Theatre

How a clash between a couple of toffs led to birth of Israel

By John Nathan, March 4, 2010

Just over 50 years after Theodore Herzl proclaimed Israel's right to exist in 1897, Israel existed. The steps that led to that historic moment are well documented: The Balfour Declaration in 1917; The League of Nations' Mandate in 1922; the Declaration of Independence in 1948.

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Review: Ghosts

By John Nathan, March 4, 2010

If I were a producer I would want to be the type who puts Ibsen's play about family secrets on in the West End. There is something miraculous about 21st-century attention spans being held with just dialogue set in one bleakly-lit Norwegian room with only the rattle of incessant rain for music. This is a classic feel-bad play.

But I would need a reason to put it on, whether it be the director's vision or the casting. Both are solid here, but neither is the stuff of theatrical triumphs.

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Review: Measure For Measure

February 25, 2010

"Why Measure for Measure?" asked a colleague as we walked into the theatre. It seems I was not the only one wondering why the Almeida, a venue that generally concentrates on mostly modern British and international plays, had turned to Shakespeare.

It is not as if there is a lack of Shakespeare around. But by the time Michael Attenborough's production had reached the interval, no excuse was needed. The reason was obvious. It was clear that Attenborough must have been burning to direct this problem play.

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Austrians hated this playwright — the feeling was mutual

By John Nathan, February 18, 2010

'If they were honest," says Professor Robert Schuster about his fellow Austrians, "they'd like to gas us today just as they did 50 years ago."

Schuster is the Jewish philosopher character in Heldenplatz, the final play written by Austrian dramatist and novelist Thomas Bernhard, who died in 1989. It arrives at the Arcola Theatre in London this month, and it contains many more of Schuster's observations about his fellow countrymen and women. "Inside every Viennese there is a mass murderer," he says. And: "Generally, Austrians are callous and stupid."

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Review: Serenading Louie

By John Nathan, February 18, 2010

Plays about the American dream tend not to end optimistically. Lanford Wilson's articulate 1970 offering, elegantly revived in Simon Curtis's production, brilliantly entwines the lives of two malfunctioning Chicago couples. With sharp wit they question capitalist values and wallow in thirtysomething disillusionment. But is a play about disappointment a tragedy just because a gun goes off in the final act?

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Review: Heldenplatz

By John Nathan, February 18, 2010

For those who see Austria as a country whose small c conservatism hides capital f fascism, Thomas Bernhard's play is a guilty pleasure.

Set in 1988, the year before its author died, the play rakes over Austria's Nazi past and exposes what Bernhard saw as his country's Nazi present. The premiere in Vienna did not go down well. There were protests and President Kurt Waldheim, whose own Nazi past had by then been revealed, condemned the play as an insult to the Austrian people. And so (tee hee) it is.

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Review: Brighton Beach Memoirs

By John Nathan, February 11, 2010

A shockwave went through Broadway last year when a revival of Neil Simon’s 1963 comedy, Brighton Beach Memoirs, one of the New York writer’s best-loved and most often produced plays, closed within a week of opening.

In an era when musicals reign Simon’s witty and warm autobiographical portrait of a Jewish Brooklyn family struggling through the Depression is about as bankable as straight plays get. Yet the $3-million production, despite being well reviewed, still went belly up, making it one of the biggest flops in recent times.

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Review: Really Old Like Forty Five

By John Nathan, February 10, 2010

If ever there were a play that had state-of-the-nation ambitions it is Tamsin Oglesby’s satire about ageing and ageism. But what a missed opportunity this is, not just to be funny about a scary subject, but to say something interesting about a big problem. Oglesby’s vision of the near future sees the old used as guinea pigs for potentially fatal anti-dementia drugs. Paul Ritter provides a high-octane stand-out performance as the minister in charge of pioneering research hospitals where old people are experimented on but die happy.

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Review: Waiting For Godot

By John Nathan, February 4, 2010

Last year I wondered if Sir Ian McKellen felt let down by Sir Patrick Stewart. So brilliant was McKellen’s Estragon and so bland was Stewart’s Vladimir — now played by Roger Rees — any deep-down satisfaction McKellen might have felt about acting Stewart off the stage must have been tempered by the knowledge that when it comes to Beckett’s waiting tramps, it takes two to tango.

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Puccini in a pub? How bohemian

By Deborah Harris, January 28, 2010

‘I touched the head of a bald man by mistake,” exclaims bass singer Georgios Papaefstratiou.

“And during the fight scene we nearly fell into the audience,” adds baritone Matthew Duncan. The two singers were responding to my question about the pitfalls of putting on a grand opera in the cramped setting of Kilburn’s Cock Tavern.

So, La Bohème in a fringe venue — who could have imagined it? I certainly wanted to, which is why I got involved with the OperaUpClose’s production of Puccini’s gypsy love story.

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