Lucy Popescu

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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Film Review – That Good Night

Posted by lucypopescu on May 12, 2018


There is the uncanny sense of art imitating life in Eric Styles’ poignant, end of life drama, featuring John Hurt’s swansong. That Good Night is about a man dealing with his impending death and Hurt was himself terminally ill when the film was shot.

Ralph Maitland (Hurt), an egotistical screenwriter in his seventies, enjoys a comfortable existence in Portugal with is loving younger wife, and former nurse, Anna (Sofia Helin, The Bridge). When Ralph discovers he has only a few months to live he attempts to reconnect with Michael (Max Brown), his estranged son from an earlier marriage, and put his affairs in order. Ralph expects his family to drop everything when he wants them to and they generally oblige. But when Michael, also a writer, arrives in Portugal with his girlfriend Cassie (Erin Richards), Ralph sees her presence as an intrusion and a threat to the already fragile bond with his son. Bristling with impotent rage, Ralph repeatedly snubs her. Wrapped up in each other, Michael and Cassie try to take Ralph’s rudeness in their stride but inevitably tempers fray and emotions come to a head.

Unbeknown to his family, Ralph hires “the visitor” (Charles Dance), an enigmatic Englishman dressed in a white linen suit, who appears to represent a euthanasia organisation. Ralph wants him to ease his way “into that good night”, the film’s leitmotif inspired by Dylan Thomas’s poem, but the visitor has other ideas. The most affecting scenes involve the interactions between these two fine actors – Dance, still full of vigour; Hurt, gaunt and frail.

Charles Savage’s script, adapted from the stage play by N. J. Crisp, is hampered by a weak, predictable storyline. The main conflict That Good Night turns on is whether Ralph will be able to resolve things with Michael before he dies. We are not surprised when Michael reminds Ralph that he has never been a good parent, nor when they start writing together. This lacklustre emphasis on Ralph’s reconciliation with Michael, and the fact that Cassie holds the key, swiftly deflates our interest. Euthanasia and Anna’s enforced childlessness are provocative subjects and more could have been made of them. But the men’s troubled relationship takes centre stage and Helin and Dance are frustratingly underused.

There is the inevitable pleasure to be had in Hurt’s charismatic screen presence, but Ralph is two dimensional and we never get a real sense of his kinder, more sympathetic side. This is hinted at in his exchanges with his maid’s son Ronlodo (Noah Jupe), who cleans the pool and yearns to be a writer, but most of the time Ralph is so curmudgeonly towards his nearest and dearest that he quickly loses our respect. The picturesque backdrop is beautifully shot by DP Richard Stoddard, but Thomas’s poem, full of passionate intensity, advocated raging against death, against “the dying of the light”. If Styles’ had focused on Ralph’s battle within himself, his fury as he is forced to withdraw from life, it would have made a more engaging subject.

Review originally published by





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Theatre Review – Not Talking

Posted by lucypopescu on May 9, 2018

Not Talking by Mike Bartlett

In stressful situations it is often easier to keep quiet, to say nothing.

Mike Bartlett’s bittersweet drama about the perils of not talking is given its stage premiere 12 years after it was first conceived and adapted for radio. James Hillier’s fast-paced production, Zoe Spurr’s atmospheric lighting and nuanced performances help ensure its successful transition to stage.

James (David Horovitch) and Lucy (Kika Markham) have enjoyed a long marriage and an apparently contented life in Sussex. But painful events are not spoken of and they have never shared their grief over an early loss that marked them both. Furthermore, Lucy has kept silent on something that might have destroyed their marriage and transformed James’s life forever.

 Amanda (Gemma Lawrence) and Mark (Lawrence Walker) are two young soldiers who become romantically involved while waiting to be posted to Iraq. Their mutual silence about a terrible act and an abuse of power eventually drives a wedge between them.

Lucy and Amanda find solace in playing the piano, in particular a piece by Chopin. For them, music replaces words and helps alleviate powerful emotions. When James learns of the secret Lucy has been harbouring for a lifetime he takes action and his fate becomes intertwined with those of the two soldiers with unexpected consequences.

Bartlett’s skill as a writer is very much in evidence in this early work. Monologues overlap, time is temporarily suspended as two characters describe the same memory, Chopin’s prelude is a powerful motif and the plot threads are pulled neatly together at the end. As his play amply demonstrates, it pays to talk.

