Noises Off at the Phoenix Theatre is a fast-paced show that still demands an enormously skilled and precise technical performance from every member of its cast and Lindsay Posner’s team makes it look far easier than it really is. 40 years on, Michael Frayn’s play has still got it.
Director Rebecca Frecknall tackles one of the greatest plays of all time, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire back in the intimacy of the Almeida Theatre and brings a devastating new clarity to it, eschewing the distraction of a heavy set and the cliches that tend to dog interpretations of Williams, from the exaggerated Southern accents to Blanche’s affected gentility.
The sports biography is a great focus for drama and at the Park Theatre the focus is on boxing legend Vernon Vanriel who is telling his own story in the world premiere of On the Ropes, a play he has co-written with Dougie Blaxland. A tale of sporting prowess, celebrity self-destruction and eventually national betrayal, Vanriel and Blaxland’s overlong story doesn’t pull many punches, presenting the good, bad and the alarming misdirections of Vanriel’s event-filled life.
From a red handkerchief disappearing within the hands of a magician to fake footage in the early 20th century, Hampstead Theatre’s latest international import is the UK premiere of The Art of Illusion, a 2014 French play exploring the history of magical performance and inventive approaches to entertaining audiences.
Liz Kingsman’s One Woman Show at the Ambassadors is then more than a pot shot at Fleabag and the like, and is instead an assessment of the performative nature of female roles in popular culture products in which the inauthentic substance of these representations is both highlighted and satirised while fully acknowledging how appealing and entertaining these tropes continue to be.
Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet at the Hampstead Theatre, first staged in 2011, makes its European debut here by starting a lot of conversations that it doesn’t manage to finish.
The National Theatre has quite mixed fortunes when it comes to new play commissions, some become and instant hit – like After Life and the storming success this year of Jack Absolute Flies Again – while others can feel significantly more under-nourished and perhaps staged a little too soon. April De Angelis’s new play Kerry Jackson falls into the latter category with a tale of a relationship across the class divide that looks to explore polarised opinions about homelessness, immigration and compassion between two people who seem, on the surface, ill-suited.
Othello at the National Theatre is a production that has thought very carefully about the things it wants to say and, particularly, what Othello has meant at different points in its performance history. Clint Dyer’s perspective is not on fire just yet but it soon will be, bringing a meaningful reflection on Shakespeare’s tale to the stage while clearly distinguishing it from all of those that have come before.
Office-based plays are relatively few and far between particularly those from the 1930s, so the revival of John Van Druten’s London Wall at the Tower Theatre is particularly interesting, not least for its focus on the female staff of a busy London law firm who struggle to be seen as equals by their male colleagues who treat them either as secretaries or a prizes to be won.
Rona Munro’s latest piece, Mary, treads similar ground to historical trilogy The James Plays in its examination of Mary Queen of Scots and the series of fateful activities that led to her being deposed in favour of her infant son in 1567. This superbly written 90-minute drama passes in the blink of an eye but the fate of a country, a Queen and a scandal-ridden woman are brilliantly contained within.
Gloria Williams takes a more decided position on good and evil in the world premiere of her play King Hamlin at the Park Theatre in which an almost inevitable decline into crime is born out of poverty, desperation and class as the protagonist becomes an all-too-aware if unwilling participant in his own destruction.
C. P. Taylor’s play Good, written in 1981 is about the easy slide into extremism, how a decidedly ordinary, peaceable even tolerant man with no obvious belief in the outcomes of Nazism can actively choose to join and then rise through the ranks to exert a kind of doctrinal influence. And the reason is the thrill of being wanted, of belonging and of being welcomed with open arms even by the leader himself.
Looking across cultural representations of women in the past 100 years it is possible to draw connections between characters such as Hester Collier in Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, Patrick Hamilton’s Jenny from Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, even up to Kyo Choi’s Kim Han-See in The Apology, all of whom are in pursuit of a fantasy life that will never be fulfilled. Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, opening at the National Theatre, adds another unknowingly tragic heroine to that list, singer Angel who will grasp at an opportunity to get out of Harlem in 1930.
In recent years the ‘rediscovery’ of Summer and Smoke and an impressive production of The Night of the Iguana have awakened an interest in what are considered Williams’ lesser-known major works while the King’s Head Theatre explored identity and desire in some of the shorter pieces under the Southern Belles title, all of which are bringing the writers work to a new audience. Now, Charing Cross Theatre is hoping to do the same for 1962 flop The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore exploring the exploitation of a dying woman grasping for the meaning of her life and refusing to go quietly.
Kyo Choi’s new play, The Apology, looks at sexual slavery in the Second World War and insists that a tactical political apology isn’t remotely enough for the women and their families denied official acknowledgment of responsibility from modern governments.
It always takes one lone voice, someone brave enough to stand up and speak about what happened to them. Soon, others will follow inspired by that first individual and that is how truths eventually come to light. With Maria Schrader and Rebecca Len…
It is always exciting seeing van Hove’s work for the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam with its cinematic vision encapsulated in theatrical form. Here in Who Killed My Father at the Young Vic Theatre there is both intimacy and scale that neatly capture the contradictions and complexities of loving a family member. The title of this work may not be a question but it certainly makes a statement.
History wasn’t only written by the winners, but by the men on the winning side so what can it really tell us about the lives, experiences and identities of anyone else? That is the central debate in Charlie Josephine’s new play for the Globe Theatre, I, Joan, a re-examination not only of the supposed facts and assumptions made about Joan of Arc but also her subsequent presentation predominantly by male artists and writers who retrospectively project shape and meaning onto her story, replacing Joan’s voice with their own.
Riverside Studios has partnered with the Original Theatre Company to make their three competition-winning plays from debut writers available for on-demand viewing. Across three nights in July, these three plays were performed in the small space at Riverside Studios with all-star casts and simultaneously live-streamed to an international audience. Separate release dates for Miles and The Fall will follow, but watching them as a collective is just as valuable, transporting the viewer to three very different locations and into diverse lives.
This is a smart and thoughtful interpretation of South Pacific that takes carefully considered approach to some of the problems in the scenario without fully absolving the characters for their behaviour and choices. Managing to balance the sparkle of the big set-pieces and the not so charming effects of military occupation with some serious emotional clout that will leave you wrung through at the end, this sets the standard against which future productions will be judged. With a UK tour running until November, Bali Ha’i is calling you, don’t resist.
Exploitation can take many forms and sometimes it even begins with a creative opportunity. Sonali Bhattacharyya’s lead character in new play Chasing Hares at the Young Vic takes a while to find themselves confronting a major moral dilemma but the road to it begins with storytelling, imagination and character creation.