Tag Archives: National Theatre

Review National Theatre Live: Angels in America by Danielle O’Shea

(5 / 5)

 

Survival is central to the first part of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America”. This can be seen in the consideration of the fight to survive illness and addiction but also by asking how far you would go to make a relationship survive or to survive oppression. As well as survival, themes of morality, religion and politics remain essential to the play and are used as tools for character development.
As mentioned in the pre-show interview with its director, Marianne Elliott, the play moves from domesticity to magical realism due to the hallucinations experienced by several of the characters which become more overwhelming as the play progresses.


Rooted in 1985 New York during the AIDS epidemic, the harsh reality of each character’s situation is evident and is kept in mind through the use of three side-by-side mini sets so even as the play moves from one character to another, their set remains darkened but still visible. The neon lights bordering each set give an almost magical aura but initially act as barriers between characters before falling away and allowing characters to cross them.
The entire cast give incredible performances that portray characters vividly and in a way so that no matter their moral or political stance the audience still builds a connection with them. However two actors in particular captivate the audience, Denise Gough as Harper Pitt, a Valium addicted Mormon housewife, and Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, a charismatic AIDS sufferer. Both characters act as bridges between fantasy and reality and their one scene together was charming and captured the attention and imagination of the entire audience.
As a whole, Angels in America is a stunning political portrait that remains extremely relevant today due to its discussions of American politics and the changing identity of America. It is an emotional roller-coaster that will keep you on the edge of your seat and I will definitely be seeing the second part.

National Theatre Live: Angels in America
Part 1:Millennium Approaches

20th July 2017
Gwyn Hall, Neath
Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes with two 15-minute intervals
Author: Tony Kushner
Director: Marianne Elliott
Design: Ian MacNeil (Set Designer), Nicky Gillibrand (Costume Designer), Paule Constable(Lighting Designer), Robby Graham (Choreographer and Movement), Adrian Sutton (Music), Ian Dickinson (Sound Designer), Finn Caldwell (Puppetry Director and Movement), Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes (Puppet Designers), Chris Fisher (Illusions), Gwen Hales (Aerial Director), Harry Mackrill (Associate Director), Miranda Cromwell (Staff Director)
Cast: Susan Brown, Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, Amanda Lawrence, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Russell Tovey, Stuart Angell, Laura Caldow, Claire Lambert, Becky Namgauds, Stan West, Lewis Wilkins

Review My Country, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

(3 / 5)

 

With another General Election almost upon us, Theatr Clwyd’s staging of My Country seems particularly apt. A political play of sorts, its backdrop is last year’s divisive and historic EU referendum. In the days following the vote, the National Theatre set about touring the nation, interviewing a variety of people to hear their views on the referendum, their town, their country, their lives, and their future. The result is a smorgasbord of opinion, brought brilliantly to life on stage by Director Rufus Norris and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

In a similar way to London Road, My Country uses a verbatim script, with Duffy weaving together some wonderfully rhythmic dialogue. She manages to capture the very conflicting and often contrasting views of people extremely well. Using the natural cadence of the English language, she has created a piece of work that is both musical in its tone and voice, and clear in its content and subject matter. It is not burdensome on the listener, with six actors representing six regions of the UK. Each actor plays between eight and twelve characters from their part of Britain. The play can get busy with these various personalities, but thankfully not so busy that one gets lost. Each is brilliantly engaging in their own way: Laura Elphinstone brings a cheeky humour to her North East; Adam Ewan a lovable snobbery to some of his South West folk; and Seema Bowri’s East Midlands characters are charmingly no-nonsense and frank. They complement one another fantastically well. As a cast, they work together brilliantly.

