Against by Christopher Shinn, Almeida Theatre, 26 August 2017

Unfortunately, this one didn’t really do the business for us.

I said to Janie at the interval, “if this play manages to pull together all of its big and disparate themes in the second half, we’re in for one cracker of a second half.” I didn’t think it would. It didn’t.

Here is a link to the Almeida resource on the play/production.

Strangely, I don’t think we’d ever seen a Christopher Shinn play before. I say strangely, because he has had so many of his works performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, which we frequent a lot. Perhaps the subject matter has never appealed to us before.

This sounded interesting from the Almeida blurb and indeed it was interesting subject matter. Too much of it; violence in society, sexual politics, religion, workers’ increasing sense of powerlessness…

…but the performances were all very good. They seemed, to us, wasted on this play.

Tellingly, the Almeida resource does not link to reviews, so here are a few links:

To help rescue our evening, we ran into Jilly Black sitting, with a friend, a few rows behind us. We chatted with them after the show; indeed Janie dropped them at Baker Street giving us quite a bit of very pleasant post show chat time.

It is not very often that we bemoan the extra few minutes journey time to the Almeida; normally that place is well worth the extra few minutes each way, but this piece left us warm to the interesting topics but decidedly cold to the play,

Forget Me Not by Tom Holloway, Bush Theatre, 19 December 2015

A powerful evening at the theatre, this play.  It is about the forced migration of thousands of British children to Australia in the quarter-of-a-century or so after the second world war.

Janie came away from the play feeling very angry about the Australian Government, although in truth the Church and the UK Government have just as much to answer and apologise for; which, to some extent, all these parties have done in recent years.

The play is focused on one such child’s story and the impact this ill-thought policy had on his life and the lives of those around him – explained well in the Bush Theatre rubric – click here.

It is superbly acted by all four actors and well produced at the Bush, one of our favourite places at the moment, putting on interesting work with a consistent high quality; very few misses there.

Michael Billington was full of praise in his Guardian review – click here.  Henry Hitchings in the Standard was perhaps even more keen on it – click here.

It was originally produced at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney in 2013, where it also seems to have gone down very well – for information and reviews click here.

It is quite a short evening at the theatre, which was just as well for us, as Janie and I wanted to go on to Lisa Opie’s party afterwards and get there before most people had left, which we achieved.  The party did a jolly good job of cheering us up again after this sobering but gripping evening at the theatre.

Stevie by Hugh Whitemore, Hampstead Theatre, 6 March 2015

We rather liked this one. Not as much as the critics, who mostly lapped it up, but we did enjoy the play.

It’s about the poet Stevie Smith and of course Zoë Wannamaker is a superb actress; indeed all three of the cast were.

It’s a bit twee; both the setting (but then Stevie Smith did live a twee suburban life in Palmers Green) and also the play, which is a little old-fashioned in style. It reminded me of the sort of play that did well in the Hampstead Theatre’s portacabin glory days, back in the eighties and nineties.

Excellent Hampstead on-line resource saves me most of the trouble – click here – reviews too but of course only those effusive ones.

I think we were still going to Harry Morgan pre-theatre back then; the Friday evening Hampstead theatre gig worked that way most times.

How to Hold Your Breath by Zinnie Harris, Royal Court Theatre, 14 February 2015

I have written elsewhere about the Vicky Featherstone regime at the Royal Court seeming to have a relentlessly miserablist agenda.

Janie and I don’t mind gloomy stuff. Crickey, you wouldn’t choose the sorts of theatre that we choose if all you wanted was feel good rom-coms and musicals. But relentless and extreme miserablism?

I can’t remember quite such a quintessentially down-hearted play as How to Hold Your Breath for a long time.

Part of the problem I had with it was my inability to buy into the notion that a financial crisis might have a young, successful, professional Northern-European (presumably German) woman descend from yuppydom to prostitution/migration in but a few days.

Yes of course it is meant to be an expressionistic-type dream play. But to suspend belief sufficiently to buy into a thesis (but for fortune, it might be Europeans desperate to migrate to Africa and the Middle East, not the other way around) it needs sufficient plausibility, which this lacked.

So instead of making its worthy and at times interesting points about inequality, economic power and migration well, it seemed to ram them down our throats to the extent that I (and Janie agreed) almost wanted to throw the metaphorical babies out with the bathwater. Which is a horrible way of putting it, given this play’s unsettling and shocking denouement.

All a great shame because the cast were excellent. Maxine Peake really can act; indeed all of them can. The design was stylish; it was just the unsubtle play that didn’t do it for us. We normally like Zinnie Harris’s plays; we just didn’t like this one.

I can’t remember how we tried to make ourselves feel a bit better with food afterwards – probably Ranoush shawarmas or possibly Mohsen’s Iranian-style kebabs.


Little Light by Alice Birch, Orange Tree Theatre, 7 February 2015

Janie and I were on a bit of a roll at that time, as was The Orange Tree.

Little Light by Alice Birch – click here for the Orange Tree resource on that production – was really good.

In some ways this was yet another family drama, but it was very well written and performed. It kept us awake and interested throughout.

Plenty of one-liner reviews in the Orange Tree link above: