Sunday, 30 June 2013

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Stafford Castle

“Through the forest have I gone”

The impressive ruins of Stafford Castle make a grand setting for the Stafford Festival Shakespeare, now in its 23rd year, and for this year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, successfully transported to a Victorian England of colonial conquest, starched manners and a healthy dose of Gilbert and Sullivan. An open air stage, with covered seating on three sides, expands up the grassy slope to the castle itself and is used highly effectively, whether for a royal procession to make a strong impact or a torch-bearing fairy horde to swarm over the hillside, a constant reminder that so much of this story is about the strange happenings that will ensue if you end up in a mysterious forest on Midsummer eve. 

Peter Rowe’s choice to set this in the Victorian era is an effective choice and one which works well across all the earthbound levels of the play. It makes a convincing case for the quarrelling quartet of lovers – Craig Fletcher (so very good in last year’s Boy Meets Boy) and Eamonn O’Dwyer all prim posturing and carefully rolled-up sleeves as Lysander and Demetrius, Jennifer Greenwood a spirited Hermia and a confident Georgina White coming close to stealing the show as an expressively comical Helena. And the Rude Mechanicals, led by Eric Potts’ bumptious Bottom, become a group of G&S-playing minstrels, the silliness of light opera suiting them perfectly as they build up to an extended musical version of Pyramus and Thisbe, which has to be one of the funnier treatments it has ever received. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Review: Pride and Prejudice, Open Air Theatre

"I suppose his...fortune had some bearing"

The choice to adapt Jane Austen’s endlessly popular novel Pride and Prejudice for the stage, as Simon Reade as done for this version at Regents Park’s Open Air Theatre, may well be one universally acknowledged as a good business decision. And whilst it may naturally lose some of the linguistic acuity that characterises the best of Austen’s work and provide a stately and solid, rather than superlative, piece of theatre, Deborah Bruce’s production has an undeniable elegance and a rather irresistible charm that many may find hard to resist.

There are few surprises in Reade’s adaptation apart from the skill with which he has compressed and filleted the story, so that it keeps an entirely recognisable shape, populated by all the well-loved characters doing what they do best, over the 2 and three quarter hour running time. Daughters of a country gentleman who hasn’t quite kept up his responsibilities to them and a mother all-too-keen to sort them our, the five Bennett sisters find themselves in need of securing their position in society in the only way they can, through marriage. 


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Theatre Review: Rutherford and Son, St James

“The family business is a millstone round your neck”

It’s nice to be able to get the opportunity to follow through on recommendations from other bloggers – on a snowy day in Colchester, Gareth advised me to try and catch Northern Broadsides’ revival of Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son on its original tour but I was unable to fit it into the diary. So the announcement of its transfer to the St James was a most welcomed one but also a pleasing fit for what one hopes will be a frequent use for this newest of London’s theatres.

Set in 1912, John Rutherford is an archetypal paterfamilias, ruling both at work and at home with at iron fist. But the family business, a Yorkshire glassworks, is struggling and his three adult children are all entirely dissatisfied with their lot – his professional success has come at huge personal cost and it takes the most unexpected intervention to get him to even consider the changes would secure his legacy.

Review: Race, Hampstead


“What can you say to a black man on the subject of race?”

The Bee Gees once sang ‘it’s only words’ and that was my abiding sentiment as I left the Hampstead Theatre after seeing David Mamet’s Race. Circumstance conspired to prevent me from seeing this on the press night and I allowed myself to be convinced to try again to see it, but it was one of those instances where fate should have been allowed to play out. Even over its short running time, Race rarely feels like a piece of coherent drama spoken by fully-fleshed characters but rather a collection of ideas strung together and placed into mouthpieces.

Its subject is right there in the title, centred on the debate in a lawyer’s office about whether to take on a politically charged case of alleged rape involving a (presciently Strauss-Kahn-like) powerful man. The case is deemed problematic by the defendant being a black woman, the accused a white man, and it is further complicated by the inter-racial dynamics of this law firm. Throw in some gender politics and the rich/poor divide and the scene is set for some coruscating debate on some eternally pressing issues, but Mamet fudges it completely.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Re-review: Private Lives, Gielgud

“Are you glad you got married to me?”

As is proving de rigueur for many a Chichester show, last year’s production of Private Lives makes the leap into the West End, sashaying with its silk pyjamas into the Gielgud Theatre for the summer. I made the trip to the Minerva Theatre to see the show as the chance of seeing Anna Chancellor on stage is not one that one should really turn down and my review can be read here – I liked the production immensely but can’t help but feel that I don’t really need to see this play again -for me, it turns out Coward is a playwright who is not standing up to repeated viewings. But throw a good deal my way and my intentions go out the window – Time Out were offering dress circle seats for a tenner and so I just couldn’t resist. 

And I pretty much felt the same second time around. Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens are truly excellently cast as the dangerously dynamic duo Amanda and Elyot, a divorced couple whose chance meeting as they both honeymoon with new partners pulls them back into the vortex of their passion which is somehow simultaneously self-destructive and enduring. Chancellor slinks around Anthony Ward’s handsomely appointed set with the elegance of a panther, her feline seductiveness quick to turn fearsome the moment she doesn’t get her own way. And Stephens makes Elyot a unreconstructed public schoolboy, full of bluffness and a near-childish sense of humour as he turns to acerbically mock everyone around him. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Review: Pigeons, Royal Court

“Shit that went wrong right wrong (again)”

Spin number three on the Royal Court’s weekly rep wheel focuses on a new British writer Suhayla El-Bushra. Much of her previous work has been teen-focused, including Hollyoaks, and so it is little surprise that her play Pigeons centres on two childhood friends as they make the difficult transition into manhood in a world that dreams of multiculturalism. Through the haze of casual drug use, furtive blow-jobs under the counter, bunking off schools and listening to some bangin’ choons, Ashley and Amir find their lives inexorably pulled apart on different paths yet fatefully destined to clash together again. 

El-Bushra has fractured her timeline so that her play starts at the end and then moves back and forth in time to show the boys in the various stages of their relationship. A product of the care home system, Ashley loves playing the Sarf London wideboy with Ryan Sampson affecting some wonderfully vivid street speak, but he finds a kind of contentment in Amir’s family home. And along with Nav Sidhu’s Amir, they both enjoy the teenage rites of passage – Angela Terence’s Leah delivering their sexual awakenings – and the journey into something darker as the spectre of racial prejudice rears its ugly head. 

Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4


"What would this devastated world be without us?"

Radio 4 recently put together a season of work entitled Dangerous Visions, inspired by JG Ballard’s dystopian take on the near future and featuring adaptations of two of his works – Concrete Island and The Drowned World – alongside the responses of five contemporary writers on a similar theme. My favourite of the pieces that I managed to listen to was Graham White’s adaptation of The Drowned World, a moody exploration of a world wracked by solar flares which have caused the flooding of some of the major cities of the world. Not only that, the ecological crisis has brought with it a new evolutionary shift, but one which is regressive as humanity is forced to change in order to survive, even if it means reverting to a more primitive state of being.



Not having read the book, I can’t comment on the adaptation but it felt like a slickly told story, motoring through its central premise of the world going backwards, in all senses. We see this primarily through the eyes of lovers Beatrice and Kerans, the ever-excellent Hattie Morahan and James D’Arcy both in glorious vocal form, as their passion becomes increasingly primal. But also through the experiences of the people around them as Kerans is part of a scientific expedition to explore one last time before the newly watery world is abandoned. And there we see human behaviour degenerating, especially in the shape of Tim McInnerny’s pirate-like Strangman, out for selfish gain no matter the consequences. A powerfully evocative reading of the story makes this a recommended listen.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Review: The Drowned Man – A Hollywood Fable, Temple Studios


“Keep your masks on and remain silent at all times”


Such is the instruction as you enter the cavernous former Royal Mail sorting office in Paddington which has been transformed by the Punchdrunk team into Temple Studios, the venue for their biggest show to date - The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable. If you’ve been to a Punchdrunk show before, then this will come as no surprise to you (the masks are just as uncomfortable for glasses-wearers); if it is your first, then you should be prepared for something completely different (the masks will still be hot and uncomfortable!) 

