City of Glass, Lyric Hammersmith, London

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City of Glass gets you into the theatre by pretending to be a type of film noir story, but after you have been watching for about ten minutes, you realise that it is attempting to be something deeper and more challenging. This is a problem, because when you go in expecting a nice murder mystery, you may not be in the right frame of mind to consider the slipperiness of language and people or how the slow descent into madness might feel.

This is a stage production of a 1980s book and, perhaps, it is easier to follow if you have read this first; however, I found the dialogue too oblique, and the way the characters morphed into each other was confusing. I felt like each person was speaking in a vacuum. I did not feel empathy towards any of them or from any of them towards other characters in the play.

This was a shame because the set design, direction and cinematography was among the best I have seen on a theatre stage. I loved the way the same stage moved between places and times so seamlessly, and I enjoyed the way the changing set was able to propel the story onwards all by itself at times.

Although I don’t feel able to recommend this particular show wholeheartedly; when 59 Productions pick a less tortuous and more coherent story to put on, I think they have the potential to deliver an amazing show.

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi) 2016

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the antithesis of a Hollywood movie. It feels home made and local, but that is exactly what it sets out to do. This film makes a point of being unsophisticated. It is set in New Zealand, it has New Zealanders as characters and it shows a New Zealand ethic to the world.

It is a rough film with a warm heart, about a grumpy old man and a juvenile misfit who don’t understand each other at first, but who look after each other’s welfare when needed. Taika Waititi, the director, has a deft hand at showing characters expressing care without using soft words. True affection here is shown by honesty with humour.

It is not a perfect film, but it doesn’t try to be perfect, and that is part of its charm. This film revels in the rebellious; all the main roles are outsiders and happy that way. It is a strange mixture of rural realism and wild fantasy. Some of the characters, especially the baddies are comic book caricature. It is chock full of great lines and the good characters are well defined and warm. Sam Neill is good as Hec, and Julian Dennison is excellent as Ricky. There are also a few, beautifully quirky, cameos.

The scenery is, unsurprisingly, amazing; it is set in outback New Zealand, it is part travelogue, reminding the world why they should want to visit.  The soundtrack is unusual and endearing, the birthday song is surprising and funny. It is lovely to see a film that manages to blindside you, and I hope the success of this one results in more of this type of film being made.

Consent, National Theatre, South Bank, London

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The reviews for this show had been so good, but it was sold out. I know that NT have a few restricted view seats that they sell at 9.30 on the day. I got there at 9.20 and BINGO! I was in. The seat was £15 and I wouldn’t have called it restricted view at all. Apparently some are less good, but I was only second in the queue, and the view was perfect.

The reviews are well deserved, the writing is dazzling. Nina Raine is a huge talent with a wonderful ear for dialogue. She tackles some really complex subjects and manages to make you aware of each different person’s point of view,  see the validity in it, and even make it funny! We are going to hear a lot more of Nina Raine as a playwright.

Of course, this writing would come to nought if the actors weren’t able to deliver, and here we have six main characters of talent, all on top form, and all buoyed by the knowledge that they have great material to work with. Anna Maxwell Martin and Ben Chaplin are excellent as the couple, Kitty and Edward, managing to make us loathe some of their actions while still understanding the reasons behind them. Adam James is brilliant as Jake, the husband who is able to rationalise his bad behaviour, and Priyanga Burford is perfect as his witty intelligent wife, who is laughing at herself for accepting it.

The set is simple and clever; an array of lights hang above the stage, and different ones lower and light, to convey which home we are in. The direction is uncomplicated; allowing the dialogue to speak for itself. Everything about this production is top quality.

I loved this play. I know it is sold out, but it is worth going along in the morning; to see if you can get day tickets, or if you hear of it getting a transfer or a revival; make sure that you are quick off the mark.

Obsession, Barbican Theatre, London, 2017

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Obsession is well acted, Jude Law and Halina Reijn are both moody and muscular, in fact, all six actors are good. The direction is classic Van Hove, there is a big sparse set, both the stage and the actors get very messy during the course of the show, and there is innovative use of both technology and sound. The story is good, it has, after all, spawned three quite different and successful films.

So, I’m not sure why this stage production was not to my taste. Maybe, it was too abstract. I did feel that everything was full of symbolism, but that there were some symbols that  I didn’t understand. Why did Joseph sing opera? Why did Anita bare her breasts at Gino at that precise moment? Why did Johnny meet nicer people at the seaside?

I have few individual criticisms of the play. I felt the nudity was gratuitous and possibly  sexist. Why was Hanna nude but not Gino? There had been a very well done and sultry sex scene earlier where they were both clothed, so I’m not sure why they changed this for the bathing scene. Either both naked for both scenes or neither, just to have the woman nude felt uncomfortable.

Obsession has some great moments, and the ending is dramatic. I really enjoyed Ivan Van Hove’s trademark touches.  However, this show was less than the sum of its parts, it did not hold my attention throughout, and ultimately, I left the theatre disappointed.

13 Reasons Why, Netflix, 2017

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13 Reasons why is the currently most talked about series on TV.  It is a teenage morality tale about a 17 year old girl who has committed suicide in the weeks before the series begins. She has left behind a suicide note, in the form of 13, C60  audio cassettes, each one naming a different person as having a hand in causing her to take her own life. Each cassette states what this person did to affect her and she has arranged that the whole series of tapes is delivered to each of the thirteen people in turn.

So far, so dark – a horrible premise of a teenager’s suicide and the ultimate naming, blaming and shaming fantasy. This could have been so awful that I almost gave up watching after each of the first three episodes.

However, Hannah, the girl who killed herself, is a likeable, witty, attractive personality and we want to find out what drove her to despair. She mostly avoids playing the blame game and the series is really a universal tale about the complications of dealing with serious and difficult problems, often for the first time, as a teenager negotiates the change from child to adult.

The characters are well written and well rounded. The story is told half in the current timeline and half in flashback, this is clever, as we can see the change that Hannah’s death has brought to each person. There are stereotypes, in that they fit into their groups at the school but each individual is given a three dimensional personality and the only caricature is the one who does not get to listen to the tapes.

The acting is great, everyone talks about how good the two leads are – they are excellent.  Christian Navarro is also very good as Tony, who serves as a kind of nuanced narrator. Kate Walsh is brilliant, playing two parts really, as Hannah’s mother, before and after the suicide.

I liked the fact that the show concentrates just as much on the devastation left behind as the reasons for the death. It is a thin line between negating the reasons for Hannah’s suicide and justifying them, the show manages to realistically state the reasons for her actions but never says that she was right to do so. There is talk of a second series because of the success of season one, and possibly because of the unresolved nature of some of the issues. I believe that the show had to leave these issues open because to close them would have implied that her killing herself would have achieved a closure that might not  have been attained had she lived.

I enjoyed this series very much but I hope they choose not to film a season two, either to resolve these issues or to follow the lives of some of the other characters, 13 Reasons Why, is all about Hannah, let’s keep it about her.

Don Juan in Soho, Wyndham’s Theatre, London, 2017

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The 17th Century version of this play closed, after only one performance, because of its repulsive and offensive nature. It was not shown in an uncensored form again for almost 150 years. Marber updates the setting to 21st Century Soho, but stays remarkably faithful to the original story.

It is shocking, ribald, offensive but that is the point of the play, Don Juan is not meant to have any redeeming features.  David Tennant is very good as the debauched libertine, who is patronising, misogynistic and self serving.  Adrian Scarborough is fantastic as Stan, his forgiving manservant, who is just as taken is by his master’s guile as any of the women he seduces. Together they make a fantastic double act, funny and argumentative, Stan feels the guilt that his master doesn’t, but yet he cannot help himself from becoming involved in the collusion. Their duet to close the first act was brilliant.

The script is witty and sharp, Don Juan’s diatribe against social media and celebrity culture is funny, and made it feel current, even if it did not advance his argument.  I have to admit that I am not sure what the addition of the dancers in their underwear added to the proceedings, but the use of music is good, the occasional pieces from Mozart’s, Don Giovanni are a nice juxtaposition to the modern score.

This play is always going to a controversial choice, if it doesn’t disturb and distress people, it is not doing its job. It is a brave play for the leading actors to take on because it relies so heavily on the capability and rapport of the two lead characters and if it is not done well, it will always be a mark on their career. However, David Tennant and Adrian Scarborough are both excellent and carry it off admirably.

With the vogue in theatre now, for women to take on roles that have traditionally been played by men, this would be an interesting proposition – and it would go some way to counteracting the misogyny criticisms often levelled against it.

Until that happens, this is a very enjoyable show, an excellent night out and the perfect start to a night of revelry in nearby Soho.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter Theatre, 2017

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Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf perfectly illustrates the difference between the questions “Was it good?” and “Did you enjoy it?”

This is a fantastic play, and a wonderful production of it. The acting was immense from all four characters. Imelda Staunton was as brilliant as you would expect, there is nobody better at making you understand the frailty of a dark, flawed individual, and she can change from a vicious harridan to a seductive, provocative vamp in the blink of an eye.  Conleth Hill was a revelation, he lives that part – how he can keep up that intensity for three hours per performance is incredible.

The direction is sparse, keeping you focussed on the people and the set is simple but effective. Three hours is long for such heightened emotions but the time flew by because of the compelling nature of the character interaction. However, it is comparable to watching a car crash in slow motion because, the farther you move into the play, the stronger the realisation becomes – that there can be no happy conclusion here. The only option is to sit and watch in morbid fascination, to see just how bad the casualties will be.

So, I did not enjoy it very much, it wasn’t written for enjoyment, but this does not prevent it being one of the best plays on in London at the moment.

The audience really appreciated their effort, it is a rare thing these days to see the whole audience stand in ovation from curtain down, but they did here, and this was truly deserved.

If you get the opportunity to see this production, I recommend that you gird your loins, prepare yourself mentally, but definitely go.