#70 - "An opportunity myth-ed" - theatre review, Boudica 27/09/17

Shakespeare's Globe

Kudos to the Globe for putting a powerful mythical/historical female British figure centre-stage – a counterblast to all those Shakespearean kings - especially in the form of the wonderful Gina McKee. Shame the play isn’t better. Tristan Bernays’ matriarchal take on Britain’s warrior queen is a cloth-eared mix of archaic and modern language, and a confused attempt to say something about women, war, and (yawn) Brexit. Eleanor Rhode’s production mostly operates on a single pitch of quivering, bellowing intensity. McKee works in some modulation and has a physical grace absent elsewhere, and the two women drummers do impressive work. Otherwise, it’s an opportunity myth-ed.

#69 - "Extraordinary physical and emotional precision" - Oslo review - 22/09/17

National Theatre

How timely, how clever, how sad. JT Rogers’ brilliantly intricate and funny play shows how a Norwegian couple facilitated the 1993 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the PLO by treating the negotiators as individuals – friends – rather than mouthpieces. Toby Stephens and Lydia Leonard are on point in the leads – he jaunty, she cautious – but Peter Polycarpou and Philip Arditti really stun with their extraordinary physical and emotional precision. Bartlett Sher’s recast production from Lincoln Center doesn’t say whether this discovery of shared humanity ultimately worked, or was worth it, given what came after. But it holds out a hope – rare in today’s world – that it might.

#68 - "Subverts America's lascivious cannibalisation of its showbiz past" - Follies review - 22/09/17

National Theatre

Stephen Sondheim deftly subverts America’s lascivious cannibalisation of its showbiz past in this 1971 musical, where a group of ageing showgirls and guys gather at the doomed theatre they once illuminated. Though half the songs are upbeat, the tone throughout is mournful: the glitzy past is ghostly, age and disappointment are real. Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton are good as ever, ably supported by Philip Quast and Peter Forbes: but the central tale of two thwarted couples becomes a drag, especially in the closing quartet of sequences. But Dominic Cooke’s revival is worth seeing for Tracie Bennett’s wrenching I’m Still Here, alone.

#67 - "Lively, warm, slightly too good to be true" - theatre review, Lions and Tigers 06/09/17

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

As with 2013’s Blue Stockings, about women’s education, the Globe tackles another subject largely neglected by the theatre world: in this case the anniversary of Indian independence. Tanika Gupta’s play comes laden with swathes of information, which she lightens by tying it to the story of her grandfather’s brother Dinesh, executed for assassinating a colonial officer, later recognised as a revolutionary. It is a lively, warm, thought provoking work, although Shubham Saraf’s Dinesh is too good to be true: witty, clever, chastely in love with his brother’s wife, saintly in death. We learn, though, how the colonial experience brought a vegetarian who wept at a goat sacrifice to kill a man.

#66 - "Featherlight, nuanced, textured, idiosyncratic" - theatre review, Against 06/09/17

Almeida Theatre

I may never pick all the bones out of Christopher Shinn’s thrillingly challenging new play, in which a tech-nerd billionaire (Ben Whishaw) feels called by God to solve humanity’s problem with violence, but stirs only resentment. That isn’t the half of this dazzling work, though, which touches on the way we police thought and sexuality today and, I think, the impossibility of perfection. Whishaw is stunning: featherlight, nuanced, textured, idiosyncratic, utterly believable, and he’s matched by Amanda Hale in two roles as his current and past lodestars. There are glib touches – an addict savant, for example – but Ian Rickson’s galvanic production is a delight.

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