Burton

Actor Rhodri Miles appears to specialise in touring one-man shows about significant Welshmen: I enjoyed his show about the poet Dylan Thomas, which is why I booked to see his show about the actor Richard Burton. Thomas and Burton had many things in common, including their hard drinking and womanising as well as their Welsh heritage, but Burton is an interesting individual in his own right.

In the play, Miles takes us through Burton’s life from his childhood in rural Wales through his acting career, marriage and of course his relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. He is entertaining, and yet there is a powerful sense of melancholy in his performance. He holds the audience spellbound: Burton is a show which stays in the mind long after it has finished.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

I originally saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead back in 2011, starring Jamie Parker who would later go on to play Harry Potter in the Cursed Child play. Coincidentally, this 2017 production, marking 50 years since the play first premiered, stars another actor who has played Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, best known for his work in the film franchise.

Radcliffe plays Rosencrantz opposite Joshua McGuire’s Guildenstern, a pairing that works incredibly well as the two play off one another. Radcliffe’s innocent expressions and calm demeanour are the perfect foil for McGuire’s energy, and the two are hugely entertaining when they are on stage together. David Haig makes a great job of the Player King, but for me, by far the best parts of the play involved just the two protagonists, their verbal sparring, games, inherent confusion, and existential questions.

Tom Stoppard’s play propelled him into the limelight fifty years ago, and it’s not hard to see why. Cleverly focusing on two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it helps if you are familiar with that play but it isn’t essential. Watching this, comparisons arise with Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, as the two protagonists question their existence and ask themselves what they are supposed to be doing. Intelligent and entertaining, this is another positive for the Old Vic.

#Haters

I visited Redbridge Drama Centre to see #Haters, an Odd Eyes Theatre touring production written by Emilia Teglia about social media and how things can go wrong. With a chorus (Barbara Diana, Lola May, Jennie Jacobs) introducing the piece, giving it the air of a Greek tragedy, it is the story of two young men: a hipster-type hoping to open a new pub in Hackney, and a neighbour he bumps into on the fateful day of the bar’s opening. The story is told from both points of view, showing in a humorous way that you shouldn’t prejudge people and that everyone has their own story. Against a backdrop of social media buzz and backlash, the tale plays out to its tragic conclusion.

Greg Snowden and Josh Okusanya are superb as the protagonists, and the whole thing is thoroughly engaging. Definitely recommended.

Hamlet

“Oh God, not another Hamlet” was my honest initial reaction on hearing about the forthcoming Almeida production, directed by Robert Icke and starring Andrew Scott, most famous for his supremely irritating Moriarty in Sherlock. But I booked anyway, because my ticket was only £10 and I can’t seem to avoid productions of Hamlet. Just as well, as it turned out, because this was the most memorable and affecting Hamlet I’ve seen since Michael Sheen’s turn at the Young Vic, which I loved so much it inspired me to start blogging about theatre.

This is a modern, intimate Hamlet, with wide panes of glass, modern Scandi-style furniture that looks like it’s come straight from IKEA, and effective use of video, both security cameras and hand-held video cameras which emphasise Denmark as a surveillance state. Icke’s directorial choices largely make the play the unique experience that it is, even if you’re intimately acquainted with the play. The naturalistic speech delivery helps every line to sound fresh, while the wordless interactions between the characters have been developed to deepen their relationships: this is particularly apparent with Hamlet and Ophelia, while Hamlet’s embrace of his ghostly father is both shocking and tender. The relationships between Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes is a close familial one, Ophelia’s madness the product of genuine grief for a beloved father.

Andrew Scott is a revelation in the title role: quietly spoken, intensely vulnerable and utterly compelling. He is matched by the majority of the cast around him: Juliet Stevenson is a superb Gertrude, a character who, in love with Claudius for most of the play, only realises his true nature towards the end. Peter Wight’s Polonius is an amusing take on the character, while Jessica Brown-Findlay’s Ophelia is superbly judged and even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are further fleshed out. Only Angus Wright’s Claudius seems underpowered, but even he contributes to a memorable moment when his speech of guilt is delivered directly to Hamlet, as if challenging him to do something about it.

The play is four hours long but feels half the length, as the time just flew by. I was fully engaged until the end, which is just as well because the ending is one of the most powerful finales to Hamlet I have ever seen, matching the intimate nature of the production. This is a show I don’t think I will be able to forget in a hurry.

Murdered to Death

Murdered to Death is a spoof crime drama by Peter Gordon, satirising the likes of Agatha Christie. I saw a production at the East Lane Theatre, which was amusing and well acted.

The show is set in a country manor house in the 1930s, and features an inept detective, upper-class love affairs and a character who is clearly meant to be a spoof of Miss Marple. I enjoyed the show, the perfect theatrical experience for a Sunday afternoon.

The Accrington Pals

The Accrington Pals is a play by Peter Whelan, set during the First World War when ‘pal’s battalions’ were created of young men who joined up together from the same town or village. Sadly, this often led to entire villages being wiped out as battalions were subject to devastating attacks. The Accrington Pals from East Lancashire were one such battalion, and at the end of the first day of the Somme offensive in 1916 at least 584 of the 720 troops who took part were killed, wounded or missing.

The play, which I saw at the Bridewell Theatre performed by Sedos, focuses on this battalion and the women left behind in the town, with a particular focus on grocer May and her second cousin, the idealistic Tom. It’s affecting and emotional, and it’s very well acted, although I wasn’t sure about the decision to use present-day costumes: while the theme of war is universal, this particular play is specifically about World War I. However, ultimately this didn’t affect my enjoyment.

Finding the Burnett Heart

To mark the reopening of Lauderdale House in Highgate, a number of play readings have been taking place. One of these is Finding the Burnett Heart, a play by Paul Elliot which has already enjoyed success in America. Those taking part included Michael Pennington, Lizzie Roper, Joshua Elliot and James Doherty; the reading was directed by Christian Durham.

The play is set in a middle-American home, where a grandfather, James Burnett, and a teenage grandson, Tyler, are forced to share a room. Initially they bicker and fight, finding it hard to reconcile their differing views despite the best attempts of Tyler’s mother, Grace, to mediate. It doesn’t help that Tyler’s father and James’s son, Robert, has his own issues with his father.

The crisis of the play comes when Tyler reveals to his family – including his bigoted grandfather – that he is gay. From then, things go in rather unexpected directions and characters developed in ways I hadn’t imagined. The relationship between James and Tyler was particularly powerfully drawn.

Though this was a staged reading, with no set and the actors performing with scripts in hand, I was completely absorbed throughout and would be very interested to see a full production of this fine play.