Andrew Haydon: theatre editor
Andrew Haydon is a freelance theatre critic, theatre edtior at Culture Wars, and co-editor of the audio-website TheatreVoice.com. He is a regular guest on 18 Doughty Street‘s Culture Clash and has reviewed plays for Matthew Wright’s Weekender show on BBC Radio 2. He also script-reads for several London theatres including the Royal Court. His book Raw Talent: 50 Years of the National Student Drama Festival is published by Oberon. He regularly posts on issues in the arts on his blog Postcards from the Gods.
Shechter’s famous signature style is a kind of three-way collision between Jewish folk dancing, the more classical structures and shapes of ballet, and the sort of dancing to dance music that was popular when I was about 15. It’s also reminiscent of the sort of dancing you maybe saw native Americans doing in some old and probably racist cowboys and ‘Indians’ films.
This element of the staging also added to the problems of the message the play might or might not have been intentionally delivering. After all, this grand piano looming over them did take on an immensely powerful symbolic role. It looked a bit like they’d decided to put up a symbol for God, and that they’d decided God was probably German culture.
In a way, one wonders if this isn’t the stealthiest manifestation yet of Nick Hytner’s search for the Great Right-Wing Play. There’s certainly much here to delight everyone from the Countryside Alliance to the Daily Mail. And yet it’s a complete delight.
And yet, by ignoring all this – stage directions, seemingly the tone of the play, perhaps the best way of making the dynamic of the text work – Sheibani’s production is actually total regietheater, albeit, a sort of British stealth regietheater which looks like it’s making a modest, serving-the-text version of the play.
Rather than saying: ‘Come! See the proles in recreations of their natural habitat!’, it seems to be saying: ‘look at yourselves looking at this, and have a think about that’. Indeed, it makes a strong case for every play purporting to be anthropological being staged in glass cases in museums so that everyone watching is made aware of this.
What on earth makes Bhatti think that her inability to write is interesting or important enough to make people watch it? Anyone who’s read Behzti already knows she can’t write. Behud only serves to confirm that a bit of suffering doesn’t have the slightest effect on ability, and nor does it confer nobility on the attempt.
Its problem is/might be that it walks perilously close to that most damning of lines drawn by the British mind: the suspicion that it ‘might be a bit wanky’. Mostly it’s charming and playful enough to shrug off such charges, but there are definitely moments where you’re not sure whether it’s walked over the line into self-parody or even self-indulgently not-caring-about-being-wanky.
Schnitzler was quite the keen social critic. It turns out that the main theme of Liebelei is, in fact, class. In fact, fin-de-siècle Vienna offers an even more rigidly stratified system than that of contemporary Britain. The thing is, you’d be hard pressed to spot it here unless you were really up on the period’s specific social codes and signifiers.
Any actress could have stood there and looked beautiful, but virtually no one else could have brought so much of the baggage of fame with them. And she’s no slouch at the part itself. The text calls for someone iconic, but also a character who is believed to be slutty on screen and off. Knightley plays it more coquettish than sexually voracious. The crucial point is that while using her sexuality to get on in the world, Jennifer is in fact completely faithfully devoted to Alceste.
The effect of framing Caliban’s Day with The Habit of Art is to lift the potentially over-heavy original and allow some much needed lightness to circulate around it. It possibly says something about Bennett’s limitations as a dramatist that he feels the need to do this in the most literal manner imaginable, but the net effect is not dissimilar to the way in which younger, less naturalistically concerned companies deploy a similar effect.
John and his boyfriend, M (for Man, we suppose) are bickering. They’ve been together a long time, the spark has gone. John leaves. John comes back. He’s slept with a woman (‘W’ unsurprisingly). All of a sudden his ideas of who he is, ‘what’ he is, have been turned on their head.
Watching it mostly on television from a sofa by the bar on the stage, it felt like I was seeing perhaps the best version possible. I could look over and see the ‘real’ Mark Anthony hailing a ‘real’ audience. Or I could watch the close up, being live-fed into the TV in front of me, along with dozens of my fellow audience members.
Enron isn’t a play that preaches resistance or suggests alternatives. On a very basic level it isn’t trying to. It ably and entertainingly tells how a handful of very clever men tried to conjure a lot of money out of thin air and weren’t quite clever enough to be able to do so.
Given how pressing the issues are, it is strange how uninteresting ..Yes manages to make them. In a way, it feels like it’s because the whole thing is mediated through ‘Hare’ – this fictional construct of an actual playwright. It’s not about the financial crisis, it’s about his interest in it. And it feels like that’s the thing we should be interested in.
Being written by a Pole, Our Class allows perhaps less optimism than an external eye might have granted. This is a document of savage national self-criticism, unflinching in its accusations. It points at quislings and failures of heroism, it shows that – unprompted, unbidden – a townspeople took it upon themselves to commit mass murder.
A performer takes off her shoes, puts them on her hands and dances, violently. This is much more fully realised dancing than the movement of the first part. It is also intensely, jarringly difficult to watch. The dance itself is hard enough, underscored by pained strings and wailing voice, the body spasms and rips at itself. All the while, exposed skin flirts with shards of glass.
The play resonates on a number of levels, like an If… for the post-ideology generation. It suggests the way that intelligence and sensitivity can be curdled into unacknowledged proto-fascism by pettiness and the meaninglessness of everyday teenage life.
Karl and Franz are at once two brothers, embodiments of East and West Germany, and at times almost pure ciphers for Capitalist and Socialist ideology. What is exciting is that these positions are not fixed. There is a sense that both figures on stage continually exist on all three levels, forcing the audience to keep re-reading their relationship with what is being said and done.
Modern Britons have, for the most part, done a good job of cutting family ties. Sabrina is a prime example of a modern, single woman for whom her close friends are her family. What Shades offers is a rare insight into the lives of those living in Britain for whom family is more important than love.
Ramin Gray’s production of this gorgeously fractured text is a masterclass in chilly minimalism. He trusts the audience to pick up on the way in which the piece operates, never once spelling things out, nor resorting to dumb underlining.
Bean centres much of the action around a pub with a kind of eternal landlady (Sophie Stanton – whose cries of ‘Facking Frogs!’, ‘Facking Micks!’, ‘Facking Yids!’ herald the arrival of each new group) and her perky daughter (Michelle Terry), who at each point in history falls into bed with one of the immigrants.
Dramaturgically speaking it’s a bit of a mess, and it almost certainly doesn’t deserve the audience numbers it is going to get. However, if it persuades even half those audience members that they can cope with a bit of abstraction and movement, then it may end up doing the country’s theatrical scene no end of good.
By the time Ivanov and Shabelsky arrive on the scene, their presence has been so neatly set up that we are as pleased by their arrival at the party as those on stage. What looked like Malcolm Sinclair playing Shabelsky as a caricature is suddenly understandable as Shabelsky’s presentation of himself using a brittle veneer of upper-class-twittery to hide a bereaved man soaked in self-pity and drink.
The whole school of Grim Up North drama has been so mercilessly parodied it should be nigh-on impossible to take these scenes of a family shouting at each other in northern accents even slightly seriously. It is a tribute to Graham’s writing, Wasserberg’s excellent direction and the fine cast, that such worries hardly ever raise their heads.
This could be pure theatre located right at the heart of something horribly real. It could be a deplorably cheap co-opting of personal tragedy for theatrical gain. Or, elsewhere, some of the speculative dialogue around questions of loyalty, duty and even love within abusive relationships, suggest a more serious enquiry.
Watching TV in a hotel room is less like theatre than one might hope. The video, while competently made, is not as compelling as it could be. Were this a truly interactive experience, surely the audience should be free to flick over to some curious Spanish language MTV channel to watch eighties pop videos for the remainder of the show if they want.
Once Kinnear is divested of the ludicrous wig and beard for his disguise, the play snaps into life and the caustic misanthropy of the plot takes hold. From here on in, aside from the occasional dull patch, the play whizzes along at quite a pace. Kinnear’s performance is incredibly precise.
The whole of the Trojan war seems reduced to a fight between a Vauxhall gay S&M club and an Abercrombie and Fitch advert. The Trojans are all white vests, khakis and linen jackets, while the Greeks wear black combats, leather, and the occasional SS-style uniform
The characters are ultimately selfish and cowardly, while all commitment to higher ideals result in failure or disappointment. Their failings are all the more depressing for ringing so horribly true. Publishing and the media are depicted as cynical and largely worthless, while academia and work of artistic merit are by turns elitist or futile.
Elliot Cowan’s Lowell pretending to stand outside in the cold waiting for a taxi is the first time in ages that I’ve seen an actor on stage, indoors, who has actually looked like they might be outdoors in the elements; the way he stands in relation to the imagined space is spot on.
It is not naturalism, but almost the sound of interlocking soliloquies, or perhaps spoken arias, given the heightened emotional states and the musical precision of the language and vocal performances. This is a fascinating and quite unique work from a writer who remains a continual challenge to received notions of what theatre should be.
Ravenhill’s refusal to simply trot out uninterrogated truisms of either side, plus the impressive array of recurring devices which bind the plays together, confirm his reputation as an impressive thinker as well as a leading writer.
The tone of the piece is at once playful and horribly serious - the same sort of sarcastic, ironic voice as the one that permeates Martin Crimp’s more post-modern offerings, with a fair amount of Chuck Palaniuk-style viscera thrown in for good measure. The way the piece ranges through the lives of the three or four women it describes sets up a fascinating matrix of possible comparisons and commentaries.
So, the son of a very wealthy couple both working in professions typically characterised as right-leaning (corporate law and wealth management) has smacked the child of a self-made man and a bleeding heart liberal in the face. Could it get any more obvious? Well, no; but it can get several layers more opaque. Allegiances form and crumble with surprising alacrity
Transferring to the Royal Court after making a big splash on the Fringe in Edinburgh last year, Fiona Evans’s Scarborough has doubled its length in transit. Now her meticulously detailed, ultra-realist depiction of a ‘dirty weekend’ shared by a PE teacher in her late twenties and her nearly-sixteen-year-old lover has acquired a transgendered second half.
If nothing else, the National’s latest offering is guaranteed to divide opinion. Peter Handke’s 1992 play lasts for an hour and a half, during which not a recognisable word is spoken. There are 450 characters, played by a company of 27, and no real narrative in any conventional sense of the word.
Helter Skelter builds up to the most obvious conclusion since, well, Land of the Dead. As soon as the wife figure walks in with an enormous pregnancy, in a bright, white dress and sits at a table ostentatiously laid with steak knives, and her cheating husband pleads: ‘Will you stop? Please?’, we know where this is going.
Rather than recognising allusions, one is constantly drawing and re-drawing a kind of narrative network of relationships between the six performers. While the whole is not seeking to create a ‘story’ in any traditional sense of the word, there is a sense of progression, of development.
Montevideoaki presents footage of Mr Umeda busting more of his moves in front of a selection of gritty urban landscapes and tranquil ocean views, along with another thumping industrial soundtrack. The piece as a whole is oddly suggestive of Justin Timberlake crossed with Ian Curtis dancing in a Nine Inch Nails video.
For something being marketed as a posh panto - and I swear in the audience with which I saw it, there was honestly a seven-year-old boy wearing plus-fours - this was very much stuck in tabloid culture, with re-heated Catherine Tate routines, jokes about TV programmes and adverts.
Trevor Nunn’s new production of King Lear is a reassuringly traditional affair. It opens, confusingly enough, with the same massive organ swell as Arcade Fire’s ‘Intervention’, although, sadly, doesn’t follow through with the rest of the song. Instead, a tableau establishes the Lear family as a 19th century Russian dynasty: all Cossack hats and military uniforms, greatcoats and elegant ball dresses.
The Royal Court’s final offering in its largely excellent international season (Kebab being the one exception) offers a double bill of one Swedish and one Ukrainian play. Clocking in at one hour fifteen, including a fifteen minute interval, this is theatre-going at its most relaxed.
The final main stage production of Dominic Cooke’s first year as Artistic Director at the Royal Court neatly synthesises two of his new regime’s most notable features: a new spirit of internationalism, and the much-discussed ambition to ask difficult questions about the theatre’s predominantly white, middle-class, liberal audience.
However you look at it, this really is a terrible film: bad cinema, bad Shakespeare, bad everything. Branagh has a made a selection of accessible, popular, well-made and generally enjoyable adaptations of Shakespeare for cinema. It is hard to guess what went so dreadfully wrong this time.
The piece acknowledges early on that it is a depiction of one specific relationship which exists on a spectrum of preferences in the BDSM continuum. It is not especially a ‘defence’ – should a defence be needed - of the practices depicted. Nor is it an explicit championing of them.
Two one-woman monologues, both set in Northern Ireland, and apparently written by writers who know one another. Mercifully, the comparisons end there. As an exercise in contrasts this is an object lesson in the sheer disparity of ways to tackle a monologue successfully.
What lifts this show several notches above its competitors is the subtle use and sheer range of the pop-cultural quotation deployed by Shoshona Currier’s sharp script: Phaedre compares her early love of Theseus to ‘Katie watching Tom in Risky Business’; there are allusions to Britney, Paris and Diana.
As Spooner genially comments, this stuff is pretty much mind-blowing. Spooner then goes on to consider what teleportation might mean for humanity. His basic premise is that progress is never stoppable. Once something has been invented, it can’t easily be forgotten, hidden or banned.
Funny, witty and wearing its evidently thorough intellectual credentials lightly, this is an intelligent bit of writing. It is also a useful, if not definitive, addition to the rapidly growing corpus of plays concerning the meeting of cultures in the Middle East.
This production offers perhaps the freshest take on Gogol seen for some time, since it takes the unusual step of intercutting this tale of a man driven mad by the loss of his perfect frock coat with a narrative charting the rise and fall of a relationship between two young professionals in contemporary Britain.
Of course there is some discussion of Johnson’s politics, but it is kept at a very general level; quite possibly, one suspects, to avoid alienating the significant proportion of the Boris fanbase who either care not one jot about his policies, or enjoy Boris-the-personality in spite of them.
The terms of the debate on prostitution have moved a very long way from the ground trodden by these two plays. These developments reflect little of the realities facing those who sell sex for money, but failing to recognise that simple-minded horror stories do not give the whole picture does no one any favours.
What this book fails to address is precisely that which it sets out to explore - what level of effect on journalism does PR have? Does PR compromise or enhance the public’s understanding of the world? And is there sometimes a case to be made suggesting that PR offers a better degree of truth than journalism?
Theatrical tricksiness, combined with acerbic wit, prevents the romantic side of this comedy ever threatening to turn the whole into a unappealing slushy mess. Nonetheless, the show still manages to pull off one of the most unashamed feelgood endings you’re likely to see this Edinburgh.
There were times when this frenetic activity felt as if it could have been the work of a young Caryl Churchill. Sadly, the play remains at the level of an interesting experiment, but it is tempting to think that this will not be the last we hear of a writer or cast with much energy behind them.
Arranged under four headings - War, Race, Politics and Culture - the collection is desperately in need of a strong editorial hand. Interested parties could probably make a better fist of it themselves: go to the Guardian website, do a search for ‘Gary Younge,’ and copy all the articles which appeal into a Word document. Hey presto!
There is still discomfiture about verbatim theatre, with many writers complaining that its works do not count as ‘proper plays.’ For all that, Cruising is well structured, funny and touching - irrespective of whether it is made up, entirely true, or fragments of truth edited into a more coherent entity.
Part of the reason for the play’s popularity lies in the endless reinventions of the staging, and the effect this has on our understanding of the fractured narratives that criss-cross the play, which resembles Eliot’s The Wasteland in terms both of style and of the sheer scale of the literary kleptomania.