Galia, our resident theatre buff gives her top picks for the season here!
I’m a Lead Practitioner/Second in Department for English at a school in North London and I see things. Not dead people or anything. Theatre, mostly. I’ve lived in London my whole life and since becoming a teacher I’ve dedicated most of my spare time (ha!) to visiting the city’s many theatres. I’m really excited to be sharing my top theatre picks with you this month and I look forward to hearing your views too – you can comment below or follow me on twitter here: @galiamelon
So read on, and turn yourself into a regular Samuel Beckett with conversation starters like… “what is that unforgettable line?”
Life of Galileo by Bertold Brecht (TheYoung Vic) – playing until 1st July
What they say: “If one masterwork seems more timely than ever, it is Life of Galileo – I can’t think of a more prescient play for our times.” The Guardian, March 2017. BAFTA Award-winning film director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) returns to the Young Vic after his celebrated production of A Season in the Congo. Brendan Cowell plays Galileo following his acclaimed performance in Yerma. Galileo makes an explosive discovery about the universe with his new invention – the telescope. The show is performed in-the-round on a stunning set designed by Lizzie Clachan (Yerma, A Season in the Congo). The show will have original music by The Chemical Brothers’ Tom Rowlands and projections by 59 Productions (Feast, WarHorse).
What I say: There are very few things more attractive to most people than talent. A talented man, playingthe part of an insanely talented man, talking all things space and physics in a theatre studio – that’s definitely nothing to complain about! Brendan Cowell is magnetic in this Brecht production – he bounds about the space like he’s trying to power up the LHC with only his physical energy as fuel. The rest of the ensemble, along with their gorgeous puppets, is also a joy to watch. The addition of a huge digital planetarium suspended from the ceiling and thumping music from The Chemical Brothers only adds to the overall beautiful madness of the spectacle. I booked floor seats on the stage itself, which is in the round – well worth going for these if you can, as you’re thrust into the action along with the players, but also given ample time to reflect on the awe of our universe and the majesty of mankind’s imagination and drive in cracking it open. The Young Vic’s vision combined with Brecht’s script is a real hit here.
See this if: you enjoy innovative and dynamic theatre. Sit on the floor seats if you can – the back ache is worth it!
Common by DC Moore (National Theatre) – playing until 5th August
What they say: An epic tale of England’s lost land. Mary’s the best liar, rogue, thief and faker in this whole septic isle. And now she’s back. As the factory smoke of theindustrial revolution belches out from the cities, Mary is swept up in the battle for her former home. The common land, belonging to all, is disappearing.
What I say: ‘Common’ has so many fantastic elements – an interesting set, brilliant performances from Anne Marie Duff et al and a fairly poetic script- I’m a fan of the hyphenated word and this script makes use of many, as well as a plethora of swearing and insults. It seems strange therefore that with all of these elements, something just isn’t quite right. I’m unsure about why so many people have been quite so hyperbolic in their hatred of this play, but I’d definitely agree that it’s a little off. I’d say it’s certainly a play worth seeing, because then maybe you can tell me what’snot quite right about it!
See this if: you enjoy a snappy insult and are happy to forego lots of plot for an amazing character study.
Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams (National Theatre) – playing until 8th July
What they say: One day. Six cities. A thousand stories. Newsroom, political platform, local hot spot, confession box, preacher-pulpit and football stadium. For generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to discuss the world. This dynamic new play leaps from a barber shop in London to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra. These places where the banter can be barbed and the truth is always telling.
What I say: I’m almost at a lossfor words, as Barber Shop Chronicles may have just become one of my all-time favourite productions. This ensemble piece is cast with a group of flawlessly talented actors and the design is the perfect balance of warm and familiar juxtaposed with new and refreshing. The script balances humour with poignant moments in such a smart way that you can’t help but ache to be part of the groups portrayed on stage and this, alongside the music and dance used adds even more vibrancy. At times the script is elevated to mellifluous poetry; at times it’s base and gritty. One thing that amazes me is how a play written for a company of all black, male actors can speak to me on such a personal level- I recognised myself in so many of theconversations about family, love and what home means that these characters have. That is a true testament to the power of this play. I also feel so privileged to have had a window into the lives of so many of my students and can’t wait to share what I’ve seen tonight with them and learn even more about their culture and heritage. All this sounds very heavy going, I know, but one of the victories of this production is how uplifted the whole audience seemed to feel by the end of the show. It has so many laugh out loud moments! I think I could write reams about how in love I am with this production! Genuinely so impressed with the National for staging something so unusual and innovative and feel so blessed to have experienced it from the front row. Incredible.
