First published in The Times, Saturday September 2 2017
In this era of 90-minute plays, a three-and-a-half hour drama feels like a real theatrical banquet. August: Osage County, Tracy Letts’s multi award-winning play, which made its Broadway debut in 2008, features all the bristling dialogue and steady ratcheting-up of tension found in great American stage works such as Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Yet, Letts’s family saga, with its large cast of dysfunctional characters, multiple plot strands, twists and revelations, is also unapologetically entertaining, like a soap opera only speeded-up.
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 7 2017
By coincidence, Dundee Rep’s community production of Brecht’s anti-fascist allegory is running at the same time as a major revival at the Donmar Warehouse. Where Brecht’s 1941 “parable play” parodied Hitler’s rise to power through the story of a small-time gangster who assumes control over the Chicago cauliflower racket in the 1930s, the London production, starring Lenny Henry, draws explicit parallels with the campaigning rhetoric and behaviour in office of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Sometimes the power of theatre to transport its audience can be instantaneous. As we make our way, still dripping from a June shower, into the auditorium of Dundee Rep, Ken Harrison’s set of rusticated gold pillars and wrought iron archways, made to gleam by Mike Robertson’s lighting, produces a palpably warming, comforting effect. People can be seen basking their faces in the glow. It’s like the start of a much-needed summer holiday.
First published in The Times, Monday December 7 2015
The Witches: Three Stars
Sleeping Betty: Three Stars
A Roald Dahl adaptation at Dundee Rep has become as much a staple of the Christmas season as mince pies. This is the third year in a row that the ensemble has staged one of David Wood’s adaptations of the celebrated author’s twisted children’s tales, with a production of George’s Marvellous Medicine already slated for next year.
Like George’s potion or the formula developed by the Grand High Witch to turn children into mice, at its best Dahl’s absurdist, somewhat menacing sensibility is a recipe for dark theatrical magic. Jemima Levick’s production of The Witches certainly doesn’t lack pungent set pieces, notably the anarchic hotel dining room sequence, in which the tale’s boy-to-mouse hero (Matthew Forbes) tries to turn the tables on the dastardly coven. The show gains further levity from its use of live music, developed by Gavin Swift and performed live.
Shakespeare’s early revenge tragedy was considered theatrically beyond the pale until recently, and it’s not hard to see why. Riven with scenes of torture, rape, dismemberment, brutal murder and cannibalism, it takes a special kind of talent to prevent the bloodbath that takes place onstage from seeming gratuitously nasty or, worse, unintentionally funny.