Saturday, 17 March 2018

Theatre review: The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi won't let any man decide who she can or can't marry; as played by Joan Iyiola at the RSC, this seems to include her prospective husband, who doesn't entirely get a say in her decision to pursue their dangerous love affair. In Maria Aberg's interpretation of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi it's this strong will and independence, rather than the social inequality of the match, that is her downfall. The widowed Duchess' brothers, the unhinged Ferdinand (Alexander Cobb) and lecherous Cardinal (Chris New) advise her against remarrying, largely because they think if she dies without heirs they might inherit her wealth. The Duchess, though, has other ideas, but knowing a marriage between herself and her steward Antonio (Paul Woodson) will cause a scandal she marries him in secret.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Re-review: Hamlet (RSC tour)

Hamlet is a play so popular and frequently produced that I've seen it more times than any other, so it's not often I feel the need to revisit a particular production. Simon Godwin's 2016 Stratford version was one I did want to see again, and I was far from the only person to be disappointed and annoyed when it was the only show in that RSC season not to transfer to London. The reason given was that the cast was unavailable, but as many of them were in other shows in the season, including Paapa Essiedu in the lead, there would probably only have been the need for a handful of roles to be recast. Well that omission has finally been rectified, as Essiedu returns to lead a tour of this relocation of mediaeval Denmark to modern Africa, with some of the original cast also joining him; more recastings have had to be made than would probably be the case if it had transferred straight away, but it's not in the least to the detriment of the production.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Theatre review: Summer and Smoke

I’ve only seen one show directed by Rebecca Frecknall before, a production of the obscure Tennessee Williams play Summer and Smoke at Southwark Playhouse in 2012. Well either Frecknall herself or Rupert Goold must have thought she had unfinished business with it, as she now makes her Almeida debut with… a production of the obscure Tennessee Williams play Summer and Smoke. In a small Mississippi town early in the 20th century, Alma Winemiller (Future Dame Patsy Ferran) is the local minister’s daughter, timid, bookish and prone to panic attacks, with a slightly affected accent – which she puts down to her father having spent time in England, but most of the town sees as further evidence that she’s pretentious. She’s been quietly besotted with her neighbour, the doctor’s son John Buchanan (Matthew Needham) since high school and, after some time away studying medicine, John has returned for the summer.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Theatre review: Acceptance

17-year-old Hong Kong Chinese violin prodigy Angela Chan (Jennifer Leong) has been studying music in America under a scholarship for the last year, and is now applying to an Ivy League university. She’s been invited to what she assumes is an admissions interview, only to find the Dean of Admissions, Birch Coffin (Teresa Banham,) waiting to interrogate her on her moral character. After spotting some gaps in her application Birch has discovered that Angela left her first Performing Arts High School after accusing a teacher of rape, an accusation that was never proven and has been hushed up; Birch is concerned the girl might be a fantasist and a potential liability. Angela turns to the college’s new Diversity Officer, Mercy (Debbie Korley,) hoping for a champion against an admissions officer she believes has made her mind up against her already.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Theatre review: Pippin

The last time I saw a production of Pippin was in 2011, just before I started this dedicated theatre blog, but my regular readers will both know that Partially Obstructed View has a long history with Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson's 1972 musical: That Menier production was so many different layers of weird* that my end-of-year review still features a category called The Pippin Memorial Award for Endearing Whatthefuckery‡. So, come December 2018, will Pippin win the award that's actually named after it? Well perhaps not, as Jonathan O'Boyle's production, first seen in Manchester, doesn't veer too wildly from the original framing device of a travelling group of mediaeval players plucking a boy out of the crowd to play the lead: Maeve Black's design is Victorian vaudeville, with old-fashioned magic tricks joining the song and dance to tell a story based, incredibly loosely, on one of Charlemagne's sons.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Theatre review: Fanny and Alexander

The Old Vic's previous artistic regime was, famously, not really that interested in Fanny, but on Matthew Warchus' watch she's been put centre stage alongside her brother. Ivo van Hove's tedious double-bill had me uninterested in seeing another Ingmar Bergman adaptation, but casting Dame Penelope Wilton* was enough to make me change my mind about Stephen Beresford's Fanny and Alexander. It's easy to see why this one suggested itself for the stage, following as it does a theatrical family through the eyes of its youngest members, Alexander (Guillermo Bedward, Kit Connor, Jack Falk or Misha Handley) and his younger sister Fanny (Zaris Angel Hator, Amy Jayne, Molly Shenker or Katie Simons.) Wilton plays their grandmother Helena, matriarch of the Ekdahl family who run a theatre and restaurant in early 20th-century Uppsala, Sweden.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Theatre review: A Passage to India

simple8’s first show on the Park Theatre’s main stage was a bit of a disappointment, but for their second visit Simon Dormandy has struck more fertile ground with his adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. The story’s opening statement “one cannot be friends with the English” is challenged by Asif Khan’s Dr. Aziz, whose job puts him in the middle of two factions of the English in Chandrapur during the height of the Raj, represented by two young men who’ve embraced very different approaches to India and its people: Edward Killingback (Yeah!) Them Motherfuckers Don’t Know How To Act (Yeah!) plays Ronny, the new Magistrate who’s quickly embraced the prevailing attitude that India is there to be governed, its people there to serve. Schoolteacher Cyril Fielding (Richard Goulding) is another recent arrival, who firmly believes India is its people and wants to get to know them.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Theatre review: Trust

