Here are links to my two inaugral blogs for The Stage Off West End column.
The beating heart of British theatre.
What defines fringe theatre? It’s such a vast landscape the possibilities are endless. Location, radicalism, financial constraints, the imagination born from those financial constraints – each answer has passionate advocates who constantly use their opinions as barometers to announce either its death or rude health… read more.
Political theatre needs to hit the mark.
As the TUC action of last weekend proves, we are living in protest filled times. More voices than ever are rising up against perceived injustices both at home and abroad. Into this cacophony the theatre can be heard through brilliant endeavours like Theatre Uncut, plays such as The Riots from the ever political Tricycle Theatre and performance art collective #TORYCORE. This is where the fringe and Off-West End artists come into their own… read more.
Written for Exeunt
Watching Rufus Norris’ rather cartoony pageant of a production, it’s hard not to think (with one eyebrow raised) that this Don Giovanni has been ‘a very naughty boy’. Norris’ is an interpretation that invites such responses. This is a world where kitsch rules, where love is represented by heart shaped helium balloons, metallic pink for a girl and blue for a boy. It’s also a world in which rakes become rapists; Norris’ is a blunt take on a piece that for all its troubling sexual politics perhaps deserves a more subtle interpretation.
Based on the Don Juan legend, Mozart’s Don Giovanni follows the sexual exploits of the eponymous anti-hero as he sleeps his way down into hell. Here is a deviant to rival Faust, a man whose libidinous longings and salacious subversions provide a cathartic purging for all good God fearing folk.
In the 1800s both men served an Aristotelian purpose but in the modern world only Faust’s desperate search for knowledge is still palatable; Don Giovanni’s own rebellion is now much more problematic. How do you best represent a man who is that most vilified of contemporary criminals – a sexual predator?
Verbatim rights & wrongs
This week I’m back at a subject that continues to niggle me – ideas of morality in verbatim theatre. When we use people’s voices onstage in edited pieces of drama, how fine is the line between representation and exploitation?…read more
Theatre buildings & communities
The oldest working theatre in the country, Bristol Old Vic, turned its lights back on last week after 18 months of refurbishment. This week warm reviews of its opening production, John O’Keeffe’s Wild Oats, show it is in as rude a health as it was when it housed rowdy 18th century audiences…read more
Lyric keeps it local
A blend of robust poetry and agile circus, I was recently wowed by Ockham’s Razor’s Not Until We Are Lost at Artsdepot. But it wasn’t only the stunning aerialism that captured me – just as impressive was the skill displayed by a choir of local singers who had been brought together for these performances…read more
Horror on stage? A chilling thought
When I read that the National Theatre of Scotland was to do a staged version of Swedish horror film Let The Right One In I got chills down my spine for all the wrong reasons. Horror is notoriously difficult to do on stage and even with the formidable partnership of John Tiffany and Jack Thorne at the helm it seemed a doomed prospect – after all the NTS turned The Wicker Man into a musical earlier this year….read more
And in the end…
So it’s pretty presumptuous to title my final Whatsonstage.com blog with a Beatles lyric used to signify the end of their journey, but I’m going to do it anyway because endings are what form the basis of this blog…read more
Written for The Stage
The adage ‘show, don’t tell’ – a precautionary note designed to stop writers from relying solely on description – could be put to good use here. David Weinberg’s Pericles is an enjoyable romp that moves at a sharp pace. But the expositional acting of this likeable cast is reminiscent of the classical fantasy films of the 1960s.
Still they just about get away with it. Philip Mansfield’s Elizabethan narrator bounds on stage before pulling us back in time to a cast dressed in reams of fabric and Greek sandals. Incest, love, shipwreck, comedy, calamity and a happy ending are all laced together by Mansfield’s fruity commentary and a cast of no less than 11 performers.
Jonathan Leinmuller is gallant as Pericles, the valiant centre of this adventure. As his tearful and silver-tongued daughter, Rachael Cunliffe manages to avoid the irritation caused by many wide-eyed and put upon heroines, which is no mean feat.
Alessia Alba’s costumes are elegant while Philip Jones’ lighting transforms this Homeric Odyssey into a mini-series, with blackouts breaking the action down into workable chunks.
Weinberg’s Pericles is old fashioned but it has a nostalgic charm that carries its audience through even the silliest parts of this epic soap opera.
Runs until 28th October
Written for The Stage
To the grisly sound of bones crunching and dirt being clawed away, Timothy Allsop’s Richard rises from a grave scattered with papers. So begins Allsop and Caroline Devlin’s R-3 – Richard III rebooted in order to find the ‘man beneath the myth’. As a defence of this slandered king, it is a passionate account laced with historical detail but relying too heavily on its own imagined narratives to be wholly plausible.
Allsop faces down the accusations laid at this Plantagenet’s door so devastatingly by the Tudor’s most famous scribe. Princess Ann was actually a loved and loving wife, while Richard himself was said to have a ‘great heart’.
Influenced by the research of Dr Ashdown-Hill, some of these reclamations of character appear authentic but proof is scarce and as they admit themselves, Devlin and Allsop’s Richard is ultimately as fictional as Shakespeare’s.
