Monthly Archives: August 2019


(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/25.)

The annual celebration of the work of Brian Friel carries powerful reminders of the work of building community

“Politics are so obtrusive here.” The great Irish playwright Brian Friel (1929-2015) was being interviewed in the Guildhall in Derry in 1980. Gesturing to the Ebrington barracks beyond the window, on the other side of the River Foyle, he continued: “For people like ourselves… definitions of identity have to be developed and analysed much more frequently [than in England]. We’ve got to keep questioning until we find… some kind of generosity that can embrace the whole island.”

The cross-border FrielFest, now in its fourth year, invites audiences to participate in both the questioning and the embrace. In doing so, it reflects Friel’s own strength – making works particular to time and place that express our universal experiences. The quest for answers to shifting questions is reflected in the peripatetic form of the festival, with dramatic readings of Friel’s works presented in and around Derry and Donegal – and audiences, on occasion, visiting multiple venues in the course of one performance.

First produced in 1973, The Freedom of the City is set in Derry’s Guildhall, where, poignantly, this production is staged. A few hundred yards away, people are gathering around a makeshift music stage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside. On the night I attend, the audience meets outside the Museum of Free Derry (on other evenings, the rendezvous point is the Ebrington barracks). We are sung to the Guildhall by Nigerian-born, Liverpool-based performer and playwright Tayo Aluko, and walk in the wake of his resonant spirituals. Where some of us see city streets, others see invisible barriers crumbled (“I would never have crossed this road when I was young,” says one). The play is partially based on events around 1972’s Bloody Sunday. Its action unfurls in double-time. The fictional experiences of three civil rights demonstrators, who stumble into the Guildhall, fleeing a tear gas onslaught, are interspersed with the official inquiry into their subsequent deaths (shot leaving the building by the army, which maintains they were armed terrorists).

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Photo: Guardian



In order to make the effect true, one must do things to [the voice] . . .  that in real life are not true.  The same applies to make-up.  One must paint, and pencil the brows to make an effect in the auditorium.  But when you take a close look at a man in make-up, especially in the daylight, the effect is one of a mask.  [MLIA]



(Eric Grode’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/19; via Pam Green.)

George Bernard Shaw’s 6-Hour ‘Beast’? She’s All In

A dancer turned director, Kimberley Rampersad is tackling “Man and Superman” at the Shaw Festival.





“Sweets” again.


In the space of less than an hour, these were just a few of the terms of endearment lobbed from the dimly lit seats of the Festival Theater, one of the three venues that make up the Shaw Festival campus.

Tech rehearsals — the millisecond-by-millisecond calibration of every lighting cue and sound effect — can sap the will of even the hardiest theater folk. But Kimberley Rampersad, the issuer of those kind words, wasn’t having it one recent afternoon. Not with the festival’s marquee event entrusted to her — on just her second time directing here.

A bronze statue of George Bernard Shaw may stand in the center of this bucolic town 20 miles north of Niagara Falls, but only two plays by the festival’s namesake are on offer in this year’s 11-play season.

Some would argue, however, that there are actually three Shaws in a 12-play season. Because one of the two — the one that Ms. Rampersad was overseeing — is the “glorious beast” (to use her phrase) known as “Man and Superman,” which took Shaw a decade to see mounted in its entirety. Ms. Rampersad had her work cut out for her.

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Photo: Tara Walton for The New York Times


 Picture: PA

(Holly Williams’s article appeared in the Independent, 8/2.)

