Monday, 26 September 2016

Review: R and D, Hampstead Downstairs

"What on earth is a soul?"

As the development of artificial intelligence advances ever closer to Skynet territory, so too does the complexity of the ethical questions around it. And it is these moral tensions that Simon Vinnicombe's new play R and D focuses on - as science creates robots seem ever more human, capable even of independent thought, where do we draw the line? Or is it already too late, is Judgement Day already written in the future history books?

R and D begins innocuously, as these things always do. Scientist David offers to cheer his widowed writer brother Lewis up by offering him a £3 million job (as you do), merely spending time with a woman called April and reporting on their relationship. Trick is, she's one of the most sophisticated robots ever constructed and through her interactions with the emotionally compromised Lewis, the bounds of technological progress are messily, murkily exceeded.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Review: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Royal Court

"How much you think we're gonna be worth when Freedom comes?"

There is scheduled to be at least another six parts to Suzan-Lori Parks' ambitious play cycle but don't let that put you off, the three hours of Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) are well spent in exploring race, slavery and the US civil war and how its pernicious legacy permeates through even to contemporary (US) society. Jo Bonney's production is not always the easiest to watch but then how could it be, rather it seeks to provoke serious thought and consideration about what it meant - and what it still means - to be free.

To take on such a grand narrative and possibly to alleviate some of the intense seriousness, Parks has playfully borrowed from a range of storytelling techniques, most notably the Greeks, And through them establishes her interpretation of the African-American experience - the magpie nature of Emilio Sosa's costume design with details both period and present-day, reinforcing the continuing relevance of its message. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall

"We are worth your shillings"

Marking the first major concert presentation of the show in over 20 years, The Hired Man in concert saw Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s 1984 musical take over the elegant surroundings of Cadogan Hall, for a glorious evening celebrating one of the all-time greats of British musical theatre writing. With a boutique orchestra conducted by Andrew Linnie, an ensemble of over 20 singers and a lead cast of bona fide West End and Broadway stars, it was a powerfully effective treatment of the material.

The Hired Man is based on Bragg’s 1969 novel, part of his Cumbrian Trilogy, following the lives of labourer and miner John Tallentire and his wife Emily as they battle first the hardship of agricultural life in a fast-industrialising world and then the impact of the First World War on their whole community. And supporting it, Goodall’s music and lyrics draws on English folk tradition, as well as his own melodious style, to create a soulful, stirring score that lingers long in the mind with its hummability and heartbreak.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10

"Come, sit on me"

The Taming of the Shrew

Christopher Haydon takes Eve Best and John Light over to the Villa Businello-Morassutti in Padua, to make me sure that the world is in need of a proper production of the Best/Light Shrew as they spar achingly, beautifully, with each other. Toby Frow's rambunctious 2012 production also comes up a treat with Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day equally impressing.



Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Review: Good Canary, Rose Kingston

“I can’t handle another book right now”

Quite the coup for the Rose Kingston this, not just in John Malkovich’s London debut as a director but in the English language premiere of Zach Helm’s 2006 play Good Canary. The two go hand in hand though, Malkovich having previously helmed its opening run in France (as Le Bon Canari) and then its subsequent production in Mexico (El Buen Canario), a clear affinity for the material bringing him back time and again.

The play is a hard-hitting, at times searing, examination of mental illness and how they intersect both with the creative process and the reality of being a woman in the contemporary USA. On top of the world after great notices for his first novel, Harry Lloyd’s Jack is mulling over a big bucks offer for the next but his wife Annie, Freya Mavor, is self-medicating her mental health with a hefty speed addiction and neither are clear what impact such a change might have on their lives.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #9

"Man is a giddy thing"




Much Ado About Nothing

Quite a bold gambit here, as Jessica Swale's Sicily-set scenes are interpolated with Jeremy Herrin's glorious 2011 production. And most glorious within that production, Eve Best's heart-breaking, life-affirming recounting of a star dancing is placed front and centre. So Katherine Parkinson and Samuel West are up against it a bit, swanning luxuriously but longfully around the Villa Ida in Messina, never too far from Best and Charles Edwards doing Beatrice and Benedick as well as they ever have been done.




Review: Dedication – Shakespeare and Southampton, Nuffield

“In the end, who knows what is true?"

Nuffield’s commissioning of new writing that is connected to the area has long been impressive (I still remember The Saints most fondly) and continues with Nick Dear’s new play Dedication – Shakespeare and Southampton, their contribution to the Shakespeare400 celebrations. The Southampton here though is Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, rather than the place and the subject of the play, a dramatised fantasia on what lengths to which their relationship might have entailed.

