Tag Archives: Tanya Ronder

“Hex” at the National Theatre

This ambitious new musical, an updated Sleeping Beauty, is a triumph for its designers. The Gothic-cartoonish costumes by Katrina Lindsay are superb. The lighting design by Paul Anderson is sublime. And the staging, from director Rufus Norris, is big and bold. If the show as a whole is underwhelming, it succeeds as a treat for the eyes.

Alas, how Hex looks is the best bit. Jim Fortune’s music is interesting and adventurous, but the show lacks big numbers and all the songs are poorly served by Norris’ lyrics. Tanya Ronder’s book has its moments, but twists on the tale either tire or aren’t explored. The motif of interior and exterior beauty is worthy but feels tacked on. And Ronder seems determined that we shouldn’t like the characters!

A fairy who loses her power is a great idea. But we aren’t given much reason to sympathise with this leading role. Of course, it’s great to see Rosalie Craig, who takes the part, on a stage. But her schizophrenic fairy doesn’t develop and – no matter how forcefully Craig sings – this can’t be disguised.

There’s a similar problem with our Sleeping Beauty (Kat Ronney) who is too much the spoiled brat and belts out every note. I had high hopes for her parents (I’d love to hear more from both Daisy Maywood and Shaq Taylor), but these roles desperately need another number.

An ogress as a mother is another idea with potential. And Tamsin Carroll’s performance is tremendous. But a song about coming to terms with eating your grandchildren – a kind of cannibal La Cage aux Folles – is simply a puzzle.

Throughout, there are moments that please. Having the thorns surrounding Sleeping Beauty come to life is great. As is a collection of Princes, who wake up and wonder what to do with their lives – these two groups have the best chorography and bring some fun.

It’s unfortunate for Hex that London has had another new fairy tale, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, so recently (and that Lloyd Webber got in first). Hex is smart and funny, too – but nothing new. Irreverent twists, strong female characters, and masculinity to laugh at are great, but we can see it all coming. So, the only real magic emerges from the strong design work. And that isn’t magic enough.

Until 22 January 2022


Photo by Brinkoff-Möegenburg

“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.

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


Photos by Ellie Kurttz

“Filumena” at the Almeida Theatre

Both the Almeida and its artistic director Michael Attenborough have well-deserved reputations for European classics. Their latest offering, Filumena, is a quality affair that both entertains and highlights the voice of its author, Eduardo De Filippo. In a tight, sprightly new version by Tanya Ronder, the show sparkles with wit and preserves an unusual edge. Filumena, a retired prostitute and the ultimate tart with a heart, plots and plans marriage with her long time partner Domenico in order to secure a future for her illegitimate sons. And what could be a cliché is enriched by the text and the direction to contain thrilling elements of the will-they-won’t-they kind and a moral questioning that runs through to its satisfyingly sweet end.

Clive Wood plays Domenico, an ageing lothario with a touch of Tony Soprano and a patronym Filumena fancies for herself. We shouldn’t like him but we do. Part of the appeal is his relationship with Filumena. Wood does a fantastic show of both frustration and fidelity. Because of his bullying tactics, it’s great to see him taunted, yet the dilemmas Filumena forces upon him make him much more than just a stereotype. As Filumena chillingly invites him to “laugh while you still can, because soon you won’t remember how,” his machismo mask slips just long enough for us to see his complexity – treading this fine line is a marvellous achievement from Wood.

Wood has a worthy sparring partner. Samantha Spiro brings alive any production she stars in and in Filumena she excels yet again. Formidable and frightening, she’s a shrew who refuses to be tamed and yet conveys a sense of vulnerability, presenting her character’s tumultuous, potentially hackneyed journey in a way that feels real. It’s not just funny, it’s also engaging, as we band behind Filumena praying she gets her way. Attenborough’s pacing is essential here, giving us time to catch our breath and think. But never long enough to fall out of love with Filumena. Domenico knows he is with someone special but that he has to take care. “Anyone who has anything to do with you needs to be wide awake,” he says. Given Spiro’s magnificent performance, it’s true that you won’t want to take your eyes off the stage.

Until 12 May 2012


Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Written 24 March 2012 for The London Magazine