#142 - "Lit up by McKellen's relish of the words and emotions" - theatre review, King Lear 27/07/18

Duke of York's Theatre

What a privilege to see Ian McKellen’s matured and careworn Lear, ten years after he played the part for the RSC. The sense of an autocratic monarchy is strong in Jonathan Munby’s production from Chichester, where sycophants won’t challenge Lear’s erratic and capricious behaviour. Regan and Goneril’s cruelty is partly inherited, though Lear’s madness and his sorrow are heartbreaking in the end. Munby’s 210-minute production has a measured clarity, lit up by McKellen’s relish of the words and emotions, James Corrigan’s delicious Edmund and Kirsty Bushell’s skittishly sexy Regan. Danny Webb makes a fine Gloucester too. I watched this on the hottest night of the year, and it was worth it.

#141 - "Tough going farce-cum-satire" - theatre review, Exit the King 26/07/18

National Theatre

In Eugene Ionescu’s challenging farce-cum-sature, adapted and directed here by Patrick Marber, a mad old king refuses to die, having ruined and reduced his lands. Wow, it really does feel like everything is about Trump or Brexit or both these days, doesn’t it? The 90-minute drama is tough going, as Rhys Ifans’s King Berenger alternately whines and rages as his spirit fades. All the performances are impressive rather than affecting, but Indira Varma is superbly chilly as the King’s main wife, and it’s nice to see Derek Griffiths back on stage as a comic guard. The National has never done Ionescu before and when this ends, you sort of understand why.

 

#140 - Wilfully exasperating and stupid" - theatre review, Pity - 20/07/18

Royal Court

It’s ages since I’ve seen a show as wilfully exasperating as this. Rory Mullarkey’s play imagines civil war breaking out in a Britain, through absurd humour and slapstick. A small British town is rocked by bombs and becomes a crucible of refugees, warring militias, cannibalism and disease. The acting is arch and overblown, and Mullarkey and director Sam Pritchard deliberately test the audience’s patience: there’s five minutes of groups machine-gunning each other to dance music, five minutes of stage-sweeping, then a pretentious Joycean monologue before the blessed end comes. Years ago at this theatre I misunderstood Sarah Kane’s Blasted, which covered similar ground but was streets ahead of this stupidity. The poor actors...

#139 - "Moving but never hits the heights" - theatre review, A Monster Calls 19/07/18

Old Vic

Patrick Ness’s child’s guide to a parent’s cancer can’t help but be moving, though this adaptation devised by Sally Cookson and a company of 13 never quite fulfils its potential. Matthew Tennyson is admirable as bullied, buttoned-up Conor who is visited by an ambulant yew tree that imparts threatening riddles as his mum is dying. All the settings are invoked by chairs, an aerial rig of ropes up which the cast swing and clamber, a whitescreen backdrop and an ambient soundtrack. The acting is fine, the circus skills fine, the adaptation fine – but nothing hits the heights. Still if it helps one bereaved or bereft child, that’s enough.

#138 - "Radical, urgent, but somewhat rushed" - theatre review, Allelujah! 19/07/18

Bridge Theatre

Alan Bennett, 84, serves up a paean to and a provocation about the ageing NHS and its ageing clientele which feels urgent but also somewhat rushed. Set in a threatened northern hospital, it’s radical: a cast full of old people, who sing and dance and talk about leakage and dementia. It’s funny, and pithy in its discussion of assisted dying and medical murder. But an attempt to stretch all this to cover what it means to be English feels forced and the arguments are sometimes obvious. Nicholas Hytner’s production accentuates the positive, downplays the negative, and has moments of deep pathos and exuberant joy.

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