The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Apollo Theatre.

The curious poster.

The curious poster.

Doing culturally things in the city.

I finally managed to catch the play this weekend! I know I’m very, very behind in my review for this one…writing it just over a year since it first premiered at The National. Nonetheless, I am going to write it anyway and share my wee thoughts. I apologise in advance if my thoughts are exactly what has been said by other reviewers, as I don’t know what they’ve said. (Thought I’d leave the play a surprise and not read any reviews, I’m just a dare-devil like that).

So, yet another critically acclaimed play written by Mr. Simon Stephens. If you live in, work in or have even visited London recently, you would have seen the bright blue posters. You can’t miss them – dotted alongside the tube escalators or plastered on black cabs. From the immense popularity and the fact that it is based on a GREAT book – I was expecting a fantastic play.

Mark Haddon’s novel of the same title is written from the point of view of Christopher Boon – a 15-year-old boy with a condition not specifically described. However, it hints at Asperger syndrome or Autism. He is a mathematical genius and takes everything literally, he can only function facts. Metaphors or things that don’t add up confuse and upset him. So, because the book is so focused from his point of view, I was interested to see how the transfer could be made. There was a risk that the transfer could come across as a ‘problem play’ addressing mental health. Rather than what the story actually is, which is essentially about dealing with and understanding people’s differences.

Stephens was obviously well aware of this risk and has thus created a brilliant adaptation. The stage is the most successful element, being designed like Christopher’s brain, gridded like a maths work book. It also changes into screens which reflect the workings of his brain; displaying multiple numbers or animating what Christopher (played brilliantly by Luke Treadaway)  is describing about how he is thinking. The back wall also doubled up as a chalk board which Boon used to work out equations and eliminate culprits for Wellington’s death.

Treadaway was equally as brilliant in the starring role of Christopher Boon. A difficult character to get right and Treadaway completely nailed it. The arrogance Treadaway unintentionally displays was brilliant. Treadaway kept me giggling throughout with his unashamed logic. When asked by his teacher Siobhan if he was happy with his A* for his Maths A-Level, he bluntly replied ‘Well, yes. It’s the top mark!’. On the other side of this, Treadaway was so lovable. When Christopher was upset or confused, he blamed himself and turned into himself. At times when he discovers things that factually don’t make sense I truly felt empathetic for him. It was more than connecting with Christopher on an emotional level, because he doesn’t really show any emotions. So, when he was confused, in a way it was more heart-breaking to watch than any of the other characters on stage, because he couldn’t process anything – neither emotions or logic.

When stage and mind combine...

When stage and mind combine…

All in all a brilliant cast! In particular Niamh Cusack playing Siobhan, Christopher’s mentor and the omniscient narrator of the play was brilliant. Likewise, Sean Gleeson as Christopher’s struggling father, Ed Boon, was so touching to watch. A man who seemed to be teetering on the edge of stress over-load, kept himself balanced through his unwavering love for his son. A lovely, tender moment occurs between father and son, where Gleeson helps a very distressed Treadaway undress and get ready for bed. That’s just one example of the beautiful relationship displayed between Gleeson and Treadaway on stage. I won’t ruin others for you.

So, Stephens continues to live up to his outstanding reputation. This play is most certainly one to add to his ever-increasing, and ever impressive repertoire of charming plays. I urge you to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time just for the fact that you will leave the theatre with a warm smile on your face.

Plus…there’s an incredibly cute puppy on stage at one point – see the play for this reason, if not for any other reason I’ve addressed above. It was adorable.

Port at The National Theatre

This review is a bit late, as for some reason I forgot to post it at the time. I just found it in my saved posts and wanted to share it.

This production ran from 22 January to 24 March 2013.

Watching Simon Stephen’s Port, directed by his trusty collaborator Marianne Elliott, is like flicking through a friend’s photo album. You see a series of moments – each one is self-contained, and in that small moment, you see one piece of the jigsaw that is their life. In that respect the play is quite beautiful.

So, through an episodic style, we follow the central character Rachael Keats over a fourteen year period. Rachael (Kate O’Flynn) first emerges as an energetic eleven year old, squabbling with her younger brother Billy (Mike Noble), and unintentionally agitating her mother (Liz White) whilst they are sitting in their cramped car after being locked out of their flat. The story moves to follow Rachael through her teenage years and early twenties, so in the last scene she is twenty-four and we see her moving on from Stockport; she’s beaten the troubles in her life that so heavily haunted her teenage years and early adulthood. O’Flynn obviously faced an extremely difficult challenge, showing Rachael’s development from childhood to womanhood. She handled it respectfully without patronisingly talking like a child, or throwing a “I am NOT YOUR SLAVE” inspired teenage strop. The play was incredibly touching and real at points; in particular, the conflict between Rachael and her father after the death of her granddad, was raw and choking to watch.

