Almost invisible

Punchdrunk lexfirebird

It has taken me a while to work out why I often have a problem with immersive theatre. In theory, it’s marvellous – upending the staid conventions of bourgeois propriety, escaping the proscenium’s gilt and plush, the middle class’s guilt and hush. Opening the theatre to the world. Letting the world into the theatre. Yep to all that. That’s not my problem. The problem is that, once you let in … [Read more...]

Don’t mention the war


How much should we talk about history when we talk about Pina Bausch? Audiences respond to the late choreographer's elemental themes, but Bausch’s angst was not only existential, but also historic. Sexual politics were an abiding theme in her work, and the pummelling conflict between men and women is the livid matter of much of her dance. But it also figures much more than this – and the 1984 … [Read more...]

Suicide watch


Someone starves to death, another stage manages his own execution. A person falls victim to a booby-trapped chair. And someone dies, as it says on the playbill, of a broken heart. John Ford’s The Broken Heart (c1629-33), in a rare revival from Shakespeare’s Globe, sounds sensational. And of course it is. But it is also unlike more familiar Jacobean tragedies – it’s even quite distinct from … [Read more...]

He got game

Game Keith Pattison

Who is Mike Bartlett? Is the writer of sawn-off theatrical shooters like Cock and Bull actually the author of the decade-straddling Earthquakes in London and Love Love Love, let alone the teasing pageant King Charles III? Will the real Bartletts stand up? Bartlett’s two most recent plays suggest the borders of his territory. Bull (premiered at the Sheffield Crucible Studio and transferred to … [Read more...]

Comfort break


I’m not bad people. At least, I’m not rich people, which is almost the same thing, isn’t it? As the oligarchs colonise London, carving out home cinemas and swimming pools beneath its streets, even to bumble along in shabby-chic daze seems virtuous. The Fever blasted a hole in that particular ship of fools. In Wallace Shawn’s 1990 monologue, recently performed by Tobias Menzies with superbly … [Read more...]

The living dead

Living dead Borkman

Are we losing the classics? Almost everything I learned about classic theatre, I learned at the theatre. My early exploration spiralled out of being an Eng Lit geek with a serious Penguin Classics habit. I collected black-spined Ibsens and devoured them like thrillers, and read thunderous bits of Jacobean shockers out loud (still do). Going to the theatre was like the world’s best library … [Read more...]

Ruff stuff

SWP pity

Sex. Slaughter. Ruff stuff. You may think you know Jacobean tragedy. But here’s the thing about genre. If theatres only programme an occasional offering, it’s easy to assume that it’s typical. If you only see Miss Saigon, you might think that all musicals are bombastic and overwrought; or that they’re all cheesy and cheery if Annie is all you know. Jacobean tragedy is infamous for improbable plot … [Read more...]

Nobody’s victims


  The cruellest thing you can do to a performer is refuse to look at them. You might boo, heckle, catcall. Stamp your feet and throw a punch, Rite of Spring style. Raise an eyebrow and tut (aka the Surrey snub). Each of these may sting, but they at least engage. Crueller by far is to decline to step foot in the theatre. If a performance isn’t seen, does it exist? Twenty years ago, a … [Read more...]

My American dreams


Some people plunge into pantomime for their festive entertainment. I went to America. Not real America, but pretend, demi-dystopian America, courtesy of two musicals – Assassins and City of Angels – and a scintillating reboot of The Merchant of Venice set in Las Vegas. Three versions of damaged, damaging America – its greed and desperation, its delusional entitlement and self-making desire. Happy … [Read more...]

What we talk about when we talk about sex

Accolade 1

Accolade & The Institute of Sexology I thought I knew what the 1950s talked about when it talked about sex. It talked about family and heteronormative hearts and flowers. Or else it talked about shame, and disease, and unrequited desire and unnameable longings. The British theatre told me that. Noël Coward opened the fifties with the snob-bound, vamp-shaming Relative Values, while Terence … [Read more...]