Tag Archives: theatre

Edinburgh Review: The Shape Of Things

This is a simply staged and stunningly acted production of Neil LaBute’s superbly written play that is funny, honest, provocative, and achingly sad. Revolving around the tangled love lives of four American students in a claustrophobic campus town, the script examines the boundaries of art, the constant acts of manipulation and betrayal involved in friendship and in love, and the redemptive significance that a single true moment can have. If you think it sounds a bit worthy, don’t be put off – its also extremely funny and effortlessly watchable, mostly due to a cast who give committed and convincing performances that never strike a false note. Easy to watch, but difficult to forget. Go and see this play.


This review was originally published here.


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Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (National Theatre)


An intimate drama of imprisonment and suffering shares the stage with a full symphony orchestra. Tom Stoppard’s witty wordplay jostles for space with a Shostakovitch spoof scored by Andre Previn. It is a show that seeks to move, entertain, inform and dazzle – all of this in just over an hour. Wildly ambitious and insanely inventive, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is also an absolute theatrical delight.

Alexander Ivanov has been sent to a mental asylum in Communist Russia. The reason for his confinement? Dissent against the state, and (in a hideous piece of irony that the play explores to the full) for publicly stating that sane people are being put into mental hospitals by the oppressive regime. Sharing his cell is another man, also named Alexander Ivanov, a genuine schizophrenic who hears an orchestra in his head. Ivanov is faced with an impossible moral choice – renounce his former beliefs and admit ‘insanity’, or stay in the mental hospital for speaking the truth. There is a third way out, if he has the courage to take it; death by hunger strike. But complicating matters further is his son Sacha, who wants his father back and will be broken by his death. The stage is set for a classic struggle of conscience, of paternal duty versus social responsibility.

In different hands this could be dryly earnest stuff, but the wit and theatrical showmanship combine to make it something rather special. Rather than diluting the potency of the human story at the centre of the play, the flamboyant presentation enhances it. The orchestra is a part of the set and the cast – characters suddenly cast down instruments and appear from the seats, and at one point almost the entire orchestra comes alive for an elaborate dance piece. It sounds crazy, but it works – the numbing, Orwellian oppression imposed by the state contrasted with the playful delights of poetry, music, dance and theatre. Slender and tender, witty and moving, it is, as Michael Billington says, a piece of total theatre.

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Review: King Lear at the Young Vic

Having received a critical drubbing at its opening in Liverpool (with even lead actor Pete Postlethwaite admitting it was a troubled production), the Headlong company’s King Lear comes to the Young Vic with something to prove. Has director Rupert Goold, previously feted for his stunning Macbeth, finally met his match with one of Shakespeare’s most challenging plays?


Thankfully not. They’ve gone back to the rehearsal room and responded to the critics, bringing an altered and improved piece to the London stage. It is still a flawed production in many ways – the scars of previous mistakes are still visible, and some of the weaknesses have proved uncorrectable or have passed unnoticed – but despite its occasional shaky moments it is carried through by the strength of the cast and the inventiveness of the staging.

Goold is a director with an effortless creativity. Although the design and setting is nothing so special (a dessicated 1980’s Britain), each scene is crafted to precision, from the witty (the athletic track where Edmund and Edgar compete for their father’s affection) to the bold (the final duel, boyish and brutal, between the two brothers), the simple (Lear and the Fool alone in the moonlight) to the macabre (a truly horrific, eyeball biting blinding scene). It is hard to fault the individual scenes; even where they fall a trifle flat (the risible storm dance being the most notable culprit here) the freshness and invention are notable.

But the production never quite achieves any kind of unified vision; themes are touched upon but left unexplored, and the staging veers from one style to another without warning. By all accounts, the play was far more chaotic when it opened in Liverpool, and it is a problem that has not quite been solved. It is all the more surprising from a director who provided such bold (and complete) visions for his previous Shakespearean productions – the arctic tundra of The Tempest, the Stalinist horror of Macbeth. Perhaps it is natural that a play with chaos at its very core should resist cohesive settings, but the production cries out for a stronger vision to draw it together – even chaos can be artfully and consistently composed on the stage.


Wherever Goold’s invention dries up or is misapplied, however, the cast are there in force to carry the production through. King Lear, perhaps more than many other Shakespeare plays, requires exceptional performances from the entire cast. Almost a dozen different characters are asked to carry the play in turn for their small portion, and a production can be sunk by a dull Edgar, a hammy Edmund, a bland Goneril.

Fortunately, Goold is blessed with an ensemble that has strength in depth; among the best are Forbes Masson’s sinister Scottish Fool, John Shrapnel’s noble Gloucester, and a splendidly villainous turn from Jonjo O’Neil as Edmund. An unimposing Cordelia is perhaps the only weak link.

Attention will inevitably fall on Pete Postlethwaite, wrestling with one of Shakespeare’s most brilliant and challenging parts. He does not give an especially original interpretation of Lear, but he delivers most of the key scenes in standout form – the monologue to his daughters preceding his flight into the storm, his mournful conversation with Gloucester on the cliffs of Dover, the reconciliation with Cordelia and his speech as they are led away to imprisonment are by far the most moving scenes in the production, simply and beautifully played.

This production is not a perfect Lear. Perhaps it is not even a great one, but while it may still be flawed it is always bold, and often quite brilliant.

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