Tag Archives: Rory Mullarkey

“Saint George and the Dragon” at the National Theatre

The always excellent John Heffernan takes the title role in Rory Mullarkey’s new play and gives a truly heroic performance. But can he save the day and the play? Almost… yet not quite, although it’s still a pleasure to see him on stage. Looking at our national legend at the nation’s theatre is a neat idea, as is writing the story as a contemporary allegory (in three chapters). Unfortunately, this brave effort delivers too little.

The opening act, set in a parodied mediaeval world, gets the show off to a great start. With Pythonesque touches, Heffernan makes the foppish George a figure to laugh at, while retaining just the right amount of dignity. His damsel in distress in updated effectively by Amaka Okafor, making their courtship a lark. As for the Dragon, Julian Bleach has a great deal of fun playing his earthly form, camping it up terrifically. It’s all staged slickly by director Lyndsey Turner, with Rae Smith’s design looking great. It’s silly but it’s funny, charming even, and very enjoyable.

After a year George returns to his island home, which has undergone an industrialisation that has enslaved its people. The Dragon isn’t a monster, but “every system needs a master” and, suited and booted, he is bureaucracy incarnate. It’s another great turn from Bleach and his now imprisoned former henchman, played by Richard Goulding, does well from the confines of a prison set. But this time the dénouement is thin and unconvincing; the Dragon too easily vanquished. It’s simplistic and too predictable.

To continue with a lack of surprises, after another year, George returns again – this time to a version of the present. Cue skyscrapers descending on to the stage in a This Is Spinal Tap moment that Smith has had enough experience to have avoided. And that’s the least of the problems with this unhappily ever after ending. The Dragon continues incorporeal – his evil inside us all – and there’s no place for saints, nowadays. Heffernan excels as a George out of time and perfectly reflects the play’s questioning of heroes and heroics. But this is slim stuff for a long play, as the repetition indicates, as well as being bleak and naive. Both Mullarkey and Turner lose control with an overblown finale that’s uncomfortably messy. And really just downright silly.

Until 2 December 2017

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

 

 

“The Oresteia” at Shakespeare’s Globe

It’s hard not to contrast this new production of Aeschylus’ trilogy with that from the Almeida – acclaimed and transferred to the West End. But Rory Mullarkey’s adaptation has its own aims. A more literal translation of the story, miraculously condensed and painfully blunt, it focuses obsessively and powerfully on the theme of justice. For all the Almeida’s contemporary touches, Mullarkey’s version is the riskier. But unfortunately the plays, despite their universal themes and influences that echo especially loudly in Shakespeare’s Globe, come across as downright wacky.

There’s a great start, with a fluid chorus containing excellent actors. Hannah Clark’s costumes, with a nod to the geometric style of pre-classical Greek art, end up giving us a sixties-siren Clytemnestra that Katy Stephens performs marvellously. The modern score, by Mira Calix, will not be to every taste although it’s satisfyingly integral: Cassandra’s role is mostly sung, accompanied by a saxophone, and Naana Agyei-Ampadu won my admiration in the role even before she had to perform in a gold lamé swimsuit. Even a prophetess couldn’t have seen that one coming.

0resteia-2-credit-Robert-Day
Joel MacCormack and Rosie Hilal

For the second play, there are strong performances from Joel MacCormack and Rosie Hilal, playing Orestes and Electra. Stephens’ return as a Biba-bitch is again strong, with a startling wardrobe malfunction. But director Adele Thomas’s camp touches start to get out of control. Cue the Furies, presented as something out of a horror film – it makes sense, I suppose, but the zombie twitching and grunting, admittedly light hearted, detracts from the powerful language. We’ve already had plenty of gore, the stage literally “blood carpeted”, and a Chamber of Horrors tableau Tussaud’s would be proud of. None of this compares favourably with Mullarkey’s text.

And on to the final play, peopled by “the gods, the ghosts, the monsters, the demons”, a combination that’s clearly too much for any audience’s good. It’s impossible to forget how odd this all is as drama: a lesson about the first ever murder trial, with a Goddess in charge. Athena is, strangely, as wooden as a statue that descends like something out of Spinal Tap. There’s an uneasy humour again… and even a giant golden phallus. Thomas’s embrace of the oddity a modern audience inevitably senses ultimately seems lazy, even if the cast works like mad.

Until 16 October 2015

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Robert Day