It’s nearly that time again: when crowds descend on Edinburgh for the world’s biggest arts festival, where every pub basement and street corner becomes a stage, and flyers and pints alike spill over the cobbled streets. The festivals are an absolute feast for theatre fans, a chance to watch the best international work, to catch up-and-coming young companies, and to see so many heartfelt solo shows that you finish the festival performing your own earnest inner monologue. It’s always a good idea to leave time (and budget) for a punt on a random show you overheard excited chatter about in the loo queue, but in order not to feel totally overwhelmed, it helps to book a few in too. Here’s a whole host of suggestions to get you going…

Safe bets

Increasingly, if something is an Edinburgh hit, it returns. It would be entirely possible (if not quite in the spirit of things) to see only work that’s already been a success. Chris Thorpe’s Fringe First award-winning exploration of nationality, Status, returns, and as we heave slowly towards Brexit will surely only feel more relevant; another Fringe First holder, Square Go, is also back in the ring at Roundabout. Last year’s much-acclaimed dressed. only has a short run, but promises to break hearts all over again, while What Girls Are Made Of, Cora Bissett’s exhilarating look at growing up while playing in bands, returns to the spotlight. Fringe favourite James Rowland brings back his trilogy of storytelling plays – Team VikingA Hundred Different Words for Love, and Revelations. You can even see all three back-to-back if you’ve got a big enough hanky.

Three of my favourite shows from the last year are in Edinburgh: Frankenstein, a mind-blowing performance by the Battersea Arts Centre’s young beatboxing academy, is electrifying and really not to be missed. Kieran Hurley’s Mouthpiece is a clever, heartfelt look at class and culture, art and appropriation, while It’s True It’s True It’s True – Breach’s powerful, defiant piece about the rape trial of artist Artemisia Gentileschi – returns for a third year. All are well worth your money.

Other hits heading north include War of the Worlds, Rhum and Clay’s admired, twisty adaptation of HG Wells’s classic; the ever-watchable and always punchy Bryony Kimmings in I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, and a new production of My Mum’s a Twat, Anoushka Warden’s very funny play about losing her mother to a cult, which she is now performing.

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(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/21.)

Juliet Stevenson delivers one of the peak performances of the theatrical year in Robert Icke’s striking reimagining of Schnitzler

As a director and writer, Robert Icke specialises in updating the classics. But where his version of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck struck me as an impertinence, this adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s Professor Bernhardi is a brilliant expansion of the original’s themes. Icke’s production also yields a performance by Juliet Stevenson that is one of the peaks of the theatrical year.

First performed in 1912, Schnitzler’s play offers a devastating portrait of Viennese antisemitism in showing a Jewish doctor attacked for refusing a Catholic priest permission to administer the last rites to a patient. Icke retains Schnitzler’s premise while subtly rewriting it. His protagonist, Ruth Wolff, is a secular Jew who runs a prestigious institute specialising in Alzheimer’s disease. But when Ruth prevents a priest seeing a 14-year-old girl dying from a self-administered abortion, the incident acquires a toxic publicity. It goes viral on social media, provokes petitions and TV debates, and jeopardises not only Ruth’s future but that of the institute and a government-bankrolled new building. 

Stevenson beautifully portrays the human cost of making medicine one’s god

Impressively, Icke enlarges the original to take on not just religion but also race, gender and class. He even adds a creative dissonance in casting women to play male roles, black actors to play white characters and vice versa.

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Photo: London Theatre


(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/21; via Pam Green.)

The screen and stage star is making his Broadway debut as the bottled-up husband wearing a “mask of control” in Harold Pinter’s romantic triangle.

“I’m protective about my internal world now in probably a different way,” says the actor Tom Hiddleston, making his Broadway debut in “Betrayal.”CreditCreditDevin Yalkin for The New York Times

Tom Hiddleston was posing for a portrait, and the face he showed the camera wasn’t entirely his own.

That had been his idea, to slip for a few moments into the character he’s playing on Broadway, in Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal”: Robert, the cheated-on husband and backstabbed best friend whose coolly proper facade is the carapace containing a crumbling man. And when Mr. Hiddleston became him, the change was instantaneous: the guarded stillness of his body, the chill reserve in his gray-blue eyes.

“It’s interesting,” Mr. Hiddleston said after a while, analyzing Robert’s expression from the inside. “It gives less away.” A pause, and then his own smile flickered back, its pleasure undisguised. “O.K.,” Mr. Hiddleston announced, himself again, “it’s not Robert anymore.”

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Photo:  The New York Times