#196 - "Both intimate and distancing!" - theatre review, Anna 21/05/19

National Theatre, Dorfman

Headphones take us inside the head of the threatened East German heroine – played with brilliant brittleness by Phoebe Fox – of Ella Hickson’s frustratingly brief play. Anna throws a party to celebrate her husband’s promotion and their new apartment, but a figure from the past exposes layers of deceit. The technology feels both intimate and distancing – we watch through a screen, partygoers’ voices fading when Anna leaves the stage to vomit or weep - and audio experts Ben and Max Ringham get co-creator credit. It also makes a shrewder comment on the DDR’s paranoid surveillance of its citizens than Hickson’s script which is taut but, at just 65 minutes, far too skimpy

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#195 - "The meaning remains elusive" - exhibition review, Manga 21/05/19

British Museum

Just as I find Manga simultaneously attractive in its dynamism and troubling in its imagery (the infantilism, the violence), this show struck me as both rich and thin. There’s plenty here on the evolution of the art form in Japan from hand-scrolls through different fields (boys’ adventure, girls’ romance, sport, literature, politics) to global dominance, backed up with original works. There are sections on comic-cons and cosplay. But the meaning of manga remains elusive: what does it say about Japanese culture and why did it strike a chord outside? And the more disturbing side of manga – hentai, or manga porn, a huge business – doesn’t get a look in.

#193 - "Stereotypes are exploited as much as they are subverted" - theatre review, Royal Court 17/05/19

Royal Court

Tensions erupt among six women running an Asian skincare brand when a racist ad goes viral. Anchuli Felicia King’s feisy, challenging play deals in prejudice directed outside and inside the continent, pitting Chinese against Indian, Thai against Korean, and probing the desire of Asian women to “look white”. At times it feels as if stereotypes, relating to gender as much as ethnicity, are being exploited as much as subverted in Nana Dakin’s sassy production: there is an overall tone of bitchiness. But, as with the film the Favourite, it's refreshing to see defiantly dislikeable female characters with agency, and this certainly passes the Bechdel test. Plus the laugh-out-loud jokes are bold and confrontational.

#192 - "Morahan seems lit, then consumed, from within" - theatre review, Orpheus Descending 16/05/19

Menier Chocolate Factory

Hattie Morahan’s towering performance lifts her above the overcooked southern gumbo of Tamara Harvey’s Tennessee Williams revival. She’s Lady, a woman battered but unbowed by life’s blows until potential redemption arrives in the hunky shape of Seth Numrich’s troubadour heartbreaker, Val. As ever with Williams, it’s the hope that kills you, and Morahan seems lit, then consumed, from within. The doomed romance takes place in a corrupt and racist bayou community where the local floozy (Jemima Rooper) is a beacon of morality. Harvey’s production has apt contemporary echoes but the melodrama is laid on as thick as the accents. Morahan, and Numrich too, make it worthwhile.

#191 - "Larky celebration of old, boozy, sleazy Soho" - theatre review, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell

Coach and Horses, Soho

Keith Waterhouse’s larky play first bemoaned the passing of old, boozy, sleazy Soho back in 1989. It should now be thoroughly outdated, but this version, staged in the under-threat Coach and Horses in which it is set, still feels beautifully apt. Robert Bathhurst is the soused, much-married hack and wit, locked in overnight and reminiscing about cat racing in Battersea, carousing in the Groucho, and failed relationships. There are cameo mentions for Soho characters Muriel Belcher, Frank Norman, Francis Bacon and Waterhouse himself: his famous ‘egg trick’ brings the house down. It’s a celebration of the shared wit of writer and subject; both now gone, though Soho tenuously endures.

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