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.

Public Enemy

Last year the Young Vic produced a new version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Carrie Cracknell. With its breakneck speed, aided quite a bit by the whirling set (Ian MacNeil) it managed to be both faithful to the original and utterly accessible to the 21st century viewer.

Now the Young Vic have done something similar with An Enemy of the People, which in its latest version by David Harrower has changed its name to Public Enemy and runs, again at speed, non-stop for 90 odd minutes without a break. The difference is that whereas A Doll’s House remained rooted in its original 1880s setting Public Enemy has been updated to what I took – bearing in mind the orange wallpaper and electric typewriter – to be the seventies.

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The story of a doctor in a small Norwegian spa town who – curious to know why a handful of holidaymakers contracted diseases such as typhoid after taking the water decides to have it tested and discovers it is contaminated, even poisonous, due partly to a tannery owned by his father in law; only to find himself then ostracised and vilified by the entire town – should make  good sense to modern perceptions. But the problem with this adaptation (as I saw it) is that it doesn’t really sit comfortably in its new period. Perhaps it’s the adaptation itself that’s too faithful to the original. There is a good deal of speechifying, and people behave to one another in an almost formal way that in no way reflects my memory of the seventies. The clothes are indeterminate, and there’s a moment when the Stockmans’ elder boy sits rapt for a rather long time listening to a family friend playing the harmonica (in the seventies??). There’s no sign of a radio or TV nor of the two boys demanding to plonk themselves in front of it. In fact there is very little direct reference to the seventies  anywhere (other than the wallpaper and the electric typewriter), such as a burgeoning public awareness of the effect of man-made climate change.

That said the play zips along at a cracking pace and keeps a firm hold of our attention (or mine at any rate). It even implicates the audience at one point when Stockman, addressing us directly, challenges us to disagree with his premise that democracy doesn’t work because the majority of the people are stupid and incapable of making the ‘right’ decision, at which point we (I) realise he is actually bonkers. Whether or not this is faithful to the original – which I don’t have to hand – it’s a remarkable, and temporary, switch in the doctor’s character which rather distracts from and undermines the sympathy we’ve been led to feel towards him.

It’s still a cracking play though, with good performances all round, especially from Nick Fletcher as the doctor (Krogstad in Doll’s House) and Darrell D’Silva as his brother and enemy, the mayor. I just wondered if this adaptation might have worked better if, as with Doll’s House, it had kept to its original 1882 setting.

Patsy Trench