Tag Archives: Gate Theatre

“Diary Of A Madman” at the Gate Theatre

Al Smith’s play, inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s short story, is a triumphant commission from the Gate, already praised for its premiere at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Using schizophrenia to touch on plenty of issues, the play’s often very funny humour turns on a knife (well, a screwdriver) to create something truly gripping. Christopher Haydon’s direction is swift and sure, while a strong cast is clearly determined to make the most of this bracing piece.

Smith’s updating of the story is a neat affair. Set at the Forth Bridge, our hero, Pop Sheeran, is the latest in a family tasked with continually repainting the national monument, now owned by a global corporation. Times are changing. Liam Brennan takes the lead, giving a well-paced performance as an appealing figure with a  movingly delusional mental illness.

Talk of identity, national and professional, is instigated by the arrival of a young Englishman (Guy Clark does a super job here), which might feel contrived and portentous but isn’t. Modern life and sexual politics are quickly addressed, yet there’s real insight. If there are routes that could be explored further, credit to Smith for staying so evenly on track.

Lois Chimimba and Louise McMenemy
Lois Chimimba and Louise McMenemy

Firmly rooting the play in a community works wonders. This is a family drama as well. Deborah Arnott contributes immeasurably to a convincing portrait of marriage as Pop’s wife. Louise McMenemy brings depth to her role as their daughter. A neighbour and friend, a part to which Lois Chimimba brings hugely confident comic timing, gives us two young girls growing up – their sassy dialogue is a delight.

Laughter and insanity isn’t a new combination. Smith highlights discomfort about the connection but, more, utilises the humour impressively. A puppet of Greyfriars Bobby rewrites a tourist legend in a creepily memorable comedy scene. And, at the risk of too many spoilers, the finale at a fancy dress party themed on Scottish heroes is a damn clever move. The path towards Pop’s breakdown is so skilfully written, it’s as pleasurable as it is painful to watch.

Until 24 September 2016

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photos by Iona Firouzabadi

“The Chronicles Of Kalki” at the Gate Theatre

Aditi Brennan Kapil’s play is a teenage drama with an unusual twist: Kalki, a new arrival at school, might just be the tenth incarnation of Vishnu. When she disappears just as mysteriously as she arrived, a police investigation ensues, creating an intriguing and entertaining piece that’s easy to recommend.

The Chronicles of Kalki at the Gate Theatre. Angela Terence (Girl One), Amrita Acharia (Kalki), Jordan Loughran (Girl Two). Photo credit - Helen Murray (4)
Angela Terence, Amrita Acharia and Jordan Loughran

With taut direction by Alex Brown, the chronicles zip along with humour, mystery and edginess. Kalki takes her schoolmates shoplifting and to a house party, injecting danger and a confidence into their lives that inspire a renegade status. She’s not the kind of girl you’d want you daughter to hang out with, but she’s hard to resist. If, as in my school, religious instruction was entirely C of E, this “Hindu window” can be a little confusing but it’s always interesting.

Engaging, well-performed roles secure the work. Angela Terence and Jordan Loughran play Kalki’s young friends: their relationship convincing in its insecurity. A capable Trevor Michael Georges is the amiable policeman tasked with questioning the girls about Kalki’s disappearance and he serves as a foil to their youth. Appropriately, Amrita Acharia is the centre of attention, giving a divine performance: sexy and dangerous, elemental and charismatic. A skittish short play, with dialogue as mercurial as its title character, The Chronicles of Kalki are more convincing than you’d think possible, creating a rich and memorable evening.

Until 31 January 2015

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photos by Helen Murray

“The Body of an American” at the Gate Theatre

The Body of an American, which opened last night at the Gate Theatre, is an intriguing docudrama. Written by Dan O’Brien, it explores his friendship with the war reporter and photographer Paul Watson. Focusing on Watson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a butchered American soldier in Mogadishu in 1993, O’Brien’s questioning of the older man’s motivation is matched by an examination of his own life and work.

The play and production are ingenious. William Gaminara and Damien Molony perform as Paul and Dan, but they also share each other’s lines (this works better than it sounds), as well as taking on a host of minor roles. Performed in traverse, photographs by both men are projected and create a companion dialogue.

While impeccably directly by the talented James Dacre, the piece comes perilously close to being overwhelming. What makes it so absorbing is that it seems such a collaboration between writer and subject. The latter’s memoir is credited as an inspiration and his voice is rendered so convincingly by O’Brien that he almost becomes dominant. But it’s really two stories. O’Brien reveals much of himself: like his friend he is haunted by events, and he skilfully creates an uneasy question as to the reliability of his ‘reporting’.

The terrifying events and atrocities that make up Watson’s work naturally make better drama. The fact that the stakes are so different are always acknowledged – think Hemingway meets Henry James – but the imbalance between the jobs leaves you questioning your own position. O’Brien’s struggle to make sense of Watson’s life, and make a play about it, creates a link with us all. His blend of passion and perspicacity makes this an unusual play that’s well worth watching.

Until 14 February 2014

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Dutson

Written 21 January 2014 for The London Magazine

“Dances of Death” at the Gate Theatre

Watching the intricacies of close relationships has an extra charge in the wonderful intimacy of the Gate Theatre. Opening last night, Dances of Death, shows us a marriage long disintegrated into a conjugal competition that is sure to provoke any audience. Howard Brenton’s new version of Strindberg’s influential classic condenses two plays into one evening to create a riveting night of theatre.

At first it seems as if we’re in for a comedy, as Edgar and his wife of 30 years, Alice, bluntly admit their misery, and settle down to a squabbling card game that neither enjoys – they have other games to play of a more sinister kind. Forced to join them is Kurt (Christopher Ravenscroft), whose crime of being matchmaker to the pair is something they have never forgiven him for.

Michael Pennington and Linda Marlowe establish the main characters with skilful speed. Their continuing contest is convincing, despite obscure motivations and bizarre behaviour. Pennington is marvellous at the captain of a military camp on a remote island; an impressive fabulator, rolling his eyes in a drunken stupor, and a boorish bully with a mischievous edge. Best of all, his depiction of physical illness is superb. Marlowe has a harder task, with a more ambiguous character whose past as an actress gives the whole piece a theatrical air. The performance fits the role, but director Tom Littler shows a questionable bravery in allowing some hands-on-forehead histrionics.

Poor Kurt’s punishment continues into the second play. It’s here that the production is most successful. As Edgar and Alice’s child, performed with a knowing theatricality that makes her very much her mother’s daughter, Eleanor Wyld makes a believable temptress. The innocent “sheep” now is Kurt’s son (a moving performance from Edward Franklin) and as the constraints in their society start to reveal themselves more clearly through the young couple’s relationship, the play starts to matter to us more. Littler’s pacing is bold and James Perkins’ design utilises Strindberg’s paintings to great effect.

It’s still a struggle to really appreciate Edgar and Alice’s relationship – a final admission of affection seems dismissed. The most interesting relationship in Dances of Death is that between its authors – this new version sees two writers, both with very individual voices, somewhat at odds. Brenton’s muscular approach matches Strindberg’s radicalism in many ways and both are visionary artists (interestingly, like Strindberg, Brenton also paints), but Strindberg’s politics are not well served. The writers’ union, like the one on stage, seems uncomfortable, though never less than fascinating.

Until 6 July 2013

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 7 June 2013 for The London Magazine

“Purple Heart” at the Gate Theatre

It’s a brave decision for a playwright to make a child one of the central characters of a play. In Bruce Norris’ Purple Heart, receiving its UK première at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, Thor is a 12-year-old caught between his grieving mother and grandmother after his father dies in Vietnam. Given the raw intensity of the part, it would be almost impossible for a child of the same age to play it so the first medal awarded to this production goes to the actor Oliver Coopersmith, who is 20, for an astonishingly convincing portrayal of a precocious, disturbed pre-teen.

The family trio mourns in different ways. The resilience of youth is matched by the stoicism of age, with Linda Broughton playing Grace, a mother-in-law whose best intentions and insistence she is “on top of it” would test anyone. Grace’s attempts to control her son’s widow have an underlying insecurity that Broughton develops well. In the central role, Amelia Lowdell gives a similarly layered performance; the focus of a close-knit community obsessed with sending condolence casseroles, she is close to suicide through grief and alcoholism. Lowdell makes her fragile character the focus of our sympathy, despite her vicious streak.

Matters become more complex with the arrival of Purdy, a Vietnam veteran and a fourth, fine performance from Trevor White. It doesn’t take long for the soldier’s clean-cut manner to slip and White manages this superbly, making the most of every movement. Purdy is more a device than a well-rounded character: Norris uses him to pull out ideas and give Purple Heart some weight. At times, his character makes the play seem a touch sensational but the writing is original enough to fascinate.

Christopher Haydon’s intelligent direction serves Norris’ text well. Most of the conversations have an interrogatory feel that is delivered with an appropriate military pace. Better still, Haydon clearly appreciates the author’s quirky comedy; despite being a play about grief Purple Heart is full of laughs. It’s the darkest of humour, one that gives even poor jokes an edge. It’s a work unafraid of crudity, even silliness (Thor’s novelty jokes, gifts from his father, make continued appearances) – all to bring out the plays painful questions. Norris is known to London audiences primarily through his success at the Royal Court – this early work is every bit as good as the smash hit Clybourne Park, and deserves just as many awards.

Until 6 April 2013

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Written 6 March 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Trojan Women” at the Gate Theatre

In Caroline Bird’s new take on Euripedes’ tragedy, the aftermath of the Trojan War finds the “crème de la femme” of the former empire held captive in the mother and baby unit of a prison alongside an anonymous pregnant woman in the role of The Chorus. If someone in labour chained to a hospital bed offends your sensibilities, then avoid the Gate Theatre on this occasion – it’s just one of several shocks in Bird’s powerful, vicious and unsettling text.

This is writing filled with passion and profanity and it’s guaranteed to disturb and provoke. But it lacks control and, like the subject matter, often borders on the grotesque, while the occasional injection of humour, with a handful of funny lines, falls flat. While the Greeks didn’t hold back when it came to suffering in their tragedies, Bird seems determined to outdo them and Queen Hecuba’s traumas are added to by The Chorus, performed viscerally by Lucy Ellinson, reminding us that the poor are the real victims of any war. As a moral focus it’s admirable, but it makes The Trojan Women relentlessly harrowing.

Bird exposes the audience in merciless fashion, while Christopher Haydon’s direction and Jason Southgate’s impressive set add to the intensity. And the performances are faultless. Dearbhla Molloy makes the most out of a complex Hecuba who is steely-cold and thirsty for vengeance. But the star of the night is Louise Bradley who takes on three roles and manages to convince in all of them. Sadly, no matter how well Bird’s strategy is pursued she doesn’t quite add enough to the original to make this new version worth enduring.

Until 19 December 2012

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Iona Firouzabadi

Written 13 November 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Summer House” at the Gate Theatre

The Summer House is a comedy thriller about a British stag party in Iceland, where three hapless, very modern males, have to face up to a harsh environment and their personal issues. With the lads going slightly mad and getting steadily drunker, the comedy is anarchic. Throw in plenty of Norse mythology and this becomes one crazy evening.

It is the kind of madcap fun that fringe audiences love. Devised by John Wright, who also directs, along with its three energetic performers, Will Adamsdale, Neil Haigh and Matthew Steer, the play is full of invention and laughs, with a tight structure that shows off the performers’ comedic skills. The characterisations are admirable and there’s a nice balance of one-liners and slapstick

The Summer House contains observations on contemporary masculinity sure to strike a chord. The groom and his best man, Will and Matthew, are successful doctors: as keen on tea as beer, with a grating faux laddishness and a penchant for impersonating WWF wrestlers. Their more laconic companion Neil shares their anxiety but at least he has real problems and these come to provide the play’s suspenseful moments. There isn’t quite enough tension for my liking, which is a shame since the scene in which Will and Matthew work out neither of them really knows Neil is one of the best in the show.

The stag weekend becomes wild but not in the manner expected and certainly not according to the laminated cards created by Will. Contrasting with the trio are Norse Gods, whose story is also told with a nice twist – especially when we see Odin and Thor have problems of their own. The subplot allows all three performers to excel in their numerous roles, providing the funniest Viking warriors and best panic attack you are likely to see on stage.

Until 24 March 2012

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Edmund Collier

Written 2 March 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Kreutzer Sonata” at the Gate Theatre

Having broken box office records a couple of years ago, the Kreutzer Sonata’s return to the Gate Theatre gives us the chance to take an extraordinary journey once again. Designer Chloe Lamford transforms the auditorium of the Gate Theatre into the inside of a railway carriage, her clever set further condensing an already intimate space. We are about to travel with a quiet unassuming man sitting in the carriage corner.

The man is Pozdnyshev, who will reveal to us the story of his marriage and how he came to murder his wife. While hardly charming, his frankness endears him to us – he seems honest, albeit disturbed. As his jealousy and the play’s tension mount, his irrational fears begin to seem understandable – trapped in a loveless relationship, his musical wife is attracted to a violinist. Pozdnyshev becomes the victim of his own rage but believes his actions to be entirely understandable.

Pozdnyshev’s unsettling position is grippingly portrayed in Hilton McRae’s quietly nuanced performance. Considered and philosophical, what really pains him is what he views as the inevitability of events. Most impressively, McRae has the stage presence to hold our attention during this 85-minute monologue. His wife and her lover, played by Sophie Scott and Tobias Beer, make music and appear through screens on the carriage doors.

Nancy Harris handles the adaptation and translation of this short story from Tolstoy with great skill. Highlighting the narrative increases the drama and does away with the (to be frank) rather madder elements of Tolstoy’s philosophy. The misogyny is still present but just more believable – a question of character development rather than political creed.

A live performance of parts of the sonata accompanies the piece, focusing attention on the relationship between music and passion: a preoccupation for Tolstoy as an aesthetician. It also serves as a potent dramatic device, as the musicians present directly to the audience the turmoil of emotions that haunt Pozdnyshev. It’s stirring stuff. In fact, this is a train not to be missed, so get your ticket soon as I suspect many who have already seen it will be buying a return ticket.

Until 18 February 2012

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Kane

Written 12 January 2012 for The London Magazine

“How to be an other woman” at the Gate Theatre

How to be an other woman, at the Gate Theatre Notting Hill, is director Natalie Abrahami’s sassy adaptation of Lorrie Moore’s book. Taking the form of a self-help text, four talented actresses perform all the roles in a story of adultery. With its 80s soundtrack, witty lines and theatrical inventiveness, this short production is the most fun you could have in an hour – without having an affair.

Samal Blak’s marvellous design has the ensemble presented as fantasising shop assistants. Abrahami directs (using Aline David’s choreography) a seamless dance of emotions and laughter. Each actress takes turns at the role of Charlene, a young woman obsessed with possessions and Emma Bovary. From the thrill of her new role as a mistress, to the inevitable heartbreak that results, the performances are all fantastic. Both Cath Whitefield and Ony Uhiara are hilarious when they play the married man Charlene falls for, Faye Castelow has some wonderful moments as her friend at work, and Samantha Pearl does especially well in making us feel for Charlene when the truth of the affair dawns on her.

Because, of course, having an affair isn’t fun at all. Charlene’s paranoia about the woman who is her rival is darkly comic but becomes bitter. Wives are compared to cockroaches who ‘travel in packs’. Increasingly isolated, Charlene realises she has moved from being an other women to another woman – a person she no longer recognises in the mirror.

Thankfully, since we have come to like her so much, unlike Madame Bovary, Charlene can ‘reclaim’ herself, lie a little about being fine, and move on. I guarantee you will leave the theatre wanting to hear more of her adventures.

Until 2 October 2010

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Kane

Written 2 September 2010 for The London Magazine

“Breathing Irregular” at the Gate Theatre

Medicine makes good drama – a glance at the television schedules makes that clear. Director Carrie Cracknell knows this too, and has used genuine emergency services transcripts to devise Breathing Irregular. The result is a powerful and deeply moving 40-minute show that offers a fresh take on what happens when we dial 999.

Choreographed by Jane Mason, the piece uses dance to interpret the actions and emotions of those in danger and those who discover them while waiting for help to arrive. The shock and tension, and the balance between fear and the desperate need to stay calm, are embodied in a sequence of falling and running movements along with fleeting moments of contact. Random stories interact with the dance and interweave with an evocative score from Tom Mills and singing from Mary Erskine.

Conversations from the emergency services are re-enacted by a versatile cast that takes turn to play those making and those answering these all-important calls. The stories we hear are heartbreaking but life affirming, and the humanity and professionalism of the operators shines through.

Eva Magyar movingly plays a woman guided via telephone to give birth alone. Brendan Hughes conveys the shock of finding a neighbour with his arm cut off. Temitope Ajose-Cutting, who possesses an extraordinary physicality, is convincing as someone who watches her father have a stroke and strives to keep herself and her family calm. A superb Bryony Hannah gets to play both a mother desperate to save her child from a burning building and a child confused by his mother’s collapse.

Joining the transcripts at random moments frustrates our desire for narrative and reinforces the randomness of the events. Holly Waddington’s design is superb: ropes attach the stage to the ceiling and so the tilting floor appears suspended, capable of moving at the slightest breath; oxygen masks double up as telephones, enforcing the connection between those who seek help and that reiterated question to those on the scene, ‘is their breathing irregular?’

Time seems to act strangely in such dramatic circumstances. In a most touching scene the entire cast stands in line and faces the audience while waiting for an ambulance – staring out, they depict a visceral tension as they wait in total silence for a breathtaking duration. It was a poignant reminder of courage in adversity and the fragility of life.

Until 27 February 2010

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Written 3 February 2010 for The London Magazine