Posts Tagged ‘Riverside Studios’


This show blends film (animation and live action) with music, lights, sound and narration, but no dialogue. It’s a gothic love story with the aesthetics of Fritz Lang’s silent movie Metropolis, set in a dystopian future where emotions have been banished. It reminded me of the work of theatre company 1927 (The Animals & Children Took to the Streets) but less ‘live’. I was in awe of the technical accomplishment but didn’t really engage with the story.

Our protagonist is Woolf, who we eventually discover is ‘special’. His love for Madeleine is doomed by state rules. We begin and end at the conclusion of his story, with the first part moving the love story forward before the second half flashes back to his birth and early life. The two other significant characters turn out to be on screen only and the handful of live extras have little to do, so it sometimes feels like a one-man show.

The rather schmaltzy story didn’t engage the audience, who are left to wonder at the superbly synchronised components and effects. The music is bland pop, and performance takes second place to technology. The attempts at connecting with the audience at the beginning and in the interval fall rather flat. That said, it is an astonishing technical achievement and I left the theatre really glad I’d experienced it.

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It’s a tribute to the Sydney Theatre Company that they’ve gone ahead with this NT run after the tragic death of the story’s narrator Ningali Lawford-Wolf at the end of their Edinburgh Festival visit, and to Pauline Whyman who has flown from Australia to read the part in her place. Director Neil Armfield’s moving tribute before it started dedicated the performance to Ningali.

It’s adapted by Andrew Bovell from Kate Grenville’s novel, inspired by her research into her ancestors. South Londoner William Thornhill was deported for what would now be considered a very minor crime as an alternative to execution. After a period of incarceration he is pardoned and with his wife Sal and sons Dick and Willie sets his sights on building a new life in Australia, though Sal reluctantly so, and for only five years. They take 100 acres on the Hawkesbury River, just 30 miles from Sydney, where a handful of other settlers have set up home, and begin to farm it whilst William also earns money from the use of his boat. The land is of course already inhabited by the indigenous Dharug people, and conflict ensues. There are attempts to build a friendship between these two peoples, notably by William & Sal, even more so their youngest son Willie, but other settlers’ actions lead to bloodshed.

It’s a surprising emotional ride. You find yourself sympathising with these settlers, disowned by their own country for the pettiest of crimes which would today incur a small fine, community service or even a caution, sent thousands of miles away from their homes and families to what they see as a hostile place. The fact they once lived on the doorstep of this theatre some 200 years ago adds a certain frisson. As the story progresses though, you become angry at their hostility, racism and violence, with more than a touch of shame; they are our ancestors after all.

The Aboriginal actors speak Dharung and there is no attempt at translation or surtitling, which I thought added authenticity to the storytelling. There is superb atmospheric music written by Iain Grandage, played live by Isaac Hayward. The simple design, a bare stage with just a fire, surrounded by branches and occasionally covered in water, earth or powder is very evocative. It’s a terrific ensemble, excellently led by Nathanial Dean and Georgia Adamson as the Thornhill’s. Pauline Whyman has great presence as Dhirrumbin and given her role is the story’s narrator, reading the part is not at all detrimental. I’ve admired Neil Armfield’s work in theatre and opera since I saw Cloudstreet at the Riverside Studios twenty years ago, and his staging here is masterly.

It’s great to welcome the Sydney Theatre Company to the NT, despite the tragedy en route. A very fine play, a very fine production and a fitting tribute.

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Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court


2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.


Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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Given it is now officially an endangered species, any new British musical is worth supporting. This one is still a bit rough at the edges and needs a bit more work, but its original, entertaining and well worth a punt.

It’s 2016 and paternity claims have been privatised and turned into a reality TV show; nothing implausible there! Think Jeremy Kyle. Researchers find ‘claimants’ and put them on air with likely dads in a lie detector chair, present the evidence and let the public decide. There are vox pops of back stories, a live twitter feed and video calls from typical daytime TV viewers.

