Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Theatre review – The Plague

Posted by lucypopescu on April 22, 2017

 

The Plague After La Peste by Albert Camus

Adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett

Arcola Theatre, Running until 6 May

Box Office: 020 7503 1646

 

Albert Camus’s 1947 novel describes the effects of a plague in the French Algerian city of Oran. Some claim La Peste was inspired by the cholera epidemic that ravaged Oran in 1849, others thought it was about the Nazi occupation during World War II. This ambivalence is part of the story’s power and one that Neil Bartlett fully recognises in his engaging, multi-layered production.

Played out on a largely bare stage, Bartlett’s adaptation opens with five characters sitting behind a table at some sort of official enquiry. They begin to share their experiences. The first sign of the impending catastrophe is the discovery of rats’ corpses. Then people start to die and the authorities fail to take decisive action.

Dr Rieux (Sara Powell) works tirelessly to save lives but there are other, less scrupulous characters. Rambert (Billy Postlethwaite) is a journalist more interested in escaping the city’s lockdown to be reunited with his girlfriend than reporting the truth while Mr Cottard (Joe Alessi), a petty criminal, tries to turn events to his advantage and make money smuggling desperate people out of the city.

I was reminded of the HiNi pandemic, the Ebola outbreak and the current refugee crisis. What Bartlett draws out are the human responses to tragedy – some kind, others cruel, or self-serving. But as Dr Rieux remarks, the most merciful act is “to speak up and bear witness; to make sure that there is at least some memory of the injustices and violences that are done to people…” It’s a poignant piece of theatre with particular relevance to our troubled times.

 

Originally published by Camden Review

Posted in Books, Theatre | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre Review – Burning Doors

Posted by lucypopescu on September 25, 2016

imgresBELARUS Free Theatre (BFT) is a trail-blazing theatre company forced, in their native country, to work in secret locations. In 2010, its three founding members were granted asylum in the UK and have built a loyal following for their politically motivated, invigorating physical productions.

Burning Doors is a scathing critique of the brutal regime of Vladimir Putin. Performed in Russian (with English subtitles) and running at 105 minutes, it is undoubtedly challenging theatre, but also provocative, courageous and visually stunning.

BFT explore three real-life stories of dissidents who have been imprisoned for speaking out against repression. These include Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, who makes her debut with the troupe; Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky; and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who remains in prison serving a 20-year sentence.

The words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Michel Foucault are interwoven into the performance and the Austrian painter Egon Schiele is cited as an inspiration. BFT remind us that Russia is a prison – a madhouse where torture and impunity are rife and hysteria the end result. The circularity and banality of state interrogation is underlined while Putin’s rule of law is compared to a game of snooker – opponents are the potted balls.

The company combine physical performance and text to terrific effect. Figures suspended by ropes suggest terrifying scenes of torture and in one memorable scene two men tussle – one is repeatedly thrown to the ground before he rallies and begins to overcome his oppressor.

Burning Doors is a tour de force of political theatre and will remain with you long after the final, rapturous curtain call.

Soho Theatre

UNTIL SEPTEMBER 24
020 7478 0100

Originally published by Camden Review

Posted in Freedom of Expression, Theatre | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre review – They Drink it in the Congo

Posted by lucypopescu on August 27, 2016

Congo (2)
Adam Brace’s epic play explores the legacy of colonialism, corruption and civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Brace tackles several issues, including the exploitation of the country’s rich mineral resources by multinationals – not least the mining of coltan for the electronics industry; the current conflict and sexual violence in the East; the factional party politics that continue to plague the nation and agitate the Congolese diaspora; and white, postcolonial guilt. It is no mean feat that he succeeds in moulding these various strands into a cohesive and satisfying whole.

 

Stef (Fiona Button) is the white coordinator of a London-based arts festival aimed at raising the profile of the Congolese people. She persuades former boyfriend, Tony (Richard Goulding), a PR guru, to help her engage the Congolese community and secure enough funding to ensure the event can go ahead. But the community is divided, the charities and NGOs have their own agendas, and not everyone wants to support a festival run by white people. We learn that Kenyan-born Stef has personal reasons for wanting it to go ahead.

Brace skilfully blends humour and horror, and Michael Longhurst’s well-paced production is full of surprises. In one brilliant juxtaposition, Jon Bausor’s boardroom set collapses to reveal a bottomless pit representing the mines that continue to be viciously fought over.

The ensemble cast is terrific. Sule Rimi deserves a special mention as the ghostly figure Oudry, and Joan Iyiola’s decision to perform various roles, despite suffering from a dislocated shoulder, is some measure of the actor’s commitment to this extraordinary play.

Almeida Theatre

UNTIL OCTOBER 1
020 7359 4404

Originally published in Camden Review

Posted in Theatre | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre review – The Quiet House

Posted by lucypopescu on July 3, 2016

The Quiet HouseIn The Quiet House Gareth Farr explores the topical subject of infertility with great sensitivity and flair. Jess (Michelle Bonnard) and Dylan (Oliver Lansley), a loving couple in their mid-30s, are trying for a child. When they decide to go down the IVF route their relationship is tested to the limits.