All we know for sure is that Shakespeare dedicated two narrative poems to him - Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece - and from these slim pickings, Dear imagines three competing, but not necessarily contradictory scenarios which are played out simultaneously. The patron in pursuit of artistic excellence or personal fame, the playwright seduced by the prospect of a bulging purse or simply the bulge in his pants. a pair of contemporaries locked together in swordplay or gay lovers dancing a pavane (great movement work from Siân Williams).

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room

"Everyone is sensitive to something"

Given the amount of writing that Tennessee Williams produced - not a year goes past without a premiere of some new short play or other by him - it's no surprise that there's a good deal of his work that falls into the little-performed category. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one such play, written in 1976 and now revived at Notting Hill's Print Room, directed by Michael Oakley.

In a St Louis, Missouri apartment sometime in the 1930s, a group of women spend a sweltering Sunday preparing for a picnic, illuminating as Williams so often does, the precarious nature of women's place in society. All four are single but at different stages in their life and naturally it is the youngest - civics teacher Dorothea - who is the driving force, believing she has the most at stake.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National

"We should show life...as we see it in our dreams."

The Seagull may be the most ensemble-focused of the three plays that make up Young Chekhov but with the glorious Anna Chancellor appearing as the mercurial Arkadina - her star cachet getting her out of having to do either of the other two - the attention can't help but be drawn to her and her extraordinary stage presence.

This may be the most well-known of the Chekhov plays being presented here, it certainly deservedly emerges as the strongest, and so David Hare's freshened-up version has little of the heavy work it had to do with the others. Jonathan Kent's production places it at the end of the three-show day deliberately, it's where it sits chronologically and you really do get to see the maturation of the writer, his ability to develop his characters and themes more dramatically effectively.

Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National

“People think there’s something deep about despair. But there isn’t”

With Platonov failing to even make it onto the stage in his lifetime, Ivanov came to be Chekhov's professional debut as a playwright. As such, it bears many of the hallmarks of a writer still coming into his strengths - having identified what he wants to say to the world, he's still working out the most devastatingly effective way of doing it. The first time I saw Ivanov has the distinction of being one of the first times I ever really enjoyed a Chekhov play, seduced as I was by Kenneth Branagh's portrayal for the Donmar in the West End (which also had a little known actor called Tom Hiddleston in it...), 

I'd be lying if I said I could remember enough about Tom Stoppard's version to compare and contrast with David Hare's new adaptation here, but Geoffrey Streatfeild's interpretation of the title character does feel a little less of an outright cock. Don't get me wrong he's still a Grade-A tool (misogynist, anti-Semitic, serial cheat) and 'mid-life crisis' remains the pathetic catch-all excuse it ever has done, but there's a real sense of the depths of the black clouds of depression that lie over this Ivanov and the social pressures that has put him under that offer at least a little insight, if not outright sympathy, for his situation.

Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National

“Whatever you do, don’t rely on your own judgement. That’s the worst mistake you could make

Platonov
 wasn't performed in Chekhov's lifetime and even in this radically adapted version by David Hare, I'm not 100% sure that it works. You can see the attraction in terms of the Young Chekhov context - a trilogy of the Russian's early work - but for me, the main pleasure comes in seeing the benchmark from which his later genius advanced.

It's not for lack of trying from Jonathan Kent's production, lead by a sparkling performance of disreputable charisma from James McArdle as an unhappily married teacher intent on spreading his vodka-fuelled discontent through the bedsheets of most of the local community, not least Nina Sosanya's Anna and Olivia Vinall's Sofya, with little care for the impact of his actions.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Review: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National

"Fuck the singing, we’re just gonna go mental"

A hit in Edinburgh last summer and arriving at the National after a UK tour, National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre co-production Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is a riotous shot in the arm for musical theatre and all the better for it. An adaptation of a 1998 Alan Warner novel The Sopranos scripted by Lee Hall (he of Billy Elliot amongst others) and directed by Vicky Featherstone (she of the Royal Court), the remainder of the run is perilously close to selling out so I'd buy your ticket now and then come back and read the review!

Our Ladies is a convent school in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, and its choir are on their way to Edinburgh for a singing competition. But it is less Mendelssohn on their mind than "getting mental", as their concoctions of cocktails disguised in flasks and lemonade bottles attest and having got themselves booted out of the contest, proceed to do just that, with a view to returning to Oban to try their luck in their local club - The Mantrap - where, rumour has it, a crew of submariners have temporarily put down anchor.