Hedda Gabler: without the gloss

Gun pointing in Hedda Gabler

Patrick Marber and Ivo Van Hove’s take on Isben’s iconic character is a great adaptation, but also an uncomfortable one. Here’s why it has to be uncomfortable to watch.

This is a new thing in my blog: for the very first time, I’ve got to put a content warning on a review. I have a policy that this blog does not use content warnings when common sense would do the job. Content warnings serve one purpose and one purpose only, which is that if something is coming that one could reasonably expect some people to find distressing, you give an advance warning. Said people can then choose whether to stop reading, or brace themselves and carry on. Most of the time, the title and opening paragraph make it obvious enough. If I review Romeo and Juliet, it’s going to have references to suicide. If I review To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s going to have references to racism. There’s no point warning people you’re going to mention something sensitive if it involves mentioning the very thing you’re trying to warn people about.

But there is an important difference here. So far, whenever I’ve talked about a play with upsetting themes, I’ve only ever had to touch on them in the review – the full harrowing details can stay in the play itself. This review, however, is different. The National Theatre’s production of Hedda Gabler was on of its most successful productions, ending a run of disappointments. But it was also one of its most controversial productions because of its depiction of sexual coercion. This needs talking about, and in order to that, we also have to talk about some horrible things that happen in real life. This will come later in the review, but it will come. Consider this your content warning. Continue reading

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Roundup: Vault Festival 2018

Main hall of the Vault Festival, before the crowds come in

REVIEWS: skip to Bump!, Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, You, The MMORPG show, Storytelling: London, Doktor James’s Bad Skemes, Elsa, The Great Gatsby

Apologies for putting this off – there were a couple of exceptional Ike-winning plays that jumped the queue, but let’s round up what I saw in the Vault festival. Unlike previous festivals, I won’t do any lengthy preamble, because there’s not much change from 2017. The Network Theatre and Waterloo East continue to be satellite venues, and the box office has still sorted out the organisational issues from 2016 (in fact, the venue as a whole runs pretty smoothly). Not quite the same number of Trump jokes this time (I guess last year exhausted the plentiful supply out there), and nothing dominating the buzz the way that immersive Gatsby did last year, but the one change I am so pleased to see is that finally the Vault Festival has installed wi-fi that actually works. Lord be praised.

Seriously, however, one notable change is that Vault 2018 ran for eight weeks, up from six. The good news from this is that they must be confident with the financial state of the Vault to expand like this (and my anecdotal observation is that numbers seemed to hold up fine over the longer period). It does mean, however, that we could reach the point where the Vault could become too powerful and turn into the gatekeepers of who can make it on the London fringe circuit. I don’t think we are at this point yet, and I have no reason to believe the managers of the Vault want to misuse their power, but keep asking questions. With great power comes great responsibility. Continue reading

The untold case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Production shot of Jekyll and Eleanor

With two excellent faithful gothic adaptations under their belt, Nick Lane’s adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde looks like a third. But this time, there’s a big change, and it’s superbly done.

There’s been so much banging about Blackeyed Theatre lately, myself included, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is synonymous with the partnership of John Ginman and Eliot Giuralarocca, responsible for an excellent adaptation of Dracula and a superb adaptation of Frankenstein. In reality, that’s only a recent addition to Blackeyed’s catalogue. But in spite of a successful ongoing run of Teechers, it’s gothic horror where they’ve made a name for themselves. So, by accident or by design, they’ve embarked on a third tale, and after the two big classics, Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous tale of Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego Mr. Hyde seems like an obvious choice. However – good job though I’m sure they could have done –  it’s not Ginman and Giuralarocca in charge this time. Instead, it’s written and directed by Nick Lane.

Starting with the obvious difference: you don’t have the technique of dispensing with speakers and doing all sound on stage that made Dracula and Frankenstein so distinctive. Here, it’s back to the conventional sound system. Other than that, the staging is stylistically similar to before. But there is one big big big change which I suspect most of the audience were not aware of, and that is writing a completely new major character into the story. And not just a clumsily shoehorned love interest. The thing that makes this adaptation outstanding is that he makes it look like this is how the story was meant to be told all along.

Ike Award for outstanding theatre: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Blackeyed Theatre

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War of the Worlds: way up North

Production shot from War of the Worlds

I’m going to review this play a little differently to most of my reviews. Northern Stage’s War of the Worlds already has enough glowing reviews on the pile, and besides, the two-week sold out run says more than any review ever will. What interests me is that this was part of Northern Stage’s NORTH scheme. If you’ve not heard of this, you can safely ignore most of this review and enjoy the play for what it is, but if you want ot read on, this needs a bit of explaining. NORTH has been running since 2013, and each year they take on a group on aspiring actors and give them, amongst other things, a public production. They generally go to form their own groups afterwards, the most successful one being the inaugural year which is now the hugely-respected Letter Room.

