#152 - "A milestone worth saluting" - theatre review, Pinter 1 and Pinter 2 01/10/18

Harold Pinter theatre

This celebratory staging of Harold Pinter’s short works, ten years after his death, with a cast of alluring names, is quite some achievement by director Jamie Lloyd. The first programme is of poems, playlets and sketches with an overtly political message and a potent horror of totalitarianism: the standout work is One for the Road, with Antony Sher as a silky interrogator. The second tranche of two sexually charged works from the early 60s – The Lover and the Collection – show Pinter trying to escape the conventions of the drawing room and dinner table, and though they have violent undertones, are played for arch laughs. Mood and tone inevitably vary in both, but the season – which continues – is a milestone worth saluting.  

#151 - "Stately, detailed, intriguing" - theatre review, Antony and Cleopatra 27/09/18

National Theatre

This is a stately, detailed and intriguing stab at Shakespeare’s Egypto-Roman romance, elevated by its two stars but let down slightly by director Simon Godwin’s always measured pacing. Sophie Okonedo and Ralph Fiennes are respectively a queen past their beautiful prime and an old soldier mired in drink, each using the other to stoke the embers of glorious memory. But the vicious world is moving on from them – nods to modernity include a submarine’s conning tower rising through the stage. The two riveting leads have strong support from Tim McMullen’s Enobarbus, and from set and costume designers Hildegard Bechtler and Evie Gurney. It looks fabulous.

#150 - "gloriously, beautifully, involvingly naturalistc" - theatre review, The Humans 11/09/2018

Brrrr. I can’t recall a creepier evening in the theatre since Conor McPherson’s The Weir. On one level, Stephen Karam’s award-winning play – presented here by its masterful American cast – is a study of a just-about-managing American family, frayed by internal tensions and external economic pressures. But Joe Mantello’s production also carries a looming sense of dread, and the hint of a supernatural agency stronger than the professed Catholicism of Reed Birney’s paterfamilias, Erik. The threat never takes concrete form, but it undercuts every character’s plan or professed hope. The acting remains gloriously, beautifully, involvingly naturalistic, and it is this, juxtaposed with the spooky atmosphere, that makes the play such a memorable piece of theatre.

#149 - "The score is subtler than the action" - theatre review, Love's Labour's Lost 30/08/18

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

What desperate extremes director Nick Bagnall goes to in his attempt to make this lesser Shakespeare funny. Part commedia, part panto, part slapstick, his production has plenty of energy and some merits but the humour is largely hollow and unanchored to this tale of courtly love. The acting honours are stolen by Kirsty Woodward’s dry princess, the limelight by Paul Stocker’s grossly caricatured Navarre. Ostensible leads Rosaline and Berowne play muted second fiddle. The eight-strong company is accompanied by three musicians, who provide a score that is intrusive, but also more subtle than the stage action, and which provides a moment of transcendent beauty at the wished-for end.

#148 - "As richly evocative as its source material" - theatre review, Toast 27/08/18

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

This adaptation of Nigel Slater’s memoir of the food and the family strife that turned him into a cook is as richly evocative as the original. Director Jonnie Riordan is also a choreographer, and it shows.  He whisks us fluidly through a childhood idyll punctuated by cakes and sweets but brought to an abrupt close by the premature death of Slater’s beloved mother, and his brusque father’s remarriage to the hated “Auntie Joanie”. Sam Newton deftly evokes Nigel’s childhood truculence and later his emerging sexuality, but above all the wonder of cooking and the sheer pleasure of eating – something in which the audience rather wonderfully gets to share.

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