We came hoping for a new arcadia and instead ended up with Welwyn Garden City.

The Hard Problem – Dorfman Space @ National Theatre, until 27 May 2015 (Tickets)

This production will be broadcast to cinemas on 16 Aprilthe_hard_problem398.jpg

The ‘hard problem’of the title refers to ‘consciousness’; a concept under assault from a battalion of neuroscientists laying claim to greater and greater certainty in their understanding of brain functionality as something that can be deconstructed to the micro-level of synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters. As neuroscience is in the ascendancy we are left with awkward questions over whether humans are left increasingly shackled by the tyranny of genetic determinism? Where does our freedom of thought – our freedom to act in ways contrary to the principles of evolutionary science – fit into the equation? In essence does the philosophical ‘mind’, as opposed to the functional ‘brain’, exist?

These are fascinating questions and truly weighty topics. It is the sort of subject we have come to expect from Tom Stoppard, who has demonstrated his formidable intelligence on countless occasions over the last forty years and in so doing has contributed some of Britain’s finest plays of the post-war era. This includes two genuine classics in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Arcadia and many others that found audacious approaches to create unabashedly literate drama enthused with a wit that refused to bow to the lowest common denominator.

Stoppard is 77 years old and it is his first new play for nine years. So perhaps the hard problem for the audience is reconciling itself to the idea that the play – quite possibly his last – is a bit of a dud. Critical reactions have been mixed and supported by an undercurrent of good will but, on reflection, can anyone seriously challenge the view that this is but a pale imitation of what has come before?

The play suffers primarily from a lack of drama. Things happen, time passes, the plot resorts to rather clichéd contrivances and one comes away finding it very difficult to care about any of it.

<<Continue to full review>>

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Onto the West End

With the Almeida Theatre putting out a trailer advertising its West End transfer of the fabulously entertaining King Charles III, and with what appears to be most of the original cast intact – including, crucially, Tim Pigott-Smith as Charles, Oliver Cris as William and Lydia Wilson as Kate – it seems a good time to revisit Civilian Theatre’s review from the Almeida run.

Oliver Cris has been pulling double duty on the satire front this year, as he hops back from playing a hapless policeman in the National’s Great Britain into an eerily pitch-perfect William, whilst Lydia Wilson reprises her Lady Macbeth-fuelled Kate. Lydia Wilson also has previous form in such matters, having come to attention of people outside of theatre-land with her role in Charlie Brooker’s most memorable Black Mirror (yes the one where the PM has *ahem* relations with a pig). However for those more conversant with plays, she has also been seen in Cheek by Jowl’s excellent ‘Tis pity she’s a whore and Sarah Kane’s Blasted

<<Read Civilian Theatre’s review of King Charles III>>

Watch the trailer:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/105039584″>King Charles III West End Trailer | Almeida Theatre, London</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/almeidatheatrelondon”>Almeida Theatre</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Book tickets here

An evening with…The Beatles

Let It Be – Garrick Theatre (and variously on tour) [Tickets]

Let it be…said that this reviewer does stray out of their comfort zone occasionally. Children murdered by the mother? Check. Libertarian ethics of avatar paedophilia? Check. An absurdist Bolivian redux of Hamlet? Check. An evening at the Garrick Theatre spent listening to faithful renditions of songs by the most influential band of all time? Well, there is a first time for everything.

beatMany people hate on jukebox musicals but this reviewer does have time for the concept; Buddy, Mamma Mia and Our House all prove that given care and attention, and a back catalogue that can sustain a two hour plundering, it doesn’t have to be an excruciatingly painful evening. Indeed in my opinion the general terribleness of We Will Rock You says more about the quality of Queen’s songbook than it does about the show itself – and the fact that listening to 120 minutes of overblown bombast is more than enough for most people.

Well, no-one is going to claim that The Beatles don’t have the quality to cover the running time of a tribute concert. Indeed quite a fun little game to play on the tube ride home is to come up with a playlist that is just as strong as the one they left in – Oh Darling, I Want You, Nowhere Man, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, She’s Leaving Home, Dear Prudence & Helter Skelter are just some I would have tried to slot in somewhere.

Perhaps it is already a well-known fact but Let It Be is not a musical in any meaningful sense of the word. This is a full blown ‘evening with The Beatles’ affair (except, rather excruciatingly and presumably for copyright reasons, they seem to be called ‘Let It Be’ which does dull some of the mystique).

There is no semblance of plot excepting an intermittent narrator guiding the audience through the years and ticking off all the big non-controversial Beatles milestones. Invading America? Yes. Bigger than Jesus? No. Hippies? Yes. Any overt references to mind-splitting amounts of acid? No. Gently mocking Ringo? Yes. Any mention of Yoko Ono? No.

Really though none of this matters. The producers have drilled to the core of what people want. And that is for those who never got to hear The Beatles the first time round, it is a chance to hear entirely competent covers of classic songs. And that is what you get – a relentless tidal wave of hit-after-hit performed with verve and energy. The music is so good that you cannot help but tap your toes, clap along and join the gustily sung, surprisingly tuneful audience-led rendition of Yesterday.

<<Continue to full review>>

 

I must thank the good people at Official Theatre for the tickets. Even without this shameless plug, please do check out their website to find out what is going on across the West End; it has links to tickets, venue contact details and bits ‘n bobs about all the theatres – the sort of thing I would do if I wasn’t so damn lazy.  (www.officialtheatre.com)