Posts Tagged ‘ National Theatre ’

Or You Could Kiss Me, National Theatre: review

Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre
Dir: Neil Bartlett with Handspring Puppet Company

After the galloping success of War Horse, Handspring Puppet Company, headed by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, have turned their attention to humans. Or You Could Kiss Me, scripted and directed by Neil Bartlett, documents the final days of a long-term gay relationship. Mr B is dying. He is sent home from hospital because there is nothing more the doctors can do. At home Mr A and Mr B laboriously try to remember the very first days they spent together.

The exquisitely carved wooden puppets are spell-binding: they seem to breathe, to fidget, to sigh. As Basil Jones writes in the programme: “it’s micro movement rather than the macro movement that is of interest to us”. And these master puppeteers hone in on the small gestures brilliantly. The signing of a form, the holding up of a photograph, the settling down to sleep: these acts are given poignancy and weight through the juxtaposition of their familiarity with the lifelessness of the puppets.

As Mr B fades we are introduced to the couple when they first met, as youthful 19 and 20 year olds. These two puppets stand tall and muscular, they exult in their vitality. A set piece in which the young Mr A dives into the sea is captivating – and would be impossible with real actors. Or You Could Kiss Me is at its best in these set pieces: as the young couple play squash; as the frail Mr B flicks through photographs trying to find something – though he doesn’t know what.

But elsewhere, interventions from Adjoa Andoh (as a nurse, a house-keeper, a taxi driver and…poet) irritate and Bartlett’s decision to use microphones is misguided. We want to learn more about the central pair but clumsy props and extraneous people stand in the way, blocking empathy: not least the three people necessary to operate each puppet.

This play should be heart-breaking and yet I doubt anyone in the audience shed a tear – indeed the people next to me left after 20 minutes. The play’s strength – the alarmingly lifelike puppets – is also its greatest fault. Neil Bartlett writes in the programme that his script changed “at the dictate of the puppets”. Bartlett was stunned into silence by the craft and elegance of Kohler and Jones’ art work and the result is a fragmented and almost non-existent narrative which never reaches its emotional potential. The big picture is sacrificed at the altar of the small-scale gesture.


Theatrigirl’s Weekly Highlights

As the winter chill begins to set in, here’s Theatrigirl’s list of reasons to be cheerful this week. There’s Hamlet at the National, whimsical fun at Upstairs at the Gatehouse and Anthony Sher in Arthur Miller at the Tricycle. Brave the cold and wrap yourself up in a good play…

  • Or You Could Kiss Me, Cottesloe Theatre, National TheatreInteresting new puppetry piece by Neil Bartlett about how to say goodbye: an “intimate history of two very private lives.” The puppets have been created by the same team as War Horse.

    Previews from 28 Sept

  • Burn My Heart, New Diorama TheatreAdapted from Beverley Naidoo’s novel of the same name, this production, by theatre companies Trestle and Blindeye, is part of Black History Month. The play is set during the Mau Mau uprising in 1950s Kenya and focuses on the destruction wrought by the conflict on the lives of two young boys.

    28 Sept-2 Oct

  • Hamlet, Olivier Theatre, National TheatreHamlet is this season’s “must-have” – the Crucible is also staging a production at the moment and the National have commissioned a “prequel” to Shakespeare’s work (The Prince of Denmark) which will open next week. Rory Kinnear takes the title role in Nicholas Hytner’s production in the NT’s Olivier Theatre.

    Previews from 30 Sept

  • Broken Glass, The TricycleAnthony Sher stars in Arthur Miller’s tale of guilt, love and tragedy in 1930s Brooklyn.

    Previews from 30 Sept

  • The Drowsy Chaperone, Upstairs at the GatehouseA musical within a musical. A self-conscious parody. An anonymous narrator introduces and guides the audience through his favourite musical: The Drowsy Chaperone from 1928. Frivolous frippery.

