Quick review: The Truth, Wyndhams Theatre

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The really quick review of The Truth is: It's great, go and see it and hurry because it finishes next weekend. I made a spur of the moment decision to see it this week and now I feel like I'm late to the Florian Zeller party as I didn't see The Father or The Mother. 

Christopher Hampton has translated the contemporary French playwright's story and it is difficult choosing what to say about the plot because of spoilers. I think it is play best seen knowing as little as possible so I'll just say there are two couples, they are friends, there is deceit and there is the truth.

It is brilliantly written and the cast don't waste a word. It is a witty, sometimes sharp comedy of marriage and friendship that manages to be both familiar and surprising.  And it is very funny, the laughs building as the plot unfolds. I'll say no more, just go and see it if you can.

The Truth is on at the Wyndhams Theatre until September 3 it is 90 minutes long without an interval and I'm giving it five stars.

 


Review: White guilt and conflict in They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre

They_Drink_It_In_The_Congo_website_1470x690Stef (Fiona Button), the central character in Adam Brace's new play They Drink It In The Congo, has given up a well paid PR job and is staking her reputation organising a festival of Congolese culture to raise awareness of the atrocities going on in the mineral rich country. Stef has been to the Congo and seen the horrors with her own eyes and wants to do something about it. It is a laudable aim fuelled with an element of white colonial guilt - her family did well out of farming in Kenya - and personal guilt at not being able to look at the injured people she saw.

"Don't look at the wound."

She manipulates her ex and PR friend Tony (Richard Goulding) into helping and wants a third of the organising committee for 'Congo Voice' to be from within the Congolese diaspora. However, things aren't going smoothly, with in-fighting on the steering committee and death threats from Les Combattantes des Londres.

Brace mixes dark humour (and sometime silly humour) with some of the grim realities of conflict in the Congo. We get a five minute history lesson of the country in a pre press conference briefing and then later we get a glimpse of some of what Stef saw during her visit. There are also the more subtle points: Stef who lives in her late father's flat talks about not being able to bury him in Kenya as he wished because the new owners of the farm won't permit it while the Congolese community have been forced to flee their homes.

The human cost is also emphasised in Oudry (Sule Rimi) - a pink suit wearing personification of technology - and later on a tube train when the commuters catch up on celebrity gossip and trivia on devices that no doubt contain minerals mined in the Congo.

But for all that is raised - from white colonial guilt, the politics of the charity sector, ethical consumerism and of course the extremely complex problems of the Congo - it is seeing it through Stef's lense that dominates and that was a problem for me. We learn a lot about her and her motivations - pride, grief, stubbornness and perhaps a little PTS. Yes she represents a stereotype but the more things fall apart the more personal she makes it. At one point she says to her Congolese friend Anne-Marie (Anna-Maria Nabirye) "After everything I have done for you" and she turns up at a wake to try and get support from within the community.

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Review: Acorn antiques meets Downtown Abbey in Sellotape Sisters, Tristan Bates Theatre

SellotapeSisters smallEthel (Charlotte Weston) and Phyllis (Kellie Batchelor) are actors about to make the last live episode of the period drama soap they are starring in. In their dressing room, drinking champagne out of tea cups with fellow actor Rupert (Jonny Freeman), they discuss some of the script writers more dubious plot decisions.

It is classic lovey-bitching, name-dropping and moaning about the next job but when they discover that the script writers have taken inspiration from their own private lives - secret same sex liaisons - which could fatally damage their careers if exposed, the panic sets in.

The 1960s set play's second act is the live broadcast of the final episode which has shades of Acorn Antiques. The actors forget lines, miss cues and their marks, discretely shuffling in or out of shot.  The question is will they stick to the script? The final act is the aftermath of that decision.

Act 1 is a nice amusing warm up to the second act which is where the strength of Sellotape Sisters' lies. It borders farce and is expertly executed and sometimes laugh out loud funny.

The final act has a heavier tone dealing with the consequences of their decisions during the live broadcast and feels like an attempt to give the piece a serious message which doesn't quite work. The 1960s setting serves to demonstrate how attitudes towards gay relationships have changed but I'm not sure weaving it into an farce-like story gives it the punch it needs.

Sellotape Sisters is in the main amusing, entertaining and fun enough for hour long show and I'm giving it three and a half stars.  It is on at the Tristan Bates Theatre until August 20.


Review: Making Konstantin conspicuous in his absence in The Seagull, National Theatre #YoungChekhov

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Joshua James and Anna Chancellor in The Seagull. Photo Johan Persson.

Chekhov's Hamlet obsession is most evident in The Seagull, not just from the direct references but also in the triangle of mother-son-uncle or in this case mother's new lover; it is probably why it is one of my favourites.

