Monday, 22 July 2013

Review: The Night Alive, Donmar Warehouse, 20th July 2013

Woman stumbles in with a bloody nose aided by an unkempt middle-aged man. Wherever this is going, no-one’s expecting it to be a laughing matter, that is until Tommy, the man in question, starts manically clearing his bathroom of dirty crockery, looking stumped at a request for deodorant and awkwardly offering the girl (Amy) a place to stay. There are hints that a violent ex-partner may be the source of Amy's injury, but before you’ve had time to dwell on it too much, in strolls Tommy’s best friend and ‘business partner’ Doc (short for Brian), an affable, half-witted soul whom Tommy berates at every available opportunity. A few tales of their dodgy deals later and you’ve nearly forgotten the sinister intro and are unwittingly nestling in for Macpherson’s relocated take on ‘Only Fools and Horses’ (Less Del Boy, more Dublin).
Just as you’re expecting Tommy to enter a pub and hilariously fall through the bar in his quest to woo the unsuspecting Amy, this ambling tale of a young woman and a couple of dodgy old bachelors smashes to an abrupt and brutal stop which elicited a palpable gasp and saw several flee the auditorium. Any ‘Skins’ fans out there? Remember how Freddie died? Oh this is worse, much worse.
Connor Macpherson has trapped you in, there’s no trace of a Robin reliant, and the sh** has hit the fan. After sandwiching the above with an almost equally violent sequel, Macpherson now opts for by far the most depressing tactic of omitting any tears, breakdowns and wailing. Never one mention or substantial explanation is given for the violent episodes that have unfolded, and each character resumes where they were previously, stupid jokes and all.
The only niggle of Macpherson’s new play is the strangely contrived “several months later” scene welded onto the end, which feels entirely out a kilter with a play which otherwise tells you next to nothing about its characters. As final scenes go it’s maybe not the worst, but it certainly isn’t necessary.
The Night Alive drags you into a depressing, miserable hole, and you’ll be laughing all the way down until you look up and realise that these bleak lives are less funny than a root canal. Oh, and if you’re squeamish, expect to have your eyes closed and your fingers rammed in your ears for a few minutes. 4/5

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Review: Twelfth Night, Propeller, Hampstead Theatre, 16th July 2013

Fabian’s been kicked out, Sir Toby’s pretty fit and Malvolio doesn’t have anything to worry about downstairs. Already, this Twelfth Night sounds like it’s worth a look (who likes Fabian anyway?)  Large appendages and pretty cast-members aside, Propeller’s all-male production dodges that fatal ‘bawdy romp’ bullet and dives into a dusty, Miss Havishamy set in a production that sheds much of the typical, tired gloss. Vince Leigh’s Toby is less jolly uncle, more self-destructive loner, Feste embodies Fabian, and the frustratingly underwritten Orsino is fleshed out as a tormented figure grappling with a disorientating onslaught of same-sex attraction.
Impressions of this 2007 revival will inevitably be coloured by last year’s lauded all male production at The Globe. Gary Shelford’s icy, tight-lipped Olivia contends with Rylance’s impeccably neurotic, infatuated wreck, whilst Joseph Chance’s manly Viola is the polar opposite to the enigmatically effeminate Johnny Flynn. Indeed, smaller than Malvolio’s it may be, but there’s never a doubt that Chance’s Cesario ain’t no eunuch. The Viola/Cesario transition is cemented with a removal of a flowery hair-piece that feels like a lazy short-cut, though this is likely because Propeller’s Viola has been approached more as a narrative necessity than a key point of focus.
Ghosts of Twelfth Night’s past should probably, however, be deemed dismissible incidentals of this thoughtful production which weaves an intriguing mesh of sex, silliness and brutal, vindictive agenda. Edward Hall bypasses the bog standard love triangle/gender-bending directorial trajectory to magnify the Malvolio subplot and the unsettling realities of the play’s conclusion. This production probes past the booze and bawd of Malvolio’s persecutors to reveal what are perhaps some of Shakespeare’s most unredeeming characters. 4/5