Wonderland by Beth Steel
At Hampstead Theatre
28th July, 2014
‘I’m the son of a son of a son of a collier’s son, the last in a long line’
Unfortunately, I was unable to see this live in the theatre but couldn’t believe my luck when the drama was live-streamed. Fortunately, Hampstead Theatre believes in accessible theatre to all, wherever they may be.
The last play I saw about a group of miners was ‘The Pitman Painters’: miners in Ashington, Northumberland, who became respected painters after seeking art tuition in the 1930s. ‘Wonderland’ is no cultural, romanticised venture, though; here Beth Steel focuses on a Nottinghamshire coalmine to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike. It is the mid- 80s when Britain still had a coal industry. The National Union of Mineworkers strike against a programme of colliery closures – which their leader, Arthur Scargill, argued was politically motivated and would involve far more shut-downs than the official list state. Seizing on the NUM’s refusal to hold a national ballot to endorse local strikes that were escalating through Britain’s coalfields, the majority of traditionally moderate Nottingham miners continued to work, overturned the local NUM executive and formed a breakaway union, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. The split made the Nottinghamshire coalfield the focal point of an often-violent dispute amongst co-workers, communities and friends. The miner was also at the centre of a never-ending class war.
The narrative follows two young recruits who are about to learn what it is to be a miner, to be accepted into the close camaraderie and initiated into volatile workplace conditions. At times, Steel lapses into caricature and the bawdy humour becomes wearing but what is achieved is a convincing compassionate drama of the miners’ plight during the strike. Continue reading Wonderland
‘A Bright Room Called Day’ by Tony Kushner
At the Southwark Playhouse
29th July, 2014
A guest review by Derek Linney
Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day marked our first visit to the Southwark Playhouse – currently temporarily located in an office/warehouse building near Elephant & Castle but due to return to its roots at London Bridge station once redevelopment there is complete. The theatre immediately appealed to us: a friendly bar/restaurant and a small intimate theatre space that well suited the production.
The play is set in the early 1930s in Weimar Germany where we are effectively present in the main room of an apartment and observe the daily comings and goings of a group of friends centred around the principal character of Agnes. During the play the mood gradually changes from the optimism of the young participants and their support for the KPD (German communist party) to the violence of National Socialism and its persecution of Jews, political opponents (especially communists), homosexuals and radical artists; all of whom are represented among the cast of characters. Continue reading A Bright Room Called Day
‘The Nether’ by Jennifer Haley
At the Royal Court Theatre, Jerwood Downstairs
26th July, 2014
‘Just because it is virtual doesn’t mean it isn’t real’
‘The Nether’ by American playwright, Jennifer Haley is one of the most exciting plays I have seen this year, not only for its uncomfortable dystopic exploration of its subject matter, but also for its visually stunning set design.
Haley’s world is a future where anyone can live through an avatar and experience anything imaginable. My hesitation in seeing this production came when I learned of the topic to focus the play’s discussion: Haley bravely uses the premise of paedophilia to polarise and challenge our moral perspective.
Aside, I remember my daughter being once addicted to ‘Myst’, an immersive computer game experience. Although the ostensible objective is the solution of the puzzles, the actual purpose for playing ‘Myst’ is the exploration of a seemingly real world that the creators of the game have made. The next generation of this game is the idea reworked to play ‘Sims’, where the way to achieve happiness is to satisfy your Sims’ needs. In order to do this, it is possible to create, direct and manage the lives of SimCity’s residents.
I recalled the game as the audience learns of the Hideaway, a vitual Darknet of The Nether; a paedophile’s paradise created by, ironically, a Mr Sims (a superb, sugar daddy performance from Stanley Townsend) who provides his guests with the perfect getaway to explore every part of these darkest fantasies – the abuse and murder of children. Yet, those involved are prisoners of their own desires. Continue reading The Nether
‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ at the Aldwych Theatre
9th July, 2014
‘You cannot make my thoughts a crime’
‘But I can, you see’
Thanks to the mnemonic we learned in history lessons: ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’, we are familiar with this summary of Henry VIII’s serial marriages. The monarchy is historically all about male succession, and Henry produced no viable male heir. (Elizabeth, who succeeded him, was the daughter of Anne Boleyn.) This, then, was the springboard of all internal political action as well as of international affairs. Marriage was business. And marriage was the prerogative of the church, whose blessing was required to validate it.
Mike Poulton’s compression of the royal power politics over 1,000 pages of Hilary Mantel’s fictionalised biography of Thomas Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ into two plays is a masterful achievement. Even pared down, the effect sharpens wit and focuses our perspective on the two main characters: Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII.
There is little sense of the historical textural loss of Mantel’s well researched narrative of Tudor England in the 16th century. Christopher Oram’s stark fixed set is a vast concrete-and-steel prison-like box with a huge cross of light dominating the back wall. The contrasting richness of the costumes are a reminder of how Mantel presents detail;how she loves embroidery, decorative baubles, textiles. The result on stage is like watching a Rembrandt canvas come alive. Cleverly, Paule Constable uses light to seemingly brighten Henry’s world every time he appears.
More importantly, the focus becomes the dense rich dialogue which informs the audience and drives the narrative on. Continue reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies