Review: Top Girls, National Theatre - a curious mix of timely and of its time

Top Girls is a curious play, a mixture of moments that had me mentally punching the air, feeling angry and a little frustrated.

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Caryl Churchill's 1982 play Top Girls has currency today but the shoulder pads and back-combed hair aren't the only echoes of the period in which it was written. 

Its themes of women's role in society, their career options, the expectations, sacrifices and prejudices have echoes in today's exposure of the gender pay gap and lack of representation at board level.

A restaurant dinner with a fantasy guest list opens the play, the singularity of which is only revealed as the story progresses. 

It is hosted by Marlene (Katherine Kingsley) who is celebrating a promotion to a senior position at a recruitment agency.

She is joined for dinner by a collection of notable but perhaps unfamiliar women from history and folklore.

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Review: Maggie Smith recalls A German Life, Bridge Theatre

A German Life subtly asks important questions about culpability and responsibility.

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When Maggie Smith heads to the stage it is undoubtedly a big draw but I think the play, A German Life, is equally worthy of the attention.

I've long been fascinated with stories from the Second World War told from non-traditional perspectives.

A German Life is based on the life of Brunhilde Pomsel who was one of Goebbels secretaries. 

Smith's Hilde sits at a kitchen table, glasses in her hand and tells us about her life and how she came to be working at the Reich's propaganda ministry at the end of the war - something for which she spent five years in prison.

Telling forgotten details?

She tells us up front that she doesn't remember much - is it telling where she can recall details and where she cannot?

It is an exceptional story of someone extraordinary in their ordinariness.

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From the archives: My Ben Whishaw New York encounter

My first trip to New York, prompted by Ben Whishaw making his Broadway debut was pre-Rev Stan's Theatre blog (yes there was a time).

The Pride ben whishaw poster lucille lortel
He was in The Pride at Lucille Lortel Theatre with Andrea Riseborough and Hugh Dancy and there was an encounter with Ben Whishaw afterwards which I wrote about on my old blog.

Having hinted at said encounter in a post on Rev Stan's Theatre Facebook page (check it out/like etc) I've been asked for the story (link to the original post is here).

This has been mildly edited because I know better now:

Yesterday was another mammoth walkathon clocking up about 16km (pedometer decided to reset itself halfway through the day). Did the International Center for Photography in the morning then walked down to the Empire State Building and onto the Flat Iron Building which has to be my favourite of everything I have seen.

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Review: Funeral Flowers, Bunker Theatre - getting drawn into the world of a 17-year-old trainee florist

Emma Dennis-Edwards has created a character that gets under your skin - you laugh with her, feel for her and desperately want someone to ask the right questions and be there for her.

Funeral Flowers by Emma Dennis- Edwards (courtesy Kofi Dwaah) (25)
Funeral Flowers by Emma Dennis-Edwards. Photo: Kofi Dwaah.

Angelique's boyfriend Micky is in trouble with his gang leader and wants her to help him out - if she doesn't he says she'll be making his funeral flowers.

The 17-year-old at the centre of  Emma Dennis-Edwards' play is living with a carer while her mum is in prison, learning floristry at college and dreams of setting up her own business.

A cascade of flowers down the back wall of the performance space together with buckets of flowers give the theatre a hint of that wonderful florist's scent and Angelique a place to escape the outside world.

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Review: Cyprus Avenue, Royal Court - David Ireland's absurdist, existential comedy packs a grim bite

It is a superb play and one that can be cogitated over and debated but which in a perverse, bloody way is also highly entertaining.

Royal court cyprus avenue

Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court has long finished its run but it's such an extraordinary play that I wanted to get some thoughts down as I didn't get a chance to review it at the time.

It's not an easy piece to describe but if I was pinned down I'd say it is an absurdist, surreal, existential drama and pitch black comedy set in Northern Ireland.

Unionist Eric (Stephen Rea) thinks his baby granddaughter looks like Gerry Adams which sparks an intense internal debate about who he is.