    23 Sept-31 Oct

  • What’s On this Week

    Love on the Dole, by Walter Greenwood and Ronald Gow, Finborough Theatre

    Walter Greenwood’s tale of 1930s Salford in the midst of mass unemployment and poverty.

    “With their father out of work, the burden of keeping the family together falls to Sally Hardcastle and her brother, Harry, as they desperately fight to break free from the shackles of poverty.”

    Cosi fan Tutte, by Mozart, Royal Opera House

    Jonathan Miller’s updated production of Mozart’s classic – if rather anti-feminist – tale of the fickle nature of women. This ultra-modern production apparently even involves iphones.

    Blood and Gifts, by J T Rogers, National Theatre

    Originally seen in a shorter version in The Tricycle Theatre’s The Great Game season.

    “1981. As the Soviet army burns its way through Afghanistan and toward the critical Pakistani border, CIA operative Jim Warnock is sent to try and halt its bloody progress. Joining forces with a larger than life Afghan warlord, and with the Pakistani and British secret services, Jim spearheads the covert struggle.”

    House of Games, by David Mamet, adapted by Richard Bean, Almeida Theatre

    David Mamet’s thriller about the con, high-stakes poker and gambling, adapted for the stage by Richard Bean.

    “This is a confidence game, not because you give me your confidence, but because I give you mine.”

    A Disappearing Number, by Complicite, Novello Theatre

    A revival of Complicite’s 2007 play about mathematical patterns and puzzles and the men who spent their lives pondering them. This production will also be broadcast as part of the NT Live season on 14 October.

    Just the ticket: the dizzying world of theatre discounts

    Since moving to London last December I have got to grips with Oyster cards, am au fait with engineering works and know where to buy the best cup of tea.* But one aspect of life in the capital still confounds and frustrates: theatre ticketing.

    Of course, actually getting a ticket couldn’t be simpler – there are countless websites, ticket booths and touts – not to mention the theatre box offices themselves. But for those of us without a considerable disposable income – for those of us who have had to stoop to the level of Sainsbury’s basic curry sauce (9p a jar) – turning up and asking for whatever’s available is not an option.

    And yet, for anyone who knows their Coward from their Chekov, living in London is like being in a giant sweet shop: where all the brightly-coloured goodies are tightly sealed in seemingly impenetrable glass jars.

    And so we enter the dimly lit, badly sign-posted world of cheap theatre tickets. (As a guideline: I aim to spend no more than £10 per ticket.)

    Widening accessibility to the theatre is not a top priority for this government. And given the mammoth task they’ve set themselves of decreasing the deficit by slashing public spending, one can understand, if not support their view.

    But sitting in the audience for Laura Wade’s “Posh” at the Royal Court, I was struck by the uniformity of the audience – in fact, many of them would not have looked out of place in the play itself.

    Theatre is a powerful means of communicating, stimulating debate, arguing a point or simply of stirring the emotions, but its voice is muffled and its effect muted if the audience is drawn from a narrow section of society. Cheap tickets not only broaden audiences but they also serve to give theatre back its voice.

    Since the government announced the “curtailment” of the A Night Less Ordinary scheme, back in June (which offered free theatre tickets to the under 26s), things have become more challenging for the intrepid ticket hunter. But then this scheme always seemed too good to be true and indeed neither the theatres nor the theatregoers seemed to be entirely sure how the thing worked. So, although I mourn its passing, I rarely used it and am not surprised it is winding down (it will close completely in March 2011).

    So where to from here? The good news is that ANLO was only one of several ways of getting into the ticket sweetie jar. The bad news: even Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent suave incarnation of Sherlock Holmes – complete with iPhone – would have difficulty keeping track of the options.

