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Posts Tagged ‘Royal Court Theatre’

Playwright Jasmine Naziha Jones’s piece tells her Iraqi father’s story through her eyes as a child and later a university student. She was born here and has never set foot in her dad’s homeland. It’s a clever idea given an audacious production by Milli Bhatia.

Her father came to the UK as a student, before the wars which ravaged his country three times – the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq by the USA and friends. He watched from afar, upset and frustrated, venturing closer but never back, so our reports from Iraq are second and third hand. It starts as they celebrate young Quarren’s 8th birthday at McDonalds and ends there when she is home from university. In between three ‘clowns’ direct the action, giving it an absurdist quality.

Towards the end we have two monologues, from Quareen and her dad, which single out ‘the west’ in a rather simplistic, subjective tirade which seemed to me me to let Saddam, and others, off the hook. My other problem with it is that the production swamped and buried the story, which was a shame as it’s an ambitious and original playwriting debut, served by fine performances, especially from the writer as Quareen and Philip Arditti as her dad.

Despite its flaws, I admired its ambition.

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I’ve become fond of playwright David Ireland’s unique brand of black comedy since I was introduced to it six years ago at the Royal Court with Cyprus Avenue. This is the third I’ve seen since then, a short piece which started as ‘a play, a pie & a pint’ at Oran Mor in Glasgow earlier this year and has transferred to the Finborough, which staged the last one I saw just under a year ago.

Somewhere in small-town Northern Ireland Matthew prepares for a RADA audition, just after the funeral of his father. His Uncle Ray overhears and interrupts, offering to help, greeted with distain by Matthew. Uncle Ray is a middle-aged bachelor boasting of a long line of romantic, or at least sexual, conquests. Matthew is flip-flopping about going to the audition with his uncle insistent he does. As they talk, secrets are revealed and Ray may even have helped Matthew find something which will make him stand out from the audition crowd.

The dialogue is sharp and funny, often at the expense of Ray, but affectionately so. It’s delivered with authenticity, coupled with an impeccable comic timing by actors Matthew Blaney and Stephen Kennedy. Max Elton’s traverse staging, with two men around a kitchen table, has the sort of intimacy that draws you in to their world quickly. Given it’s only 50 minutes long, it’s surprising how much depth these characters have. It’s a much gentler, less surreal piece than Ireland’s previous work, but it’s a little gem that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

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This is the most experimental piece I’ve seen in a long time. There are something like 300 characters, most just getting a soundbite, all voiced by playwright Martin Crimp, who is sometimes onstage, sometimes off. Oh, and they aren’t live, they are on screen, and they’re not real, they are created by Artificial Intelligence.

At first we just see them, their mouths not moving, only hearing their words from the playwright. There appears to be no narrative connection, except there are sections where their statements all start with the same few words. They are often very funny. Then they are synchronised with the writer’s voice, mouthing the words too. Finally the playwright appears in his office in the background whilst they continue to speak.

It’s the playwright as puppeteer. You find yourself interested in, and inventing the rest of the character, though sometimes they change so quickly there’s no time. You start looking for links, but soon realise there probably aren’t any. A few people appear more than once. It’s intriguing, but it doesn’t really sustain ninety minutes. Still, a fascinating experiment.

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This play started when it was announced as the first play by Dave Davidson, who’d worked in the security industry for 38 years, with a bunch of testimonials by well-known playwrights connected with the Royal Court. It wasn’t long before Davidson’s cover was blown. Even if you hadn’t known that, you would have at curtain up when we’re told Lucy Kirkwood is about to tell us the true story of the Quilters, kept secret by the Home Office, and why she used a pseudonym.

We first meet Noah & Celeste on one of those Guardian blind dates, a very funny and playful scene. Their relationship progresses and they move in together. Celeste’s nursing career develops, but ex-army Noah struggles and ends up mired in an online world of blurry truth, resistance to technology and conspiracy theories. We’re soon joined by the playwright Lucy Kirkwood, well an actor playing her, who narrates their story like a documentary, more desperately as it progresses. Noah & Celeste, now with a child, go deeper and deeper until it concludes in a mysterious tragedy.

For much of the time it zips along like a thriller, though I thought it was a touch too long at 110 unbroken minutes. Their three-room house revolves, with stage hands in full view, which seemed a perfect match for the piece. Jake Davies and Siena Kelly are terrific as Noah and Celeste, with great chemistry, a totally believable relationship. Priyanga Burford as the playwright becomes more manic and breathless as the story progresses. We even get to meet the playwright, or do we?

It’s a cleverly structured piece that’s expertly staged and performed and I found myself thinking about the issues of surveillance privacy & democracy, secrets and lies, long after I’d left the theatre. Go see This Is Not Who I Am, or is it Rapture, for yourself.

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This is a well deserved transfer from the New Diorama Theatre, regularly punching above it’s weight theses days. Ryan Calais Cameron’s highly original and emotionally raw piece tells you so much in two hours about what it’s like to grow up as a black boy in Britain today. He also directs a crack cast of six very talented actors.

The stories of their experiences start aged six and continue through everything life throws at them, sometimes with different perspectives on the same things. Stop and search, absent or abusive fathers, racism, gangs…..but also the flaws of some in their community, notably a lack of respect for women. Their heritage is sometimes a sense of pride but at others a millstone around their neck. It’s extraordinarily visceral, at times tender and moving, at times frustrated and angry.

The staging combines a lot of movement, brilliantly directed by Theophilus O. Bailey-Godson, music and humour, which gives the more serious, moving parts more impact. The ultra bright design (Anna Reid) and lighting (Rory Beaton) use primary colours which change moods as it changes visually. The six actors – Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Kaine Lawrence & Aruna Jalloh – all give virtuoso performances.

It’s rare you learn so much about the lives of others, riding an emotional roller-coaster with them. The young, diverse audience were mesmerised. Thrilling stuff.

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The UK premiere of this play, at the Royal Court Theatre in 2010, was the best new play that year. We’d seen one Bruce Norris play before and we’ve seen two since (one which chronologically preceded it), but none have lived up to this. Almost twelve years on I’m pleased to report it still packs an uproarious punch.

Both acts are set in the same house in a Chicago suburb, but 50 years apart. In 1959, a couple are moving out after a family tragedy. In 2009 the latest family to buy it are trying to have it demolished and a new house put in its place. In 1959, the neighbours are concerned that the family they sell to may herald a negative change in the neighbourhood. In 2009, the community are anxious to protect the now gentrified suburb.

These tribal issues spill over to affect relationships and heated exchanges ensue. The stakes seem higher in 2009, so the emotions rise. People say things they regret, though the feelings that propelled them to say them exist. Norris brings out a lot of humour from these situations, at the expense of just about everyone. It’s a very clever piece that makes you think while you laugh.

Oliver Kaderbhai’s production has a ghostly quality in the first act and a more animated one in the second. The positioning and movement of actors could have been more audience-friendly, though, as I appeared to be spending a lot of time looking at people’s backs. James Turner’s design is very effective; I particularly liked the way the set was populated by props brought on by the actors at the beginning of each half. All of the cast play two roles, one in each part, often very different characters, and they all carry this off well.

Great to see it again.

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The early 1950’s saw a revolution in theatre, well in Paris at least, with the arrival of Beckett and Ionesco (one Irish and one Romanian), challenging the realism that the art form was locked in. This play, and Becket’s Waiting for Godot, were first produced there in 1952. It reached the UK five years later where it ignited a debate amongst theatre folk, triggered by critic Kenneth Tynan and involving the playwright and theatrical luminaries like Orson Wells. Around the same time our own angry young men heralded a new age of realism with their kitchen sink dramas, led by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger.

This was an important part of the post-war history of theatre. Surprising then that this appears to be only the second major London revival. I saw the first, a 1997 co-production between the Royal Court and Complicite directed by Simon McBurney with the late Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan. This proved to be the most unlikely transfer to Broadway, garnering five Tony nominations. Twenty four years on….

The ‘old man’ and ‘old woman’ live on an island. They are preparing to welcome an (invisible) audience to hear the old man’s big speech, though it will be given by the speaker. We learn that London is no more, so we are in some sort of dystopian future. They assemble chairs for the visitors and when they arrive welcome them, making introductions between them. It’s all building up to the big moment, the speech.

Omar Elerian’s translation / adaptation / direction takes a lot of liberties, either with the permission of Ionesco’s estate (Beckett’s would never let him get away with it) or maybe the protected period has lapsed. There’s a backstage audio prologue, the speaker turns up regularly for bits of business and interaction and the speech is replaced by an elongated epilogue, which was the only variation I felt pushed it too far. Otherwise, an obtuse period piece was brought alive for a new audience.

It’s hard to imagine better interpreters than husband and wife team Marcello Magni & Kathryn Hunter whose extraordinary physical theatre and mime skills, as well as the chemistry between them, are used to great effect. Toby Sedgwick provides excellent support in the expanded role of the speaker. Even Cecile Tremolieres & Naomi Kuyok-Cohen’s clever design gets to perform.

It was great to see the play again after a quarter century of theatre-going. The production may travel a long way from Ionesco’s intentions, but it seemed to me to provide a fresh interpretation for an audience seventy years later. London’s longest running play is The Mousetrap, 70 years now. Paris’ longest runner is Ionesco’s earlier absurdist play The Bald Primadonna, 65 years. That somehow defines the differing theatre cultures of the two cities.

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I’m not that keen on Caryl Churchill’s cloning play, though this is the fourth production I’ve seen, of only five staged in London. ‘So why do you keep going?’ I hear you ask. Well, I keep getting drawn to it by the casting – Michael Gambon & Daniel Craig in 2002, father and son Timothy & Sam West in 2010 and Roger Allam & Colin Morgan just two years ago. Now it’s the turn of favourites Lennie James, who we haven’t seen on stage for too long, and brilliant new talent Paapa Essiedu.

Salter is a father whose son has either died, or been put into care following his wife’s suicide (there are conflicting scenarios). He agreed to cloning to give him a second chance at being a father, but he later learns the doctors created multiple clones without his consent. Over five short scenes we meet two clones and his original son (supporting the care rather than death scenario). When the clone he’s brought up finds out, he is angry. When the real son finds out, he resolves to kill the clone. When Salter realises there may be twenty, he sets out to meet them and we see the first encounter, a maths teacher married with three children who has little interest in how he was created and little interest in Salter.

I still struggle with this one-hour play, but it was the best of the four productions I’ve seen. It’s usually cold and clinical, but Lindsey Turner’s staging also has passion and humour. Paapa Essiedu differentiates between his three characters more (and can now add quick change artist to his impressive CV!), playing the first clone and real son more emotionally. Lennie James conveys the complexity of Salter’s feelings and reactions superbly. Two fine performances. Designer Es Devlin seems to have created an orange version of her 2018 blue monochrome design for Girls & Boys at the Royal Court.

I’m glad I gave it another go, though I hope I’m not drawn to a 5th outing by yet more enticing performers, though there’ll probably be a female version soon with two favourite actresses to tempt me!

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It’s hard to write about something you find more than a bit baffling, but I’ll try. Mind you, it isn’t the first mind-blowing Alistair McDowell play. First, there was Pamona, which opened Paul Miller’s tenure as AD of the Orange Tree in 2014 with a bang, then X here at the Royal Court in 2016. This latest one is a cocktail of sci-fi, folk myth and mystery that spans 501,998 years!

It starts in the mid 18th Century when a wealthy spiritualist adopts / abducts a young girl from what appears to be an asylum to be some sort of assistant, but she has powers of her own and she takes us back to the 15th Century where we encounter a mute knight at the court of King Henry VI, then forward to the second world war, 1979 and twice into the 1990’s. The journey back to 500,000 BC and forward to the future connect us to the fate of the planet, a familiar subject for McDowell.

Along the way, we experience horror, violence, intrigue and more surprisingly humour and you are rarely distracted, possibly because you’re trying to keep up. The performances are excellent, with Ria Zmitrowicz as our mysterious guide and Tadhg Murphy as the silently charismatic knight (who at times seems to have walked onto the stage from the set of Monty Python’s Holy Grail!). Rakie Ayola and Fisayo Akinade are great in multiple roles.

The set at first seems like some hidden corner of the Barbican complex, but takes on a life of it’s own with its continuous changes of configuration, with projections and lights, accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s hard to fault the craftsmanship at play in staging it, but the narrative is another matter – obtuse and baffling. Still, it’s an improvement on Pamona and X.

Despite my confusion, unlike other plays in recent years it does deserve its place on the main stage. I consider myself to be very open to creativity and invention, but maybe I’m becoming more conservative, because when it comes to plays I often yearn for story, plot and characters that I can understand or relate to, something you don’t get here. On this occasion, I find myself ending up admiring the experiment and wishing it had succeeded.

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Northern Ireland playwright David Ireland has delivered two of the most surreal and controversial new plays of the last five years – Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court, where a unionist was obsessed by his baby granddaughter’s likeness to Gerry Adams, and Ulster American at the Traverse in Edinburgh, where an Ulster Protestant playwright is outraged by Hollywood’s rewriting of Irish history. This 2011 play, now getting its British premiere, pre-dates them both, but is just as surreal and an even more controversial black comedy, a metaphor for the unionist view of Northern Ireland after the peace process.

Alan is bothered by his neighbour’s barking dog so he visits the doctor who diagnoses depression. Not satisfied, he goes the the BBC to seek mediation from Eamonn Holmes. He confronts his neighbour who claims he has no dog. Is it all in his head? What follows is a bestial attack on the dog, a visit from the paramilitary to exact punishment for it and ‘eye for an eye’ revenge for the attack. Ireland’s coruscating humour is aimed at the solution to ‘the troubles’ through the peace process, from a unionist perspective.

It’s superbly acted, with Daragh O’Malley commanding the stage as Alan, and Kevin Trainor doubling up brilliantly as doctor and dog! There’s excellent support in two roles each by Laura Dos Santos and Kevin Murphy and by Owen O’Neill and Declan Rodgers in individual roles. Director Max Elton and designer Ceci Calf use the tiny Finborough space brilliantly. Ireland really is a one off, a very distinctive playwright and a lone voice in reflecting on the unionist perspective of recent history and the political situation today.

The Finborough proving indispensable again.

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