Arcola Theatre

Until 2 June

020 7503 1646

 Originally published by Camden New Journal

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Theatre review – Faceless

Posted by lucypopescu on May 9, 2018

Inspired by a true story, Faceless follows the trial of Susie Glenn (Fiona Gent), an American teenager who befriends an ISIS terrorist via Twitter and converts to Islam online. Groomed by the fighter, Susie intends to join him in Syria as his bride, but is turned in by her father.

Selina Fillinger’s compelling drama follows the court battle in which Susie is condemned as an enemy of the state and faces 20 years in a federal prison. She is prosecuted by Claire Fathi (Paige Round), evidently picked by her law firm because she is a proud, hijab-wearing Muslim of Iranian-French descent. In an equally tactical move, Susie’s defence lawyer is Jewish.

Susie, her blonde hair only partially covered by a hijab, is initially unrepentant. Just 18, she is hopelessly naïve. Infuriated by Susie’s lack of understanding and misrepresentation of her religion, Claire refers to her as a “Muslim Barbie”. Gradually, we learn that Susie is grieving the loss of her mum (a police officer killed in the line of duty) and that her actions may have been the result of depression.

It’s beautifully plotted and the performances are terrific. Susie’s stricken father, Alan (Fearon McElroy), is the most sympathetic. Gent also impresses because of her ability to move us from frustration at the beginning to compassion by the end.

Faceless is played out on a bare stage. Indications of the various locations are projected onto the back wall. Prav MJ’s decision to have the actors face outward jars at first, until we realise that the audience represent judge and jury.

Park90 until 12 May 2018
020 7870 6876

Originally published by Camden New Journal

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Theatre Review – Jubilee

Posted by lucypopescu on March 12, 2018

CHRIS Goode’s riotous adaptation of Derek Jarman’s seminal film about anarchy in the UK is not for the faint hearted. Featuring simulated sex, unrestrained nudity and mindless acts of violence, this provocative stage version will undoubtedly divide audiences, just as Jarman did in 1978.

Toyah Willcox, who starred as the pyromaniac Mad in the film version, now plays Queen Elizabeth I observing the excesses of a group of friends sharing a squat in Brexit Britain.

Amyl Nitrate (an electrifying performance by Travis Alabanza) serves as our emcee for the evening. Sexual predator Crabs (Rose Wardlaw) lures unsuspecting men home where they often meet a brutal and untimely end, while Bod (Sophie Stone) is the murderous de facto leader of the gang. Ariel, an ethereal presence (Lucy Ellinson), links segments and time.

When incestuous brothers Angel (Tom Ross-Williams) and Sphinx (Craig Hamilton) are murdered in a club by a gun-toting policeman all hell breaks loose as the gang take their bloody revenge.

Goode and Alabanza are well known for their performance art, Ellinson doubles as performance artist Viv, and there’s a deliberate improvisational quality to Jubilee. At times, it feels like a series of sketches and tableaux that never quite coalesce into a satisfying whole. But that, perhaps, is the point – chaos reigns over order.

Goode’s production is fast-paced, in yer face and rough round the edges. Highlights are Alabanza’s frenetic dance scene waving a Union Jack and the group finale of Toyah’s 1981 hit I Want To Be Free. Memorable, if not always meaningful.

Originally published by Camden New Journal

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Theatre review – Thebes Land

Posted by lucypopescu on September 15, 2017

THIS terrific meta-theatrical play by Franco-Uruguayan playwright Sergio Blanco memorably opens the 10th CASA Latin American Theatre Festival.

Superbly translated by Rob Cavazos, adapted and directed by Daniel Goldman, Thebes Land succeeds on many levels. I’d love to see more by this playwright.
T (Trevor White), wants to write and stage a play about Martin (Alex Austin), who is serving a life sentence for a brutal patricide. T begins visiting Martin in prison in an attempt to understand his motivations for stabbing his father 21 times with a fork. Initially, the “Ministry of Justice” tells T that Martin can play himself in his Arcola production.

Then this is deemed too dangerous, they reverse their decision and, T has to employ an actor to play the role. RADA student, Freddie (Austin) is auditioned and cast and he begins to makes his own suggestions as to how the play and his character should develop.

Jemima Robinson’s imposing giant cage, complete with CCTV, dominates the stage. This serves as Martin’s prison, the basketball court where he meets T and the rehearsal space.

T enjoys referencing classic texts, art and music from Sophocles’ Theban plays, Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to Franz Kafka and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21 in C major. These references mean nothing to Martin and therein lies much of Blanco’s humour – how stories are constructed and interpreted to meet our own needs.

The play is also semi-autobiographical – as T and Freddie add their own creative ideas to the production, elements of Austin and White’s personal backgrounds are cleverly exploited.

The end result is funny, caustic, poignant and profound. Don’t miss.

020 7503 1646

Originally published by Camden New Journal

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Theatre Review – Against

Posted by lucypopescu on September 15, 2017


In Chris Shinn’s multi-layered play, chameleon actor Ben Wishaw plays Luke, a brilliant Silicon Valley billionaire who believes God wants him to “go where there’s violence” and effect change.

Luke meets a diverse group of Americans from the parents of a boy who has carried out a High-School massacre to a pair of drug-addicts. Shinn also covers an array of subjects including gun crime, political correctness, bullying and the exploitation of workers in a food-packing company.

Luke becomes a messianic figure with a genuine desire to help, who is loved and vilified in equal measure. It’s fairly obvious early on what his fate will be but Shinn raises some interesting questions along the way.

Running through the play is Luke’s on-off relationship with his assistant and confidante Sheila (Amanda Hale), who is clearly in love with him. In a remarkable performance, Wishaw perfectly conveys Luke’s infuriating mix of charm, smugness, confidence and indecision.

It’s all played out on ULTZ’s pared back set. Shinn’s play is clearly FOR love, AGAINST hate and this is highlighted by the large double bed that appears out of the stage’s belly every so often, and is finally utlilised by Luke and Sheila in one passionate scene.

It is a delight to see Wishaw supported by such a talented and diverse ensemble. Particularly memorable are the interactions between co-packers Tracey (Adelle Leonce) and Melvyn (Elliot Barnes-Worrell), creative writing student Anna (Emma D’Arcy) and her pompous professor (Kevin Harvey) and Naomi Wirthner in two roles.  Ian Rickson directs with his usual panache.

Almeida Theatre

Running until 30 September

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Theatre review – Knives in Hens

Posted by lucypopescu on August 31, 2017

David Harrower’s visceral play opens with a raw act of passion and ends on a note of defiance. Set in a medieval rural backwater, we follow the fortunes of a young, god-fearing woman (Judith Roddy), married to a ploughman, Pony William (Christian Cooke).

It’s a simple existence, verging on the bestial, in which the nameless woman serves her husband and the land: “The wind blows. The sun shines. The crops grow.” She intones to herself as she sets about her work. She yearns to describe everything she sees around her and to articulate her feelings.

The villagers are bound by their superstition and prejudices and outsiders are rarely tolerated. But when the woman meets the local miller, Gilbert Horn (Matt Ryan), recently widowed and vilified by the community for his love of books, another world suddenly opens up to her.

William and Gilbert are physically similar. What differentiates them is the quill pen that the miller offers the woman. In writing about herself she gains self-awareness and with that comes power. But her new knowledge swiftly becomes tainted by violence.

First staged to great acclaim in 1995, Harrower’s multi-layered drama is full of surprises. We realise it is not love that the woman desires, she rejects any possibility of being defined by a man, but a role for herself. With that comes a name and advancement.

Flawless performances, Yael Farber’s terrific staging, Soutra Gilmour’s magnificent set – mud, a small pond, hints of cobbles, dominated by a giant millstone – and Tim Lutkin’s atmospheric lighting make this a memorable evening.

Donmar Warehouse UNTIL OCTOBER 7
Box Office 020 3282 3808

Originally published by Camden Review

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Theatre Review – Road

Posted by lucypopescu on August 17, 2017

Jim Cartwright’s seminal play about the disenfrachised working class living in Thatcherite Britain in an unnamed Lancashire town has lost none of its power. Loneliness and poverty are the play’s pervasive themes and many of the characters use alcohol and sex as crutches to stave off despair.

