Review: The Lady From The Sea, Donmar Warehouse or what I remember

ImageSaw this back in October and normally I write up my thoughts within a few days, while everything is still fresh but work, then a holiday got in the way.  However, it is actually proving an interesting exercise, reflecting after nearly a month, on what has stayed with me - and some stuff has, which is a good sign at least, we've all seen those easily forgettable plays.

Ibsen's Norway mountains setting has been swapped for the Caribbean which works well in the main - references to the end of the summer and coming of colder weather did jar a little. Ellida (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is the new wife of widower Dr Wangel (Finbar Linch) who has two teenage daughters Hilde (Ellie Bamber) and Bolette (Helena Wilson) from his first marriage.

She grew up by the sea and swims everyday with a dedication and a fervour that hints of emotional disquiet. Two things haunt her: A former romance with a sailor and a recent tragedy. Worried, Wangel invites his Bolette's former tutor Arnholm (Tom McKay) to visit in the hope it will distract her but her sailor also makes an appearance.

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That was October in London theatre-land

Mischief Movie Night
Mischief Theatre

A little later than usual as I've been on holiday...

* Quite a few nuggets of excitement in the National Theatre’s 2018 season announcement. Sam Mendes will direct The Lehmans Trilogy and Ralph Fiennes will appear alongside Sophie Okonedo in Antony and Cleopatra. Stan-fav Colin Morgan will star in Brian Friel’s Translations, Vanessa Kirby will star in Polly Stenham’s new version of Miss Julie (the Miss has been dropped) and one of my favourite plays of this year (so far), An Octoroon, is transferring to the National next summer.

* Sheila Hancock will star in the stage adaptation of 1971 comedy Harold and Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre from February.

* Mischief Theatre - those clever peeps behind The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong (etc) - are returning to the West End with their improvised Mischief Movie Night at the Arts Theatre from December 13.

* The next season at the Park Theatre will include a new play written by and starring David Haig called Pressure which is about meteorologists trying to predict the perfect weather for the D-Day landings.

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The new play, new theatre experience - Young Marx at the Bridge Theatre

IMG_5152The benefits of being a brand new theatre is that you can address a lot of the niggles people have with older theatres: uncomfortable seats, lack of space for refreshments, bad sight-lines and not enough ladies loos etc. Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr's Bridge Theatre beautifully situated on the opposite bank of the Thames to the Tower of London seems to have made a pretty good job of it.

Walking in, it is light and airy without feeling stark and impersonal and I imagine the spacious cafe/bar area will double as a nice daytime hangout. The seats are comfortable (a bit like those at the Royal Court) but sight-lines will have to be an ongoing test as the configuration is going to change. For this production we sat in the middle of front row and although the stage is reasonable high, I've sat closer to higher stages, so it was perfectly fine.

And as for the ladies loos, there are lots of them and there is even an 'in' and 'out' door to the main facilities similar to The Globe which means a better flow if you'll excuse the pun. Only one minor quibble is that the coat/bag hooks on the back of cubicle doors are really high - I had to stand on tip toes to reach it. I know I'm short but even so it was the primary topic of conversation as people were washing their hands.

And what about the play? It would have been easy to open with a relatively safe classic but Hytner and Starr are setting out their stall by choosing a new play by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman. Obviously they aren't strangers, Hytner having directed Bean's plays England People Very Nice, One Man, Two Guv'nors and Great Britain and this has the potential to be a crowd pleaser.

It's a bit of a romp in fact, telling the story of the time, the 30-something Karl Marx's (Rory Kinnear) lived in exile with his family in Soho. The central narrative is his journey from disillusioned genius, thinking of jacking it all in to work on the railways, back to the writer, thinker and activist he is famed for.

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Review: Mystery and connection in the lyrical Fishskin Trousers, Park Theatre

Brett Brown  Jessica Carroll & Eva Traynor (l-r) in Fishskin Trousers at Park Theatre. Photo by David Gill 5068
L-R Brett Brown, Jessica Carroll & Eva Traynor in Fishskin Trousers at Park Theatre. Photo by David Gill

Three stories that transcend the 12th to 21st century all connected by a place: Orford Ness, a wild island on the Suffolk coast. Mab (Jessica Carroll) tells of her encounter with a wild man who is hauled in by local fishermen in their net. Then fast forward to the 1970s where Ben (Brett Brown) is an Australian scientist who has been brought in to solve a problem with the radars on the island that are monitoring Russian activity. Mog's (Eva Traynor) story is set in the 21st century, she returns to the place she grew up hoping that it will help her solve a moral dilemma.

Each story is delivered as segments of monologue but as the three narratives progress they slowly entwine so that three very different stories that seemingly share only place find other connections.

Mab is a bit of an outsider but she is a sharp commentator on the people and events of the village. Ben is a nerd, for whom Orford Ness is an escape from his university campus life and Mog feels adrift, has strained relationships and low self esteem all of which lead her back to the place where she last felt connected and content.

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Review: Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket

117118Given that Venus in Fur is about an actress auditioning for a male writer/director it was inevitably that pre-theatre conversations would turn to Harvey Weinstein and the treatment of women by men in positions of power in the entertainment industry. It is perhaps unfortunate timing for a play with such a synopsis but while it does explore male/female relationships and power it thankfully doesn't stray into that territory.

David Ives has written a play within in play. Writer/director Thomas (David Oakes) has adapted for the stage, the 1870 novel Venus in Furs which is said to have inspired the term 'masochism'. He has got to the end of a long day of fruitless auditions for the central character Wanda when Vanda Jordon (Natalie Dormer) turns up insisting she auditions.

