Theatre review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic

Joe Hill-Gibbons production for the Young Vic is a healthy measure of comedy, darkness and inventiveness

Romola_Garai_in_Measure_for_Measure_at_the_Young_Vic._Photo_by_Keith_Pattison

Romola Garai as Isabella in Measure for Measure

Earlier this summer, I saw the Globe’s Measure for Measurea frolicking, lighthearted period production that negotiated Shakespeare’s problem play with frivolous fun.

Joe Hill-Gibbons Young Vic production, meanwhile, tears up the parchment and thrusts the play’s darker, murkier themes in our faces. The play opens with the characters crawling out from under a pile of inflatable dolls, complete with comedy appendages that are both crude and funny. They get thrown around and kicked about, but hang around the stage for the duration, a constant visual gag and a reminder of Vienna’s (and probably our own) grubbiness. They should have had their own curtain call.

Like the Globe’s, this production manages to be lots of fun, but Hill-Gibbons keeps the murky world of political corruption and sexual power and abuse at the heart of this black comedy. Shakespeare’s bawdier bits are helpfully illustrated with well know gestures, verbal stresses and visual – comically graphic – graphics. At just under two hours, the text has been slashed by dramaturg Zoë Svendsen along with some of the characters (Mistress Overdone is undone – I didn’t miss her). This makes it a far neater story and Isabella’s virginity, and the men (Angelo and the Duke) desperately grabbing at it, is given a keener edge. Romola Garai plays Isabella at full pelt. She’s VERY angry, there is none of the meek novice nun about her and there is no faux happy ending for Garai’s Isabella, it’s made clear she still pays a price for freeing her brother. 

Music plays a central role, although forget about any lutes. There constant hum of haunting music which crescendos at key points adds suspense even if at times it seemed intrusive. And the fact that Mariana – the woman Duke-stand-in Angelo stood-up after her dowry, along with her brother, was lost at sea – is an Alanis Morissette fans seems important, if rather an oddly dated reference.

We see some of the action through a video feed as the characters move ‘backstage’ to an industrial concrete space that doubles as a prison. Sometimes we see the characters on stage and on the screen, the jittery camera work adding a layer of menace and claustrophobia.

All this clever staging does at times threaten to upstage the actors, and, occasionally it does (I was completely distracted during Duke Vincentio’s  speech as he prepared to return from his undercover friar mission because of the kaleidoscope of inflatable dolls’s bits and bobs behind him) but mostly the actors win. Zoning Varla plays the Duke with real gravitas until the end when he returns and seems to unravel under the strain of his odd decisions – he’s along way from Dominic Rowan’s loveable, jovial leader. Paul Ready’s Angelo is a nervy civil servant, creepy and officious while John Mackay as Pompey had a suitable sly menace to him beneath his comedy posturing. And, Garai, Garai is great although I would have enjoyed a little more light and shade in her furious Isabella.

Inventive and sexually charged, this production still had Shakespeare at its core and is as bold and absorbing as his works, done at their best, should be. 

Measure for Measure | Young Vic | Until 14 November

Theatre Review: The Trial, Young Vic

The Trial performed at the Young Vic Theatre Rory Kinnear as Josef K, ©Alastair Muir

The Trial performed at the Young Vic Theatre
Rory Kinnear as Josef K,
©Alastair Muir

Great performances and the obvious affection for the original text, give this frantic production a heart

How do you adapt Franz Kafka’s The Trial for the stage or screen? It’s been done before of course, notably by Harold Pinter for his 1993 film version starring Kyle MacLachlan, yes, Kyle Maclachlan, then riding high on Twin Peak powers. I haven’t seen Pinter’s version, but Nick Gill, the playwright behind the Young Vic’s nervy production, has clearly gone for ‘let’s throw everything at it and see what works’ approach.