Co-directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle are genuine pioneers of the style of site-specific immersive theatre that seems almost everyday now, yet their ethos is one which still manages to surprise people. They’re in the business of theatrical experiences rather than regular plays and so one should never approach one of their shows looking for traditional presentations of conventional narrative. Instead, the onus is on the audience to locate their own journey through the world that has been created, and find their own unique adventure.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

DVD Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 1


"We’re not burglars, we’re pensioners”

Going to the theatre as much as I do means that there’s a limit to the number of TV shows that I can watch as they air and so I have to make choices. And opting not to watch Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango to Halifax was one of the poorer decisions of recent times as I soon found out from the rapturous reception from many around me. But lucky boy that I am, the DVD of the show was one of my birthday presents and so I was able to binge on the six episodes over a weekend.

And of course it justified its Best Drama Series BAFTA within its opening minutes and completely entranced me with its world-beating quality and utter classiness. Its main premise is the reconnection between childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia who are now both widowed, in their 70s and just discovering the joys of Facebook. When their IT-literate grandchildren engineer a meeting between the pair, the old flame splutters back into life and we follow the gorgeously sensitive and romantic road that they tread to try and recapture that youthful happiness. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Review: Death Tax, Royal Court

“You’ve made up, in your head, a whole story about it”


Round two for the Royal Court’s six-week weekly rep sees Lucas Hnath’s Death Tax getting the intensive treatment of being put together in just a week, for a short run in the downstairs theatre. An ambitious project to be sure and one which got off to a challenging start last week with The President Has Come To See You, but this feels like firmer territory both in terms of stronger writing and a surer grasp from the company on the material. It may be as simple as the fact that I saw the first play earlier in the week than the second but the rough and ready approach seems better suited here.


Maxine is an 80 year old resident of a Florida nursing home and she thinks the world is out to get her, convinced that her daughter has paid her nurse to speed up her demise in order to beat a change in inheritance tax law. So she makes the nurse a counter-offer, a big pay-out if she stays alive until after the deadline. But with her health declining, all bets are off as to whether she will make it, assisted or otherwise, and Hnath shrewdly probes the motivations that push us to make the kind of morally questionable decisions that his characters face.


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Review: Fifty Words, Arcola

“This, so there’s no ambiguity, is foreplay”

The thin line between love and hate in married couples is a well-explored one dramatically but whilst Michael Weller’s Fifty Words may not cover any huge amount of new ground in revisiting this territory, this Theatre Royal Bath and Arcola Theatre co-production is blessed with two excoriatingly intense and bruisingly emotional performances from Claire Price and Richard Clothier. Between them, they perfectly capture the vicissitudes and complexities of a long-term relationship and the strains that accompany the successes.

Janine and Adam are relishing a rare opportunity to spend the evening together when their 9-year-old son Greg goes on his first sleepover. Adam’s got champagne in the fridge and a Chinese takeaway decanted into their best new serving dishes in anticipation of some long overdue sexy time but Janine’s got one eye on a presentation for a new work client the next day and so starts a downwards-spiralling rollercoaster as this couple decide to rip each other apart as opposed to ripping each other’s clothes off (although as we see, the two are not mutually exclusive), laying bare the dire state of their marriage.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Review: Blue Remembered Hills, Richmond Theatre

"That is the land of lost content"

You’d be forgiven for going with Beatrix if someone started talking about a story about children written by someone called Potter. But Blue Remembered Hills is the work of Dennis Potter, an altogether different proposition and indeed, Squirrel Nutkin would fear for his life even more than usual if he were present in this Forest of Dean setting. For this is no idyllic treatise on the joys of childhood but rather an acutely observed portrait of how brutal a time it can be and how difficult it is to cling to innocence.

Potter’s innovation here is to have his cast of seven 7-year-old characters played by adult actors. Spending a hot summer’s day in 1943 running up and down the grassy bank, playing at mummies and daddies or being aeroplanes, barely a care in the world one would think. But from the opening scene, any hint of a rose tinted glow is stripped away as the playwright lays bare a stark vision of society in all its viciousness, complexity and relentlessness – the group continually jostling for position to avoid the ignominy of being the last to be picked.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Review: The Night Alive, Donmar Warehouse


“What, in the name of Jaysus, is going on?” 

With their summer programme, the Donmar opted for a Conor McPherson double bill and so following on from the extremely good revival of The Weir is a new play from the Irish playwright – The Night Alive. And it is unmistakeably familiar territory – ruminative meanderings in an isolated Irish setting, probing into the delights, depths and depravity that humanity can stretch to in extraordinary circumstances but also in the day-to-day living of life. 

Well into middle age, Tommy is a chancer, skirting along the fringes of life in the bedsit he rents from his elderly drunken uncle as he tries to keep his ex-wife and kids at bay and make a success out of any number of crackpot schemes dreamed up with his pal Doc. When he comes to the rescue of the battered Aimee and brings her back to his abode to recuperate, she opens the door to the redemptive possibility of a new world but alongside the hope that she offers, comes a very real sense of danger. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Review: Happy New, Trafalgar Studios 2

“I could be the model Australian”

The Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel seems to have struck up quite the symbiotic relationship with the Trafalgar Studios 2 as a number of its productions have transferred there and the latest to make the leap to the Whitehall venue is Brendan Cowell’s Happy New. I decided to see it purely on the strength of the casting of Lisa Dillon and avoided reading anything about it in advance as it is a rare pleasure indeed that I see a play with no knowledge of what it is about. And it really paid off as the unexpected direction of the show and the way in which it progressed came as a genuine surprise and one which I’d recommend, going in blind if possible.

It’s a story alternately about the cruelty that humans can inflict on each other and the way in which the media are often guilty of exploiting human crises for their own gain and then dropping the subjects like hot potatoes when the next big story breaks. Traumatised by events from their past, Danny and Lyle are two brothers now living an almost hermetic existence in a tiny flat, with just the vibrant Pru as a conduit to the outside world though it becomes increasingly clear that her intentions are far from honourable. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review: The School for Scandal, Park Theatre

“I bear no malice to the people I abuse"

Sparkling reinterpretations of 18th century comedies have become something of an annual treat from Jessica Swale’s Red Handed Theatre company and following on from the delights of the Celia Imrie-starring The Rivals, the remounting of Hannah Cowley's The Belle's Stratagem and last year’s excellent The Busy Body, it is now the turn of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal to be primped and preened in their deliciously inimitable style. So for those as yet uninitiated to their ways, prepare for witty musical interludes and warmly embracing audience interaction as a vivacious ensemble romp through this comedy of manners.


Led by the machinations of the vicious-tongued Lady Sneerwell – Belinda Lang in epically glam form – Sheridan’s plot winds through a portion of the higher echelons of London society and exposes the gossip-fuelled hypocrisy at the heart of it. Lady Sneerwell wants others to suffer the loss of reputation she has; Sir Peter Teazle is concerned about the flightiness of his flirtatious younger wife; Sir Oliver Surface wants to test the mettle of his two nephews who stand to inherit his vast fortune; and above all, everyone wants to be the first to tell the juiciest pieces of gossip with the most salacious details.


Friday, 14 June 2013

Review: The Cripple of Inishmaan, Noël Coward

“If you’re going to talk about sheep deformities, hand me the bottle”


Third up for the Michael Grandage Company is ‘the Daniel Radcliffe one’, the first major revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan. But though it is being sold on the strength of its star, it is much more of an ensemble piece than first impressions would allow, as a picture of 1930s rural Irish life in all its brusque humour, unstinting relentlessness and occasional vicious kicks is built up. A break from the old routine is offered when a Hollywood film crew arrives on the neighbouring island of Inishmore and no-one is more excited about the opportunity than Cripple Billy, a young orphan lad blighted by physical disability from birth and who spots an opportunity to escape the blunt cruelty of the daily taunts.


Still in previews, Grandage’s production doesn’t quite seem to have decided how it wants to straddle the line between stereotypical olde Oirish sentimentality and McDonagh’s more brutal sensibilities which might be familiar to those that have seen The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Part of the problem lies in a vein of comedy that feels somewhat uninspired so it does, relying on the repeated utterances, without malice mind, of words and phrases that ought to jar in our more politically correct times. But this is essentially one gag extended throughout much of the show and it soon wears thin – the over-emphasis on how kookily different  things were back then and over there just isn’t enough to hang a play on, especially when Grandage is playing it as safe as this.


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth


“It’s the children…”

Well I don’t think anyone saw that coming. A darker spin-off from Doctor Who that took a little while to find its feet in its first couple of years, the third series of Torchwood – sub-titled Children of Earth – saw the show graduate to BBC1 (all the more impressive given its original BBC3 origins) with a 5-parter of some considerable drama that pushed the boundaries of anything previously shown in the Whoniverse (apologies for that word!) And though it is here due to being one of the first times that Lucy Cohu entered my consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised to find it populated with actors that I have latterly come to admire – Ian Gelder and Cush Jumbo in particular.