The scheme has varied from year to year though, not least in what kind of production they do. Usually the NORTH members devise their own play, but in 2015 the intake instead played the ensemble roles in mainstream production Cyrano de Bergerac – and not everyone was happy about that. A complaint I’ve heard off the record (not from anyone in NORTH 2015, I should add) is that by getting this instead of a devised production, they never get a chance to show their own creativity. A secondary complaint was that they got caught up in a concept that didn’t work, but lack of their own production was the main thing. So now, fast forward to 2018, and once again, a NORTH ensemble take the stage in someone else’s production. This time they play the leads in a Stage 3 production rather than ensemble on the main stage, but once again, the success of a production is in someone else’s hands.

Luckily for them, that someone is Laura Lindow, who has penned a series of successful productions, the most recent one being the November Club’s Beyond the End of the Road. Together with director Elayce Ismail, it turns out, they couldn’t have wished for safer hands to be in. Continue reading

Lumiere London 2018 roundup

Lumiere London 2018 - 12
Litre of Light. Photo credit: Garry Knight

Before I get stuck into Vault festival reviews, there was the festival in London the month before. What started off a one-off festival on Durham, then become a bi-yearly fixture in Durham, and then branched out to a one-off in London, is now a regular fixture in London too. This is a theatre blog and a light festival blog so I won’t be giving a detailed critique of every single attraction, but as this is a Durham-based blog and this is Durham’s greatest cultural export, this deserved a mention here.

Let’s get started:

The bigger festival

After the inaugural Lumiere London of 2016, there were questions over whether it could return, not because it wasn’t popular enough, but because it was too popular. Crowding became a big problem, even causing the King’s Cross area to be closed on Saturday night. Not as bad as the infamous Lumiere Durham 2011, but every possibility that the next Lumiere London could be a repeat of this as the  festival grows in popularity. But the solution implemented in Durham – closing off the Penninsula to all but residents and ticket holders – must have been out of the question for central London. Continue reading

For Love or Money: Rutter’s farewell (for now?)

Barrie Rutter as Fuller

Blake Morrison does a good job updating a classic play against the high expectations set by Northern Broadsides, but Turcaret maybe wasn’t the best play to work out of its original setting.

Amongst the many strings Northern Broadsides have to their bows, including Shakespeare, classics and new writing, there are the modern adaptations of classic stories, most notably those of the legendary writer/director duo Deborah McAndrew and Conrad Nelson. So it must be double-edged sword adapting a classic play into a new setting for Northern Broadsides if you’re not Deborah McAndrew. On the one hand, they’ve helped build the reputation of Northern Broadsides, which nicely translates into a big audience draw for you. On the other hand, however, their reputation translates into insanely expectations for you to live up to. That’s something I wouldn’t envy anyone for. But this is a challenge long-time Broadsider Blake Morrison took up for Barrie Rutter’s swansong.*

(*: Fine print: This was Barrie Rutter’s last touring play whilst Artistic Director. This doesn’t count his last last play at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse. And whatever people may say at the moment, I can’t believe it will be long before he’s acting and directing again.)

On the face of it, Tucaret looks like a natural choice for a new setting. Originally an 18th-century comedy, this is transplanted to early 20th-century Yorkshire. Rose is a young widow who has frittered away her fortune in spite of the efforts for her housekeeper Marlene (which very fitting added early 20th-century Yorkshire no-nonsense). She is courted by wealthy banker Fuller (Barrie Rutter, of course) – apparently naive at first, swiftly revealed to be shallow. However, Rose is more interested in the dashing but deceitful and dastardly Arthur, bleeding Rose dry of her money almost as fast as she can get it out of Fuller. However this setting worked in the original, it’s just as good here.

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Odds and sods: February 2018

In a rare twist of fate, I am getting my monthly roundup out on time. I did expect to be busy with lots of other things, but owing to the snow forcing the cancellation of pretty much everything, I have some free time for once. Let’s go:

Stuff that happened in February

The thing that caught my attention most in February was, of course, those silly people at Manchester Art Gallery who drew absurd parallels looking at a Victorian painting of nudey ladies and Harvey Weinstein going round raping everybody, took a painting down to Start A Debate™, and then ignored and dismissed the responses of the entire country (pretty much) telling them to fuck off (pretty much). I wrote at length about why you should worry about this, and a new tactic of censorship emerging in the arts, but I’m done with this for the time being. They are supposedly going to have A Series Of Debates™ this month – if, as I’ve expected all along, it’s a series of panels packed with yes men (and yes women), I’ll probably take the piss of of them further. In the incredibly unlikely event they they engage with criticism for a change, I will give them a chance. But I’m not holding my breath.

Apart from that, here were some other notable events for the month:

Latest from Brighton

With the close of Brighton Fringe registrations comes the annual ritual of seeing how many registrations there are. In recent years, the news of big increases has come with a big fanfare. However, this time, the publicity surrounding the launch kept quiet on this number, and – in line with the precedent of Edinburgh keeping quiet in years when the numbers flatline – it turned out there was a slight drop. It’s not clear what exactly what the numbers are this time, because the number of entries of the website seems to fluctuate, but the figure seems to be somewhere between 958 and 967, down slightly from last year’s peak of 970. Continue reading