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Category: Theatre (page 2 of 2)

Life Of Galileo

Joe Wright’s production of Brecht’s Life of Galileo could so easily have been a disastrous overload of director-led ideas.  Instead Wright (as always) has kept the text as a foundation for his interpretation and held his ever -inventive stream of audio and visual delights in tight check.  It really works.

I have not read or seen the play before and was aware that the script has a lot of scientific explanation and, especially towards the end, is slightly hectoring in conveying its arguments. Nevertheless the performances from its very talented, committed ensemble of actors brought it alive and held my attention throughout.  It’s easy to sit back and enjoy actors playing lots of different parts, but as part of  their craft it’s damn hard work. They did an amazing job. And in so doing I realised what a fascinating play this is.

Brecht’s following of the idea of alienation – keeping the audience’s engagement as distant as possible so that it is intellectual rather than emotional – can lay traps for a director.  It seems easy to throw in lots of theatrical estranging devices but the result can be irrelevant novelty.  It’s  tempting to swamp a weak script with stage business to keep the audience’s attention, but the fact that the production’s inventiveness supported the text upheld the strength and indeed importance of the text.  The overhead mini planetarium was not constantly used, so when the projections on it did flow they were effective, especially at the very end of the play.  The Chemical Brothers’  music was both loud and quiet, creating energy and a poignancy which I didn’t expect.  Wright uses puppets, lighting, masks and his wheel-shaped stage (some audience members lie on cushions in the middle of the performing area and look particularly alienated in their discomfort) and it all gels beautifully.

The play is not a simple biography or history lesson, and it is passionate in its ideas and arguments of scientific responsibility, reason’s relationship with faith, the use of science in power and the dangers of oppression.  The relationship of science, superstition and religion was very different in Galileo’s time than today.  The Church had a complex relationship with science which arguably we have lost now.  But as I watched a scene in which the Pope, wearing only white underpants is gradually dressed into full officiating attire, I remembered Pope Francis’ “gift” of his encyclical on the protection of the environment to Trump the day before – so nothing relevant there…

Who’s Afraid?

Saturday night at Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.  For anyone who does not know the play or the film version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, it’s basically watching a married couple through nearly three early hours of the morning, fuelled by a lot of alcohol, playing out their marriage as a set of ball-breaking games of verbal boxing, all witnessed by a newly married couple Nick and Honey. The “games” include Humiliate The Hosts, Hump The Hostess and Get The Guests.  The power play continually shifts and if the blood was visible their living room (the play’s setting) would be drenched.

The play can be taken literally or metaphorically: the couple are called George and Martha and they live in New Carthage.  George is a Professor of History and Martha’s “Daddy” (one of two major unseen characters) is the university’s president.  Nick is a biologist and Honey throws up a lot.

The battles rage four-ways.  It’s a deliberately exhausting play to watch and it’s brilliance lies in the fact that you do keep watching.  The cast in James McDonald’s production excel. Imelda Staunton’s acting range never ceases to astonish me.  She howls toward the end and I felt it physically in my stomach. Conleth Hill’s physicality, as Susannah Clapp points out in her Observer newspaper review,  blurs the line between shambling with exhaustion and prowling like a predator.  Luke Treadaway and (a scarily funny) Imogen Poots match them perfectly as foils and equals in the combat.  There is such sustained intensity that I almost fear for the actors’ well-being if they don’t go on to decompress with care at the end of the performance.

It holds in common with the other classic 20th century American plays (Miller, O’Neill and Williams) two things: liquor and illusion.  And in the light of our “post-truth” (now in the dictionary) era, it made me realise that “post-truth” is nothing new.  A raging war between truth and illusion has always been at the heart of the American Dream.  Social media has simply produced a different shining light on them.  And a President survives and succeeds by letting illusion win out.  His American Dream has been achieved.

Is there a breaking point in the play for George or Martha, or both?  Interestingly I am still not sure.  The end of the play implies that illusion is finally shattered.  But if it has been, are they staring at the sun or into an abyss?  It was if I had barely breathed throughout the play, and as the lights finally lowered I was still not ready to take in air.



Another Ivo Van Hove production.  I have seen an awful lot of his stuff.  Some of it has been stunning (Roman Tragedies, A View From The Bridge, Scenes From A Marriage) and some of it has been just awful (Antigone, A Song From Far Away).   Now this production starring Jude Law: a strange sort of adaptation of the screenplay of the Italian film Ossessione, which was based on the book The Postman Always Rings Twice which was made into two American films of the same title.

Huge stage.  Huge.  Actors were all obviously miked.  Lot of music.  A gym treadmill set in the floor.  A car engine and a sink large enough to sit in.

If you have ever been an Assistant Stage Manager as I have been,

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No school this week and as I’ve never seen Hamlet before (the shame) I thought I’d try for a day ticket for the sold out run at the Almeida with Andrew Scott (Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock).  I rang the Box Office on Monday morning to see if there was a queue and yes people had been queueing some days since 4.30am. But in for a penny in for a pound,

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Roman Tragedies

Battle scene from Ivan van Hove’s production of Roman Tragedies.  This scene is from Antony and Cleopatra.  He has condensed Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra into 6 hours.  At this point live percussionists were raging

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The White Devil

Oh dear.  I really wanted to like this so much.  Firstly the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe is possibly my favourite theatre.  It is an absolutely beautiful re-creation of one of  the first indoor theatres.  It’s an intimate space in which you feel almost feel the actors’ breath, and it is lighted, with a few exceptions, entirely by candlelight.

Not being a great fan of Jacobean tragedy I was really looking forward to seeing how the play would work in a space for which it could have been written.  And on an extremely positive note, Read more

Hedda Gabler

“My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda as a personality is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than as her husband’s wife.”                      Henrik Ibsen

A play first performed in 1891, written by 62 year old man, who here writes that the female protagonist has a personality, and that her personality is defined by men (father and husband).  Ivan Van Hove’s stark production at the National Theatre shows how utterly credible Hedda is, and what an extraordinary play it remains.

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The Children

Monday night to the Royal Court to see three of my favourite actors in a new play by Lucy Kirkwood.  I came out of the play, having been engrossed for its almost  2 hour straight-through performance, not feeling emotionally excited or moved, but feeling that I had seen something quite profound, which would stay in my head and continue to evolve there.  The play has

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The Boys In The Band

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind week – one exhibition, one gig and one play.  I have to say this play was not my choice, but it’s at a theatre I really like, and I’ll go and see Mark Gatiss in pretty much anything.  I thought I was in for an excellent production of a dated play.  What whipped the rug out from under my feet was

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Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour

This National Theatre of Scotland production of Lee Hall’s play based on the book The Sopranos by Alan Warner (I can’t imagine why they changed the name), has reached London for a run in the tiny Dorfman Theatre. 

(Sensitive readers be aware – this play is about sober and drunk teenage girls talking about, looking for and having sex.  Bawdy is a bit of an understatement.)

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