#55 - "Rough magic battles hi-tech" - theatre review, The Tempest

Barbican Theatre

The rough magic of Simon Russell Beale’s irascible Prospero does battle with some serious hi-tech in Gregory Doran’s rather aimless Tempest, produced by the RSC ‘in collaboration’ with Intel: there’s a partially CGI’d Ariel and morphing Hockneyesque backdrops for the Juno/Ceres scene. As so often, the new media interrupts rather than augments the live action, and adds to the sense of a disjointed evening. It’s as if the scenes between Prospero and the lovers, Caliban and the insufficiently funny clowns, and the shipwrecked lords, have been directed in isolation without a thought for the whole. Russell Beale captures some moving moments but seems simultaneously underpowered, and overpowered by the set.

#54 - "Those outside the metropolitan bubble would find it exasperating" - theatre review, Committee 16/07/2017

Donmar Warehouse

I was intrigued and amused by this musical drawn from verbatim exchanges between politicians and those who ran the charity Kids Company into the ground: but I can see how anyone outside the metropolitan bubble would think it exasperating. Unlike in its obvious antecedent, London Road, the music adds little but novelty value to a sorry tale here, where everyone acted for the best reasons but apparently with a complete lack of accountability. There’s arch pleasure in watching Camilla Batmanghelidjh and Alan Yentob mouth self-justifying mock-arias, while well-known MPs badger them in song. But at a stark 80 minutes the show never gets beneath the surface. And really, what was the point?

#53 - "Stagey and lacklustre" - Theatre review, Queen Anne 16/07/2017

Theatre Royal, Haymarket

It’s fitting that the RSC should redress its gender balance a bit with this thoughtful play about Queen Anne’s relationship with Sarah Churchill, written and directed by women. But the personal, political and religious complexities of the troubled monarch’s early 18th-century reign – and the painstaking echoes drawn with today’s fraught polity - eventually overwhelm Helen Edmundson’s script, and Natalie Abrahami’s production is stagey and lacklustre. Romola Garai makes an imperious Sarah, Emma Cunniffe a whiny and underpowered Anne, though part of the point is the tyranny of the sickly queen’s weakness. The realities of the relationship between the two women remain unresolved, and the ending fizzles out.

#52 - "Short and savagely blunt" - theatre review, Bodies, 14/07/2017

Royal Court Theatre

Outsourcing by the rich to the poor is the subject of Vivienne Franzmann’s short and savagely blunt play. Childless Clem (slightly off-key Justine Mitchell) pays carer Oni to look after her failing trades unionist dad, and surrogate Lakshmi to bear her baby in an Indian clinic. The child also appears as a teenager with whom Clem converses about life in Lakshmi’s womb. The rights and wrongs of these arrangements are too neatly explored in Jude Christian’s production (from which the actor playing Clem’s partner withdrew through illness on opening night) but the play has wit and a conscience, and is an interesting counterpoint to the Young Vic’s returning Yerma.

#51 - "Crackles with sex, threat and conflicted loyalties" - The Ferryman - 29/06/2017

Gielgud Theatre

Jez Butterworth’s wonderful play is, to use his own sly term, “unhurried” – to give its rich, dense humanity room to breathe. In early 80s rural Ireland a dead Republican returns to haunt a brother and a wife thrown together by his loss - and their raucous, cantankerously extended family. Butterworth and director Sam Mendes boldly juxtapose tragedy and comedy, sectarianism and whimsy in a play that crackles with sex, threat and conflicted loyalties. A raw-edged Paddy Considine evokes Odeipus and John Proctor as Quinn, while Laura Donnelly is heartbreaking and admirable as Caitlin. But this ensemble piece, triumphantly transferred from the Royal Court, sees youngsters shine as brightly as stars, alongside a writer and director at the top of their game.

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