Review: Mare Rider

Written for The Stage

With more freedom than ever before, 2013 is surely the best time to be a woman yet levels of female anxiety have never been higher. Leyla Nazli’s intelligent new play probes this dilemma with an unsentimental and illuminating sensitivity, pierced through with a no nonsense wit.

Nazli studies the Turkish myth of Elka (Kathryn Hunter), a fierce warrior woman who appears to new mothers, having stolen their children. Here she has travelled the world “…skipping over the magnificent Alps to the end of nowhere – Homerton Hospital in Hackney” to visit Selma.

Hunter treads and twirls around the white sterile hospital room with a fierce intensity – she is a ruthless interrogator. But with a softening of her eyes, Hunter’s talons become caressing hands and we see Elka is also a healer who purges guilt and teases out forgiveness.

As Selma, Anna Francolini is a crisp bundle of roaring emotions. At points in her desperation she is as wild as Elka is herself, at others she cowers into the foetal position of the baby she will never see.

Mehmet Ergen’s empathic production gives space for Matthew Flynn’s kind husband to express his grief while Ben Walden and Dick Straker’s evocative projections bring a little magic to Matthew Wright’s utilitarian but stylish set.

Runs until 16 February. For more information go here.

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Thoughts on a party piece: Kafka’s Monkey & Kathryn Hunter

 

Written for Exeunt Magazinze

Above all else the thing that you take away with you from Kafka’s Monkey is that Kathryn Hunter is a truly exceptional performer.  As Red Peter, the sophisticated ape, her arms appear double-jointed and her gait is shuffling and simian, but what makes her performance so compelling is her eyes. Whether gambolling about the auditorium while engaging in some vaudevillian audience participation or huddling in the corner as she recalls her first swig of the rum bottle, Hunter’s eyes hold every single human in the audience to account: “Look what humanity has done to me.”

Based on Franz Kafka’s A Report to an Academy, Colin Teevan’s adaptation takes the form of a lecture in which Red Peter explains just how it is that he is able to speak, walk, and even drink like a man. He speaks fondly of his original captors and teachers; they may have beaten him but they only did so because they knew no other way to be, he tells us, rage melting into lip-curling contempt.

Steffi Wurster’s clinical set acts as a bar-less cage in which Hunter can perform before her audience – and perform she does. A consummate clown she plays the role of ring master effortlessly, beautifully combining both a need for our approval and disdain at our baseness. Hunter seems to draw energy from the audience, thriving on each specific reaction. But for all this interplay between spectator and performer, for all the hand-shaking and banter, she is resolutely alone on the stage and her loneliness at being the only one of her kind is palpable; it permeates everything she says and does.

Nikola Kodjabashia’s simple soundscape is suitably evocative but perhaps more powerfully it feels as if Kodjabashia is stalking Red Peter, puncturing key moments with an industrial noise that infuses the space with a sense of dread. For all its sophisticated touches, Walter Meierjohann’s production rests entirely on the shoulders of one woman – and in this respect Hunter is peerless. Here is a performer who has taken the material and made it her own; it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, anyone else throwing themselves so totally into the part of Red Peter. Hers is a hypnotic performance but at the end it is hard not to feel that this is just a showcase for a virtuoso performer.

Teevan’s adaptation is taut and potent, elegantly conveying Kafka’s original judgement-filled piece, but what is it really saying? Step by torturous step, Red Peter drags himself closer to human form, his distaste for man’s barbarism undisguised; human beings are the beasts that should be chained up. Both play and performance are making powerful statements, but the piece, taken as a whole, frustrates and dazzles in equal measure.

Review: King Lear @ The Roundhouse

Review: King Lear – RSC @ Roundhouse ****

Coming out from under the shadow of a much lauded Donmar Warehouse production (with Derek Jacobi as the eponymous King) the Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear emerges victorious.

David Farr’s exhilarating production celebrates Shakespeare both as lauded poet and enthralling entertainer of the populace.  Farr’s company breathe new life into Lear evoking humanity in all its grotesque complexity. Within this tragedy comes a bubbling laughter that seeps up from an Elizabethan text and into the gurgling throats of a highly receptive 21st Century audience.

Framing this contemporary take perfectly is Jon Bausor’s thundering set. An active player in each scene it fizzles, clanks and strains as chains and steel cables shudder, always threatening to envelope each soul brave enough to stand up on stage. Bausor’s design even indulges in a couple of guilty pleasures along the way; with a flickering chandelier hinting cheekily towards that lord of commercial theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Farr keeps this healthy sense of showmanship ever present but in the midst of it all the story is told with breathtaking clarity. The whole cast is gloriously well honed, taking the kernel of truth at the heart of each line and nurturing it into something unexpected. Tunji Kasim may lack the gravitas for a true Machiavellian villain but his Edmund has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Movingly the moment of reconciliation between Charles Aitken’s spiritual Edgar and Geoffrey Freshwater’s honourable Gloucester gives us a poignant reminder that the young don’t always destroy the old.

With Kathryn Hunter’s shock departure Sophie Russell more than steps up to bat, taking on Hunter’s intended role admirably. Her Fool is a bitter harlequin whose canary voiced wisdom shakes our King and his audience to their very core. Her glassy eyes see everything and there is a melancholy to each flick and twisted turn that envelopes her constantly shifting form.

But last honours must go to Hicks. His Lear rails against an epic storm before even a drop of rain is felt and continues to do so long after it has dried as his age besets him.  An often underrated Shakespearian actor, his understanding of each moment is iron cast.  Hicks plays within this sinewy framework vividly, resulting in a truly unique performance at the heart of an original and invigorating King Lear.

Runs until 4th February 2011