    Charlie's dream come true: £5, non restricted view

    • The National Theatre is one of the best for cheap tickets. Their version of the ANLO scheme is called Entry Pass and once registered 15-25 year olds can get £5 tickets for all shows. The downside: it took them about a month to process my application.
    • More reliable are their day tickets (£10) – released each morning at 9.30am (but people in anoraks start queuing much earlier…). And standing tickets (£5) are usually still available at lunchtime – although the obvious drawback is having to stand, unless you manage to spot a spare seat. (This is technically NOT ALLOWED, but I won’t tell.) The NT’s Travelex tickets for £10 are a nice idea and beloved by their own publicity department but they’re snapped up quickly for most shows.
    • The Globe sells all groundling tickets for £5. Three cheers for simplicity and generosity!
    • Student discounts can get you so far but are sometimes only a matter of a couple of pounds. And many commercial theatres only decide on the day whether to offer these discounts.
    • Almost all theatres, however, have seats they have to sell cheaply because they are “restricted view”. Those two sweet words have served me well in my quest for affordable tickets. Sometimes this is only a matter of a safety rail intruding on your view and in other cases, it means you’re lucky if you glimpse the actors.
    • The Royal Opera House has £7 restricted view tickets but over half of the stage is hidden. At the Almeida on the other hand, my view was more than passable and at the Noël Coward theatre, to watch Enron, I soon forgot about the rail in front of me.
    • My prize for the best offers, however, goes to my local Tricycle theatre, who not only offer student discounts (though only on a Wednesday) but also Pay What you Can performances and discounts for residents. For anyone who qualifies as a concession (student, disabled, unemployed, OAPs), you can go to the theatre first thing on Tuesday and Saturdays and pay – well – whatever you can afford for a ticket.
    • In my experience, any website offering CHEAP THEATRE TICKETS is not worth a second glance and the traditional techniques of booking either well in advance or last minute are not by any means water-tight. You just have to know what is out there and be quick off the mark.
    • The Holy Grail, of course, is to befriend someone ON THE INSIDE. People who work for the theatres and theatre companies may have access to cheap tickets and might be allowed to pass them on. I live in hope.
    • Unfortunately, almost none of the above applies to the West End – despite seeing a show almost every week I rarely make a foray into the commercial theatres because the prices are just too darn high.

    It only remains for me to wish you luck on your explorations and keep spreading the word on those deals…

    *(V&A tea rooms IMHO).

    Danton’s Death: review

    Olivier Theatre, National Theatre
    Dir: Michael Grandage

    Georg Büchner’s 1835 play, Danton’s Death, is an emotionally intense and deeply philosophical dissection of the cracks which opened up at the heart of the French Revolution. Georges Danton, a moderate revolutionary, began to speak out against the regime’s reliance on the guillotine and Robespierre’s increasingly tyrannical rule. Robespierre turned on his former ally and sent him to the guillotine.

    In Michael Grandage’s production of this new version of the play, by Howard Brenton, self-destruction is the order of the day. Christopher Oram’s high-walled, hexagonal set becomes a crucible in which language is the catalyst for the events of the play.

    Elliot Levey as Robespierre is reptilianly cold-blooded, manipulating the people with ease. His controlled nasal drawl is in stark contrast to Toby Stephen’s Danton. Occasionally in danger of veering into stereotype, this Danton is a high-minded libertine. Büchner’s bleak philosophy feeds into his every line and Stephens expertly communicates the fatigue and world-weariness behind the darkly comic lines. The night before his execution, sleeping in a lice-ridden cell, for example, Danton quips that it is not the lice but the worms he is worried about.

    Whilst Büchner’s men are masterpieces in psychological credibility, the few women who feature in the play are largely unconvincing. Kirsty Bushell does her best with the difficult role of Danton’s wife and Rebecca O’Mara makes what she can of the mad Lucile.

    The final coup de theatre, though rather different in tone from the rest of the piece, is truly shocking and a wonderful reminder of the power of stage-craft.

    Brenton’s version of Büchner’s classic strips the play down to its core: the people of France are banished from the stage. This is not a study of revolution, but a study of the disintegration of human relationships. In closing down Büchner’s original, Grandage and Brenton have given the text a wider relevance.


