Theatre

Review: Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

By John Nathan, June 25, 2009

For the Hampstead’s 50th anniversary season the theatre is dipping into its glorious past to revive plays for its inglorious present. For recently there have been far too few new plays at this venue that make the heart beat faster with excitement or, as with this First World War play by Frank McGuiness, beat heavier with its sheer potency.

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Review: Who will carry the word?

By John Nathan, June 18, 2009

Courtyard Theatre, London N1

I cannot remember many works that serve as such vivid testimony to the horrors of Auschwitz. For its debut, theatre company Robert Pryce & Co is staging the first UK performance of this eyewitness play by French resistance fighter Charlotte Delbo who was sent to the camp in 1943. As significant as the testimony, performed here in Natasha Pryce’s courageous production by a committed, 15-strong all-female cast, is that Delbo was a non-Jew whose account destroys revisionist notions of the Holocaust as a Jewish lie. Delbo’s word should be heard.

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Review: Phedre

By John Nathan, June 18, 2009

The one quality needed in abundance to transmit the heightened emotion and fathom-deep despair of Greek tragedy, is authority. Nicholas Hytner’s revival of Racine’s Phèdre — the queen (played by Helen Mirren) who falls in love with her stepson — has far too little. Bob Crowley’s magnificent design of a stone-hewn terrace looking out on to the purest Mediterranean sky promises much more punch than the production delivers.

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Review: Hamlet

By John Nathan, June 10, 2009

Wyndham’s Theatre, London

It was Kenneth Branagh’s title role performance as Ivanov that set the standard for the Donmar’s star-studded West End season.
It was a standard not quite reached by Derek Jacobi’s Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and the dull Madame de Sade, with Judi Dench, got nowhere near. But Jude Law’s Hamlet is probably the most lucid, clearly-spoken performance of Shakespeare’s most exciting role I have seen or heard.

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Review: The Winter's Tale & The Cherry Orchard

By John Nathan, June 10, 2009

The Old Vic, London SE1

O’ Call back yesterday, bid time return.” Twice we see this line projected above the Old Vic’s stage. And although director Sam Mendes has plucked the quote from Richard II, it serves well as the overarching sentiment for his, at times, almost unbearably poignant productions of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

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Review: Much ado about nothing

By John Nathan, June 4, 2009

Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park
London NW1

The Open Air’s first season in ages without a Midsummer Night’s Dream kicks off with a rewarding production of Shakespeare’s comedy.

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Review: Taking Sides and Collaboration

By John Nathan, June 4, 2009

You can wait years for a serious drama to arrive in the West End (at least one that is not just an excuse for a screen star to notch up some stage credibility), then two come along at once.

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Review: The Observer

By John Nathan, May 27, 2009

Anyone hoping that Matt Charman’s play lifts the lid on the little-known world of international election observers is going to be mostly disappointed.

Richard Eyre’s solid production cannot disguise that many of Charman’s observations about observers could be gleaned from reading the newspapers. His dispassionate heroine (Anna Chancellor) is the deputy chief of an observation team in West Africa.

Her increasingly emotional attachment to her work and her translator is in turn discreetly observed by James Fleets’s linen-suited man from the Foreign Office.

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Review: The Hokey Cokey Man

By John Nathan, May 27, 2009

Alan Balfour pulls no punches in his play about his grandfather Al Tabor (James Doherty), a violinist and popular bandleader who, few people know, was the man wrote the Hokey Cokey song.

Originally it was the “Hokey Pokey” song, derived from the street cries of ice-cream sellers before the war. Catholics reportedly think it is an offensive parody created by Puritans to mock the Latin mass.
No such fascinating detail exists in Balfour’s plodding play, directed by Ninon Jerome. He focuses instead on his philandering grandfather’s marriage and affair.

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Review: When the Rain Stops Falling

By John Nathan, May 27, 2009

Andrew Bovell’s family drama leaps between period and place as randomly as a rabbit in a paper bag.

It is 30 years in the future and a lonely 50-year-old man in Alice Springs is nervously expecting a visit from the grown-up son he has not seen since he was a child. Now it is London 1988, and a grown-up son is asking his emotionally frosty mother for information about his late father.

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