My first visit to the Gate since Ellen McDougall took over as artistic director, and as soon as you get into the building you can tell she’s kept one of her predecessor’s innovations and taken it to the next level: Christopher Haydon introduced the idea of commissioning artists to decorate the staircase and front-of-house with artworks that reflected the current production, and Jude Christian’s production of Trust, designed by Bethany Wells, is in its entirety an art installation. Wells has turned FOH into a building site, the future home of some luxury development, while sound designer Ben Ringham has installed a recording of a Spanish language lesson in the toilets. Christian’s own installation is, essentially, the director herself – she’s set up a bedroom at the edge of the auditorium and has moved into it for the duration of the play’s run, and also appears in the show as one of the performers alongside Pia Laborde Noguez and Zephryn Taitte.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Theatre review: Harold and Maude

Colin Higgins' Harold and Maude was another show I hadn't originally planned on seeing, but when a friend had a matinée ticket she couldn't use, she passed it on to me. Set in early 1970s California, Harold (Bill Milner) is a 20-year-old from a wealthy family, aimless in life and using his unlimited free time to indulge his morbid streak - the play opens with him hanging himself, one of a series of elaborately faked suicides he stages for attention. This fascination with death also sees him attending the funerals of people he doesn't know, at one of which he meets the hippyish 79-year-old Maude (Sheila Hancock,) an Austrian Countess whose colourful life has taken her around the world. Harold just wants to be left alone, but Maude keeps showing up in his life, quickly becoming a major part of it.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Theatre review: Jubilee

I have to admit, Chris Goode's Jubilee didn't appeal to me when the Lyric Hammersmith first added it to their programming, and I only changed my mind about booking it when I found out the cast included Lucy Ellinson - she's someone whose performances I try not to miss. So I approached the show cautiously, but hoping to be pleasantly surprised. But while there's some good moments, this attempt to transplant the spirit of punk into the 21st century falls curiously flat. Derek Jarman's iconic 1978 film, set the year before during the Queen's Silver Jubilee, gets relocated to 2018 and framed - for reasons I'm still not entirely clear on - by a different Queen Elizabeth: Toyah Willcox, from the original film's cast, appears as Elizabeth I, who makes a Faustian request for divine knowledge, and is granted a vision of a group of genderqueer squatters four centuries into her future.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Theatre review: Angry

Philip Ridley has been particularly interested in monologues in recent years, and following the full-length pair Dark Vanilla Jungle and Tonight with Donny Stixx, and the disembodied voices of Killer, he now puts two actors together to alternate telling six shorter stories. The twist to Angry is that the cast comprises one male and one female actor, but the speeches have been written to be gender-neutral, so at one performance the odd-numbered monologues will be performed by the man and the even-numbered by the woman – Version 1, “She Follows Him” – and at the next they swap roles – Version 2, “He Follows Her.” The latter is the version I saw tonight, with Georgie Henley’s Her opening the show with the titular “Angry,” a disappointingly one-note evocation of that emotion in which her character berates the audience first for staring at her then for ignoring her.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Theatre review: Girls & Boys

A good run of plays in the last few days continues at the Royal Court, a theatre that Vicky Featherstone has put at the centre of the response to, and attempts to change, the culture of sexual misconduct in theatre as well as other industries. But while all this has been blowing up over the last six months, the season Featherstone programmed before all that already featured a number of relevant shows. Perhaps not quite as on-the-nose as Rita, Sue and Bob, Too, the title of Dennis Kelly’s Girls & Boys gives away that he’ll be looking at the relationship between the sexes, and despite its sole cast member being female is ultimately a look at masculinity, and whether it is by definition toxic. Lyndsey Turner directs Carey Mulligan as the unnamed Performer, who for the most part narrates directly to the audience, starting with the story of meeting a man in an EasyJet queue and, after a shaky start, being thoroughly charmed by him.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Theatre review: John

Annie Baker's playwrighting style can be at times understated to the point of eccentricity, but 2016's production of The Flick obviously found an audience at the National as her latest, John - even the title now understated and cryptic - also comes to the Dorfman, and to me at least feels like something a bit more special even than the lauded last play. Elias (Tom Mothersdale) was an American Civil War geek as a child, so when a road trip home after Thanksgiving takes them near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he persuades his girlfriend Jenny (Anneika Rose) that they should stop off there for a couple of days so he can visit the historic battlefields. Already much less enthusiastic about trekking through freezing cornfields than her boyfriend is, when Jenny gets a particularly painful period she ends up letting him go out alone, staying behind at the bed and breakfast with its colourful owner.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Theatre review: The York Realist

