Archive for the 'Theatre' Category

Antigone, National Theatre

June 5, 2012

Christopher Eccelston as Creon, with Jodie Whittaker as Antigone

The downfall of a leader who has the arrogance to believe his views are the wishes of God and so rules against the will of his people: now there’s a cautionary tale for our times. Sophocles’s tragedy may be 2,500 years old, but there is much timely relevance to mine here in the National’s new production of Antigone.

The third of the Theban plays is about as pitch as tragedy gets. Creon succeeds to the throne on the death of his two nephews, who die fighting each other for the succession. In his role as newly appointed leader, Creon decrees that the brother who died defending his country will receive a proper burial, and the other will not. Furthermore, anyone who attempts to bury the disgraced brother will face death. Step up Antigone, sister to the two brothers.

The horror of the piece is further impounded by the familial history entangling the characters. Antigone and her siblings are the offspring of Oedipus and his mother Jocasta, while Creon is the brother of Jocasta and therefore Antigone’s Uncle. Antigone happens to be romantically involved with her cousin Haemon, Creon’s son.

Director Polly Findlay sets the play in a concrete military bunker in what could be the 1970s. As the action unfolds, a tableau is struck – a group of leaders captured as they watch two men killed on a screen. It is a near exact recreation of that Osama bin Laden photograph, complete with a blonde-bobbed Zoe Aldrich as Creon’s wife Eurydice, temporarily evoking Secretary of State Clinton, in the much-discussed hands-over-her-mouth pose.

It’s a bold opener, and the modern day references continue. The large state portrait hanging over the scene evokes an American President, maybe George W Bush. The madness, the delusion, the destruction and the killing could refer to any number of modern day leaders from Mugabe to Assad.

But surely the finger points most deliberately towards Tony Blair. The man accused of eroding a democracy, of reducing a cabinet where he was ‘first amongst equals’ to the point where it became almost a dictatorship. As Creon stands in the final scenes, covered in the blood of his niece, son and wife, whose deaths are directly attributed to his decree and unmoveable belief that he alone is right, one cannot help but think of Blair, the bloodshed in Iraq, and even David Kelly and 7/7. Much has been made of Blair’s conversion to Catholicism and his admission that he turned to God when deciding whether or not to send troops into Iraq. Here Creon similarly quotes God in his decision to condemn Antigone. And the Blair parallels resonate throughout Don Taylor’s text; there is much talk of the state, of terror and terrorism here, and of two dead young men – one who can be buried honourably as a soldier who patriotically died fighting for his country, the other a traitor who attacked his own people.

Christopher Eccleston is supremely, unremittingly evil as the deluded despot Creon. Surrounded by a chorus of yes men, he commands the stage with ferocious energy – his body and speech acting in opposition to each other to create a lively, jangling realism. Jodie Whittaker shines, but never quite tugs at the heartstrings, as the solid, determined martyr Antigone, and Luke Newberry turns in a convincing, impassioned performance as her lover, and son of Creon, Haemon.

But ultimately, the modern-day conceit never quite comes off. The actors and the action are somehow confined by the millennia old format: the long monologues, interspersed with the chorus responses; the one set; the bloodshed taking place off stage. It all adds up to leave the actors caged and restricted, so that the piece never fully comes to life, but remains flat and two dimensional. Eccelston’s brilliant, nuanced delivery of the language manages to transcend, and his performance is worth the ticket price alone, but he is the only actor to really successfully do this.

The unwillingness to root the play decisively in any one decade, era, country or regime, leaves the audience dangling; the modern-day parallels hinted at, but never quite confirmed. When Creon announces that Antigone will be buried alive, the Blair analogy is shattered, and suddenly we are transported to Saudi Arabia perhaps, where women are still stoned to death. Eccleston and Whittaker’s Northern accents befuddle things further. It’s all a bit confusing and unsatisfying.

A full modern-day update is never fully realised, as the play is still centred on the Greek belief system. Antigone is willing to go to her death to secure a holy burial for her brother. When Tiresias, the blind prophet, tells Creon of his visions and prophecies, such is the Greek belief in the power of the Gods to damn for all time, that Creon quickly performs an about-turn. Central tenets such as this are never fully integrated into the setting and thus constantly return to jar and alienate this modern proposal.

Antigone continues at The National Theatre until July 21 (020 7452 3000, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk)

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Mother Goose, Hackney Empire

December 14, 2008

 

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Something is rotten in the land of Hackneytopia. Mother Goose has acquired a goose that lays golden eggs but the riches have gone to her head, and wicked witch Vanity threatens evil and disaster to all who cross her path. 

Hackney Empire has pulled out all the stops for its 10th anniversary self-produced panto, as usual written and directed by Susie McKenna, who also plays wicked witch Vanity, with a stunning staging and terrific cast. Sharon D Clarke is transfixing as white witch Charity, a purple-wigged disco diva whose rich voice is truly spine-tingling. Clive Rowe uses his booming voice and beaming, cherubic face to create a divine dame Mother Goose with an endearing softness. And when the two sing together, well, you just don’t want it to stop.

The supporting cast work overtime to electrify the stage at all times. A wonderfully expressive goose with moving eyelids, made by puppeteer Scott Brooker, threatens to steal the show. There are puppets that swoop across the audience, body-popping skeletons and the cutest baby bear you ever did see. Warm-hearted and joyful, this show is a riot from start to finish. 

This piece first appeared in The Observer Review.

Edinburgh Festival 2008

August 12, 2008
Chad Ehlers/Getty

Photo: Chad Ehlers/Getty

32 theatre shows, 17 comedy gigs, six art exhibitions, one giant hill, a few million raindrops and 12 days later – I need a pedicure!

What a charming city and fantastic buzzing festival.

Week two theatre reviews for Observer Review here:

Week three theatre reviews for Observer Review here:

David Oyelowo

April 6, 2008

David Oyelowo, star of Spooks, was photographed for Underexposed, an exhibition that celebrates black actors by Franklyn Rogers, now showing at the National Portrait Gallery and in London Underground stations. It is curated by Fraser James.

Were you concerned about being part of a project that defined you by your skin colour?

I’ve spent a lot of my career trying to come away from the term ‘black actor’, but at the same time, black actors in the UK are at a crossroads; a point beyond which things could genuinely get better or could digress again. If it takes something like this to generate attention and interest, then I’m very happy to put my name to it.

Is the situation bad in Britain?

Yes, it definitely is, and for all sorts of reasons. I have had a lot of opportunities in the UK, but in order to keep that going I’ve had to move to the States. In America there is an audience who have been educated about seeing black people in things, so producers don’t balk at the idea of putting black actors into productions. In the UK there seems to be this weird perception that there isn’t an audience for black leads or high-profile black projects.

Who were your role models?

All my role models were American actors – not black British actors. I looked up to people like Adrian Lester, Lennie James and David Harewood, but they were people I saw as a kind of bridge to becoming Denzel Washington, which is sad, but it was just the fact of the matter at the time.

This interview first appeared in Observer Review

Miriam Karlin

March 2, 2008

Interview with Carey Mulligan

December 30, 2007

When Carey Mulligan asks, she usually gets. The 22-year-old actress made her first lucky strike, having never been to drama school or university, when she wrote to Julian Fellowes with a request for advice and support. He introduced her to friends who offered her an audition, leading to her role as Kitty in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice at the age of 19. Next came the BBC’s acclaimed adaptation of Bleak House

Landing the role of Nina in the Royal Court’s Seagull this year was another piece of wish-fulfilment. No sooner had she told her boyfriend she would love to play the part than her agent rang. At first, Mulligan thought she had taken on too much: ‘I would come away at the end of every evening in the first week of rehearsals crying. I felt like the smallest, tiniest person in the room’ but it soon became one of the happiest times of her life and garnered glowing reviews.

Mulligan is now rehearsing for a small part in the Jim Sheridan film Brothers and will start on an independent British film in March. Next on the wishlist is a move away from costume drama. ‘I want a gun and a car chase,’ she says with a laugh, although she would make an exception to play Ophelia to Jude Law’s Hamlet in the 2009 Kenneth Branagh production. In true Mulligan style, she has ‘told everyone I know just in case they happen to know Kenneth Branagh’.

This interview first appeared in Observer Review’s New Faces of 2008 piece

Meera Syal

June 10, 2007

Interview with Anne-Marie Duff

June 10, 2007

Age: 36

Training: Drama Centre

Coming up: Saint Joan at The National (opens 4 July). Irish film Garage just shown at Cannes.

Big break: ‘I’ve never turned on a sixpence. It was an quite old-fashioned trajectory really. Commercially it would probably be Shameless. It would be daft to deny it.’

Career high: ‘I’m on a high at the moment. It’s not often you get to be in the rehearsal room with 21 men and just you. To be doing Saint Joan is a dream come true. When I got the phone call I had to sit down on the sofa for about five minutes.’

Are you proud to be British? ‘I’m very proud of our astonishing writing.’

Why is British acting so good? ‘Perhaps it’s the training, perhaps it’s a natural aptitude.’

This interview first appeared in Observer Review’s Why Britannia Still Rules the Stage piece

Paterson Joseph

June 10, 2007

In The Emperor Jones at London’s National Theatre

Matthew Mcfadyen

June 10, 2007

As Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (2005)