Friday, 21 July 2017

Round-up of news and other interesting things

In the wake of a global shift in politics that saw reality star Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States of America, Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign win the majority and the Conservative party seek out a deal with the DUP, Theatre Renegade is proud to present a one-off gala, In Response To... Politics.

With performances from critically acclaimed performers including Pippa Nixon, Madalena Alberto, Gloria Onitiri and Nigel Richards, In Response To...Politics will take place on 24th July at The Other Palace Studio and feature a number of pieces each designed to directly respond to the current political turmoil.

Ryan Forde Iosco, Artistic Director of Theatre Renegade said;
“Many countries, our own included are seeing a huge shift in their political landscape and fear and hate have been the leading force behind several recent campaigns. This evening will see the theatre community come together in solidarity to respond and raise its voice in solidarity.”
All profits from the evening will be donated to the charity Liberty, to protect civil liberties and promote human rights.

Casting for Chichester's King Lear announced

"Reason not the need"

The world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you're going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting (all credit to casting director Anne McNulty here). Jonathan Munby's production had already announced Ian McKellen as part of the ensemble (teasing an interesting casting breakdown that didn't actually come to anything) but that's a small niggle in what is otherwise some excellent news.
  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Dervla Kirwan, Kirsty Bushell and Tamara Lawrance as Goneril, Regan and Cordelia
  • Jonathan Bailey and Damien Molony as Edgar and Edmund
  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Michael Matus (Oswald), Dominic Mafham (Albany) and Patrick Robinson (Cornwall) in there as well
  • Danny Webb as Gloucester
  • Did I mention Sinéad Cusack as Kent?
  • I can take or leave Phil Daniels as the Fool but he may well surprise.

Tickets are all sold out so you might want to monitor regularly for returns or hope for the transfer which one suspects is already in the making.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Review: Dessert, Southwark Playhouse

"I need to change what I can accept"


I only booked for Dessert at the Southwark Playhouse because of the extraordinary Alexandra Gilbreath, one of our finest - and somewhat unheralded - actors. I was no real fan of Oliver Cotton's previous play Daytona and I'm a couple of decades too young to be excited by the prospect of Trevor Nunn directing. And lest you think me harsh, this was borne out by the audience in SE1 being much more like a typical Chichester crowd than I've ever seen here before.

And Dessert more than matches up to the billing by taking place during the final course of a dinner party hosted by an uber-wealthy British couple for an uber-wealthy American couple whose main topic of conversation is the number of millions a chance find of a painting can be flogged for. The menu is interrupted by a visitor but as so much of the play hinges on this late arrival, discretion will be deployed here. 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Queer Theatre - a round-up

"There's nowt so queer as folk"

Only about a week behind schedule, I wanted to round up my thoughts about the National's Queer Theatre season - links to the reviews of the 5 readings I attended below the cut - and try a formulate a bit of a response to this piece by Alice Saville for Exeunt which rather took aim at the season alongside the Old Vic's Queers (also I just want to point out too that there are two writers of colour involved - Tarell Alvin McCraney and Keith Jarrett). As a member of the 'majority' within this minority, I tread warily and aim to do sowith love and respect. 

It feels important to recognise what the NT (and the Old Vic) were trying to achieve though. Queer Theatre looked "at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings, exhibitions, talks and screenings" and if only one looked at lesbian women, two of the readings were written by women. Several of the post-show discussions at the NT talked specifically about this issue but in acknowledging it, also quite rightly pointed out that there just isn't the historical body of work to draw from when it comes to wider LGBT+ representation. That's where the talks and screenings came into their own, able to provide some of that alternative focus.

(c) James Bellorini

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Review: Blondel, Union

"I'm a fool...just a fool"

There's something admirable in the Union Theatre's admirable determination to work its way through the dustier, neglected end of the musical theatre canon to see if anything comes up roses. I liked what they did with Anyone Can Whistle, less so with Moby Dick, and now its the turn of the lesser-known Tim Rice musical Blondel (the first he wrote after his Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborations) to get the revival treatment.

Sometimes though, when polishing a pebble in the hope that it turns into a diamond in the rough, it remains a pebble. Sasha Regan's high-spirited, fun-loving production has a wonderfully playful energy about it, and the cast are clearly having a whale of a time, but it isn't too hard to see why the show has rather languished in obscurity. Daftness can only take you so far (believe me, I know!) and Blondel (over-)runs at 2 hours 30 minutes.

Friday, 14 July 2017

A whole load of Friday casting news


I want to be able to resist anything to do with Alan Ayckbourn but the cast and creatives for Chichester's production of The Norman Conquests is making it very hard indeed. Wunderkind director Blanche McIntyre is at the helm of a company for the trilogy of plays that consists of Jonathan Broadbent, Trystan Gravelle, Sarah Hadland, John Hollingworth, Hattie Ladbury and Jemima Rooper. Best get booking then...

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Review: Man-Cub, Etcetera

"Switch Grindr off before the night begins..."

For all the rainbow flags painted on cheeks at Pride and declarations of being an ally, I don't straight people can ever really appreciate the extraordinary rush of feeling that comes from going to your first gay club. The excitement, the fear, the sexiness, the strangeness, the sense of community that feels right at your fingertips, the sense of potential isolation equally, precariously close - it can be a most eye-opening, exhilarating experience. It can also be more ambivalent than that.

And it is the complexity of this sensory overload that Alistair Wilkinson captures evocatively in his dance-led devised piece Man-Cub. Trailed as a queer adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, it feels looser than that but Alex Britt's first-time gay club-goer is our Mowgli and the club is his jungle. And if we don't get a Baloo (no bears in this gay club!) or a Kaa (joke about being hung like a python redacted), what we do get it a sense of the tribal fervour of the dancefloor. 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Review: The Scar Test, Soho

"I just - I can't believe this is England"

Hannah Khalil's intelligent exploration of the Israeli-Palestine conflict Scenes from 68* Years was one of my top-ranked plays of last year and so I was delighted to be able to see her new play The Scar Test, albeit in the oppressive, claustrophobic heat of the Soho Upstairs at the height of summer. And with that knowledge of at least some of Khalil's theatrical style, it was a pleasure to be able to sink into her idiosyncratic storytelling and be so thoroughly challenged by its subject matter.

Here, Khalil has turned her focus to the experience of female detainees at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre and the many, many indignities suffered by those trying to work their way through the knots and prejudices of our immigration system. And as with that previous play, multiple verbatim strands are splintered into non-linear episodes, some coalescing into something approaching an overall arc, some disappearing into the ether, forgotten victims neglected by us all.

Review: Brexodus! The Musical, The Other Palace Studio

"What the hell do we do now?"

Part of the problem that faces writers trying to satirise Brexit is that the daily influx of tragic, comic and tragicomic headlines are more outlandish than they could surely have ever imagined. A glimpse at the day's stories shows our estimable foreign secretary thinking it OK to tell EU leaders to "go whistle", the PM apparently keen on cross-party working, people waking up to the devastating impact of leaving the European atomic energy community, Euratom, without a carefully negotiated replacement - really, who needs satire.

Which leaves Brexodus! The Musical in a bit of a pickle as it seeks to mine its own vein of humour through a revue-like (and politically even-handed) skip through the key events of the whole Brexit process. Librettist David Shirreff works his cast hard, some of them covering more than 10 roles throughout the show, which means that it can take a little too long to work out who someone is, even in their brief time onstage. Two men in suits are David Cameron and George Osbourne, blink and suddenly they're David Davis and Liam Fox, though it takes substantially longer to work out that this is what has happened.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Review: Queer Theatre - Neaptide, National

#1 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

"My God, I wanted three daughters like the Brontes and I ended up with a family fit for a Channel Four documentary"

There was a special currency for Sarah Daniels' Neaptide being the opening play in the #ntQueer season as this 1986 drama was actually the first by a living female playwright at the National Theatre - an astonishing fact all told. And it is perhaps sadly predictable that Daniels now finds herself somewhat neglected as a writer, despite being prolific in the 80s and 90s.

Neaptide proved a strong choice too, a powerful exploration of the extent to which lesbian prejudice permeated society and institutions even as late as this, and indeed how little we've moved on - in some ways. Daniels presents us with three generations of lesbians and explores how they deal with working or studying at the same school when a scandal threatens to upturn all of their lives.

Teacher Claire isn't out but is involved in a bitter custody battle with her unscrupulous ex, the judgement from the court likely to be more favourable if the secret is kept, but the treatment of gay students at her school disquiets her, very much to her cost as it turns out. Jessica Raine was ideally cast as Claire, deeply empathetic and thoroughly invested in the role even from her chair.

Maureen Beattie as her well-meaning mother got the lion's share of the laughs and a superb Adjoa Andoh as Claire's boss brought real stature to the reading, which you imagine Sarah Frankcom could well turn into a full production given the response it got here. Neaptide may show its age just a little but with its cutting humour and sharp insights, it was the perfect opener to this season.


Review: Queer Theatre - Wig Out, National

#2 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings


"Here

Where one night can leave you legendary

Or a subsidiary"

The world has changed just a little in the decade or so since Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote Wig Out. McCraney is now an Oscar-winning writer after the phenomenal success of Moonlight (based on one of his unproduced plays) and RuPaul has dragged drag into the mainstream by its charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. So to see the play now is an entirely different prospect than its 2008 production at the Royal Court and an interesting example of how cultural touchstones shift.

Wig Out feels intimately connected to Paris Is Burning (if you've not seen it, to Netflix with you now) in its focus on ball culture in the black and Latino gay communities of New York and we get to see it fully turned out as the House of Light take on their rivals in the House of Diabolique. The ball scene is an unalloyed pleasure as outré performance follows outré performance (Craig Stein and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith took the honours for the night) and really make you want to see a fully fledged production.

The play as a whole did feel perhaps just a little insubstantial though. It throws in ideas of gender fluidity (a putative romance involves the gender non-conforming character), misogyny within the gay community, the passing-on of legacies, but none of them felt particularly thoroughly explored - I wonder how much of that came from the staging as opposed to the writing though. Tunji Kasim and Kadiff Kirwan's couple-in-the-making really stood out, Ukweli Roach is possibly the handsomest guy alive even when he's being a rotter, and Alexia Khadime, Abiona Omonua and Cat Simmons need to do everything together as their chemistry as the part-narrating part-performing Fates was fierce as hell.