Mike Bartlett is a promising new playwright. This is his second work to be produced at the National Theatre. The first being Earthquakes in London, and he is only 31 years of age. Impressive. The world premiere of any production is always exciting – there is no precedence other than reputations. It feels like a raw canvas upon which a myriad of projections may or may not appear.
At the beginning we do indeed see a myriad of images, of emotions, of situations blur across the stage. This play comes out strong and sleek. An entire city awakes after a night of a shared nightmare – the insinuations fly like shards of glass. A bad dream, a society gripped by immorality and fear is portrayed through an expertly staged opening. Scene changes are rendered seamless by advanced stage designs that turn in time with the story. These dozens of individual storylines are blended by the large, imposing set. Talented designer Tom Scutt has designed a machine-like cube which rotates opens splits and can appear both solid and opaque due to the perforated material. This really is the star of the show.
The story line begins by unifying a large, diverse cast of characters via a shared mutual dream. A cast full of recognisable thespians is promising. The prime minister, the protestors, a seedy lawyer, and a mixed race family are all disrupted by this terrifying dream – perhaps a reflection of the current state of society, perhaps a shared subconscious or maybe even underlying fear. And here the story begins to falter – trying to compress too many views and subjects simultaneously.
Where the first half of the piece leaves us in jumbled anticipation as to how all of these intricately diverse characters and storylines will conglomerate into a breathing whole, the second half of the play cuts and discards so much of what it has been painstakingly created. Recurrent dream sequences disappear completely to be replaced with an almost comedic dance routine. Characters
suddenly become side-lined, and arguments, which should peak in, merely plateau or worse become hollow. This jumbled plot creates a sense of bombardment – similar to that which our media obsessed world creates on a daily basis. Twitter, facebook, news updates, cultural highlights, reading both right and left leaning papers, that overflow of information and then – suddenly instead of finding enlightenment, one simply feels overwhelmed and undereducated. That is the sense this work conclusively portrays. The noticeable lack of focus and overarching plot leave the audience feeling empty rather than intellectually fulfilled.
In tackling politics, society, religion, and philosophy, 13 raises a number of thought provoking questions. However it fails to do this in any unique or conclusive manner. In the diverse cast of characters, there are a few weak performances, notably Kirsty Bushell and Genevieve O’Reilly who, despite having seen her in three diverse productions, always seems to play the same character. However this was the first public performance so I hope this improves.
In attempting to tackle so much, you clearly feel the playwright is overwhelmed after nearly two hours and suddenly thinks – oh no, I have to wrap all of this up in the last hour and does so in a hurry to the detriment of the work itself. In the final tableau, the audience even laughed at an Alzheimer’s patient suggesting she will take her own life shows how the play fails to hit the mark. If perhaps the science fiction like noise could be removed, the plot cleaned, and the arguments tightened, there is an excellent play hidden within. Unfortunately this draft, despite the imposing rotating cube, fails to reveal it.
13 runs at the National Theatre until the 8th of January 2012.
African Gothic is certainly not a theatrical work aimed at the faint hearted and those that favour mawkish escapism on the boards in London’s West End. This is a play designed to provoke you, disgust you, leave you with some quite evocative images burnt into your retinas and to violently stimulate your amygdala. If disturbing and challenging theatre is your shtick, then this is the play for you.
This multi award winning play was originally penned in 1985 by South African playwright Reza de Wet and this particular production was brought to the stage by a fascinating new theatre company entitled the Barebones Project, which comprises of a group of experiences actors, artists and musicians. Their objective brings forth echoes of Jerzy Grotowski’s Poor Theatre in that they want to create a stripped down and provocative theatrical experience that explores ‘the barriers that interfere with an actor’s ability to be present in his/ her fullness of being; our anxieties, artifice and emotional duplicity.’
This is the company’s first production and the subject matter is at times incredibly harrowing and, as an audience member, you are truly provoked and thoughts of the play linger around for days after- they did for me anyway!
African Gothic is set during the apartheid in South Africa and tells the story of the childlike and feral Frikkie and Sussie, a brother and sister who live in a barren wasteland, ostracised from any kind of human contact. The two central characters have an incestuous relationship, content in their own bubble of squalor and degradation. The other inhabitant of their shack is the servant, a taciturn and yet imperious presence, played by Naomi Wirthner.
The play centres on a visitor who delivers Frikkie and Sussie a message from a, recently deceased, family member. He is appalled by the conditions he is met with and the eccentricities of the brother and sister.
The Arcola was a perfect setting for this play as the audience are sat close enough to smell the stale sweat that lingers in the air and feel the ominous sense of foreboding that permeates the performance. The histrionic and disturbed Sussie is played terrifyingly well by Jane Gwilliams as she explicitly communicates the acts of a woman who is at times animalistic and sexually unrestrained and yet, to humorous affect, attempts at times to be vaguely civilised to impress her guest by speaking in a posh English accent. Gary Wright’s Frikkie is the strongest performance though as his emotional complexities are given space to be explored. There is a sense of decency within him although he is unfortunately bound by the misfortune of the circumstances of his life’s disturbing machinations.
The play is pertinent in lieu of the recent riots that have spread across England in its exploration of the mishandling of youth. In Frikkie and Sussie, you have two characters brought up unabashed, untamed and raw. They have defined their own brand of morality and have created their own world for which anyone who threatens it, will be punished in the most abominable way imaginable.
A terrific play but certainly not to everyone’s tastes.
Tosca returns to Madrid’s Teatro Real to conclude the theatre’s season in the form of director Nuria Espert’s 2004 production.
Tosca is one of Puccini’s three grand masterpieces along Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. Puccini’s crowd-pleasing operas have been labeled as too conventional by some, however I find the tonal orchestration and soaring melodies to be emotive and expressively beautiful.
The story of Tosca revolves around the performer’s desperate love for a revolutionary artist. The opera begins within the setting of the church Santa Maria della Valle where her lover, Cavaradossi, is painting a portrait. Tosca is jealous of the woman painted in her lover’s portrait. Unlike this year’s ROH production in London, this set is open and soaring. There is a large cast wandering in and out of the cathedral throughout the first act. Candles are slowly lit; nuns pass through on their way to prayer, laymen on their way to confession. It is a very effective scene before us, which is set. The beautiful chorus in Act I is vibrant and makes the air buzz with devotional harmony.
Act II presents Baritone Lado Ataneli’s Scarpia as a bishop rather than a police chief. He performs well using all the delicate cunning and deceitful power that this villain requires. Tosca’s conclusion of the murder by splashing wine an image of Christ on the crucifix was potent and appropriate. Soprano Violeta Urmana convincingly conveys her dismay and disenchantment with the religion that before that harrowing moment had been her lifelong companion and guide. She plays a strong woman who one could easily believe would attack before being attacked. The entire scene is extremely well staged and makes good use of the vast space that is Scarpia’s private room.
Cavaradossi’s “mock” execution by firing squad is brilliantly set against a stone wall, almost as if his blood were to become the paint of a work of art. Marco Berti brings life to this somewhat one-dimensional character and it takes a great personality to stand up on stage next to such a bold Soprano as Urmana. As the prisoners march in at the opening, children attempt to give the men water. A touching moment before the heart rendering execution and suicide.
I was surprised to hear booing among the audience during the final applause. But this is evidence of a much more open and conversive critique of the opera that occurs in Italy and Spain. Just imagine an American audience, rather than jumping to their feet tat the first sign of a falling curtain, instead remaining seated and vocally criticizing. Never!
Having attended both Messiaen’s St Francis of Assisi and Puccini’s Tosca in one week provided a well-rounded viewpoint of Mortier’s vast capabilities with this opera company. He has amply demonstrated that Teatro Real can both astound with a fresh contemporary piece as well as hit the mark with the crowd-pleasing classics.
Until July 28
Alas, I did not manage to get a ticket to Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production of Madama Butterfly at the Royal Opera House however I did take advantage of attending the free live screening in Trafalgar Square.
The setting was beautiful as the weather remained uncharacteristically dry and the sun trickled down, igniting Nelson’s column. The turnout was unprecedented as there was a reported 8000 people in attendance with a further 2000 sitting on the periphery, trying to catch a glimpse of this wonderful production of Puccinni’s classic. People were even turned away which has provoked a reaction that perhaps a new venue should be sought flor next year’s event. Picnics and bottles of wine were ubiquitous as the entire audience remained meditative and transfixed as we all witnessed the tragedy that befell the titular protagonist; and I am pleased to say, I did not hear one mobile phone ring.
Once the performance commenced, I was initially struck at the simplicity of the set with the creative team deciding to maximise the space; the only significant detail being the shoji screens placed at the back of the stage, which allowed for silhouettes to be cast upon them- the detail of which is cleverly utilised, particularly when Pinkerton returns from his 3 year hiatus.
The story revolves around BF Pinkerton, an American soldier stationed in Nagasaki, who decides he wants to marry a geisha. He is brash, arrogant, emotionally shallow and ultimately ignorant to Japanese culture, much to the dismay of his friend, Sharpless, who warns him of the differing attitudes prominent within Japanese culture. Pinkerton rejects this caveat and marries Cio-cio-san (Butterfly) but doesn’t take the vow seriously, confused between infatuation and love. He also feels that his future lies with an American woman. Butterfly however does take the marriage seriously, renouncing her religion and converting to Christianity which precipitates the abandonment of her family as a consequence. Pinkerton returns to America, leaving Butterfly to raise their son. After 3 years, Pinkerton returns with his American wife and this is met with great tragedy.
Madam Butterfly was played by Latvian soprano, Kristine Opolais, remarkably a last minute stand-in. It was truly an astonishing performance by Opolais, communicating her obstinate love and later the heart-breaking anguish after her greatest fear becomes a reality. The supporting cast were excellent but it was Opolais who truly stole the show, dominating the stage with a delicacy and unbridled passion.
The opportunity to see this remarkable piece of art for free, and to share it with 8000 people, is an experience that will remain with me forever and makes me appreciative of those endeavouring to spread our incandescent cultural milieu further afield.
Madam Butterfly runs for two more performances: 8-15 July
Cinderella will be shown in Trafalgar Square on 13 July
The English premiere of what Ibsen considered to be his greatest triumph is not an easy piece to digest. This, his longest play which, like Peer Gynt, was written to be read rather than staged, indeed requires from its audience a theatrical endurance of epic proportions. Emperor and Galilean, like a marathon, feels worthy upon completion. Originally intended to be nine hours, Ben Power judiciously trimmed this gargantuan piece of two parts of five acts down to four acts which together come in just under four hours with a cast of 50.
It is astounding that this ambitious work of Ibsen’s, despite being penned in 1873, has never been performed in the United Kingdom considering his relative success on the capital’s west-end boards, with A Doll’s House, Peer Gynt, and Ghosts being particular favorites. The last Ibsen production I saw in London was Ralph Fiennes starring in Brand at the Royal Haymarket in 2003.
The tale the fourth-century AD Roman emperor Julian the Apostate (Andrew Scott), the last of the pagan emperor’s epic rise and tumultuous downfall, is the principle focus of the play. Laid before us is one man’s tortuous search for a philosophical truth and religious identity. Julian, through his tutor Maximus (Ian McDiarmid), questions free will and destiny, politics and religion, the body and spirit. The juxtaposition of human conceits and folly to that of our great endeavors and aspirations in this one work is scintillating. In true Ibsen form, the text provides a wealth of literature, biblical, and historical references that stay with the viewer long after the curtain goes down.
