Review: Watching Machinal, Almeida Theatre and feeling like a fraud

My reaction to Machinal at the Almeida Theatre made me want to drag myself off to the naughty step to think about what I'd done - or rather what I hadn't done.

IMG_6433And what I hadn't done is respond to a play with strong feminist themes with empathy or anger at society.

Instead, I had just felt cold and annoyed with the central character.

As a feminist this made me feel like a fraud. Am I a fraud?

Is it my problem?

Should I be looking over my shoulder expecting to have my credentials ripped up? Is the problem mine or is it the play?

On paper, Machinal ticks a lot of boxes - a play about a Young Woman (Emily Berrington) trapped within the constraints of a patriarchal society and driven empty and then murderous by it when she finally gets a taste of a different life.

Stereotypical portrayal

The young woman initially appears overwrought, highly strung, unravelling and my heart sank.

How many historical plays with lead female characters portray them as close to hysteria or having some sort of breakdown?

I'm thinking: 'Can't we explore feminist themes with a character that doesn't play up to the patriarchal stereotype of female emotional and mental fragility?'

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Review: The good and bad about Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios or questions about nudity on stage

I liked it for its challenges but it isn't without its problems.

Tracy Letts' play Killer Joe, for those unfamiliar, is gritty, to put it mildly, but having seen the film adaptation I was at least prepared for that.

Killer Joe warning sign rev stan instagramAnd while it is refreshing to see something a bit more 'grimy' at the theatre, this stage adaptation is borderline farce compared to the screen version but more of that later.

There's a debate about whether the play is misogynistic in the way it shows women being treated or whether it exposes bad male behaviour and the depths of immorality.

Trailer park setting

Set in a trailer park in Texas, Chris (Adam Gillen) persuades his father Ansel (Stefan Rhodri) to help him take out a hit on his ex-wife for her life-insurance money.

Chris, a small-time drug dealer, has got himself into debt after his mother allegedly stole his merchandise.

His child-like sister Dottie (Sophie Cookson) ends up being used as a bargaining chip when they are unable to pay the deposit to hire hit man Joe Cooper (Orlando Bloom). 

Both Dottie and later Ansel's girlfriend Sharla (Neve McIntosh) suffer moments of sexual humiliation which will make the hardiest feel a little squeamish. 

Uncomfortable viewing

It is, of course, uncomfortable viewing but does that necessarily mean it shouldn't be on stage or that it is misogynistic?

As OughtToBeClowns points out the play is written by a man, directed by a man and it's mostly female nudity rather than male.

Have we become unaccustomed to female nudity in recent years? When I first started going to the theatre again back in 2007 there were lady-bits all over the place and barely a glimpse of anything male but that trend seems to have flipped.

Here we get a glimpse of Orlando Bloom's bare buttocks but longer, lingering moments of female full frontal nudity.

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New play reviews: Libby's Eyes and Nine Foot Nine, Bunker Theatre #Bunkerbreakingout

The Bunker Breaking Out festival is on which means the chance to see a selection of new work from up and theatre companies.

Saw a double bill last night of Libby's Eyes by Poke In the Eye Productions and Alex Woods' Nine Foot Nine. What were they like?


Libbys eyes poke in the eye theatreAmy Bethan Evans' play explores the world of Libby who is blind and trying to navigate new regulations governing benefits and support for the disabled - and also getting used to her new AI robot that is supposed to help her be more independent.

The play is audio described but the describer can't resist inserting her own commentary both about what is going on with Libby and about her self.

In breaking the fourth wall the audience is brought fully into the story challenging the perception of and behaviour towards disabled people.

While done with humour and wit, knowing that Amy Bethan Evans has drawn on some personal experiences makes you cringe in your seat - and feel quite angry.

Libby's Eyes is fast-paced, playful and entertaining while cleverly delivering a powerfully exposing an almost Kafka-esque system that doesn't allow for individuality.

Loved it.

It's playing 7pm, Mondays and Thursdays at The Bunker until July 7 and is 60 minutes long.


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Comment: Is Mark Rylance right to say noisy audiences are the fault of the actors?

The Stage reports on comments made by Mark Rylance at a conference in which he laid the blame for noisy audiences on the actors:

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 18.27.10But is he right?

Yes, there might be occasions when the performances aren't engaging enough but to solely blame actors would absolve playwrights, dramaturgs and directors of any responsibility.

Not all plays are perfect. I've sat through several new works that should have had more development time.

Equally, I've sat through revivals of 'rarely performed' work that probably should have stayed on the bookshelf.

Plays not perfect

Sometimes the actors can be doing their utmost with what isn't a particularly good play. In fact, I've written reviews in which I couldn't fault the production but found the play was lacking.

Not everyone will feel the same way about a particular story and themes and no amount of good acting is going to change it. 

I'm not going to get noisy and disruptive when I'm not enjoying a play but others do.

Last week when I was enjoying Julie at the National Theatre the man sat next obviously wasn't. He was huffing and puffing and sighing in that way people do when they are bored or irritated.


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Playhouse Theatre transforming for Stephen Daldry's The Jungle + rehearsal photos

Preparations are underway for the West End transfer of the Young Vic's The Jungle directed by Stephen Daldry.

The Playhouse Theatre, where the play opens for preview on June 16, is being transformed in order to accommodate Miriam Buether's original set design from the Young Vic and the Dress Circle will be transformed in the 'Cliffs of Dover'.

Screens will also relay close up shots, live news broadcast-style, to bring a more intimate play watching experience in the larger theatre.

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s play is set in Europe’s largest unofficial refugee camp, the Calais Jungle, which in 2015, became a temporary home for more than 10,000 people. 

The cast is in rehearsal and you can see pictures below. For more details and booking go to the official website.

The Jungle rehearsals. Photo by Marc Brenner
The Jungle rehearsal. Photo by Marc Brenner

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Review: Laura Linney in My Name is Lucy Barton, Bridge Theatre and when to applaud

Lucy's is a startling story full of humour, horror and sadness but told with subtlety where much is hinted at as well as laid bare.

my name is lucy barton poster laura linney
There was a lone attempt to applaud Laura Linney's stage entrance for her West End debut in My Name Is Lucy Barton indicating, perhaps, that there was at least one American in the audience.

Laura Linney may have an exceedingly impressive array of awards and nominations to her name but that isn't the way here in London, we want to see what an actor can do first before we show our appreciation.

She plays the Lucy of the title in a solo performance, set in hospital-room where a post-op illness is confounding doctors and prolonging her stay.

Reunion and recollection

Lucy's estranged mother appears at her bedside and the story flits between their conversation and recollections from her past.

She is a writer on the verge of success, living in New York with her husband and two children but was brought up by her impoverished parents in an isolated farming community in Illinois.

It was a tough childhood, a combination of living hand to mouth and her mother's necessity-driven, no-crying style of parenting.

Startling story

There is a loneliness to Lucy, a yearning, and she is aware of it. Her mother is proud and gossipy and Linney slips easily between the two in her portrayal.

Lucy's is a startling story full of humour, horror and sadness but told with subtlety where much is hinted at as well as laid bare.

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Review: Vanessa Kirby plays an unravelling modern, rich bitch Julie, National Theatre

The big test for this production is in how you feel about Julie at the end

Polly Stenham's modern version of Strindberg's Miss Julie sees the titular character (played by Vanessa Kirby) as a coke snorting, rich bitch and Jean (Eric Kofi Abrefa) as her father's ambitious chauffeur.

Julie National theatreOpening to the pounding clubby beats of Julie's birthday party she is in the crowd of guests but not really part of it, something which will be played on throughout the play as party-goers drift in and out without paying her any attention.

Easy to dislike

Kirby gives her a convincing complexity. She is easy to dislike - a manipulator with petulant and combustible mood swings. A woman of a privileged who takes no responsibility and can only be trusted with pocket money from her trust fund.

Her father, we hear, avoids her when she drinks because it reminds him of her mother who committed suicide.

If it isn't to get his attention perhaps it is punishment for his new relationship.

Backdrop of grief

Her mother is key to unlocking Julie. Her behaviour has to be viewed against a backdrop of grief and perhaps even post-traumatic shock having been the one to find the body. 

She's also recently been painfully dumped by her fiance; all fuel to add to her fiery behaviour and the relationship that will unfold between her and Jean.

