Category Archives: Theatres

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester

25th August 2018

“Time and time again I’ve explained it, yet the more I’ve explained the deeper the uncertainty has become.”

Most of Michael Frayn’s plays are based on fact, but the main topic of what was actually said to each other has been surmised by the author. More information has come to light, since the production premiered in 1998, but this version hasn’t been updated to reflect this.

“Copenhagen” is a clever, fictionalised account of the meetings of two scientists who worked on the inventions surrounding atoms and atom bombs between WWI and/during WWII. In the play their spirits, along with Bohr’s wife Margrethe (Patricia Hodge), meet after their deaths.

The drama asks many questions as it examines the mystery of why the German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg (Charles Edwards) went to visit his Danish counterpart Niels Bohr (Paul Jesson) in 1941. They worked together before the war and then separated as each had allegiances to different countries.  Bohr makes the play re-wind and sends Heisenberg back to the drawing board to produce another draft of events as if he were writing a research paper.

The first meeting takes place in 1941 in which the student tries to find out if his mentor knows what the Allies nuclear capabilities are.  During Heisenberg’s visit to the German-occupied city, he lectured and discussed nuclear research, as well as potentially developing nuclear weapons. Heisenberg was one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics (the behaviour and interactions of energy and matter) but he was also one of Hitler’s nuclear scientists.  It is a complex relationship which comes together in the afterlife to understand their friendship and its strains. Science brought them together; they feel like father and son or director and student. Politics divided them, yet as they talk about their past, other tensions, such as competitiveness, come to the fore. Margrethe is ever present and offers her insights into their closeness and discrepancies. Margrethe’s presence is a way of keeping the physics at the audience’s level; with a role which would seem demeaning to us today.  As Bohr says, the most complex theorems in science are rendered comprehensible by all “so Margrethe can understand them”.  That grate but decided to accept her functional role in the context of the time, considering her like the chorus in a Greek tragedy. Hodge makes the most of her role even when silent; being imperious as she communicates much more by shifting one knee, refolding her hands or swivelling her eyes. She icily reminds us that these are men “who determine which cities shall live and which be destroyed”.  If it had been Heisenberg who correctly calculated the correct critical mass, the world would look very different. Continue reading Copenhagen

Random/Generations

Random/Generations

at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester

26th May, 2018

Why can’t she cook?”

These two plays are by debbie tucker green in lower case, as she insists on styling herself. It’s a brave move for the Minerva theatre to present them to middle class, predominantly white theatre goers.

Even before the play has begun, the choir envelops us sings. We witness even when we aren’t watching. The choir focuses our attention with a lament to the dead.  The roll call of names speaks of the shared experience of communal grief; the outward manifestation of loss as well as the celebration of a life. “Another leaves us, another has gone”

Once the stage is set, the lyrical and haunting dialogue is delivered sparely and recycled, rhythmically, sometimes with a different emphasis. The repeated words become imbued with new meaning and the pauses in-between speak their own language.  From the start, smell of the communal cooking of a meal in a South African kitchen is both unifying and dividing.  We enjoy the flirtatious dance of a granddaughter and her suitor.  The memories it evokes as her parents and grandparents recall their own courtship.  Eventually only the grandparents are left, with the choir singing softly. Death has taken the rest. “I miss them”, says the grandfather. Each time, a member of the family leaves the stage – an imprint or an echo stays behind. The leaving is never explained, never addressed, and never mourned. Tucker Green is asking why we won’t just talk about it. What “it” is becomes inferred as we speculate.

Laurietta Essien is the final family member to leave, and when she does, we notice Okon Jones and Cleo Sylvestre have collected all the dying and disappearances that has come before, and let the final scene be a eulogy.

Clever as the play is, the inferred devastation of Aids in Africa depends  almost entirely on the singing of a South African choir to make it moving.

In the interval, the choir sings in the foyer. The circular stairs and balcony echo the rounded thrust stage, and everyone looks down on the choir below. The choir leader catches my eye with knowing acknowledgement that I am the sole black individual in the audience, and seemingly checks to see if he saw correctly and I smile back to confirm. Continue reading Random/Generations

Nine Night

                                                   

Nine Night by Natasha Gordon

At the Dorfman

12th May, 2018

“We are all fragments of someone to feel so disjointed”

Nine Night, also known as Dead Yard, refers to a Jamaican custom of nine nights of official mourning following the death of a loved one with lots of friends, food, drink, and dancing. The final night, Nine Night, is the most important: it’s when the spirit of the deceased is given a final farewell, and encouraged to leave the house.

Natasha Gordon’s nerve centre is the recently deceased Gloria, a Londoner whose roots lay in Jamaica. All the events take place in Gloria’s home, and as her dead body lingers upstairs, we meet her assorted family members: her cousin Maggie and Maggie’s husband Vince, her children in the UK, Robert and Lorraine, Robert’s (white, English) wife Sophie, Lorraine’s daughter Anita, and the daughter she left behind in Jamaica, Trudy.

Cecilia Noble (Maggie) delivers a tour de force as the nit-picking hypochondriac. Her eccentric habits of expression make her interfering comments hilarious.  We watch her recharging herself to deliver her memorable one  liners, noting that the Freedom Pass was the “Only decent ting me gat from dis teeving gov’ment.” And later, she worries that her dead sister’s bird’s-nest hairdo may “frighten Jee Suss!”

The play’s Caribbean humour is sometimes lost on a European audience which makes me smile. On the one hand, the Jamaican patois takes some time to adjust to. Nevertgeless, it is deployed effectively with Maggie’s Jamaican verbal acrobatics.  Her ripostes create moments of complete hilarity, supplemented by her personal injections of wisdom: “Be careful, not carefree”; “When yuh get to Heaven, yuh see, God will deal wid yuh”; “Save yuh eye water, niecey”. The linguistic mix of English and the West Indian verbal rhythms gives conversation sheer energy as well as a shared cultural delight in observing Jamaican mannerisms or cultural rituals which are lost on the world outside. Continue reading Nine Night

John at The Dorfman Theatre

 

 

John at The Dorfman (National Theatre)

3rd February, 2018

It’s like miniature shit”

And sadly, it is, despite many favourable reviews. Young couple Jenny (Anneika Rose) and Elias (Tom Mothersdale), heading back to Brooklyn after spending Thanksgiving with Jenny’s parents, stop off at a bed and breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania which is a tourist  site of Civil War conflict and carnage.

We have already met the oddball Mertis (American actress, Marylouise Burke), who has rooms called after Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Joshua Chamberlain. As the guests quarrel, Jenny spends more time with Mertis and her blind friend Genevieve (June Watson), bonding over a bottle of wine, talking about love. The lovers argue again; the women talk. Over red wine, Mertis’s blind friend, Genevieve explains her journey to make peace with that inescapable gaze, how she’s come to feel that watching as a kind of acceptance. Amidst all this are prolonged periods of silence whether for reflection, unexpected consequence or inability to verbally expand or engage.  To indicate the close of an act, Mertis  pulls the stage curtains together.

Chloe Lamford’s detailed set integrates with every theme in the play. A central staircase climbs high to the unheated, possibly haunted guest rooms; a dining area aspires to be Parisian; a grandfather clock marks the passing of time yet controlled by Mertis; every wall and surface at this weird establishment is crammed with knickknacks and glassy-eyed dolls; a mini-Wurlitzer jukebox.  Even a self-playing pianola bursts into chirpy melody without warning. The Hitchcock setting promises so much, despite its contrived nature. Continue reading John at The Dorfman Theatre

Quiz

“Quiz” at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester

November 13th,2017

“Do we choose a more entertaining lie over a less extraordinary truth?”

Well, this is the third new play by the prolific James Graham I’ve seen  in four months. “Quiz”  reimagines what may have happened behind the scenes during a now infamous moment in television history, when, in 2001, a contestant on ITV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire was accused of gaming the system to win the million pound prize.  The contestant is the “Coughing Major” or Charles Ingram, a former army officer who in 2001 who successfully answered all of Chris Tarrant’s questions to win the jackpot. Suspicions were quickly raised and two years later he was found guilty of deception, a jury believing the charge that he used an accomplice to cough when an answer was correct.

In the years that have passed James Graham finds there’s something brilliantly enduring about their story. But we don’t want to give you that….yet!

First, we are free-wheeled, with a revue-like approach, to learn about the history of popular ITV quizzes and their connection to the commercial nature of the channel. We are reminded that ITV from the outset was built around game-shows such as Take Your Pick, Bullseye and The Price is Right, where the coveted prize was a vacuum cleaner. For the latter, audience members are invited onstage as contestants, and, yes, we, that was me, my husband, and a friend, amongst others, were asked to value a 1951 vacuum cleaner. The correct answer- £39 – the prize: an ice cream voucher!

Continue reading Quiz

Labour of Love

“Labour of Love” by James Graham

at The Noel Coward Theatre

5th November, 2017

“What’s happening is if you’re Northern, you’re getting butchered, it’s like Game of f—ing Thrones.”

Continuing my James Graham fest, “Labour of Love” did not fail to disappoint despite the formulaic and predictable narrative.

Admittedly, I hesitated booking for what seemed to be a comedy about the Labour Party, but faced with a dish of a co-production between the Michael Grandage Company and Headlong, and directed byJeremy Herrin, together with a  Tamsin Grieg topping, I looked forward to a feast.