Therapy session and flashbacks

The story and the nature of his inner turmoil unfold during a therapy session with a black psychologist Bridget (Ronkę Adékoluęjo) with 'flashbacks' to key events.

Eric begins to unravel questioning his beliefs, his Britishness and history, his unionism and much more besides.

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Interview: Roisin Feeny of youth theatre group Sounds Like Chaos on its new sci-fi play and use of multimedia

Sounds Like Chaos is a youth theatre group co-founded by Roisin Feeny and Gemma Rowan and their latest piece, Wow Everything Is Amazing, imagines the digital world in 50 years time.

Roisin Feeny
Roisin Feeny

I spoke to Roisin about the inspiration behind the piece, the use of multi-media and whether theatres should embrace digital media more.

Tell us a bit about Wow Everything Is Amazing and what inspired it? 

Wow Everything Is Amazing is a sci-fi hallucinatory madness set in the church of the future.

In this new world, sermons are stored on servers, and data has replaced deities.

Lead by our new AI leader, Godhead, it asks the congregation to trust in progress to be saved, as the boundaries between humans and tech become ever-more blurred.

The story is told through music, film and movement in an explosion of energy from the young performers.

There is an underlying discomfort about who is represented in this new world, with ideas around race and gender embedded in the fabric of the piece, in part through experimentation with audio description

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Review: Wow Everything Is Amazing in an imagined digital future (Battersea Arts Centre)

While the raps, music and dance bring a celebratory, uplifting feel there are hints at the price of it all.

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Sounds Like Chaos - Wow Everything Is Amazing. Photo: Ali Wright

Youth theatre group Sounds Like Chaos imagine the digital world 50 years in the future, presenting the vision as a pseudo-church service where citizens worship at the altar of the internet. 

To one side is a congregation, dressed in jumpsuits complete with the logos of digital companies. On the other is a 'choir' wearing a futuristic version of the traditional chorister robes.

They worship and offer praise to 'Godhead' who glides up the aisle on a self-balancing scooter (hoverboard) on a promise to 'be here for you'.

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Olivier Awards: The two winners I'm particularly chuffed about

Flicked on social media this morning to cast my eye over the winners of the Oliver Awards and particular chuffed to see two names on the list.

First up was Flesh and Bone which won Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre (basically best fringe production). 

I gave it five stars when I saw it for its clever mix of Shakespearean lyricism and East End vernacular.

Flesh and Bone

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Review: Cillian Murphy's performance flies in Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, Barbican Theatre

Murphy's performance is a triumph, pitching with precision from one emotional extreme to another.

Cillian Murphy Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

Cillian Murphy and writer Enda Walsh's collaborations on stage tend to lean towards the surreal and avant-garde and Grief Is The Thing With Features is no exception.

Based on the award-winning novel by Max Porter, a man (Murphy) is holed-up in his London flat grieving the loss of his wife and the mother of his two sons.

The cacophony of different emotions he and his family is feeling invites a visit by Crow, a destructive, tricky character who threatens to stay until the father and sons no longer need him.

Cathartic vehicle

While crows traditionally represent death and tragedy in literature, here the creature is also a cathartic vehicle through which the family can express those deeper, raw emotions and ultimately learn to survive their grief.

Walsh has chosen to have Murphy play Crow as well as the father.

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National Theatre Live Trailer: Sally Field and Bill Pullman All My Sons, Old Vic - does it do the play justice?

Trailers for plays are generally a bit rubbish, aren't they? Film trailers give too much away and play trailers often tell you virtually nothing.

This trailer for the National Theatre Live screening of All My Sons at the Old Vic feels like a small step in the right direction - I wonder whether the fact that it will be shown alongside film trailers in cinemas to promote the event has focused attention on its purpose?

There is a hint of the story - family tension/marital tension - but if you know nothing about the play would it intrigue you enough to want to see it?

Or is the Old Vic and National Theatre Live relying on the star pull of Sally Field and Bill Pullman?

This is a play about truth, lies, love, loss and fatal decisions and you get little of that.

What do you think?