    London Assurance

    Olivier Theatre, National Theatre


    Dir: Nicholas Hytner

    Nicholas Hytner’s production of London Assurance is a master-class in frivolity and farce. Irish playwright, Dion Boucicault’s rarely-performed piece may have been written in the era of Dickens, but his characters are more Wodehouse than Bleak House. Ageing fop, Sir Harcourt Courtly (Simon Russell Beale), leaves London and travels to the country in the middle of the season to marry (and indeed meet) his betrothed, Grace Harkaway (Michelle Terry). Whilst there, however, he encounters the hunting-obsessed Lady Gay Spanker (Fiona Shaw): hilarity ensues.

    As the self-professed “weather-vane of the beau-monde”, Simon Russell Beale is delectably grotesque. He prances and poses, en pointe; his face is cartoonishly expressive. Fiona Shaw throws herself into the part of Lady Gay with abandon. She gabbles like a race commentator, slaps her horsewhip against her riding boots and whinnies like one of the mares she so adores. Both Shaw and Beale have impeccable comic timing and their shared scenes are a treat.

    Richard Briers, as Gay’s doddering husband, provides some of the best moments of the production. Michelle Terry and Paul Ready put in solid performances as the improbable young lovers, Grace Harkaway and Charles Harcout. Nick Sampson as Harcourt’s valet, Cool, is the unflustered Jeeves of the play while Tony Jayawardena is suitably annoying as country attorney, Meddle.

    Mark Thompson’s set is magnificent. His design is as much a part of the comedy as the text – from Harcourt’s plush London flat to the rugged interior of Grace’s country house, complete with rickety chandelier and unsteady animal head trophies around the walls.

    If the play has a fault, it is that it feels like a vehicle for the two central performances. But when those performances are this good, one would be a fool to care.



    What’s On this week: Highlights

    The Road to Mecca, by Athol Fugard, Arcola, Studio 1

    Miss Helen is facing the biggest decision of her life. After spending fifteen years transforming her house into a haven of light and colour against the desolate South African plains, a darkness has set in. Rejected by the deeply religious South African community and with only an idealistic young friend to fight for her, will Miss Helen be forced from her personal Mecca?”

    Welcome to Thebes, by Moira Buffini, Olivier Theatre, National Theatre

    A new play by writer-in-residence at the National Theatre Studio, Moira Buffini (whose play, Handbagged, is currently playing as part of the Tricycle’s Women, Power and Politics season).

    “Faced with an impoverished population, a shattered infrastructure and a volatile army, the first democratic president of Thebes, Eurydice, promises peace to her nation. Without the aid of Theseus, the leader of the vastly wealthy state of Athens, she doesn’t stand a chance. But Theseus is arrogant, mercurial and motivated by profit.”

    Manon, by Jules Massenet, conducted by Antonio Pappano, Royal Opera House

    Director Laurent Pelly (who also oversaw the ROH’s La Fille du Régiment) brings Massenet’s tragic tale to the stage.

    “Manon evokes in its designs and action all the colour, the life and the disturbing social underside of Paris in the 1880s, when the opera was written.

    The story’s theme is familiar and powerful: a naive young woman is drawn into a world of men, torn between love and luxury, unable to resist the wrong things and paying the ultimate price.”

    As You Like It / The Tempest – The Bridge Project, The Old Vic

    Sam Mendes cross-Atlantic troupe tackle two of Shakespeare’s most complex plays.

    As You Like It, with its pastoral setting and cross-dressing characters, has a healthy dose of mischief and mayhem. The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s later plays, takes place on an enchanted island and simmers with repressed darkness and disaster.

    Sucker Punch, by Roy Williams, The Royal Court Theatre

    Roy Williams’ dynamic play about being young and Black in the 80s is getting rave reviews.

    back on what it was like to be young and Black in the 80s and asks if the right battles have been fought, let alone won.

