Posts Tagged ‘Southwark Playhouse’

The War Has Not Yet Started, Southwark Playhouse 18 January

January 20, 2018

Picture from British Theatre Guide

This £12 preview had a large and enthusiastic audience–perhaps the actors were famous or something?  They were certainly very very good, and there was at most one early-run fluff that I noted.

Someone in the audience had pointed out that the programme didn’t tell you what the play was about, though there was some suggestion it was connected with war as a metaphor for human relationships.  Then the set was specifically enough a late-Soviet flat though the action of the twelve separate scenes, all with different characters and situations, seemed to be taking more or less in the present.   References to presentations and clients seemed to fix the period, while a character in the first scene drinking vodka and then beer to get calm determined the locale closely enough.

And you could see that war was somehow present in most of the scenes, although the couple copping off at the party and then him saying she was his first and only one might be difficult to fit into that.  And also the robot with an absurdity implant waiting to see the doctor.  The scenes at the beginning did recall actors doing improvisation exercises, which was all very clever but did they need an audience?  Interest did however grow as the evening went on.

A critic on the 172 bus afterwards said she liked the way the women played men and the man played women.  I think that wherever possible Sarah Hadland played a man and Mark Quartley played a woman, while Hannah Britland was not so typecast.  But it did seem to me her T-shirt was artfully billowed to disguise pregnancy–of the woman not of a character–, and so I was frankly terrified during a scene that threatened domestic abuse.

Now then, in his local media  playwright Mikhail Durnenkov gave a very straightforward interpretation of the play–it was meant to fix the period of its writing, when preparations for war were apparent and Russians were subjected to ceaseless propaganda.  That gave rise to incomprehension, hatred and violence in ordinary life.  The play was written with love for humanity and in the hope that Russia would not fall into the waiting abyss. To me that all makes sense:  the inbreaking of war, and rumours of war, result in dislocations–violent dislocations–of everyday life.

And also of sex roles, which might well be more of a shock in Russia than here.  The original text says that the thing is meant for three actors who can play the different characters without regard to age and sex.  Personally I would have gone for masks and probably a chorus as well.  With regard to that text, the translation was more in the line of an adaptation–the original robot just had an absurdity module, while from Thursday I remember an implant, between the second and third vertebrae.  A lot of the dialogue had also been normalised from the demotic and individual to general speech of educated people as well.

Certainly a lot to think about!

The Playboy of the Western World, Southwark Playhouse 1530 15 August

August 15, 2015


A picture I found on Twitter (they're watching Christy Mahon win the races)

A picture I found on Twitter (they’re watching Christy Mahon win the races)

Some providential urging led me to read the text before going to see this matinee show, and so I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Otherwise it would have been very difficult to follow what was going on, as various cast members struggled with their Irish accents.  In fact, at the beginning our Pegeen Mike was totally incomprehensible as she delivered her lines facing away from the audience. On other occasions, she would start off speaking quite clearly and then unfortunately remember the Irish accent, which was all the more unfortunate as she played the part very well (but could have given the desperation more space to breathe in the famous last lines:  Oh my grief I’ve lost him entirely.  I’ve lost the only playboy of the western world).

You know what happens in PBWW–Christy Mahon is first of all a hero when he has killed his father, then he loses favour (especially with Pegeen Mike) when it seems he hasn’t, and then at the end maybe he’s a hero again.  So in theory it’s a satire on the mores of rural Ireland, but here the effect was more Shakespearean, with heartstoppingly beautiful poetry accompanied  by unconvincing funny business.

The production was in general lucid enough, though some things worried me. The infamous loy which Christy brains his father was played by a wooden mock-up of a peat-cutting spade.

Peat-cutting tool

Peat-cutting tool



Christy Mahon apparently arrived in his stockinged feet, but then his boots mysteriously appeared overnight for the village girls to wonder at. These may be ways of reflecting deliberate absurdities in Synge’s text, and that may also be why our Widow Quin was played with great urbanity and in imperial purple, but combining effortful Irish accents with the English (incorrect) pronunciation of ‘Bridget’ is very strange…Christy Mahon’s interlude of playing the ‘loy’ like an electric guitar made me wonder whether director Polina Kalinina had been thinking of making him into a Khlestyakov and then abandoned the idea…More seriously, perhaps, at the end I still had no idea of the relationship between Christy and Old Mahon.

So what should you do about the accents?  The Irish audience that Synge wrote for will hardly have heard the speech of a different nation, while it would make no sense to deliver the various Irish constructions, Whishts, and phonetically-written-out divil, kidnabbed and so on in RP.  The sensible thing would be to adopt the speech of Irish people who have lived in England for some time–so that you realise that they’re Irish and then forget about it–which is perhaps the way the Irish cast members would naturally speak anyway.

But very much worth seeing all the same!  (Keep clear of the lighting desk for fear of extraneous commentary.)

‘In Lambeth’ Ticket Offer

July 30, 2014 have sent us details of a £10 offer on tickets for this show at the Southwark Playhouse (usually £18):  Quote OWE to book online or over the phone in advance only.
The offer certainly works, though you could wonder whether the play does.  Mrs Blake’s bottom definitely looked uncomfortable as she sat in the tree, and we were glad that important places like Catford and One Tree Hill finally got a mention on the English stage.

The Love Girl & the Innocent, Southwark Playhouse 12 October [Preview]

October 13, 2013



Picture from Facebook page

At the beginning, there was an announcement that Rebecca Oldfield (playing the heroine Lyuba)  would be on book, having taken over the role at the last minute.  There were no programmes.  The set looked far too clean and well-organised to be a Russian workplace, never mind a Soviet prison camp.

The play, of course, is by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and is set in a Gulag in 1945.

In theory, it follows Nemov (Nerzhin in the original), a captain newly sent to the camps and Lyuba (short for Lyubov’ = love, a perfectly normal first name for women in Russia).  Nemov loses his post as production supervisor to a more cunning rival; he and Lyuba fall in love and the question is whether she can bear to enjoy the protection of the camp doctor so that Nemov will not be sent to another camp.

In fact, a large proportion of the play involved scenes from camp life and establishing the fates of the multitudinous characters, and it worked rather well in this production; clearly a lot of theatrical intelligence had been applied by director Matthew Dunster to making it all work on stage.  Of course, none of it looked anything like what you can see at the Gulag Memorial in Perm, but I felt that someone had read the text carefully and made sensible decisions about how to present it on that basis.

The thing about Lyuba being on book meant that she had the text with her in the second half and referred to it with increasing frequency.  In fact, in her explanation with Nemov she was trying to explain that she was not free, the constraint she was under–and there it was  in her hand–I found that almost unbearably affecting.

I think the reason this play works better than you might think is that Solzhenitsyn had something to say, and knew how to say it, if not in the most polished theatrical language; and he had split himself between Nemov (captain arrested straight from the front) and Lyuba (sordid upbringing and unreasonable artistic gifts).  Of course that’s what’s so Russian about the whole thing–the stupid squalor of a sixth of the earth’s surface turned over to various grades of slavery and against that the spark of the divine.

As for the actors, I thought that Rebecca Oldfield did very well and Cian Barry as Nemov actually moved and held himself like a soldier, which is a rare and welcome thing on the stage.  Emily Dobbs also made a strong impression as Granya, the sniper who shoots her husband (you can more-or-less work out who was playing what part from an article here).

I should also point out that this was billed as a preview…see here for what I know about other Russian plays in London.

The Illusion (Pierre Corneille/Tony Kushner), Southwark Playhouse 3.15 pm 25 August

August 25, 2012


This was described as an adaptation of Pierre Corneille by Tony Kushner, but I think it was more like ‘by Tony Kushner after Corneille’.

Anyway, accompanied by my cold I climbed to my favourite spot a long way from the stage and by some railings so that I could rest with my eyes closed if it all became too much for me.

What happens in the play is that Pridamant, a rich lawyer, resorts to the cave of Alcandre, a witch, in search of intimations of the fate of his son who he cast out 15 years ago.  So Alcandre shows him scenes from the son’s life as an adventurer, convict, and lover-not-wisely-but-too-well.  These led me to recall that I did know something about Corneille and this kind of blood-thunder-and-bombast was rather what I expected.  In fact, I found quite a few opportunities to rest my eyes and consider whether the water leaking onto wiring at the back of the hall might promise something more exciting.  Also I found I couldn’t always understand what Daisy Hughes as the love interest was saying–the unengaging acting of these episodes might have been deliberate, but I don’t think that was.

I did enjoy the by-play between Alcandre (Melanie Jessop) and Pridamant (James Clyde), where he complained about what he was being shown and if she was particularly well-disposed she would strike the floor with her stick and bring about a change in the action.  Melanie Jessop and (sometimes) Shanaya Rafaat as the love-interest’s serving-maid dominated the stage and riveted the attention in a way the other players didn’t match.  I should add that the production (directed by Sebastian Harcombe) was always perfectly clear and you could always tell who was supposed to be who and what they were meant to be doing.

So at the end…we got some reflections on theatre and illusion.  And I was quite interested; not so much by questions of illusion and love but more in how much this text differed from that of Corneille.  The answer seems to be really quite a lot:  a sex change for Alcandre, prose instead of verse, and essentially a new character in Alcandre’s Calibanic servant to start off with.  Also Alcandre’s monologue about love–an illusion–being more real than earth and iron, which I took to be the centrepiece of the play, seems to be original with Kushner.  I think what he’s done is to try to produce something actable, pleasant and interesting and rather lost Corneille’s attempt to display complicated literary-philosophical arguments by instantiating them in a play.

I think.

The programme cost £ 2 for 4 pages, and no adverts for private schools.  At least someone (Pridamant) had been in The Bill, so those standards were maintained.

Port Authority Southwark Playhouse 3pm 28 January

January 28, 2012


Picture from Southwark Playhouse FB page--you can see rather more than this photo implies

This new play by Conor McPherson began with some ineffective pentatonic noodling to establish atmosphere and I slumped against the railings next to me as I realised I was not going to have a rewarding 90 minutes.

The play comprised young Kevin, middle-aged Dermot and old Joe relating episodes from their lives.  Kevin had moved out of his parents’ home and perhaps had the possibility of true love, but in the end had moved back and stayed with curly-haired Tricia.  Joe had decided after a dream of absolute love that Marion Ross from next door was the one meant for him, but had not dared to accept a photograph of her as a girl.  Dermot had found himself out of his depth in his new job and then his rather unsuitable wife reminded him that she had originally condescended to save him, not the other way round.

Well.  I think the point here is that these men were not strong enough to seize happiness because they were crippled by Irish smallness (and also God in the case of Joe).   I didn’t find it engaging.  The lack of any contact between the characters didn’t help.  (OK, so Kevin’s housemate’s  calamitous band ends up being big in the States.  But when O’Hagen’s deceased mother is said to have wanted a photo sent to an ex-neighbour–well, he would have been Ross and not O’Hagen).

Kevin (Andrew Nolan) was given some nice lines about being young and in love, but his part was especially hampered by the Joycean-epiphanic shtick, where minor details occupy the foreground of the narration as though they mean something.  He seemed to be a nice clean boy and so rather out of place–that was probably the point.  Ardal O’Hanlon as Dermot delivered an impersonation of 1970s comedian Dave Allen.  I wondered whether John Rogan as Joe was forgetting his lines or depicting the effects of age.  I finally settled on forgetting.

I didn’t understand the title either.

