Tag Archives: National Theatre

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.

Review: @GreatBritainNT Theatre Royal Haymarket

Aaron Neill was an absolute master of deadpan comic brilliance and almost steals the show from better known stars such as the excellent Robert Glennister and Lucy Punch. Some of the audience were laughing at the crude joking of the newsroom but that is not where the true humour of Richard Bean’s comedy lies. His savage satire of the press is obviously based on the News of the World phone hacking scandal but the plot also takes examples from the Sun, the Star, the Daily Telegraph and others, along with some side-swipes against the Guardian and the Daily Mail. Be warned that there is a lot of very crude language and some rather unsettling story lines but it is hilarious.

I’ve been away on holiday for a few weeks and before that was the summer doldrums, so it’s a great start to the autumn season!

Review: A Small Family Business, Olivier Theatre

Most Alan Ayckbourn works well in smaller theatres but this was written for the Olivier and works well in it. Dating from the 1980s, it is a critique of the corrupt selfishness encouraged by Thatcher, so this is an apt time to revive it. Gawn Grainger is Ken Ayres, a man who prides himself on his honesty and decency, brought in to manage the furniture company run by his wife’s aging father and root out the corruption that is damaging it. He starts off as someone who would never take a pen or some paper clips from work and ends up getting mired in the corruption around him. With such a heavy underlying theme, this is not one of Aycknbourn’s funniest plays but it manages to make you laugh and to make you thing.

Preview: King Lear, National Theatre, Olivier

This was a preview, so I imagine there will be a bit of tweaking before press night, but it hardly needs it. Simon Russell Beale who was so good as Timon last year is astonishing as the King, his authority, his voice and his body shrinking through the play as his madness takes hold. The direction by Sam Mendes is faultless although, like so many directors in the Olivier, he does love using that revolving stage a little too much – perhaps he will calm that down before it opens. All the acting was first class so it seems a bit unfair to pick anyone else out, although Olivia Vinall, who was so good as Desdemona in the NT’s Othello last year is a superb Cordelia. For someone still at the start of her career, that promises much to come. I won’t say any more as it would be unfair before press night but this really is unmissable.

Favourite play in a large theatre: Othello, Olivier Theatre

The National Theatre was inconsistent again this year but Strange Interlude and Children of the Sun were superb. When I reviewed Othello, I wrote, “I feel pretty certain I’ve just seen the winner(s) of the next Olivier for Best Actor.” It’s too early for the Oliviers but Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester deservedly shared the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor. The Young Vic shone with A Doll’s House (a strong runner up which I saw in the West End) and Public Enemy. The Old Vic didn’t have any productions that grabbed me until the excellent Fortune’s Fool right at the end of the year which I also strongly recommend. I also enjoyed One Man, Two Guvnors but the West End was otherwise a little disappointing this year.

The Drowned Man, Punchdrunk and National Theatre

I had high expectations of this which were sadly not met. Subtitled a Hollywood Fable, Punchdrunk have created an amazing installation, a huge ex-sorting office turned into Temple Studios, in which a story is being acted. As some parts of the story happen in small spaces and the total audience is around 600, it means most people do not see most of the action. Other blogs have recommended following a specific character around but they moved too quickly for me to follow so all I got was glimpses. Some were very intense, e.g. a naked man being drowned/baptised/washed by a woman in a blood-red bath; others were banal. In all, I probably saw less than half an hour’s action in nearly three hours.

Punchdrunk had told us the performance ended at 8 p.m. so when a member of staff ushered us towards the ground floor at 7:45, we assumed we were being herded out and left. Asking why there were still so many bags at the compulsory bag check-in, the woman told us that the finale was taking place at that moment! I considered going back in but could probably not have seen it with that many people in front of, just as I hadn’t been able to see the last couple of things I had tried to follow. If you are young and energetic, willing to push us older people out of the way and follow the action then it may well be great; if not, save your money.

Review: Othello, National Theatre (Olivier)

I feel pretty certain I’ve just seen the winner(s) of the next Olivier for Best Actor. I am not sure whether it will be Adrian Lester’s Othello or Rory Kinnear’s Iago. Olivia Vinall’s Desdemona might even pick up an award – a very assured performance for a relative newcomer. In all, this was about as good as theatre can get, dominated by two extraordinary performances. Nicholas Hytner’s direction must have been excellent to produce the performances but my one tiny  quibble was with the setting. The earlier part placed it at any time in the last 50 or 60 years but the unnecessary introduction of a small laptop narrowed this to within the last five (possibly ten) years. There have been at least three conflicts in Cyprus in my lifetime: more vagueness over timing could have left it with echoes of any or all of these, making it less modern but more relevant to modern times. But it is an extremely small quibble over an otherwise perfect production.

Review: Strange Interlude, National Theatre (Lyttelton)

This epic story (three hours + interval) concerns Nina and the men who love her throughout her life – father, lover, husband, son and “uncle” – although the only man she truly loved was killed in the first world war shortly before the start of the play which continues until the 1940s. Anne-Marie Duff is excellent as Nina, as is Charles Marsden as Charles Edwards, her “uncle Charlie” whose sardonic soliloquy opens the play. The use of soliloquy and frequent asides to the audience is slightly off-putting at first but I soon got used to it and welcomed the way it provides insights into the characters. Following Desire under the Elms and the wonderful Long Day’s Journey into Night last year, it is terrific to see this revival of interest in Eugene O’Neill.

Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre

This makes a fascinating contrast to Summerfolk which I saw a few weeks ago. Maxim Gorky wrote the two plays at the same time and in both cases, the first half sets up the characters, the home owner with his poetry writing sister, the constant servant, various people in love with other people; the second half plays then out the drama resulting from these relationships and reminds us that behind this privileged group people are starving.

ChildrenoftheSun_2 L to R: Geoffrey Streatfield as Protasov, Emma Lowndes as Liza and Justine Mitchell as Yelena. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy National Theatre

I do not want to spoil it by giving away any more but a crucial incident in Summerfolk which plays out as farce becomes a tragedy in Children of the Sun. The acting, direction and set were, of course, superior to those at LAMDA but it is surprising how well the latter did in their relatively impoverished circumstances. Gorky has been shamefully overlooked for so long, perhaps because he was Stalin’s favourite playwright. Thoroughly recommended.

Review: Table, The Shed (National Theatre)

The Shed is the amazing new theatre at the National Theatre, temporarily replacing the Cottesloe which is being refurbished.

8758_NT_The Shed_image by Philip Vile 8504_NT_The Shed_image by Philip VilePhotographs by Philip Vile, courtesy National Theatre

The Shed has been constructed as a “temporary venue celebrating new theatre that is adventurous, ambitious and unexpected.” Not too ambitious or unexpected in this case, though: director Rufus Norris and movement director Javier De Frutos previously worked together on the excellent London Road at the Cottesloe which was so successful that it transfered to the much larger Olivier stage where I saw it. Rufus Norris also directed the Don Giovanni and Dr Dee for the ENO.

“Table” is a celebration of six generations of a family through the table constructed, used and abused by each generation, from David Best, the carpenter who built it (and whose corpse was laid out on it) through to Su-Lin, the surrogate child of Anthony Best with his partner Ben, dancing on it below.

Jpeg7_Rosalie Craig (Elizabeth), Michael Shaeffer (David)_imageRichardHubertSmith
From left to right, Rosalie Craig (Elizabeth), Michael Shaeffer (David),
image by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy National Theatre

Jpeg13_Sophie Wu (Su Lin), Paul Hilton (Gideon)_imageRichardHubertSmith
Sophie Wu (Su Lin), Paul Hilton (her grandfather, Gideon)
image by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy National Theatre

The play is nominally written by Tanya Ronder, Rufus Norris’s partner, but she explains in the programme (which you must buy if only to keep track of the generations) that it evolved through research and collaboration between the two of them and the nine excellent actors. That’s also how it comes across, as an excellent whole, much better than the sum of its parts. As you would expect over six generations, there are episodes of humour and episodes of sadness. Underneath all this is a common thread of selfishness versus commitment. This is not always as one might expect. Who is actually the selfish one: the nun running off to become a missionary in Africa or the atheist twin brother who stays at home, nursing his father after his stroke?