Thursday, 25 October 2007


At the Lyric in Hammersmith - follow this link to read my review

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Saint Joan

By George Bernard Shaw
Olivier Theatre

George Bernard Shaw’s take on Joan of Arc is a lengthy and wordy piece of drama; and perhaps not one that would appeal to a 21st century audience. In the event the play proved to be a robust survivor whose arguments still carry a force and relevance.

Shaw tells the story of Joan’s re-invigoration of the French army during the 100 years war and her subsequent capture by the British and her trial for heresy.

What is striking is that Shaw gives all sides of the debate a seemingly equal voice and appears to leave it up to the audience to decide which view point they find the most sympathetic or compelling.

The stage is a black revolving and elevating square. It is used to particularly good effect in battle scenes - and the practice of doing battle as movement or dance, accompanied by music is particularly engaging and powerful. It seems far more effective than conventional stage fighting in a production like this.

It is also effective in some of the long drawn out debating scenes as the stage slowly revolves giving us different perspectives on the protagonists and by implication on their arguments. It also allays some of the longeurs a static performance might induce.

The performances of the large cast are universally good, with Anne-Marie Duff outstanding in the title role. Paterson Joseph is a memorable Bishop of Beauvais, while Paul Ready’s whining, comic Dauphin and Angus Wright’s urbane, manipulative and hypocritical Earl of Warwick give excellent support.

The burning of Joan atop a pile of chairs (chairs that had also been used in the battle scenes) is strikingly effective. The epilogue of recanting characters is also amusingly apposite.

Altogether St Joan is superbly staged; the incidental music by Jocelyn Pook does a brilliant job of conveying a sense of the alien yet familiar.

Those going to the Olivier expecting Shaw to be too wordy and possibly too dull for the 21st century would have been proved wrong by Marianne Elliot’s excellent production

Monday, 22 October 2007


By Eugène Ionesco
Translated by Martin Crimp

Ionesco’s classic piece of theatre of the absurd is a satire on conformity and individualism. It can also be seen as an examination of the rise of totalitarianism and liberal society’s response to it. Going even further, it could be considered as a testing of the boundaries of liberal tolerance in face of a brutal destructive threat – a threat that at first seems ridiculous or even comical, but one which becomes worrying and finally threatening.

Given all this there’s an opportunity for Dominic Cooke’s production to not only tie the play to its original historical period but also to make more modern connections: there are, after all, many to made. Surely the purpose of a revival – particularly at a theatre such as The Royal Court – is to see what contemporary meaning and resonance can be drawn from a text.

The disappointment that it fails to do so is heightened by the fact that Martin Crimp’s translation is spikily modern and not especially tied to a French setting. Yet this staging is fairly traditional and the play is indeed set in France.

Despite these reservations, this is an always watchable production that raises laughs of recognition and occasional shocked disbelief. The tone also manages to move from the outlandishly ridiculous and comic towards something more disturbing. By the end things that would have been funny in the first half are no longer so. In fact they have become sinister not to say disturbing.

Benedict Cumberbatch makes for an engaging Berenger while the rest of the ensemble are fine particularly in the group scenes when the rhinoceroses first appear. Lloyd Hutchinson is an entertaining Botard – but quite why he is played as an Eric Morecambe like figure is puzzling.

The set falling apart and thus mirroring the disintegration of society provides a useful visual metaphor. The incidental music is apt, as is the soundscape of thundering rhinoceroses – which from time to time is appositely supplemented by the distant rumble of circle and district line tube trains.

Royal Court until 15th December

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Rough Crossings

Follow this link to read my review

Monday, 1 October 2007

The Ugly One

Follow link to read my review