Posts Tagged ‘Royal Court Theatre’

I love the Royal Court Mondays, where you can take a punt on some live theatre you wouldn’t otherwise book, for the price of a cinema ticket. Sometimes you’re disappointed, others thrilled, and all points in-between. Danny Lee Wynter’s debut play is a brilliantly staged and excellently performed piece that proves to be a chance well worth taking.

David is approaching forty, living with his sister Syd and her boyfriend, making his living as an actor by participating in her children’s entertainment business. His social life sees him at gay clubs with other black actors, most more successful than him, notably King, an American, star of a black superhero franchise. King is in an open relationship with his husband Steven, a white travel writer. David succumbs to King’s advances and even ends up accompanying him on a press tour to Australia to promote the latest film in the series. Though he appears to tire of the superficiality, promiscuity and obsession with sex in King’s world, he returns to his dark past of drink and drugs. During this time Syd becomes pregnant, he lets her down by going AWOL, and we learn more about their family background.

In another world again, we enter the black hero fantasies of King’s film character Craw in deftly executed scenes that seem to emerge from reality or run in parallel with it. The play moves between the three worlds seamlessly, packed full of great dialogue, very explicit and often extremely funny. There are lots of themes around identity and representation, but I didn’t feel they quite came together to create a cohesive narrative / message. That said, it’s a very audacious and impressive playwriting debut, which gets a brilliant production from Daniel Evans, with designs by Joanna Scotcher (set) Kinettia Isidore (costumes) & Ryan Day (lighting), which most debutants could only dream of. Wynter himself takes the lead role at the head of an exceptional cost in which Rochenda Sandall stands out as sister Syd.

It’s great to welcome a new playwright with such promise, who seems to have learnt his craft as much from being in the audience as performing on the stage.

Read Full Post »

One of the great things about the Royal Court’s £12 Mondays is that it encourages you to take a risk, as I did here. Eight performers from London’s underground club scene invade the Court to show us their talent and tell us their stories. It’s a wild and unpredictable journey.

It starts with lengthy introductions before they embark on a very funny parody of a typical Court play, with a surprising target. The change from play set to club is staged, with both the performers and stage staff transforming the space before your eyes. Then the seven very diverse acts (one who wasn’t present was represented by a cardboard cut-out!) present us with cabaret, burlesque and lip-synching. It ends more darkly as Chiyo, the final act, tells us their personal story.

It’s in-yer-face, provocative, challenging, loud, brash, rude and anarchic, but it also covers a lot of serious ground. I hadn’t hitherto understood how, in the eyes of some, drag has been hijacked by the mainstream, with Ru Paul’s Drag Race one of the culprits, and though I was aware of the abuse hurled at those who are different and those in the trans community in particular, this piece really brings this home to you.

Travis Alabanza’s piece is ground-breaking, thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measure. Risk’s don’t always pay off, but this one did.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »