Posts Tagged ‘ review ’

The Robbers, New Diorama Theatre: review

by Friedrich Schiller
Dir: Mark Leipacher

‘Man is moulded out of dirt.’ Mark Leipacher’s production of Schiller’s The Robbers at the New Diorama Theatre sets out to show the cruelty man is capable of and the terrifying vertigo of an amoral world.The Robbers, New Diorama Theatre, Schiller

As an old Count dies, his younger son schemes, plots and murders his way to his older brother’s inheritance. Franz cold-heartedly tricks his father into disinheriting Karl, who, believing his father has banished him, turns to a group of robbers. But Robin Hood’s merry men, they are not.

Richard Delaney is the best kind of villain – seductive, cunning and entirely without conscience. He stands over his dying father and, exasperated, asks ‘How long do old men live for?’ He is the Iago of the play and Delaney’s black comic timing creates a delectably detestable baddie.

As his wronged brother Karl, Michael Lindall has a more difficult task: one character describes Karl as a ‘purring nancy’ and he’s not far wrong. Lindall starts uncomfortably, more sulky than tormented, but comes into his own in the second half. As Karl despairs of returning home and earning his father’s forgiveness, he becomes a darker, more complex character: “I am my own heaven and I am my own Hell”. His moral code allows for the incidental slaughter of innocent men, women and children as he rescues a friend from the gallows, but is disgusted when one of his band throws a chubby toddler back into the flames. Lindall struggles to convey the subtleties of Karl’s character but does better with the real Sturm und Drang moments.

Jamie Champion is convincingly black-hearted as robber Spiegelberg while Jude Owusu-Achiaw manages to be the diamond in the rough as Schweizer. Karl’s steadfast but fiery fiancé, Amalia, is played by a forthright Kate Sawyer while Lana Booty’s old Count, Max, is touching and Lear-like.

Leipacher has set out to make this play accessible: it is modern dress, the updated script (by Daniel Millar and Mark Leipacher) is peppered with modern obscenities and the robbers’ banter is straight out of the twenty-first century. But The Robbers is not a modern story, with its Counts, curses, castles and highwaymen and so the modern dress tends to grate.

The stage is stripped bare and all the walls painted black, allowing the cast to use chalk to write or draw on every surface – a technique which manages to underline both the fragility of life and the weakness of the lies woven by Franz. Yet occasionally Leipacher tries too hard and there are three or four things which demand the audience’s attention at once – dialogue, someone writing in chalk, people fighting. It would do no harm to allow the story to speak for itself now and again.

At around three hours, including an interval, the evening is overly long but Leipacher’s production is a thrilling piece of drama with enthralling plot twists, ladles of dramatic irony and a brilliant villain at its heart.

 

 

This review first appeared on The Public Reviews here.

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Red, Black and Ignorant, Cock Tavern Theatre: review

Edward Bond, Red, Black and Ignorant

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Dir: Maja Milatovic-Ovadia

The final play in the Cock Tavern’s Edward Bond season takes aim at the atrocities of war. The storyline – in so far as there is one – revolves around a character called Monster and charts, according to the flyer, “man’s decline into greed and despair”.

Maja Milatovic-Ovadia’s production is thoughtfully staged and it was nice to see a more adventurous set in the theatre, courtesy of designers Julia Berndt and Vanda Butkovic. Melanie Ramsay is arresting as a fresh-faced, wide-eyed mother caught in the fray while Andrew Lewis delivers even the most overblown lines with weight and conviction. Alex Farrow is chillingly vacant as the granite-faced soldier who shoots his own father.

These highly accomplished performances, however, struggle to make sense of a bewildering script. The action takes place in a dystopian parallel world in which sons are sold to the state to join the army and there are murders on the street. Bond’s text (re-written for this performance) is highly stylised with some memorable lines – “There’s nothing wrong with him a good post-mortem wouldn’t put right”. It’s surreal and angry but you come away unsure what it is Bond’s exactly angry about.

He has several axes to grind: about the West, world leaders and the technology and machinery of war. How it dehumanises, numbs us and strips life of any value. These are vital points but Red, Black and Ignorant is too preachy, too pleased with itself and too moralising to make them well.

3 Comedy Masks

 

 

 

This review first appeared in the Willesden and Brent Times on 11 November 2010

There Will Be More, Cock Tavern Theatre: review

This is certainly not one to take the kids to. Edward Bond’s new play, There Will Be More, had its world premiere at the Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn last week, directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher. The play starts with a mother killing her children and closes with incest. And there are precious few laughs in between.

