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
NT Live Coriolanus at Chichester New Park, Cinema
4th March, 2014
‘We can’t trust any politician to tell us the truth. Faith, there have been many great men that have flatter’d the people, who ne’er loved them.’
Coriolanus is a political drama whose themes are a reminder that Shakespeare’s plays still resonate over time. Here, we have a Roman military hero’s bid for public office but it turns to tragedy after his enemies make use of his fatal inability to relate to the common people. It’s a study of hubris versus politics. Coriolanus is a successful leader on the battle field and a skilled warrior. Any humility he displays when he returns to Rome victorious after defeating the Volscian army is short-lived when old prejudices and grievances with the plebeians surface. Continue reading Coriolanus NT Live
28th September, 2013
‘One that loved not wisely but too well.’
Here I go again. I’ve lost count of the number of school visits to Shakespeare productions. I tried to resist seeing this production, despite a kind invitation to do so by a friend. I remember subjecting students to the filmed version of Laurence Olivier’s 1965 production in the 70s when videos were a new teaching tool. I writhed in deep embarrassment as Olivier hammed for England, his white eyeballs rolling madly in a weird blue / green / black greasepaint-shiny face with a slash of bright red lipstick. Such was the histrionic style: I puzzled over the Black & White minstrelsy.
Seduction is effective if prolonged so how could I resist Adrian Lester (last seen in Henry V, 10 years ago) and Rory Kinnear, coupled with one of my favourite directors, Nicholas Hytner whose direction of the anti-Iraq Henry V and later, Hamlet I loved. Once again NT Live affords me a missed opportunity.
The play opens to the news that Othello is recently married to Desdemona, half his age. He is appointed leader of a military operation to defend Cyprus from the Turks. Iago, his ensign, is passed over for promotion in favour of young Cassio. Immediately the importance of rank and hierarchy that provokes such envy casts a shadow over events to come.
Iago (Rory Kinnear) remains the invidious catalyst throughout. ‘I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at; I am not what I am.’ Iago finds that people who are what they seem are foolish. Kinnear’s camp-thuggish tones are so finely tuned that his dark humour engages the audience who then immediately revile him for his moral vacuity. We are drawn, too, into Iago’s sporting with Roderigo (Tom Robertson) who is in love with Desdemona. Robertson’s portrayal of the gullible, wimpy, privileged nerd adds a welcome touch of comedy. Continue reading Othello – NT Live: Chichester New Park Cinema
‘Frankenstein’:Part of the National Theatre Live programme
14th June, 2012
“Did I request thee, Maker from my clay
To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?” John Milton, Paradise Lost
I cannot believe that I was narrow minded enough to dismiss the National Theatre’s forthcoming production of Frankenstein when the Pre-booking season landed in my email -inbox. Visions were conjured of the “Hammer Horror” Boris Karloff with a bolt through his neck leaping from the bowels of the stage. Perhaps I had doubts, too, of the Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s directorial debut here. Luckily, there was an opportunity to see the production, albeit, through NT Live. Phew!
I loved teaching the novel to 15 year old boys who were particularly engaged with ideas about Nature and human fallibility. Interestingly, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is subtitled “or, the modern Prometheus”. The boys loved the Greek legend which tells of Prometheus, the Titan who created the human race against the wishes of the gods – his experiment. Zeus punished him by binding him to a rock in the Caucasus and sending an eagle to eat his liver (which grew back every day so the punishment would be everlasting). The subtitle of Shelley’s novel clearly casts Victor Frankenstein in the role of Prometheus. Like the Titan, Frankenstein creates a man and gives him life, and, also like Prometheus, he ultimately endures great torment.
Boyle’s focus is the torment. The opening fifteen minutes delivers a fine piece of physical theatre with the galvanised genesis of the Creature (Cumberbatch) in a startling nude tour de force. A haunting overlay of the Underworld‘s soundtrack reinforces that this ‘birth’ of an adult is not natural; he struggles with horrible spasms and tremors. Cumberbatch inhabits his monster, contorting his body in painful yet visceral contortions; I could not help but wonder whether his body could sustain weekly performances. Continue reading Frankenstein: a stage adaptation by Nick Dear of Mary Shelley’s novel
National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking initiative to broadcast productions from the London stage to cinema screens worldwide, therby making them more widely accessible. It launched in June 2009 with a broadcast of Phèdre with Helen Mirren, which was shown in over 200 cinemas around the world and seen by a worldwide audience of more than 50,000 people.