Monday, 20 April 2015

NT Live: Tom Stoppard's The Hard Problem ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Back in the Gate cinema on April 16, a crowded audience gathered for the NT Live screening of The Hard Problem, directed by Sir Nicolas Hytner. It is his last production at the National Theatre as he bids farewell to his post as the artistic director of the National after a 12-year stint.  
Tom Stoppard’s first play in nine years is a mean feat of critical theorising about consciousness and everything connected to it: philosophy; evolution; biochemistry; neurology; and much more. Even religion gets a mention and plays a part in this head scratching performance. The Hard Problem speaks for itself. It is a question that has been bugging intellectuals since the 4th century in classical Greek philosophy (and even earlier for Eastern philosophers.) For those who are a novice to critical theory or have never stepped into a philosophy a-level class, they might be in trouble here though.
This isn’t the first of its kind for Stoppard. He is known for writing brilliant theatrical works that include themes of political freedom, linguistics and the meaning of life, and for this The Hard Problem shoves audiences into a dialectic much like the way Plato and Socrates challenged each other five hundred years ago. 
By comparison, many who expect the wittiness and cleverness of Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia will be let down. That is not to say that The Hard Problem is not as witty or as clever as Acadia. No, in fact the play is both these things but in a different way. Arcadia combines the manifestations of pre-19th century Romanticism idealism with nature. While Arcadia brushes upon some interesting thought provoking ideas, The Hard Problem gets deep, so deep it hits the academic books and looses the audiences’ attention unless they are familiar with the terminology and theoretical notions e.g. the Prisoner’s dilemma, which crops up almost twenty times in the play.
Between the young psychology student Hilary and Spike, played convincingly by Damien Molony as Hilary’s university mentor, cinema viewers can see the dynamic movement in their heated debates as camera focus onto one another. Camera 1 focuses on Hilary. Immediately after, camera 2 moves into Spike who aggressively rebukes her with a brutal and gutless definition on altruism, the ‘selfish gene’, if you will, and so on. Their intellectual frustrations are set aside while they maintain an odd,  attachment-free relationship. 
Olivia Vinall gives an electrifying performance of Hilary not only in seasoned application of verbal assaults but with Hilary's deep-seated passion as a young mother who gave up her child for adoption at the age of 15. After gaining a position at the Krohl Institute for Brain Science Hilary delivers a paper hypothesising God as the answer to all things including consciousness, which isn’t good; it won’t fund the institute’s research facilities. 
This is other side of Stoppard’s play that he highlights through the character of Jerry, who is wickedly acted by Anthony Calf. He exhibits a hedge-fund millionaire who swears and shouts down at his employees whilst portraying a genuine and caring father. There’s an emotional twist to the story that ends the play in a hopeful fashion, but I shan't share any spoilers here.
Vera Chok, Jonathan Coy, Rosie Hilal, Parth Thakerar, Lucy Robinson and little Daisy Jacob come on top as playing small parts of this mind-boggling 'abstract' of a play, yet not much depth is offered about their characters. The emphasis is ultimately on Hilary’s journey who tries to find herself, understand her conscience and grapple with her own hard problem. 
With Bach’s enthusiastic piano solos that are lightly and lyrically played by Benjamin Powell and Bob Crowley and Mark Henderson set design of colourful light rods and wires; that light up like brain neurons or brain currents, Hytner ensures audiences gain a sense of the profound and complex mindset of its protagonist.