Edward Bond There Will Be More at the Cock Tavern Theatre

Dea, played by Helen Bang, is the mother who silently and chillingly murders her two babies; the rest of the play examines the aftermath of these events, 18 years later. In Bond’s world, violence breeds violence. Dea’s husband, Johnson, played by Stephen Billington, is an up-tight military captain whose violent day job bleeds into his dysfunctional family life. There are everywhere echoes of the Greek tragedies, from Oedipus who sleeps with his mother, to Medea who murders her children (hence the name “Dea”). There Will Be More is Bond’s attempt to write an ancient tragedy for the modern age.

As the “wicked” mother, Helen Bang is initially chilling, silently applying her make-up before smothering her sons. The second Act, however, sees her transformed into an entirely reasonable woman before returning to apparent madness for the third. Bond’s play is all about how we define madness but the point is an age-old one and he adds little to it. Johnson, the militant military husband is played by a staunch Stephen Billington who expresses love through violence and imprisonment. Billington admirably manages to summon up a slither of sympathy from the audience for the repulsive soldier, by blurring the lines between right and wrong, madness and insanity.

Timothy O’Hara (who also played the lead in The Pope’s Wedding as part of the Cock Tavern’s Edward Bond season) plays Dea and Johnson’s son, Oliver. He is vulnerable, innocent but stained by the events in his parents’ past.

This is truly car-crash theatre: the events are horrific but the audience cannot look away. Spreadbury-Maher’s production does not shy away from the raw violence: the set is minimal and the only soundtrack is the audience’s gasps.

Bond’s writing goes to the darkest places you can imagine and then scuttles into the shadows. This level of violence on stage is hard to justify – the original Oedipus story is no less harrowing for the worst violence taking place off stage. Very little actually happens in this play after the first 20 minutes and the play’s structure is incoherent. Bond is trying too hard to shock and ends up blunting his political pen.

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.

3/5

A Number, Menier Chocolate Factory, review

A Number, Menier Chocolate Factory
Dir: Jonathan Munby

How would you feel if you discovered you weren’t the only you? That’s the question posed by A Number, Caryl Churchill’s deeply thought-provoking and intricately woven play about human cloning.

A Number Menier Chocolate Factory

At 35, Bernard discovers that he is not an only son, as he’d always thought, but that there are perhaps twenty clones of him. His father, Salter, assures him that he is ‘the original’. But Salter is lying. Bernard is the clone of his father’s first son, (also called Bernard) who Salter treated so badly he was put into care. In effect, Bernard is Salter’s second chance.

In Jonathan Munby’s production Salter and Bernard are played by real-life father and son Timothy and Sam West. This version originally had a short run in Sheffield Theatres’ Studio in 2006 (not the Crucible as everyone seems to have assumed…) and Munby, Samuel and Timothy West have been trying to find the perfect place to re-stage it ever since.

The Menier stage has been turned into an “in-the-round” venue for A Number, creating a rawness which only this staging can provide. Paul Wills’ design is sparse in the extreme: an armchair and a table is all the furniture on stage. Look up, however, and it’s a different story. Hanging over the characters’ heads is a rack of what must be hundreds of test tubes.

Both Wests are fierce, impressive character actors and thrive on the small-scale scrutiny of this staging. Combined with the sparsity of the set, their performances feel like acting in its purest form – a conscious irony, I’m sure, given the play’s subject matter. Timothy West, as the father is tired and defensive while Samuel as three different sons creates a different kind of fragility for each. Together, their timing is super-human: they finish each others’ sentences, or leave phrases hanging, knowing the other has already understood. This is partly down to the finesse of Churchill’s writing which demands, according to Timothy West that one “re-educate oneself into how real people speak, how people can leave a sentence in the middle because it becomes perfectly clear what they’re saying”.­

A Number is that rare thing: a brilliant play, impeccably acted. Samuel West skips between the three sons with such ease that this character-switching in itself raises the question of what really defines a person. Between each scene the play’s theme is translated into a powerful image, as a blue photocopier light scans Salter from head-to-toe. A final exchange with another of the cloned sons, however, underlines how difficult it is to define what makes a person individual: “Tell me something about you.” Salter asks. A pause. “Um…I like banana milkshake.”

5/5

 

 

A number runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 5 November

Barber of Seville (or Salisbury), review

The Little Opera House at The King’s Head Theatre
Dir: Robin Norton-Hale

Drinks allowed in the auditorium, an unsightly squabble over seats and your standard upright piano in the corner. This is certainly not Covent Garden.

The Barber of Seville Kings Head TheatreFor the opening of London’s newest (and smallest) opera house, director Robin Norton-Hale brings us this cheeky new translation of Rossini’s classic comic opera. The Barber of Seville becomes the Barber of Salisbury and Rossini’s lothario, Count Almaviva, becomes the Marquis of Bath. Having caught a glimpse of the beautiful Rosina, the Marquis is determined to seduce her. He enlists the help of Figaro, the barber, to win her hand and defeat his rival, Rosina’s guardian Dr Bartley (originally Bartolo).

