Lyttelton theatre

What a muddle: The House of Bernarda Alba, at the Lyttelton Theatre, reviewed

Green, green, green. Everything on stage is the same shade of eau de Nil in the NT’s version of Federico García Lorca’s classic, The House of Bernarda Alba. All the furniture and props are green. The mirrors, the walls, the crucifixes, the clocks and even the bucket and the knife-rack bear the same queasy pigment. The idea, perhaps, is to suggest a lunatic asylum or an NHS waiting room. Lorca’s steamy tale is set in a remote Spanish village in the 1930s where life is dominated by the repressive and superstitious Catholic church. The story opens with a nasty matriarch, Bernarda Alba, celebrating her husband’s death by ordering her five

Two very long hours: The Effect, at the Lyttelton Theatre, reviewed

Lucy Prebble belongs to the posse of scribblers responsible for the HBO hit, Succession. Perhaps in honour of this distinction, her 2012 play, The Effect, has been revived at the National by master-director Jamie Lloyd. The show is a sitcom set in Britain’s most dysfunctional drug-testing facility where two sexy young volunteers, Tristan and Connie, are fed an experimental love potion that may help medics to find a cure for narcissists suffering from depression. Running the experiment are two weird boffins, Professor Brainstorm and Nurse Snooty, who once enjoyed a fling at a conference and whose lust is not entirely extinct. But Nurse Snooty is playing hard to get. ‘Sometimes,’

Riveting and sumptuous: The Motive and the Cue, at the Lyttelton Theatre, reviewed

The Motive and the Cue breaches the inviolable sanctity of the rehearsal room. The play, set in New York in 1964, follows John Gielgud’s efforts to direct the world’s biggest film star, Richard Burton, in Shakespeare’s most demanding play, Hamlet. A member of Gielgud’s company, Richard L. Sterne, recorded the process and his notes form the basis of Sam Mendes’s riveting production. The show is a must for anyone who works in the theatre or wants to. Directors, in particular, will relish the glimpse it offers into Gielgud’s approach to a uniquely demanding text and to a wayward superstar who was free to accept or to challenge the notes given

Stupendously good: Much Ado About Nothing, at the Lyttelton Theatre, reviewed

Simon Godwin’s Much Ado About Nothing is set in a steamy Italian holiday resort, the Hotel Messina, in the 1920s. A smart move, design-wise. The jazz age was one of those rare moments in history when every member of society, from the lowliest chambermaid to the richest aristocrat, dressed with impeccable style and flair. The show is stupendously good to look at it and it kicks off with a thrilling blast of rumba music from a jazz quartet on the hotel balcony. Even sceptics of jazz need not fear these players. The musical score is a triumph for one simple reason: there are no jazz solos. The comic passages of

Muddled, tricksy and cheap: The Corn is Green at the Lyttelton Theatre reviewed

The Corn is Green by Emlyn Williams is a sociology essay written in 1938 about a prickly tyrant, Miss Moffat, who tries to civilise Wales by setting up a village school where sooty-faced miners are taught to read and write. Miss Moffat is an unmarried English layabout who has money to burn and time on her hands and so, of course, she wants to ‘help’. You know the type? Director Dominic Cooke treats the script as a period joke and the actors are encouraged to mock their characters mercilessly. Hoots of cheap laughter echo around the theatre. The show is presented very weirdly as a sort of botched technical rehearsal

A tangle of nonsense from the sloppy Caryl Churchill: A Number, at the Old Vic, reviewed

A Number, by Caryl Churchill, is a sci-fi drama of impenetrable complexity. It’s set in a future society where cloning has become possible for those on modest incomes. A Cockney father reveals to his grown-up son that he’s a replica of his older brother who died, aged four, in a car crash that also killed his mum. The son reacts with anger and bafflement. But Dad soothes him with happy news. The boy’s DNA was stolen by a gang of scientists who created 20 more copycat zombies, and these replicas are now scattered across the globe. Dad plans to cash in by suing the boffins for £5 million. No sooner

The National has become the graveyard of talent: Manor, at the Lyttelton, reviewed

Somewhere in the wilds of England a stately home is collapsing. Rising floodwaters threaten the foundations. Storms break over the leaking roofs. Inside, an argument rages between a snooty moron, Lady Diana, and her drunken Marxist husband who used to be rock star. This is the chaotic opening of Moira Buffini’s country-house drama Manor. The angry husband picks up a hunting rifle and blasts ornaments to smithereens. Then he chases his wife to the top of a staircase where she hits him with a candlestick. Once the fight ends, more commotion erupts as various groups of evacuees rush in through the front doors. Two women arrive from south London. They’re

A 90-minute slog up to a dazzling peak: ‘Master Harold’… and the boys reviewed

Athol Fugard likes to dump his characters in settings with no dramatic thrust or tension. A prison yard is a favourite. He specialises in bored, talkative characters who squirt the time away swapping memories and indulging in bursts of creative play-acting. It’s dull to watch but good fun to perform. Thesps love to step out of character and road-test a range of fictional personalities. ‘Master Harold’… and the boys is classic Fugard. We’re in an empty restaurant in South Africa in 1950. Lunch service has ended. Two waiters twiddle away the afternoon discussing sex, ballroom dancing and beating women (as if this were a standard feature of male behaviour). Enter

Poetic and profound

Kenneth Lonergan, who wrote the movie Manchester by the Sea, shapes his work from loss, disillusionment, small-mindedness, hesitation and superficiality, all the forgettable detritus of life. The Starry Messenger is about Mark, a disappointed astronomer aged 52, who gives public lectures at a city planetarium. He loves his subject even though it let him down and every week he tackles the daft questions of his pupils with superhuman patience. The same two pests always raise their hands. One is a burly misanthrope who disbelieves all experts, the other is a high-flying oddball who craves attention. Mark starts a slow-burn affair with Angela, a single mum who needs a role model

Rooting for crime

Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis deserves its classic status. This wordy and highly cerebral play pulls off an extraordinary feat by leading the spectator inside the mind of a psychopath. The setting is Rikers Island, where an old lag, Lucius, befriends a younger detainee, Angel, who hopes to be acquitted of killing a pastor whom he shot in the buttocks. (The bullet-in-the-bottom detail is typical of Adly Guirgis’s macabre frivolity.) Lucius is a chain-smoking fitness freak who keeps himself in trim by jogging on the spot and performing bursts of press-ups in his cell. We first meet him as the victim of petty bullying by a

This is a man’s world

Sir David Hare’s weird new play sets out to chronicle the history of the Labour movement from 1996 to the present day. But it makes no mention of Corbyn, Momentum, the anti-Semitism row or rumours of a breakaway party. The drama is located in the dead-safe Miliband era and it opens with talk of a leadership election. The two best candidates, Pauline and Jack, are old lovers from university. Pauline is a doctor who entered politics when budget cuts threatened the hospital where her mother was being treated for cancer. Jack is a colourless Blairite greaser, a sort of Andy Burnham without the mascara, who is still besotted with Pauline

Bank account

Stefano Massini’s play opens with a man in a frock-coat reaching New York after six weeks at sea. The year is 1844 and young Henry Lehman has just emigrated from Bavaria to make his fortune. He started modestly with a general store in Montgomery, Alabama, serving local farmers. When wildfires destroyed the cotton crop on which the community relied, Lehman’s business ought to have failed but he saw his opportunity. Whatever possessions the farmers had lost they would have to purchase again. From him. He was joined by his brothers, Manny and Mayer, and they invented the profession of brokerage, ‘middle-men’ they called themselves, buying raw cotton from farmers and

Lost in transplantation

Polly Stenham starts her overhaul of Strindberg’s Miss Julie with the title. She gives the ‘Miss’ a miss and calls it Julie. The wonder of Strindberg is that his characters speak to us with such force, knowingness and candour that they seem to belong to our own era. Modernising the setting destroys the wonder. This is a textbook lesson in how to kill by transplantation. We’re in a London mansion owned by an absent billionaire whose chauffeur, Jean, is casually seduced by a trustafarian coke fiend, Julie, on the night of her 33rd birthday. Julie’s motives are lust, boredom, a need for attention and a perfunctory desire to sabotage Jean’s