Jess works from home and holds imaginary conversations with the child she so desperately wants. Dylan tries to keep his head down at the office, unwilling to tell Tony (Tom Walker), his boss and friend, the real reason he needs time off and why he doesn’t want to take business trips abroad.

Farr drives home the discomfort many couples feel about discussing infertility. He also vividly evokes the unnerving process of IVF: the regular injections Jess has to endure; the trepidation the pair feel as they wait for the call that will tell them how many embryos have survived and, finally, the unbearable two-minute wait for the pregnancy test result.

Bonnard conveys Jess’s descent into obsession, her bitter disappointment, with unflinching honesty. Lansley is also compelling as the husband who gradually realises he has only a supporting role as sperm donor and comforter.

The play could be shorter. The histrionic opening, when Dylan describes teenagers shoplifting after the death of a shopkeeper while Jess is desperate to utilise the optimum time for possible conception, feels unnecessary.

However, for the most part this is a powerful and poignant drama and it’s no surprise to learn that Farr’s eloquence comes from personal experience.

Park 200

UNTIL JULY 9 
020 7870 6876

Originally published by Camden Review

Posted in Theatre | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre Review – Rabbit Hole

Posted by lucypopescu on February 29, 2016

 

Rabbit HoleIn David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Becca (Claire Skinner) and Howie Corbett (Tom Goodman-Hill) are grieving the loss of their four-year-old son Danny who was killed in a car accident eight months earlier.

The New York suburban couple suffer conflicting emotions: Howie consoles himself with watching home-movies, Becca wants to sell the house; Howie suggests trying for another child, but Becca cannot contemplate it. To complicate matters further, Becca’s best friend hasn’t spoken to her in months and her sister Izzie (Georgina Rich) announces that she is pregnant.

Lindsay-Abaire focuses on Becca’s emotional journey and her gradual realisation that although the pain will remain, she has to move on. She is helped in this by the unexpected arrival of Jason (Sean Delaney) the teenager who accidently killed Danny as he swerved to miss the family’s dog. In a heart-breaking scene between the pair Jason reveals that he is dealing with his own paralysing guilt and the fear that he may have been driving marginally over the speed limit. A story he has written, about rabbit holes and parallel universes, offers them both some comfort.

Some comic interaction between the family helps punctuate the play’s melancholic mood. Edward Hall’s slick production, complemented by Ashley Martin-Davis’s detailed, multi-levelled design, is finely acted. Ultimately, though, Rabbit Hole feels a little too polished and neat; grief is messier and uglier than Lindsay-Abaire suggests.

Hampstead Theatre until 5 March 

Originally published by Camden Review

 

 

Posted in Theatre | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre Review – 4000 Days

Posted by lucypopescu on January 30, 2016

imgresIn Peter Quilter’s warm-hearted play about love and memory loss, Michael (Alistair McGowan) has been in a coma for three weeks. He’s watched over in hospital by Carol (Maggie Ollerenshaw), his widowed mother, and Paul (Daniel Weyman), his loyal partner. It’s quickly evident that Carol and Paul don’t get on.

On waking, Michael realises that 4,000 days of his memory have been erased. He recalls nothing of his 10-year relationship with Paul. Carol can barely hide her delight.

Dismayed, Paul sets about trying to resurrect their memories together. He plays their favourite CDs, brings in photographs and mementos and even arranges for a decade’s worth of Guardian papers to be delivered to the hospital room.

We learn that their time together has been far from ideal. Like any couple, they bickered. More damagingly, Paul had crushed Michael’s love of painting, encouraging him instead to take a job in insurance. “You painted him beige,” says Carol accusingly.

Michael sets about reclaiming his love of art by painting an ambitious mural in his hospital room. Gradually, Paul realises that if he loves Michael he has to let him go and allow him to start over.

Part of the joy of Matt Aston’s assured, slow-burning production are the three nuanced performances.

Ollerenshaw conveys Carol’s loneliness masked by a sharp tongue, McGowan is at his best when delivering Michael’s caustic one-liners and Wyman invests Paul with a terrific combination of devotion, hurt and bluster. Recommended.

Park 200 until 13 February
020 7870 6876 

Originally published in Camden Review

Posted in Theatre | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre review – The Long Road South

Posted by lucypopescu on January 25, 2016

The Long Road SouthS­et in the American Midwest in 1965, The Long Road South focuses on a white, middle-class family and their two black domestic servants.

Andre (Cornelius Macarthy) and Grace (Krissi Bohn) have worked the summer for the Price family and want their pay so that they can head South and join the civil rights marches. Ivy (Lydea Perkins), the family’s precocious teenage daughter, doesn’t want Andre to go and will do anything to keep him there. Her mother, Carol Ann (Imogen Stubbs) is so soused in rum she can barely walk and prefers to lounge around in her slip. When confronted about her alcoholism she responds: “I don’t drink…I imbibe.”

They all await the return of Jake Price (Michael Brandon), to see if he will pay the staff their wages and let them go. But Jake has problems of his own and is in no mood to negotiate.

Paul Minx’s bittersweet drama cleverly contrasts the self-indulgence of the Price family with the hard-working lives of God-fearing Andre and his girlfriend Grace, an articulate activist and budding writer. However, Minx concentrates on his characters’ personal passions rather than developing a more political perspective, which is a shame. Much of the play’s humour comes from Carol Ann’s drunken antics, exploited with gusto by Stubbs, and Ivy’s self-conscious attempts at seducing Andre.

Apart from an ineffectual fight scene between the two men, Sarah Berger’s production is well-paced and there is much to admire in the script and fiery performances.

King’s Head Theatre until January 30
0207 226 8561

Originally published by the Islington Tribune

 

Posted in Theatre | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre review – African Gothic

Posted by lucypopescu on January 25, 2016

imgresIn South African Reza de Wet’s gruesome drama Sussie (Janna Fox) and Frikkie (Oliver Gomm) live on a derelict farm with their black nanny, Alina (Lesley Ewen).

Their parents are long dead and so are their crops. The incestuous pair sleep most of the day and when awake share memories and stories, playing out key scenes from their childhood.

The pair’s routine is interrupted by the arrival of Grove (Adam Ewan), a lawyer who has come to inform them of the death of an aunt and their inheritance.

Unnerved by their feral and infantile existence, Grove tries to leave. But strangely, his car won’t start and the phone line is dead. After attempting to reach the nearest farm across terrain populated by jackals, he decides to wait for daybreak with Sussie and Frikkie. The siblings circle their prey like wild animals and we know there’s going to be a violent denouement.

Although the pair’s explosive emotions lack subtlety, de Wet brilliantly elucidates the dehumanising effects of isolation.

Nancy Surman’s terrific set evokes a dilapidated farm in the midst of a drought. The Park’s studio feels suitably hot and oppressive, adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

De Wet’s gothic horror tackles big subjects – incest, child abuse and superstition, as well as the decline of Afrikaaner dominance – perhaps too many to absorb in just 80 minutes.

Park90

Box office: 020 7870 6876

Originally published by Camden Review

Posted in Theatre | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre review – Dinner with Friends

Posted by lucypopescu on November 11, 2015

dinner with friendsDONALD Margulies’ comedy drama, about love, friendship and infidelity, is beautifully observed and focuses on the contradictions between the highs of sexual passion and the comforts of familiarity.

Karen (Sara Stewart) and Gabe (Shaun Dooley) take great delight in sharing their culinary expertise and regaling their friends with tales of their travels. They come across as unbearably smug and, as the play opens, Beth (Finty Williams) is dining with them alone.

After patiently listening to the couple’s latest adventures in Italy, she bursts into tears and tells them that Tom (Hari Dhillon), her partner of 12 years, is leaving her for a younger woman.

Surprisingly, this bombshell affects Karen and Gabe more than the estranged pair. Tom revels in his new-found freedom and the attentions of a younger woman. Beth wastes little time in reconnecting with an old flame and it is Karen and Gabe who are left questioning the strength of their own marriage and their motives for continuing as a couple.

The danger, Marguelies suggests, is of measuring your happiness against that of your friends.

Designer David Woodhead’s larger-than-life kitchen shelves convey the impossible domestic aspirations of many couples.

Fine performances, and Tom Attenborough’s fluid production, ensure that Dinner with Friends moves and entertains in equal measure.

Park Theatre until 28 November

Originally published by Camden Review

Posted in Theatre | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre review – La Musica

Posted by lucypopescu on October 10, 2015

La musicaA COUPLE meet in hotel lobby to discuss their divorce. Both are in new relationships. The hotel, we discover, is where they first fell in love.

Jeff James and Ultz’s staging of Marguerite Duras’ poignant play (its first London revival in two decades) is certainly radical but not necessarily effective. Michel (Sam Troughton) and Anne-Marie (Emily Barclay) sit on a raised platform with their backs to the audience. Blown up close-ups of their faces are projected onto a wall. While this allows for every flicker of emotion, irritation and hurt to be conveyed in minute detail, it lessens the dramatic tension and detracts from the storytelling. We concentrate on their faces rather than the words and this is a shame because Duras writes very well about the breakdown of a marriage – the memories, regrets and darker hints of betrayal and violence.

In the second half, some of the audience have to move their chairs, others stand, encircling the couple as if they are in a boxing ring. This engenders a sense of claustrophobia – as if we are eavesdropping on their conversation – but at the same time we feel unable to take sides. Both characters are flawed and both engage our sympathy but, ultimately, we recognise, as they do, that there is no way back; the passion is spent.

Barclay and Troughton give finely nuanced performances, but their relative youth lessens the impact (and heartbreak) of a couple divorcing after many years of marriage.

Young Vic Theatre

UNTIL OCTOBER 17
020 7922 2922

Originally published by Camden Review

Posted in Theatre | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: