Suzy Storck at the Gate Theatre review ****

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Suzy Storck

Gate Theatre, 4th November 2017

The Gate under Ellen McDougall has found another blinding play, this time courtesy of French writer Magali Mougel (translated by Chris Campbell). Visceral only begins to describe it. Ms Mougel has created a modern-day Medea and invested it with an arresting, and bleak, poetry. This is about as sharp a dissection of the prison of gender roles and maternal “instincts” as you could hope to see in just over an hour.

Suzy Storck has three kids and hates her life. A patronising mother, a selfish husband who offers no support and whinges about how hard he works, an untidy flat, a career that stopped with bagging chickens, a baby that won’t sleep and two older siblings who never stop needing. She’s knackered, it’s boiling hot in her tiny flat, so she opts to knock back the vino and escape with an unfortunate consequence. We flashback to her life before the kids, her childhood memories, meeting and dreaming with husband Hans Vassily, enjoying her job at the poultry factory before it closed, an agonising interview arranged by Mum, the conception of the children.

So far, so predictable you might be thinking. You’d be wrong though. Not because the plot turns up anything extraordinary, quite the reverse. But the disorientating language, rhythm and structure of the play brings the story to exhausting life creating a very recognisable universal out of the painful specific. We have a Chorus in the form of Kate Duchene (also the Mother) and Theo Solomon (also the Children) who comment, probe and articulate. We have some creative intervention from props, video, lighting and sound. The audience even helps out. We have pained monologue and recollection. We have some powerful argument.

Jonah Russell as Hans Vassilly Kreuz, who has popped up to admirable effect in a few things I have seen, is spot on as the ineffectual male sh*t full of self-pity. The whole thing though hinges on the performance of Caoilfhionn Dunne who is shatteringly magnificent. She caught my eye in Mike Barlett’s Wild at the Hampstead Theatre last year as well as in The Nest at the Young Vic and Our Country’s Good and The Veil at the NT. Up close, in the scene where she won’t play the game in an interview for a job in a shop, and in the drunk scene at the end, she is utterly, physically real. Her eyes dull, her limbs hang heavy, the stuff of life drains out of her. Terrific stuff.

Director and designer, Jean-Pierre Baro and Cecile Tremolieres seem to have effortlessly opened up what I suspect is a very existential French text into an equally powerful English equivalent. There is no let up until you get out and down the stairs. But at least you can get out. Unlike Suzy. Well worth seeing.

Minefield at the Royal Court Theatre *****

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Minefield

The Royal Court Theatre, 7th November 2017

Argentinian writer, Lola Arias, in her own words, explores the “overlap zones between reality and fiction”. Minefield though is all reality, in the rawest, most uncomfortable and, ultimately, moving way imaginable. She has devised a powerful piece of theatre, documenting the tragedy of war, from the testimony of six veterans of the Falklands/Malvinas war. It has toured the world since its original airing in Brighton in 2016 and, if you can’t make it to this run at the RC, I would thoroughly recommend you try to see it should it turn up near you.

The six veterans, now all in their fifties, Lou Armour, David Jackson, Ruben Otero, Sukrim Rai, Gabriel Sagastume, and Marcello Vallejo, are obviously not professional actors, though they are men of immense talent, but boy can they tell a story. They chart, in English and Spanish, with appropriate sur-titles, the audition process (“the rehearsals for this play took a little longer” than the war), how they became soldiers, (by choice on the British side, by random conscription on the Argentinian), the media representation of the war, their arrival in the Islands, the endless waiting, some specific events (the sinking of the Belgrano, an Argentinian patrol blown up by their own mines, a jet attack), key battles, the last day of the conflict and coming to terms with what had happened to them on their return to civil society.

The production mixes projection (of newspapers, magazines, letters, photos), live video, re-enactment, masks, interviews, some very fine live music, props and mementoes, even some model soldiers, with a barrage of lighting and sound, all to mesmerising effect. We see the conflict from multiple perspectives. There was much that was new to me. The key though was the six honest men up there on stage. And their memories. The war has never left them. Most affecting is Lou Armour watching his younger self on video explaining how an Argentinian officer died in his arms. And Marcelo Vallejo describing to David Jackson, now a psychologist, his years of anger and addiction after the war.

No simple resolutions, still visible disagreement about the causes, let alone the outcome of the war, but it seemed to me that the experience provides some shared catharsis for these participants. A moving, intelligent and never inert remembrance.

Heather at the Bush Theatre review *****

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Heather

Bush Theatre, 8th November 2017

For me the best plays take a very few ideas, or even better one idea, and then explore those ideas from multiple perspectives. If the writer loads up the text with too many ideas and messages, usually because he/she can and “it would be a shame not to” it can lead to confusion and drift in my simple mind. Less, as is so often the case, is usually more.

Thomas Eccleshare’s play Heather sticks fast to this rule and I loved it. It first popped up at the Tobacco Factory in 2014, again in Edinburgh I gather, and is now at the Bush for a couple more weeks. I implore you to see it.

I won’t detail the plot and central conceit as this would spoil the elegant twist. The play takes a children’s novel, in the vein of that wretched Potter (love JK Rowling, hate her work, sorry), as a springboard to explore the question of authorial identity and the relationship between art and the nature of the artist that creates it. We get to think about who we find acceptable in the creation of mainstream culture, how culture is represented, owned and marketed and whether rehabilitation is possible or desirable.

There is formal invention in the structure of the play, again I won’t delve too deeply to avoid spoiling, and some very clever and funny wordplay. The three parts of the play do not always entirely ring true but this is sort of the point in a play about how we should regard the representation of the written word. The two actors, Ashley Gerlach and Charlotte Mella, have the characters and the relationship between them absolutely nailed down, and the pace and rhythm of the production under Valentina Ceschi’s direction (she partners the writer in the Dancing Brick company) is spot on. As is the design of Lily Arnold.

That’s it. I won’t labour the point. Along with The End of Hope at the Soho Theatre this is the best way I can think of to spend an hour, (actually slightly less in the case of Heather), this weekend. Take a friend, discuss, eat.

My pick of London theatre – on now and booking ahead

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Right let me cut to the chase. Here is my latest attempt to distil the best of what is on now and what is coming up in the world of London theatre. There is a bunch of new stuff notably at the National Theatre, the Barbican, the Donmar Warehouse, the Hampstead Theatre and in the West End which has been announced since my last round-up which should be investigated. Happy theatre going.

Top 10 – all on now

1. The Ferryman at the Gielgud Theatre. I know most of you theatre lovers will have already seen it but if you haven’t you must. The Ferryman at the Royal Court Theatre review *****

2. Oslo at the Harold Pinter Theatre. This shouldn’t work – a straight narrative of the negotiations that led to the Oslo Accord between Israel and the PLO – but it does and is bloody magnificent. Oslo at the National Theatre review *****

3. Follies at the National. I hate musicals. This is different though. Made me want to cry and punch the air. Pretty much sold out but if it transfers snap it up or watch the cinema transmission next week. Follies at the National Theatre review *****

4. The End of Hope at the Soho Theatre. Go see this this weekend if you have nothing else to do. I saw this at the Orange Tree. A two hander which set in Northern Ireland by David Ireland and directed by a student amazingly. Just 60 mins and cheap as chips. It is hilarious and cutting. Highly recommended. Directors’ Festival at the Orange Tree Theatre review

5. Young Marx at the Bridge Theatre. The Bridge’s first offering. Not perfect but still v. funny and the new Bridge Theatre is wonderful. Young Marx at the Bridge Theatre review ****

6. Albion at the Almeida Theatre. Mike Bartlett’s (he who wrote the lines that have you shouting at the telly when Dr Foster is on) latest offering. A state of the nation thing. I loved it. Looks like it is sold out so you should have paid attention when I recommended it months ago. Albion at the Almeida Theatre review ****

7. Beginning at the National Theatre. Two hander on the excruciating pain of dating. Terrific. A few tickets left for the last week. Beginning at the National Theatre review ****

8. Minefield at the Royal Court. Only a couple of dates this weekend. Six veterans from the Falklands War act out their experiences. Really engrossing and moving.

9. Heather at the Bush Theatre. Tiny venue. Gold star from me if you see this. Amazingly clever play about a children’s author who is not what she seems. Only an hour.

10. The Comedy About a Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre. I went with LD to see this for the second time recently. Terrible West End venue and full of tourists (no offence intended) but it is still the funniest thing on the London stage so an Xmas treat if you haven’t been. The Comedy About a Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre review ****

Top 12 – booking ahead

1. A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter at the Bridge Theatre. I WILL WRITE THIS IN CAPITALS. YOU MUST BOOK THIS. This has just been announced. A new play from Martin McDonagh about Hans Christian Anderson (don’t laugh). McDongah’s last play was Hangmen which me and the SO think is the best play we have seen in the last 3 years. He wrote the classic film In Bruges. It will be caustically funny and gripping. I know it is next year but don’t blame me if you miss out as this won’t transfer since the Bridge is already a commercial theatre.

2. Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre. I know. Bloody Shakespeare. But the cast here is to die for. Plenty of tickets.

3. Macbeth at the National. Rory Kinnear and Anne_Marie Duff, our two finest stage actors of their generation, as the Lord and Lady. Will be unmissable. Booking opens next week.

4. John at the National. New Annie Baker play. This will likely sell out in hours as she has a cult following. Booking opens next week. Make sure to look at the “coming soon” part of the National as there is lots of good stuff.

5. Network at the National. High expectations but should be justified. Bryan Cranston as the TV anchor who has a meltdown. Looks like it is pretty much sold out so again should have listened a few months ago.

6. The Encounter at the Barbican. Bear with me on this. It is amazing. Simon McBurney (who is a genius) brings to life a book about a bloke getting lost in the Amazon. They give you fancy headphones and then he takes you on the journey. Booking opens tomorrow.

7. Pericles at the Barbican. From Cheek by Jowl a theatre company I love. A rare(ish) outing for a late(ish) Shakespeare. In French with surtitles so if you are a French speaker this is your time to shine. Booking opens tomorrow

8. The Twilight Zone at the Almeida. Don’t know if this is going to work but it’s the Almeida so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Based on the 60s sci-fi TV series !! Plenty of tickets.

9. Belleville at the Donmar Warehouse. US transfer. Main draw is that James Norton in the lead who my ladies fancy something rotten. Looks like it may have sold out. Sorry. Elsewhere in the Donmar season is Congreve’s restoration comedy Way of the World which has Linda Bassett in the lead who is a genius actor (only a few tickets left cos us luvvies snap them up) and The York Realist a gay love story set in the 60s. Like the Almeida and the Royal Court the Donmar doesn’t generally do duds.

10. Glengarry Glen Ross at the Playhouse Theatre. Mamet’s shouty modern classic with a stellar cast and Sam Yates given the director’s chair.

11. The Birthday Party at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Pinter’s guest house to avoid with a fascinating cast and Ian Rickson directing.

12. Gundog at the Royal Court Theatre. I pretty much book anything that looks even vaguely interesting at the Royal Court, Orange Tree, Arcola and Young Vic. This is a guaranteed way to see stunning theatre at bargain prices. (though the RC prices have crept up) I can’t tell you why Gundog is on this list. I just have a feeling.