Tag Archives: National Theatre

National Theatre’s August-November Season

15 Jul

Have I ever waxed poetic about my love for the National Theatre? Have I confessed that I even got myself a shirt? Is there a thing called an NT groupie? If you can not seem to get hold of me on a Monday or a Thursday evening, it’s a fair bet that I’ll be here enjoying a play, and then later on having a brief encounter with Simon Russell Beale outside the stage door. Awwwww!!!

I want to call myself an NT habitue having seen over a dozen or so productions in the last 6 months and yet everytime I cross the Waterloo Bridge, and get off the bus stop and walk down the steps that lead me to the building, I can’t still help but still be in awe, well, Sir Laurence Olivier’s statue on the foreground does add more to the enigma of the place but I suppose it’s really because it’s one of the best places to be if you are looking to enjoy really good theatre. Sure it’s had it shares of critical flops, but it has continued to produce brilliant productions and among them are the ones that have just released for the upcoming season and I have booked to see.

I have already booked A Slight Ache for July and August and this is because I will be in the Philippines for a month’s holiday and would not get to see any plays until I get back mid-September. So imagine to my great surprise when I found out that there will be a Harold Pinter double biller wherein apart from A Slight Ache there is also Landscape, which is a series of monologues to be performed by Clare Higgins and Simon Russell Beale. Yeah, yeah, yeah, monologues are not really my thing, but come on, it’s Simon Russell Beale, even if he was reading a phone book I will gladly pay and listen to him!

Then there’s the return of War Horse which I missed the last time but now have managed to book and  having deliberately missed God of Carnage, I have been waiting to see Ralph Fiennes star in Oedipus by Sophocles in a new version by Frank McGuiness. The Pitmen Painters which I enjoyed the last time at the Cottesloe is also making a comeback this time at the Lyttelton in January, and I just might watch it again. There’s surely something for each and everyone, say if youre like my friend Morbius, whose a James Bond fan, there’s a platform with Roger Moore and if you’re a Doctor Who nut, there’s one with Russell T. Davies, so go and check the National Theatre’s website now!

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National Theatre’s May-August Season

12 Apr

This is it. It’s official. I am absolutely theatre-crazy and I need to be committed soon and commenced on some kind of treatment. But what exactly would do me good? I’d say doses and doses of productions with Simon Russell Beale please! And you know what, I am getting it alright, thanks to the National’s upcoming new season of plays from May to August which will include Harold Pinter’s A Slight Ache starring my dear SRB and Clare Higgins. It will play before Never So Good at the Lyttelton, all tickets only for £10. More performances have also been announced for Major Barbara and it looks like I am going to see it again more than once! YAY!

I thought Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis is quite interesting with Corin Redgrave reviving his NT performance from 2000, it will play before sister Vanessa’s The Year of Magical Thinking also at the Lyttelton. Director Katie Mitchell is back at the National this time on …some trace of her, inspired by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot which she also adapted. It stars Ben Whishaw (Perfume) and Hattie Morahan (Sense & Sensibility) whom Mitchell also directed in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, also at the National.

There are a lot of new productions at the National for this summer but these are the ones I was very keen on seeing so I just booked them. Public booking is not open until 22 April but if you join as an advanced member you can start booking now.

Visit the National’s website here

OST Review: Leonard Bernstein’s Candide

11 Apr

Music by Leonard Bernstein [1956], Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein

Book adapted from Voltaire [1758]
by Hugh Wheeler, in a new version by John Caird [1999]

Voltaire’s towering work of comic and philosophical genius is one of the glories of 18th-century satire and is as relevant today as when it was first written. Candide explores a world that is dominated by violence, greed, war, hatred and a series of catastrophic events seemingly unmitigated by goodness, truth, beauty or God. Voltaire’s great achievement is to temper his merciless analysis of human cruelty, and the apparent emptiness of heaven, with extraordinary wit and good humour. While disturbed by his story, we also find ourselves laughing uproariously at it. Add one of Leonard Bernstein’s most brilliant scores and Richard Wilbur’s witty lyrics to this heady mix, and you have a work of unalloyed pleasure. – National Theatre

This is what a new love does to me. I devour almost everything I can about them. And it’s just how I have always done things when I start loving someone, in this case with Simon Russell Beale, dubbed and not just hyped mind you, but is admittedly “the finest classical stage actor of his generation”. You just have to prove this by checking out any production he has starred in, in this case, I checked out his role as Voltaire/Pangloss in the National’s 1999 revival of Bernstein’s Candide which gave SRB the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 2000 (1999 season) for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance. Brilliant isn’t he?

So I decided to purchase the OST from Amazon UK and I just love, love, love it! It was great listening to SRB singing as Pangloss, his enunciation even whilst singing was perfect! My favorite tracks are, The Best of All Possible Worlds, Dear Boy, Oh Happy We, Candide’s Lament, Glitter and Be Gay, I Am Easily Assimilated, Make Our Garden Grow among others. I regret not having seen this production but Candide will be staged by the English National Opera (ENO) come June closing the ENO season with style. I am tempted mind you!

Candide OST: 5/5

NT’s 1999 Candide: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/Candide+1277.twl

ENO’s 2008 Candide: https://www.tickets.eno.org/show.as

Theatre Review: Never So Good

20 Mar

Plot: Set against a back-drop of fading Empire, war, the Suez crisis, vintage champagne, adultery and vicious Tory politics at the Ritz, Howard Brenton’s Never So Good paints the portrait of a brilliant, witty but complex man, at times comically and, in the end, tragically out of kilter with his times.

Harold Macmillan, the Eton-educated idealist who rushed, with Homer’s Iliad under his arm, to do his duty in the Grenadier Guards, is tormented by the harsh experiences of war and an unhappy marriage. His career in the 30s is blocked by his loyalty to Winston Churchill and he nearly loses his life in the Second World War. When at last he becomes Prime Minister he is brought down by he Profumo scandal.

Confession. Apart from the Profumo affair, I do not know a squat about once Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, also known as Lord Stockton. So I have to admit that the main reason I decided to watch this play was really to see Jeremy Irons perform on stage which apparently was also his National Theatre debut. I have been a fan of Mr. Irons since The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Mission, and Reversal of Fortune among many other films, and it would be great to see him live and all I can say was that, he didn’t disappoint. He was, without pun intended, ever so good.

“Events, dear boy, events”. This was Macmillan’s reply when asked what could of caused a downfall of governments and it’s the truth in that statement still rings true today. First of all, the account on Macmillan’s life was very interesting indeed. To show us his younger years, and his inner turmoils, his younger self was played by Pip Carter who also acted as his conscience during the play’s progression. The play in four acts was written by Howard Brenton, who according to the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer “wrote a play which was deeply sympathetic to a Tory PM”. Brenton, according to The Independent’s Alice Jones is apparently a self-professed Marxist and celebrated left-wing satirist, so what’s up with the seemingly human portrait of the man also known as Supermac?

It was also a good opportunity for me catch up on some British history and politics, which again I do not know much about. Now I know a tad more about Macmillan’s connections with Winston Churchill which was superbly played here by Ian Mcneice, his adulterous wife Dorothy played by Anna Chancellor (Pride and Prejudice, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and her bisexual lover Bob Boothby played by Robert Glenister (Persuasion).

Never So Good: 3.5/5

Playing at the Lyttelton, National Theatre until August 14

Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing

17 Mar

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Plot: Don Pedro of Aragon, commander of the Spanish army in Sicily, returns to Messina after a victory against rebel forces which included his brother, Don John. Now reconciled with Don John, and in the company of his Italian comrades Claudio and Benedick, Don Pedro accepts the hospitality of Leonato, the Governor of Messina. A marriage is quickly arranged between Hero, daughter of Leonato, and Claudio. Don Pedro resolves to fill the time before the wedding by tricking Benedick into marriage with his old sparring partner Beatrice, Leonato’s niece. Don John, still simmering with resentment, meanwhile plots to destroy Claudio’s faith in Hero.

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you, is not that strange?” – Benedick to Beatrice

Oy!!! It seems like my initial dislike for Shakespeare is clearly unfounded now having seen 2 of his plays and coming out enjoying them. With a tragedy that was King Lear, which left me in tears, Much Ado About Nothing on the other hand, left me in stitches. This Shakespeare romantic comedy may have been written circa 1600, but even in our modern times, it still resonates the same realities that befall our main protagonists, Benedick and Beatrice. I may sound really biased here but this production is owned by both Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker. Their wonderful and mischievous attack on their characters were spot on and was a delight to watch. Not having the pleasure of reading the play yet, I initially thought that Russell Beale and Wanamaker were rather older than their stage counterparts, but this is where I think Hytner’s gamble paid off. It’s because even more so now, there are actually more single people whether by choice or circumstance, and most are probably already in their middle age and can easily relate to the joys of singlehood and/or the curse of it.

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I thought Benedick’s mockery of Beatrice when they had their first encounter was delightful, “what my Lady Disdain, are you yet living?”, but you can feel that these two are really in love with each other and just would not accept that fact, this time around though, they would need a little help from their friends. And some of us have experienced that. We loved someone, then for some reason they’ve wronged us and we lose them, and if their really not some big time loser who is mentally abusive, or with no real red flags waving in the air, sometimes an old love can be that someone who is our equal, that one person who is a match for you, that you can not love no one else but him, or her, and this is really what Benedick was for Beatrice and vice versa. You just know they had to end up together and so we watch them how.

One of the most comical parts of the play was Benedick eavesdropping on his comrades discussing how Beatrice really loves him and we see an amused but giddy looking Benedick tiptoeing, avoiding the pond which he eventually falls into and in a quick soliloquy, incredulously asks, Love me? But why? Beatrice follows the same fate after overhearing Hero (Sussanah Fielding) talking about Benedick’s own passions for her. But it’s the scene after Hero has been spurned by Claudio (Daniel Hawksford) that Benedick comes to comfort a distraught Beatrice and asks her, “and how do you?” Beatrice replies, “very ill too”. And Benedick, with a look of love and devotion tells her, “serve God, love me and mend”. Awwwwww!!!

Russell Beale again played against type for he may not be a swaggering kind of Benedick but in my books I loved the way he made Benedick real. Coming out of that pond, soaking wet but elated knowing that Beatrice might still just be in love with him and then he tries to walk erect striking a pose as if some cool, sexy cat really brought the house down. he is such a sweetheart. Wanamaker complemented his performance by allowing us to feel her world-weary Beatrice, showing us the pain of being alone and her masked vulnerability but despite this she remains a strong-willed, independent woman nevertheless that is admirable.

The supporting cast did just great, I thought Mark Addy as Dogberry and Trevor Peacock as Verges provided great comical relief. Rachel Portman’s music (with special mention to Thomas Goodridge playing the role of Balthasar who sung beautifully in his scenes perfectly) evoked the mood and aura of this part of Italy, and Vicki Mortimer’s beautiful set design complimented Nicholas Hytner’s great and fantastic revival of this sweet Shakespearean play.

Much Ado About Nothing: 5/5

Playing at the National Theatre until March 29.

Theatre Review: Major Barbara

28 Feb

Plot: Major Barbara (Hayley Atwell) works tirelessly for the poor at a Salvation Army shelter until a large but morally dubious donation is welcomed from her estranged father Andrew Undershaft, (Simon Russell Beale) a millionaire weapons manufacturer. But when she visits the factory itself, the well-fed workers in their thriving model town make a devastating case for arms trade profits and a whole new set of ideals.

This is my first time to watch the inimitable Simon Russell Beale on stage although I have seen him in a couple of made for tv films such as Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time where he played the enigmatic but awkward Widmerpool which earned him a BAFTA. Mr. Russell Beale is truly larger than life and I can now comprehend as to why he is dubbed -now let me get this right- by The Independent as “the greatest stage actor of his generation”. In a recent article from the Times, he is fast in garnering the most brownie points as “the perfect actor to have ever played Hamlet”. Now, I have yet to see him in a Shakespeare production (the horror! I know, I missed them all!) but I have managed to get tickets for Much Ado About Nothing on March 17.

Going back to this production, it was very clear that Russell Beale owned it. His Undershaft was not overdone, he played it quite subtly well, and it seems like with Russell Beale, less is more. And with the intelligent actor that he is, he used that again wonderfully here. Having been reunited with his family, and seeing that he has got more in common with Barbara, you can palpably feel this quiet admiration of a father to his daughter without a barrage of words, but just silent approval, for love, even in silence can still be heard.

The rest of the company were just as compelling particularly Claire Higgins as the Undershaft matriarch, her opening scene with John Heffernan unforgettable, and was reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell. Hayley Atwell did quite well as the zealous savior of souls, but it’s not her fault that Barbara is a one dimensional character, I also thought she became more interesting in the final act. What I have to give the direction its due respect and recognition is the staging of the Undershaft & Lazarus weapons factory with rows and rows of missiles that quite expectedly drew an applause of recognition from the audience. The use of sound effects depicting the Great War added a chilling effect to this brilliant, and what could be considered as Shaw’s greatest literary work. Thanks to Nicholas Hytner having gotten over his Shaw skepticism.

Major Barbara: 4/5

Playing at the National Theatre until May 15

Theatre Review: The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other

22 Feb

For a moment, a bright, empty town square. And then a figure darts across, and another and another – businesspeople, roller-bladers, a cowboy, several street-sweepers, a half-dressed bride, a film crew, a line of old men, a tourist, a beauty in a mirrored dress, Abraham and Isaac, a family of refugees, a fool – more and more people, the bizarre and the humdrum, fleetingly connected by proximity alone.

Twenty-seven actors, 450 characters and no dialogue: a play without words by the great experimental figure of European theatre, Peter Handke. – National Theatre

1 hour and 45 minutes of just watching as the actors walk past each other, which seemed exciting and a bit fun for the first 45 minutes but then it obviously dragged for another hour. It’s not something I would recommend as a first time theatre experience, saying that I don’t think I would subject myself again to another. Perhaps it would work better in an open venue, it just didnt work for me personally.

The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other: 2/5

Playing at the Lyttelton, National Theatre until April 12