Tag Archives: Young Vic

“Macbeth” at the Young Vic

Working with choreographer Lucy Guerin, director Carrie Cracknell has created a dance-infused version of Shakespeare’s play. This isn’t one for traditionalists but, remaining agnostic about how much the accomplished dancers really add, the production isn’t quite the love-it-or-loathe-it affair you might suspect. Cracknell’s focus on Macbeth’s internal turmoil creates its own coherent, if surreal, power.

Much of the credit is down to the startling design by Lizzie Clachan. Reminiscent of Allies & Morrison’s pedestrian tunnel at King’s Cross, the production has a consistently claustrophobic feel. Nightmares are the preoccupation and the witches (played by Anna Beatriz Meireles, Jessie Oshodi and Clemmie Sveaas) are creators of this nasty dream. Mannequin-like manipulators in a very literal sense, they lay the banqueting table and double as the children in the play.

The witches’ relationship to Macbeth is particularly intimate, toying with the idea that much of the action is in his mind and through his perspective. Appearing as pregnant on some occasions, the witches hint at trouble in the Macbeth marriage and highlight his preoccupation with Banquo’s progeny. Tellingly, it is Macbeth’s own voice that delivers prophecies when he visits them for the last time.

This is a Macbeth about personality rather than politics – despite the gruesome Abu Ghraib aesthetic employed – and there are sacrifices made because of this. Anna Maxwell Martin’s Lady Macbeth suffers most, her role feeling truncated and leaving little impact. For all the ghosts and ghouls, Macbeth’s hallucinations feel distant from the supernatural, making his a modern nervous breakdown of unsettling intensity.

Relying so much on the lead actor, Cracknell is fortunate to have cast a performer as talented as John Heffernan. Taking the strange musical interludes in his stride, Heffernan anchors us in the text and sounds simply wonderful. Few can speak Shakespeare as effectively and Heffernan alone makes the show worth watching. But with one important warning – appreciating what Cracknell is doing needs a strong knowledge of the text. Even with a work as famous as this, it means the production isn’t for everyone.

Until 23 January 2016

www.youngvic.org

“Measure For Measure” at the Young Vic

It requires a director as bold as Joe Hill-Gibbins to revel in the oddness of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ play. Taking licence with the tragi-comic text and its complex moral questioning, this production is radical in the true sense of the word: a far-reaching, thoughtful interpretation that strips it of context and relies on emotional realism.

On the Saturday matinee I attended, Ivanno Jeremiah was unable to perform as Claudio, so first a big thank-you to Raphael Sowole, who stepped up and allowed the show to go on. It’s not ideal conditions but one absence did little to detract from how forthright Hill-Gibbins’ vision is. And, besides, the supernumerary cast of sex dolls more than manages to fill the stage.

That’s right – inflatable sex dolls, which are inevitably what the production will be remembered for. This is a shame since, while irreverent fun, they are not the best thing on offer. With live video recording projected onto the stage, this show gets up close and personal. And, with some help from Hans Memling’s apocalyptic artwork, arresting imagery is everywhere, with a pulsating soundscape from Paul Arditti adding to the atmosphere.

Paul_Ready_Zubin_Varla_and_Natalie_Simpson_in_Measure_for_Measure_at_the_Young_Vic._Photo_by_Keith_Pattison
Paul Ready and Zubin Varla

Best of all are the performances. The cast, like the text, is slimmed down and works hard. Romola Garai is brilliant as an indignant Isabella, as is Paul Ready as a cool Angelo – both performers root out the essentials of their characters. There are also strong roles for Cath Whitefield’s Mariana (although why she should be a fan of pop star Pink baffled me) and John Mackay’s Lucio, whose joke with the Duke has far more mileage than usual. It’s with the Duke, given a towering portrayal by Zubin Varla, that Hill-Gibbins should get most credit. This ‘power divine’ is displayed in his twisted benevolent best – a Rasputin gone right, with an injection of tension that suggests his plans could go awry. The conclusion, shuffling the cast into a deranged and confused photo opportunity, makes quite a picture for this flash-bang-wallop of a show.

Until 14 November 2015

www.youngvic.org

Photos by Keith Pattison

“Song From Far Away” at the Young Vic

The combination of respected playwright Simon Stephens and director of the moment Ivo van Hove makes this new play a hot ticket. A demanding monologue, presented as letters written by well-to-do young banker Willem recalling his brother’s death, funeral and family relationships, it’s an intense 80 minutes that has exceptional moments.

Dutch actor Eelco Smits gives a wholly admirable performance in a difficult role – not least because a good part of it is performed naked, and mostly since the character is curiously bland. While it’s clear he’s a tortured soul, the reasons why remain tantalisingly unexplored. Stephens carefully controls Willem’s above-average executive angst and the audience’s latent sympathy. Moments of empathy for his parents are moving, his own lost love likewise, but so much is left unsaid, despite detailing his life and grief.

Eelco_Smits_in_Song_From_Far_Away._Photo_by_Jan_Versweyveld_3Stephens’ writing is poetic and full of satisfying observations. The ordinary is addressed in a meticulous manner that grows on you. But it’s hard to disguise the play’s thinness. Nonetheless, van Hove makes the show super stylish with a portentous atmosphere. There’s a fulsome appreciation of the silences in life, which Stephens writes eloquently about and enriches Mark Eitzel’s recurring song for the piece. Above all, there’s some stunning staging, akin to still lifes with nudes, through the exquisite design and lighting by Jan Versweyveld, which enforce the play’s understated poignancy.

Until 19 September 2015

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Jan Versweyveld

“The Trial” at the Young Vic

Nick Gill’s adaptation of Kafka’s novel makes for a puzzling piece of theatre. Cold, confusing and frustrating (I’ll get back to that last point), it has the feel of an endurance race, not least because the action takes place on a conveyer belt, built into Miriam Buether’s eye-wateringly orange set. There’s a lot of distance covered by the famous Josef K: arrested and fighting a faceless system to discover the nature of his crime, he is forced into a painful self-examination that drives him mad. There are so many themes here, from bureaucracy, lots of yellow paper, to role of the artist (cue dance music), that the show becomes so relentless it becomes monotonous.

The cast under Richard Jones’ direction win your admiration. Hugh Skinner adds a modern sleekness to the role of Josef’s work colleague – you can picture him in the City, despite the costume. And Sian Thomas is superb as Josef’s fast-talking lawyer. Taking on six parts as the women in Josef’s life, from a lap dancer to his next-door neighbour, keeps Kate O’Flynn busy. But Rory Kinnear in the lead role gets the gong for sheer hard work. On stage for near two hours, in a gut-wrenching performance that connects strongly with the audience, he is remarkable.

Kinnear also has to deal with an unusually difficult script. Josef’s internal dialogue is presented in a novel, poetic form that, perhaps because of the set’s colour, is reminiscent of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Take the first line – “An almost woke ee up one morn” – and you get the idea. The execution is visceral, the technique arresting. Josef’s sexual frustration and anxiety are captured (the connection between lust and legal problems is one of Gill’s more intriguing insights), and his articulacy seems to deliberately deteriorate as the play goes on. The dialogue certainly becomes more difficult to follow, which increasingly jars – so much so that the play’s end comes as a relief for regrettably prosaic reasons.

Until 22 August 2015

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Keith Pattison

“Ah Wilderness!” at the Young Vic

Small-town family life, along with youthful ideals and romance, are the subjects of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah Wilderness! Infused with poetry and memory, Natalie Abrahami’s sensitive revival adds a melancholic edge to this surprisingly gentle coming-of-age story.

This is O’Neill in an uncharacteristically good mood as he dwells on domesticity, reminisces about youthful rebellion and speculates about parenthood. Tinged with nostalgia and filled with ardour the play has an almost whimsical feel that’s quite charming.

George_MacKay_in_Ah_Wilderness_at_the_Young_Vic._Photo_by_Johan_Persson
George MacKay

Ah Wilderness! is also a memory play and a work very much for fans of O’Neill, who feels like a huge presence in this production. Set directions can be heard in the background and O’Neill’s younger alter-ego, Richard, performed vibrantly by George Mackay, is followed around by David Annen, who slips into smaller roles while taking notes and observing the action – suggesting a ghost at the feast – with great economy.

 

There are also strong performances from Martin Marquez and Janie Dee as Richard’s parents, while Yasmin Paige tackles well the uncomfortably written role of a prostitute. But the star is Dick Bird’s eye-catching set: a mountain of sand, cascading from expressionist doorways, that contains hidden props. This serves to emphasise time and is a sardonic hint at an unhappy future.

This production has a lot going for it, but, sadly, its stories of lost love and innocence are not quite interesting enough. It’s a shame that, for all the care, attention and ideas, the play itself is a little dull. It may be a quality affair with no shortage of insight – and I doubt anyone will be disappointed by attending – but this doesn’t feel like essential viewing. Sorry.

Until 23 May 2015

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Johan Persson

“Bull” at the Young Vic

Mike Bartlett’s play Bull is a scorching consideration of corporate culture and bullying at work. Under an hour long, it’s remarkably powerful, as three colleagues do battle for two jobs. It’s an unfair contest, with Tony and Isobel ganging up on the “drip drip” Thomas, using underhand tricks and downright menaces to torment their co-worker into becoming the eponymous beast – and we all know what happens to bulls in the ring.

This fight is gruesome. Though darkly funny, the play is the stuff of nightmares for office workers. You really do want to hit Adam James, his performance as team-leading Tony is so good, while Eleanor Matsuura, as Isobel, gets better each moment of the show. Sam Troughton takes the part of Thomas, careful not to make him too sympathetic a character, his violent breakdown at the play’s finale superb.

Clare Lizzimore’s direction is spot on, but the show is all about Bartlett’s skillful script. Starting out the wrong side of exaggerated, with witty barbs you can just about imagine and Neil Stuke’s excellent appearance as the ruthless boss, more convincing that Alan Sugar (in real life), Bartlett becomes increasingly daring. Thomas loses the job but his humiliation isn’t complete. Even though the competition is over Isobel circles her prey with an offensive rationale that makes a chilling conclusion.

Until 14 February 2015

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Simon Annand

“Golem” at the Young Vic

1927’s new work, Golem, is currently showing at the Young Vic. The company, which combines live performance with animation and film, creates spellbinding works with stunning visuals and a wicked sense of the comic, both characterised by a unique style and independence of thought. Gustav Meyrink’s novel about Golems ­– clay figures that can ceaselessly follow human commands – is the inspiration for the show, and creates a springboard for a witty and insightful commentary on modern technology.

The magical Golem, who revolutionises the world, morphs from an all too anatomically correct mute to an updated version, a Klaus Nomi-styled imp, who knows what you want before you do and tells you about it. The illustrations by Paul Barritt are a marvel, and the interaction with them by the talented cast is a joy. Blink and you’ll miss the rich details. The accompanying music by Lillian Henley contributes atmosphere and humour. You’ll want to be all ears, as well, for the clever verse script by writer and director Suzanne Andrade, which I would love to take home and study.

Wry and wise, it’s the ubiquity of the Golem and its corporate owners, a chain called ‘Go’ that upsets most. The home, office and town drawn by Barritt change as Go’s logo takes over. Things become cleaner, maybe safer, but a lot more homogenised – sounds familiar? 1927 knows none of us is immune, not even the show’s punk band, Annie and the Underdogs, which is eventually co-opted (anarchy is also a lifestyle choice). But not all is gloom. This theatre company alone is contrary enough to show that all is not lost – 1927 at least wants to think for itself and does so with style. As Robert comments after the first attempt to sell him Golem, it’s intriguing, and it rhymes.

Until 31 January 2015

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Bernhard Muller

“The Scottsboro Boys” at the Garrick Theatre

A sell-out last year at the Young Vic, with rave reviews, The Scottsboro Boys has now transferred into the West End. Kander and Ebb’s last musical, the story of an infamous miscarriage of justice in 1930s Alabama, is a harsh, uncompromising look at racism that makes for powerful musical theatre.

The performances are great, with key cast members visiting from Broadway: Brandon Victor Dixon, Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon all take on demanding lead roles with inspiring confidence. The whole ensemble is tight and standards of acting high. The staging is sparse – director and choreographer Susan Stroman uses chairs to create the sets – it’s inventive but feels a little lost in a big space.

Kander and Ebb never shied away from ‘difficult’ subject matter. Don’t forget, Cabaret and Chicago are about Nazis and gangsters. Their final work together was just as brave: accused of raping two white girls, nine blatantly innocent black men spent years in prison and fought trial after trial, becoming a focal point for the civil rights movement.

The music will sound familiar to fans, but the approach here is as bold as the subject matter. Taking on the format of a minstrel show (akin to appropriating cabaret and vaudeville for their previous hits) the black actors perform white roles, serving as a commentary on racial stereotypes that is provocative and tense. It’s a reflection on the entertainment industry as well, with the stock characters of Mr Tambo and Mr Bones creating an uncomfortable undertone.

There were small protests at the use of a minstrel show on Broadway. I can’t see the reason myself – the criticism of the genre is so implicit and the final rejection of the format by the performers, who refuse to do the Cake Walk, is rousing. But the humour here is harsh and bleak making The Scottsboro Boys unusually devoid of laughs. This show is a huge achievement, but not an easy night out.

Until 21 February 2015

 www.scottsboromusicallondon.com 

Photo by Johan Persson

“A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Young Vic

Gillian Anderson is currently thrilling the crowds at the Young Vic Theatre as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.  Director Benedict Andrews’ eye-catching take on the Tennessee Williams classic is a respectful updating of the play that aims to avoid nostalgia. The production isn’t faultless, but it is admirably rich in ideas.

The use of a revolving stage is sure to prove memorable. Magda Willi’s carefully neutral design takes us away from a period feel and focuses on the claustrophobia of the flat lived in by Blanche’s sister and brother-in-law, Stella and Stanley, a place to which Blanche retreats in disgrace after losing the family estate and having a mental breakdown.

Making the show quite literally dynamic is cleverly done. Props are plentiful and extra characters circle the stage menacingly. It all adds time, though, as does some current, rather distracting pop music, so that, all in, the production is well over three hours. And while it looks great, the slow revolve must be hugely demanding on the cast. You can hear everything, though, which is no small achievement, and watching them becomes unusually intense.

Andrews’ interpretation of Blanche is stark, focusing on her alcoholism and mental health. Of course, Blanche is a victim, a tragic icon made moving by Anderson’s performance, but Andrews takes her descent into mental illness too much for granted – there could be more of a fight here and the audience, like her potential fiancé Mitch (the excellent Corey Johnson), should be taken in by her “magic” a little more.

There are also problems with Stella and Stanley. Divorcing the action from the 1940s doesn’t help explain the class distinction in the play. Vanessa Kirby gives an impassioned performance but seems literally out of time. Stanley fares even worse. Ben Foster provides an animal presence, but there is surely more to Stanley than the “ape” Blanche says he is. Foster is powerful, but his performance is robbed of subtlety.

There’s no doubt that this is Anderson’s show. For a director as bold as Andrews, this might seem predictable but the focus is on the pain in the play – which is brutally and powerfully conveyed. Anderson deals with the responsibility placed upon her and is tremendous. She’s sexy and desperate, giving a raw and urgent performance that, by the nature of the production, is distraught and messy at times.

Until 19 September 2014

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 1 August 2014 for The London Magazine

“A Doll’s House” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

The Young Vic’s widely acclaimed production of A Doll’s House opened its West End transfer this week at the Duke of York’s theatre. Directed by Carrie Cracknell, Ibsen’s classic story of Nora, a housewife and mother in 19th century Norway, and the breakdown of her seemingly perfect marriage, is tackled with great verve and features a superb spinning set by designer Ian Macneil. The show deserves all its many critics’ stars and is not to be missed – it only runs until 26 October.

The star draw is Hattie Morahan in the lead role. She picked up both the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle awards last year, and it’s easy to see why. She plays Nora as naïve – but only because of the society she was born into. Morahan makes the limitations women experienced at the time seem normal, no matter how bitter. Nora’s flashes of brilliance, as she comes to understand and rebel against constraints, are believable and moving.

Morahan is joined by a cast that is close to faultless. Caroline Martin (pictured above with Morhan) gives depth to the role of her old school friend, whose marriage of convenience has been a more obvious failure, and Nick Fletcher gives a magnificently understated performance as the money lender who wreaks havoc on Nora’s ideal home. Hiding her debts from her bank manager husband is only one of the lies her marriage is based on. As her partner Torvald, Dominic Rowan has to tackle sexist remarks it’s to be hoped make most people blush. The commodification of his wife may seem incredible, but Rowan manages to bring Cracknell’s pointed production home – Torvald’s fantasies about his wife raise uncomfortable questions relevant to men and women today.

This marital master and his slave are fantastic creations and with Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Ibsen’s text they breath anew. Injecting a strain of ‘Englishness’ into the play makes it recognisable, and there’s a cleverly suggested Pre-War feel to much of the language. Even better, ironic touches (again praise for Morahan here – her delivery is perfection) elaborate Ibsen’s dark humour and there’s even a sexiness here that has a disturbing edge. Stephens’ script is the key to this doll’s house being such a big success.

Until 26 October 2013

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Written 16 August 2013 for The London Magazine