Tag Archives: Headlong

Assistant Director – The Glass Menagerie

A Headlong, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse co-production.

Directed by Ellen McDougall

Designed by Fly Davis

Cast: Erin Doherty, Eric Kofi Abrefa, Tom Mothersdale and Greta Scacchi

Rehearsal blog here


“Spring Awakening”

by Frank Wedeking, in a new version by Anya Reiss

at Richmond Theatre, Wednesday 7th May 2014

*Originally written for Exeunt*

“The whole fucking adult world is governed by dicks and pussies,” says Melchior Gabor in Anya Reiss’ new version of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, before later declaring to his teachers that “You created this world. And you punish me for living in it?”

These observations are representative of the kind of banal, offhand and ostensibly meaningless remarks made by teenagers throughout history, but they hold within them a deep, perhaps unintended truth; that in our teenage years of angst and exploration, we may be able to see the world more clearly than our elders. It’s a theme perfectly and astutely captured by Reiss’ new version of Wedekind’s 1891 classic, which manages to take the messy, challenging play and wrench it into something recognisable and current, accusing twenty-first century British attitudes to sex and adolescents of being positively Victorian. Continue reading “Spring Awakening”

“American Psycho”

at the Almeida Theatre, Friday 13th December 2013

*Originally written for Exeunt*

Considering the way Bret Easton Ellis’ novel comments on the nature of criticism in the twentieth century, there’s something rather ironic about my penning of thisAmerican Psycho review. Patrick Bateman has about as much knowledge of eighties’ popular music as I do of contemporary theatre, making neither of us experts but giving just enough to go on.

To this extent, the musical of American Psycho (co-produced by Headlong with Act 4 Entertainment) can boast that it bats off its own criticisms by acknowledging and relishing their inevitable subjectivity. Continue reading “American Psycho”

“Chimerica” by Lucy Kirkwood

at the Almeida Theatre, Saturday 15th June 2013

The latecomers policy at the Almeida is brilliant, for both latecomers and audience alike. Rather than shove you in at a random point and disturb everyone else, you’re given a sheet of paper the moment you walk in the door and plonked in front of a TV screen which relays what’s happening in the theatre. The paper briefs you on what has happened before you will enter the theatre so that you’re up to speed before being snuck in round the back. I was late – unavoidably, due to our joyous transport system – to Chimerica, but upon entering I was pretty up to speed with what was going on. It did mean, however, that I missed that opening image and was, like the figures in the play, given a symbol of the thing rather than the thing itself.

For the thing which strikes me most about Chimerica is precisely that: its use of symbols. Which, in a way akin to Mad Men, send us down all sort of tracks for consideration and possible outcomes. Continue reading “Chimerica” by Lucy Kirkwood

“The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov

in a new version by John Donnelly at the Oxford Playhouse, Saturday 25th May 2013

The Seagull: a play which, when first produced, was extraordinarily radical, shifting paradigms around direction and form, but which due to the passage of time has lost some of its raw energy, so that now it’s fairly easy to view it as a conventional play. For all of Konstantin’s ranting about breaking the rules and changing the structure, in 2013 the text itself can often feel like it fails to be different.

Which is perhaps the main reason why Blanche McIntyre’s production for Headlong is so successful. Continue reading “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov

“Medea” by Euripides (adapted by Mike Bartlett)

at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 13th November 2012

This piece covers only my initial thoughts on the production. I’m writing a 3000-word essay for December on how Bartlett’s version reacts to the original and Greek tragedy in general, and that’ll go into more detail. I’ll see if I can make it available after writing it.

One of the main criticisms levelled at placing classic texts in modern settings is that the language seems anachronistic and allusions to weapons (daggers, swords etc) end up making little sense when the protagonists are wielding iPhones and laptops. In Headlong’s new production of Medea, however, this problem is solved by adapter/director Mike Bartlett, who makes Euripides’ original completely his own, introducing themes of depression, parenthood and twenty-first century gender politics. Under his direction, the play blends the best parts of both contemporary theatre and Greek tragedy, and though the final few moments are a little disappointing, there are some powerful moments throughout which bring to light a number of issues.

Strikingly, though Bartlett has basically rewritten the play himself, utilising his trademark quick-fire dialogue and hyper-aware modernist discussions, he remains alarmingly faithful to the structure and narrative thrust of Euripides’ original. Looking through an old translation, the scenes follow the same events and the tone of each is constant. Even more impressive, though (on the whole) the long speeches of the Greek version have been done away with, in certain scenes (specifically the first Jason/Medea scene) the power balance mirrors who’s talking in Euripides’ text. The effect, therefore, is that the grand Greek tragedy is always heard whispering beneath the surface.

Bartlett doesn’t shy away from asking similar questions to Euripides. The play is still about alienation, motherhood and fate, and each step of the way every one of these themes is questioned, interrogated and analysed with the same rigourousness of Euripides. In a post-Freudian era, however, the text shows itself to be even richer, as Bartlett attempts to understand some of the psychologies of these characters. They are still, broadly, the archetypes of the original, but he also slides in some thoughts about the causes and effects of depression and how modern ‘conveniences’ can have a negative impact on our social life.

The design, by Ruari Murchison, does something which is not possible in Medea’s original context. In it, we see a nondescript suburban house, complete with Ikea furniture and primary colours, and which can be opened and closed as necessary like a giant doll’s house. Some events happen within it and others outside, watched by the local builder. Whereas Euripides’ play was about the public consequences of private events, then, we see these more secretive moments occur and recognise the shift between Medea’s public and private personas.

