The old story

old Cranham

The death of a child – in theatre – is tragedy. The decline of a parent, perplexity. Most western theatregoers don’t live in melodrama, but in the mess of every day, inching forward in anxiety. Theatre can offer the consolation of an underexplored situation being known: it’s something to be seen. Three times recently I’ve wandered out of the theatre almost in a daze, hollowed out by productions … [Read more...]

Trouble in mind

Woolf 2

Woolf Works How do you dance consciousness? The play of thought, memory, imagination? Maybe you find someone who explored how to write thought – to put the process of reflection and remembering, how they scud and deepen and feel, into words. That writer might be Virginia Woolf. Woolf Works, Wayne McGregor’s exceptional new piece – his first full-length for the Royal Ballet, where he is … [Read more...]

Election night at the theatre


You might as well spend the evening of a national election at the National Theatre: it should be, among other things, somewhere where a nation can speak to itself. So that’s where I went. Rufus Norris’ first programme as artistic director offers a spread of voices arguing about how humans should act towards each other: environmentally (Everyman), maritally (The Beaux’ Stratagem) and … [Read more...]

Fight and flight

McQ organza

‘It’s a jungle out there.’ Alexander McQueen’s voice emerges from a garble of colleagues and observers at the beginning of Savage Beauty, the mighty survey of the fashion designer’s work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Much has been made of how he designed with his sisters in mind – provoked by a need to protect them. Yes, it’s a jungle out there. But it’s also a jungle in here – in … [Read more...]


Carmen Disruption Noma

What’s the most haunting moment of Carmen? The rousing toreador’s song? One of the stompy dances? Carmen’s own teasingly lush habanera? Maybe. Or maybe it’s the wordless, taunting snatch of melody with which Carmen taunts Don José – the soldier already in thrall to her, dick and epaulettes caught in a hopeless struggle. ‘Tralalalala,’ she hums, as if to herself. ‘Tralalalala.’ It the perfect, … [Read more...]

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...]