Theatre

Review: Death and the King’s Horseman

By John Nathan, April 23, 2009

Nigerian Yoruba myth has become a powerful force in British theatre. The American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney drew on it for his brilliant debut, The Brothers Size. So does this revival of Wole Soyinka’s 1975 play that leaves Judeo-Christian certainties about the sanctity of life in doubt, and might even illuminate us about the mindset of the modern suicide bomber, a point recently made by the author. Not that the suicide here is the kind of self-destruction that destroys others.

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Review: The Fever

By John Nathan, April 16, 2009

More a lecture than a monologue, more a stream of troubled consciousness than a play, the inaugural offering of the Royal Court’s Wallace Shawn season makes no bones about who is causing all the misery in the world.

It is you. You who sit in your comfortable sitting-room reading this review in the smug certainty that all you own is what you deserve.

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Review: Stovepipe

By John Nathan, April 7, 2009

War has placed the British soldier centre stage. But no offering has been more convincing than Adam Brace’s story about a mercenary Brit (Shaun Dooley) whose comrade has either been kidnapped or gone awol.

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Review: Tusk Tusk

By John Nathan, April 7, 2009

The question was, would the second play live up to the first?

Two years ago, aged just 19, Polly Stenham presented That Face at the Royal Court’s tiny upstairs stage. There was no reason to think that yet another drama about a dysfunctional family — so much easier to write than plays about functional families — promised anything remarkable. But Stenham revealed torment in a world where few modern writers had thought to look — the privately educated middle classes.

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Review: Parlour Song

By John Nathan, April 2, 2009

Jez Butterworth’s comeback comedy is populated by lower-middle-class neighbours who live in a housing development stuck in a field outside London. Demolition man Ned (Toby Jones) feels his life is imploding. Macho Dale (Andrew Lincoln) — a walking comedy of male manners — is his best mate who has an affair with Ned’s emotionally unsatisfied wife, Joy (Amanda Drew). Ian Rickson’s production is a delight of witty dialogue and fine acting. But the lesson that life in the suburbs is uneventful is rather pedestrian.

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Review: Dimetos

By John Nathan, April 2, 2009

You think of the white South African dramatist Athol Fugard and you think of the brave apartheid plays he stitched together with black collaborators John Kani and Winston Ntshona. You think of how, when Kani and Ntshona first performed Sizwe Banzi is Dead in Cape Town, they defied South Africa’s brutal Security Police.

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Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

By John Nathan, March 26, 2009

As with that other production about transsexuals currently in the West End, Priscilla is based on an original movie and features a gay hero with a heterosexual past that produced a son. But unlike La Cage aux Folles, this Australian road-show starring Jason Donovan as one of three “gender illusionists” is not set to an original score but to juke-box hits. There is a limit to the entertainment value of men in frocks singing covers less well than the originals. Thirty minutes tops? This is nearly three hours.

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Review: Madame de Sade

By John Nathan, March 26, 2009

Nothing can save can save Yukio Mishima’s static play from petrifying: not the fact that it is the story of the Marquis de Sade; not the fact that one of those women is played by Dame Judi Dench; and not even the, admittedly irrelevant but interesting, fact that Mishima committed ritual suicide. To breathe life into the accounts of the Marquis’ sado-masochism, Michael Grandage’s production relies entirely on the sumptuous crinoline dresses worn by his cast.

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Review: Kafka’s Monkey

By John Nathan, March 26, 2009

It is no surprise that Kafka’s short story A Report to an Academy, first published in 1917 in an intellectual German magazine called The Jew — Der Jude in the original German — has been interpreted as a commentary on the condition of the Jewish diaspora.

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Review: Trumbo

By John Nathan, March 19, 2009

Corin Redgrave’s major theatrical comeback following his heart attack was overshadowed by the news that his niece, Natasha Richardson, lay critically ill following a skiing accident. But John Dove’s rewarding production still went ahead. In this epistolary play by Christopher Trumbo, Redgrave plays the author’s father, the late, blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Redgrave is mesmerising as the always witty and usually angry Trumbo who, though jailed, refused to submit to the McCarthy anti-Communist witchhunts. Catch it if you can.

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