OperaUpClose lives up to its name: singers wander through the audience, advising on hair care, sharing a joke. Figaro, sung by Richard Immergluck, throws himself into the part of compere: this level of audience interaction is a world away from the big opera houses. Belinda Evans as Rosina is the best kind of Jane Austen heroine: “accomplished” but with an undeniable glint in her eye: ‘this little lamb is not so pure’ she sings in her rich soprano. Gareth Dafydd Morris as the serial seducer, the Marquis, has impressive stage presence, though his voice sometimes feels a bit much for this small space.

This production really comes into its own, however, during the ensemble scenes: Norton-Hale’s staging is excellently judged with a priceless sense for the ridiculous. The opera’s finale is tightly directed and fizzes with a tangible energy. Dickon Gough makes Bartley a wonderfully absurd, pompous lecher, complete with slicked back hair and nervous twitches. Overall, this is uproariously funny, thanks partly to Norton-Hale’s irreverent new libretto which includes such lines as “chicken soup and a cold compress” or “You’re the doctor? Dr Farty.”

This is not Covent Garden: the piano (played by Alison Luz) was not the best and some of the singing felt strained. But then opera is not easy – and up close there’s no disguising that. Volume was an issue: Dafydd Morris in particular needed to be quieter and some of Belinda Evans’ top notes were designed for a traditional auditorium. Norton-Hale’s production got off to an uncertain start but strong ensemble sections lifted the evening. This may not have been as polished as Jane Austen’s prose but it had plenty of Regency wit.

This review first appeared on ThePublicReviews.com

Broken Glass, The Tricycle

The Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
Director: Iqbal Khan

“It’s as if she knows some truth that other people are blind to.” Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass, set in 1938, is a study of race and racism, the Political and the personal. At the heart of it all sits a woman, in seemingly perfect health, paralysed from the waist down because of what she reads in the papers.

The title refers to the infamous Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass”, in Nazi Germany. After seeing images from that night, Sylvia Gellburg – a jewish woman – becomes paralysed – despite living 3,000 miles awayAntony Sher (Philip Gellburg) and Lucy Cohu (Sylvia Gellburg) photo Tristram Kenton in Brooklyn, New York. She is suffering from “hysterical paralysis” but neither her husband, her doctor, nor her sister are sure why.

Antony Sher takes the central role of Phillip Gellburg – the black-suited, unimaginative mortgage specialist married to Sylvia – in Iqbal Khan’s production. Sher’s voice is full of the emotion that Gellburg is unable to express: it tremors as he tries to find the right words. Hair slicked back, neck stuffed into his shirt, he is every bit the “prune” that his wife describes. Sher makes this play: Gellburg is a bore and yet in Sher’s hands he is brilliantly, endlessly fascinating.

Miller’s play is saturated with Jewish culture – Yiddish words are sprinkled throughout and Khan makes sure all the characters are acutely conscious of their “jewishness”. Not least Gellburg himself, who repeatedly tries to hide his too-obviously-Jewish face. Lucy Cohu, as the paralysed Sylvia Gellburg, could not be more Jewish: her gestures, her softly undulating intonation, her throwaway Yiddish. All these combine to create an ideal: she is the image of a Jewish woman. But, of course, as Miller makes us realise, that’s all it is: an image.

The third character in the play’s central triangle is Dr Harry Hyman. In the role, Nigel Lindsay is a jolly GP, all firm hand-shakes and bed-side manner. By the end of the play, Hyman is well out of his depth: and Lindsay does not shrink from showing this. Emily Bruni is forthright as Sylvia’s even-more-Jewish sister while Madeleine Potter as the doctor’s wife manages to create a complex character from very little material. It’s a pity, though, that we don’t see more of Brian Protheroe – he’s rather wasted in the small part of Gellburg’s boss.

As well as having a simply stellar cast, Khan’s production is brilliantly put together. Mike Britton’s design manages to make the Tricycle’s stage appear both bigger than it actually is and give a sense of Sylvia’s claustrophobia. The peeling walls hint at a mental institution; a cellist (Laura Moody) plays angular melodies while floating ethereally behind a misty screen.

Miller’s premise is brilliant and this cast was never going to let it down. Accents do slip occasionally and undoubtedly the acting is over the top – but then so is the play. Khan’s production leaves you with the somewhat uncomfortable feeling that you’ve looked at your own life through a spotless and powerful lens.

Broken Glass is on at The Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn until 27 November.

This review first appeared in the Willesden and Brent Times on 13 October 2010.

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