Category Archives: Theatre

MACBETH Wanamaker, SE1

THE EMPTY DARKNESS OF THE HEART

 

  Third time  lucky:  after two glumly disappointing 2018 productions steeped in directorial gimmicks   – RSC and NT –  the candlelit cramp of the Wanamaker gives us back Macbeth.  Here in Robert Hastie’s careful production  is all the  horrror, psychological acuity and profound , terrified morality of Shakespeare’s darkest play.   Darker it is than the wickedly playful Richard III or the ludicrously bloodthirsty Titus Andronicus, because of its very intimacy and humanity.   This is the trapped struggle  of the ordinary, unpsychopathic heart afraid of its own deeds –  sleepless, hallucinating, crazed.  It plays out in claustrophobic darkness, sometimes total when the sconces and candelabra are doused.  Sometimes it is just stricken, anguished faces you see, so close in this small space,  illuminated alone by flickering individual  candle lanterns black-shielded towards us.

 

 Proper Jacobean witches?  Oh yes:   not  period, not comic, cartoonish , or having   their lines too apologetically  trimmed by squeamishly unsuperstitious directors.  Just  quietly horrible: eerie in whispering the incantation, matter-of-fact in their workaday discussion about raising tempests on a seafarer to avenged on his wife who arointed them.    Later,  when the guilty Macbeth’s recalls them they are disembodied, a scuffling of ratlike footprints, a voice from the gallery, a door opening under unseen hands, a face glimmering for a moment.

 

  Good productions bring each viewer private  fresh perceptions and textual flashes of authorial genius. Here for me in Paul Ready’s  performance  it was Macbeth’s naïveté: the smile of sudden ambition in the lamplight, the self-consciously masterful decision  to tell his wife it is all off,  the caving in to her, the hysteria, the dismayed realisation of each new necessary murder.   This is exactly the kind of man who WOULD  do something stupid like bringing the bloody daggers out of the Kings chamber, so that his wife had to take them back and bloody the grooms.  As the desperate tale goes on, we see him ever more alone and ever less able to tolerate it.  

  

  As for her, Michelle Terry is enigmatic, troubled:   part brisk housewifely organiser, part deeply damaged woman : her speech about giving suck and dashing a baby’s brains out is tremblingly intense.  The relationship is interesting,  she weakening visibly each time the hysterical Macbeth rejects her hand after the deed.   Her final sleepwalking screams into the gloom are shocking,  but her return to housewifely briskness  ‘“a soldier and afeard? To bed, to bed” even more so.  She fascinates. And so, in his growing resignation, does Ready,   slowly understanding the futility of his track to dusty death, the aridity of what he has won.

 

See? Keep away from bleeding polystyrene heads and gimmicks and the play itself comes back, timeless and terrifying.     Hastie eschews both full modernity and period dress  for universal black and grey with detail of 18-20c shapes;   the bloodied messenger is in an Aran sweater.  The Globe’s policy of inclusiveness gives us among other 21c castings a female Macduff – Anna-Maria Nabirye in a performance strong enough to be the last thing you’d notice about him/her .   Laura Moody’s score -mostly vocal  from herself and two other women above – expresses both the discordant wickedness of the play and, sometimes,  its powerful religious sense:    Duncan kneels to pray by the candlelit footlights; so do the rebel thanes .   When Macbeth cannot say “Amen” makes his stricken face, in the flickering light,  says it all.

 

box office shakespearesglobe.com   0207 401 9919

to 2 feb

rating four 4 Meece Rating

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DON QUIXOTE Garrick. WC2

THE KNIGHT WINS HIS SPURS AGAIN:  A NOBLE DELUSION

  

  Need a Christmas outing? Quailing at panto, feel you and the kids need some Euro-culture to counteract Brexidepression? Trust the RSC, and a return of James Fenton’s version of the deluded knight-errantry of Cervantes’ 17c satire.  Our hero traverses Spain on a cobbled-up Rosinante, aglow with well-meaning chivalry and succeeding only in annoying tavern-keepers, shepherds, clergy and his dismayed volunteer squire Sancho Panza. As a parable of the apparent inadequacy of  legend in a real world it is timeless and matchless. 

 

  Angus Jackson’s production makes everything of it: countless visual jokes, horseplay , bread rolls hurled between ensemble and audience, cast members collapsing on the laps of the front rows.  Sancho Panza is Rufus Hound ,to whom I am at last reconciled, and able to forgive his awful excursion into Coward as Gary Essendine at Chichester.  He does his amiable joshing standup to get us going , well in his natural element and a massive fat-suit, but by the strange end is emotionally engaged, credible, even touching. 

 

     There are Pythonesque, Blackadderish nonsenses to enjoy and some nice windmills and dodgy flying.  But the real and central delight is David Threlfall as the self-styled Don Quixote de La Mancha.    From the first moment, an old old man so deep in his books that the ensemble gathers around him singing the legend of Lancelot in his poor head,  I was in love with every straggling white lock.  When repeatedly his visor falls over one eye and his enthusiasm overcomes  sense he radiates a dignity-in-absurdity that has heart as well as  humour. He inhabits the character totally as good comic actors must:  unaware, sincere, genuine, mad.

       

 

The second half  darkens into real old-Spain torments and mockeries, though  enlivened by an excellent two-man lion, a hawk, a joust, innumerable puppet cats and some more horsing around by the horses (this is very RSC in its allowing ensemble individuals to shine).    The near-Lear  death scene is particularly harrowing to those of us by this time helplessly in love with every clank of Mr Threlfall’s cuirasses:  perhaps have a couple of drinks in the interval, and tell the kids it  really is all right in the end, in the best of all peculiar Spanish worlds.

 

box office  0330 333 4811   To 2 feb

rating four   4 Meece Rating

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HADESTOWN Olivier, SE1

A SWING AND SWIRL THROUGH HELL

 

  It’s certainly not family-panto time along the glittering Thames riverbank:  what with Martin McDonagh’ grossout-silly Dark Matter downstream at the Bridge, and the NT’s buffet of Labour politics, infertility, Edgar Allen Poe and World War I  now joined by  this portrait of a modern Hades.  A dark smoking hell of labouring slaves under a tyrant King swallows young love and foils a melodious rescuer.   With the Orpheus myth it can’t end well.  “It’s a sad song”  says the gorgeously dapper Hermes, shooting his cuffs and flashing his lurex waistcoat, “But we sing it all the same”.  

 

          So they should, and not just as he consolingly suggests because one day a bad world might come good instead.   Bluesy, folky, beautifully paced and musically satisfying, it is a treat:  touching without sentimentality and with enough topical bite to startle without hammering the point.   My jaw actually dropped when the basso-profundo King Hades (oooh, Patrick Page, what a showstealer)   closed the first half with his minions in a chanting, thundering  hymn “Build the Wall! To keep us free! The enemy is Poverty! Because they want what we have got…”.    Anais Mitchell’s concept album, developed and directed as a stage musical with Rachel Chavkin,  wowed New York two years ago  and should make a legion of whooping new fans for her here.  Like me. 

  

    From the start it grips and intrigues: Rachel Hauck’s set is moody, shadowy, a bar-room with a balcony above and seven musicians disposed around – though others, notably Orpheus himself and the three elegantly scornful Fates in floaty grey chiffon  – pick up instruments and play at times.   Amber Gray as a marvellously slutty, drunk, high party-girl Persephone tear it up gleefully on her six months holiday from being Hades’ dutiful wife below,  capering amid the street-dance ensemble,  keeping up the energy.  

 

  Reeve Carney’s youthful Orpheus and Eva Noblezada’s Eurydice are scruffy, ordinary, ineffably sweet as they fall in love. And hungry.  It’s a time of grinding poverty, a New Orleans 1930 world.  Which is how Eurydice is suckered into signing up with King Hades, tyrant of the underworld slave kingdom, where gloomy labourers in dungarees and goggles work “..there aint no rest for the weary soul, Hades keeps you toiling”.    Orpheus finds his way down by playing a song so beautiful the stones of the very wall weep,  and through despair and hope gets inexorable Hades to melt briefly:   “What has become of the heart of that King, Now he has everything?”    

         

Staging all through it is wonderful:    fluid, startling, great use of  smoke and shadows and a brilliant triple revolve with a circular pit into which characters sink or rise to dominate.    Orpheus’ terrifying walk , trying not to look back ,  is tense and nightmarish,  the three rings turning like the circles of hell itself.   I hadn’t expected to enjoy it this much.  But I did .  

 

box office  020 7452 3000  to 26 Jan

rating four  4 Meece Rating

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THE SIMON AND GARFUNKEL STORY Vaudeville, WC2 & touring

LIKE A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED DECADES….

 

 If you’re my age, it’s a time machine. Songs like The Sound Of Silence and  Bridge Over Troubled Water (bestselling album 1970,71 and 72)  saw us through tempestuous teens and disastrous student passions, even more in some ways than the Beatles because there was something always jauntily cheerful about them (even Yesterday..).  Few songwriters catch melancholy, muddled self- doubt laced with romantic wonder at life better than Paul Simon: in the folk-rock genre (always better when most folky) they swept the West; unbelievably, even the schlocky soundtrack of Mrs Robinson –  heyheyhey!  – knocked Hey Jude’s na-nanananaaaas off the No.1 spot.

 

So here, as Mr Simon finally hangs up his touring boots fifty years on , is a tribute show with Sam O”Hanlon as him and Charles Blythe as Art G , and a variety of instrumental ensembles and video backdrops of news, ads and cityscapes, to feed our nostalgia and demonstrate to the new generation the late sixties vibe.  Which is, basically,  agitprop-meets-playschool.  Plaintive songs from Simon’s solo time in London merge into the astonishing line of hits which still startle in their poetic energy and inventive scoring.

 

The word ‘story’ is stretching it a bit: it is more tribute gig than theatre, unlike Jersey Boys or Million Dollar Quartet or any of the doomed-diva-drink-and-drugs  genre.    The story is mild: two nice middle class friends make music, go their separate ways for a bit, reunite, tour exhaustingly, hit Grammy success and separate again    piquantly,  at the very moment their big album starts its three-year dominance.   Garfunkel even went back to teaching high school math in 1970 for a bit.  Can you imagine any of our boy-band lightweights doing that? 

 

     A series of captions in part 2 reminds us of their  subsequent, less glittering  achievements. But it’s hard to make theatre out of their lives, not least when they deliver the brief  rather wooden narrative moments while still standing behind their mics so you can’t see their faces. The new generation may  also find itself baffled by the all-too-faithful evocation of the pre-choreography age of rockers who only twitched the odd leg or snapped their fingers, preferring to concentrate on the actual singing. Even when they are “dadadadaaa daaa da da daaaa.. feeling GROOVEEEE”  against a sort of teletubby frieze.

 

But musically it is a treat, from the opening growl of  The Sound of Silence , through the gentle folksy love songs  O”Hanlon does alone in the London scenes,  to the complex harmonies and crypto-prophetic lyrics developing through the Bookends and Bridge albums. Blythe does Bridge over Troubled Water alone as an encore, displaying an amazing voice hitherto masked in the harmonies.  In the first half genius burns – hardly one song less than brilliant –  in the second I found it less likeable,  but I suspect it depends at what stage  in their career you used them as a soundtrack to those adolescent, face-down-on-the-futon, moments.

  

There was a lot of clapping along, which was fine. An odd retro evening, but agreeable. I hope the young adopt the best songs.   O’Hanlon broke my heart in Cathy’s Song,   just as the real Paul did…. long, long ago…

 

Tickets: Touring Mouse wide

http://www.thesimonandgarfunkelstory.com/tour-dates/

LONDON now,  then touring UK through 2019

rating  three   as theatre, but hey, it’s a gig…Musicals Mouse width fixedMusicals Mouse width fixed

Comedy Mouse

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BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR Jermyn, SW1

THE SAVAGE BEAUTY OF THE FIRST AIR WAR

  

Britain did not stand alone  in WW1.    As our hero sings in John MacLachlan Gray’s  1982 play:

“South Africa and Canada and Australia to boot /   Are saying ‘Mother, here we are!  Now  tell us who to shoot?”

    This  1982 Canadian play is a fascinating sidelight in this centenary week,  a biography of one star pilot in that war.  It not only takes us above the terrible trenches and into the skies but reminds us of that  “Colonial”contribution.  Those Anglophone lands lost many sons but in the process  gained a new confidence in their future independence.  It also reminds us that WW1 began, incredibly,  with cavalry charges – Billy came over in a boat full of army horses – but ended with the newest of technology.   War moved aloft, in the canvas and prop planes of the Royal Flying Corps.   Without parachutes,  youthful pilots  flew them with an average 11-day survival , and in one model  were sent out – for reasons of weight -with only bombs, no guns.

