Category Archives: National Theatre

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

Us/Them

161006_wij-zij_fkph_300dpi_103_von_139Us/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

Red-Barn-Lyttelton-94-700x455

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

Our Country’s Good

Our-Countrys-GoodOur Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker
At The Olivier, National Theatre
13th October, 2015

‘The Greeks believed that it was a citizen’s duty to watch a play. It was a kind of work in that it required attention, judgment, patience, all social virtues.

It was the Australian author Thomas Keneally’s 1987 novel, ‘The Playmaker’ which inspired Timberlake Wertenbaker to dramatise the true story of the convicts’ staging of the Irish writer George Farquar’s 1706 farce, ‘The Recruiting Officer.’ This revival is topical at a time when education in Britain’s overcrowded prisons is at low ebb and people who run drama projects are patronised. Whilst more liberal attitudes prevail today, the debates in the play on finding the right balance between punishment and rehabilitation are still as relevant as at the time when the play is set.
The context for the play is Australia in the late 18th century which was partly a dumping ground for the refuse of Britain’s prisons. The first convict ship arrived in Botany Bay in 1788, crammed with England’s outcasts; most were from the lower end of the criminal scale: petty thieves or pickpockets, including an 87 year old woman who stole a biscuit and a young Irish man who refused to work for nothing.
Peter McIntosh’s bright, colourful backdrop: a cyclorama of red earth and bright sun backdrop is a nod to Aboriginal art and the stereotypical image of a foreign landscape. Enter the ‘Aborigine’ as the politically correct programme describes the almost silent observer. He watches and dances and says the odd word when he foretells his own death from being infected by the foreigners’ disease. It is a strange policy of colour blind casting when the aboriginal is played by a white actor and the Governor, Captain Philip ( Cyril Nri) and Captain Tench ( Jonathan Livingstone) are played by black actors. Perhaps, Nri’s authoritative stage presence is meant to feel like a comment on slavery and Empire.
In contrast, the revolving stage bursts open to reveal prisoners in the bowels of the ship. Their visceral words evoke the sense of rough justice by the military during the journey.
Once in Australia, the idealistic governor maintains that the convicts are there to ‘create a new society’. Their involvement in theatre would act as a humanising force. He therefore supports Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, who is looking for some meaning to his own life, in staging the play, even though he knows he risks trouble by offending the more conservative elements of the military. With the objective to celebrate the King’s birthday in 1789, the transported convicts rehearse Farquhar’s classic farce, which thus became the first play ever to be staged in the penal colony. Continue reading Our Country’s Good

People, Places, Things

People Places, Things 2‘People, Places, Things’
At the Dorfman Theatre
2nd October, 2015

‘If you’re really lucky, you get to be onstage and say things that are absolutely true, even if they’re made-up.’
‘There are substances I can put into my bloodstream that make the world perfect.’

Having previously enjoyed Jeremy Herrin’s the spell-binding ‘The Nether’ (Royal Court, Duke of York’s theatre) , 1984,and the RSC’s versions of Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’/ ‘Bringing up the Bodies’, the motivation to see another Headlong production was strong.
The title comes from the AA creed that alcoholics are powerless over the ‘people, places and things’ that cue their desire for drink or drugs so the prescription is a 12-step recovery i.e. the avoidance of People with whom you use drugs, the Places where you score and use and the Things that act as a trigger to use.

From the outset, it is clear that Duncan Macmillan’s play is about reality and how we make our own reality. It opens with a scene from Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ with the actress, ‘Emma’, playing the forlorn Nina at breaking point. Thus the message of disintegrated hopes is enacted at the start, introducing us to Emma’s thespian ‘other-life’ , referencing troubled themes in plays by Ibsen and Chekhov.

There’s a reason for the blurring of identity: Emma is an alcoholic, suffering from multiple substance abuse, which has led to blackouts and one suicide attempt. Soon she checks herself into a rehab centre to undergo the detox regime but she doesn’t buy into her perceived bogus beliefs of the AA-style journey to recovery. From the start, the self-absorbed, self-pitying and deceitful Emma lies constantly and admits to telling lies and thus prevents us from surrendering our sympathy to her. Her risk assessment involves not being resistant to the clinic’s culture of sharing and honesty, but by the second act, she gives herself to it.

