Brave New World: a hat trick for James Dacre

Multimedia-intense production shot from Brave New World

James Dacre has built a reputation for distinctive, innovative staging, and this new adaptation of Brave New World is no exception.

How did I miss this when I put together my autumn recommendations? James Dacre, artistic director of the Royal and Derngate, has impressed me two years running: first in 2013 directing The Thrill of Love for the New Vic, and then Cat on a Hit Tin Roof for a joint production with Northern Stage. Only problem is that my hopping from theatre company to theatre company, it’s easy to miss where he’s directing next. This time, he’s come to the north-east as a joint production with Touring Consortium Theatre Company (in this case, touring to Darlington Civic Theatre). But it doesn’t matter who the producing company is, only that he’s directing. And this time, with a new adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World, his distinctive style shines through again.

Brave New World is one of of many famous stories of dystopian futures. But whilst books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm had worlds that relied on crushing despotism, this was more passive and cunning method of subjugation, relying heavily on distractions and the suppression of any real emotion. Thank goodness it’s only a story, because the sinister means used include conditioning humankind to engage in meaningless casual sex, a terrifying prospect that strikes fear into the hearts of all- … okay, bad example. All right, they also subjugate humankind by banning texts that might induce too much emotion, so Shakespeare’s out the window – nope, still not getting the point across, am I? No Shakespeare, but everyone gets laid. Look, just take my word for it, it’s dystopian. Continue reading

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: James Dacre does it again

Scene from the play, with a really really really white set

James Dacre’s take on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Northern Stage is thoroughly faithful to the script, and yet is staged in a way that make the plays his own to great effect.

Northern Stage does many things, but their speciality is classic plays with their own take on it. Sometimes they stage it in a way that’s not to everyone’s tastes (Blue Remembered Hills), and sometimes they pick plays that I think are now dated (Look Back in Anger), and they’ve got a relatively easy ride compared to nearby Live Theatre who stick their neck out with new untested plays. But on the whole, Northern Stage have an excellent record of doing what they do well, with a decent run of Catch 22 just under their belt. But Cat on a Hot Tin Roof got me particularly excited because this is directed by James Dacre, who was behind the superb The Thrill of Love from the New Vic last year. And a large part of the superbness came down to Dacre’s directing. And I am pleased to say that he did not disappoint in Newcastle.

Tennessee Williams might be a more specialist taste than many other famous writers of the period, but he was certainly one of the boldest. In a way, much of his writing was ahead of his time. Most famously/notoriously, he routinely dropped casually racist language into his plays, not because he thought it was okay, but because that’s the way things were. (For anyone not convinced by that, Sweet Bird of Youth is a good example of a play that portrayed the racist politician as the clear villain.) Then there’s subjects which are uncomfortable today, such as rape (or sex with questionable consent). Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, however, leaves both of these subjects alone for a change, and instead touches on the then-taboo subject of homosexuality. In the back-story is some sort of relationship between Brick and Skipper, friends and team-mates at College American Football. They might have had those feelings for each other – or they might simply have been close friends and it was just the way other people perceived it. Either way, the consequences were very real: Maggie, Brick’s wife, grew jealous of this friendship, Skipper slept with Maggie purely to show he wasn’t like that, and later killed himself out of guilt.

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