Tag Archives: Fisayo Akinade

“The Glow” at the Royal Court Theatre

A supernatural spectacular, Alistair McDowall’s new play travels to the beginning and the end of time. With a central character – The Woman – who is immortal, there’s an ambition to the piece that is almost foolhardy. Thankfully, the writer’s vision is matched by Vicky Featherstone’s bold direction and superb production values.

McDowall sensibly picks the spiritualist Victorian era to start. The Woman is plucked from a cell by a medium called Mrs Lyall. There’s to be an experiment. Mrs Lyall’s wish is to become the first necromancer – I guess it’s good to have ambition – but her victim turns out to be “something other” than she could possibly imagine.

All the way through – and a lot of ground is covered – McDowall’s sense of humour is key. Mrs Lyall’s imperiousness (pity her poor son, impeccably played by Fisayo Akinade) makes her a great role for Rakie Ayola. Back and forth in time we go with a Knight from the Middle Ages in tow (a strong character well played by Tadgh Murphy). Questions of death and suffering frequently arise. That The Glow is funny but still takes itself seriously is impressive. Spooky touches are abandoned, and conspiracy theories debunked – yet the fantastical manages to convince.

The Glow is far from silly sci-fi. The Woman has played major parts in history as well as myth (exploring the relation between the two proves a distraction). But what we see are smaller stories. A retired nurse who is grieving her son (excellent performances again from Ayloa and Akinade) adds some warmth to a generally cool play.

McDowell focuses on the personal for The Woman. Asking how someone feels about being eternal might strike you as simply strange. Yet it serves to look at mortality in an original way. As the character of the nurse remarks, “trying to think about something I couldn’t imagine” is hard: it’s a step McDowall is brave enough to take.

The Glow at the Royal Court inset credit Manuel Harlan

In the difficult role of ‘The Woman’ Ria Zmitrowicz excels, giving a character who mostly wants to hide, suitable charisma. The performance, and the plot, are nicely puzzling. But there’s a sense it’s the production that is the star here. Merle Hensel’s flexible minimalist set adds style as well as menace. The lighting and sound design, from Jessica Hung Han Yun and Nick Powell, aided by Tal Rosner’s video work, is superb. McDowall has plenty of ideas yet the act of bringing them to the stage is what impresses most.

Until 5 March 2022

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Barber Shop Chronicles” from NTLive

With a trio of companies behind it – and, don’t forget, links for donations – the National Theatre, Fuel and Leeds Playhouse gave us something for the weekend with Inua Ellams’ play. This recording, from the London run in 2018, reminds us why this piece – which covers vast ground geographically and brings up plenty for debate – was so warmly received.

Scenes in barber shops in London, Lagos, Accra, Kampala, Johannesburg and Harare add up to a lot. And we encounter plenty of colourful characters (Patrice Naiambana’s Paul was my favourite although Hammed Animashuan’s performance was brilliantly scene stealing). Alongside a powerful drama between Emmanuel and Samuel, which make good roles for Fisayo Akinade and Cyril Nri, there are all manners of observation on language, politics, race and culture. It’s all interesting, although maybe not always subtle, but it could easily be overwhelming.

Hammed Animashau in Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre (c) Marc Brenner
Hammed Animashau

Ultimately, these chronicles are a collection of small studies and intimate scenes. Director Bijan Sheibani skilfully combines the big picture with close details, and the result belies any shortcomings. Ellams’ touch is light, while segues between scenes, with singing and dancing, are excellent. What could be confusing proves energetic. And the play is funny: jokes are used pointedly and there’s plenty of wit to enjoy.

While the barber shops, as a “place for talking”, serve as an effective device for holding the play together, what really does this job is the theme of fatherhood. The stories take in violence and various ideas of legacy and inheritance, offering plenty of insight. And it’s interesting to note how much bigger than biology the theme of parenthood becomes. Connections between the characters are handled carefully (until the end, in a clumsy moment that really disappoints). Ellams’ play, with Sheibani’s help, ends up more than the sum of its parts. And, given that it has more parts than a barber shop quartet, that’s really saying something.

Available until Wednesday 20 May 2020

To support visit nationaltheatre.org.uk, fueltheatre.com, leedsplayhouse.org.uk

Photos by Marc Brenner