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...]

Scarlett fever

A scene from The Age of Anxiety

Liam Scarlett’s The Age of Anxiety at the Royal Ballet Three guys and a gal walk into a bar. It’s a set up for a gag, a murder, or perhaps an Edward Hopper painting. And now a ballet – Liam Scarlett’s The Age of Anxiety, newly premiered by the Royal Ballet in London. It is another absorbing, tantalising piece by a prolific yet puzzling British choreographer. The one-act ballet, centrepiece … [Read more...]

On the brink


Katie Mitchell directs The Cherry Orchard It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there. I haven’t seen Katie Mitchell’s polarising 2071 at London’s Royal Court – an animated TED warning about falling off the climate change cliff – but the honed steel of the director’s Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic makes a similar argument with baleful panache. Snowclouds of cherry blossom, a backdrop shimmer … [Read more...]

Angry bird

Wild Duck duck

Belvoir Theatre's Wild Duck Shall we start with the duck? Ibsen’s stage directions keep the titular Wild Duck offstage. It remains a symbol of damage, or survival, or of secrecy long-subsumed. Well, pellets to that, because Belvoir Theatre from Sydney, whose lacerating 2011 production is at London’s Barbican, give us plenty of chances to see and adore a real live, flapping mallard. Twitter … [Read more...]

In and out of history

Lyubimov portrait

What happens when an artist outlives their own era? When a voice, once so urgent, seems out of time, flailing for connection? Yuri Lyubimov, the great Russian director who died earlier this month aged 97, was a theatrical lightning conductor during the icy Soviet years, gathering the implacable forces of the state and zapping them back in provokingly surreal and thrilling ways. His theatre in … [Read more...]

Mam’zelle Sexymoves

Manon Hayward

Seems I’m a lightweight. I thought that seeing two casts in the Royal Ballet's revival of Manon by Kenneth MacMillan was pretty dedicated, until one of my editors revealed she would watch six casts and had designs on a seventh. That's an awful lot of Manon: but MacMillan's 1974 ballet allows for a panoply of interpretation. Seeing how the pieces fall each time can become addictive. Manon, based … [Read more...]