There is no murdering to get ahead instead the oppression is more subtle. We have a self-obsessed actress mother - Arkadina (Anna Chancellor) who has to be the centre of attention and her lover Trigorin (Geoffrey Streatfeild) a famous novelist who is equally self-centred. Brought up always at the side of the stage looking on, Konstantin (Joshua James) Arkadina's son has identity issues and thinks becoming a successful writer will solve it.

He has a germ of writing talent but is deaf to the few compliments he receives instead he grows jealous of Trigorin and resentful.  To make matters worse the object of his affection - Nina (Olivia Vinall) - only has eyes for the older writer. Meanwhile Masha (Jade Williams) just can't seem to catch Konstantin's eye. He has no money to escape the family's secluded lakeside home and his mother won't help or is incapable of helping.

It would be easy to play Konstantin purely as a melancholy and whiny youth but Joshua James succeeds in showing glimmers of a bubblier side which his mother inadvertently tramples. There is also a balancing act in portraying a character who is often overlooked by most of those around him without making him forgettable. You notice James and miss him when he is gone although you don't always notice him leaving or arriving on the stage - perhaps mirroring how he flits in and out of his mother's consciousness.

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Review: Finding sympathy for Ivanov, National Theatre #YoungChekhov

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Geoffrey Streatfeild as Ivanov. Image by Johan Persson

I've only seen Ivanov once before, the Kenneth Branagh's version in 2008 and that one was also notable for starring a pre-Loki Tom Hiddleston as the straight-laced Lvov. Re-reading my review I seemed to have enjoyed it more than I remember. That was back in the early days of my theatre-going when I knew little of Chekhov and his plays and this time around I did miss the element of surprise.

Geoffrey Streatfeild plays Ivanov a man who, with the benefit of modern medicine, would be diagnosed as suffering from depression. He finds little joy in day to day life; he has fallen out of love with his wife Anna (Nina Sosanya) a Jew disowned by her family for marrying outside the faith who is now dying of tuberculosis. He is also in debt.

Lvov (James McArdle), the doctor attending his wife, and a self-proclaimed 'honest' man advises Ivanov to take his wife to Crimea for the good of her health but he says he hasn't the money and instead spends his evenings visiting neighbours for which Lvov constantly berates him.

The only glimmer of happiness for Ivanov is Sasha (Olivia Vinall), the daughter of his creditor, who has fallen in love with him and whom he can't seem to resist. She is determined to chase away the dark clouds in his mind and restore Ivanov to his happier former self. Meanwhile the gossips - and Lvov - think he is after Sasha for her fortune.

Ivanov is man who is in a hole and still digging. He seems aware of the impact of his behaviour which makes him feel all the more wretched but  he is incapable of making amends. Perhaps he believes himself to be a lost cause.

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Review - Who knew Chekhov could be funny? Platonov, National Theatre #YoungChekhov

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James McArdle and Nina Sosanya in Platonov

I have a feeling I've commented once before on a Chekhov play being surprisingly funny*. I'm told that the man himself thought he was funny but when I mentioned to a friend that I was seeing three Chekhov plays in a day, she commented 'make sure you've got your tissues and razor blades' which is my more usual response.

Platonov, or at least this production of it, is very funny at times, the second half even teeters on farce, and it was a great way to kick off a three-play day. I think James McArdle can take a big chunk of the credit. He plays the titular character: a disillusioned school teacher who is also a hopeless ladies man.

He is married to a woman who adores him - something he can't comprehend - but has also caught the eye of the educated, widowed landlowner Anna Petrovna (Nina Sosanya). He likes the fact that she is intelligent, something that other men see as a disadvantage. Nina's step son is married to Sofiya (Olivia Vinall), a great beauty who has also fallen for Platonov's charms and wants to run away with him.

Completing his tail of admirers is Maria Grekova (Sarah Twomey) who hates him - but really loves him. Platonov enjoys toying with her and can be quite cruel but McArdle gives the character enough charm that you can mostly forgive him. As the juggling of admirers gets more difficult to pull off he hits the bottle. It is as if he has settled down to watch his own car crash in slow motion.

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Review: Shrieks and scares in The Woman in Black (touring cast), Fortune Theatre and then on tour

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Matthew Spencer as young Kipps in The Woman In Black, touring cast

The Woman In Black is one of the stalwarts of the West End and it's celebrating 27 years by going on a UK tour. Based on Susan Hill's ghostly novel of the same name, Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation tells the story of a lawyer who wants to unpack the terrifying events of his past by telling his story with the help of an actor.