Continue reading People, Places, Things

Red Lion

2-Daniel-Mays-Kidd-Calvin-Demba-Jordan-Peter-Wight-Yates-in-The-Red-Lion.-Image-by-Catherine-Ashmore‘Red Lion’ at The Dorfman Theatre

19th September, 2015

This isn’t a church; it’s a ‘business!

How timely is this production in the light of the attributed corruption of the FIFA scandal! We know how elite football operates these days. ‘Red Lion’ forces us to reassess the beautiful game through the backstage politics of the game and the darker side of England’s most popular sport.
Partick Marber’s play inhabits Anthony Ward’s plausible set – a grimy changing room of a struggling semi-professional club who have been on a recent winning streak but have just had their best player poached by a rival team. Ironically, the club’s pitch is located over a plague pit – a perfect verbal playground for betrayal. Here we have three of life’s male casualties who find support and stability in the beleaguered club and each other: the unscrupulous, motor-mouthed manager, Kidd (Daniel Mays) is excited about a talented new recruit, Jordan (Calvin Demba) who wants to play for the team. The kit man and ex-Manager, Yates (Peter Wight) enthuses, too, but has a fatherly concern for Jordan and wants to make sure he is nurtured properly. All wrestle over the future of the club.

Continue reading Red Lion

Everyman

Chiwetel Ejiofor in Everyman, adapted by Carol Ann Duffy at the Olivier.‘Everyman’ at the National (Olivier)Theatre

9th May, 2015

‘Welcome to hell, SE’

 

 

Wow! This is Rufus Norris’s first production as artistic director of the National Theatre and he is starting inventive in every sense from the drug-fuelled raves to a seductive Donna Summer soundtrack. The production design pulses with energy, even in the moments of quiet reflection. Much of the original’s theological substance has been stripped away. Poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy’s writing is characteristically edgy with lines such as ‘Religion is a man-made thing. It too will pass.’ At times, however, the predictable rhyming and the lame humour from contemporary references to loyalty cards and Beckham and even Cliff’s colostomy bag seem disappointingly puerile.

The play opens with a weary-looking cleaner (Kate Duchêne) mopping the stage. Contrary to expectation, she is God. None of this is particularly apparent from an audacious, wordless opening scene, in which Everyman, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a big star who’s never forgotten the stage, descends on a wire from the Olivier’s ceiling. He then runs vertically, in slow motion, down through the pit in the middle of the stage, before re-emerging into the hedonistic raunchy excesses of his 40th birthday party.

Continue reading Everyman

The Hard Problem

Hard_Problem_posterThe Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard
at Dorfman Theatre,
National Theatre

21st February 2015

A guest review by Derek Linney

My response to this new play by Tom Stoppard can probably best be summarised by my thoughts on exiting the theatre: “How do you stop audiences leaving a play at the interval?  Answer: Stage it as a single act”.

The “Hard Problem” of the title is that of understanding / explaining human consciousness. Does one subscribe to Cartesian Dualism – in which the brain and the mind are essentially different: the brain being material and the mind, and hence consciousness, being insubstantive in the material sense. Or does one subscribe to Materialism: the mind and brain are one and the same material entity and consciousness is some, as yet unexplained, consequence of the complexity of the brain’s functioning. Both positions have difficulties. How does the dualist explain how thoughts – from the immaterial mind – can be translated into actions, for example the movement of ones arm, in the physical world? Also, how can one explain the emergence of consciousness during the course of evolution: presumably the original simple organisms lacked consciousness but at some stage it must have evolved; though how a non-material mind could emerge is problematical without recourse to an external agent such as God. The materialist, on the other hand, has to explain how consciousness intuitively seems to be a quality that cannot be possessed by a mere automaton – be that a computer or a physical brain.

The promise of The Hard Problem was a play that explored these questions. Instead we were served a hotchpot of declamations – to call them arguments would be stretching the reality of the script – regarding consciousness, morality and altruism, biased scientific research, god and miracles with a dollop of hedge funds and market modelling thrown in. While any of these could have formed the basis for an intelligent, challenging play what we got never went into any depth on any of these questions. By analogy, for Radio 4 fans, it was more like listening to Question Time – with party political representatives proclaiming manifesto points – rather than The Moral Maze – an in depth interactive debate of an issue.

Continue reading The Hard Problem