Road was first produced at the Royal Court in 1986 and the reasons for its revival are clear in John Tiffany’s imaginative production – there is much that resonates with Austerity and post- Brexit Britain.

Lemn Sissay, as the wily Scullery, is a charismatic narrator who over the course of one night leads us down his local street to meet the various residents. Cartwright combines just the right measure of anarchic humour with more thoughtful scenes and the cast rise to the occasion.

Some of the action takes place in a transparent glass box which rises up from the belly of the stage. This emphasises that we are privileged outsiders looking in at others’ lives, but then the lighting changes and mirrored doors reflect the audience, reminding us of our shared humanity.

Many of the characters numb the frustration of their lonely existence with binge-drinking and casual sex. One of the most memorable scenes in the play is when a tanked up, middle-aged women, (Michelle Fairley), attempts to seduce a soldier (Mike Noble), much younger than herself, who is so drunk he is sick in his chips.

Road evidently helped pave the way for the in-yer-face theatre of the 1990s and TV series like Shameless. It’s great to see a large cast outside the West End and this is a joyful and timely revival.

Originally published by The Camden Review

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Theatre Review – The Ugly One

Posted by lucypopescu on June 18, 2017

The Ugly One Park Theatre90

Marius von Mayenburg’s blistering satire about vanity and the dangers of a conformist society, written a decade before selfies, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat became a way of life, is remarkably prescient.

Lette (Charlie Dorfman) cannot understand why his assistant Karlmann (Arian Nik) is being sent abroad in his stead to promote his latest invention – an electrical plug. He is alarmed to learn that he is apparently so ugly that his boss (T’Nia Miller) won’t let him present his own work.

When his wife Fanny (Indra Ove) admits that it’s true and she can’t look him in the face, Lette employs a surgeon (Miller) to restructure his features. Suddenly he becomes irresistible to Fanny and a sexual magnet for men and women alike. He is in demand at work and by the surgeon who uses him to advertise his skills.

All too soon, however, Lette lookalikes begin to proliferate. His face and fame have become a curse and he suffers an identity crisis.

Von Mayenburg warns against prizing physical perfection over intelligence and his play retains its resonance. More than ever, people are stigmatised for being different, for not conforming to current fashions and tastes.

Roy Alexander Weise, winner of the 2016 James Menzies-Kitchin Award, directs with panache. The four-strong cast give it their all, although with a tendency to play for quick laughs.

There are echoes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, Edward Albee’s black humour and, in the play’s final moments, one cannot help but be reminded of President Trump’s rampant narcissism.

Park Theatre90

Running until 24 June

Originally published by Camden New Journal


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Theatre Review – Combustion

Posted by lucypopescu on June 18, 2017

Asif Khan, last seen at the Arcola performing Hassan Abdulrazzak’s one-man show Love, Bombs and Apples, has turned his hand to writing and his remarkable debut Combustion, about a small group of British Muslims and their response to Islamophobia, is a tour de force.

Set in modern-day Bradford, a group of Asian men have been imprisoned for grooming a young white girl for sex. The consequences for the girl and her family have been devastating and tensions are running high. The English Defence League is up in arms and has planned a protest march.

Shaz (Beruce Khan) owns a car repair garage, works hard and is looking forward to getting married. He tries to keep out of trouble, but business is suffering and his feisty younger sister, Samina (Shireen Farkhoy) is intent on speaking at the counter demonstration led by the Muslim community.

Nervous about the reaction of his prospective in-laws, Shaz tries to prevent Samina from continuing her activities with the local peace organisation and becomes increasingly controlling. Meanwhile, Samina finds an unlikely supporter in Andy (Nigel Hastings) a former EDL member who switches sides.

In Nona Shepphard’s fast paced production, Shaz’s two mechanics provide much of the humour. Cocksure Ali (Rez Kempton) has his eye on Samina while Faisal (Mitesh Soni) yearns for someone kind to marry and thinks he’d be safer in Pakistan.

Khan treats his sensitive subject with both humour and intelligence. His nuanced characters and clever plot twists keep us guessing to the end and the play’s dark denouement is truly shocking. Smart and topical, Combustion is a must see during these troubled times.

Arcola Theatre

Running until 24 June                                 

Box Office: 020 7503 1646

Originally published by Camden New Journal

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