Tag Archives: Jessica Raine

“X” at the Royal Court

Don’t look at the script beforehand – the pages of Xs and blank spaces in ‘A_ct Two’ (sic) give the impression that Alistair McDowall’s new play is pretentious. Fear not, this latest head scratcher at the Royal Court is a spooky sci-fi that’s hugely entertaining.

Set in a research base on Pluto, after environmental collapse on Earth, the abandoned crew is going mad. The characters aren’t entirely successful: cynical captain (Darrell D’Silva works hard at this) and autistic scientist (Rudi Dharmalingam) are a little flat. Better written are younger, amusingly annoying crewmates, played by Ria Zmitrowicz and James Harkness. The most demanding role is for Jessica Raine. Alongside Harkness, she deals with the most challenging scene (those Xs again) admirably, and her vulnerability is an asset to the play.

It’s what happens to these astronauts that counts and, as with any good thriller, tension comes from simple events: the clock controlled from Earth goes wrong, there’s a nightingale flying around and a terrifying figure outside the window! Along with a goosebumps-generating soundtrack from Nick Powell, and a good sense of humour, this show is fun.

How time connects to memory, thus identity and even reality are the serious themes. With no sense of passing days, the crew collapses into paranoia and they, like the audience, can trust nothing. Director Vicky Featherstone pulls out all the stops, and adds a necessary ruthlessness to that printed script. As the crazy delusions mount, you come to dread each blackout and what might appear next. X has plenty of cinematic references and a filmic feel that make it easy to watch. McDowall messes around with everyone’s heads with terrific skill.

Until 7 May 2016


Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Roots” at the Donmar Warehouse

As you might expect, there is a kitchen sink in Arnold Wesker’s 1958 work Roots. But, for all the washing up, the play really revolves around cooking. It starts with some liver, followed by ice cream, as Beatie comes home to her Norfolk village for a holiday. Jessica Raine instantly establishes Beatie – and her own acting skills – as something exceptional. Inspired by the socialist ideals she has been exposed to from her activist fiance Ronnie, she’s a “whirlwind” to her family. Insisting that they start to think and talk like her, she is a harsh, albeit endearing judge.

Next Beatie makes a cake. It’s Ronnie’s recipe. Her formidable mother is busy cooking something else while being lectured to and made to listen to classical music. The preparations are for Ronnie’s visit, an encounter that Beatie is justifiably anxious about. Linda Bassett shines in the role of Mrs Bryant, bringing much humour to the play and almost threatening to make the focus two women rather one (probably not Wesker’s intention), so fine is her performance.

By the final scene, there has been more food (and a bath in between), including a family feast with a trifle to take seriously, and all are assembled for Ronnie’s arrival. There’s a sense we have over indulged. Director James Macdonald’s production is meticulous and, with the help of designer Hildegard Bechtler, the detail approaches fetishism. The observation of rural working-class life is slow but captivating, and concentrated performances from the large ensemble that make up Beatie’s family are similarly precise and of the highest quality.

As well as being slightly bloated, Wesker’s examination of socialist ideas is a little past its sell-by date. Thankfully, there is also Beatie’s journey of self-discovery, and this is all together more satisfying. Raine’s depiction of Beatie’s development is thorough and gratifying, giving her the passion for life that Wesker writes so well about. As she gets down from Ronnie’s soapbox, admittedly on to one of her own, you start to really listen to her, and one leaves feeling that the end is her delicious new beginning.

Until 30 November 2013


Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

Written 10 October 2013 for The London Magazine

“Earthquakes in London”at the National Theatre

Of the several excellent productions this summer from the Headlong Theatre Company, none has created quite the buzz of Earthquakes in London at the National Theatre’s Cottesloe auditorium.

Headlong’s star director Rupert Goold takes charge. While Broadway gave his production of Enron a drubbing, London loves Goold – and rightly so. A director of great style, his bag of theatrical tricks belies a precise hand adept at delivering unforgettable shows. Goold brings all his invention and courage to Earthquakes in London. He has to – Mike Bartlett’s play could easily have seemed unstageable.

Creating a time-travelling story of environmental apocalypse, Bartlett flirts with the past and future, but his play is really about the present – a condemning vision of our apathy and arrogance. Unashamedly political, if occasionally obtuse, the passion displayed is admirable. Akin to the National’s production of Rattigan’s After the Dance, the question that frustrates and angers is how society can carry on the party in the face of catastrophe.

Bartlett’s uncanny gift for characterisation shows his skill as a writer. While the wry observations on modern life are sometimes predictable, they can seldom be argued with and if the scope of his ambition doesn’t always pay off, his emotional insight creates a recognisable world of believable people.

Lia Williams is brilliant as Sarah, a newly appointed Lib Dem minister struggling with the conflict between her ideals and power. Lia has brought up her sisters: Jasmine (Jessica Raine) has ended up as a “natural disaster”, angry as only a post baby boomer can be, while heavily pregnant Freya (Anna Madeley) is given a haunting depiction that matches this harrowing role.

A massive cast live their lives around these women. Even their husbands, both men in crisis and played wonderfully by Tom Goodman-Hill and Geoffrey Streatfield fail to connect with them. Their father Robert (Bill Patterson) is a prophet whose vision of the future removes him from his family and provides this bleak play’s most exigent moments. Always surprising, Earthquakes in London is an epic with the most unusual hero as Bryony Hannah excels in two roles that show her enviable versatility.

But the stars of the show are designer Miriam Buether and the technical team at the National Theatre. Transforming the Cottesloe to an unprecedented extent makes the night exciting from the start. Performing amongst the crowd and in two pillbox stages at either end allows the breakneck speed required. It provides memorable tableaux and builds up connections that add further to an already rich work. The evening is often overwhelming, but it is never confusing. This is compulsive viewing that will run amok in the mind for a long time to come.

Until 22 September 2010


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 5 August 2010 for The London Magazine