The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner adapted by Matthew Spangler
at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
21st April, 2018
“There is only one sin. and that is theft… when you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth.”

Network

“Network” adapted by Lee Hall

At the Lyttleton Theatre (NT)

19th, February, 2018

“We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here.”

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

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

at The Bridge Theatre

26th, January 2018

“As I love the name of honour more than I fear death.”

I fondly remember an all-black version by the RSC in 2012 but wow, was I pumped up as we entered the Bridge Theatre auditorium.  The charged rendition of “ Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” by Oasis, Survivor’s “ Eye of The Tiger “, during which,  David Morrissey appears in character with ‘Mark Antony’ emblazoned on the back of a sports robe, to egg on the crowd was electric; and more still with the “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes! I wasn’t sure whether I was in the wrong venue, but this is orchestrated mob rallying. It is a soundscape springboard through tyranny, conspiracy and tragedy.  It is a reminder that we are the populace who reside amidst the unchanging nature of politics.

In demonstration of the new theatre’s versatility, the theatre has been reconfigured in-the-round with the action playing out on a central platform as well as in the surrounding pit. Promenade tickets are available for those who want to get up close to the action.  Though seated in the front row of the auditorium, we were still complicit in the events.

As you may have guessed, Hytner’s production is reimagined for the era of post-truth populism; it’s in modern dress, and the parallels with certain current world leaders are evident. But there’s no fiasco as there was earlier last year,  when a New York production of ‘Julius Caesar’ got into trouble for depicting Caesar as Trump, assassinated by women and people of colour. We do have Caesar’s minions selling T-shirts emblazoned with “CAESAR” instead of “Make America Great Again,” also pin badges before the show, and the man himself sporting a red baseball cap bearing his own name. These are not gimmicks but a very real precursor to our perspective on the nature of power.

David Calder’s narcissistic Caesar emerges red tied and casual in golf clothes, as the band revs up the crowd climactically with Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.  At times he displays insouciant charm; at others he is s given to impulsive decisions, an almost childish tyranny.  His surrounding security staff are reminiscent of Mussolini’s Blackshirts, shouting and pushing the stand-up audience back and forth to make way for the platforms that ascend from, and disappear into, the floor. “The Groundlings” are used as the crowd/mob and manoeuvred/manipulated round staging platforms that rise and fall in the acting/audience space. Not sure what happens if you don’t have a biddable audience. The more so when the Bard’s words slip as one actor shouts: “Pompeii is dead, Get over it!” Continue reading Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Cell Mates by Simon Gray

Cell Mates by Simon Gray at The Hampstead Theatre

20th January, 2018

“Spies betray people. That’s what we do. It becomes a…. a habit. Difficult to break …even when its not … not strictly necessary”.

This may be my shortest review, yet. Simon Gray’s  “Cell Mates” is  famously known for the original 1995 production of Simon Gray’s play which was deemed a flop after Stephen Fry, suffering from bipolar disorder, walked out a few days into its maiden run. Therefore, it seems strange that Edward Hall should choose to revive it.

The play begins in Wormwood Scrubs in the 1960s where George Blake, a notorious double agent, is serving a forty-two year sentence. Blake (Geoffrey Streatfield) did immense damage to the West’s cause, putting many agents in harm’s way and revealing the existence of the Allies’ tunnel under Soviet Berlin (Operation Gold) to the KGB.  He strikes up an unlikely friendship with Irish petty criminal Sean Bourke who, in 1966, helps him to spring the prison, with a hacksaw and a rope.

The theme of entrapment continues to the hideout and then Blake’s Moscow flat. The irony is that Bourke, having liberated Blake, makes the fatal error of visiting him in Moscow where he ends up virtually imprisoned himself. Their oddball relationship ensues under hints of homosexual attraction which is never played through. Bourke is reduced to teaching “Danny Boy” to Blake’s Russian housekeeper (Cara Horgan). Danny Lee Wynter and Philip Bird complete the cast as a cartoon image of the KGB which is both irritating and predictable. Continue reading Cell Mates by Simon Gray

The Ferryman

The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth

at The Gielguld Theatre

November 24th, 2017

“This isn’t history. This is now.’ Everyone living in Northern Ireland will become part of this story; this history, whether they want to or not.”

Uncle Pat: “Let’s not be teaching the wean that being English makes you wicked.”

Aunt Pat: “As a rule of thumb, it’s proved uncannily accurate.”

It’s five years since I saw Jez Butterworth’s powerful Jerusalem. Similarly, The Ferryman is a layered and edgy production.

Nothing as it seems. Quinn,( William Houston) who we meet at home in one of the opening scenes, dancing wildly in the wee hours to the Rolling Stones with a woman we assume, is his wife or a lover. She’s not. Caitlin Carney (Catherine McCormack) is Quinn’s sister-in-law and the wife of the dead man. Laura Donnelly, the original Caitlin, was just a child when her uncle was taken away by the IRA, shot dead, and his body dumped in a bog:  the core that Butterworth retells here. There’s a clue in the title, as in mythology Charon ferries souls from this world to the next. McCormack plays a woman whose husband’s body is accidentally uncovered a decade after he was secretly buried, sparking a wave of violence and stirring up almost forgotten memories.  When I saw the play the role was played by Catherine McCormack. The play is set in the same year in rural Northern Ireland in 1981. A lot of old history resurfaces with him and so the family is entangled in Ireland’s bloodstained legacy of violence. Continue reading The Ferryman

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