It is clear from the pregnant pauses during the opening coronation ceremony that Edward is going to battle between his private indulgences and his public duty to state and church. Soon we are launched into Heffernan’s frenzied, petulant portrayal of Edward as a young king who is unable to surrender his passionate and corrosive relationship with Gaveston. Unlike Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V‘ Edward is unable to distance himself as kingship demands. Passions drive the pace of the play that at times the language gets lost in the noise of the corrupting power of entertainment and military conflict. Conscious repetitive thrusts of ‘Music‘ and characters’ intolerance through the word ‘brook’ did grate.
The incompetence of the sovereign to manage his royal duties makes the body politic vulnerable. The Wheel of Fortune kicks into action and hubris is a defining weakness. The turning of the Wheel removes Edward II from the throne, and, in turn sets up Mortimer confidently delivered by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. Vanessa Kirby’s neglected Isabella lost control as affections switched from Edward to Mortimer. Next Mortimer falls and is replaced by the young Edward III played by a diminutive adult female. Further gender swapping of Kent, Edward’s brother ( Kirsty Bushell) and Pembroke ( Penny Laden) proves clumsy rather than innovative. Continue reading Edward II