Review: Snake In The Grass @ The Print Room

Alan Ayckbourn has always wanted to be taken seriously, despairing of the snobbery that consigns comedies, farces and thrillers to the servants’ quarters of British theatre. He looks to redress this balance with his ‘ghostly’ Snake In The Grass, a poisonous Home Counties comedy dealing with family abuse. A tight three hander, it’s a cracking opportunity for an actress to get her hands on some emotionally ripping stuff, punctuated with one liners that would make a stand up jealous.

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Review: Julius Caesar at The Roundhouse

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Julius Caesar is Shakespeare’s summer blockbuster, positively bristling with action packed violence. It’s a miracle Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe haven’t got their manly mitts all over it. But maybe it’s Shakespeare’s premature ejaculation that’s putting them off; the first act may be dripping with quotes like jewels, climaxing in Mark Antony’s ‘Friends, Romans..’ (you know the rest), but the second feels distinctly limp. What a disappointment.

Still you can’t blame this on the RSC or Lucy Bailey, whose rich production bleeds Shakespeare’s grisly text for everything it’s got. From the outset we are thrust into a visceral world of wrestling men, sweaty with battle and thick with ambition. Rome is a city of warriors and revellers, with William Dudley’s floating projections of coldly postmodern yet classical structures and braying flickering crowds, offering little consolation or comfort. Bailey grips this chaos tightly, with the latent aggression encased in clever choreography and power play staging.

Greg Hicks’ Caesar controls the rabble with a cocky strut befitting a King. It’s an underplayed but commanding performance and he dies beautifully taking us with him with each desperate lunge and gasping thrust.  He is given a towering eulogy by Darrell D’Silva whose Mark Antony has the crowd, and us, eating out of the palm of his hand. Wracked with grief, this giant is crippled by Caesar’s death, silken in his deception and contemptuous in his triumphant manipulation.

Sam Troughton’s Brutus is less convincing, clothed like a white friar his piety is irritating and he struggles to convince with his guilt wracked soliloquies.  This Brutus’ love for Caesar feels more like a light affection, Troughton’s absence of passion completely taking the sting out of the infamous gasp of betrayal, ‘Et tu Brute’.  His bond with the lean and hungry eyed Cassius (a solid John Mckay) is more believable, but remarkably for a relationship at the heart of the second act, is terribly dull.  It is only when he is with his fellow conspirators that Troughton blossoms into a charismatic leader and in these few scenes we get to glimpse Shakespeare’s tormented anti-hero.

Bailey has delivered another meaty piece of theatre; if you love Julius Caesar you’ll relish this gruesomely classy production.

Runs till 5th February 2011.

Review: Fabrication at The Print Room

Jasper Britton & Max Bennett in Fabrication

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In the dark before the curtains are raised the soothing voice of Sophocles tells us that we are to prepare ourselves for some poetry; it will be hard, but all we need to do to enjoy it, is to ‘adjust to its frequency’. No wiser piece of advice could be given, when heading into Pier Paolo Pasolini’s elegiac tragedy. Fabrication is a beautiful piece of work but it definitely takes time to sink into Pasolini’s baroque style.

A darkly woven tale of self proclaimed regicide, Fabrication charts the disintegration of a father whose relationship with his son is poisoned by the tormented memories of an ominous dream.

It is undoubtedly a daunting play in which long image heavy monologues mingle with snatches of normal conversation that perpetually teeter on the surreal. But Lucy Bailey’s complex production more than matches this densely layered text, fully committing to both the most poignant and ridiculous moments of Pasolini’s vision.

Jamie McKendrick’s version is intelligent and lyrical, and peppered (thank God!) with shards of wit. Mike Britton’s hellish gravel pit stage impresses both a sense of wealth and discomfort onto its voyeuristic audience. In fact this is a production which reeks of class; with a strong whiff of Federico Fellini in the classical elegance of the costumes. This pose is carried through to the hilt by a compelling cast, led with remarkable integrity by a virile Jasper Britton.

Fabrication is not an easy night at the theatre, but it’s an intellectually penetrating one. If this kind of difficult, classy work is what we are to expect from the newly opened Print Room, artistic directors Lucy Bailey and Anda Winters are posed to make some real waves with this powerful new venue.

Running until 04 December