Yet, the play did have its downfalls. It was far too long. Most scenes were filled with two-hander conversations and not enough action on stage, a perfect example of this is the opening scene. Watching three actors in a car (one of which was in the back seat and not really visible) at the corner of the stage, and struggling to hear what they were saying, for what felt like half an hour, was neither entertaining or an engaging opening. What is more, the huge Lyttelton stage dwarfed the actors and forced them to unnecessarily move around it whilst they were talking. In particular, O’Flynn seemed to find it difficult to walk around the stage without flamboyantly lunging, jumping or running. For a play that is originally meant to be performed in the round, with a small intimate audience, perhaps the Cottesloe would have been more fitting…if only it wasn’t being renovated. To appreciate the tender harshness of Stephen’s writing, a smaller theatre seems essential, without it we can’t truly appreciate the characters; it appears this time Stephen’s language and meaning gets lost in those famously large National Theatre sets.

Jumpers for Goalposts at Watford Palace Theatre.

In collaboration with Paines Plough, Watford Palace is putting on Tom Wells’ new play, Jumpers for Goalposts until the 20th of April. He is one of the most promising new playwrights to have emerged in recent years; you may recognise him from his recent successes The Kitchen Sink or Me, As A Penguin. I initially assumed Jumpers for Goalposts would not be for me; a play about five-a-side football…yeah, no thanks. But, I was pleasantly surprised; it wasn’t what I expected at all. If you want to see a production that will make you laugh and give you a lump in your throat then Jumpers for Goalposts is the production for you.

The plot revolves around the hapless five-a-side football team, Barely Athletic, who are competing against other five-a-side gay, lesbian and bisexual teams in the Hull Sunday League. Other team names comically include, Tranny United and Lesbian Rovers. All the action occurs post-match in Barely Athletic’s changing room, we see the relationships emerge between each character and come to learn their individual sorrows or joys. Phillip Duguid-McQuillan as Luke was hilarious to watch, fidgeting awkwardly on stage when around his ‘crush’, Danny, and continually walking into the door that says ‘Pull’. Similarly, Geoff or ‘Beardy’, played by Andy Rush puts on a touching performance as the woolly hat wearing busker, trying to find the perfect song to play on the Gay Pride march. He covers up his own recent pain (the victim of a gay bashing) by charmingly caring for and helping the other members of the team.

Love's awkward young dream.

Love’s awkward young dream.

All in all, the whole cast were great; Vivienne Gibbs plays the team’s coach, Viv, who was kicked out of Lesbian Rovers for being too bossy. Mark Sutton plays her brother-in-law, Joe, who is teased for being the unfit, token straight guy of the team. Whilst Jamie Samuel plays Danny, discretely coping with his illness and its impact on his feelings for Luke.

Admittedly, parts of the plot were predictable, and a bit cliché. Yet, as the play’s core is so tender and funny, you can’t help but like it and look past the obvious to what Wells has successfully created. He’s created a series of real and warm relationships between five people. On the surface it may seem like your average “rom-com” but it is much more than that, Wells has convincingly crafted real people, not just stereotypes.

Running from the 5th till the 20th of April. There isn’t long left of its run at Watford Palace, but it will be performed at the Hull Truck Theatre later on in the year.

Go here to buy tickets for Watford: http://www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk/page/jumpers-for-goalposts#-About

Metamorphosis at The Lyric, Hammersmith.

17 January – 16 February 2013

Before watching this play I was unsure and slightly anxious as to how Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis would be staged. I had visions of flapping cockroach costumes or ‘movement as an expression of dance’. How do you stage a story that revolves around a man waking up one day finding himself transformed into a giant insect?

David Farr and Gísli Örn Garðarsson’s production, back for another run at The Lyric Hammersmith (the first run was in 2006), offers a painfully tragic representation of a man who becomes an outcast from himself and his family. Gísli Örn Garðarsson faced the challenge of playing Gregor Samsa, which he met with a performance of outstanding physicality and tender helplessness. Garðarsson scuttled along the walls of the stage, hung from the ceiling and crawled down the stairs; his performance was physically brilliant. Combined with the character’s miserable confusion and lonely exile to his small room, Garðarsson created a vulnerable Gregor Samsa that moved me to tears. Similarly, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir as his sister Greta, and Kelly Hunter and Ingvar E Sigurdsson as his parents, played a suffering family unit living with a frustrating and shameful secret they can’t understand or live with.

The split level set allowed this exile of Gregor and conflict in the family to progressively grow on stage; one scene showed Gregor pathetically scratching his bedroom door for food, whilst below his family were ignoring his cries to entertain their possible new tenant, played by Jonathan McGuiness. This adaptation is beautiful, bringing out the heartbreakingly sad core of Franz Kafka’s original story; accompanied not just by a great cast, but by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ haunting music and Börkur Jónsson’s diverse stage design. The production is a must see before its run finishes on the extended date of the 16th of February.

Image

The dark secret above. Gregor hidden in the top part of the split stage.

Go here to buy tickets:

http://www.lyric.co.uk/whats-on/production/metamorphosis/