It is a slow but occasionally amusing set up as the actor (Matthew Spencer) tries to tease some sort of performance out of Mr Kipps' (David Actor) as he recites his tale - it is the ghost story we are all interested in after all. But once we are on that path is when the long standing appeal of this play is evident.

A dark theatre, with its nooks and many entrances and exits proves to be the perfect place to watch a ghostly tale - although the auditorium could be even darker for an even more chilling effect. Kipps' story is of his visit, as a young solicitor, to the isolated and lonely Eel Marsh house. The house gets cut off from the mainland at high tide but can also get cut off by dense sea mists which appear without warning. The house belongs to the recently deceased widow Mrs Drablow and Kipps' job is to put her affairs in order.

The odd behaviour of the locals in the nearby village adds to the spooky atmosphere but it is at Mrs Drablow's funeral that we get a first glimpse of the past and what is to come as the woman in black makes her first appearance.

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Review: The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor, Old Red Lion

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Nick Finegan as young Napier and Jojo Macari as Joshua in The Past is a Tattooed Sailor, Old Red Lion Theatre (c) Pamela Raith Photography

Simon Blow's debut play is autobiographical, telling the tale of his relationship with his great uncle - the socialite Stephen Tennant. Simon becomes Joshua for the purposes of the play (played by Jojo Macari) and he decides to visit his now reclusive 'uncle Napier' who lives in the family pile outside London. Joshua has lost his parents, inheritance and is adrift, he feels hard done by and sees both a family connection and an opportunity in Uncle Napier but there are other relatives circling too.

Napier (Bernard O'Sullivan) reposes in his boudoir on a chaise longue and 'takes to' Joshua which means regaling him with tales of his youth and the literary and artistic set he was part of - Tennant had a four year relationship with Sigfried Sassoon and is said to have inspired Evelyn Waugh's character Sebastian Flyte. He is narcissistic, obsessed with his youth to the point of denial that he is actually a fat old man. His younger self, played by Nick Finegan, is on hand to remind him, as is his mother (Elizabeth George) who just won't call him her 'Golden Boy' any more.

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Review: Daniel Portman and Lily Loveless in The Collector, The Vaults

Daniel Portman and Lily Loveless in The Collector (c) Scott Rylander (5)
Daniel Portman and Lily Loveless in The Collector. Photo (c) Scott Rylander

Mark Healy's adaptation of John Fowles novel is set in the basement of a remote country house. This revival, directed by Joe Hufton, is being performed at The Vaults, underneath Waterloo station. You leave the daylight and head into the dark tunnels - could there be a more appropriate venue for a play in which a young woman is kept locked up in a windowless, damp room?

Daniel Portman who plays the gentle, kind and innocent Podrick in Game of Thrones plays the socially awkward Frederick Clegg who, helped by a big lottery windfall, decides to 'win' the girl he is obsessed with. Only his idea of winning her is to kidnap and lock her up in the specially prepared basement. 'Her' is Miranda (Lily Loveless) a middle-class art student whom his has admired from afar, shyness and social divide stopping him from approaching her. Today he would be called a stalker.

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Another knock out performance from Billie Piper in Yerma, Young Vic

Yerma-Sq326REVIEW: There was an occasional drip of water onto the stage during Yerma. It was a leak rather than part of the staging, an indicator of what was to come - the drip being to rain what a gun prop is to a gun shot. And, inadvertently, it was an appropriate omen for a play about a woman who wants children but whose difficulty in conceiving leads her down a dark and stormy path.

This is a contemporary version of Lorca's 1930's play by Australian Simon Stone who also directs. The subject matter transfers really well to the 21st century - in fact there is arguably more to explore around the topic given that IVF is now an option and couples can have tests to find out if there are fertility problems.

Stone's production is also contemporary. He puts the actors in a glass oblong like they are specimens trapped between pieces of glass for the audience to examine. The play is divided up into chapters with a black out for the very clever scene changes.

Billie Piper plays the protagonist - although she is never referred to by name - with Australian actor Brendan Cowell as her husband 'John'. They are a liberal, middle-class hipster couple. He does something which involves jetting off to client meetings and she's a journalist with a successful lifestyle blog. They buy a big house in a dodgy neighbourhood and she wants to fill it with a couple of kids.

They have the sort of relationship where they talk openly with each other about sex, teasing each other about their preferences. It is an openness and honesty that gets challenged and tested as she gets more desperate to have children. Turning to her blog to talk about her feelings adds to the strain on their relationship as does her sister (Charlotte Randle) getting pregnant and the arrival of an ex-lover. It adds layers of tension as she grows ever more frustrated with her and John's inability to conceive.

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