September’s roundup: People, Places and Things, My Eyes Went Dark, and Hamlet

Before we get to this month’s post, we have some news: Stagescan now sells theatre tickets. Thanks to our new partnership with See Tickets, we can offer tickets to most West End shows and some Off West End as well, at the same prices you’d pay at other retailers.

To buy from any show page, just click the ‘Check availability’ button to buy. Needless to say, buying your tickets through Stagescan will help us keep the site running – which we would greatly appreciate, since we love doing it.

And now to the blog. We took a break in August since it’s Fringe season – now London is back at the heart of things. Below, we’ve got three shows with strong central performances, each in its way conveying psychological turmoil through its staging. (Bet you can’t guess which Barbican show made the cut.)

People, Places and Things – National Theatre, 3.9– star average

Five- to three-star reviews met Duncan Macmillan’s new play, with most awarding four. Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage) described a “diligent portrait of addiction, shown from within and without” and Michael Billington (Guardian) felt it gained “exceptional vibrancy” from “parallels between rehab and theatrical process”. Paul Taylor (Independent) observed: “it refuses to proffer any crisp, cultural diagnoses” instead presenting – through “hallucinatory sequences…. the tormented subjective experience of its protagonist”. He found the result “generous-spirited, with a strong streak of irreverent, darkly humane humour”.

Natasha Tripney (The Stage) was representative in finding Denise Gough’s “magnetic” and “extraordinary” performance “off-the-scale astonishing”. Henry Hitchings (ES) hailed “a brilliant performer” here “as good as she’s ever been – fierce and fearless” and praised “an emotionally shattering performance that’s also exemplary in its rigour”. Billington agreed she “breathtakingly captures Emma’s mix of dependency, delusion and scepticism” yet “never judges the character” and Taylor found the performance “magnificently unsparing”.

Tripney detected “times when it feels as though Jeremy Herrin is throwing all his directorial tricks at the production” but acknowledged “fittingly uncanny” detox scenes. Hitchings reported “a barrage of light and sound to convey Emma’s delusions” but also “moments of finely controlled stillness”.

Tripney praised “a strong ensemble” and Taylor was among those highlighting Nathaniel Martello-White’s “beautifully played” fellow-patient and a “gloriously persuasive” Barbara Marten in multiple roles.

Taylor enjoyed “a thoughtful, shifting ambivalence that suits the problem” and Hitchings praised an “absorbing production” which was “above all a triumph for Denise Gough”.

Runs to 30 Oct 2015

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My Eyes Went Dark – Finborough Theatre, 3.8-star average

A four-star majority also greeted “Matthew Wilkinson’s thrilling new play” which Daisy Bowie-Sell (Time Out) called “visceral, realistic” and “practically Greek on the tragedy scale”. Michael Billington reported “an extremely powerful play about justice, revenge and forgiveness” and praised an “uncanny ability to get inside the skin of a man tormented by grief”. Bowie-Sell enjoyed “realistic and sparse” dialogue and scenes which “move fluidly into each other, slowly revealing Nikolai’s story”. Aleks Sierz (The Stage) also found it “compellingly written” and praised “great pace and fascinating detail”.

Sierz enjoyed “excellent performances” from the two actors, whom Billington judged “first-rate”. Bowie-Sell expanded: “Cal MacAninch’s Nikolai has an inner turmoil: externally he is a pillar of composure” yet he “manages to subtly betray the pain that is enveloping him”.  Billington, recalling the actor’s recent Hamlet, detected “a man similarly hovering on the border of insanity”. He said “Thusitha Jayasundera plays all the other characters with supreme technical finesse” and Bowie-Sell found her “excellent, providing both humanity and a harsh calculated bureaucracy”.

Billington reported “minimalist staging” by Wilkinson, which Bowie-Sell found “effective… builds up the tension and the story so it slowly heightens into a searing intensity”. She thought Max Pappenheim’s sound design “superb, reflecting the inner-noise of Nikolai’s mind”.

Billington concluded it “provides no easy answers but poses a series of compelling questions about the nature of moral responsibility”. Bowie-Sell summed up “an affecting, impressive new play which makes a strong case for forgiveness” and Sierz found it “intense, thought-provoking and intelligent”.

Runs to 19 Sep 2015

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Hamlet – Barbican, 3.3-star average

A range from 4 to 2 stars greeted Lyndsey Turner’s controversial production on its official opening.

Sarah Hemming (FT) thought it “marred” by “rough cuts and strange bits of rewriting” but praised a “lithe, restlessly intelligent and believable” Hamlet in Benedict Cumberbatch‘s “vivid” performance. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) agreed he “justifies the hysteria”, describing “unshowy physical confidence” and “warmth of feeling that puts you on his side”. Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) saw soliloquies delivered “superbly, urgently, intelligently” and found him “compelling and charismatic”.

Coveney described “glorious design” with “staircases, family portraits, tangled skeins of artificial flowers, and a toy theatre”. Hemming reported “almost… an expressionist thriller” where for soliloquies “a complete switch of lighting” takes us into Hamlet’s “haunted head”. She found the one “vast, ornate room” containing the action “increasingly symbolic of the oppressive weight of the past” and detected a “palpable” sense of “a younger generation being alienated and infantilised” by family secrets. But Cavendish detected “a strained conceit of childish regression” and, like many, thought it “full of hit-and-miss ideas”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) was most enthusiastic, approving “frequent directorial flourishes” and a production that “straddles the naturalistic and the heavily stylised with fluid ease”.

He also praised “brittle and brilliant” Anastasia Hille and “imposing” Ciaran Hinds, although Cavendish, among others, found Hinds “among those fated to sound muted… on such a vast stage”.

Cavendish declared “a blazing, five-star Hamlet trapped in a middling, three-star show” yet “greater than the sum of its inchoate parts” with Cumberbatch “gluing it… powerfully together”.  But Hemming reported “a fresh, dynamic staging” admittedly “a bumpy affair” but also “an epic, restless engagement with the text” featuring “a charismatic and intelligent Hamlet”.

Runs to 31 Oct 2015

Thanks for reading,

Cabe at Stagescan HQ

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