Labour of Love tells the story of Blairite Labour MP, David Lyons (Martin Freeman) and his politically idealistic agent Jean ( Tamsin Greig).  The conceit is that we begin on election night 2017and work backwards past the Coalition years and expenses scandal, the 2001 election and the 1994 Labour leadership campaign, to Thatcher’s resignation in 1990. Right now, it looks as though Lyons may lose his North Nottinghamshire constituency seat, once regarded as safe – seat, evidently modelled on Mansfield, which saw a shock swing to the Tories this summer for the first time in its parliamentary history. Continue reading Labour of Love

Girl From The North Country

Girl from the North Country by Conor Mcpherson

At The Old Vic

2nd September, 2017

We ain’t got no net to catch us’

Bob Dylan’s team approached Conor McPherson to see if he would be interested in basing a production around the songbook. At first he wasn’t keen then as always, an idea germinated. Dylan liked the concept and 40 of his albums were sent to McPherson saying that he could use any of the songs he liked. It is, says McPherson in a programme note, a ‘conversation between the songs and the story’ and what a conversation it is! Just spellbinding and haunting. It is an unusual musical which functions as the soul of the characters.

There is a Steinbeckian overtone to Conor Mcpherson’s play set in the Dustbowl at the height of the Great Depression. We find ourselves in a guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota (Dylan’s hometown) in 1934. There’s a boxer on the run from trouble, a dodgy bible salesman, a widow waiting for her inheritance, a couple whose simple-minded son is more than they can handle, a kindly doctor, an elderly shoe-shop owner, and so on. Ciaran Hinds), and his wife Elizabeth, who is succumbing to dementia, though in Shirley Henderson’s hands, it’s the sexiest, cheekiest dementia you’ll ever come across. Henderson’s Elizabeth is very edgy.  She pulls at her shirt and whirls vaguely about the stage. It is only when Elizabeth sings that she is fully alive and in control. Petit as Henderson is, she commands our attention. When Elizabeth stands on a chair and booms with all her might. “Forever Young” we share her husband and her hopeless future. Continue reading Girl From The North Country

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

Lady-Day-At-Emersons-Bar-Grill-8175“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill  ” at The Wyndham’s Theatre.

July 29th, 2017

“Bein’ arrested in this country,”….that’s a coloured folks’ tradition”

 

As I enter, Christopher Oram’s bar designs transform Wyndham theatre. The front rows of the stalls have been taken out and replaced with cabaret tables, and there is a bar onstage, with seating for more of the audience.

The play’s conceit is that we are watching Holiday perform in a north Philadelphia dive in 1959, a few months before her death at the age of only 44. Lanie Robertson’s play is essentially a one woman show. I was spellbound from the moment Audra McDonald arrives as the troubled jazz and blues singer, Billie Holiday on stage, cocooned in white, stumbling, whether tipsy or drug induced.  In role, she drinks, she swears and she rambles, occasionally monitored and cajoled gently to sing by the pianist,  Jimmy (Shelton Becton). Macdonald inhabits Holliday’s posture, the tilt of the head and the delicious, sumptuous, smoky voice which is spellbinding. At one stage, she re-enters, clutching a tumbler of booze or her beloved Chihuahua, Pepi, then stumbles about the platform and, in one heart-stopping moment, slips off it.

Amongst a full repertoire, we are given Halliday’s signature song, “ God Bless the Child” which was written for her mother who she call The Duchess; “Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do”, a grim justification of her right to self-destruct;  and for me that heart-stopping lament for black victims of lynchings, “Strange Fruit” is particularly haunting. Continue reading Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

Ink

ink

Ink at The  Almeida Theatre,

July 22nd, 2017

” Law to the Left, God to the Right”

 

 

 

 

I loved James Graham’s last work, “This House”, which explored the hung parliament of the 70s, but loved “Ink” even more. The drama traces the transition from The Sun as a failing broadsheet (Never knew that! before!) to a populist-driven tabloid.

The stage is set with positioned  “Five ‘W’s”: “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “Why.” Referring back to the Five “W”s helps journalists address the fundamental questions that every story should be able to answer. Here, their answers in the present instance: Who? Publisher Rupert Murdoch and Editor Larry Lamb. What? Murdoch’s takeover, and Lamb’s reinvention, of The Sun newspaper. When? 1969-70. Where? Fleet Street, London, when it was still so deeply identified with the press that in this play it’s simply referred to by locals as “the street”. Why? Ah, now, that’s the interesting one.

From the outset, The Murdoch Sun is a byword for “fun” and, above all, sales and never claims to be investigative. Murdoch’s ambition was for it to overtake the Daily Mirror within a year of his buying The Sun from IPC, owner of the Mirror. The first half of the play, at least, shows liberalism as a contrast to the increasingly stuffy preachiness of the Mirror under Hugh Cudlipp (David Schofield). Cudlipp is a believer in the duty of newspapers to guide and educate the working class.  S, its two warring philosophies – holding up a mirror to who we are versus showing who we might be and, when judged solely by the market, the former wins out.   It is with this mind set that Murdoch is able to persuade Lamb to take on his former employers, whispering, tactically that he never got to edit the Mirror because he wasn’t part of the old boys’ network.

Continue reading Ink