Andrew Scott is truly beginning to make a name for himself. He was recently seen briefly in the BBC’s Sherlock and at the Old Vic in Noel Coward’s Design for Living. Each time I see him onstage, I am ever more convinced of his talent and impeccable timing. He somehow succinctly conveys the warring need for power and intellectual stimulation in this rather weak minded man. His performance was inspiring. O’Reilly’s character, similar to her performance earlier this year at The Comedy Theatre’s Birdsong, lacked substance. McDiarmid played the manipulative advisor Maximus frighteningly well.
It is due to the great capacities and capabilities that the National’s Olivier provides that this piece truly comes to dazzling light in this theatrical cathedral. Jonathan Kent’s staging effectively segments this monolith of a revolving stage. The death scene Helena (Genevieve O’Reilly), the multiple three levels created on the stage, and the ethereal lighting was breathtaking. In fact, it was the subsequent lack of levels and staging that somewhat disappointed in the second act. The military march through Babylon lacked resonance and Julian’s final death, after such great feats of staging, felt somewhat flat in this dessert between East and West.
There are a number of faults to be pointed out (Evian water bottle, confusing props, some fumbling with lines), but as the night I saw was a very early preview, I assume most of these will be smoothed. The contemporary screen projections with airplanes, the use of fluorescent colours on some of the costumes, and the camouflage on the soldiers all seemed at war with the epic tale being told. Somehow the details did not quite align in harmony. But so great was the tale, so impressive Scott’s performance that all minor criticisms seem of little import in the face of such a monumental production.
Harold Pinter’s Betrayal was premiered way back in 1978 at the Lyttleton and the play is just as strong today as it was back then and will not lose any of its punch if it is played out for audiences in 30 years’ time. This is because the central theme of infidelity is something that will always be a pertinent subject and it is becoming all the more ubiquitous in our highly sexualised age.
Harold Pinter understands this very well because this play was inspired by an affair he had during the 60’s with BBC Television presenter Joan Bakewell
Ian Rickson’s production at the Comedy theatre centres around a love affair between Jerry (Douglas Henshall) and his best friend’s wife, Emma (Kristen Scott-Thomas). It opens on a meeting between the two philandering characters in a pub. You learn that their affair has since come to its climax and we are witnessing something of a reunion. The play then gradually moves back in time, allowing for insight into the secrets, deceptions and exertions of passionate love that ultimately lead to the events of the first scene.
Through Pinter’s ingenious reverse chronology of the narrative, dramatic irony is used to powerful effect which, coupled with Pinter’s economical use of dialogue and the subtleties that resonate through each multi-layered interaction, makes for a beautifully pitched piece of theatre, although this production is certainly not perfect.
The cast play the disingenuous and reticent characters very well, convincing in their utter disregard for one another’s feelings. I felt tenderness between Jerry and Emma, the breaks in the dialogue communicating a much greater and purer intent, contradicted of course by their rather insensitive behaviour towards their respective friend and partner. These were two characters that had lives to lose, bound into a commitment through what they believed to be love, forced into secret meetings because their everyday lives were not satisfying enough; their love though not strong enough to break the confines of their prospective marriages.
The mise- en scene was also nicely communicated with a bed being present almost throughout the entire production- a constant reminder of the scene of the betrayal.
I did however struggle with Douglas Henshall’s arrogant and at times dis likeable Jerry. This is clearly a man in the throes of love and passion but that was not truly communicated. I felt there could have been an incandescence to his character that was sadly lacking. Both Scott-Thomas and Ben Miles were strong as the couple emotionally wrenched apart by their selfish actions.
Ultimately this robust production left me satisfied although I feel with a text so rich, so nuanced and so beautifully complex, I wanted more from the performances that felt, at times, a little sterile.
Tosca is one of Puccini’s great masterpieces and the Royal Opera House’s revival of Jonathan Kent’s 2006 production brings the drama to glorious life.
The setting is the eve of the Battle of Marengo as Napoleon’s army caused disarray throughout the city states of Italy. It is a moving tale of love, personal freedom, ideals, betrayal, and redemption. Tosca (Martina Serafin), Rome’s most beautiful opera singer is in love with a painter, Cavaradossi (Marcello Giordani). Act I, placed in a cramped, split-level chapel with the altar above and the crypt below feels too small for this much drama. However, despite the limited space, the soprano and tenor movingly portray the tensions and placations of two young lovers. But yet, the waters are not calm as political betrayal is underfoot in the form of a dissident escaping from prison and begging Cavaradossi to aid hm in his escape.
Enter the villain. What a vile, putrid individual is the Baron Scarpia (Finnish baritone Juha Uusitalo making his Covent Garden debut). He even purports to prefer to have his women on the run from him rather than swooning in romance for him. It is the fear and hatred that wets his lustful appetite. Charming. Uusitalo was so effectively repugnant in his portrayal of this loathing man that he makes the viewer’s skin crawl. While chasing down the escaped political prisoner, he arrests Cavaradossi in the two-fold aim of finding the prisoner and sating his lust for Tosca. To save her lover, Tosca must make the ultimate sacrifice to the hated Baron Scarpia. Serafin’s portrayal of this woman’s inner turmoil was elegant and emotive, her warm voice growing as the anguish in heart at the thought of being betrayed by her beloved god crescendos.
Despite the current cast being a warm up for the power cast to come, their performances were moving. The vocal performances where unusually matched in theatrical capability by this production’s stars. Serafin’s shining star of Tosca evoked great passion, sympathy, and admiration. She gave an accomplished performance. The only critique was that at times she felt encumbered by her overly elaborate costumes. Giordani’s Cavaradossi was a well-rounded, traditionally Italian tenor. Uusitalo’s Scarpia while menacing and imposing in stature, did eventually feel a bit repetitive and caged in by his staging.
