#48 - "Galvanisingly surprising" - Gloria - 21/06/2017

Hampstead Theatre

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ galvanisingly surprising play begins as a witty but glib workplace comedy about whiny, privileged NY magazine folk and turns – via a devastating coup de theatre – into something much more interesting. On one level it’s about old media struggling to keep up with new, on another about how we process and repackage trauma. And ultimately, I think it’s about how we aggrandise ourselves with stories, whether in book, tweet or selfie form. It sometimes obvious but always clever, and a fine British cast of familiar faces and interesting newcomers, directed by Micahel Longhurst, navigates the evolving permutations of its three acts with aplomb.

#47 - "Knockabout and perfect for a summer evening" - Tristan and Yseult

Shakespeare's Globe

Kneehigh’s knockabout 2003 adaptation of the ancient chivalric love story is perfect for a summer night at the Globe. Here, the love triangle of the titular leads and King Mark of Cornwall are played out on aerial harnesses and a karaoke stage, in front of a jealous chorus of the unloved, and the panto overtones disguise the rigour of the cast’s physical comedy and musical playing. Hannah Vassallo is a pert, feline Yseult, Dominic Marsh a wirily romantic Tristan, but the show is stolen by Niall Ashdown cross-dressing as Brangian – very funny, and in ‘her’ account of the bed swap to disguise Yseult’s lost virginity, very moving.

#46 - "Achingly sad and technically brilliant" - Anatomy of a Suicide

Royal Court Theatre

The stories of three generations of women in a family harrowed by mental health and suicide densely overlap in Alice Birch’s achingly sad play. It’s a technical tour de force by director Katie Mitchell and a challenge to which the actors – including the lambent Hattie Morahan – more than rise, though it can be confusing to watch. Or, more precisely, to listen to. The onstage costume changes also distract. But with mental health and the lack of what’s euphemistically called ‘social care’ in the news, Birch’s play feels timely, urgent and honest, and Paul Clark’s music fluently underscores the sombre mood.

#45 - "Boyega's descent is transfixing" - Woyzeck

Old Vic

John Boyega brings a sturdy, magnetic naturalism to this tale of a soldier’s psychological collapse, created by Jack Thorne from the fragments of Georg Buchner’s unfinished play. Thorne moves things 100 years forward to West Berlin in 1981 where East-West tensions and the recent shooting of the Pope gnaw further at a psyche already fragile from childhood abuse, financial anxiety and sexual jealousy. Boyega’s descent is transfixing, and Sarah Greene is affecting as Woyzeck’s lover. A strong supporting cast make the play’s countless references to meat and bodies feel real and visceral. The portrait of indifferent authority feels timely, obviously. We’ll see more great things from Boyega.

#44 - "Timely celebration of science over dumb belief" - Galileo

Young Vic

It’s an apt time to revive a play celebrating science over dumb (and false) belief, and Joe Wright’s exuberantly inventive production knocks some of the discursive starch out of Brecht’s script. Some of the denser points get lost in the uproar too, but you can’t have everything. Audience and actors mingle inside and outside a circular walkway while trippy celestial visuals play on a planetarium ceiling: there are puppets, loud music, wry asides. Brendan Cowell is a rumbustious, bearded, t-shirted Galileo, who gorges on knowledge, supported and surrounded by a cheerful ensemble. It’s larky stuff that nonetheless reminds us how dangerous it can be to decide we don’t need experts.

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