 

 

. Among them was our hero. Billy Bishop, a callow, rebellious young Canadian who failed his military academy finals by cheating and arrived, seasick and shocked by a voyage through torpedo attacks, as a cavalry officer.    Weary of the mud and boredom in camp he looked up to see a plane, and discovered that he might manoeuvre himself into a job as an Observer. Despite daft laddish injuries,   a  weak heart and being disgraced in training he came good.  He trained as a pilot, patronised by Lady St Helier (who had Canadian connections). He   won the  MC and VC and to his horror was paraded socially before political grandees as a kind of human trophy.   He was  one of the highest scoring fighter pilots and so valuable as a symbol  that he was pulled off duties before the Armistice and sent home  because  Canadian morale needed encouraging and,  unaccountably to the sombre English mind,  that young nation preferred its heroes to survive.

 

It is the well-worn wartime  tale of impossibly young men  thrown into the desperate exhilaration of war, losing friends daily, impassioned against “the Hun”,but sometimes suddenly softening  at the burning realities of death.   But it is also a universal portrait of a bad-boy coming good, finding a metier,  hurling himself at his talent almost too hard, in and out of drink and depression: almost a rock star story. 

 

  Most of the time, in Daisy Blower’s painstakingly detailed set (including a piano for the many atmospheric songs),  two men are on stage:Charles Aitken as young Billy, lean and manic, half annoying and half irresistible, shares the narration with Oliver Beamish as his older self , the Air Marshal of the 1950s . Neatly and deftly each becomes other characters:   Beamish often authority figures, Aitken at one point almost worryingly convincing as a French bar chanteuse .  They meld beautifully, each a part of the other, singing together sometimes.

       There is for my taste slightly more evocation of dogfights and of  Billy’s remarkable solo raid on a German airfield.  But it is brilliantly done, probably necessary. Gray’s writing is often startlingly poetic;   the songs – some from the period –  vibrate with atmosphere.  Early on, the sense of a  lonely Canadian’s longing for his own peaceful skies is poignantly beautiful.

 

Box office 0207 287 2875 www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk  

to 24 nov

rating four   4 Meece Rating

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ear for eye ROYAL COURT, SW1

GUEST CRITIC MICHAEL  ADAIR LISTENS, AS WE SHOULD

 

A glass box filled with smoke encapsulates the Royal Court stage. Shadowy figures patrol its perimeter, sometimes staring out at the audience, trapped. The play begins as the box is lifted, uncaging fifteen people, all of them black.  Over eleven scenes they take it in turns to address one another. 

 

     Sometimes they speak to specific people, they could be their parents, their friends, sometimes directly to the entire group. Each takes his or her turn speaking, but far more time is spent listening. Sitting on wooden chairs, sometimes they are assembled like a support group, other times angrier, arranged around the speaker as in  a boxing ring or slumped, as if a meeting of outraged trade unionists. The conversations are snapshots: of anger, of frustration, of exasperation. They are conversations about being black – witnessing and being subjected to police brutality, how to act and how to carry yourself without fear of unjust punishment, of peaceful protest and of the suggestion of violent protest in a desperate attempt to bring positive change. 

 

 

Written by debbie tucker green  [ the lower-case titles are her wish]   this is a searing, breathtaking work where listening is a recurring theme. In part 1, the snapshots of stories move along frantically, at first hard to catch on to. But  with the repetition – with the scenes ticking between African American and Black British voices, the anger the issues start to match, echo and twist into the same tornado – police brutality, protest, working to be perceived as ‘acceptable’. As this tornado picks up pace and whistles around the stage, we reach part 2. There is little left in its wake. Gone are our familiar fifteen faces, now we just have two. A young black woman (Lashana Lynch) and a middle aged white man (Demetri Goritsas). The man is incapable of listening:   the two are discussing a heinous crime – the man disagrees, twists and turns, interrupts, cites ‘ the research’, repeatedly references his own intelligence, mansplains, asserts things verging on hysteria.  He does not listen or , when challenged, accept that he is not listening. As the nameless white man keeps turning the tables, pontificating, the stage slowly rotates clockwise, screwing around and around, along with our own stomach. This is real, this stuff really happens. This is still a world of ‘I’m not racist, but…’ and tucker green is here masterfully showing us one of the most astonishing accounts of the modern black experience that I have ever seen. 

