Theatre summary

I haven’t reviewed theatre lately as everything I’ve seen has been on for ages, but here’s a quick summary of my thoughts for anyone who might be interested.

King Charles III (Wyndham’s). I was initially put off on hearing it was in verse but I was wrong. Don’t let it put you off as it’s a great satire. Tim Pigott-Smith is perfect as the pig-headed King who can’t leave the government to govern. Harry is trying to learn to live like Common People with a girl who studies art at St Martin’s College, leaving it up to Kate to help William try to move the monarchy into the 21st century. I won’t tell you the outcome as if you haven’t seen it yet then you must.

3 Winters (Lyttelton). Croatia’s history from 1945 to (almost) the present day, as illustrated in its effect on a specific family. It’s a good story, well acted but the first half is too slow. It really picks up after the interval and it doesn’t need to be as long as it is.

Go See (King’s Head). I saw this on the last day of its run so didn’t review it, but it may come back. A tender examination of attitudes to sex in the 1980’s thanks to Norris Church Mailer. It’s a shame all the fuss was about it being the only play by Norman Mailer’s wife, rather than the two excellent performances by Peter Tate (great in American Justice too) and Lauren Fox.

39 Steps and The Play That Goes Wrong – both very silly and very funny, perfect to cheer you up in the depths of winter.

Finally, I saw Beatriz Stix-Brunell as Alice in the Royal Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland. The fact that she came over as such a different character to the original by Lauren Cuthbertson just goes to show how Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography, Joby Talbot’s music and Bob Crowley’s designs have combined to make this ballet the first masterpiece of the century. I hope to see many re-interpretations over the years.

Review: Piranha Heights @ORLTheatre

Violence, bad language, blasphemy and a bit of nudity. If that offends you, it’s even more reason why you must see this play. Philip Ridley is probably the most exciting playwright in Britain today and even if this is not his greatest play, it’s a very good example of his work. It starts with the tense domesticity of The Fastest Clock in the Universe and ends in a surreal vision more akin to Mercury Fur. One of the more extreme characters even suggests that we are seeing the end of the old world and the beginning of their new one. Despite its in your face, violent presentation, there is so much subtlety and ambiguity that any description is impossible: just go and see it and ask yourself why doesn’t the National Theatre have the courage to commission him?

Review: Shape of the Table/Pentecost, #ironcurtaintrilogy @burningcoaltc @CockpitTheatre

If Michael Billington’s four star review in the Guardian can’t pack them in, my little blog will hardly matter. Shape of the Table was brilliantly performed by this American company, and to say Pentecost was not quite as good is hardly a criticism, but I suspect the gem will be The Prisoner’s Dilemma which I saw a very good version of a year or two back. Written following the fall of the Berlin Wall almost exactly 25 years ago, it is fascinating to see how David Edgar’s analysis has played out – it’s certainly a more accurate forecast than any of the politicians gave us. Two parts of the trilogy in one day, a Philip Ridley next Thursday and a brand new opera to come on Saturday. What a week!

Review: #ROHaeternum, etc., Royal Ballet

Aeternum was the star piece in this triple bill and Claire Calvert was the star in Aeternum. If there were another matinee I’d go back and see it all again and maybe appreciate the other two ballets better. I missed Aeternum last time as I was nodding off after 24 Preludes due to the Chopin effect and went home early. This time, the preceding ballets were more interesting. They were both narrative ballets – they are obviously coming back into fashion – not that I’m sure what the story of Cermemony of Innocence actually was. It was good to watch and Britten’s music was excellent. The Age of Anxiety had a much clearer story, apparently based on an Auden poem but very reminiscent of Coward’s Design for Living. Set in New York to music by Bernstein, it made me think of Jerome Robbins’ choreography for West Side Story. I knew it was an unfair comparison: the dancing was superb but I still haven’t seen a British company manage to swing like that, although Boston Ballet did when they visited London. These were only the second performances of both works and I suspect they’ll be just that bit better when they are revived – they are certainly worth seeing again. For Aeternum, everything was superb: the choice of music by Britten, the orchestra under Barry Wordsworth, the choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and the dancing, but it felt like it was all there to support the stunning performance by Claire Calvert. She is still only a soloist but on the basis of this I strongly look forward to seeing her in other major roles.

Review (not): Ghost Stories, Arts Theatre

No review for Ghost Stories @GhostStoriesUK as they ask you not to give anything away. It was fun and a bit scary, but nothing like as scary as the stage version of Let the Right One In
(which was scarier than the film) but why were there no women in the cast? Many of the parts could easily have been played by women or adapted for women. Sometimes gender is important to the story. The whole point of ENO’s The Girl of the Golden West was to look at the role of a lone woman in the tough world of the California gold rush and the wonderfully expressive conducting of Keri-Lynn Wilson helped make up for the lack of women on stage. There was no excuse in Ghost Stories.

Review: The Vertical Hour @VERTICALHOURLDN Park Theatre

A profound play by David Hare featuring a flawless performance from Thusitha Jayasundera – if she had a simpler stage name she’d be a big star. Peter Davidson is as excellent as one would expect with Finlay Roberston playing his son – a good performance but a less convincing character than the other two. The play opens and closes with Thusitha Jayasundera’s American politics lecturer holding tutorials with two students. The students’ essays present the simplistic pro- and anti-war arguments, sandwiching the main play where her arguments with Peter Davidson’s character offer more nuanced viewpoints. The relevance of the mess that Bush and Blair created to the current situation with ISIS has dominated many reviews but the play is also about relationships, teaching, war correspondence, guilt and personal responsibility. I thought I’d missed this but they added an extra performance yesterday. It’s justifiably almost sold out but if you can find a ticket then do so.

Review: #HereLiesLove Dorfman Theatre @NationalTheatre

This looked and sounded absolutely fabulous in every way. The NT’s new Dorfman Theatre is designed to be re-configurable but I bet they didn’t think it would be re-configured so many times, and so effectively, in a single show. I loved the music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim but then I’ve got CDs by both of them so it might be a problem if that is not your thing. The music never stops, nor does the show which was a straight 100 minutes with no interval. The cast is astonishingly good, singing and dancing with terrific energy and skill. I saw no programme so I can’t credit anyone but I was surprised to find at the curtain call there were fewer than 20 – the energy and the costume changes made it seem like at least twice that. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen and I’m left stumbling at quite how to describe it. All can say is that if you can get a ticket then do so.

On the down side, as I left I heard a young couple discussing it. He said he thought he understood it from around half way and she said she didn’t understand it at all, so if you aren’t already familiar with the story I’d strongly recommend you read up a bit on Wikipedia. I did also wonder why David Byrne approached Fatboy Slim for the music, having been in Talking Heads with Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, aka Tom Tom Club, who created one of the greatest dance albums ever.