Archive | Theatre reviews

An archive of all the blog's theatre reviews. There's also an archive and an A-Z index of all reviews.


June 26, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Rules For Living, True Detective, The Last Ship and Suits

Posted on June 26, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Last week, I had the bright idea to shift ‘What have you been watching?’ to Mondays, as several Sunday shows were finishing and Thursdays were starting to fill up with new shows.

Stupid idea. Very stupid idea. A quick glance through the schedules revealed that I should leave things as they were, as as well as replacements for the existing Sunday shows and a couple of returning shows, there was a whole bunch of new Friday shows to deal with, too.

Thankfully, I’ve just about made it through this week’s viewing selection, with only Sunday’s Humans to work my way through still. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes (and sometimes more) of:

That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of the usual regulars: Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Humans, Stitchers, Tyrant, Westside and The Whispers. We’ve also got the return of The Last Ship, Suits and True Detective to consider, as well as the second episodes of Clipped and Proof. Some of these are getting the chop. Can you guess which, Tigers?

But first, some theatre!

Rules For Living (National Theatre)
A dark comedy starring that Stephen Mangan (Episodes, Dirk Gently, Green Wing), Miles Jupp (Rev, Neville’s Island), Claudie Blakley, Maggie Service and Deborah Findlay from off the tele, as a family getting together for Christmas. Jupp and Mangan are brothers, Findlay the mum, Service Jupp’s actress girlfriend and Blakley Mangan’s wife whom Jupp has pined for ever since they were kids.

The play’s focus, oddly enough, is cognitive behavioural therapy and the idea that we acquire ‘rules for living’ over time that while initially helpful, can eventually lead us to fixed behaviours that only make us unhappy. Only by learning what our rules are and breaking out of them can we become happy.

The play’s conceit is to put each character’s rule on a scoreboard at each end of the stage, so that the audience knows the rule, when the character has to obey it and what the exceptions to the rule might be. At the end, everyone’s score gets tallied up and the winner ‘rewarded’.

Rules For Living is both very funny and uncomfortable; it’s also uneven and occasionally forced, with elements of plausibility being stretched very far at some points. But it’s still very enjoyable, occasionally saddening, occasionally raw and by the end of it, you’ll be wondering what your own rules might be.

Another quirk of the the play is that it’s staged ‘in traverse’ - that is, the play is in the middle of the theatre almost like a pit, with the audience mostly on either side of the stage.

In traverse

We were in the front row, which meant that we were as little as a couple of feet away from the cast (and some nice looking cake) at some points. However, if you want to avoid (spoiler alert) being hit by food during the food fight I’d recommend sitting a couple of rows further back or wearing something that can be washed clean easily.

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June 12, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Big Hero 6, The Audience and Hannibal

Posted on June 12, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Life is good. Summer is here. I’ve watched loads of tele. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed and previewed:

I’ve also passed verdict on the first four episodes of UnREAL (US: Lifetime) and the first three of Between (Netflix). That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of: Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Sense8, Silicon Valley, Stitchers, Westside and The Whispers.

But before that, not only have I watched a movie, I’ve been to the theatre again:

Movies

Big Hero 6 (2014)
The first Disney animated movie to be based on a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 sees a group of nerds come together to become science and technology superheroes when they’re faced with a man with an army of tiny robots. Led by a teenager called Hiro, they’re also helped by an inflatable healthcare robot called Baymax who can’t quite get to grips with this fighting thing superheroes do…

It’s actually quite a sweet little film, albeit with slightly traumatic moments that might disturb little children, with ironically Hiro learning from the caring Baymax how to be a better person and hero. Despite being a bit ‘boys and toys’, there are also a few good female nerd roles and some bits that will make you laugh out loud. The East meets West location of San Fransokyo is brilliantly realised, too.

Theatre

I’ve already reviewed The Oresteia (Almeida) elsewhere.

The Audience (Apollo Theatre)
Once a week, in a tradition that goes back to the time of Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch of the UK meets with the current Prime Minister to be updated on current events and to discuss matters of relevance to the both of them. In the hands of playwright Peter Morgan (The Queen), what could be purely a matter of historical interest instead becomes a song of praise to both the institution of the monarchy and the Queen herself.

The play flits between historical periods, giving us Prime Ministers from Churchill through to David Cameron, with the Queen acting as a fixed point in time who can compare Anthony Eden’s misadventures in Suez with Tony Blair’s in Iraq, Cameron’s small majority with Wilson’s, and act as a confessional for all of them. But it also looks at how the Queen herself changes over time, starting from a young, independent woman wanting to be involved in matters of state through to the mature monarch who accepts the needs of the constitution for her to back the government in everything, whatever she might feel personally. She also gets to have her own sounding board. Who, you might ask? Well, who could possibly provide the Queen with an audience except herself?

Rather than put the boot in as The Queen perhaps did, the play, which has been updated since its original run with Helen Mirren to include both Blair and Cameron at the expense of Callaghan, humanises both the Queen and all the Prime Ministers: Churchill is the traditionalist who mentors the new queen but also wants to postpone her coronation for political purposes and forces her not to change her name when she marries; Eden was right about Mussolini and Hitler and is convinced Nassar is the same; Wilson is the upstart socialist from Huddersfield with the eidetic memory who becomes paranoid as Alzheimer’s starts to rob him of his faculties; and Brown is the economics expert who believes his destiny was to lead the country - but who knows that he’s not got the right skills for the job. Even Major is redeemed: the man everyone remembers as little more than the tail end of Margaret Thatcher’s regime is here the man who brokered deals between warlords in the Balkans but who’s constantly undermined by his supposed allies.

And then there’s Margaret Thatcher…

Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent as the Queen, having to endure numerous quick changes of costume and jumps between time period, yet still surely making even the most ardent republicans feel something for the most powerful woman in the world, the firm proponent of the Commonwealth who was happy as a mechanic in the war and who would probably vote Labour if she could. In this she’s helped considerably by Izzy Meikle-Small as her younger self, who’ll make you wonder if the Queen is really just a grown up Arya Stark.

Hats off also to David Calder (Star Cops) as Churchill, Gordon Kennedy (Absolutely) as Gordon Brown, Michal Gould as John Major, Nicholas Woodeson (Rome) as Harold Wilson, and Highlander’s David Robb as Anthony Eden.

I’ll happily confess that both my wife and I wept buckets during the play and would happily go and see it again.

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June 9, 2015

Review: The Oresteia (Almeida Theatre)

Posted on June 9, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Oresteia at the Almeida

Where: Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, London, N1 1TA
When: 29th May-18th July 2015, Evenings: 7pm, Saturday matinees: 1pm
How long: 3h40 with pauses/an interval of 5m, 15m and 3m
How much: £10-£38
Tickets from: the Almeida web site or by calling the box office on 020 7359 4404

Back in the day, a mere 2,500 years ago, Greek tragedies used to be performed in groups of four: a comical satyr play preceded by three regular tragedies – some happy, some sad, despite the name. Those three tragedies were frequently but not always trilogies, but unfortunately only one of these linked trilogies survives: The Oresteia. It was written by the first of the great Athenian playwrights, Aeschylus, and dramatises a story already well known at that time – the story of the great Trojan general Agamemnon, his return home to Greece after the war, his death and the subsequent avenging of that death.

I say well known, but between Homer, Hesiod and other even earlier traditions, it’s not quite clear if there was ever one definite story, with versions surviving in which Agamemnon is killed by his wife, Clytemnestra, her lover Aegisthus or both of them. Why do they kill him? Perhaps there was an enmity between Aegisthus’ family and Agamemnon’s. Perhaps it’s because he brought back a Trojan slave girl, Cassandra, with him. Or perhaps it’s because he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia – or was it Iphimede? – to Artemis to atone for sacrilege against her sacred deer and to ensure good winds to sail for Troy.

It is Aeschylus’ own later elaboration on those stories that are the best known. In Agamemnon, the eponymous ruler returns to his kingdom after 10 years in Troy, where he’s killed almost immediately in his bath by Clytemnestra. In The Libation Bearers, their son Orestes returns years later from exile and in collusion with his sister Electra – the subject of her own plays by both Sophocles and Euripides – he conspires to murder his mother. Matricide having been committed, the gods of injustice, the Furies, want their vengeance and in The Eumenides, only the intervention of Athena and her establishment of trials by jury are enough to stop them and to establish a new, kindlier system of jurisprudence.

And then in Proteus, the companion satyr play that no longer exists, following the Trojan War, Agamemnon's brother Menelaus and his wife Helen (of Troy) run aground on the island of the shape-changing sea god Proteus, somewhere off the coast of Egypt, where they are chased around, Benny Hill-style, by satyrs looking for sexy time.

Now, the Almeida is mounting a season of Greek tragedies this year dedicated to establishing their relevance to a modern audience and as you can tell from that summary above, as delightful as it all is to people like me, not everyone is going to find the original texts quite as accessible, particularly since a lot of the trilogy is about the changing relationship between mortals and a pantheon of gods in which very few people now believe.

So in this, the first Oresteia of the year, we have a somewhat freeform adaptation of the original text, updated for the present day. And somewhat surprisingly for a trilogy, it comes in four parts.

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