The Verdict: Margaret May Hobbs’s stage adaptation of Barry Reed’s crime novel
At the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
24th March, 2017
‘There is a time for living and a time for dying……It was not her time to die’
I have fond memories of the 1982 Oscar nominated Sidney Lumet film version of David Mamet’s play, ‘The Verdict’ with my childhood throb, Paul Newman in the lead role of the role of the Frank Galvin. In light of this, the Middle Ground Theatre Company set itself a tough act to follow so I make no apolodgies for this lack-lustre review.
Even before the play starts, the scene is being set with Galvin (Clive Mantle), lying on the stage floor and waking up from a boozy night as the audience fill their seats. Galvin is a Boston lawyer who has had his problems over the years – a lost job, a messy divorce, a disbarment hearing, all of them traceable in one way or another to his alcoholism.
Galvin bravely takes on a malpractice suit against a Catholic hospital in Boston where a young woman was carelessly turned into a vegetable because of a medical oversight. Nuala Walsh is the mother who is looking for reparation for her bereft daughter and grandchildren. It is the ethics of the questionable medical malpractice by the hospital hung over the heads of all involved that creates the emotional weight to the performances as the audience followed the twists and turns of the story began to unravel. Sadly, the plot grinds along and at times accents slip.
From a state of inebriated depression to the rather unlikely sexual liaison with a young waitress (Cassie Bancroft) and on to his commanding presence in court, Clive Mantle nails facets of Galvin’s character. Alongside is Jack Shepherd, as Galvin’s mentor, Moe Katz, adding to the moral crusade for the truth. Continue reading The Verdict
Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason
At the Hampstead Theatre
18th February, 2017
“How do I make myself hard enough to withstand all the bad but stay soft enough to still be the writer I want to be?”
Talented novelist; after her first book got badly marketed as chic-lit, she’s turned her back on success
Manipulative bestselling salacious blogger; his candid, crude lad-lit, harbours more serious literary ambitions.
She’s 38; he’s 28.
She’s spiky and defensive; he’s all charm.
Venue: writer’s retreat.
Conditions: a blizzard outside.
Seasoning: The WiFi’s down
So strung together, Olivia (Emilia Fox), a literary professor in her late thirties, loves the smell of books and has one highly-regarded, little-read book. In contrast, Ethan (Theo James is a New York Times bestselling author thanks to an internet memoir based on his popular sex blog, ‘Sex with Strangers’ but craves literary legitimacy. Ethan is trapped by the image of the online persona he established as a young man, and his imprisonment feels like a warning to all online writers. Anonymity v Exposure.
So as the title suggests, there is no guessing as to what ensues when the two forces meet. Sex scenes follow most arguments feel tired, and, worse, tedious. Continue reading Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason
Us/Them by Carly Wijs
At the Dorfman Theatre (National Theatre)
21st January 2017
“Oh wonderful new future!”
This is an unusual theatrical experience directed by Carly Wijs and presented by BRONKS, the Brussels-based company that specialises in creating grown-up theatre for young audiences.
On September 1, 2004, 32 armed Chechen rebels took approximately 1,200 children and adults hostage at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, Russia. The siege ended three days later with numerous dead and more than 700 people wounded.
Wijs was inspired to write about the Beslan siege after her eight-year-old son talked to her about the 2013 terrorist attack in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. She was struck by his matter of fact tone and lack of visible distress when describing the atrocities and realised children process trauma differently from adults.
This is why she chose to recount the Beslan bloodbath from the perspective of two child hostages –a girl (Gytha Parmentier) and boy (Roman Van Houtven).
The stage looks like a playroom which is the centre piece for this immersive theatre. Parmentier and Van Houtven chalk out the layout of the school on the floor. Facts are scrawled on the blackboard. String marks the tripwires of the terrorists, and the tiny spaces in which the captives manoeuvre: the entire stage is enclosed in a cat’s cradle.
