About Laura

Librarian from the North East of England, now living in London. I like books, dead poets, museums, theatre, Muse and penguins.

Oslo

Oslo is another of those plays that I didn’t really think I’d like, but then the good reviews meant that my curiosity got the better of me. I seem to be seeing a lot of plays recently about late twentieth and early twenty-first century history, and this is another to add to the list.

Written by J. T. Rogers, Oslo premiered in 2016 in New York before transferring to the National Theatre and then to the Harold Pinter. It’s about the peace talks that took place between the Israeli state and Palestine Liberation Organisation in the 1990s, arranged secretly and unofficially by a diplomat and her academic husband.

The topic sounded extremely dry, but I found it to be incredibly gripping, as the tense talks took on the atmosphere of a thriller. There are strong performances from Peter Polycarpou as Ahmed Qurei and Philip Arditti as Uri Savir, and, holding it all together, the Norwegian husband and wife team: Toby Stephens as Terje Rød-Larsen and Lydia Leonard as Mona Juul. The nature of the subject matter means that the play is very much male-dominated, but Leonard’s character narrates which restores a little of the balance.

Not having any prior knowledge of the topic, I nevertheless found the play easy enough to follow,perhaps because more than anything it was about people: the people on opposite sides of a divide who came together and managed to forge an agreement, leading to a historic handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1993 at the White House. The two sides don’t always get on – there’s an extremely tense moment when the Israeli leader is made fun of – but there is also genuine cameraderie.

I know enough to know that the peace forged by these talks eventually fell apart, but that doesn’t lessen the achievement of everyone involved in the Oslo accords, and this play is a fascinating record of them.

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Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a well-known Australian book (by Joan Lindsay) and 1975 film. It’s something of a classic, focusing on a girls’ school outing to Hanging Rock and the subsequent disappearance of several of the girls. I’ve never seen the film or read the book, but I attended a play reading at RADA of Tom Wright’s adaptation of the story, performed as part of the Women@RADA 100 series.

I’m not sure whether the play is a direct adaptation of the book/film or a brand new interpretation, but either way I enjoyed it. The cast held my interest throughout and the play was genuinely spooky at times. It definitely left me wanting to watch the film, but it’s clearly a strong piece in its own right.

The Gin Chronicles At Sea

I’d already seen the first two instalments of this old fashioned radio-style comedy by the Misfits of London, so I more or less knew what to expect from the third. The Gin Chronicles at Sea sees the intrepid detective duo of John Jobling and Doris Golightly embark on a transatlantic cruise, where they get caught up in yet another gin-related mystery.

As always, the performers – four actors and a Foley artist – were impressive, each taking on a number of characters and switching accents at will. Some of the effects were very clever, especially the ‘under the sea’ scenes. As always, it was a hugely entertaining piece of theatre.

Miss Julie

I’ve seen several Strindberg plays but somehow never managed to catch his most famous and frequently performed play, Miss Julie. Until now, that is. The Jermyn Street Theatre is currently showing an adaptation of this 1888 classic by Howard Brenton, who is a successful playwright in his own right. The end result is nothing short of a masterpiece.

The ‘Miss Julie’ of the title is the wayward daughter of an Earl, whose open behaviour draws comment from the servants, including Kristin (Izabella Urbanowicz). She discusses her concerns with her fiance Jean (James Sheldon); we don’t even see Miss Julie for the first part of the play, and it’s more like a below-stairs drama, with Kristin cooking a real meal for her man on the working stove on stage. The scene is a homely one.

That’s until Julie (Charlotte Hamblin) enters. It’s Midsummer’s Eve, a night of celebration in Scandinavia, and she’s excited, breathless with dancing. There is an undeniable attraction between her and Jean, leading to a fateful decision that will have consequences for them both.

The play works extremely well in the confined space of the Jermyn Street Theatre, which at times feels almost claustrophobic. There is an electric chemistry between the two leads and they both lend their characters complexity, Julie spoilt and frivolous but also inviting our sympathy, Jean cold and ambitious but also impressive in his desire to better himself.

This is a play about sexuality and desire, but it’s also about power. Does the power lie with the wealthy young Earl’s daughter, taking advantage of her servants, or with Jean, who is after all the man in this patriarchal society? The later part of the play is particularly compelling as our sympathy switches from one to another. Meanwhile, Urbanowicz, who could easily become a forgettable third character when the two leads are so compelling, delivers a quietly memorable performance of her own.

This is a powerful play which left a strong impression on me, and I can’t imagine it being done better.

Heather

Heather was the first play I saw in the Bush Theatre’s new studio, a two-hander by Thomas Eccleshare that was original and unsettling. It began with a series of email exchanges between an author and an editor, culminating in a children’s book series to rival Harry Potter in popularity. Only then did we discover that quiet, retiring author Heather Eames was not who she claimed to be, a revelation that had a shocking impact on the life of her editor.

The short play was divided into three distinct sections, each contributing to our understanding of events, but it was the third section that was the most original and seemed to pull everything together. The performances from Ashley Gerlach and Charlotte Melia were superb.

If anything I thought this play was too short: I think you could make a full-length play out of the ideas and themes portrayed in this one. Still, a play that leaves you wanting more has to be seen as a success.

EtCinema Presents: The Shining

This screening of The Shining in Harrow Arts Centre’s Elliott Hall was billed as an immersive production, which really intrigued me. I hardly ever go to the cinema these days, but this concept seemed interesting, and sounded like it would be more theatrical.

Created by EtCinema, the production was staffed by actors in costume, and before taking our seats we were taken on a “tour” of the hotel into which the Arts Centre had supposedly transformed for the evening. I did think this bit could have been handled better as it seemed a bit pointless and it meant that guests were stuck in the bar for ages just waiting to be taken in.

Once we were finally seated, the Hall proved an excellent venue for cinema screenings, with a giant screen and great sound. The film itself was great (I’d never actually seen it before) and the event organisers had added to it by having characters appear beneath the screen or within the audience at various points during the film. I feel I should point out at this point that the screening cost no more than a normal cinema visit would – and less than many central London screenings – so taking this into account it was excellent value. Overall the evening was good fun, and though I think it could have been organised better, I did enjoy it.