Two cases are presented – twins from Essex v the Ibiza holiday rep. and a boy from Brazil and the ageing rock star. We are the TV studio audience (required to applaud, cheer & boo on cue) and we get off-screen scenes as well as on-screen scenes and scenes back in Rio. In addition to the subjects of the show, we see the relationships between the producer (a particularly impressive Sarah Earnshaw), the presenter, the floor manager et al

It’s very well staged by Simon Greiff, with good production values, in a realistic studio in, well,  Riverside Studios, with a video wall used to great effect. The lyrics are good, though the book needs a bit of work, and the music fits the story. I liked the four-piece ensemble which serves as a chorus (in the Greek sense) and the performances were fine.

I believe this is writer Paul Rayfield’s debut, in which case it’s an impressive one. It’s an entertaining couple of hours and I’m glad I gave it a go. It might yet prove prophetic – keep watching the daytime TV listings!

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If you like your drama raw, visceral and harrowing, this is probably for you. Strindberg’s late 19th century play has been moved to post-apartheid South Africa. Instead of a Swedish noble’s estate, we’re on a Boar farm in the deeply conservative Karoo. The story and characters are the same, except the servant’s are mother & son instead of fiancée’s and its a whole lot more explicit. It’s not an easy ride, but it is riveting, tense and about as dramatic as drama gets.

The housekeeper’s son John has been brought up ‘downstairs’ at the same time as Boar farmer’s daughter Julie ‘upstairs’. His mother, the housekeeper, has been more of a mother to Julie than her own. John has been the offstage farmer’s ‘best boy’; the son he wanted but never had, but with the distinction apartheid brought. When Julie gets drunk and leaves the party to take refuge with the staff, the sexual tension comes to the surface, the baggage is opened and the socio-psychological impact of apartheid is laid bare, with tragic consequences.

It might be almost twenty years since the end of apartheid, but that’s not long enough to change people’s beliefs and values. The resentment’s of both white and black may be under the surface but they’re just as real, and here the relationship of John & Julie gives you profound insight into the implications of such an ingrained racial divide which is, somewhat ironically, deeper with younger South Africans than those who lived with it longer.

The soundscape of Daniel & Matthew Pencer creates a brooding, highly charged atmosphere. On cracked flagstones in the servant’s quarters, John & Julie prowl and stalk like wild animals. You can smell the hormones and feel the erotic charge. It’s electrifying. What you don’t see in Strindberg is in your face here. You have to turn away when it’s at its most brutal or voyeuristic. There are no repressed emotions here – they’re fully on display.

Bongile Mantsai & Hilda Cronje give stunning performances in the central roles – brave, dangerous and raw. Thoko Ntshinga is marvellous as mother Christine, single-handedly representing a whole generation who provided loyalty and service despite their treatment as possessions. These are the sort of committed, passionate performances that stand out in a lifetime of theatre-going. Yael Farber’s adaptaion and staging is extraordinary.

This is truly unmissable theatre that goes beyond entertainment to enlightenment, providing real psychological insight and a richly rewarding theatrical experience.

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Seven years ago I was wowed by a site specific show which took place in Scotland’s Register House in Edinburgh and dreamthinkspeak, the company responsible for it, instantly became one to follow. Two years ago they blew me away with a show based on The Cherry Orchard over six floors of a disused department store in Brighton. This one, part of the World Shakespeare Festival and originated at the Brighton Festival, is completely different but just as inventive and original.

You stand in a dark space surrounded on four sides by reflective screens. At various times, films and images are projected onto the screens and they light up to reveal 10 rooms, three of which change during the 90 or so minutes running time. Scenes from Hamlet are enacted in modern dress in bedrooms, a bathroom, dressing room, office, a large lounge which takes up one side of the space and a boat! The characters are from Hamlet – Gertrude & Claudius, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Polonius, Laertes & Ophelia and Hamlet himself (oh, and The Ghost of course).

The story is surprisingly intact, though it’s not the whole of the play in exact chronological order. You have to change where you look as the scenes unfold in different ‘rooms’ and at times you don’t know where to look as things are happening all over the place. At one point almost everyone seems to be doing the ‘To Be or Not to Be’ speech in different spaces, starting at different times and overlapping. At another point, there are three versions of Hamlet’s bedroom simultaneously, with Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius each occupying one of them – Hamlet trashing it, Gertrude tidying it and Claudius searching it.

I don’t always like shows which mess around with classics (Katie Mitchell is the biggest culprit) but here you get the essence of the play even though you don’t get every word in the right order; but all the words are Shakespeares. Somehow, I got under Hamlet’s skin and fully understood how he felt as much, if not more, than any other production of the play. It was compelling, captivating and deeply satisfying.

Tristan Sharps staging, with design collaborator Robin Don, is impeccable. Technically, it’s a masterpiece. The performances are uniformly good. Edward Hogg had all the intensity you expect of Hamlet. Ruth Lass & Phillip Edgerley were superb as Gertrude and Claudius. Michael Bryher & Stewart Heffernan (any relation to John?) were playful and funny as Rosencrantz and Gildenstern and Richard Clews, Ben Ingles and Bethan Cullinane were a passionate trio as Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia. Thorston Manderlay’s Ghost stalked the proceedings atmospherically and occasionally scarily.

Apart from Globe to Globe, the World Shakespeare Festival has disappointed me so far, but this raises the bar with something sparklingly original that is brilliantly executed. If you’re interested in Shakespeare, you’d be bonkers to miss it.

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Verbatim theatre specialist Alecky Blythe has a huge hit on her hands with her first verbatim musical, London Road, now extended at the National. Meanwhile, a project about the displaced peoples of northern Georgia, following the 2008 war with Russia, finds it’s way to the Riverside Studios. With a visit to the Caucases planned for the coming months, I felt a strong need to go.

The small Georgian cast speak the words of Blythe’s interviewees as they hear them though the earphones they wear throughout, as was her original way with verbatim theatre, to ensure the subject’s words and speech patters are faithfully produced without an actor’s individual spin.

Most of the dialogue is in Georgian and I was so spellbound by the actors that I found myself missing much of the words on the surtitles. I did however get enough to paint a vivid picture of these people’s lives and the impact of the invasion and consequential removal to a refugee camp, where I believe they still are.

It’s surprising how much of an impression you get from fifty minutes watching / listening to these five Georgian actors relaying these tales; I really did feel I was hearing their testimony first hand.

Much more than worthy.

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I wasn’t convinced I wanted to see this daft and somewhat twee show again, having seen a major revival 15 years ago, but blogs by the West End Whingers, Ought to be Clowns & Web Cowgirl convinced me to give it another try.

You’re presented with a scroll as you enter the auditorium for the degree ceremony which constitutes the first scene. There’s much jolly bonhomie from the actors in character as they show you to your seats – this could be completely naff, but they get away with it. What unfolds is without doubt the silliest book of any musical ever, but with lots of tongues in cheeks, you do get wrapped up and whisked away in a cloak of infectious silliness and nostalgic charm for a period you didn’t even live through!

Graduates Jane and Timothy’s journey involves a magical piano, a nightclub called Cleopatras and a flying saucer! The traverse staging, on Astroturf inside a bright yellow curtained space with a band at one end, is very effective and the performances are excellent throughout. Given it’s an opera company – Tete a Tete – the musical standards are high.

Salad Days takes you to another time and another world of musical theatre. Somewhat sickly songs like ‘Oh look at me, I’m dancing’  and ‘We’re looking for a piano’ ought to make you squirm in 2011, but somehow they make you smile. It doesn’t change your life, it’s memory will fade, but it was fun and worth a second look.

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