Antonio Pappano’s conducting draws Puccini’s precision and passion from this talented orchestra. The elaborate, gothic set designs of Paul Brown are as powerful and dramatic as the plot. The monumental statue, moody settings, and in particular leaving Scarpia’s study nearly bookless were all well-chosen for dramatic effect. I left the production pondering what we are expected to give sacrifice love and how hope, in the face of great adversity, can make believers of us all.
Richard Bean has successfully transferred Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte comedy to the National Theatre Olivier’s stage. The play is moved seamlessly from Venice in the 1740s to Brighton in the 1960’s.
The evermore chaotic plot circles around Goldoni’s Truffaldino, Bean’s newly christened Francis Henshall (James Corden) the joker in the tale, who finds himself to be working for two “guvnors”. The first is Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper), disguised as her dead twin who was in fact killed by her boyfriend. The other govner is indeed, and most unfortunately for Henshall, Rachel’s boyfriend, snooty public school boy Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris). Neither is aware of the other’s presence in Brighton and a great deal of the comedy arises from Henshall’s elaborate attempts to keep each guvnor in the dark and himself fed.
What makes this rather traditional, predictable comedy shine is the seamless combination of verbal and physical humour. The text is full of one-liners and running gags. Of particular note is the dinner scene. Triffaldino / Henshall runs back and forth in an ever greater frenzy between his two employers all the while trying to eat as much of the food as possible himself. In between totters the octogenarian waiter (Tom Edden) whose performance of instability is brilliant.
Corden is back at the National with director Hytner for the first time since 2004 when he shone in The History Boys. Despite harbouring some doubts regarding Corden, he gave an impressive performance that even included audience involvement. On the preview night, when asking (probably rhetorically) where he should take Dolly (Suzi Toase) on a first date, someone in the second row shouted “Somewhere with tablecloths” to which Corden sharply replied, “Hang around after the show and we’ll use your shirt”.
While Corden is the undoubtedly the paper chewing, hunger motivated, attention seeking focus of the plot, he is surrounded by strong performances. Chris plays the twit Stanley’s public school arrogance to clichéd perfection. Daniel Rigby’s would-be actor is spot on. Suzi Toase plays the redheaded secretary right on the edge between a hard headed woman and a lady in love. Her comedic timing is impeccable.
What really brings this joyful performance to life is the musical interludes led by composer Grant Olding. Walking into a theatre filled by swinging sets the scene for fun. The following solos by the principal members of cast gives a feeling that everyone is here to have a good time and helps the nearly three hour show fly by.
Mark Thompson’s set design feels like the scene of a Brighton post card come to life. The numerous scene changes keep the story fresh and alive.
This is not something new. Many of these gags were already done in Noises Off. It is not an outstanding, exemplary production, however it is great fun and you will leave with a smile on your face and feel you have indeed enjoyed an entertaining evening at the theatre.
Following its run at the National, One Man, Two Guvnors will go on tour, visiting Theatre Royal, Plymouth (October 4 – 8); The Lowry, Salford (October 11 – 15); New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham (October 18 – 22); and King’s Theatre, Edinburgh (October 25 – 29).
I feel rather fortuitous, given that I stumbled upon an advert for Harold Pinter’s Moonlight at the Donmar a full two months before the performance was to commence. With that knowledge in mind, I swiftly snapped up a pair of tickets with the only drawback being that I had to suspend my anticipation for what seemed like aeons before I had the opportunity to see it on stage- woe is me!
The performance did not let me down as I was compelled, emotionally roused and drawn to constantly search for my own interpretation within Pinter’s typically tacit and nuanced play. The intimate Donmar was the ideal venue for this tragic tale of the embittered Andy, lying on his death bed with his long-suffering wife, Bel, meditating on his past, speaking lucidly and with caustic reverie of his past indiscretions. The two other main characters are their sons, Jake and Fred, who live in a dingy bedsit, both bedraggled and offer no sympathy and very little mention of their dying father, choosing rather to indulge in intellectual wordplay- a clear indication that Andy was perhaps not exactly a model father. Andy and Bel’s deceased daughter also makes a couple of fleeting appearances, to bridge the gap between life and death.
The performances across the entire cast were excellent, with particular reference to David Bradley’s Andy. Bradley has the face of a man who has suffered, worn away by the pitfalls of life and rendered in to a scathing, scabrous malcontent. This play was a meditation of the final moments of death, when you have nowt to do but to think of the most significant memories that have defined you over the years, when all you can do is reminisce and try and celebrate what you have achieved. There is no celebration of life through Andy however as he questions why his sons have not visited him which is never explicitly answered, though through certain allusions to the past you can safely deduct that his rather bitter behaviour has contributed to his loneliness in death. Bel, played by Deborah Findlay, acting as the voice of calm and reason, is a brilliant counterpoint for Max; dry in her delivery but with an undercurrent of warmth that becomes clearer as the play reaches its climax.
It is not difficult to admire the genius of Pinter, his superior command of the language, lines of dialogue which are eloquent and forever poetic and this play showcased his talents in spades. The set was perfectly structured, with the two settings placed next to one another that allowed for swift interchanges between the two scenes; and, owing to the intimacy of the venue and the standard of performances across the cast, it at times felt as if this was not a work of fiction but a tragic slice of real life.
Just last week Lyn Gardner, the Guardian’s famed and feared theatre critic asked “why today’s critics no longer write about acting, or at least not with any of the zest and descriptive power of their predecessors….The lack of attention paid to acting is a loss.”
Upon viewing, Tender Napalm seemed the perfect piece upon which to exorcise this critique of the critics. Witnessing Vinette Robinson and Jack Gordon’s approach these high-context characters felt as if there were needless excesses and a lack of the essentials. Is love really based on winning verbal duels? Their performances failed to move me towards anywhere meaningful other than the door.
This world premiere of Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse marks the first new play in three years from the award-winning playwright. This uninterrupted 80 minute piece begins with Man and Woman entering in a flurry of high energy motion and then settling into chairs at opposite ends of the stage. “Your mouth … it’s such a wet thing. I could squeeze a bullet between those lips.” There they both physically and metaphorically remain, at opposite ends of the spectrum, springing back and forth between sexual confrontation and a distant aloofness all via a seemingly never ending linguistic duel.
In the game of competing egos, both Man and Woman use super-heroes from comics, sci-fi ideas, ancient legends and fairy tales as places in which to explore the language of love and to contest rival interpretations of past events. The monologue heavy dialogue follows the basic principle of improvisation – never refuse an idea or image – and so take each other’s suggestions, however interruptive. Images of snakes, serpents, unicorns, monkeys, kings, queens and blood proliferate. There are suggestions of a violent world beyond our immediate experience, Ridley’s script is in constant flux as it examines the multiplicity of this thing we call love. Delving into these minds, I was struck instead by the lack of inventiveness. If this is indeed a dream world, then why not make us dream dizzying heights and catastrophic lows, rather than this flat line comic strip. They rarely venture into this fantasy world together as lover’s so often do, but instead remain in continual combat.
Gordon’s Man while dynamic, lacks emotional depth, his extensive physical work feels messy – riding a unicorn with the same movements upon which he directs a space ship. Robinson’s Woman lacks basic female qualities that could have shifted this piece into a realm of real depth. She maintains the same caustic lack of sympathy of any hint of warmth that she displayed as the Sergeant in the BBC’s recent Sherlock Holmes. Robinson’s eagerness to coldly contradict Gordon’s fiery, fist pumping Man without any tangible or remorse render her character one-dimensional.
Does an exploration of sexual love really need to involve pushing bullets and grenades into one’s orifices? It appears a rather self-destructive relationship that Ridley has created. This couple’s lack of compassion led me to stop caring. Rather dance around the issue, why not get to the heart of the matter. What good is story telling if it fails to move, to inspire, to educate, to enrapture the audience? I very much saw the Napalm, but where was any sincere Tenderness? Despite the lack of a conclusion, I left the theatre, glad that the production itself had concluded.
Have you ever longed to see inside someone’s head, understand the intimate mechanics? See things literally from their point of view? Sham’s production of Reykjavik so pushes and pulls one’s preconceived conceptual understanding as to the limits of theatre that the viewer feels as if they have indeed entered into the protagonist’s fragmented memory.
This multi-sensory experience immerses you into a man’s mind. The audience of no more than 25 is instructed to climb into forensic suits upon arrival at the Albany Theatre. This effectively removes the audience members’ individuality to a certain extent; putting the audience into costumes begins what is to become a continuous blur throughout the piece of the traditionally clear boundary between audience and performer. The audience becomes part of the performance.
Reykjavik, written and performed by Jonathan Young, along with supporting cast Sinikka Kyllonen and Steve Loader, leads the audience, willing or not, through the remembered experience of a man’s travels to the city in the wake of a Parisian love affair. This piece raises a number of questions as to the authenticity of memories and events long past. Much as the ice of the city is constantly in shift, so is “Y”’s, as the protagonist is known, own reflective self-perception. Foreign language, land, and love are all alienating factors. The story is told in a patchwork way in and around the audience in a sparse, representational setting. A blank space becomes a place of inventiveness and creativity. An umbrella, sink, earphones, chairs, and even dividers all take on new meaning in this clinically sparse space. The constant movement of objects, audience, locations, emotions, psychological states creates an over arch of projection that ties the tale together.
There was an effective balance between the planned and impromptu creativity that arises from involving an audience to this extent. Yet the audience interaction is never taken to such a level that it would change the actual course of the plot, it feels as if you stand upon the precipice without jumping over and at times you want to push the protagonist “Y” over the edge as he always seems to be holding back. Perhaps from exposing too much of himself to this unpredictable audience? Yet Young’s exceptional performance is all-encompassing. He utilizes all shades of the emotional spectrum and takes the viewer with him.
The final sequence leaves the audience questioning their own memories and generational patterns. By going so deep into his conscious, Young forces the viewer to introspectively ask similar questions of themselves. Viewing/participating in Reykjavik is a rewarding experience. Although flawed, it is a piece that makes you not only question what defines theatre and the boundaries of performing arts, but also leaves you examining your own memory recall.
Love, betrayal, jealousy, poison and murder – dramatic, operatic elements drive the plot in Rimsky-Korsakov’s beautifully composed Tsar’s Bride. The work dating from 1899 is a fixed opera in the Russian repertoire, however it is rarely performed here in the UK. In fact this is its premiere at the Royal Opera House. Another first for this performance is British director Paul Curran at the ROH.
It was a delight to hear an operatic work by Rimsky-Korsakov who is much better known for his composition of classical music rather than opera. The work, upon first hearing, is enchanting. In fact, he has composed 15 operas in total.
Kevin Knight’s lavish designs are exquisite – it is as if modern, new-money rich Russia has been transported to Covent Garden. From a pool terrace to the interior of the palace – the detail and realistic portrayal of the sets are one of the true strengths of this production. I was captivated.
The four-act tragedy, based on factual occurrences surrounding the death of Ivan Vasilvevich IV’s wife, follows a young Marfa, in love with her childhood love Likov. The Tsar’s choosing her, out of a line-up of 2,000 women, to be his wife results in disaster. The ever popular Marfa is also lusted after by the nasty Gryaznoy. The plot follows a slow, but steady growing tension that leads up to the final scene of Marfa losing her sanity. The performances, a number of the singers authentically Russian, were both tender and strong in equal measures.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s fold-inspired orchestral score soars dramatically through the opera house under the expert direction of Mark Elder. The harp is well utilized in an ornate, decorative fashion. The softness of the notes was at sharp contrast with the anguish on stage. The atmosphere evoked was decisive and effective.
