Tag Archives: hampstead theatre

The Halfway Point

It’s my birthday. Hurrah! It also marks the point exactly halfway through the year, so now seems as good a time as any to look back at the last 6 months of theatre.  Somehow, even having seen 50 shows in 6 months, I am still (relatively) financially solvent. So here are my monthly highlights:

JANUARY
Taken at Midnight – Theatre Royal, Haymarket
Penelope Wilton was exceptional in the lead role as Irmgard, as she fiercely sought justice and the release of her son, Hans Litten. Her final words, delivered with such tenacity, haunted me for days after:

“I started screaming a long time ago. I’m screaming now. I don’t think I’m even half way through, yet.”

Taken at Midnight – Theatre Royal, Haymarket

FEBRUARY
The Wasp – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
Simply an excellent piece of writing by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm which constantly pulled the rug from under you with clever twists and turns in the plot. You can see my full review here.

MARCH
Radiant Vermin – Soho Theatre
A blistering performance and a really witty satire on greed and the housing market, delivered at breakneck speed. A real tour de force. You can see my full review here.

Deposit – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs
I didn’t get time to write a review of this one, but another housing market play which explores the claustrophobia as two couples move into a one-bedroom flat for a year while they save up for a deposit. What will give first? Their relationships, their friendship or the dream of owning a property? Beautiful writing that really cuts to the bone.

Deposit – Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

APRIL
A Level Playing Field – Jermyn Street Theatre
Wickedly funny with a strong young cast, we see how a bunch of kids cope (and don’t cope) with the pressures of exams and the threat of failure. You can see my full review here.

The Money – Battersea Arts Centre
A really clever and unpredictable piece exploring the value of money – but you have just two hours to reach a unanimous agreement on how best to spend it (or it rolls over to the next group). As a result, I will be spending mine this coming weekend. You can see my full review here.

MAY
World Factory – Young Vic
A fascinating piece of game-theatre which throws audiences into the cut-throat business of running a Chinese garment factory. Every decision you make has a consequence, affecting the lives of your fictional workers. You will never look at your clothes in the same way again. You can see my full review here.

JUNE
buckets – Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
Another one I sadly didn’t get time to review, but a stunning and emotional little one-act play about seizing the day with both hands and living as if your life depended on it. 25 little moments that will make you evaluate your own life and happiness. Definitely didn’t cry at the end. Just something in my eye.

buckets – Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Teddy – Southwark Playhouse
Another one I wish I’d had time to review. Stepping into the dingy gloom of Southwark Playhouse, it’s like being hurled back to grubby bomb-scarred streets of South London. Filled with explosive energy and an infectious foot-tapping 1950s-inspired original score, Teddy and Josie capture the birth of the teenager and show us what it is to be young and reckless.

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The Wasp – Hampstead Theatre

Just over a year ago, I had absolutely no idea where the Hampstead Theatre was – which is a bit silly, as I’ve spent the last 5 and a bit years obliviously wandering past it whilst out visiting properties for work.  Plonked practically on top of Swiss Cottage tube station on the Jubilee line, it’s easily accessible for those brave enough to venture beyond the confines of the West End.  But in the year and a bit that I’ve been going to the HT, I’ve only seen stuff in their upstairs theatre – all of it good quality, so I had high hopes for their downstairs studio space.

MyAnna Buring (Carla) and Sinéad Matthews (Heather).

The Wasp certainly didn’t disappoint. Heather and Carla haven’t seen each other since school and their lives have taken wildly different paths. Carla is living with a man twice her age and pregnant with her fifth child, while Heather and her husband are struggling to conceive their first. When Heather offers Carla a substantial sum of money that she cannot afford to refuse, we have the perfect ingredients for a textbook tale of surrogacy and one woman doing a selfless act for another. Cue hilarity, snappy one-liners and possible drama when Carla refuses to hand over the baby.

But that’s not where this play goes.

Oh no.

Writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm has conjured something far darker than that. A script that is both deliciously malevolent and wildly unpredictable. Loaded with red herrings, we are lulled into the belief that the narrative is heading off in a particular direction, then without warning, it lurches off in another. With many thrillers, it’s all too easy for the writing to drop a few clues for that satisfying “I knew that was going to happen!”, but instead this one routinely pulls the rug from under your feet and leaves you kicking yourself that you hadn’t spotted the plot device. It takes a little while to construct the story, but once it gets going, it’s 90 minutes of twisty turny malice.

MyAnna Buring (Carla) has her slovenly character down to a tee. Yet behind the swagger and the tough talk are flickers of a troubled childhood, of potential that never had the opportunity to be realised, of problems taken out on others. By contrast, Sinéad Matthews (Heather) is middle class, indulged but not spoilt, yet unaware of her patronising streak – swamped in her capacious afghan, she is the epitome of well-meaning benevolence.

Under the direction of Tom Attenborough, the balance of power seesaws between the two women as each pushes their own agenda without ever straying into melodrama. We explore long-held grudges and whether victimising someone is necessarily worse when it’s either spontaneous or pre-meditated. As we piece together the true motives, the reality of the situation becomes ever more chilling and psychological. The knot in my stomach got tighter – half of me wanted to run out the theatre and the other half was rooted to the spot and fascinated to find out what would happen.

The danger with any such situation is that it falls into stalemate and gets trapped in a loop. But this play is far cleverer than that – the final resolution slots neatly into place and leaves the audience aghast.

The Wasp is playing until Saturday 7th March at the Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London, NW3 3EU.  This production is 90 minutes with no interval.  Contains strong language.  Cigarettes are smoked during the course of the play.  For tickets and more information go to http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2015/the-wasp/

Rapture, Blister, Burn – Hampstead Theatre

Can any woman have it all?  Friends Gwen and Catherine have taken very different paths since leaving grad school; Catherine has had a very successful academic career, while Gwen has married Catherine’s former boyfriend, Don and settled into family life.  When Catherine’s mother Alice is taken ill, she drops everything to return to her childhood home and find herself rekindling old friendships.  Reunited for the first time in 10 years, both women are starting to covet each other’s life and when Catherine drunkenly suggests they should switch places, a dangerous game begins.

Gwen and Catherine

Ultimately, this is a play about ‘what ifs’, about love and relationships, about men and women – and feminism.  I must however make the distinction that this is ABOUT feminism rather than being a feminist play (there is a difference); playwright Gina Gionfriddo is not pushing an agenda, simply observing the minefield of gender politics in modern society – it is savagely funny and some of the loudest laughter was coming from the men in the audience.  I suspect that Hampstead Theatre have played down the feminism card in order not to put people off.

Catherine (Emilia Fox – currently in BBC’s Silent Witness) manages to be both alluring and approachable – there’s a real sense that she’s comfortable in her own skin and the life she has carved out for herself.  She’s completely at ease in skinny jeans and stilettoes, a total contrast to Gwen (Emma Fielding), who in capri pants, loose blouse and deck shoes has settled into the lifestyle of full-time motherhood.  She is happily resigned to the fact that her marriage has lost its spark, yet she has very little impetus to do anything about it.  Gwen’s husband, Don (Adam James) is charismatic and funny – he always has a wisecrack up his sleeve and you can easily see how, by being a big kid at heart, he’s a great Dad but a crap husband.  It’s hard to tell who drifted from who first; Gwen, into housework and bedtime stories or Don, into porn and smoking cannabis.

Alice (Polly Adams) succeeds in balancing 2 very unlikely characteristics; on the face of it, she has a gentle and cuddly disposition, but with a mischievous, subversive undercurrent.  When Catherine realises she still has feelings for Don, Alice brightly observes: “you could have him, you know.  He was yours first.” with an impish twinkle in her eye.  It is this which sets Catherine thinking that perhaps if Don had married her, he’d be more motivated to get on in life, to write that book he was threatening to write.  But he has relaxed into his apathy and equilibrium, so there is very little that anyone can do about it, even Catherine.

Avery, Alice and Catherine

Avery (Shannon Tarbet) is Gwen and Don’s wayward teenage babysitter; young and naïve with a very stark black/white view of things, she has some really cracking lines delivered with unapologetic bluntness.  She is hellbent on complete sexual liberation (much to the puzzlement of the 2 generations above her – for them, this wasn’t the aim of feminism), but it is Alice’s comment “a man won’t buy the cow if he’s getting the milk for free” which ultimately changes how Avery views her own feminist ideals and how she uses them in a way which is counter-intuitive to their ethos, but – for a while, at least – gets her what she wants.

Gionfriddo has written 5 likeable characters, all with their own very human shortcomings; this is an exploration of what happens when you drag up ghosts that have been laid to rest – none of them are bad people, but there is a conflict of interests.  Yet in spite of the love triangle between 3 of them, you still find yourself wanting everyone to get their happy ending – and that’s just not possible.

Rapture, Blister, Burn is on at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, NW3 3EU until Saturday 22nd February 2014.  Suitable for ages 16+.  Contains strong language and references to sexual themes.  For tickets and more information go to http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2014/rapture-blister-burn/