    What’s On this Week – Highlights

    After the Dance, by Terence Rattigan, Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre

    “As the world races towards catastrophe, a crowd of Mayfair socialites party their way to oblivion. At its centre is David, who idles away his sober moments researching a futile book until the beautiful Helen decides to save him, shattering his marriage and learning too late the depth of both David’s indolence and his wife’s undeclared love. But with finances about to crash and humanity on the brink of global conflict, the drink keeps flowing and the revellers dance on.”

    Carmen, by Georges Bizet, Royal Opera House

    Bizet’s world-famous opera and undeniably catchy tunes come to the Royal Opera House…

    “It has everything from intimate solos to rousing choruses – the seductive Habanera and the Toreador’s Song are just two of its many familiar melodies. And right at the centre of this musical drama is the deadly passion of Carmen herself and the devastating effect she has on the men she ensnares. But this time she pushes one victim, Don José, too far for her own good…”

    This production will also be broadcast on a big screen in Trafalgar Square on 8th June.

    Dr Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe, adapted by Third Party Productions, New Diorama Theatre

    Marlowe’s tale of ambition, desire and the occult gets a facelift courtesy of Third Party Productions. Expect “dance, song, the dulcet tones of the ukulele: a touch of ventriloquism; smoke, mirrors and cheap tricks.” You have been warned…

    Women, Power and Politics: Now and Then, Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn

    A festival of new plays commissioned by the Tricycle. Part One, “Then”, is made up of four plays dealing with such meaty subjects as the reign of Elizabeth I, the suffragette movement and Margaret Thatcher.

    “Now”, which runs in tandem (see for exact dates) has a play about Margaret Beckett (which was featured on Radio 4’s Start the Week this morning), a piece by Sue Townsend and verbatim accounts from leading politicians. Review to come soon from theatrigirl…

    Calamity Jane, by Charles K Freeman and Sammy Fain, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

    At the other end of the feminist spectrum is this week’s fringe offering – a stage version of the story made famous by Doris Day in the 1953 film.

    “In the wild-west outpost of Deadwood City, 1876, we find the sharpshooting tomboy, CALAMITY JANE surrounded by cowboys, townsfolk, and the famous Wild Bill Hickok. After a mix-up in the talent pool at Deadwood’s saloon-theatre, ‘Calam’ goes to Chicago to import to Deadwood the glamorous actress, Adelaid Adams, but returns by mistake with her maid, Katie Brown instead. Back in Deadwood, Katie’s inability to perform is overcome as she wins the heart of the young Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin, and when Calam sheds her tomboy persona at a ball at the local Fort and becomes a true woman, she realises that she loves Wild Bill Hickok.”

    The Habit of Art, review

    The Habit of Art, Alan Bennett
    National Theatre
    Dir. Nicholas Hytner

    Auden has become a bore; Britten is paralysed by artistic doubts. Humphrey Carpenter, who later wrote both their biographies, floats on the periphery to provide what JD Salinger famously called ‘all the David Copperfield kind of crap.’ In The Habit of Art, Bennett brings the two artists together for a final (fictional) encounter and, in so doing, creates a play which explores the difficulties of recording a life: ‘I want to hear about the shortcomings of great men, their fears and their failings. I’ve had enough of their vision.’

    We watch this play, though, at one remove: through the murky glass of a rather shambolic rehearsal. Richard Griffiths portrays, not only Auden, but also Fitz – the actor playing Auden; Alex Jennings plays not only Britten, but also Henry, the actor putting in his usual ‘plodding’ performance. And while a “play-within-a-play” can be a means of adding philosophical depth or knowing parody, Bennett’s “Russian doll” structure appears to be largely an attempt to excuse the play’s flaws, and smacks, instead, of navel-gazing.

    The considerable strength of the play, however, lies with the characters at its core: Griffiths as Fitz and Auden effortlessly communicates the world-weariness of both actor and poet. Jennings as Henry and Britten presents a masterclass in pained restraint: what Auden in the play calls ‘England…taste, modesty’. The first half often shows Bennett at his best: here a joke seemingly out of nowhere, there an astute observation about life and art. Nicholas Hytner’s production is polished and lets Bennett’s erudite script take centre-stage. This is a work in which wit permeates every line and which, like The History Boys, wears its learning amiably on its sleeve.