The parallels between the 16th century oppressive rule of the Tsar Ivan the Terrible and today’s Russian mafia are clearly drawn. It very much feels a police state as the Tsar is sends his ruffian body guards dressed in all black and designer sunglasses to handle all affairs. There is an element of vulgarity in the nouveau riche extravagance displayed in the outer circle of the social climbing court, today’s oligarchs. This production makes direct comments about todays chauvinistic, wealth obsessed aspect of Russian society. It is also a clear critique on actions being carried out in the name of the Tsar, in the name of the state, for the people.
For more information, visit www.roh.org.uk
The prospect of this performance that in total was to take 69 hours, the Globe’s recitation of the King Jame’s Bible on its 400th anniversary, had me excited months in advance. I attended the performance of Act 2 to Corinthians. The sun was shining, the birds a twitter, and so I planted my bum onto the wooden seat, cushion free. If the apostles did not need cushions, then neither did I!
I had arrived with the great hope of learning more about this great piece of literature. An actor emerged, I was at first mesmerized by the fact that he had successfully memorized what seemed to be ten minutes of biblical text, then I noticed his ear piece. Still I was puzzled. However the next actress out revealed all. Her ear piece was so loud that I could clearly hear the woman’s voice reciting the text to her before she said it aloud. And so it went. Four actors taking turns in the recitation of this infamous text; an older man and woman, a younger set of the same mixed gender. The recitation was good and clear, yet because of the monotony of it, mistakes or stumbles were quickly noted. Something which I would rather be so entranced in the performance that I would not even notice.
Alas, despite my good intentions, the recitation was somewhat numbing. It was too easy to be distracted and my ears only picked up certain words like “burning bush” and “eunuch” before once again loosing the train of speech.
I only stayed for one hour when I had originally hoped to make it to four. Still I think it is an excellent undertaking, particularly for those zealous followers who brought their bibles with which to follow along.
Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, is a complex, politically entwined affair. Originally set during the French Revolution, The Royal Opera House’s production seemed to lack roots as well as a specific place and location. The stage, juxtaposed with a prison on one side and homes and offices on the other never really specified the setting. Ample ammunition in the form of guns never realises a purpose.
Rather than the actions, one feels more bogged down by the bureaucracy of the details. The singers staging felt forced, although the vocal performances were outstanding. Nina Stemme as Leonore nearly had me convinced that she was a man. Elizabeth Watts held the stage well and effectively dominated the mostly male cast. The stage only really came alive for me when the prisoners were briefly released, but even this scene in its staging felt lethargic and appeared as if it was only a mere afterthought.
Real drama emerges once the setting moves below into the deep dark dungeons where Endrik Wottrich’s Florestan is being held as a political prisoner. Yet still here the staging and political furor feels forced.
The interpretation of this performance brought apposite questions to my mind. Why choose this nameless time and town? Why not bring to the forefront today’s multitude of material regarding mistreated prisoners, which would make it all the more pertinent with the latest Guantanamo leaks, or even move it to China to echo Ai Wei Wei’s current plight? Such a passionate play requires a bit more spark before it may catch flame.
Walking into the lobby of Vienna’s StaatsOper is a dramatic experience in itself. The grand marble staircase and exorbitant artistic decoration are pleasantly opulent. Details adorn every surface from ceiling frescoes to a bust of Mahler in the lobby.
So on to Elektra. This one-act opera was first performed in 1909. The overall production seemed to lack a coherent arc of intensity. The performance was somewhat fragmented and this seems to be down to the performers. As Elektra’s (Baird) performance at times felt forced and rather egocentric. One wished for greater interaction with the other protagonists and a performance less strained. The lacklustre staging, set designs, and costumes did mean that there was nothing to take away from the singing. There was a certain spark missing from this production, one felt the audience losing interest and indeed a significant number began to trickle out of the auditorium long before the curtain fell.
The State Opera orchestra was superb, exhibiting great precision and intimacy with this complicated score. Strauss’s phrases, which call for a larger than usual orchestra, were well-shaped and each note carefully place.
Easter themed pieces across the UK on show this holy weekend to help you discover your religion or at least ponder it.
The Bible: An eagerly awaited recital of the King James Bible in its entirety. In celebration of the renowned publication’s 400th anniversary, the Globe Theatre is presenting a reading across 12 sessions in celebration of the oral tradition. A group of actors is to present the text, which was originally commissioned my King James I, in full; taking in total nearly 70 hours of recitation. One is not expected to sit throughout each session as late and readmission is allowed. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this Easter than experiencing this epic text come to life. A review will soon follow.
Barbican Centre, London
Italian theatre practitioner Romeo Castellucci will be presenting this religious themed, if controversial, piece over the Easter weekend. Before the backdrop of a renaissance image of Christ, Castelluci is to explore the concept of Jesus as icon. Castelluci is well-known for his perfectionism, in fact just a few weeks ago he cancelled the planned show at the Barbican, an adaptation of Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil, because he did not think it was yet ready for an audience. A follower of the Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, it will be interesting to see how this emerges in Castellucci’s discussion of Jesus Christ. Should you be more interested in the theological, self-flagellation side of this holiday, than this is the piece for you.
Part of the London Word Festival and Co-curated by the Henningham Family Press, are throwing their own celebration for the 400th birthday of the King James Bible. The book is to be explored through various artistic mediums including literature, art, film, and music in an evening of performance. From the Garden of Eden to Noah’s Ark, expect a lively theological debate to take place.
Port Talbon, Wales,
What better place than a non-stop three-day theatrical event to have a religious experience! Michael Sheen in association with National Theatre Wales is to produce this play across his home town, involving hundreds of volunteers as well as a dozen or so professional actors. Sheen recalls: “I first saw the Passion Play at Port Talbot when I was about 12. It was a story I knew coming to life in front of me. A ritual taking place before me. A town remembering itself through a story.”