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Review: language, storytelling and leaving wanting more - Translations, National Theatre

Such a naive giddiness of emotion is ripe for tragedy

Translations national theatre poster colin morganColin Morgan's Owen is one of those airily bright and bubbly people who you suspect gets on with everyone.

He returns from the city to the small farming community where he grew up; he's earning good money as a translator for the English army which is mapping the area.

Ciaran Hinds' Hugh - Owen's alcoholic father - scratches a living as a teacher, entering the classroom with an authority that drapes the room in silence. He teaches Latin and Greek but refuses to teach English.

Owen's work includes anglicising the names of local landmarks for the map. He doesn't see the point of keeping eccentric old names which were born out of long forgotten local stories.

Hugh is more protectionist, wedded to tradition and the classics.

What should your relationship with the past and cultural traditions be?


The question is explored through the colourful characters that make up this small Irish community and its 'frenemy' relationship with the English soldiers.

It is this relationship that forms the narrative drive: Developing feelings and misunderstandings breed tension.

As does the pregnant absence of the 'Donnelly twins', the mere mention of which elicits uncomfortable looks.

They are playwright Brian Friel's equivalent of a Chekhov Gun.

Love triangle

There is also a love triangle. Owen's brother Manus (Seamus O'Hara) is in love with Maire (Judith Roddy) who has entered into a relationship with Yolland (Adetomiwa Edun), one of the English soldiers.

Yolland has a romanticised view of Ireland, wants to learn the local language and feels uncomfortable anglicising the Irish names.

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Highlights: May's London theatre news, casting, highs, lows and a Q shaped celeb spot

Theatre stuff that caught my eye

* Director Jamie Lloyd is back with more Pinter (at the Pinter). It's a season of the one-act plays with a cast including Tamsin Greig, Danny Dyer, Jane Horrocks and Martin Freeman and will run at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 6 September through to January 23. Directors joining Jamie Lloyd include Lia Williams, Patrick Marber and Lindsay Turner.

Southwark playhouse new venue rev stan instagram
Southwark Playhouse's new venue at Elephant & Castle. Photo: Rev Stan on Instagram

* Southwark Playhouse is to get not one but two new homes from 2019. Its current spot in Elephant & Castle is hopefully the last of a string of temporary homes but as well as having a venue back under the arches at London Bridge, it's previous home, it will have a brand new theatre in Elephant. In order to secure these permanent homes the theatre needs to raise some more cash - and in return for a donation, you get the chance to have your name or other message inscribed on the wall. Dig deep.

* The Young Vic's rather brilliant production of The Inheritance gets a well deserved West End transfer. It opens at the Noel Coward Theatre Sep 21 until Jan 5.

* Andrew Scott returns to the stage with Simon Stephens superb Sea Wall. This time it has a two week run at the Old Vic from Jun 19. It is a punch in the guts short play (30 minutes) with a breathtaking performance by Scott. Need more convincing? Here's what I wrote about Sea Wall when it had its last short run at the NT's The Shed back in 2013.

* Lenny Henry is back on stage next year (still fangirling after shaking his hand during Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui). This time he's heading to Theatre Royal Stratford East to star in a production of August Wilson's King Hedley II which opens May 17.

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Review: Dazzling, nerve-jangling and toe-tapping Circolombia, Underbelly

A street-edged show of dazzling and nerve-jangling acrobatics which captures a joyful, c'est la vie camaraderie while entertaining with the most jaw-dropping feats.

CircolombiaThe Circolombia troupe of 13 singers and acrobats chorus: 'A deep breath as I walk, as I fly and as I fall' and it is an appropriate summation of the essence and tone of their performances. 

Direct from Colombia, this street-edged show of dazzling and nerve-jangling acrobatics captures a joyful, c'est la vie camaraderie while entertaining with the most jaw-dropping feats.

Acrobatic dance

Live rap and backing beats with a Colombian-flavour interlace acrobatic dance sequences and add pace to the tumbles and a rhythm of anticipation to faster segments.

The ensemble gathers for banquine, creating a human base from which to hurl each other through the air with controlled precariousness, landing with a perfect wobble on an adjacent base of human arms.

Later a teeterboard (seesaw to you and I) will propel Juan David Campo Teran higher and higher as if he is bouncing on a trampoline, building to a death-defying dismount complete with an applause-inducing array of twists and somersaults.

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