 

With part 2 leaving us on the ropes, part 3 is the knockout blow. We see a pre-recorded film, dozens of white American voices: children, elderly couples, families all sitting sadly and  uncomfortably whilst they read Jim Crow laws, the laws that enforced racial segregation in the USA, such as ‘It shall be unlawful for a Negro and white person to play together or in company with each other in any game of cards, dice, dominoes or checkers.’ This is followed by British voices reading some of the obscene British Slave Codes for Jamaica. 

 

This is a merciless and frankly, traumatic piece of work, well deserved by our angry, divided times. As a work of drama, the lack of narrative sometimes causes it to feel like scenes wear on for too long after the emotional waves come crashing over the rocks. But it is  a work of art, a sincere and important message more important to be seen for what it is, rather than picked apart in a review.  

  My words are less important, go and listen to debbie tucker green’s.

 

Box Office: 020 7565 5000 to  24th November

RATING   

Michael Adair on reflection feels it inappropriate to offer star (or mouse) ratings  from 0-5  here, and theatrecat feels that this is as valid a judgement as ratings themselves:  we like you to read the words rather than count the stars…

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HONOUR Park Theatre, N4

LOVE’S PRECEDENCE AND CRUELTY

 

      George is a journalist-intellectual, award-winner, amiably vain and sixtyish..  He  twinkles for England,  with much black-rimmed-specs-play,  when being  interviewed by an ambitious young graduate, Claudia.   At home is his wife Honor, laughingly at ease with  him, the pair exuding long-accustomed affection and joking about an old friend who has left his wife for a young girl and, ridiculously,  goes out clubbing with her (“He’s so old they think he’s a performance artist”).  Claudia the interviewer  comes to lunch:  unsuspicious, Honor talks about their long marriage and how – charmingly –  enjoying sex becomes as much to do with memory and “knowing what each other used to be”.  

     

        But Claudia is on navel manoeuvres,  casually baring a bellybutton in the next interview session, letting her hair hang loose,  making her questing intellectual chat daringly intimate.  George succumbs.  and  announces to his baffled wife that he is leaving. So  begins the to- -and-fro of pain and disillusion,  adjustment and remorse.  And the play asks   hard questions about the primacy of the heart and the usefulness of dull old virtue. 

  

  It’s an old story indeed –  and an artfully updated 1995 play by Joanna Murray-Smith –  but so beautifully  performed in Paul Robinson’s austerely set production that it feels very up to date.  Its forensic examination of love , exploitation and the male-female balance enthrals, amuses and prods painfully at the emotional culture of today.  Henry Goodman is superb as the donnish George:    vain in his early self-possession, defensive in his headlong passion, wounded at last and  dryly saddened.  Imogen Stubbs is magnificent too as Honor:   she has a powerful capacity to portray love’s huge pain  yet hold within it a kind of surprise :  her finely timed humour hits hard at moments , and in extremis she can kick the furniture over with whirling force.   

 

      As for Katie Brayben  as Claudia, she is suitably dismaying in her icy, juvenile intellectual ambition and her very modern  feminist ruthlessness:  she sees no problem in  luring a husband from a woman she considers less worthy because of her loyal wifeliness and lesser career. She is brutal: not  so much MeToo as the MeFirst .   Her worship of her own sexual allure is coldly selfish,   and she  snaps “I don’t plan to give up anything for anyone”. 

 

    In sweet softer contrast to her damaged cleverness is the daughter of the wrecked marriage, Natalie Simpson’s  Sophie:   defiantly furious with her father, accusing her mother,   then  crumbling at the loss of safe familial warmth. 

     There are good laughs, not least the gloriously predictable moment when George rashly criticises Claudia’s writing for lack of nuance, and when she is horrified by his boyish dream to sail round the world with her instead of being a power-couple.   But at the play’s heart is the question even she finally understands enough to ask.  Why against fairness, loyalty and gentler loves,  does passion think it can take precedence?

 

  box office 0207 870 6876  to 24 nov  

rating four    4 Meece Rating

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