The new theatre season is among us and what an exciting time it could prove to be.
The RSC has announced a season of plays that hark back to its illustrious history as it is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. An interesting article in the Financial Times enlightened me to some of the RSC’s triumphs over the years which are clearly myriad if I am to be honest. I was pleasantly surprised and excited in equal measure in the new-found knowledge that, in the past, they have premiered 5 of Harold Pinter’s plays that include one of my favourite in the deeply unsettling, The Homecoming which is the subject of a revival in the summer. The season also sees the RSC reviving two other successes over the annals of theatrical time; Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade and Dunsinane by David Greig.
The seemingly imperialist RSC are also premiering a play at the Hampstead theatre about a spacecraft designer and very much the man behind-the-scenes of Yuri Gagarin’s first orbit around the earth, Sergei Korolyov. The play is entitled Little Eagles and runs from the 16th April to the 7th May.
With the theme of revivals firmly in mind, The Royal Court are bringing back a play that they last staged more than 50 years ago. Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley deals with the effect the rapidly changing world is having on a Jewish family and is set over a period of 20 years. The play will be directed by Dominic Cooke who is currently enjoying success with Clybourne Park. Cooke remarked at his excitement of directing this play, “Bringing Arnold Wesker’s play back to the Royal Court after 50 years is an exciting prospect. Chicken Soup with Barley is an epic play that spans twenty years in the life of an East End Jewish family. It vividly captures a loss of political idealism, a feeling which chimes with our own confused times.”
And finally, two Chekhov plays are set for a revival within the coming weeks. Arcola Theatre are playing host in what promises to be a new imagining of Chekhov’s classic, Uncle Vanya. This interpretation has already received critical acclaim from both The Times and The Guardian and runs from the 27th April to the 4th June.
I have to admit, owing to a little snobbery on my part, I am more excited at the prospect of seeing another of Chekhov’s plays, The Cherry Orchard, which is showing at the National this Spring. Fresh from her acclaimed performance in the brilliant All My Sons last year, Zoe Wanamaker will be playing Madame Ranevskaya and Howard Davies will be directing. It is part of the National Theatre’s excellent Travelex season so some tickets will cost only a mere £12. The Cherry Orchard runs from 10th May- 28th July
Hamlet has attracted some of the biggest names in film and theatre to play the conflicted, surreptitious and eccentric titular protagonist, but as a self-confessed philistine, I reluctantly admit this was the first time I had the pleasure to see Shakespeare’s classic tragedy on stage. I was treated to a Hamlet with such intensity, life, and humour, I could quite contentedly take my seat at the Olivier to see it again and I am sure I will be just as encapsulated.
The play has become ubiquitous on the UK stage in recent years with Jude Law, David Tennant and, most recently, John Simm taking on the role largely to critical acclaim.
Hamlet here is played by Rory Kinnear, who had a small role as a peripheral character in the much lauded political comedy the Thick of It.
A character of Hamlet’s sheer magnitude, presence and complexity was inhabited by an actor who at first seemed quite unassuming and innocuous but grew in to the role with verve. Kinnear’s physicality conflicted with my preconceptions of the character. He has a receding hairline, is rather small and baby faced but my preconceptions were soon cast aside as Kinnear grew exponentially in a note perfect foray into faux madness and clandestine plotting.
There was a child- like quality to his interpretation of the character, his energy and vivacity running concurrently with his petulance and the humorous ways he would conduct himself in order to maintain the façade of madness. This was clearly a man using the pain of his father’s death in order to feed his convincing portrayal of madness like some masochistic method actor. There are occasions that he conveys the essence of an angst ridden teenager behaving in such a way as to incur attention.
Nicholas Hytner’s production brought the play in to a 21st Century context and there is a definite stamp of the modern era within this production. Every word that is uttered within the palace walls is closely monitored by a security presence- their appearance akin to a sinister group of government agents; clad in dark glasses, black suits and ear pieces into which they are always seen speaking suspiciously hushed tones in to. A pertinent and clear device to show the claustrophobic and increasingly paranoid milieu that pervades Hamlet’s world whilst also looking at the same behaviours microcosmically which have a larger significance in an era where the CCTV camera reigns supreme.
The surrounding cast are excellent with Ruth Negga flowing with naivety and vulnerability in her Ophelia and to give the play a further thrust of 20th Century culture, she turns to the modern band X and Y for solace in the throes of a mental breakdown- a ready reminder that this is a Hamlet for the 20th Century. Clare Higgins is also excellent as Gertrude who is at once both strong and clearly absorbed by guilt and fear.
The play was cleverly staged and crafted with simplicity, allowing for it to flow and the audience to be immersed in the tragic events. The entire cast made this a performance I am glad to call the first of and I am sure what will prove to be many, productions of Hamlet- and I am confident that this will remain quite possibly, the best.
Hamlet runs at the Lyttleton theatre from 15th – 23rd April
As I entered the packed theatre to see the triple Tony award winning Sesame Street parody, Avenue Q, there was a vibrant energy of opulent anticipation.
With the beginning of the show fast approaching, I had an unfounded preconception that I was about to witness a bawdy, vulgar and lubricious puppet show and in dialogue with my neighbour, it became clear he shared my sentiment. I felt this was going to be quite an edgy encounter that did for puppetry what Fritz the Cat did for cartoon.
My preconceptions were however soon dispelled because although the show did have its share of vulgarity, there was also an emotive dimension to the performance that I wasn’t anticipating but worked because it made the production more cohesive and gave it a degree of levity, which in turn gave the performance heart.
Avenue Q is set on a run down apartment building and chronicles the adventures of its inhabitants through love, coming to terms with your sexuality, and finding a ‘purpose’ in life.