NT Live Encore of The Hard Problem on the April 21 in Gate Cinema at 12pm. The Encore is also available throughout the week in London cinemas including Picture Houses on the 24th. Check your local cinema.
(Photo courtesy of National Theatre)
Also showing at the National Theatre until May 27th. Check their website.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Barbican and ENO's Between Worlds ⭐⭐⭐

#Review ⭐⭐⭐ @TansyDavis ' #ENOWorlds 'Original and authentic' but 'surprisingly suffocated'

Click here for my full review:

Monday, 6 April 2015

NT Live: Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge ★★★★

Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From The Bridge’ strikingly visceral script lays bear the brewing tensions of a man’s obsession with his niece. Yet it’s not all about Eddie Carbone, it’s the domino effect his uncontained emotions have on the rest of his family; his wife Beatrice and Sicilian cousin Marco. 
Last year The Young Vic’s production of Miller’s play made a killing at the box office with its impressive stage direction and steadfast cast including Mark Strong, as Eddie Carbone, that it welcomed a sturdy transfer to West End’s Wyndham Theatre.
An NT Live event of the production was shown to hundreds of cinemas across the nation on March 26th, which also went down a storm, zooming into the protagonist’s harbouring instincts and ‘tunnels’ in his eyes, as described by Alfieri, the ubiquitous narrator. 
Miller wrote the play with the theatrical fixtures of a Greek tragedy following the brechtian rulebook where theatre says more the human condition than reality itself. And for this production experimental Belgium director, Ivo Van Hove, executed it right by bringing together Miller’s stage manifesto with an unexpected ending that stings like a slap in the face.

Van Hove’s production instills two blood-boiling hours of accumulative drama, yet there isn’t time for an interval for audiences to recuperate and reflect. Jan Versweyveld’s staging is white and stark, bordered with low fences mirroring the space within a boxing ring. It has the effect of telling the audience this is as far as the emotional violence and physically fighting will go. This is most prominent when Carbone invites Rodolpho (Luke Norris), a friend of his cousin, Marco (Emun Elliott) to a quick lesson on boxing. Soon it erupts into a sparring match and ends with a hard jab in Rodolpho’s stomach. 
Well-known film and television actor, Strong doesn’t mess around with Eddie’s character. Strong builds dramatic momentum with his personification of Eddie’s frustrations that is let loose when he abandons reason and gives up his cousin to the immigration bureau. 
From the outset Eddie is besotted with Catherine (Phoebe Fox.) She jumps and wraps her legs around him as if she was still a 6-year-old child, but that’s unacceptable. She’s grown into a 17-year-old teenager wearing high heels and short skirts, giving him the ‘willies.’ For this it opens up a few questions to the audience. Is he evil? Is he innocent? And, can we pity him? 
Michael Gould plays Eddie’s lawyer and Miller’s storyteller and he absorbs these roles without confusing them. As a lawyer and advisor, Gould shows the attributes of a loyal and good friend, trustworthy and logical to the point that shouting the truth at Eddie doesn't deter him. Nicola Walker plays a tenacious part as Eddie’s battle-axe and sexually neglected wife Beatrice, while Phoebe Fox is full of energy. She bestows a fast-spoken and fiery teenage beauty. 
Norris’ interpretation of Rodolpho is an interesting one. As part of the audience, I wasn’t entirely sure if Eddie’s suspicions were correct of Rodolpho, that he was using Catherine for a green card, yet Norris showcases the polar opposite of Eddie's manlihood. He can cook, dance and sing, and has a better chance with Catherine, which Eddie just cannot stand. And Emun Elliott really comes out of his humble character as Eddie’s blood cousin and shows a darker side in the pinnacle scene in the act of picking up a chair with one hand.
When pressured conversations and verbal confrontations arise, Tom Gibbon’s use of a quasi-Asian instrument, mimicking Kabuki theatre, denotes the sounds of a ticking timer, which aggravates the audience and projects them into the minds and anxieties of its characters. 
There is nothing that says 1955’s Brooklyn on Van Hove’s stage. The script moves fast causing viewers to fidget and scream for an interval, but Van Hove gives everyone the relief with a crescendo blood bath that pours with Faure's Requiem in ‘Libera me’. Some parts may be sordid (I won’t say which), but at least with NT Live you can run to the bathroom, if you, really, have to.

 The Encore screening at Gate Cinema is on the 7th April at 12pm. Check your local cinemas to confirm times. Other cinemas may have different schedules for the encore.
(Photos courtesy of National Theatre Live.)