Room, Theatre Royal Stratford East

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Originally a novel by Emma Donoghue that swept up the award nominations last year after being made into a film, Room is now a play. Adapted by the writer for the stage, it stays true to the original story of a young woman abducted at 19 and imprisoned as a sex slave. After two years in captivity she gives birth to her son Jack. Five years later as they celebrate his fifth birthday, all Jack has ever known is the inside of the shed. To ensure he copes, Ma’s taught him that the only things that are real are what’s inside the room. Everything outside isn’t real, and the pictures on their telly exist only in the small box. But Ma’s had enough and wants Jack to help them escape now that he’s big enough.

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Twelfth Night, Blue Elephant Theatre

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What with the prominent use of music in Twelfth Night, an actor-muso production is certainly a reasonable concept. Original Impact also sets the play in modern-day summertime, playing up the drunken frivolity at the forefront of the story. The recontextualisation largely works, though combined with some brutal editing, it glosses over the more sombre themes of grief and displacement. The cast demonstrate a range of ability with verse and performance skills, and there are some signs that the director isn’t familiar with Shakespeare. It’s not a terrible production by any means, but some minor adjustments would lend it a more professional feel.

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Romeo and Juliet, Greenwich Theatre

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A self-described modern rep company, Merely Theatre is addressing Shakespeare’s  gender problem with 50/50 casting. Five male/female pairs each learn a set of characters in two plays, then on the night it’s decided who will perform. The result is a focus on clear storytelling rather than unimportant details such as the appearance or gender if individual characters. It’s a great device, and partnered with simple staging and a pace that doesn’t hang about, artistic director Scott Ellis has created a distinctive style of performance honouring the historical aesthetics of travelling players, though there’s a lack of nuance dissatisfying to modern audiences.

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Snow in Midsummer, Swan Theatre

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In 2012, The RSC drew ire for its Orphan of Zhao casting in which there were a whole three East Asian actors. Though the production went ahead, RSC artistic director Greg Doran showed willing to listen and bring about change, meeting with Equity’s Minority Ethnic Members Committee. Now, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s modern adaptation of a Chinese ghost story with an entirely East Asian cast is on stage at the Swan. It’s commendable progress even though there’s still a long way to go in British theatre.

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Swifties, Theatre N16

 

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By guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

The fetishism of absorbing someone else’s life and making it your own is the theme explored in Swifties, particularly how to give your world meaning when everything seems so dismal. The play puts in to question why celebrities exist – is it for people like Nina and Yasmin, whose obsession with their idol Taylor Swift has totally taken control over their own identity?

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Richard III, Rosemary Branch Theatre

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Bill Clinton once told Kevin Spacey that 99% of political thriller ‘House of Cards’ is real – a terrifying thought. Whether true or not, Spacey’s character Frank Underwood has clear parallels with Shakespeare’s Richard III what with the former’s ruthless climb to the US presidency. New company Godot’s Watch picked up on the similarity between the two rulers, taking inspiration from the tv series for their small-scale update to Shakespeare’s popular history play. Though the production has some canny choices, the concept comes across as a generic modern-dress adaptation with some pronounced weaknesses.

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Three Sisters, Union Theatre

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“Nothing turns out the way we planned.”

Though 2016 has been riddled with despair, 2017 looks worse. With the fascist post-truth movement on the rise and Trump taking office in a matter of days, there is little to look forward to. Far-off lands look like alluring utopias, and it’s easy to fall prey to the lingering question of what the point is of carrying on in the face of all this societal disintegration. With existentialism one of the cruxes of the story, this Three Sisters is a bleak echo of present day narcissism and hopelessness. Phil Willmott’s staging of a new, pared back translation doesn’t stagnate, though. Combined with a strong cast, this is production uncannily suits our times.

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