Tag Archives: Kevin Harvey

“Bakkhai” at the Almeida Theatre

With the first instalment of the Almeida’s Greek season, Oresteia, having announced a West End transfer, Bakkhai, has a lot to live up to. James Macdonald’s production of Euripides’ play is a traditional affair that takes us close to the original. bringing an opportunity to learn something deeper about Greek drama and its power. Vastly different from Oresteia’s contemporary take, the show makes a great contrast and confirms the season is one of this year’s theatrical highlights.

Marked by a strong sense of purpose, Antony McDonald’s simple design and Peter Mumford’s lighting accompany a clear and concise text from Anne Carson. Both Carson and Macdonald have a powerful appreciation of the dichotomies embraced by the religion at the heart of the play, explaining the concept of a daimon and its implications for Dionysus’ crazed followers. Macdonald’s grip never falters as he crafts the tension and explores the consequences of hubris. Most notable is the primary role of the Chorus and music in the show – nearly half of the production is sung.

The star attraction is Ben Whishaw, heading up the excellent promotional photography, and perfectly cast to bring out the complexities of the god, with flowing hair and fey gestures transformed into something sinister in a moment. As with his fellow performers, Whishaw takes on other roles admirably, but Bertie Carvel gets the best of this tactic, playing the ruler Pentheus with confident efficiency, then his mother Agave, with a visceral turn that puts the ghost of his Miss Trunchbull from Matilda to rest. Joining them is Kevin Harvey, whose roles include Cadmus, holding his own and making him an actor that joins my list of ones to watch.

It is the ten-strong Chorus that makes this Bakkhai one to celebrate; singing a capella throughout, with music credited to Orlando Gough. The sound is both otherworldly and tribal – an invigorating mix that keeps you guessing, veering from the frightening, almost repulsive, to strangely beautiful melodies. The singing acts as an exposition of the religion the women follow. The acting is strong, bearing in mind that mass ecstasy is a big ask. It’s when they comment on events and respond to the story that they really move you, showing a clear idea of the Chorus’ role in Greek theatre. Now, as then, the group draws in the audience, making us part of a truly powerful show.

Until 19 September 2015


Photo by David Stewart

“Game” at the Almeida Theatre

The element of surprise in Mike Bartlett’s new work, Game, is a big part of its success. Theatregoers aren’t even allowed to buy the programme before the show – a neat trick that really piqued my interest. The evening is too good to give this Game away, but rest assured that this original and disturbing show isn’t one you will forget in a hurry.

It’s safe to say the play seems inspired by Big Brother and shoot-‘em-up computer games. But Bartlett’s target is neither celebrity nor mankind’s inherent violence; instead, it’s the housing market and our increasingly unequal society.

The scenario involves desperate people in a crazy situation. The plot may have flaws, but that’s not the point. Staged with amazing technical virtuosity by director Sacha Wares, with Miriam Buether’s set having transformed the theatre, the play presents a deliberately distorted and exaggerated view.

The action is literally from multiple perspectives – scenes are hidden from you and exposed to other audience members. And there are televisions to watch while you hear everything through personal headphones. So the show is immersive (if that’s your thing, Game is a must-see) and adds up to a very individual experience that’s uncomfortably intimate and uniquely theatrical.

Game aims to acknowledge too many societal woes. While Jodie McNee and Mike Noble give brilliant performances in the lead roles, minor characters are caricatures in service to blisteringly satirical moments. It’s always powerful, though. To take one key moment, we are presented with a dilemma over whether to watch the action on stage or look away. One character, ably performed by Kevin Harvey, promises not to look. Do we watch the action or watch him via camera to see if he is true to his word? Either way, we become implicit – whether as voyeur or censor.

As with previous works, Bartlett takes his outlandish premise and builds on it marvellously. There is an incredible tension at the start of each scene as the story progresses and becomes more extreme – you know you won’t like what is coming next. I can see it’s kind of brilliant, but I’ll put my hands up and admit it pushed me too far. House hunting is never much fun, but Bartlett’s treatment left me feeling depressed and a little bit sick.

Until 4 April 2015