Josie Rourke kicks off her final full year in charge of the Donald and Margot Warehouse with a revival of Peter Gill’s The York Realist, a play I’ve seen before and which, especially in Robert Hastie’s quality-cast production, feels like watching a quietly revolutionary piece of gay theatre, largely because it isn’t, at heart, a “gay play.” It’s sometime in the 1960s and George (Ben Batt) is a farmer living a long bus ride away from York, where he’s been cast in a community production of the York Mystery Plays. He doesn’t have a phone so, when he misses a few rehearsals in a row, assistant director John (Jonathan Bailey) travels up to his house in person to find out why. He does manage to convince George to stay in the production, and his belief in his acting talent seems to be genuine, but he’s got another motive for coming all that way and soon the pair’s obvious attraction sees them disappear into George’s bedroom while his mother sleeps.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Theatre review: The Captive Queen

If David Lan leaving the Young Vic has been compared to the ravens leaving the Tower, then what do we call Barrie Rutter stepping down as Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides, the company he founded a quarter of a century ago? The 71-year-old clearly has no plans to retire completely, as he'll be part of Michelle Terry's upcoming first season at the Globe, and before that his final production for Northern Broadsides is also the final show in Terry's predecessor's winter season. John Dryden's tragicomedy Aureng-zebe is named after its painfully noble and loyal male lead, but Rutter's production renames it The Captive Queen, after the woman whose beauty and charm captivates a whole court. Rutter himself plays the ageing Emperor, false reports of whose death have kicked off a civil war between his four sons over who gets to succeed him.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Theatre review: Black Mountain

The two women in Paines Plough's three-strong rep cast dominated Out of Love, now Hasan Dixon gets to take centre stage in Brad Birch's Black Mountain. He plays Paul, who 's just arrived at a remote holiday home with Rebecca (Katie Elin-Salt.) The two are staying in separate bedrooms, an early indication that this isn't a straightforward holiday; they are, or at least were a couple, but he's hurt her and this is a last-ditch attempt to take some time together and talk over whether they have a future. He starts with at the very least the appearance of calm and optimism, she's spiky and curt with him but quickly starts to relax even as he goes the other way, becoming anxious and jumpy. This is because he's hiding the fact that Helen (Sally Messham) had stalked the pair to the side of a mountain.

Theatre review: Out of Love

Paines Plough seem to have found a regular London home for their Roundabout shows at the Orange Tree, Richmond 's permanently in-the-round theatre meaning they don't even have to find somewhere to set up their portable stage. As the company often does, they're currently touring three new short plays in rep with the same cast and creative team, and as usual this includes one kids' show I'm skipping, leaving me with a double bill to catch up on. First up is Elinor Cook's equal parts blunt and romantic look at a lifelong female friendship, Out of Love. We first meet Lorna (Sally Messham) and Grace (Katie Elin-Salt) as children, but after that their story jumps backwards and forwards in time to gradually build a picture of a tempestuous relationship that sometimes seems to have turned into hate, but in reality will always come back to the genuine love they feel for each other.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Theatre review: Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long night's journey into tomorrow morning, more like.

Seriously, though, Richard Eyre's production of Long Day's Journey Into Night originated at the Bristol Old Vic a couple of years ago, so the producers should have been well aware it comes in at three-and-a-half hours, and a 7pm start might have been kinder to audiences on a worknight. In any case, it arrives at Wyndham's with its original cast as the elder Tyrones - Lesley Manville, who's currently nominated for an Oscar, and Jeremy Irons, whose name is an anagram of "Jeremy's Iron." New to the cast are Rory Keenan and Matthew Beard as the sons in a family whose lives have been largely shaped by the mother's addiction. Cast against type, Irons plays James Tyrone, a famous actor with two adult sons he doesn't particularly fancy, who tours America with his one big hit play most of the year, but spends the quiet months with his family in their Connecticut summer house.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Theatre review: Gundog

Simon Longman’s pastoral nightmare Gundog is the final Upstairs show in the current Royal Court season (surely a new announcement is overdue?) and once again sees Vicky Featherstone channel something of the spirit of Edward Bond in this space: After the dead baby play we now get something that, though in some ways effective, in others comes perilously close to misery porn. Becky (Ria Zmitrowicz) and Anna (Rochenda Sandall) are sisters living on desolate land in the middle of nowhere. They come from a family of sheep-farmers, but after the deaths of their parents, and an infection that took out most of their flock, they have nothing left. Not knowing any other way of life they now steal a few pregnant ewes from other flocks they hope nobody will miss, and just about subsist on the money they get from slaughtering and selling the lambs.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Theatre review: Dry Powder

With another financial crash threatening, a play about the people who play Monopoly with people’s livelihoods would seem a well-timed production for Hampstead Theatre. So it’s a shame Sarah Burgess’ Dry Powder turns out to have very little to say about them, or much else for that matter. Rick (Aidan McArdle) runs his own private equity firm with his partners and trusted lieutenants Seth (Tom Riley) and Jenny (Hayley Atwell,) who offer contrasting ways of dealing: Jenny focuses on the numbers and is ruthless in pursuit of profit, while Seth has a more creative outlook and worries about the way the company’s public image affects their ability to do business. It’s this latter approach that Rick ignored when he acquired and liquidated a supermarket chain, laying off hundreds of staff on the same day that he threw himself an overblown engagement party.