Artistic Munchausen’s

Ella Hickson’s last play at the Almeida was a sketch show about oil. Her new effort uses the same episodic format ornamented with ‘meta-textual experimentation’ (i.e. plotless confusion). The central character is a brilliant young female writer who finds that all male theatre directors are boorish cynical greedy philistine racist sex pests. In Sketch One she meets a smarmy monster twice her age who tries to seduce her with the offer of a script commission. Sketch Two is a commentary on Sketch One, which turns out to have been a play within a play. Sketch Three shows the writer cohabiting with a loser who ‘sells football boots’. The loser has

Lost in space | 11 January 2018

The Twilight Zone, an American TV show from the early 1960s, reinvented the ghost story for the age of space exploration. Director Richard Jones has collaborated with Anne Washburn to turn several TV episodes into a single play. Eight episodes in all. Way too many. The structure is designed to bamboozle us from the start. Some of the storylines have been broken up and are placed episodically throughout the piece, while others are preserved as units and delivered whole. Even the most keen-eyed viewer gets flummoxed by this mystery. Among the storylines that baffled me were: a cop quizzes some stranded bus passengers to find out which is an alien;

Changing of the Bard

Hamlet was probably written sometime between 1599 and 1602. The Almeida’s new version opens with a couple of security guards watching surveillance footage taken in a corridor. Well, of course it does. Nothing says ‘late medieval Denmark’ like closed-circuit television. Hamlet (Andrew Scott) appears. His black shirt and matching trousers suggest a snooker pro at the Crucible or a steward on a Virgin train. Scott is known as a ‘character actor’ (code for ‘baddie’) rather than a leading man. His petulant, squelched-up face and his Ronnie Corbett physique make him perfect casting for Third Crackhead in a squat melodrama but he hasn’t a chance of capturing Hamlet’s lordly despair, his

Hedda Garbler

Hedda Gabler is one of the most influential plays ever written. It not merely illuminated an injustice, the enslavement of women within marriage, it fomented the revolutionary achievements of feminism. It deserves to be done as Ibsen intended. This updated version from Ivo van Hove locates Hedda in one of those posh urban dream homes that resemble an art gallery. Stage left, buckets filled with flowers. Centre, an abandoned plinky-plonk piano. At the rear, a lamp the size of a traffic bollard. Scruffy off-white masterpieces deck the walls. Everything looks chic and scaled-up. Tesman is a penniless American academic married to tetchy Hedda who pads about barefoot, in her nightie,

Sweet and sour | 27 October 2016

Great subject, terminal illness. Popular dramas like Love Story, Terms of Endearment and My Night With Reg handle the issue with tact and artistry by presenting us with a single victim and a narrative focus that reveals as much about the survivors as about the patient. Crucially, the disease is omitted from the title for fear of discouraging the punters from mentioning the work in conversation. A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer violates all these strictures. Half a dozen characters seated in a hospital ward shout at us about their failing health. These disjointed gobbets of testimony are interspersed with repetitive zombie dances and noisy songs with lyrics

Losing the plot | 4 August 2016

Consider it commercially. So powerful is the pull of the Potter franchise that the characters could simply re-enact the plot of ‘Incy-Wincy Spider’ and the fans would swoon with joy. The stage show has been written by a two-man committee, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, with the help of billionaire equality campaigner J.K. Rowling. Harry is now 37 and working as a Whitehall clodhopper at the Ministry of Magic. He’s troubled by his stompy bed-wetter of a son, Albus, whose tantrums cause the middle-aged miracle-worker to suffer agonies of weepy self-doubt. Together they visit Hogwarts and the multifarious plotlines start to punch each other in the face. Three kids —

Face value | 22 June 2016

When Richard III’s bones were unearthed in a Leicester car park, Frankie Boyle suggested the headline ‘Bent royal found at dogging hotspot’. Rupert Goold opens his version of the play by restaging the 2012 excavation as if to inform us that the past and the future are held together by something called time. That glib gesture apart, this is a superb production whose modern-dress aesthetic works, just for once, extremely well. And it works because the costumes are dark, sober and unornamented and this visual restraint moves our attention upwards to the more fertile arena of the face. And what a face Ralph Fiennes has, all meat-cleaver and calculation: the