There’s also some impressive work by lighting designer Johanna Town, who, alarmingly, actually brightens the stage as the action progresses; in one of the final scenes, the entire house is lit in bright white light, as clarity exists for the first time within Medea’s mind. Tom Mills’ composition is also extraordinary, at times taking filmic, thriller-type turns and at others using simple melodic motifs to highlight shifts in focus or finalised decisions.

The best thing about this production, however, is the performance given by Rachel Stirling in the title role, who manages to capture both the hugely tragic potential of this character and Bartlett’s depiction of twenty-first century womanhood. She is just as witty and fiery as Euripides’ original, and no attempt is made to shy away from her witch-like qualities. The whole show rests on this performance, and is successful because of it. Next to Stirling’s commanding portrayal, the rest of the cast look even more like the broad archetypes they are, with Sarah, Pam and the Workman (Lu Corfield, Amelia Lowdell & Paul Brendan) acting as a cross between the nurse, tutor and choric characters. Adam Levy’s Jason carefully walks the line between normal, charming father and complete and utter wanker. His scenes with Stirling are the best in the piece.

More than all this, however, Bartlett’s production demonstrates that Greek tragedy is possible in 2012, and that though we’ve moved to a more ‘enlightened’, rational sensibility, these events and stories are still just as moving as they ever were. The ‘perpetrators’ of these events may longer be the gods, but Headlong contest that similar fatalistic forces – like the state and society in general – are to blame for decisions such as the one to kill one’s own son (more on this later in follow-up essay).

This debate comes to head in the final moments when (*Spoiler alert*) Medea stands on the roof of her burning house (a nice nod to the vertical axis employed in Greek amphitheatres), shouting to God and asking him show himself, her dead and bloodied son lying next to her. In print, this scene is chilling, but something about the projected flames and over-elaborate set-change means these five minutes run the risk of seeming farcical. I wonder whether a similar effect could be achieved with less fuss; Bartlett’s words do the work for him, and by adding this parerphernalia his compelling argument, which has been so powerful in the previous ninety minutes, is lost.

“Boys” by Ella Hickson

at the Soho Theatre, Monday 4th June 2012

Since the British public were treated to a Conservative government, there seems to me to have been a drive towards plays which contemplate big issues surrounding modern life; Mike Bartlett is at the forefront of this wave of Big Issue plays (I’ll come up with a better name in time), with the likes of Laura Wade and Headlong following suit with Posh and Decade respectively. For my money, I’d be willing to bet that, like it or not, this style of theatre will become more and more popular in the coming years. Ella Hickson’s Boys is a step in this direction, cementing a style of theatre which embraces theatricality as a way of tackling sprawling topics.

Hickson’s play is set in an Edinburgh flat, in which Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam live (the first two are students, the latter living there as the rent is cheaper). It is the end of exams and the quartet party regularly, boozing and snorting the nights away. The bin bags have been piling up for weeks as the council refuses to remove them; Benny thinks this an outrage whilst Mack argues they are not “entitled” to free rubbish collection and fails to see why he should do anything about it. Hickson here shows a disenfranchised and hopeless youth, for while many are out protesting, the vast majority are sat at home wasting time. References to Disney throughout signify a desire to hold on to innocence and a time when fairy-tale endings were possible. It’s a clever trick; you’d be surprised by the number of times Disney is discussed and played by students in 2012.

The slowly accumulating bin bags are symptomatic of an underlying strain, for they bring out both protesters and police who proceed to face-off whilst the boys and their girlfriends party in the flat (Benny recounts the story to us from the window). After the big bags are heaved into the flat at the demands of the police, they cannot stay dormant for long, and in a rather beautiful moment the bags and their contents are thrown around the stage in a sort of binman’s ballet. This is where Hickson’s awareness of theatricality truly shows itself, and the detritus is left strewn around the flat for a long time afterwards.

The storyline surrounding Benny and his recent past (*highlight for spoiler* his brother recently hung himself) feels somewhat unnecessary to the narrative, though it’s clear he represents the death of one final hope for this generation, who have now been made devoid of ambition and power since their collective voice is listened to less and less. Those who want to fight are laughed at and ridiculed.

Robert Icke’s production, though a little slow, captures these images of loss and protest with some simple theatrical flair on an otherwise naturalistic set (Chloe Lamford). Samuel Edward Cook, Lorn Macdonald and Tom Mothersdale as Mack, Cam and Timp are frustratingly carefree and fail to notice the shift happening right outside their window. Equally, Laura and Sophie, played by Alison O’Donnell and Eve Ponsonby are not aware that the lives they are living have become pointless. It is only Benny who seems to care about the world around him, and Danny Kirrane’s endearing and open performance commands our sympathy.

Boys is not without its faults; the second act could do with some cuts and there are at times too many questions raised (interestingly, these are the same accusations which have been levelled at Bartlett in the past). But it manages to capture a mood among young people which straddles the line between wanting to do something but feeling powerless. Hickson, I suspect, will write better plays on similar subjects, but here we are witnessing the germination of a new era of playwriting in theatre. I don’t know exactly what it looks like yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming.

Pinterest board here: http://pinterest.com/danhutton/boys-by-ella-hickson/