Theatre

Review: Twelfth Night

By John Nathan, December 18, 2008

It was Derek Jacobi’s tender and tragic Cyrano who first made me cry in a theatre. But in Shakespeare’s comedy his austere Malvolio is motivated much more by a yearning for status than the possibility of love.

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Review: Loot

By John Nathan, December 18, 2008

Although in Joe Orton’s 1966 comedy, Detective Truscott (David Haig) is willing to beat the hell out of anyone who gets in the way of his investigation — and for that matter, anyone who doesn’t — it is the police who get a right kicking from Orton’s wit.

It is no longer shocking to see a violent, corrupt, stupid cop on stage. But it is amazing that Sean Holmes’s precisely directed production of Orton’s subversive farce, which is so rooted in the ’60s, feels so precisely targeted at the current erosion of civil rights in this country.

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Review: Maria Friedman re-arranged

By John Nathan, December 11, 2008

Now that she’s forsaken full-blown musicals, Maria Friedman is becoming the Queen of Cabaret. Unfussilly directed by David Babani, Friedman’s solo show is yet another West End transfer for his Menier Chocolate Factory.

The impeccable song book is drawn from such disparate composers as Sondheim and Kate Bush, each of which has been subtly rearranged. There is no classier show in the West End. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard the award-winning Friedman sing better.

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Review: Carousel

By John Nathan, December 11, 2008

The dark hero in the musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics), is the strapping fairground barker Billy Bigelow (Jeremiah James), a quick-tempered feckless dolt, prone to beating his trusting wife, Julie (Alexander Silber).

After killing himself during a botched robbery, heaven gives him a second chance at redemption. Back on earth, he hits his daughter who learns the lesson her mother has long known, that it is possible for someone to hit you hard and for it not to hurt at all. Really?

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Review: Hamlet

By John Nathan, December 11, 2008

A bad back not only caused David Tennant to withdraw from the press night of this RSC Hamlet — first seen in Stratford — but a hasty reshuffling of the pack. Fortinbrass became Lucianus; Lucianus became Gildenstern; Gildenstern played Laertes and Laertes, aka Edward Bennett, replaced Tennant in Shakespeare’s biggest and probably greatest role. So no pressure then, as director Gregory Doran said when he announced the changes to the audience.

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Review: A Little Night Music

By John Nathan, December 11, 2008

It could hardly be said that Trevor Nunn, whose illustrious career includes stints as artistic director of both the National Theatre and the RSC, needs a comeback. But make no mistake, after his previous musical — the awful Gone With the Wind (conspicuously absent from the list of Nunn productions in the programme biography for his latest offering) — Nunn needed this one.

And with this beautiful revival of Stephen Sondheim’s haunting homage to Ingmar Bergman’s film about lovers suspended in a twilight zone of Swedish nights and unfulfilling relationships, Nunn is back on form.

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Review: I Found My Horn

By John Nathan, December 4, 2008

Jasper Rees has joined the Toby Young brand of writing by turning himself into a show. Directed by Harry Burton, his one-man tale is set in post-divorce midlife crisis, the antidote to which is the French horn Rees blew as a boy. Jonathan Guy Lewis plays Rees, and the quirky characters he encounters on his way to redemption, with dishevelled charm.

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Review: Wig Out!

By John Nathan, December 4, 2008

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s latest offering is populated by style-obsessed transvestites — and is a case of style over substance. Family is McCraney’s theme, but I left Dominic Cooke’s traverse stage production with the lesson that as a subject viewed in isolation from the wider world, sexuality is just not very interesting.

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Review: In A Dark Dark House

By John Nathan, December 4, 2008

Neil LaBute’s latest offering, sensitively directed by Michael Attenborough, is partly autobiographical. Security guard Terry (David Morrissey) is the estranged older brother to the rich and annoyingly immature ex-lawyer Drew (Steven Mackintosh).

Drew needs Terry to testify to the child abuse they suffered at the hands of a summer-camp leader as mitigation for Drew’s driving misdemeanour.

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Review: August: Osage County

By John Nathan, December 4, 2008

Tracy Letts’s riveting family saga, written for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, has won a hatful of awards. And it is easy to see why. Letts is the latest chronicler of the American dysfunctional family. Where his drama fails to deliver the emotional punch of, say, O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it compensates with pitch-dark humour.
The disappearance of the Westons’ alcoholic patriarch triggers a 10-strong family gathering spearheaded by his three lovelorn adult daughters. All have come to support their prescription pill-popping mother, Violet.

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