Category Archives: Review

X, Royal Court, London.

X” is not what it appears.

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X” is set on a small research base on Pluto. Pluto’s distance from the Sun is 3.67 billion miles. Much like the planet itself, “X” relies on what you bring to it. It is both engrossing and alienating.

X” is not what it seems.

Written by Demi-God Alistair McDowall and directed by Vicky Featherstone with customary assurance, this production is incoherent, but looks good and is mostly well acted. Sure “X” is ambitious. Even startling. But too many plot points are left to the audience’s imagination without absolutely any explanation whatsoever.

Superb as the visuals are, I wish that Featherstone’s production paid more attention to McDowall’s language. Not much is made visually apprehensible.

I liked the huge dead bird on stage and the bird that was flown in – wonderful
opportunities for design and stage management. I didn’t enjoy quite so much
all that mum stuff at the end and the last moment when someone said the tree
was her mother(!).

Science fiction never announces its subtext this narcissistically. Still, it’s a smart response to the excesses of the sci-fi genre. Without wishing to baffle you, people are doing this shit because everything is fucked. Theatre needs to be instrumental in un-fucking everything.

But as is the way with these things, it’s hard to get a proper feel for a play like this  on one viewing, but “X” feels like a genuine attempt to steal the currently vacant theatre throne, as well as being the kind of gloriously all over the shop play that you often get in 2016.

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It seemed like a 6/10 event – slightly above average and, for that reason, an average McDowall play.

McDowall’s got talent but at the moment no very coherent way of presenting his ideas. We shall see how he moves forward.

At the Royal Court, London, until 7 May. Buy tickets for X from www.royalcourt.com 

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (Review)

The Mayflower

So, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…

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The stage version of the iconic 1968 British film is not awful. The much-loved songs by Sherman Brothers and the sensational sets coupled with stunning special effects make for an entertaining experience. Oh, and there is a flying car.

The whole thing is efficiently directed by James Brining, Simon Higlett’s design evokes the charming spirit of the original film and some of the acting is good.  Special mention must go to the Simon Wainwright’s innovative video designs, that graphically recreate the high seas escape.

Chitty

The wheels start to come off once frankly terrible Michelle Collins and Phillip Jupitus appear as Baron and Baroness Bomburst. Their relentless jokes and hammy performances strain for a laugh. The biggest frustration is the pace. However, just revving up seems to take 50 minutes and when it does it sounds like a volcanic eruption. It goes on a bit. The sluggish first act drags along at a peristaltic pace before we finally get to see the car fly.

The final result is a musical that has all the motorised competence one expects of a show but very little feeling. The best performance comes from Jason Manford. It is Manford as Caractacus Potts, who provides the show with what it mostly lacks: heart and soul. There is, however, laughter to be had from Vulgarian spies Sam Harrison as Boris and Scott Page as Goran. Their physical comedy is well timed and genuinely entertaining. The biggest disappointment for me was Martin Kemp as the not-so sinister Childcatcher. His performance is top-to-bottom rubbish in terms of characterisation and villainy. 😦

The second act is a fiasco; a sloppy samba section and a reprise that runs like a Ford KA and corners like a Robin Reliant. The car flying is quite something but I was left feeling uninspired by Manford sauntering in and out of the vehicle as if he’d driven a milkfloat, yet this spirited production rarely takes itself too seriously.

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Movie-musicals are not usually a good idea. Let’s hope and pray we come across again someday a new musical based on an original idea. It’s probably somewhere approaching fun. The five year old in front of me seemed to be enjoying himself. Not great, not awful. Good at times in fact. I admire Chitty’s temperament. Maybe we could all learn from Chitty. Overall I’d give it a cautious thumbs-up.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs until Sunday February 21. Tickets: 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk

 

 

The Solid Life of Sugar Water, Pleasance Dome

Solid Life of Sugar Water

The Solid Life of Sugar Water is a story about a couple who meet at the Post Office. It is written by Jack Thorne. Best of all, the chemistry between Phil (Arthur Hughes) and Alice (Genevive Barr) radiates with exuberance. Amit Sharma’s production is a playful and passionate piece of work that is full of pathos. Both actors lend their roles a sound emotional complexity, sidelining any tedious moral response to the social and sexual issues at the heart of this play.

Jack Thorne’s clever writing fires on all cylinders. Is the ultimate goal to root around in the dark side of passion?

The Solid Life of Sugar Water is devastatingly emotional without crossing the line of sentimentality. There is a strong sense of treading the line of 🚨TOO MUCH INFORMATION🚨, particularly when the couple describe in detail what makes their juices flow. 

The duo’s commitment to storytelling give this intimate performance real magic. Graeae are a mixed ability company concerned with real people in the real world. The themes of sexual identity and candid love and loss separate it from more wholesome, reassuring plays.

This is not a story about disability, but about a relationship that fragments as a result of a trauma.

Lily Arnonld’s set is excellent, a full size bed lining the back of the set and resonated as an extension of the intimacy between the pair. What struck me most was the raucous allure of the characters and the dynamic between them. The real joy comes during the miscommunication (one is deaf and one has a physical disability) between the pair and the unflinching details that are not spared on us, the audience.

It’s probably worth mentioning Thorne is currently working on the Harry Potter play opening at the Palace Theatre next summer.

887, Edinburgh International Conference Centred

Edinburgh International Festival
887 /Ex Machina

887 is written, designed, directed and performed by Robert Lepage. Lepage is often described as a visionary director and playwright; It would seem he is one of theatre’s best people. Does he occupy that space by accident? Does he hell. Nothing about this performance is left to chance.

This was the first show I had ever seen of his… It’s not perfect but its high points are great enough to compensate for odd sequencing and occasional framing misfires. His examination of memory gleans magical childhood memories, the unconscious mind and the importance of remembering. The inventive set transforms from the childhood address at 887 Murray Avenue in Quebec City, to a taxi and then a diner, and these transitions are infused with finesse and an accomplished cinematic fluency. There is some seriously skilled execution of technology that compliment the remarkable storytelling.

But the personal tale blends life story and critical commentary, while questioning identity. Generally, men have not been able to talk about emotional histories of their relationships with their fathers (or lack of), Lepage breaks open some of these silences. His father had served in the navy and later in life as a taxi driver working all hours to provide for his family. Lepage reconstructs and presents a childhood that seems to summarise an emotional structure in his life- a framework of loss, grief and the quest for greater closeness to his father. What is now needed is for more men to start excavating, in public, the sediment layers of their own history. It is a story of displacement as a way of understanding male life crisis – you get the sense that this part lecture and part autobiographical performance could galvanise a radical disjuncture in helping some men to deepen their conscious critical reflection.

At two hours and fifteen minutes (no interval) the piece loses momentum. That’s a frustration; it is not a performance-destroying problem. It’s a stripping away of the onion-skin layers of memory and the difficulties in this approach lie in the assumption that there is a stable, coherent identity, or a kernel of ‘I’-ness just waiting to be uncovered.

A Doll's House
A Doll’s House

Over a prismatic theme, Lepage determinedly equates memory with autobiography, political history, ego and ritual and achieves a delicate balance between frivolity and spiritual gravity. It’s a spectacular performance. At times witty, while at other times, reflective, thoughtful and quite tragic. Are men born manly? This is a detailed investigation of gendered identity using Lepage’s personal history to explore specific themes of identity and manliness. In doing so he offers some positive challenges to the psychological and social forces active in all of our development. There is lots to be excited about here.

Problems with this review

1. Where are the jokes? There could at least be a GIF.

2. Too bogged down in ‘grand’ theories about masculinity.

3. Some of the punctuation is probably slightly wrong

4. You’re likely to be better off with Matt Trueman’ review for WhatsOnStage or Lyn Gardner in The Guardian, both of which deal with the points above and, undeniably, do so with considerable aptitude.