#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.

#137 - "Trump's chopper took off overhead" - theatre review, As You Like It 13/07/18

Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Max Webster presents a cheerful, lyrical modern AYLI here, where the court is a violent, polluting blot on the natural world, represented by the forest: aptly, the night I saw it, the chopper fetching Donald Trump took off overhead. Olivia Vinall is a perky, almost bouncy Rosalind, Edward Hogg a rather insipid Orlando, and their love affair is somewhat upstaged by the rude relationships of the shepherds and servants. Maureen Beattie’s dour, dreadlocked Jaques misses the character’s mordant melancholy, but this feels more like an ensemble work than a set of star performances. Naomi Dawson’s set is excitingly inventive, and the mood is buoyant.

#136 - "Layers atrocity on absurdity" - theatre review, The Lieutenant of Inishmore 05/07/18

Noel Coward Theatre

It’s ridiculous to call playwrights brave, unless they’ve actually saved someone from a mugger or a lion, but Martin McDonagh was undoubtedly at his most bold in this gleefully revived black farce from 2001. It’s a spooling riff on comic themes that brings together Republican terrorism, Oirish stereotypes and anthropomorphic sentimentality. It pushes jokes past the point of hilarity and lards them with gore. Aidan Turner perhaps lacks the true murderous edge of the titular INLA psychopath, but his starry charisma holds the stage. Michael Grandage’s production may err towards the pantomimic as it layers atrocity on absurdity, but this is terrific fun.

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