“Small Island” by Andrea Levy
Adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson
At The Olivier, National Theatre
26th April, 2019
“Small Island” by Andrea Levy
Adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson
At The Olivier, National Theatre
26th April, 2019
The Convert by Danai Gurira at The Young Vic Theatre
16th January, 2019
Anthony and and Cleopatra at The National Theatre.
31st January, 2018
“There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned”
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
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 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
The Great Wave
By Francis Turnly
At The Dorfman Theatre
April 3rd, 2018
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” at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester
“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!
“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