The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Wales Millennium Centre

The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a huge success since it opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. It has won Olivier Awards, moved to the West End (where it closes this month), opened on Broadway, won a Tony Award and embarked on 2 UK national tours. I have seen this production a few times, through NT Live and also in London and when it visited Cardiff previously. It is without a doubt one of my favourite things I’ve seen on stage.

It is based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, which tells the story of a boy called Christopher, who has Aspergers Syndrome, as he sets out to solve the mystery of who killed the dog next door. One of the clever things about the production is the way that it presents Christopher’s inner monologue. Christopher talks to the audience but his teacher, Siobhan, also reads extracts from the book that he is writing, and there are also a few instances of breaking the fourth wall.

Another innovate element of the production is the way it overwhelms the audience’s senses so that we have an idea of how Christopher feels when he goes outside his comfort zone, such as to the train station or on the tube. Lights, projections and loud sounds are used incredibly effectively.

The ensemble in the production play several different characters such as Christopher’s neighbours and passengers on the train or tube. In this production Lucianne McEvoy played Siobhan, and Scott Reid was fantastic as Christopher.

The fact that I’d seen the play before did nothing to wane my enthusiasm for this production. Very funny but also emotional. Brilliant.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – Old Vic

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is not an easy play to summarise! Two minor characters from Hamlet question what they are doing, why they are there, and where they are going. Scenes from Hamlet are slotted in throughout, and in between their philosophising the title characters play coin tossing games and word games, while becoming increasingly aware of their own mortality, especially due to their encounters with a group of travelling players.

I’d been curious about this play for a while and I was not disappointed. It is witty, at times moving and very funny. The staging for this production was quite bare, with mostly just a curtain across the stage used for scene changes, or sometimes as a half curtain as a divide between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the action of the story of Hamlet.

The performances were all strong. Daniel Radcliffe was bewildered and likeable as Rosencrantz, the quieter of the pair. At times I felt that he didn’t project his voice as well as the other actors – this is only a very small criticism as I didn’t miss anything he said, and it may just have been that he was meant to be the quieter character, or that he was struggling a little with his voice that day! Joshua McGuire was also very good as the livelier, bossy and more talkative Guildenstern. David Haig was excellent as The Player, the impresario of the travelling group. The comedic timing was perfect by all throughout.

I not only thoroughly enjoyed the production but the play itself. It’s very clever, especially as Tom Stoppard was so young when he wrote it. I look forward to seeing it again at some point, as I feel it’s a play where you notice something new each time you see it, but I think this production could be difficult to beat.

The Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett

Having seen the film version in the cinema, I was interested to read Alan Bennett’s original writing about the eccentric woman who lived in her van on his driveway for 15 years, until her death.

This novella is taken from a selection of Bennett’s diary extracts during the time when Miss Shepherd was such a presence in his life. As you would expect from Bennett it is well written, descriptive and humorous. Despite naturally feeling frustrated with Miss Shepherd at times the compassion and affection he felt for her is evident, and there is a more than a touch of sadness when she has passed away. There are some elements of a social commentary in his writing, but in his usual witty way.

The only thing that lets this novella down is the fact that it is so short. I felt the film gave me more of a chance to get to know both Miss Shepherd and Bennett, and I would imagine the play did the same. However, it is still well worth a read.

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Swan Theatre

The Two Noble Kinsmen is Shakespeare’s last play, which he is believed to have co-written with John Fletcher. Two friends, Palamon and Arcite, are put in prison, and they both fall in love with Emilia who is the sister in law of their captor, Theseus.

This was a very well staged and lively production. I particularly enjoyed the entertaining bickering between Arcite (Jamie Wilkes) and Palamon (James Corrigan) while they argued over Emilia. However, I didn’t feel this was a very strong play, and I found the sub-plot which involved the jailer’s daughter falling in love with Palamon and later going mad to be just a poor version of Ophelia in Hamlet, despite being well acted. It is quite a rambling play, without that much action. However, as always the RSC’s productions are of such a high standard, and I am glad to have seen it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Despite being a huge Harry Potter fan, my initial reaction when I heard that J.K.Rowling was collaborating with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne to write a new Harry Potter play wasn’t excitement. I think I felt that the original series was enough and I was happy with how it ended, so I was worried that anything new would be a disappointment. However, once the previews for the stage production started and the word spread that it was an amazing spectacle, I felt I had to read the story. I did consider waiting until I’d seen the play on stage before reading the script, but as it would appear that I’m going to have to wait years to be lucky enough to get a ticket I decided to go ahead and read it!

I’ve read a few reviews of the script and I feel that many people forget the main purpose of a play which is to be performed, not read. That’s why many fans of Shakespeare say that his plays should be seen by school pupils before they are studied. Of course, reading plays can also be enjoyable, but the playwright isn’t writing for the script to be read, but performed. In the world of Harry Potter, where so many of the events depend on visual effects and scene changes, of course things are going to be missing when reading the script. I feel that the Cursed Child has been unfairly criticised in many ways because of this, but that doesn’t mean that I was completely satisfied with it either.

I liked the development of the original characters in general, particularly Harry’s struggle with being a father having not had a father himself when he was growing up. I was disappointed that Ron was reduced to just a comedy character though, and I felt sad that he was working in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes (although I guess he wouldn’t necessarily want to work for the Ministry when his wife is the Minister for Magic…) I felt the writing let him down as a character. I did however love the friendship between Scorpius and Albus, and their bond due to living in the shadow of their famous parents. I also loved Scorpius’ humour.

I didn’t feel that the plot was particularly strong, with a lot of emphasis on time travel, however again this could be as it’s in the format of a play. The stage directions are very simple, but this would give an actor or director more freedom and I would imagine that these were developed and possibly adapted during rehearsals.

I wouldn’t say I felt disappointed exactly on finishing the play, but I think I felt that something was missing, which I believe is that I wasn’t reading the story in the form in which it was intended. I have no doubt that it must be an incredible production to see on stage, and I hope that I’m lucky enough to get a ticket one day.

The Libertine – Theatre Royal Bath

The Libertine by Stephen Jeffreys opened this week at the Theatre Royal in Bath before it transfers to the West End in a couple of weeks. It is based on true events in the life of John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester, who very much enjoyed the decadence of the period after King Charles II’s return to the throne. He drank, whored, wrote obscene poems and enjoyed an outrageous life before dying at 33 years old.

Due to the nature of Rochester’s life, there are several funny lines and moments in the play, and the cast were very good at drawing out these moments. The set was fairly simple with a raised plinth running across the stage, and a portrait at the rear of the stage which changed to reflect the setting of the scenes. The performances were strong by all, and Dominic Cooper was excellent as the caddish Rochester.

As for the play itself, I wasn’t so sure. There is a lot of humour, but I felt some scenes did drag slightly, and it seemed out of character for Rochester to fall in love (with Elizabeth Barry, an actress played by Ophelia Lovibond, with whom he did have a child). The slowness could be as it’s very early on the run of the production (I saw the fifth performance), or it could just be the play itself. However, I enjoyed learning about this character from history and it was an enjoyable evening.

The Deep Blue Sea – NT Live

When Hester Collyer is found in her flat by her neighbours after a failed suicide attempt, her love affair with former RAF pilot Freddie Page and her estrangement from her husband is revealed.

Helen McCrory is absolutely fantastic in this production as Hester, and her performance is so full of emotion. The playwright Terrence Rattigan has said that the play is about

“the illogicality of passion”

and McCrory conveys this beautifully. She is a completely different person when Freddie appears, hiding her inner turmoil until she is alone.

Tom Burke is a callous Freddie Page, but you do have sympathy for his as a former war hero who has found that after the war that his life is dull and has no purpose. Hester isn’t enough for him, despite her efforts. Peter Sullivan is a younger and more attractive William Collyer than I would have imagined, and you may initially wonder why Hester chose Freddie, but he does convey a lack of passion that Hester clearly craves. Other strong performances are Marion Bailey as the landlord Mrs Elton and Nick Fletcher as the struck off doctor Mr Miller.

The set design is also very clever. Although the action all takes place in Hester and Freddie’s flat in Ladbroke Grove, the designer Tom Scutt has decided to show some of the other flats above, and we see other characters moving around and going up and down the stairs. This reflects the fact that Hester knows that people are watching and listening the whole time, and the appearances that they have to keep up when in public.

An excellent production with a stand out performance from Helen McCrory.