St Saviours Church lends some pomp and splendour to an otherwise modern interpretation while Matt Eaton’s colourful sound design fills the air with Richard’s memories and nightmares. Allsop’s characterisation throughout is too light and he is more showman than embattled king. But this is an intriguing and entertaining take on one of the Bard’s most malign anti-heroes.
Runs until 3rd November
Written for Time Out
With this accomplished inaugural show, the newly-opened St James Theatre is showing itself to be a safe pair of hands for more conservative off-West End audiences.
In Sandi Toksvig’s ‘Bully Boy’, Major Oscar Hadley is brought in to interrogate Private Eddie Clark over the fatal throwing of an Arab boy down a well. But after an explosion makes the two men emotionally interdependent, the situation becomes tragically clouded as we see both are suffering from combat stress.
‘Bully Boy’ is an empathic exploration of the mental cost of war, driven by a desire to confront difficult subjects. One of our most beloved polymaths, Toksvig is a skilled writer. But in her eagerness to understand each man’s damaged perspective she is unable to do justice to Clark’s victim and those like him. As such, this is a very western-centred account, in which disquieting questions about institutional cover-ups are glossed over.
Patrick Sandford’s production is as assured as it is expensive. Anthony Andrews is plummy perfection as Hadley whilst Joshua Miles’s Burnley-born Clark is a skeleton of explosive energy. The backdrop is stylised, but John Leonard’s realistic sound design shocks us out of any complacency.
‘Bully Boy’ firmly places combat stress in the spotlight. But Toksvig’s heartfelt play and Sandford’s polished staging are in danger of sending a well-heeled audience out with their liberal consciences safely appeased, never truly tested.
Runs until 27th October
Written for The Stage
What a perfect time to revive Moliere’s The Miser, a satirical comedy of manners inviting us to laugh at the money-pinching rich. Indeed the austere Harjinder – the eponymous ‘Kanjoos’ in this playful adaptation – could be David Cameron’s poster boy, he’s so hypocritically frugal.
Harjinder’s Gandhi-like existence is driving his children wild, just as his selfish grip is stopping them from marrying the people they love. Luckily friends and strangers are on hand with a fairytale solution.
Hardeep Singh Kohli wittily transposes the action from 17th-century France to modern-day Nagpur. His script drips with pop culture references while keeping Moliere’s joy of the ridiculous intact.
Co-writer and director Jatinder Verma’s vibrant production rattles along at a cheerfully bombastic pace. Each member of this charming ensemble sends up both classic and contemporary stereotypes with joyous abandon.
Sohini Alam, Danyal Dhondy and Hassan Mohyeddin’s music gives weight to the clowning on stage with some seriously classy accompaniment, incorporating traditional Indian melodies one moment and the theme from The Godfather the next.
As the nights draw in and the revelries of summer are forgotten, this warm and funny show is just the tonic to counter the cold pinch of austerity.
Runs until 13th October
Written for The Stage
Inspired by the Henry David Thoreau quote “Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves,” aerialist theatre company Ockham’s Razor’s new show, Not Until We Are Lost, sees them leaping through chasms of loneliness to find one another in a rich mixture of duets, group pieces and solo work.
In a promenade set-up, a wide-eyed audience is encouraged to find unique positions to view these journeys and create our own. Phil Supple’s imaginative lighting turns functional wires and walls into pieces of art, while Bicat & Rigby’s gigantic structure of metal monkey bars, poles and bars sits like a dormant beast.
It is brought alive to the sound of harpist Ruth Wall’s assured accompaniment and the delicate vocals of a choir – drawn from the local community – rising and falling to Graham Fitkin’s haunting score. Aural discordance and melody intertwine as assuredly as the performers do.
Above us, a philosophical subject matter is made flesh in an athletic display of circus. Not Until We Are Lost is not as intellectually rigorous as it is physically. But though it only scratches the surface of Thoreau’s quote, Ockham’s Razor’s unique blend of robust poetry leaves a beautiful scar
For information on Ockham’s Razor and Not Until We Are Lost national tour click here
Written for The Stage
Owen Horsley’s electric production of The Duchess of Malfi peels the skin off John Webster’s play to reveal the smiling skull beneath. Horsley performs a series of dissections in a sleek version that skates over 90 minutes and sees most of the subplots cut out.
The result is slightly disconcerting – narrative justifications are stretched so far across this slim outline that on occasion they are unrecognisable. But Horsley’s sophisticated mise en scene ensures that this story of persecution is clear in a rigorous interpretation that is as incisive as it is decisive. This sort of daring, intelligent work is what fringe theatre should be all about.
This empathic but expressionistic production leads from its heart and head as Horsley creates a piece of ‘total theatre’ with movement, sound, tableaux and text fusing together. Simon Anthony Wells’ simple design of six chairs, fizzing bare light bulbs and hanging meat hooks provides a baldly stylish background for this company to dive into Webster’s murky psyche. Helen Atkinson’s evocative sound gives voice to dark spirits with its eerie echoes and distortions.
In a committed cast Orlando James is particularly compelling as an impassioned and increasingly feral Ferdinand while Kelly Hotten is statuesque as the quietly charismatic Duchess.
More information about Eyestrings Theatre Company