Antigone Southwark Playhouse 21 May

May 21, 2011


'Antigone' is not a liberal (or feminist) tract and Antigone is not Sophie Scholl! (From Southwark Playhouse Facebook page)

So at long last someone has solved the problems of staging Greek tragedy.  While the pre-show publicity had threatened all kinds of nonsense about the struggle for freedom in the contemporary Middle East, the production got it right.  Antigone confined in a chador as in her social position is not some feminist heroine but on the edge of madness struggling with a conflict that is really past bearing, but the adamantine nature of a Sophoclean hero means she has to go on and accept the impossible.  Here Creon’s suffering effectively mirrors hers but he’s really out of his league–he wants to refuse the burden of his own necessity but then finds even that is beyond him.

The setting, which to me was essentially Iranian-Moghul, worked really well!  There was a sense of conventions which you did not have to fully understand.  You could accept that these things could happen there, that people might be constrained by the curse of the Labdacids without needing to worry about who they might be.  The chorus was about the best-handled I’ve ever see, with singing, dancing and appropriate reactions to what was going on among the principals–a triumph of precise direction.  The setting also meant that the chief characters were gorgeously apparrelled, as they would have been in Athenian performances of 2500 years ago, and appeared as people whose fates could sway a realm.

Moghul court (I'd say) with obligatory fatigued soldier in background (from Southwark Playhouse FB page again)

I thought that Eleanor Wyld was very good as the nervous, struggling and overborne Antigone and the pain of Jamie Glover as Kreon effectively mirrored hers.  And I liked Deborah Grant’s Eurydike, full of foreboding, as well.  I think the thing only needs a little running-in and some more consistency to become a complete triumph.  I didn’t understand why we had Christopher Ragland doing the guard who had failed to prevent Polyneikes being buried as an American soldier caught out at Abu Ghraib, and Edward Petherbridge gave us a compositely-Shakespearean Tiresias, delivering the Fool’s material in the manner of Lear.  I’d also seen the obligatory attributes of katiemitchellism–TV cameras, lecterns, soldiers in modern uniform, clipboards–rather too many times before.

Quite often whoever it was who was speaking remained unlit–that may have been deliberate in the case of Antigone, unable to break free from the darkness that surrounded her, but it happened with other characters too.  Some of the voice-overs I couldn’t hear and a few words of dialogue were blotted out by trains passing overhead.

But this production promises to become very very very good indeed…

Fuente Ovejuna Southwark Playhouse 09 August

August 9, 2010


Some kind of an idea....

This was the first of the previews of ‘Fuente Ovejuna’ by Tangram Theatre at the Southwark Playhouse.  Actors mingled with the audience, making friends with them and encouraging them to join in before the beginning and involving them in community singalongs and pieces of comic business during the action itself.

To me it just didn’t work.  The timing was off, partly because there was too much space to fill which meant that things didn’t happen quickly enough and partly because a lack of positive direction meant that you would have one exchange or piece of action and then things would slip into neutral before the next one began.  The only consistent performance I saw was that of Richard Cunningham as the exaggeratedly villainous villain Fernán Gómez de Guzmán; a lot of the rest of the time it was the panicky kicking of arms and legs when you fear the water won’t bear you up–if you don’t believe in the play, then don’t put it on.

All of those involved seemed like very nice and enthusiastic people to me, and I hope that things work out for them.  There’s an English synopsis of the play here, and a Spanish text here.

Intrigue/Love (Schiller) Southwark Playhouse 24 July

July 25, 2010


Ferdinand (Cerith Flynn) and Louisa (Alice Henley)

The Faction’s new show at the Southwark Playhouse is of course an adaptation of Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe, which also served as the source for Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

The action is as follows. Ferdinand, son of the Chancellor to the Duke of a German duchy (here rendered as Hamburg) is in love with Louisa, the daughter of a musician.  Worm, the Chancellor’s secretary would also like to marry her.  He gets short shrift.  The Chancellor, whose career has been built on crime and deceit, wants Ferdinand to marry Lady Milford, the Duke’s discarded mistress.  After more direct attempts to separate them have failed, Worm suggests they use intrigue:  imprison Louisa’s father and so coerce her into writing what will be taken as a love-letter to another man.

Tableau beginning second half

The second half begins with the characters reading multiple copies of Louisa’s letter, as above.  Lady Milford summons Louisa to try to take her into her service and win Ferdinand from her.  After Louisa will not be tempted, she resolves to leave Hamburg and her life of unearned privilege–also removing from her face the white make-up she has (like the other corrupted characters) been wearing up to that point.  Ferdinand visits Louisa’s family, gives her father a bag of gold, and then poisons her and himself.  Released from her vow by death, Louisa tells him how she was forced to write the letter.  The Chancellor burst in–Ferdinand curses him and dies.  The Chancellor says he will finish Worm and Worm says he will make known the Chancellor’s crimes.

Steven Blake was magnificently evil as the Chancellor, and if possible Gareth Fordred was even more unpleasant as a Worm clad in black leather.  Kate Sawyer did a very good job as Lady Milford–probably the most interesting character in the play–but I’m afraid that Alice Henley as Louisa  didn’t really impress me as a romantic heroine.  While I appreciated the athleticism of Cerith Flynn in running several times round the playing area in his desperate rush to Miller’s house, he struck me as a nice young lad in a bit of a pickle (and given to some lofty outpourings) rather than anything else.

Worm, Louisa and the fatal letter

The production was very sensible and direct, with good use made of chairs (and music) and of costumes to suggest who was who.  There’s a very good video trailer (the source of the images above) here–it’s well-done and it gives you a good idea of what the thing is about.

As I cycled home afterwards, I thought (very much not for the first time) that the idea of drama is to show that people can be better, braver, greater, more beautiful than they are–so I think Schiller would have called this show a success.


I have now corrected a couple of factual errors in the original version of this posting.

Many of these characters also have their equivalents in Don Carlos, I think : Chancellor–Philip II; Ferdinand–Don Carlos; Lady Milford–Eboli; Worm–Confessor/Grand Inquisitor.

Update 29 July

Southwark Playhouse has now announced the following via Facebook and Twitter:  want to see Intrigue/Love for just £10? Use the codeword “INTRIGUE” when booking online or on the phone (020 7407 0234).

There is a remarkable 5-star review in Russian here.  ‘Remarkable’ not because I disagree with it but because it contains absolutely no evidence that the reviewer has seen this production…

Orestes: Re-examined Southwark Playhouse 3 October

October 5, 2009


Picture from

Picture from

We waited in a line to collect our tickets and then have our names taken by people in fluorescent jackets.  I gave up trying to buy a drink and then we were welcomed to Argos by a bloke under a video screen.  It showed pictures of shiny happy buildings and then went dead.  After that, a group of rebels appeared to take over and led us to the auditorium where we sat along the sides while  Orestes was chained at one end and Clytaemnestra’s bloody robe hung at the other.

So the question was whether Orestes should be executed for killing his mother.  Orestes, aided by Menelaus, pointed out that she had killed his father after entangling him in a net and oppressed his sister Electra.  In fact, the speech for the defence came first, which was a bit bizarre by the standards of the Greeks or anyone else for that matter.  The (largely female) rebels said that he had killed his mother and they had suffered various kind of sexual harassment/discrimination/violence.  So it’s the Eumenides in a way but if you never surface the conflict between the old matriarchal gods and the new patriarchal ones it all seems very arbitrary.  And without the harsh clashing poetry you do begin to wonder what the point is.

So Athena appeared as an impartial arbitrator and turned the audience into a jury–people came round with red (death) and black (acquittal) balls for us to vote with.    Orestes was acquitted and returned to power, rather to my disgust–I wanted to know what would happen in the truly anti-Aeschylean alternative.

Then there were some deeply inconsequential further exchanges before we were let out.

It was all quite competently performed, in the manner of something that had been extensively workshopped–though I couldn’t always hear what Menelaus (Adrian Francis) was saying–and there was even some quite effective singing.  But without either the ideological clash or the poetry of Aeschylus all a bit pointless somehow.

For those interested, you can always study the Eumenides in the original at the City Lit.