There are some great characters such as the porn obsessed pervert, Trekkie Monster who is based on Sesame Street’s the Cookie Monster and the highly strung closet homosexual Ron and his housemate Nick who are Avenue Q’s very own Bert and Ernie. The Sesame Street comparisons were not just made abundantly clear through the actual performance but relations between the two also stretched to behind-the-scenes with four of the original cast members having been a part of the Sesame Street team- perhaps owing to their desire to flex their creative muscle in something a little more divisive and to move away from edu-tainment.
My particularly favourite characters were the under-used Bad Idea Bears who brought a darker flavour to what was generally quite a gentle affair. They were the Luciferian voice of puppetry seduction that tanked up the protagonist, Princeton, with Absinthe dacaries and tried to talk him into buying a crate of beer because, ‘it works out chea-per.’
The most prominent aspect of the performance was the wonderfully penned songs such as ‘What do you do with a BA in English’ and ‘the internet is great… for porn!’
Pertinent some might think.
The show originally opened in 2003 off-broadway and within 4 months, was showing on Broadway to packed audiences and has enjoyed parallel success here where it ran for 5 years in the West End and is currently undergoing a national tour.
All in all, Avenue Q was a wonderful night of entertainment full of sharp humour, hilarious songs and puppets engaged in quite explicit coitus. My neighbour and I didn’t get the vulgarity we were expecting but we were both smiling on to the streets singing about the wonders of the internet.
The production is currently on a UK tour. Check the website for details.
I knew I was going to the theatre last night but I had no idea which theatre, nor did I know what I was going to watch. This is absolutely true. Only when my friend (who had unfortunately purchased the tickets) went under Waterloo Bridge and rounded a corner did I know Waterloo East Theatre even existed. On top of that I had never heard of the Accidental Death of an Anarchist before. The reason I’m giving all of this seemingly extraneous background information is so you, as the reader, will know I went into this play with absolutely no preconceptions. My palate was clean, and I definitely wasn’t expecting what can only be described as some form of terrible assault on the senses that followed the moment the lights went down.
As I say, I had no knowledge of the script beforehand but watching the play I could see that it is a phenomenal, relevant piece of work and with the right direction the outrageous, witty, satirical complexities of this play would shine. Tragically for me and the rest of the audience, this interpretation of the play was about as intelligent and witty as an elephant on ice skates. This was made abundantly clear by the performances. The supporting roles of the police Captain and the Inspector were so wooden I wondered if I was actually watching a puppet show. These were only tempered by Nicholas Kempsey who played the main character of the madman and con artist. He managed to take the role so unnecessarily far I found myself watching something akin to am-dram pantomime, wondering at what point Widow Twanky would make an appearance. Ten minutes later I was praying she would just to break up the strange monotony of Kempsey’s over the top tics and this odd sort of bark he’d perform like some terrible catch phrase.
I tried to think of something redeeming about Accidental Death of an Anarchist but the problem for the play is that it is a dialogue lead piece, reliant on solid performances and mature direction. Since these two elements had clearly decided to take an extended holiday, the play for me was a total let down, however the complimentary glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the interval was very refreshing, although I probably would have preferred an entire bottle!
The most exciting production for me would have to be Terry Gilliam’s first foray in to opera with his imagining of The Damnation of Faust, originally composed by Hector Berlioz. Those that are familiar with Gilliam, made famous for animating Monty Python and directing such visually opulent films as, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, will know he has been one of the most imaginative and visually stimulating directors working in film for the past 20 years. The ENO will be hosting what can only be described as a must-see event, and something I strongly recommend, even for those not normally attracted by opera. It runs from 6 May to 7 June.
The Operatic pantheon, The Royal Opera House has something that caught my eye and involves yet another of the Pythons. This time, whetting his Opera appetite, is Terry Jones; and he has written a libretto as part of the up-coming Operashots season in a piece entitled The Doctor’s Tale. 8 April- 16 April
Aside from the ENO and the Royal Opera House, there has not been a huge representative force for Opera on the fringe for reasons that I can only imagine to be related to the scale and budget usually attributed to this form. I can now bring you the great news that has now changed, and the famous Kings Head Theatre who have now coined themselves, London’s Little Opera House, have put together an exciting season that ranges from a brand new production and adaptations of classics which include Madame Butterfly(or Bangkok Butterfly) and The Barber of Seville(or Salisbury).
And finally, if you are thinking about a cultural weekend away from the big smoke, or perhaps a romantic evening where you can enjoy a brand new opera within a beautiful, serene Essex- based country house (and no, that is not an oxymoron), then please check out the short season occurring at Stanley Hall which promises to be a truly unique experience.
After searching through the labyrinth of the internet keenly looking for anything exciting pending in London’s theatreland I have discovered a few potentials that will definitely excite audiences and critics alike. Firstly, Pinter will be back in the West End at the Donmar. A production of Moonlight will be playing from 7th April to 28th May and unfortunately for those relative early birds, it has already sold out but the wonderful people at the Donmar provide a small allocation of day seats at a sensible price provided you pick them up in person. Now, I know this may mean going to work a little late or perhaps even, dare I say, skiving, but those pertinacious enough will, I am sure, be duly rewarded.
Theatre company LOVE&MADNESS are putting on a short run of Dario Fo’s excellent farce, Accidental Death of an Anarchist at the Waterloo East theatre. Now, if you are like me, you would remember that the Donmar did a run of it many moons ago with Rhys Ifans in the lead role as Maniac and again, if you are like me, you would have been aggrieved at missing out on that particular performance- this is the chance to catch this hilarious play but ensure to get tickets early. It runs from 5-10 April.
Also, I’m very excited about the upcoming Globe season, which includes a celebration of 400 years of the King James Bible where actors, over a weekend, will read the entire Bible. I am very curious as to see how they decide to stage this and transform a verbatim reading into a theatrical experience. Christopher Marlowe’s, seemingly ubiquitous Dr Faustus will also be playing at the Globe in the summer. Exciting times indeed.
The Tories can’t keep theatre down!