At its centre is a revolving team of terrorists who must at all times keep one foot on a detonator attached to a bomb (in this world, black balloons equal bombs), swapping over every two hours. Clinical calculations appear on the back wall, every reduction in the total number representing death. They begin singing traditional songs which suddenly break down into a serial chaos adorned with movement and dance. When the confusion slowly clears, they reveal that terrorists have barricaded themselves in the school’s gymnasium with 777 children plus 300 parents and teachers. Continue reading Us/Them
The Red Barn By David Hare
At the National Theatre
19th December, 2016
“It’s as if I’ve spent my whole life with the handbrake on”
“ The Red Bar” is David Hare’s adaptation of one of his favourites, Belgian writer Georges Simenon’s 1968 novel,” La Main.” It is a study of jealousy, sexual obsession.
The action begins in a snowstorm in Connecticut, with two couples on their way home from a party. One of the men, Ray gets caught in a blizzard and never makes it back, and the heaviest psychological burden falls on the remaining one: Donald. (Ray’s best friend since Yale)Where is Ray? Is he dead or alive? Has he been killed by accident, murdered or committed suicide?
The opening scene also starts with an optician’s examination. Ingrid is told her vision is perfect; yet she’s the all-seeing wife. Mark Strong never seems comfortable in his role as key suspect in his friend’s disappearance. Elizabeth Debicki, as the dead man’s wife, gives a predictable performance: her face initially seems a blank canvas on which other people impose their desires; reminiscent from her role in the TV series, “Night Manager. She craves affection, but her detachment left me comatose. She merely floats around being elegant, pale. When the storm abates, an Agatha Christie-style-sceptical police lieutenant (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) turns up and questions them. Continue reading The Red Barn
The Children by Lucy Kirkwood
At The Royal Court Theatre (Jerwood Downstairs)
2nd December, 2017
‘When we have a picnic or, camping we don’t just clear up our own litter, we go around and pick other people’s too.’
With fond memories of ‘Chimerica’ three years ago, dealing with global issues, I was looking forward to Lucy Kirkwood’s production. Honouring the Royal Court’s commitment to producing new work that reflects the issues of modern society, ‘The Children’ is in part a dystopic play. It opens up to Miriam Buether’s unassuming cottage kitchen on the ‘east’ coast by the sea, in the aftermath of a Fukushima-like nuclear incident (by implication in Suffolk, near Sizewell B). Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Rose (Francesca Annis) reunite after 38 years. Both are scientists who helped to build the nuclear plant that has contaminated the country. In the years since Hazel has had four children with her husband, Robin, (Ron Cook) while Rose has led a more itinerant life, spending time in America. Now Rose arrives and railroads their conscience with a proposition for them. When Robin arrives, the home-made parsnip wine start to flow and the conversation takes a deeper, darker turn. Eventually, Robin coughs up blood and a Geiger counter crackles madly as it is passed across his clothes. All three are dying but some are more in denial than others. The small kitchen set is heavy with what is unspoken and what each woman is afraid to ask. Continue reading The Children
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures (also known as iHO)
At the Hampstead Theatre
26th November 2016
Things I know to be True by Andrew Bovel (Frantic Assembly)
At The Minerva Theatre, Chichester
14th November 2017
Screens by Stephen Laughton
15th October 2016
‘Why would I cover my head? I’ve got really nice hair!’
Cressida Brown’s brutally, effective production of ‘Screens’ is skilfully directed with an outstanding cast.
The title seems to be an allusion to the running significance of mobile phones, but the title extends further than this to questions of partitioning, division and isolation in a national context. Hence, Laughton uses the Cyprus conflict as a backdrop to tackle a host of other stigma-infused topics: homophobia, discrimination, violence and loss of self, all of which funnel into our daily currency.
Within minutes of the play starting, we are immersed in how quickly technology transforms both our everyday behaviour and interpersonal relationships. In a deprived area of London, Declan Perring’s Al, a young gay man from a Turkish Cypriot family tries to juggle his family responsibilities whilst looking for decent men on Grindr. Meanwhile, his mother, Emine (Fisun Burgess), already upset by the discovery of a dead cat, receives an email that calls into question her identity and that of her children. Her daughter Ayşe (Nadia Hynes) splits her time between Instagram and casually ribalding her gay brother. Al and Ayşe’s sibling rivalry and power games are edgy throughout. Indeed, one of the main reasons Screens works so well is the interplay between the three family members. Continue reading Screens
A Dead Good Evening with Robert Harris
At The Yvonne Arnaud
9th October 2016
The Pianist of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek
At St James Theatre
17th September, 2016