And… it does work – in places. It’s a rather ramshackle production that veers between gripping, frustrating, amusing and boring. Directed by Richard Jones – a man steadier at the helm of operas – this production is frenetic, it barely stops for air, possibly afraid that if it did it may be found wanting. The logic seems to be, that if we keep going at this frantic pace, the audience may not notice the flaws.

But while there were flaws, I largely enjoyed this production, thanks to some very fine performances and, of course, Kafka’s surreal tale as the backbone. As Nick Gill says in this interview for Exeunt Magazine “if I fucking massacre it, it’s The Trial, it’ll survive”. Gill certainly doesn’t “fucking massacre it”, but does it a bit of a thwack over the head leaving us all a little dizzy.

Despite a good supporting cast, this is Kinnear’s play. He’s so good as Josef K with his trademark low key style that sees him making so much impact with a raised eyebrow or frown. It would have been good to have seen his face more, but the rectangle stage that had the audience sitting either side as co-conspirators meant we became more familiar with his back (which could also be very expressive).

This not a diss on Miriam Buether’s set, which sees a conveyor belt run through the middle of the rectangle stage, bringing with it various bits of bland furniture – we’re in K’s office, now we’re in his bedroom, oh, and back to his office – without having to break the pace. No wonder Kinnear was sweating through his vest.

There were moments when this production really sparked, when Kafta, Gill and the characters were all working as one. But overall I thought this would have worked better as a darker, even more surreal production, one that didn’t have to play for laughs as much. I know it’s a cliche to compare The Trial to 1984 (they obviously share a totalitarian thread, but have very different tones) but what I enjoyed about the Playhouse production of Orwell’s classic was that it captured his sinister, claustrophobic atmosphere. Guaranteed, The Trial is funnier than you’d think (no really) but it’s not a book you’d read for its lolz. And lets never speak about the bit where the talented Hugh Skinner (W1A’s intern Will “ya” Humphries) had to pretend to be a dog (“like a dog!”), which was weird at first and then just boring. And weird is always better boring, but they’re not always that different.

The Trial | Young Vic | Until 22 August

Theatre review: Golem, Trafalgar Studios (Studio 1)

Golem at Trafalgar Studios

Golem at Trafalgar Studios

Written, directed, animated and largely performed by the often off-beat, always on-point 1927, Golem is shaking up the conservative West End with its gleeful, quirky and wonderfully imaginative comment on the technology takeover of our age.

In Jewish legend, a golem is a creature made from inanimate material, usually clay (in Hebrew, golem means shapeless mass), that is magically instilled with the power to take commands from its master. In legend, a golem usually becomes ever more powerful and ultimately destructive, in Golem, our clay man becomes a nightmare embodiment of our relationship with technology – like Frankenstein’s monster with an iPhone.

Golem’s master is Robert Robinson (a fantastic turn from Shamira Turner), a nerd who loves binary code and brown clothes. His instrument of choice in his sister, Annie’s, band – Annie and The Underdogs – is a keytar. Robert and Annie, a former librarian from a time when libraries existed, live with their Beethoven and knitting-loving grandmother. Robert has a mundane job in the Backup Department, “backing up the backup”, with four other like-minded geeks, writing out binary codes to existing computer programmes in preparation for the day the power goes out. He fancies Joy (a delightful Rose Robinson who plays Gran with equal relish), the Backup Department’s stationery cupboard manager who is wonderfully odd and whose dream it is to one day visiting the Pencil Museum in Keswick.

Robert’s world is changed dramatically the day he bumps into an inventor friend who persuades him to take home a clay golem he’s been tweaking, promising that this lump of clay will make his life far simpler. Golem, who looks like a, erm, very adult Morph, is animated onto the screen along with the projections of a city from a future that could be ours, with derelict buildings abandoned by the Russian oligarchs and hipster restaurants where the food is served in aspic.

Robert sets put Golem to work – literally, he’s now backing up the backup – but unbeknown to Robert, a sinister corporate company have also recognised the power of Golem and one day take over Golem’s mind. Like Dr Frankenstein, Robert soon discovers that his creature isn’t as pliable as he’d like and he’s soon in thrall to his powers.

Golem is simultaneously old fashioned and cutting edge. It has a fringe feel to it, but is as slick as any West End musical. Suzanne Andrade’s script is shot through with wit and poetic and knowing popular culture nods.  In among the fun and the surreal charm, are lots of on-point messages about modern life – the power of advertising, social media, those unseen trend makers and, of course, our slavish devotion to technology that is drilling holes in our communities, big and small.

Paul Barritt’s animation is more than simply a projected set, it’s an integral piece of a production that encompass several art forms including a jaunty live score (the drums and piano are played by Lillian Henley and Will Close respectively) that hints at Robert and Annie’s jazz-obsessed father.

I loved the numerous imaginative touches – the broken 7″ in punk fan Annie’s hair, the moth that rises up from the table when gran bangs it in frustration. I also enjoyed the hugely funny parodies of the more ridiculous aspects of modern life; Joy’s interview for her role at the Backup Department sent up job description cliches so perfectly and my friend and I were knowingly amused by Robert’s dalliance with internet dating (or what passes for internet dating in this production) after Golem persuades him to ditch Joy for being “a frumpy 35-year-old who is going to trick you into having a baby”.

Golem reminded me of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen and was every bit as joyful, clever and thoughtful. The message may be stretched a little, but wrapped up in such wit and originality, Golem could have been saying nothing and it would have still been tremendous fun.

Golem | Trafalgar Studios | Until 22nd May

by Suzanne Elliott

Theatre review: Lippy, Young Vic

Lippy at the Young Vic

Lippy at the Young Vic

Sometimes the disparity between the critics’ reviews of a production and the audiences’ verdict is so vast that I’m increasingly convinced that there’s a critical filter that mere mortals can’t pass through that reverses the way the pros and the rest of us think.

Dead Centre’s Lippy was critically acclaimed when it showed at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and the Young Vic’s marketing materials are adorned with quotes from gushing critics proclaiming it “extraordinary” and a play that “pushes at the limits of theatre” (in hindsight this may not have been meant as a compliment). But as the rather bemused audience shuffled out of the Maria Theatre the evening I saw it, the woman in front of me summed up Lippy better than any theatre critic, loudly proclaiming that it was “the biggest load of crap I’ve ever seen”, before accosting a steward demanding her money back “under the trade descriptions act”.

Lippy starts off strongly with a well played Q&A session for a play we never see. Lippy‘s main writer creator Bush Moukaezel plays a – presumably – more unprofessional and vapid version of himself who is interviewing one of the actors (played with impressive conviction all things considered by David Heap). The Interviewer is more interested in the actor’s off-stage lip reading skills than the play and during prompts the actor to reveal that he helped the police in the investigation into the deaths an elderly aunt and her three middle aged nieces when he was called upon to interpret the words of two of the women captured on CCTV on their final shopping expedition to Dublin. Moukarzel – as the Interviewer and it transpire as a writer – isn’t interested in this morsel of a story. And from this point, neither was I.

The Q&A session ends and the stage lights dim as thumping music pounds through the speaker while shadowy figures emerge from behind the thin curtain. This is the best moment in the production, genuinely terrifying and sinister, with real menace and unease. But then things go sub-Beckett as reality goes to the bar (later there’s a randomly thrown in reference to the demise of the interval, a decent theatre in-joke in another play, but why this one?). The music, the treacle like movement of the characters, the lack of focus create an anxious atmosphere that is irritating rather than evocative. In amongst all this muddle, the fates of these women became increasingly irrelevant.

There is an interesting story in here somewhere, the psychological study of why four women seemingly chose to starve themselves to death. And there’s certainly a valid point being made about us never being able to fully understand the world around us – trying to makes sense of it is like a lip reader trying to interpret the mumblings of a mad person. But all the interesting stuff is buried under several layers of pretension – even the actors don’t look particularly invested.

And there were so many unanswered questions; I don’t want to be spooned fed a story or its message, but there’s got to be a strong script and well developed characters to pull off surrealism, and there was something too cold and knowing about Lippy that prevents it pulling off the feat it sets itself. So extraordinary it might be, but not quite in the way the critics meant it.

by Suzanne Elliott

Lippy | Young Vic | Until 14 March 2015 | Tickets

Theatre Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster in A Streetcar Named Desire

Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster in A Streetcar Named Desire. Pic: Johan Persson

Blanche DuBois is a dramatic character vivid enough to have walked off the pages of Tennessee Williams’ classic A Streetcar Named Desire and take on a life of her own. She’s become a by-world for the archetypical southern belle who doesn’t chime as clearly as she once did.

The role requires filling some big feather-adorned high-heel slippers, from Jessica Tandy in the original Broadway production to Vivien Leigh in the Olivier directed UK debut and, of course, the film. Since July, Gillian Anderson has more than filled these shoes, winning rapturous praise from the critics and audience for her performance in Benedict Andrew’s Young Vic reprisal.

Finally able to get hold of one of the golden tickets after the run extended into mid-September my expectations were high, so the first 15-minutes were a little deflating as the production spluttered to life ; some of the southern drawls seemed wonky, their words muffled in the revolving stage, the actors, now in their final week seemed a little distance.

But after this bumpy start, the production sparked into life and heated up like a New Orleans afternoon in July, revealing Gillian Anderson’s Blanche in all its glory. She really is phenomenal as Blanche, a woman so easy to play as a caricature. For Streetcar to be successful, you have to, if not like her, then sympathise and empathise with this self-obsessed woman, and Anderson instils her with an unaffected fragility, and even uncovers a certain amount of common sense behind her ramblings.

A Streetcar Named Desire is the tale of Blanche DuBois whose life has unravelled to a point where her only sanctuary is with her sister Stella Kowalski,  and her husband Stanley in their two-room apartment in New Orleans. Blanche’s presence in the tiny flat with a volatile couple who love and hate with a passion, lights the fuse paper of her ultimate end.

What could be a very static play, set only in two rooms, pulsates with life in this production. Anderson’s Blanche is never still, twitchy and restless, floating her hands like a geisha performing a dance.  Blanche’s Japanese-influenced dressing gown is perhaps another link that, Blanche’s heightened femininity, like a geisha’s, is an act and her livelihood. Blanches oxygen is the male gaze, a gaze so intense she is ultimately destroyed by it. It’s fitting that at one point she is dressed as a Jim Beam soaked Barbie doll.

Benedict Andrews moves the story from 1947 to the modern day, stripping the play of any southern whimsy. The set is Ikea minimal, the costumes, bar the odd eighties style prom dress, sleek designer dresses and high heels (highlighting the influence the play had on Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine; when Gillian Anderson first walked on, I thought Cate Blanchett was understudying for the evening).

But the production is still southern in its soul. Anderson, when she hits her stride is mesmerising, the poetry of Williams southern dialogue lilting and lyrical in her delivery. Even in a stark white cube in a theatre in Waterloo you can imagine the sweat trickling down your back, the stickiness of your legs on a plastic chair.

Andrews’ dispenses with the jazz for an electrifying rock and dance soundtrack, including PJ Harvey’s scuzzy ‘To Bring My Love’ and Cat Powers’ haunting cover of ‘Troubled Waters’ (“You must be one of the devil’s daughters they look at me with scorn”) and it hugely affecting and powerful.

While Anderson is the standout star, she’s not alone in her galaxy. Ben Foster as the brutally masculine Stanley Kolwolski gives a performance as powerful as his biceps. Vanessa Kirby’s imbues Stella with a steely confidence, and Corey Johnson is quietly captivating as the hapless, sweaty Mitch, Blanche’s would-be saviour.

by Suzanne Elliott

 

Theatre Review: My Perfect Mind, Young Vic

Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge in My Perfect Mind

Paul Hunter and
Edward Petherbridge in My Perfect Mind

Written by and starring Edward Petherbridge, My Perfect Mind is an endearing 90-minute one act play based on the classical actor’s experience of not playing King Lear.

This two-hander is a poignant, playful, funny, slightly bonkers play where Petherbridge finally gets to play an (abridged) version of theatre’s most tyrannical king – although in a rather more an unorthodox manner than Shakespeare first intended.

Joining Petherbridge on stage is Paul Hunter, who plays “all the other parts” which include, amongst many wonderful characters, Petherbridges’ stroke-ravished, hair-net wearing mother and a ‘German’ brain doctor with a very dodgy accent (“borderline offense” is an old-going joke in the play, riffing off Noël Coward’s comment on “stage foreign”).

Originally performed at the Edinburgh Festival, My Perfect Mind has that slightly wonky, ultra-realism that’s simultaneously hyper-theatrical. And that’s all part of this play’s charm and wit.  Petherbridge, who played Guildenstern in the debut of Tom Stoppard’s classic at the National Theatre in 1967, sends himself up as an old school luvvie, all ‘darling’ and Laurence Olivier anecdotes. And despite its flirtations with the surreal, there’s a tender, warm heart to the play that also deals with the sharper edge of life (and near-death).

After many years treading the boards, including an ill-fated stint in a musical called The Fantasticks (alongside Paul Hunter), Petherbridge is offered the part of King Lear in a New Zealand production and flies to Wellington for the role of a lifetime. But the day after his first rehearsal, he suffers two strokes in quick succession, leaving him struggling to walk and barely able to move his fingers on his right hand, but miraculously able to respite all his lines from King Lear .

Petherbridge’s story of not playing Lear is woven between flashbacks to his childhood, moments backstage with Olivier dispensing words of actory wisdom, all wrapped around a deliberately half-baked idea of him playing an actor suffering from KLS (King Lear Syndrome – cue the brain doctor with the dodgy accent). It’s all beautifully patched together by the actors and Kathryn Hughes’ (who has played King Lear in her time) assured direction which keeps the play from rambly off up its own too-pleased with itself backside. There are lots of acting in-jokes, a great deal of exposing the world behind the theatrical green curtain, and an interesting look into the actor’s psyche and motivation. But just when it looks like it’s getting bogged down in its clever-cleverness, slipping into being “sloppy and pretentious”, which, as Petherbridge notes on two occasions, are often the same thing, it snaps back with a comic flourish.

My Perfect Mind is an exploration of the memory, of the power of art, creativity and a (muted) celebration of survival – and it’s a lovely 90 minutes of theatre.

by Suzanne Elliott

For more information and tickets, visit www.youngvic.org.

 

 

 

Theatre Review: A View from the Bridge, Young Vic

Phoebe Fox, Mark Strong and Nicola Walker in A View from the Bridge

Phoebe Fox, Mark Strong and Nicola Walker in A View from the Bridge

After a two week road trip in the American South in seemed apt (ish) to see two plays by US writers in my first week back. Apt-ish because the New York and Boston where the two plays I saw, Arthur Miller’s classic A View from the Bridge and David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2011 Good People, are respectively set are as far removed from Tennessee and Louisiana as London is from the Sahara.

But these punchy plays both contain universal themes that transcend state lines, international border and eras. In fact, despite the fifty odd years that separate the two plays, there are obvious – and in many cases depressing – similarities between the two; both are set in tough working-class urban neighbourhoods and both examine truth, choice, consequence and the complexities of right and wrong.

The Young Vic’s A View from the Bridge was the first post-holiday theatre trip. I have never been a huge Miller fan, his world have always felt too male-focused to resonate with me, the egos of the male characters dominate the page and the stage without – to my mind at least – the romanticism and the narcissistic female to blunt the machismo that Tennessee Williams had.

To further consolidate my opinion, I saw a production of A View from the Bridge a few years ago that was so stagnant that the ending came as a relief and served to put me off Miller for life. That is until I read reviews of the Young Vic’s production that were so glowing that Ivo van Hove’s production sounded life changing…

And it’s certainly changed my mind about Miller. A View from the Bridge is a physically and emotionally tough play and this production doesn’t flinch from the rawness in Miller’s script, an attitude reflected in the physiques of the three male leads. The production pulsates with masochismo, lust and a fateful sense of doom, amplified by the soothing, yet soaring Fauré’s Requiem that accompanies the more dramatic moments, while the stiller family face-offs are set to a hypnotic tick-tock which I couldn’t work out helped build the tension or distract from it.

Leading a superb cast is Mark Strong who is no stranger to playing the bad guy. But Eddie Carbone is a far more complex character than a black and white badie. He’s a deluded, ego-driven man blinded by self-importance and an obsession with his niece which sends him into a spiralling circle of madness. Eddie is an insufferable twit, of course, but he’s no pantomime villain, there’s a vulnerability and desperation to him that an actor needs to unearth from underneath the character’s blind fury, which Strong does with fearsome power.

During a performance, I like to watch, if I’m near enough to see their faces, the actors that aren’t at that moment speaking as they can often reveal more about that character in those quiet moments than when they’re in the spotlight. I could go back a second time and watch Strong the entire time – not to take anything away from the rest of the cast – but he glowers with an intensity that is intimidating, even on the back row. He fully deserves the line that lawyer and narrator Alfieri (Michael Gould) ascribes to him “but I will never forget how dark the room became when he looked at me; his eyes were like tunnels”.

Of course Eddie’s actions are legally right, but morally they are very suspect and ultimately devastating. I was hugely depressed by the thought that the immigration theme that this play – written in 1955 – tackles is still an issue. The line where Rodolfo (played brilliantly by Luke Norris), defending himself from Phoebe Fox’s childlike, but ferocious Catherine’s accusations that he wants to marry her purely for her papers dismisses the idea of America as some kind of Utopia; “It’s (America) so wonderful? “I want to be an American so I can work, that is the only wonder here – work!” resonates far too much in a world where UKIP exist.

As Ruth in Spooks Nicola Walker was called on to wobble her bottom lip many times while also maintaining a steeling reserve. As Beatrice, Eddie’s wife, she’s required to be the opposite – Bea is ostensibly tough, berating her niece for her innocence and naivety, when in reality Catherine is the strong one, the one who doesn’t let Eddie grind her down.

Van Hove’s slick direction injected some adrenaline into those final, frantic minutes, rather than shifting the action from the street to the police station and back again, he keeps the actors in the same place and has Alfieri read the stage directions so the play reaches a crescendo with a tension that’s almost physically uncomfortable.

And the ending, one most of the audience knows is coming, is brutal and moving and more than contributes to the idea that now would be a good time to buy shares in fake blood; London’s theatres are awash with it.

by Suzanne Elliott

Catch A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic until 7 June .

 

 

Theatre Review: A Doll’s House, The Young Vic


Booked during the soggy, grey late June days that seemed doomed to be our summer, an Ibsen play on a glorious July evening suddenly seemed all wrong.

But the Young Vic’s recent production of the Norwegian playwright’s A Doll’s House was so absorbing that it was easy to forget the enticing sunshine outside as I became wrapped up in the domestic drama that heated up on stage. Ibsen, like so many of those famous foreign names, seems, to the uninitiated, so impenetrable, as dark and bleak as a Norwegian winter. But, like so many of those heavyweight names, his writing has endured because it’s the opposite of those preconceptions – it’s so human and accessible. In reality Ibsen’s dialogue, particularly in the hands of Simon Stephens’ sharp translating pen, is quick, witty and enthralling with an unexpected lightness.