Children of Earth was so successful for me because although its main premise is rooted in the sci-fi world – a mysterious alien presence arrives on Earth, seizing control of the minds of all its children and demanding their sacrifice – so much of the conflict comes from the human drama, the moral ambiguities that arise as times of crisis require difficult decision making. And having established a Spooks-like level of turnover with its cast with the Series 2 finale, it added another, even crueller, twist of the screw, made all the more distressing for its unassuming nature.

Cast of Torchwood continued

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Review: The President Has Come To See You, Royal Court

“Do you know what is going on in Georgia?”

In a bold move as her opening salvo as incoming Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone has reimagined the way in which theatre is consumed in this venue with a range of innovative approaches suggested by a group of over 140 writers. The biggest of these is probably the Weekly Rep, a company of 14 actors and 4 directors performing 6 plays by new writers over 6 weeks, which started tonight with Georgian playwright Lasha Bugadze’s The President Has Come To See You, previously seen here as a rehearsed reading earlier in the year.

Knowing my all-or-nothing tendencies, I had hoped that the ensemble would be full of actors I did not care for so that I’d be able to resist booking, but it was not to be with the likes of a re-bearded Ferdy Roberts, Ryan Sampson, Laura Elphinstone and Siobhan Redmond luring me to Sloane Square, even though the prospect of the play itself did not really appeal. And it was that inner voice nagging away that I ought to have paid more attention to, as the bizarre twists and turns of this post-Soviet surrealist adventure left me cold.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Review: Dances of Death, Gate

“My nature may be flawed but I struggle to overcome it"

Is there anything more annoying than someone else having the same good idea as you at more or less the same time. Given the length of time it must take to actually commission a new version of a play and bring it to the stage, who knows when or whether these two coincided but either way, London now has its second new adaptation of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death in six months. Conor McPherson refreshed the play as part of the Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 but here at the Gate Theatre, Howard Brenton has taken a slightly different tack, incorporating the lesser seen second part to create Dances of Death

The play, as with much of Strindberg’s work, is a barrel of laughs. Edgar and Alice live on a remote Swedish island which is dominated by a military barracks but though they have been married for nearly 30 years, their relationship has deteriorated into a bitterly toxic mess as their disappointments in each other and the world around them has poisoned them to the point where it is this very hatred that sustains them. So much so, that the arrival of Kurt, a figure from their past, merely offers a new dimension to their war games as opposed to a potential exit strategy. It is vicious, bitter stuff, and in the intimacy of the Gate, ought to be near-unbearable.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre

“Ain’t nobody born that infallible”

Reader, I ovated. It is a rare occasion indeed that I actually give a standing ovation, more often than not I think about it and don’t do it but just occasionally, one bears witness to something in a theatre that is just irresistibly, incandescently amazing that the only response is to get on one’s feet. For me, it was Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s simply extraordinary performance as Sister Margaret Alexander that beats powerfully at the heart of The Amen Corner, a revival of a 1965 American play by James Baldwin, that fills the Olivier Theatre with the glorious sound of the London Community Gospel Choir.

Jean-Baptiste’s Sister Margaret is the fiercely passionate leader of her local church in Harlem and living underneath with her sister Odessa and 18 year old son David, she leads her congregation with an iron fist of religious fervour. But trouble is brewing with discontent rumbling in the group of church elders who are looking for an opportunity to oust their leader and when her long estranged husband Luke turns up unexpectedly, they seize the moment as it turns out that their glorious leader may not be as blemish-free as she would have them believe.

Cast of The Amen Corner continued


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Review: Spamalot, Playhouse


“We're opera mad in Camelot
We sing from the diaphragm a lot”

Though Joe Pasquale may be joining the cast of Spamalot from the 17th June to play King Arthur for six weeks, I would say that now is actually a great time to go and see the show at the Playhouse Theatre, tucked away down by Embankment station. Though it may arguably lack a ‘star name’, what it does offer is an extremely strong piece of musical theatre, delivered excellently by bona fide musical theatre performers, and none more so than Robin Armstrong who makes for an utterly adorable central presence as the King of the Britons.

I only actually saw the show for the first time when it started its tour backin 2010 as since we never really watched Monty Python in our household as kids, the show held no fascination for me when it was in the West End. But its utter silliness and its determination not to take itself too seriously at all won me over and so I was more than happy to make a return visit, especially given the names that were popping up in the cast. 


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Review: Strange Interlude, National Theatre

“What am I doing here?”

When a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude was first announced as part of the National Theatre’s summer programme, the five hour running time of the original struck a note of fear in many a heart of those who are used to the cheap seats in the Lyttelton Theatre. And though it has been trimmed down to 3 hours 20 minutes in Simon Godwin’s production, it still proves something of a considerable challenge – not least because I could not see for the life of me why it has been revived.

Due to its length and winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1928, it is no surprise that it ticks the ‘rarely performed classics’ box and featuring an absolute doozy of a central female role in Nina Leeds, it is no typical piece of theatre. Sadly, its main innovation – characters speaking their many, many internal thoughts out loud as asides – is one which felt far too similar to last week’s Passion Play to really impress. And it also makes what ought to be more seriously considered drama into an unexpected campfest that feels more like an American soap opera like Dynasty or Sunset Beach but with none of the schlocky enjoyment.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Review: Chimerica, Almeida


“I’m looking for the Tank Man” 

There’s a moment of genius near the end of Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Chimerica that manages that all-too-rare feat of managing to unearth something genuinely new out of the familiar, challenging the way we hold viewpoints and the assumptions that come with them. It is a startling realisation, excellently executed and one which allows for an interesting reinterpretation of what has gone before. Kirkwood’s subject is the fast-changing and complex relationship between China and the USA and sprawls ambitiously over 24 years and multiple storylines to create an unwieldy epic, co-produced with Headlong, that just might be one of the most interesting and exciting pieces of new writing in London.

At the heart of the story is Joe Schofield, a photojournalist responsible for one of the iconic images of the twentieth century in capturing the moment a protestor stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, who gets the sniff of a new story when he finds out the man might be living in America. As he pursues this new lead through the nooks and crannies of Chinatown to glittering political fundraisers, his singlemindedness threatens his relationships with the friends and lovers around him, but also with his key Chinese friend and contact for whom the price to pay is significantly higher. 


Cast of Chimerica continued

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Review: Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall, Soho Theatre

“I didn’t realise things would be so fucking intense”

The lives of the two characters in Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall start off the most mundane of circumstances: tales of crowded commuting, office politics at the lower end of the scale, doing battle with mercenary credit card and mobile phone companies. But the niggling unease at the stifling monotony of the 9 to 5 has been building up for far too long and when war breaks out in some far-off land, it triggers some deep contemplation into how everyday life there would be affected and in turn provokes a questioning of their own existence.Thus we bear witness to their lives simultaneously imploding and exploding into jagged chaos.

Brad Birch’s enigmatic writing was sparked by a piece of his own poetry – the 4.5 pages of an introduction to the playtext may seem indulgent but actually prove an interesting read – and it maintains much of that feel. A lyrical complexity plays with repeated imagery and phrases to enrich the at-times gnomic text with a sense of thematic unity, but Birch mainly eschews simplistic narrative for an opaqueness of meaning and purpose which frustrates as much as it intrigues.

Review: Pastoral, Soho Theatre

“They got me outside Habitat”

Thomas Eccleshare’s Pastoral came highly recommended to me, having transferred to the Soho Theatre after premiering at HighTide, but I have to say that this bleakly comic take on ecological catastrophe left me rather cold. All rational people know that whatever ever they offer you, [you] don’t feed the plants, but somebody seems to have ignored that and consequently this version of England is being taken over by the countryside. Hunting for an escape, a small group of people take shelter in a house as they struggle to adapt to their new circumstances but it soon becomes clear that Mother Nature is being a bitch tonight. 

That said, they’re closer to having a kiki than you might think. Eccleshare invests his characters with a mordant sense of humour from the off, primarily in Anna Calder-Marshall’s excellent Moll who rips through her dislikes with zero regard for political correctness. The arrival of a family unit seems to locate us further in single-room sitcom territory, especially as the tales that everyone tells of their disintegrating world are of unlikely sightings such as wild mushrooms growing in Subway, rabbits in Aldi and a babbling brook complete with herons and kingfishers breaking through outside of Nandos.