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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]