A Doll’s House centres around a middle class family in the 19th century as they get ready for Christmas, with Nora Helmer at its emotional centre. Ibsen is of course casting his net far wider than the Helmer’s home, he’s using this small domestic scene as a device to reveal the plight of women at the tail end of the 1800s. Not that Nora could be described as an every woman – she’s wealthy and beautiful with the self of entitlement that those two pieces of luck bring you. But this gives even greater emotional pull to her moment of clarity.

Nora is the quintessential pretty girl who’s used her looks as currency to buy a life she thought she wanted. Closeted and controlled since birth, first by her late father before and then by the handsome, but superficial and controlling, Torvald – a man so self-obsessed that when he hears his good friend Dr Rank is dying his first words are “I knew I wouldn’t have him for long.” – she suddenly metaphorically wakes up and finds herself trapped in a world she longs to escape. Ibsen peppering Torvald’s dialogue with bird nicknames (‘skylark’ ‘swallow’) for Nora are, perhaps, rather unnecessarily heavily-loaded ironies.

Ian MacNeil’s fantastic set was so attention grabbing that it took on a life of its own. The revolving rooms not only brought the ‘doll’s house’ to life, but also added a filmic quality to the play, its tracking-shot style keeping the momentum going and in turn keeping Nora ‘trapped’ inside the house and the story.

The actors were all fantastic, but special plaudits must go to Hattie Morahan who captures Nora’s fragility, intelligence, manipulative selfish-ness – her humanness. Sometimes you wanted to slap her round the face (she’s a terrible friend to Susannah Wise’s Christine Linde) but Morahan also makes you like her to the extent that your heart breaks along with Nora’s as she makes her agonising decision (Stephens’ left out Ibsen’s final, ambiguous line – he clearly doesn’t believe they’ll be a reconciliation). The final scene is wrenching, such is the pain of Morahan and Dominic Rowan’s Torvald, that it’s almost unwatchable. Nora’s heartbreak is so raw that is was no wonder Morahan looked drained as she came out to take her bow for the curtain call. That’s not to say it was all bleak. I almost forgave Torvald all his self-obsession and shallowness after Rowan’s brilliantly funny drunk scene following their neighbour’s party. This was no one-dimensional brute, just as this wasn’t a one-dimensional production of Ibsen’s multi-layered masterpiece.

by Suzanne Elliott

Theatre Review: Bingo by Edward Bond, The Young Vic

Despite the heavyweight cast Bingo, the Patrick Stewart-lead play about our most revered playwright’s final days, was as flimsy and insignificant as Shakespeare’s body of work is heavyweight and vital.

We know very little about Shakespeare the man, and we don’t learn much more about him from Bingo, other than that he was a curmudgeon who liked making snow angels, hated his wife and daughter and couldn’t take his booze.

An enclosure bill sub-plot carves its way as randomly as a landlord-drawn border through the narrative and there was a half-hearted story involving a downtrodden peasant woman who seems to serve little purpose other than drawing out a more human side to grumpy old Will. For the thrust – if we can call such a passive storyline something as dynamic as a “thrust” – of the play was the contrast between Shakespeare the playwright and Shakespeare the man; a man who wrote so eloquently of the human condition on the page, shows little sympathy or understanding towards his fellow beings in real life.  He’s an empty shell of a man, bereft of any real feeling – as he tells his daughter Judith (Catherine Cusack) he can’t even hate with any real passion. King Lear (who is alluded to in the promo literature) he ain’t.

There was a fabulously comic turn from Richard McCabe as a drunk playwright – Ben Jonson? – with writer’s block who alludes to “killing a man in a tavern”. But that brief respite couldn’t lift the play above the mediocre. You can always tell when a script lacks a backbone when actors resort to my theatrical bugbear – running on stage, to create a sense of drama and urgency where there is none.  And talking of bugbears – why did so many of the cast have such strange accents?

Maybe the ultimate message about this play was that is brought into sharp relief how vital Shakespeare’s plays remain.

by Suzanne Elliott