#113 - "Fascinating material, insufficiently dramatised" - The Great Wave 23/03/18

National Theatre, Dorfman

Francis Turnly’s play tells a fascinating story – coast-dwelling Japanese abducted and forced to train fifth columnists in North Korea -  in rather leaden fashion. Teenage Hanako (Kirsty Rider) is bickering with her mum and sister when she’s snatched on the beach, after which we follow their parallel lives. She is indoctrinated, becomes a wife and mother, but retains a spark of independent identity. Her Japanese family become ever more desperate and dogged in the face of government evasiveness. Scenes and dialogue almost always take the most predictable course and Indhu Rubasingham’s production lacks and animating spark. Fascinating material, insufficiently dramatised.

#112 - "Shows a cruel writer to his very best advantage" - theatre review, Summer and Smoke 08/03/18

Almeida Theatre

Rebecca Frecknall’s stripped-back staging of Tennessee Williams’s thwarted romance enables the play’s emotional lyricism to breathe – the triumphant opposite of last year’s bombastic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Patsy Ferran seems almost skinless as Alma, the jittery vicar’s daughter in love with her dissolute doctor neighbour (Matthew Needham, quietly balancing her). The cast, including Anjana Vasan in a great breakout performance, are barefoot and basically costumed on a bare stage edged with nine pianos: it roots the play, stripping it of the hysteria that often characterises Williams. I still find him a cruel writer, punishing female characters under the guise of sympathy, but here Frecknall and Ferran display him at his very best advantage.

#111 - "Rich, affecting, arresting" - theatre review, Fanny and Alexander 02/03/18

Old Vic

Richly textured, affecting and visually arresting, Stephen Beresford’s stage adaptation does ample credit to Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic family saga. This is both a child’s and an adult’s eye view of the fraught but fond interplay of generations, with Penelope Wilton deftly imperious as the matriarch of a theatrical clan. Max Webster’s production earns its 210-minute running time, giving space for big emotions and big ideas to breathe – through Alexander, Bergman addresses God and Death, and also slyly suggests that art is more succouring than religion. The play’s aching humanity is perfectly expressed by Alexander’s uncle: “How wonderful life is. How terrible. How wonderful.”

#110 - "A hot mess, just like the original" - theatre review, Jubilee 01/03/18

Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

Chris Goode’s stage remix of Derek Jarman’s 1978 film is a hot mess, just like the original: an angry, gender-fluid, art-punk yowl against convention. Toyah Willcox’s Elizabeth I is transported to 2018 where the Sex Pistols’ nihilistic slogan, No Future, has come true. This is a world of aimlessly murderous youth, crushed by cynicism and fake history. The ‘plot’ is a random prowl through ideas about authenticity and authority, built around shouty song and dance routines and showy nudity. The cast give it a lot of welly and even though I didn’t enjoy it very much, I’m kind of glad someone is out there doing this stuff.  

#109 - "Great physical precision and emotional truth" - Theatre review, Girls & Boys, 27/02/18

Royal Court Theatre

I often feel short-changed by monologues but Dennis Kelly’s is a superior one. For one thing, a riveting Carey Mulligan conjures up scenes of credible family life in between direct addresses to the audience. For another what starts out as a deft and witty description of a working-class woman’s career and marriage morphs into something more chilling. The pert and angular Mulligan brings great physical precision and emotional truth to the role of the un-named narrator – part stand-up, part-storyteller, eventually a testifier. Lyndsay Turner’s production has a quiet, cumulative power and the domestic tale it tells feels relevant for the wider world right night.

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