    The end of the play, however, is misjudged. Bennett has not one, but two plays to end: and he manages to conclude neither convincingly. Fitz interrupts, the Author dictates while Frances de la Tour’s mother-hen of a stage manager coaxes them all to the finishing line (‘Come on. Last lap’). In the final moments of the play, de la Tour delivers a bizarre eulogy to the National Theatre. Given that so much of the play is concerned with the people who are ‘left out’ (the rent boy, the author, the “real” Humphrey Carpenter), the decision to include a speech which immediately and drastically shrinks the play’s circle of relevance, seems short-sighted. Apart from anything else, it wipes out, at one fell swoop, any chance of a nationwide tour.

    The Habit of Art feels, appropriately enough, like a work-in-progress: the script gives the impression of being the preparatory notes to a more polished and decisive play. In a diary entry from 1999, Bennett stumbles across notes he wrote for his play The Lady in the Van and finds himself ‘feeling…that [the finished play] is slightly to the side of a play I wanted to write.’ The Habit of Art, it seems, is the marginal annotation to the side of what could have been a much better play.


    Women Beware Women, review

    Olivier Theatre, National Theatre
    Dir: Marianne Elliott

    Incest, rape and murder: Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women ticks all the gruesome boxes of Jacobean tragedy. Marianne Eliott’s production in the National’s Olivier Theatre is a feast for the eyes and gorges on the extravagance of the text. Yet in shifting the action to a more modern era, Elliott loses something of the voyeurism and callousness of Middleton’s work.

    Like a seventeenth-century version of ‘Hello’ magazine, Women Beware Women brought Londoners the story of scandalous events in the Florentine Medici household. Spiced up, naturally. The Duke’s lecherous eye is drawn to the beautiful, but recently married, Bianca (Lauren O’Neil), while another young lady – Isabella (played by newcomer Vanessa Kirby) – is torn between an incestuous love for her uncle and the ridiculous buffoon she has to marry. The lynch-pin of the play, and its amoral compass is Livia, a woman who makes Lady Macbeth look docile. The finale – and I trust I am not giving too much away – is a bloodbath.

    As said lynch-pin, Harriet Walker is wonderful. Her Livia is part Hedda Gabler, part Cruella de Vil. Walker revels in Livia’s solipsistic manipulations, agonising for barely a second when playing the pandar to an incestuous liaison, and hesitating even less when enabling the Duke’s rape of Bianca, by distracting Bianca’s mother-in-law with a game of chess. Elsewhere, Samuel Barnett is rather miscast as the cuckolded husband but manages wide-eyed naivety well. As Isabella’s over-loving uncle, Raymond Coulthard effortlessly commands the audience’s attention and creates the only real poignancy in this otherwise hollow tragic vision.

    Design is key to this production and Lez Brotherston’s set is one of the strengths of the evening: making use of the Olivier’s rotating central disc, the set, built around a classical arch, flips between the splendour of the courts and the grubbiness of Florence’s backstreets. Olly Fox’s music helps conjure an atmosphere of corruption and decadence: sacred chants drown out the sound of screaming and bluesy jazz seduces the audience into complicity. Marianne Elliott’s decision to move the action to the Fellini-inspired 60s, however, results in confusion: the central arch bears the letters COSIMVS MEDICE. Middleton may have embellished events, but the play nevertheless depicts happenings which were all but contemporary. Elliott’s time shift seems unnecessary and detrimental: all that is left of the Medici connection is the seemingly irrelevant engraving on the arch.

    During the final scene set, music, costume and dance come together to suck the audience into the gaudy melodrama. As the arch spins hypnotically, the audience catches glimpses of a brutal murder here, a mistaken identity there and the inevitable poisoned chalice. It is only in these final moments, though, that Elliott achieves something of the kitsch of Middleton’s vision.