Keeping the six in check is Britannia, played by Penny Layden. Acting as Chairperson, she is a humble yet authoritative character. She enters the room quite ordinarily at the start, in a plain and simple blue suit. Putting down her bag, she clicks on the lights and manoeuvres the seven tables on stage. She greets the audience, then each of the six cast members in turn. They sit at their tables, and she announces the intentions of the meeting in a simple and unassuming way. Then, one by one, they lift up pictures of the people who they are representing – a diverse group that includes some recognisable faces from the political class. When it comes to then recreating their famous speeches, Layden is superb in bringing Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and David Cameron (to name but three) to life. She not only captures their familiar accents but manages to achieve the individual nuances of their movements and gestures. It is a delight to behold.

Even as she impersonates the Westminster elite with a sense of joviality however, Layden still manages to retain Britannia’s unpretentious and sincere nature. If she were to be too satirical in her performance, the later scenes, holding much more dramatic weight, would perhaps not have worked quite as effectively. Here, there is much more emotional depth. Fractures start appearing. The six on stage start shouting and arguing with each other. Britannia seeks to keep them under control. At one stage, she appears to go through an identity crisis of her own. For a 75-minute production, it manages to say a lot in a relatively short space of time.

Ultimately, this is a play about “the sacrament of listening”. The six actors descend into more bickering and arguing as the play goes on. Britannia has to call them back each time – to “listen” again. They get so caught up in themselves that they forget to listen. We are all the same. It is the reason to feel both heartbroken and ashamed as Christian Patterson, who plays Cymru, assumes the voice of Dylan, a little boy from Merthyr Tydfil. Now and again, above the commotion, he softly speaks: “Be kind… No argues”. But nobody listens to him.

The National Theatre, under the direction of Norris, has undertaken to listen to people from across the country. Duffy has  endeavoured to listen with such precision that she has used their exact words to create a multifaceted and beautifully rhythmic script. She has taken their stories and opinions seriously enough to include views from all sides – some funny, some extreme; some uplifting, others uncomfortable. They cannot be accused of being hypocritical in their content. They have listened. They call us to listen to. It is a simple yet powerful message to take away. And one, at this time in particular, that may be worth acting upon.

My Country can be seen at:

Cambridge Arts Theatre
Mon 12 – Sat 17 June 2017
https://www.cambridgeartstheatre.com/whats-on/my-country

Theatre Royal Stratford East
Mon 19 – Sat 24 June 2017
https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/my-country-at-theatre-royal-stratford-east

 

National Theatre – My Country

REVIEW: ‘THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

(4 / 5)

 

Five years after Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ opened at the National Theatre, the 2017 production at the Wales Millennium centre did not disappoint.

Haddon’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel has made a staggeringly successful leap from popular book to stand out theatre adaption and it’s fair to say no one could have quite predicted the way audiences would take central character Christopher Boone to their hearts.

Christopher (lover of mathematics, space and detective novels – who just happens to have Asperger Syndrome) has stumbled upon a serious crime in neighbour Mrs Sheers’ garden.

Although he has never before left his street unaccompanied, the crime triggers an investigation led by Christopher himself – in between dealing with a death, a family separation, writing a book for the first time and an unforeseen journey to London which will be his most terrifying challenge yet.

Although Mark Haddon never intended for Christopher’s character to become typical of all people with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), the beauty of the book – and even more so in this play, is the level of forensic insight into some of the behaviours, motivations and traits of people on the spectrum.

The story unpicks everything we think we know about conditions on the spectrum – and in actual fact exposes some harsh truths about us as a society and how needy, shallow, patronising and ignorant we are of the needs of others. As Haddon stated in 2012: ‘Curious is not really about Christopher at all. It’s about us.’

This is a production about the imperfections and the ugliness of family – and of facing our fears. It shows us the inevitable fallout when our ideas of perfection and truth don’t match up with reality. Life is chaotic and messy – and instead Christopher finds solace and security in the permanence and predictability of patterns.

We see Christopher struggle to cope with the nuances and complications of everyday life while making sense of the confusing world around him. When things don’t go to plan, we see Christopher unravel and the environment/pool of people around him react as they try to contain his outbursts and meltdowns.

The set (beautifully designed by Bunny Christie) centres around a cube which comes to life with pulsating digital animations, square doors and stools which double as doors / cupboards / chairs / TV screens. Patterns, logic, word scrambles, number confetti and laser illustrations are punctuated with visceral sounds, white noise, echoes and musical riffs by Ian Dickinson as Christopher battles through the changes around him.

Lead Scott Reid (who plays Christopher) is incredible and I wasn’t aware of the level of movement and choreography that would feature in the production. For Christopher, life is a ‘dance’ of repetitive routines, motions, and constantly shifting movement and at its most intense and confusing, he is lifted, bounced and twirled by the ensemble cast. During one moving scene, he walks along the wall when he describes his wish to be an astronaut.  Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (part of Physical Theatre outfit ‘Frantic Assembly’) have really managed to elevate the story even more through their energetic movement and choreographed vignettes.

For some productions, the combination of digital display, choreography and a grand musical score doesn’t always marry well – you struggle to follow or invest fully in all aspects of the staging or the story and they can compete against one another. But there is true mastery here, a dynamite synergy between cast, production and set – and the scenes set in Swindon and London train stations are a sheer punch in the gut for audiences.

In this production, Director Marianne Elliott has skillfully recreated the panic and the fear of sensory overload as well as the sheer beauty of an unfiltered, orderly mind like Christopher’s. There is purity and calm in the systematic and Christopher’s observations, literal interpretations and understanding of the world provide plenty of funny moments for the audience.

Curious does not talk down, belittle or over sentimentalise ASD in a way which some mainstream depictions of ASD do and Stephens’ final scene between teacher Siobhan and Christopher leaves the audience with one final question which asks more of them and their attitudes as much as anything else.

This was a tender and sweet production – a powerful start to the production’s 2017 run at the WMC. Oh, and if you see it – you can look forward to a truly wonderful final surprise for Christopher at the end. What is it? Well, now…that would be telling!

PS – if you have already seen this production or like me have multiple members in your family with ASD and you’d like to understand why they do some of the things they do, I really recommend reading ‘The Reason I Jump’ – a real-life account from 13 year old Naoki Higashida who has Autism.

Type of show: Theatre

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time  

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff)

Dates: 2-6 May

Writer (Original Book): Mark Haddon

Play adaptation: Simon Stephens

Directed by:  Marianne Elliott

Lighting Designer: Bunny Christie

Video Designer: Finn Ross

Movement Directors: Scott Graham / Steven Hoggett (Frantic Assembly)

Sound Designer: Ian Dickinson (Autograph)

Running time: 2hrs 30min
Produced by: National Theatre

Review Threepenny Opera, National Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

(5 / 5)

It is very rare to come away from a performance and struggle for words. Whether they be good, bad, indifferent. In the case of Threepenny Opera, the sheer perfection of this production left me gobsmacked and lost for words at this phenomenal production.

From the fantastic theatre practitioner Brecht, the performance hits every note of his theories on the performance not letting us as an audience relate but self-reflect and critically review the political scenario of the performance. In the current climate when the UK has left the EU and there are turbulent times, a performance where the hero is an anti-hero, and the good guys are just as corrupt as the bad guys, it’s hard to not find a similarity to what is happening in the World currently.

Threepenny is humorous, it is dark and it is clever and brilliant. Each performer has delved into their character, changing their appearance, stance, movement to relate to them. While we have our ‘main’ character, each performer stands out in their own right, some even doubling up roles but this is hard to notice with how well they change themselves. Not to mention the satire of Opera as a theme itself – an industry well known for being stereotypically middle class, this Opera is from the poor and the down and out; it’s for us normal people. Not to mention each performer’s wonderful voice showcasing that it isn’t just the middle class with talent.

ThreePenny is darkly comical, with a staging that is reminiscent of unusual world’s created by Tim Burton; the odd but strangely  enticing world created in Golem by 1927 which showcased in Trafalgar Studios last year, yet is still entirely new and beautifully constructed.

Threepenny is nothing short of perfection. And a production that you must tick off your bucket list.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/threepenny-opera