Interview: Ben Power

*Originally written for Exeunt*

The access to the Stage Door of the National Theatre from the riverfront is currently blocked, meaning that in order to enter you have to walk around the entire building, much of which is a literal building site. You make your way past colourful panels and promises of a bigger, brighter ‘NT Future’ before finally arriving at the east side of Denys Lasdun’s monolith. The National is now in its final stage of development works, and talking to Ben Power about his adaptation of Medea which has just opened in the Olivier, it strikes me that alongside this aesthetic overhaul, the building is also undergoing a somewhat less visible but just as radical shift in its programming.

“The thing that I think is fantastic,” Power enthuses as we watch over a glorious summer day on the Southbank from a fifth-floor window, “has been the emergence in the last three or four years of a generation of directors who can direct big plays on these stages.” Continue reading Interview: Ben Power

Book Review: ‘Covering Shakespeare’ by David Weston

“Cymbeline is for the most part stagy trash of the lowest melodramatic order, in parts abominably written, throughout intellectually vulgar and, judged in point of thought by modern intellectual standards, foolish, offensive, indecent and exasperating beyond all tolerance” – George Bernard Shaw

This quote which David Weston uses to open his chapter in Cymbeline in Covering Shakespeare could well be a description of the ex-actor’s book itself.

Covering Shakespeare, written as a follow-up to 2011’s Covering McKellen, gives a play-by-play account of Weston’s various encounters with the plays of the Bard throughout his career, ordered in chronology of original performance. Continue reading Book Review: ‘Covering Shakespeare’ by David Weston

“The Art of Dying” by Nick Payne

at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

A better name for Nick Payne’s new solo show might be The Art of Lying. Throughout the monologue, the three stories Payne tells consider the various ways we lie to one another as life comes to an end. It’s a short, simple piece, and though it doesn’t contain the complexity of some of his earlier work, Payne delivers three affecting and heartfelt stories about the fraught relationship between death and truth.

Sat on a yellow plastic chair in front of a makeshift skyline of blue-lit medicine bottles, Payne begins the piece with the story of Maggie Noonan from Milton Keynes, who contracts a degenerative disease which forces her to split up with her partner and move into a home. Continue reading “The Art of Dying” by Nick Payne

Book Review: ‘Modern Asian Theatre and Performance 1900-2000’

by Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., Siyuan Liu and Erin B. Mee

I remember being taught about Japanese, Chinese and Indian theatre in my first term at university; after looking at Ancient Greek theatrical customs, we moved on to the likes of Noh, Kabuki and Kathakali to give us an “overview” of world theatre, and due to my lack of reading believed these theatres to be the dominant forms in their respective countries. This isn’t the case, of course – as the writers of Modern Asian Theatre and Performance 1900-2000 point out in detail over 250 pages, the countries of Asia have just as rich a history of modern text drama as the leading theatrical nations of the West. Continue reading Book Review: ‘Modern Asian Theatre and Performance 1900-2000’

“Beyond Caring” by Alexander Zeldin

at the Yard Theatre, Friday 4th July 2014

According to statistics, around 1.5 million people are employed by companies which offer them so-called “zero-hour contracts”, thus meaning a good proportion of our workforce is tied to a job which may not offer them any money one week and force them to work unfair hours the next. In Beyond Caring, Alexander Zeldin and his cast consider the alienating and demoralising effects such work can have on individuals, whilst simultaneously offering glittering shards of humanity which splinter up through the decay.

Grace, Susan and Becky have all been forced, for one reason or another, to spend a gruelling fourteen nights working in four-hour shifts cleaning a factory. Continue reading “Beyond Caring” by Alexander Zeldin

“The Kindness of Strangers”

at Southwark Playhouse, Friday 4th July 2013

Under the current administration, little chunks of the NHS that Nye Bevin and Clement Atlee’s post-war Labour government created in 1948 are destroyed on a daily basis. Little chunks of the institution that has served us for sixty years (and only sixty years – it’s easy to forget it’s still a relatively young service) are being chewed up and spat out into private hands in such a way that much of the time it goes unnoticed. You only have to look at the papers to see that the NHS is demonised and degraded, with focus on the millions spent on cosmetic surgery rather than the billions spent on saving lives. In The Kindness of Strangers, Curious Directive have created a piece of theatre for five spectators which demonstrates an inherent tenderness in all of us, and how that impulse is a cornerstone of that beautiful thing, the National Health Service.

After being ushered into a somewhat old-looking ambulance and given headphones round the back of Southwark Playhouse, our vehicle begins reversing with its doors open, so that the landscape in front of us becomes the background. Continue reading “The Kindness of Strangers”

“Great Britain” by Richard Bean

at the Lyttelton Theatre, Monday 30th June 2014

*Originally written for Exeunt*

The announcement of the opening of Richard Bean’s Great Britain was as sudden as it was, we have been told, due to legal issues, but you can’t help feeling it was also a bit of a publicity coup for the National. The unveiling of a play about the hacking scandal and our national press mere days after the conclusion to the trial which delivered verdicts on those involved would, you’d assume, make such a play supremely current. Weirdly, however, Bean’s new tabloid farce is topical without being contemporary, and though it’s full of brilliant gags it never quite hits you in the gut.

The whole plot broadly tells a fictionalised version of the phone hacking scandal. Paige Britain (Billie Piper) is a news editor at the Free Press, which is run by a foul-mouthed editor (Robert Glenister) and owned by an idiotic Irish tycoon (Dermot Crowley). Continue reading “Great Britain” by Richard Bean

Director and Theatre-Maker

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