See this if: you want to feel uplifted and moved.
DNA by Dennis Kelly (NYT Holloway Road) – playing until 24th June
What they say: Amongst the darkness of an unnamed wood, a lawless gang are trying to bury a dark secret. The group need someone to take charge, but who can they trust? Who do they follow? While lies spiral and tension mounts, everyday adolescence twists and turns into an anarchic game of survival.
What I say: I’m still not convinced about this play. Having taught it to my GCSE class, I would say I have a fairly good understanding of it, and yet I still feel like I haven’t quite ‘got it’ – there’s something about the script that leaves me feeling a bit cold, but not in the way that perhaps Dennis Kelly intended . The premise is really interesting though, and this production makes good use of movement and staging in the small space available to the company. It’s also really lovely to see young people perform in such a confident way. My students really enjoyed seeing it and it’s certainly worthwhile seeing any play that you teach brought to life.
See this if: you’re teaching it!
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Almeida Theatre/Harold Pinter Theatre) – playing until 2nd Sept
What they say: ghost / devil; acting /madness; be / not be – Andrew Scott makes his Almeida debut in the title role and Juliet Stevenson plays Gertrude in a new production directed by Almeida Associate Director Robert Icke (1984; Mr Burns; Oresteia; Uncle Vanya).
What I say: It is so hard to capture in words how effortless, light and honest this production is. I have seen this play several times before and never have I been so enthralled and captivated by it. The design of this production is contemporary, which allows the play to thrive without the weight of history on it; however, it’s not just the design that achieves this effect. Andrew Scott is a phenomenal Hamlet. It’s as if he is speaking his own words throughout; as if they are coming to him in each moment as a thought might occur in everyday life. He lives this character in a way that I have never seen before and it is hauntingly beautiful to behold. The music of Dylan is such an interesting choice here – folky and earthy, it somehow keeps the play grounded. The contemporary design is flawless, familiar, decadent, rotten and even with all that, still sort of irrelevant, as this is a production that in no way relies on design to sell it. The poetry of this play never ceases to captivate me; it never changes and yet here it feels as fresh and alive as I imagine it did 400 years ago when it was first performed. Absolute magic – a must see.
See this if: you can get a ticket. It’s phenomenal!
Gloria byBranded Jacobs-Jenkins (Hampstead Theatre) – playing until 22nd July
What they say: New York. A city that runs on ambition – and coffee. In the offices of a notorious Manhattan magazine, a group of ruthless editorial assistants vie for their bosses’ jobs and a book deal before they’re thirty. But trapped between Starbucks runs, jaded gossip and endless cubicle walls, best-selling memoir fodder is thin on the ground – that is until inspiration arrives with a bang… Branden Jacobs-Jenkins spins a razor-sharp comic drama about ambition, office warfare and hierarchies, where the only thing that matters is moving up the ladder and selling out to the highest bidder.
What I say: Never have I been more ashamed to be associated with a social group (millennials). If you want to see a bunch of self-obsessed yuppies moan about how terrible it is that they actually have to work at work and reflect on how every tragedy on a minute to global scale is actually all about them and only them, then this is the play for you! This, alongside some completely gratuitous violence that achieves nothing but laughs, makes this play incredibly frustrating. I can’t help but wonder whether the writer intended it all ironically. I ruddy hope so. But if that is the case then this play really falls short of the mark. It was only night 2 of previews when I saw this, so maybe some rehearsal will help some of the performances connect more, but I suspect that nothing is going to rescue this play from its script. A shame for Colin Morgan, who I’d say is the only one who comes off fairly well in this car crash of a piece!
See this if: you enjoy whinging.
Watch this space for more teaching ideas, reviews and other english teaching related blogging.