She is unsubtle - brash even, and won't take no for an answer even if she appears to be the opposite of what Thomas is looking for. He reluctantly agrees that she can perform a few of Wanda's lines.  At Vanda's insistence Thomas reads the part of Severin who falls for Wanda, an independent woman. He asks to be her slave for a year promising to do whatever she asks of him. She initially refuses but eventually agrees asking more and more degrading things of him.

Vanda has come prepared for the audition which surprises Thomas but her preparation is more than a few costumes to help her get into character, over the course the play actress and director debate Wanda and Severin's relationship and who is dominating who. In parallel the play raises questions about Vanda and Thomas and their relationship - who is manipulating who?

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Review: The superb Seagull, Lyric Hammersmith

Full-Casting-for-The-Seagull-Lyric-HammersmithThe Seagull is one of the only Chekhov plays I really like but I never thought I'd like it quite as much as I did watching this version by Simon Stephens. His words teamed with Sean Holmes direction, leap off the page and the production breaths new life into the story teasing out the humour and in turn elevating the tragedy.

For a start this feel more like an ensemble piece rather than a story about Irina (Lesley Sharp) and Konstantin (Brian Vernel) - a former star actress clinging on to fame and her son seeking a career of his own. All the characters are fully formed and the result is a collective of human mistakes, heartbreak and foibles - and that is its power.

They are riddled with emotional injury, delusion, faults and  seem hell bent on making or repeating mistakes; from Pauline's (Michele Austin) unrequited love for the doctor and Marcia's (Cherelle Skeete) for Konstantin to the way Irina can't help hurting her son. Even the doctor (Paul Higgins), with his sanguine remarks about having lived a full life, has a shadow of regret; there is something fatherly in the way he behaves with Konstantin that perhaps hints at a secret. 

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Review: The classic with modern touches Jane Eyre, National Theatre

Jane-eyre-whatsonwidget_1280x720-sfwThere was an awful lot I loved about Jane Eyre or Jane Uhrr as many of the characters in the play say her name with a northern accent. It would be easy choice to have costumes and set faithful to the period of the novel but what director Sally Cookson and designer Michael Vale have done is keep a sense of the time with the costumes and odd bit of furniture but use an abstract set; a sort of wooden frame with walkways, platforms, ramps and ladders.

The set doesn't move instead the changing landscape of Jane's (Nadia Clifford) journey is represented using movement, lighting, music and and occasionally snatches of song. The latter are often contemporary, chosen for their lyrics but sung in an operatic style - Gnarls Barkley's Crazy is a particularly genius choice.

In choosing to have a stripped back set design it allows for more inventive and dramatic theatrical devices - outfits lowering from the ceiling, wind machines and floaty veils and real flames. However none of this detracts from the characters and the narrative, rather it enhances so that while you get a fast-paced and vigorous production, it still oozes atmosphere, passion and tenderness. The soul of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel of freedom, loneliness and love is there in abundance.

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Review: The oddly entertaining Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre

St-george-and-the-dragon-2160x2160_0Rory Mullarkey's new play Saint George and the Dragon is odd.

Saw it during preview and there were a few teething problems with the fancier aspects of the staging (which isn't that unusual during preview for a big production like this) so I don't feel I got the full 'wow'* but still got the essence of the play.

It's a clunky allegorical tale that starts off feeling like a piece of children's theatre as we learn the history of Saint George (John Heffernan) and how he saves England from a dragon (Julian Bleach). We then fast forward to the industrial revolution with the same set of town's folk although for them only a year has passed. There is a new dragon to destroy in the new era but this dragon is more difficult to kill because he's representative of an establishment setting rules and regulations that benefit the few.

Then we jump forward to the current day, again only a year for the characters of the play, and there is yet another dragon representing another dark side humanity for George to destroy.

At the interval I couldn't help thinking there must be more to it and hoped it was leading up to something really clever but it wasn't. It's too black and white with goodies and baddies and only one character - Henry (Richard Goulding) - who switches. OK so the point is that the 'dragon' is in all of us but even so.

There is a nice point of reference from the first dragon encounter which brings things almost full circle but otherwise it felt like a lot of effort for something that didn't really delve much beneath the surface.

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Review: My Name is Rachel Corrie, Young Vic Theatre

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Erin Doherty in My Name is Rachel Corrie. Photo Ellie Kurttz

Rachel Corrie (Erin Doherty) is someone who cares. OK, so a lot of people care but they don't care to the extent of Rachel, to the extent where she actually does something and does something remarkable and life-threatening.

Based on Rachel's writings and performed with tireless energy, wit and compassion by Erin Doherty we meet Rachel when she is a child growing up in Olympia, Washington. She'd probably be described as a sensitive, slightly odd, slightly eccentric child - precocious even - she thinks a lot, is ambitious but in her passions and pursuits rather for a career. When her class is asked to write down what they'd like to do when they grow up, she writes a long list.

Through her teens her personality and passions blossom, she is admirable, quirky in an amusing, endearing and sometime irritating way. She volunteers, she talks to people, listens to people, her compassion grows until all the work she does isn't enough so she gets on a plane and heads to Israel. Once there she crosses into Gaza where she joins up with the International Solidarity Movement, a group of activists trying to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli soldiers. 

She wants to help the ordinary people, those struggling to live on day to day basis and she puts herself in danger in order to do so. She wants to help the innocent people caught up in the politics and devastation of war. Her humanity is met with humanity, the people she is trying to help, help her, take her into their homes and feed her when they have so little. It is a story that gives you faith in the human race while simultaneously making you despair at the injustice of the world.

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