#154 -"Promising indeed" - theatre review, Twelfth NIght, 11/10/18

Young Vic

Kwame Kwei-Armah’s opening production as Young Vic boss has grown on me. This short, musical Shakespeare adaptation initially seemed neither fish nor fowl – it jettisons all but the bare plot and a few lines from Shakespeare, and adds songs by Shaina Taub that are nothing to shout about. The Notting Hill carnival setting made it feel like a particularly anodyne episode of Sesame Street. Then I heard Kwame talking about joy and realised the exuberance of the endeavour, plus the pulsating mysteries of love, sexuality and identity at its centre, had stayed with me. As a statement of purpose at this seminal venue, I realised, this is very promising indeed.

#153 - "Sketchy and unfinished" - theatre review, I'm Not Standing 10/10/18

National Theatre, Lyttelton

After Alan Bennett’s Allelujah!, here’s another political play from a theatrical great that feels sketchy and unfinished. David Hare’s latest gives us Pauline Gibson, a doctor who stands for parliament as a single-issue candidate, to save her hospital and suddenly seems set to take over Labour. But wait, her ex ex-lover is a red prince, and the heir presumptive. And there’s some #Metoo stuff going on as well. Though it’s funny in parts and acute in others, this feels like a mess, with too many themes shoehorned in and too many ideas left half baked. There’s an interestingly loose central performance from Sian Brooke, but I wouldn’t run to see it.

#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.

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