Lucy Popescu

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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

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.

UNTIL OCTOBER 7 
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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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

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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

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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

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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

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