Tag Archives: Nadia Fall

“The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars” at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

Strong ideas and intriguing verse make the quality of Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s new play easy to spot. Superb direction from Nadia Fall and a stunning performance from Kibong Tanji take the production close to five-star territory.

Tanji plays Femi, a young woman whose twin brother has been murdered in a racist attack. Baruwa-Etti writes viscerally about grief: it takes over the body, becoming something elemental, so big it is related to the celestial. This is powerful writing, but it’s the physicality Tanji brings to the role that is mind blowing. I’d put money on her having trained as a dancer.

The clever move is to relate how grief warps Femi’s mind. A desire for justice becomes consuming and violent fantasies isolate Femi from her friends. Achieving a balance between sympathy for the character and being afraid of her – as well as for her – is skilfully achieved.

a stage spectre to rival the best

Femi’s mental ill-health provides a further character for the play – the ghost of her brother. Here, all involved excel. Tanji depicts her character’s reactions to the ghost and slips effortlessly into embodying him as well. Fall injects fantastic tension, with the help of lighting and sound designers Oliver Fenwick and Tingying Dong respectively. And Baruwa-Etti has created a stage spectre to rival the best.

That Femi is haunted is a smart way to link the twins’ experience of racism, then Femi’s encounter with the criminal justice system, with questions of history. But her brother Sean’s ghost is individual enough to make a powerful drama about characters who are more than symbols for societal woes.  

A benevolent, often calming presence, Sean provides support that leads to tender moments recalling the siblings’ childhood. He has instructions… and they aren’t always what his sister wants to hear. The suggestion that Sean also manipulates adds to his fascination. That her ghostly companion leads to the suggestion of Femi’s salvation is a conclusion that, although arriving abruptly, is inspiring.

Until 20 June 2021

www.stratfordeast.com

Photo by The Other Richard

“Talking Heads” at the Bridge Theatre

Four out of eight… that’s not some strange rating for these shows, far from it, but the number I’ve managed to see in this series of Alan Bennett monologues. The tickets are reasonably priced, the staff on top of social distancing, and creative director Nicholas Hytner’s idea of bringing his lockdown TV shows to the stage (where they clearly belong) is a simply brilliant.

The Shrine & Bed Among the Lentils

First up is Monica Dolan’s brilliant portrayal of a grieving widow. Learning about her husband’s life – after his death – her version of Clifford the bird watcher has to expand to include Cliff the biker. The Shrine is sensitive and often funny. It’s classic Bennett territory, with plenty of wry observation. And an important point about how individual bereavement is.

The accompanying piece has Lesley Manville’s turn as an “upstanding Anglican lady”. Battles with her husband the Vicar, and his fan club parishioners, start well. But does competitive flower arranging sit uncomfortably alongside the AA meetings the character ends up at? It’s Manville who makes the extramarital affair here seem something magical. Another performance not to miss. Both pieces are directed with a sure hand by Hytner.

The Hand of God & The Outside Dog

Another piece is also mostly noticeable for its performance. Did you ever imagine Kristen Scott Thomas could ‘do’ frumpy? The Hand of God is a touch predictable but, with an affecting melancholic air there’s no doubt this is another of Bennett’s strong characters. Playing a small-time antiques dealer, with humour coming from her snobbery, is a real achievement on Scott Thomas’s part.

More impressive – as the performance is excellent and the writing surprising – is The Outside Dog where Bennett moves to less familiar ground. A serial killer’s wife, a role Rochenda Sandall gets lots from, in a script that twists like a thriller. It’s plot driven but note its brevity. While the TV might drag a serial out of something like this (and we’ve all seen plenty on Netflix lately) Bennett and director Nadia Fall cram mystery, drama and emotion in a quarter of an hour – fantastic!

There are four more big stars to come – Lucian Msamati, Imelda Staunton, Tamsin Grieg and Maxine Peake – in two more double bills. This may be bite size theatre, but the season is a big achievement.

Until 31 October 2020

www.bridgetheatre.co.uk

Photos by Zach Harrison

“The Suicide” at the National Theatre

There are some interesting ideas lurking within Suhayla El-Bushra’s new version of Nikolai Erdman’s comedy. The basis is brilliant – when a man announces he will take his own life he becomes hounded by those looking to use his death for their own ends. You might guess that the production updates the action to modern-day London (doesn’t everything?). More surprisingly, the satirical target is moved from Soviet Russia, not to the greed and inequality in our own times, but to left-leaning well- meaning folk. And El-Bushra replaces the State with social media – a neat move that offers insight and great satirical potential (after all, you can’t exaggerate online excess). Unfortunately, neither of these twists actually makes the play funnier than its original premise.

Mocking a desperate group of people living on a council estate is in questionable taste, aside from coming close to sitcom or reality TV show territory. More importantly, the treatment just isn’t witty enough. The script has a few risqué jokes but hardly any big laughs and a reliance on bad language for punchlines that is offensive in being so lazy. Director Nadia Fall doesn’t help, using a great-looking set (by Ben Stones) in a cumbersome manner and adding music and dance – presumably to appeal to a young audience – that may be good, but slows things down. There are frantic scenes, which the cast are well choreographed for, but the energy is wasted as stops and starts ruin the pace.

The collection of stereotypes that come to hassle our hero Sam aren’t all badly written. There’s a café-owning ex-PR girl, a teacher-performance-poet, local councillor, mental health worker, an old friend trying to hide an affair and assorted local youths. It’s a long play. All look for Sam to take the blame for something and to make a ‘statement’. But there’s an inverse relationship between characters where the satire has real bite, such as a despicable documentary filmmaker, and disappointing performances. Jokes are wasted with one-note delivery. Then some strong comic potential (Lizzie Winkler and Ayesha Antoine) isn’t given enough to do. It’s tempting to see an element of bad luck for El-Bushra here.

My intention was attend the scheduled press night, which was then postponed due to the indisposition of the lead, Javone Prince – surely the biggest misfortune for the show. However, the poorly presented main character is reduced to little more than a foolish bore, while scenes of Sam’s home life with his wife (a hard-working Rebecca Scroggs) and mother-in-law (the always excellent Ashley McGuire) achieve little. Yet the role was a triumph for Prince’s understudy, Adrian Richards, who gave a performance that has made me want to post this review despite it being, strictly speaking, about a preview. Richards’ comic timing is among the best of the night and he managed to give Sam a lost, youthful, appeal. Richards’ valiant efforts lifted the atmosphere for the whole evening. Luck at last, but little to do with the show’s actual merits.

Until 25 June 2016

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

“Our Country’s Good” at the National Theatre

An undisputed modern classic, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play explores politics, power and the potential of theatre. Its setting is an 18th-century Australian penal colony, its performers, newly arrived convicts who stage a play. It is a text to spend time with and Nadia Fall’s revival presents the ideas with great clarity. But it should also be a work that entertains and invigorates, and, here, this production lacks consistency.

The show looks great, with Peter McKintosh’s design a mix of Aboriginal art and Anish Kapoor, creating a sense of heat and tension. But this show is a cold affair, distinctly lacking humour and failing to exploit the text’s many ironies. Fall’s pacing slows and rushes – possibly because so much music is introduced. Cerys Matthews, making her theatrical debut as a composer, creates a diverse soundscape with snatches of songs you never hear enough of to enjoy.

There are credible performances from the lead: Jason Hughes plays the soldier tasked with directing the convicts and Caoilfhionn Dunne is the prisoner who becomes his leading lady. It’s a shame there isn’t more sexual tension between their characters – an element missing throughout the show which could have added considerable drama.

Productions often have actors doubling up roles to perform as both guard and prisoner – Fall has a larger crew but the play doesn’t benefit from bigger numbers. Disappointingly, with some of the cast, there is a sense of fighting for attention that should have been checked. The actors that do stand out give the most generous and controlled performances: Ashley McGuire’s down-to-earth Dabby Bryant and Peter Forbes’ bullish Major.

The later acts are better; the violence in the colony is bravely depicted and that raises the stakes. But what might have countered this brutality – camaraderie between the players and what little joy their common humanity affords them – isn’t given its proper place. That the show goes on and the prisoners perform doesn’t leave us as elated as it should.

Until 1 October 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

“Dara” at the National Theatre

With Behind The Beautiful Forevers still running – and well worth watching – The National Theatre offers another, very different, view of the Indian subcontinent with Dara. Adapted for a Western audience by Tanya Ronder, from Shahid Nadeem’s play, this historical epic shows the battle between Shah Jahan’s sons for the Mughal Empire. It’s a riveting story, all the more exciting if you aren’t familiar with the history (imagine the Tudors without knowing Henry had six wives); a family drama boasting an ambitious sense of scale that makes it topical too.

Nadia Fall’s quick-fire direction stages the action with speed, while Katrina Lindsay’s design and a large cast creates a sumptuous feel. Though a wide span of time is covered (the play is long, but never droops) and some roles are feel curtailed, Vincent Ebrahim manages to give Shah Jahan great depth, and Nathalie Armin is superb as his daughter, Jahanara. Zubin Varla takes the title role, a hugely satisfying character, saintly yet very human and ferociously intelligent. Dara’s fate is to be tried for apostasy – his own defence in court is fantastic theatre.

daradrop-Dara-credit-Ellie-Kurtz
Sargon Yelda and Anjana Vasan

Dara is as much about Shah Jahan’s other son, Aurangzeb, who claimed the throne and rejected both Sufism and the religious toleration that Dara explored. A tyrannical figure, Sargon Yelda’s performance as Aurangzeb is wonderfully layered. A brief, exquisitely crafted scene with his Hindu lover, ably played by Anjana Vasan, really helps. Aurangzeb isn’t just a villain and the play’s exploration of the need to choose between “faith or family” makes it great drama. It’s Dara’s religious content that makes it feel so urgent – presenting the “broken prince”, a figure to revere despite his fall from power, it provides a different view of religion at a time when one is so desperately needed.

Until 4 April 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Ellie Kurttz

“Hobson’s Choice” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

It’s shaping up to be a special season at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre with last night’s premiere of Hobson’s Choice. Salford shoe salesman, H. H. Hobson and his fabled decisions, manipulated by his shrewish daughters, makes a blissfully nostalgic tale of money, marriage and one-upwomanship in director Nadia Fall’s enchanting production.

Updating the action from the Victorian era to the 1960s, not unlike smash hit One Man Two Guvnors, makes a comfy fit that brings Hobson’s bigotry closer to home and utilises some great music from the period. The potential for drama suffers a little by the move to the swinging sixties – Hobson is too clearly on the losing side – but there’s enough family tension to entertain, and the emphasis on jokes is a wise choice. If you like your humour Northern, you’ll be laughing a lot.

Mark Benton takes the role of the troubled trader. Certainly not more sinned against than sinning, Benton ensures he’s too funny to be sinister – which is saying something given his bullying, snobbish hypocrisy – and it’s a joy to see him “diddled”. Pitted against him are his three graceless daughters, working in the shop for free while plotting lives, or at least husbands, of their own. It’s the year of women at work in the theatre with The Pyjama Game running and Made in Dagenham coming soon. Hobson’s Choice makes an interesting precursor: literally, sisters doing it for themselves.

Hannah Britland and Nadia Clifford fill the younger sisters with spirit, while Jodie McNee is electric as Maggie. Razor-sharp and determined to tame her father, Maggie never lets us doubt the intelligence beneath the plain speaking, and cleverly understated touches show her vulnerability, too.

This is Fall’s focus – the love story at the heart of the piece and Maggie’s choice to find a man for herself. Selecting her father’s employee indicates a radical streak that makes her heroic. Karl Davies performs as Willie, the lad she transforms, and their unusual courtship produces the finest scenes in the show. Davies’ performance is so endearing you’re behind him all the way. All power to this Willie. And the woman behind him, of course.

Until 12 July 2014

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 18 June 2014 for The London Magazine

“Disgraced” at the Bush Theatre

It’s easy to see why Ayad Akhtar’s play, Disgraced, which receives its UK premiere at the Bush Theatre, has been such a critical hit. Directed by Nadia Fall, it’s a classically constructed, painfully topical story about how religion and terrorism touch the lives of four successful New Yorkers.

Amir is an apostate, forcefully rejecting his Muslim background, a faith that is embraced by his young nephew Abe, and of interest to his Caucasian wife Emily, an artist in awe of the “formal language” of Islamic tiles. Their friends are a Jewish curator, Isaac, admiring of attempts to make art “sacred”, and his wife, Jory, an African-American lawyer, who is Amir’s rival at work.

The main quartet don’t travel that well. They seem a contrived set and it’s difficult to gage how humorous their chitchat is supposed to be. Amir’s objections to Islam and removal from his heritage are intended to be an “issue”, but British audiences know a touch of self-loathing is perfectly normal and might find the absence of deprecation a little suspicious.

That said, the talented cast make the most of the roles and breathe a great deal of life into them. Nigel Whitmey has the hardest job as the curator, Sara Powell makes her smaller role as his wife stand out and Danny Ashok gives a credible performance as a young man slipping toward radicalism. In the lead roles Hari Dhillon and Kirsty Bushell are spectacular, both showing the development of their characters and their intense emotions marvellously.

It’s when the veneer of civilisation breaks down that the play takes off. Much like Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, when the booze flows and the gloves come off, things get very dirty indeed. And, with its focus on religion, Akhtar’s play comes close to the bone, especially in light of recent tragic events here in London. Many of the views expressed seem incendiary and the violence in the play is truly shocking.

If you like your drawing room drama intense, this one is for you. Akhtar’s attempts to open the swish Upper East side to some big issues is admirable, but whether or not he succeeds, or really just shows we can all use history, politics and religion ignobly, is debatable. Where disgrace lies is the open question concluding the play, but one thing is sure, Akhtar and this talented team in London, have nothing to be ashamed of.

Until 29 June 2013

www.bushtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Kane

Written 24 May 2013 for The London Magazine