A hijacked plane is heading for a football stadium filled with 70,000 people. A fighter pilot goes against orders and shoots the plane down, sacrificing the lives of 164 people in order to save 70,000. He is put on trial for mass murder. Guilty or not guilty? The audience is jury.

Terror

On the face of it it looks like a no-brainer – 164 to save 70,000? – and I’m sure I am not the only one who had already made up her mind in advance how she was going to vote. The clever thing about this play however, which takes place entirely in a courtroom, is the issues it throws up that makes one question one’s foregone conclusions. Without giving away any spoilers this case is not quite as cut-and-dried as it first looks.

It is also unusual in that whereas in most murder trials the defendant is innocent until proved guilty and the onus is on the prosecution to prove guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, the onus here is on the defendant and his counsel to prove that what he did was ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ wholly justified. In other words that it was the only thing he, or someone in his position, could or should possibly have done.

There is the law, and there is philosophy, and there is human gut reaction. A few dodgy premises emit from both sides. A lot of questions remained unanswered – or rather, unasked. How did the pilot know his shot plane would not fall on buildings, or people, on the ground? How could he be sure the plane would kill all 70,000 people in the stadium? And so on and so on.

The verdict last night was not guilty, as it seems to have been throughout the run. Me, I voted guilty, partly for the reasons above. I believe the prosecuting counsel could have put a better case.

Does it make for compelling theatre? Well yes and no. A court case is static, I did feel fidgety at times. And it might have been interesting to have given the prosecution a little more weight so the final verdict wasn’t so predictable. But it is intriguing to have one’s preconceptions challenged in such a way.  Thought-provoking, absolutely. And excellently performed all round.

Terror runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until 15 July.

 

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The weird, the wonderful and the violent

The weird

Golem (theguardian.com)

               Golem (theguardian.com)

1927 are weird, there is no other theatre company like them. They mix animation with live action and music, with a tinge of silent movie and clowning. Their latest, Golem, features various versions of the eponymous (and animated) central character who transforms himself from benign slave to controller, and turns the initially shy and harmless Robert into an aggressive, ambitious fashion slave. So yes it is a swipe at modern technology and some people have remarked on the heavy-handedness of the message, or even, with the students I was with recently, the rather tired subject matter. But to me 1927 are less about subject matter and more about visual invention, and nothing comes more visually inventive than 1927. The current show isn’t as tight as their previous one, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets – which was, in my view, perfect. But a slightly overlong production from 1927 is still a memorable experience.

Only one of them is live (telegraph.co.uk)

Only one of them is live (telegraph.co.uk)

Golem runs at the Young Vic Theatre until 31 January 2015.

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The wonderful

Tim Piggott-Smith (theguardian)

Tim Piggott-Smith (theguardian)

King Charles III is simply wonderful, no less so on second viewing. The power of the Shakespearean language, jarring to begin with perhaps until you get used to it, adds to this big play a totally appropriate feeling of grandeur. It is an important play, it dares to question the purpose and the existence of the monarchy. It reminds us how our reigning monarch, the only monarch most of us have ever known, has kept herself and her opinions so completely under wraps: never uttering a controversial opinion (or any kind of opinion) on anything; never interfering in government, never attracting a moment’s scandal; arguably the most inscrutable public figure in history. So it is not far-fetched to assume that her successor, who’s not so averse to expressing his feelings in public, will not be so prepared to simply sign off on every parliamentary Act that is presented to him.

It is a bold, theatrical, thought-provoking and funny play, with resonances of Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. Definitely one for our times.

King Charles III is at Wyndham’s Theatre, also until 31 January.

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The violent

(franticassembly.co.uk)

(franticassembly.co.uk)

Frantic Assembly’s Othello, at the Lyric Hammersmith, is nasty, brutish and short. There’s been some heavy editing here as not only does it run straight through for 100 minutes without an interval, for the first ten or so minutes we get no words at all. Rather we get Frantic’s familiarly physical scene- and character-setting, accompanied on this occasion by loud rock music (Hybrid). The set is a north country pub where a pool table represents everything from a battlefield (resonances of Black Watch) to the marital bed of Othello and Desdemona. The walls of the set bend and reshape themselves at will, or when someone – usually a pumped-up Iago or a drunk Cassio – bumps into them. The words, when they do come, are Shakespeare’s, spoken in dialect. It is a production for young people and young people comprised I’d say 98% of the audience on the night we saw it. They were quiet throughout and enthusiastically noisy at the end, so it worked for them.

Steven Miller (Iago), Leila Crerar (Emilia) and the Handkerchief (oxfordtimes.co.uk)

Steven Miller (Iago), Leila Crerar (Emilia) and The Handkerchief (oxfordtimes.co.uk)

Personally speaking I’ve always had problems with this play. Why is Iago so obsessively jealous of Othello? Why does Othello believe him so easily when he slanders Desdemona?  This production doesn’t solve those problems, in fact what it gains in furious, brutal  physicality – and shortness – it loses in character development, so that Othello himself, despite an affecting performance by Mark Ebulue, seems almost peripheral. But there are moments of pure Shakespeare, especially in Emilia’s powerful condemnation of Othello, delivered with heartbreaking passion by the track-suited Leila Crerar.

Othello is on at the Lyric Hammersmith until 7 February 2015.