StageScan Pick: The Rolling Stone

Consistent 4- and 5-star reviews from the pro critics have greeted the Royal Exchange’s co-production of Chris Urch’s latest, The Rolling Stone at the Orange Tree.

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) described a “scorching play” written with “rare passion” and portraying “an explosive clash between religious dogma, personal loyalties and the frenzy of a media witch-hunt”. Daisy Bowie-Sell (What’s On Stage) praised the writer’s “delicacy and intelligence” and “a meaty, believable storyline with some beautifully drawn characters”. Miriam Gillinson (Time Out), who gave it full marks, thought it “hugely powerful” because “made up of deeply personal moments”. She explained: “Urch paints every scene with great compassion” resulting in “lines that sing, slaps that sting and scenes that will break your heart”.

Hitchings praised a “simple, lucid production” and Gillinson said Ellen McDougall ”directs with the lightest of touches, gently underscoring scenes with stretched strains of music”. She found Joanna Scotcher’s “simple blue set suggests the shadow of the Church” describing “velvet curtains and white lights” which “gradually fade as Dembe’s spirit is crushed”.

Bowie-Sell was impressed by “a superb cast” and thought Fiston Barek “brilliant” as Dembe, a lead character “teetering between childhood and adulthood” in a world “viciously hostile to who he is”. Hitchings hailed a “memorably volatile” performance, and Gillinson called him “the gentle heartbeat of this show” adding “his eyes sparkle with a strange sort of naïve wisdom”.

Also highlighted was Faith Omole as Dembe’s sister. Hitchings observed “a striking gravity” and Gillinson called her “stunning” adding that their “fraught encounters… tingle with shared history and understanding”. Hitching also found Sule Rimi “excellent” as their pastor brother “especially when his preaching becomes fiery and militant”.  Bowie-Sell agreed, concluding “it is the entire bunch who define this as a remarkable and deeply troubling production”.

She found the play “says some timeless things about family, religion and responsibility” and Gillinson thought it “combines the political and personal to phenomenal effect”. Bowie-Sell was typical in observing “Urch is already becoming one of British theatre’s major talents”.

StageScan Pick: Fear and Misery of The Third Reich

The first show to really stand out for us in 2016 is Fear and Misery of The Third Reich at the Union Theatre, which achieved a reassuring four-star consensus among four pro reviewers.

Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) said “Brecht writes brilliantly” praising a “fascinating piece” in which “the best of the sketches are outstanding models of skilful, slippery writing and dramatic pressure”. Paul Vale (The Stage) noted “a naturalistic, often comic style” and Michael Billington (The Guardian) said: “Brecht is often thought to be arid, preachy and simplistic. As these plays prove, he was lively, ironic and complex.”

Coveney, offering “kudos to Phil Willmott” noted his choice of a “fine translation”. Billington felt the director “has fashioned a chilling evening” and Vale praised the re-ordering of selected pieces into “a well-balanced production… highlighting a deepening sense of terror without stifling the power of each individual scene”.

While Coveney found “the overall aesthetic rudimentary” Vale enjoyed “chaotic set design” which “mirrors the uncertainty of the period” adding “the Hitler masks are a touch of genius”.

He also praised “a talented, cohesive ensemble” who “capture the subtleties of humour and pathos in each scene”. Billington enjoyed “some astute cross-casting”.

There was general praise for Clara Francis, and Billington felt she played The Jewish Wife “hauntingly”. Coveney enjoyed Phil Willmott’s own “panicky tangle” as a judge, and Billington thought their shared scene as paranoid parents “superb” observing “macabre wit”. Vale also highlighted a “frankly terrifying” Felix Mathur and the “remarkable focus and urgency” of Joe Dowling’s rhyming narration.

Billington summed up “a memorable montage of life in Nazi Germany” showing “that opposition, however unavailing, was possible”. Coveney, despite some quibbles, hailed “a salutary reminder of Brecht’s power and influence”. Vale, who found the production ‘”resonant” said: “Brecht’s words ring out like a warning from history that couldn’t be more prescient in today’s political climate”.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our new-style update.