Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Drunks / The Grain Store, at the Courtyard Theatre

It's fun to stay at the Y. M. C. A

it's fun to stay at the Y. M. C. A

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Revolutions season, celebrating new Russian writing, kicks off with a particularly apt choice of play. The Drunks comes hot on the heels of President Dmitry Medvedev’s plans to ban alcohol ads and limit alcohol sales by the end of year

“Welcome to the drunks”, declare the actors raising their shot glasses to us and drinking. The Drunks tells the story of Ilya, a shell-shocked soldier, who returns home from the frontline of Chechnya to a town that declare him as a hero. Anthony Neilson’s direction of the play is fun and fast-paced: it’s two-hours (with no interval) and has a Ziggy Stardust-like announcer beating his drum and shouting each scene change from the side of the stage, a trap door in the centre, or the circle in the audience. But though the over-stylised production is stunning to look at, it highlights the lack of an engaging narrative. Instead the Durnenkov’s brothers’ writing relies on moments of black and physical comedy, for example its sauna scene complete with towel-dropping to reveal acid bright underpants on its actors. These quick laughs are frequent throughout but offer no real sense of satisfaction.

In The Grain Store we are transported to 1929 Ukraine and Stalin is just about to launch his first five year plan. We see how it destroyed a village and caused the Holodomor famine in 1933, killing up to five million people. Just before the play begins audience members are invited to eat Russian food onstage from actors in character. As we dine with them it is enjoyable and intimate, the fourth wall is broken, which emphasises their grief later to us when they are hungry. Michael Boyd, who had worked in Moscow as a director in the 1980s, creates a delicateness to this world under attack through interludes of folk music, falling snowflakes, and petals. Natalia Vorozhbit’s story, however, is static. The main interest comes from the relationship between Morkina, a wealthy peasant girl, and Arsei’s relationship, a poor boy. And Samantha Young and Tunji Kasim performances of them stand out.

Whilst The Drunks may portray to us excess and The Grain Store deficiency, the productions individually don’t seem to reach a happy medium: one being full of endless energy and the other exhausting to watch. The season also includes talks led by Bridget Kendall, Sunday brunches with live Russian music, play readings and exhibitions.


Runs till 1 October.


To see or not to see: The Drunks *** / The Grain Store **


Your Bard: Kevin on Elyse Dodgon’s Playreadings


Kevin is 18 years old. He is studying English Language and Literature at Cambridge University. He loves art house films, classical music, and Dizzie Rascal, and hates post modernism.

What attracted you to the play readings?

All of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stuff is done to an incredible standard, so being a fan of Russian literature and the fact that it was different to the usual full on stage production intrigued me.

What was the highlight of the play readings?

Seeing so many views and ideas coming from the same society was the highpoint for me. All of the performances were different from the usual Stratford-Upon Avon theatre event, and this difference came from a single source: having young, foreign playwrights. It was inspiring to think that some of them weren’t that much older than me and had developed a very different type of theatre from what I’m used to.

Who would the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Revolutions season appeal to?

I’d say the Russian season will appeal to regular Royal Shakespeare Company visitors who are looking for something different, or anyone interested in Russian society, culture, and history. However, I’d also recommend it to people new to the whole thing. The plays presented are fresh, original, and serve as an accessible entry to the world of theatre.

Spotlight: Madhav Sharma, Actor

Madhav Sharma

Madhav studied acting at RADA, he has starred in productions of Behzti, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet, and films that include East is East and The Blue Tower.

What’s the most exciting piece of theatre you have seen recently?

Although unevenly cast, it was Tim Supple’s multi-cultural production of As You Like It at The Curve, Leicester. The final scene was so moving that it took my breath away.

When playing Hamlet in Joseph O’Conor’s production what was the biggest challenge you faced?

Joseph O’Conor, who had played it in Sir Donald Wolfit’s company and who directed me, warned that the biggest challenge is not to be daunted by the fact that an awful lot of people have their own preconceptions of how he should be played. To thine own self be true.

You starred in the play Behzti, written by Gurpreet Kaur, that caused controversy in 2004 for its rape scene in a Gurudwara. Do you think there should be a line drawn between art and religion?

Behzti, in my opinion, is not a play about religion, it is about human fallibility and hypocrisy. Art, as Picasso reminded us, is a lie that enables one to tell the truth. Faith has nothing to fear from fiction.

Are there different obstacles facing black and ethnic minority actors?

Yes there are, lack of proper career development for one. Prejudice, based on colour of skin is still prevalent, and even those who spout a belief in equality have done nothing to create equality of opportunity, which is what we need.

How do you think theatres can appeal to a more diverse and young audience?

By being more accessible: less mono-cultural, less elitist , less bound by convention masquerading as tradition, and less about abstract theory. Instead more about feeling, more multi-racial, and more welcoming.

Your Bard: Gemma on Marianne Elliott’s All’s Well That End’s Well


Gemma is 24 and works for the Labour party. She enjoys the theatre, yoga, Jack Daniels, and hates the Tories.

Describe the play in three words.

Mystical, fairytale, humorous.

What attracted you to watch the play?

My sister got cheap tickets with the Night Less Ordinary scheme and invited me. Plus I love the National Theatre.

Who do you think would enjoy the play?

Teenagers would definitely enjoy it. The dialogue was fast-paced, sharp, and easy to follow. It’s light, has some naughty comments, rude jokes, and is not as intense as say Shakespeare’s tragedies.

All’s Well That Ends Well, at the National Theatre, Oliver


Does my head look big in this?

does my head look big in this?

If Tim Burton ever decided to turn his hand to directing Shakespeare it would probably look something like Marianne Elliott’s All’s Well That Ends Well, with its combination of a fairytale story and gothic design Elliott’s vision offers a solution to Shakespeare’s more tricky and little-performed “problem” play.


The poor orphaned Helena is in the agony of unrequited love towards the rich nobleman Bertram. When she hears that the King of France is ill she uses her knowledge of medicine, which she learnt from her late physician father, and brings him back to good health. As a reward he offers her the hand of any man in marriage, to which, without hesitation, she chooses Bertram. Even though they wed Bertram is a reluctant husband, he does not want to consummate the relationship and flees at the first opportunity. And so begins Helena’s attempt to change the situation.


Decay is everywhere in the play with Helena’s recently dead father, ageing authority figures, and the fear of death. Rae Smith’s design reflects the gloom perfectly delving into German expressionism with large silhouettes, black towers, and dark branches filling the stage. In this bleak world, full of greys and blacks, it is Helena who is seen travelling across Europe complete with her Little Red Riding Hood-like coat, curing the King and bringing about her “happy ending”.


Whilst the audience may have problems with Shakespearean women like Helena going after men who don’t deserve them (just think of Portia going after the money loving Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice), Elliott leaves it up to us to decide whether Helena is a redeemer, fixing the problems of the play, or a tragic figure, chasing after a cad who doesn’t want her.


The play is still marred by the speedy and frivolous denouement, but strong performances come in the form of Michelle Terry’s Helena and Oliver Ford Davies’ King. Watch this for Elliott’s stunning direction, it’s a rare and rich treat for the eyes.


Runs till 1 October.


To see or not to see: * * * *

The Observer, at the National Theatre, Cottesloe

The Observer

she couldn't get enough of his invisible piano routine

Moral dilemmas, racial tensions, and political anxieties are brought to life in Matt Chapman’s play ‘The Observer’. It is the eve of one West African country’s first democratic election and a group of English observers are there to oversee its running. Where however is the line between mere observation and intervention?

Fiona Russell, deputy chief of the observation team, is passionate about spreading democracy. And when the current president, who is not afraid of using violence against opposers, loses in the first round, she realises that if she can register 50, 000 more voters from urban areas the opposition may win outright.


Democracy, freedom of speech and expression maybe taken for granted by some, as Fiona points out that people in her hometown Leeds are not bothered to vote. But like ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, which was recently playing at the National Theatre, it raises deeper concerns: Is western influence, even if vying for democracy, always beneficial? And is observation simply an extension of colonialism?


Fiona is represented as a strong heroine. Her readiness to exert her influence, unlike former colonial heroines like E.M. Forster’s Mrs. Moore, are seen as favorable. Anna Chancellor, who plays Fiona, and Chuk Iwuji, who plays her translator Daniel Okeke, shine onstage as the characters under Richard Eyre’s direction.


This timely piece is gripping to watch, with its interception of news reports and quick scene changes, and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Highly recommended.


To see or not to see: * * * *


Read the original review of The Observer on the National Theatre’s website here


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