Tuesday, 29 May 2007


Cheek By Jowl’s Cymbeline is performed in a transformed Barbican Theatre. It is the second Cymbeline of note this year, following Kneehigh’s imaginative and entertaining re-interpretation of this late Shakespeare play at the Lyric in Hammersmith.

Unlike Kneehigh, Cheek by Jowl perform the traditional text but in what appears to be 1940’s style dress. They don’t skate round the paradoxes and inconsistencies of the work – they drive straight through them. But they do it with such panache and conviction that – while the audience may acknowledge the plot’s weak points – it is totally carried along by the strength of their collective performance and sheer narrative drive of the production.

A master stoke in this interpretation is the doubling up of Postumus and Cloten both portrayed by the excellent Tom Hiddleston. He switches between the characters at the change of a coat and the donning of a pair of glasses. Postmus is portrayed as something of an earnest wimp while Cloten is a prancing fool. The latter’s attempts to serenade Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen in the style of say Robbie Williams is a stand out show stopping moment. Hiddleston gives us an egotistical princeling doing a poor impression of a self-conscious and self-satisfied pop star’s less endearing characteristics. It is a masterpiece of multi-layered irony.

Cymbeline himself is a foolish Prince Charles like figure whose second wife towers over him in fine comic style, clutching his head to her chest as she manipulates and patronises him. In addition Jodi McNee gives a stylish performance as Imogen combining intensity and naiveté in equal measure.

The company’s way of leaving characters on stage in scenes they are not involved in – yet are either being talked about or have an emotional impact on - is both satisfying and helps clarify the convoluted narrative.

The staging is simple and sparse. There are few props but those there are are well used. The giant architectural pillars of the Barbican stage (which are normally hidden from audience view) become an essential part of the set as. palace walls or forest trees.

The cast doesn’t fill the stage in an epic sense yet the space around them gives a sense of an epic tale. The distances that are often between performers not only show the emotional but also the physical distances between the characters.

Theatregoers in London are fortunate to have had not one but two lucid, cogent and entirely convincing production of Shakespeare’s problem play this year. And, what is even more remarkable is their total difference from each other.

Barbican Theatre until 23rd June

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Leaves of Glass

Follow link to read review

Friday, 4 May 2007

Absolute Beginners

Absolute Beginners Bringing Colin MacInnes’ novel cult novel to the stage is no easy task, as anyone who’s read it would agree. It is an energetic journey around the west London of 1958, encompassing teenage passion, popular music, politics, race relations and even the power of the media.

However, Roy Williams’ adaptation succeeds admirably and is aided in no small measure by Lizzie Clachan’s inventive and apposite design.

The unnamed narrator of the novel becomes ‘Photo Boy’ in this production because that is what he does – take photos. This 18 year-old is immersed in London life. He’s alienated from most of his family (half-brother and mother) but not his father. The love of his life sleeps around and is about to embark on a marriage of convenience with her gay employer. Photo Boy’s friends are stylish, multi-ethnic and of varying sexualities. It all seems open tolerant vibrant and liberal. But there is a menace at the heart of all this. White fears of immigration are being played on and will explode in the infamous Notting Hill Race Riots of 1958.

The ensemble cast plays a multiplicity of characters with enthusiasm and panache. Sid Mitchell must be singled out for he does the hard work of carrying the play as the central character – the person who narrates the novel. It becomes even clearer on stage that photography is an appropriate profession for he is observing and recording the significant events that are unfolding.

However, in many ways, the true star of the play is the set. It recreates the feel and look of the late 1950s Its innumerable boxes stairs and ladders bring to life the multiple locations of the story, moving the action swiftly from one scene to another in a way that supports the speed of both the dialogue and action.

There is added resonance in this playing at the Lyric in Hammersmith as many of the events described took place only a short distance away from the theatre. It is also emotionally resonant as irrational fear of immigration and intolerance of difference can still be found in British life.

Lyric Hammersmith until 26th May


Aalst attempts to explain the inexplicable. It looks at how the sort of crime that unites everyone in horror and abhorrence can come to be committed. It is also a debate on evil – asking if it is inherent, learned or created by social and environmental factors.

The basis of this short play is the case of a Belgian couple who murdered their two young children in 1999. Among other things it is based on transcripts of their trial as well as interviews and a TV documentary. The project’s originator Pol Heyvaert directs this new version by Duncan McLean.

It is staged starkly. The couple sits facing the audience as a disembodied voice seeks explanations from them. The tone is very flat – which adds to the unsettling nature of the subject matter. The pair have clearly led disadvantaged lives – being abused as children for instance. But they in turn abuse each other and their children. They appear to have no moral sense at all. However, they are always able to justify their actions in some way,at least to themselves, whether it relates to falsely obtaining state benefit or to antisocial behaviour towards their neighbours.

The disembodied voice is apparently that of a judge but – for those without knowledge of the Belgian judicial system – it could be any investigator or psychiatrist. In fact the couple are at one point declared sane - which makes understanding their actions even more difficult.

As the play progresses the same incidents are gone over and over, eliciting further and more illuminating detail. This reveals that the couple is playing the system. At the end this deceit is underlined when the disembodied voice ceases questioning them and there is dialogue between the pair for the first time. Now they are seen to be rehearsing their answers in order to lessen their sentences. They exhibit an apparently fake remorse that will explain their actions and reduce their punishment.

Kate Dickie and David McKay give devastatingly convincing performances as the murderous couple.

Soho Theatre