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,

They Drink It In The Congo by Adam Brace, Almeida Theatre, 3 September 2016

Our first visit to the theatre for a wee while, as there tends to be less of the stuff we like to see over the summer.

This play looked very interesting in the Almeida leaflet. Unusually, this was the only play we booked at the Almeida this season; they seem to be doing fewer new plays these days.

It was indeed an interesting play. Mostly set in London, where a do-gooder jolly hockey sticks woman is trying to organise an awareness raising Congo Festival with the consent and co-operation of the local Congolese diaspora community. Funny and sinister in equal measure. But the play doesn’t shy away from also showing us a glimpse into the horrors of life in the war-torn DRC.

Michael Longhurst directed this one, as he did Carmen Disruption last spring. We found that play interesting with some excellent scenes, but a little disjointed. I’d suggest that They Drink It In The Congo is similar in that regard. In particular, some of the festival-organising intrigue was a little drawn out and convoluted, but some of the scenes were superb. Interesting set and scene changes. All performances very good indeed.

The Almeida stub with all the details of They Drink It In The Congo is linked here.

Reviews:

In our household, I’m with the “four stars out of five” reviewers (most of those above), while Daisy would be more with Fiona Mountford and the three stars brigade.

We went home with plenty to think/talk about and nibbled at cold compilations rather than our more regular routine; to take away a hot meal.

 

 

Lawrence After Arabia by Howard Brenton, Hampstead Theatre, 21 May 2016

Feisal_I_of_Iraq
It has been said that his majesty and I bear some slight resemblance… https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Feisal_I_of_Iraq.jpg

Oh dear.

It sounded like a good idea when we booked it. Such an interesting period of Middle-Eastern history. Howard Brenton, who did such an interesting job on Ai Weiwei, taking on an interesting character in T. E. Lawrence. Timely, as it is the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement this year…

The problem is, that period was also a period when English theatre was in its dull Edwardian through 1920s drawing room drama doldrums. Howard Brenton seems to think it a good idea to parody the very worst of that period’s drama for this play. Director John Dove takes the idea further with a staid, static style to the piece. There are some good actors in this play but frankly we couldn’t care less what happened to any of the characters, which doesn’t give the cast much room for manoevre.

Neither Janie nor I could tell you too much detail about the first half; we both slept through much of it. It was a deathly dull hour, even when sleep spares you much of it. It would have been a deathly dull two hours, but we agreed to cut our losses and leave at the interval. So we can’t tell you anything about the second half. I am reliably informed by Grant (someone I know from the gym who did suffer the whole thing) that it gets no better in the second half.

The Hampstead Theatre area for this play has lots of good reviews – here , so it has clearly received good reviews, not least in both of the Telegraphs. The audience certainly looked like they had all been bussed in from Telegraph reader central casting. However:

Congratulations to all of you critics for managing to stay awake sufficiently to review the piece, or alternatively for covering up your lack of wakefulness deftly in your columns.

I did wake up for the bit where Lawrence shows off the thawb, bisht and igal, the garments of a bedouin leader, gifted to him by Prince (later King) Faisal. I liked that bit. Firstly, I am said by some to resemble Faisal (see picture above); I certainly resemble him far more than the actor who plays him in this play.

Secondly I have a fine collection of natty thawbs, bestowed upon me by one of Janie’s wealthy Saudi clients. Indeed I do much of my writing at the flat wearing a thawb; especially in the summer when it is a very sensible way to dress when writing.

But I digress. The play is deathly dull. Did I mention that before? Is irritating when people waste your time simply repeating stuff they have said before? Or is it a quirky, whimsical touch, that could maintain your interest and tickle your sense of humour for a couple of hours.

On a positive note, the programme is a really interesting read. We highly recommend it. The programme is well worth the trip to Swiss Cottage and its £3.50 cover price. Just don’t waste your time and money on this turkey of a play.

Red by John Logan, Donmar Warehouse, 5 December 2009

The more cynical reader/theatre lover might imagine this play/production having been designed for a Broadway transfer from the outset.

A two-handed, short play about the artist Mark Rothko, with an all (both) star cast and Michael Grandage directing.

Indeed, had it not been for the fact that the subject matter interests us both and that the stars in question (Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne) are both stars we like, we might have given this one a miss. We were falling out of love with the Donmar Warehouse by then.

But this was a very interesting play and it was superbly done, so we are very glad we went to see it at the very start of its transatlantic journey.

No on-line resource from the Donmar – they are far too busy arranging West End and Broadway transfers for that.

It got mostly very good reviews, but not universally so:

It did well on transatlantic transfer too – here is Ben Brantley from the New York Times the following spring.

But back to London during chilly December 2009, Janie and I were really taken with the preview we saw, which is the bit that really matters. It has also made us look at Rothko works slightly differently since. We’re still not sure about their meditative qualities though.

Finally, here is an extracts package from Playbill from the Los Angeles transfer – sadly without Eddie Redmayne by then, but still you get to see Alfred Molina as Rothko:

 

 

The Priory by Michael Wynne, Royal Court Theatre, 28 November 2009

I recall this one as being a bit Alan Aykbournish – a gang of thirty-somethings on retreat in the country for New Years eve. What could possibly go wrong?

A slight set of Royal Court details and links about this play/production can be found here.

We quite enjoyed it, while agreeing that we normally seek plays with a bit more oomph and have seen a lot of plays a bit like this one in our time.

Of course it was well acted and well produced – the Royal Court hardly ever misses one of those beats.

Cock by Mike Bartlett, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 14 November 2009

So we saw a young Ben Whishaw as far back as 2009 in this thing – who knew?

Mike Bartlett has also gone on to bigger and bolder pieces than this since.

I seem to recall that it was a fairly slight piece about someone who is confused about his sexuality; I think the modern term is “fluid”.

The Royal Court link is very slight for an archive of this age – click here.

As usual, high quality production and performances upstairs at the Royal; Court – we love that place.

The Power Of Yes by David Hare, Lyttelton Theatre, 17 October 2009

We were not overly impressed with this play.

David Hare is very good at burrowing around all manner of interesting topics, but I suspect he was too far away from his spheres of knowledge and understanding with the financial crisis.

Hare almost admits as much, as the narrator of the play is a somewhat perplexed author.

So to me, Hare was making the obvious points about the financial crisis well enough, but there was little dramatic tension and no new insight in the piece.

Janie liked it a bit more than i did, but I suspect that she got more out of it, being less steeped in the financial crisis in the first place.

I’m glad we saw it, but this is second division work from a first division playwright. There was little a good cast and production could do to save it.

 

Afterlife by Michael Frayn, Lyttelton Theatre, RNT, 7 June 2008

This one didn’t really float our boat, although it should have done. Michael Frayn, wrote it, Michael Blakemore directed it, Roger Allam was starring in it, the full forces of the RNT were behind it…

…but it didn’t work for us.

It is basically the story of the turn of the 20th century German/Jewish impresario Max Reinhardt, retold as a morality play.

We saw a preview and wondered whether the production was not quite ready when we saw it, but the reviews seemed to share our reservations:

…you get the idea. A real shame.

As is the RNT’s wont, no on-line archive resource (inverse correlation between organisation’s size/budget and its ability to do sensible things on-line blah blah), but there is an Official London Theatre stub – click here.

 

The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Lyttelton Theatre, 10 May 2008

A heartbreaking, true story.

Joan Didion wrote a memoir about her double-loss – first her husband and then her daughter. This is her one woman play based on that memoir. Vanessa Redgrave plays Joan.

We found it moving, although the critics tended to be equivocal in their praise and in their sense that the production moves as much as it should:

The audience went a bit Vanessa-sycophantic at the end, which always tends to irritate us a bit, but then she is one heck of an actress.

The City by Martin Crimp, Royal Court Theatre, 3 May 2008

Weird play, this one. You never quite know what’s going on with Martin Crimp. This play is a companion piece to one named The Country, which we saw at the Royal Court in the summer of 2000 and rated as “very good”.

The Country was also weird, but The City was, I think, even weirder. Short play, though. I seem to recall it got us talking and thinking, which is good.

A young Benedict Cumberbatch, still emerging as a star, was in this one. Hattie Morahan and Amanda Hale were also very good in it.