Monday, June 26, 2017

REVIEW: Julius Caesar (Storyhouse, Chester)

The recent controversy surrounding last month's Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar in New York is the best example of why this 418-year-old play is still fiercely relevant today. In the American production, staged in Central Park, the setting was updated to modern day, and the character of Caesar was depicted as a suspiciously Donald Trump-like figure. And because it forms the backbone of Shakespeare's play, Caesar was duly assassinated, outraging some audience members who saw it as "political violence against the right".

It's impossible not to see the parallels between Shakespeare's 16th century political thriller and what's going on in the world in 2017. Caesar was a democratically elected but autocratic leader whose hubris and ambition bred discontent and, ultimately, rebellion within his ranks. Although we haven't seen much by way of betrayal among Trump's people so far, it's surely only a matter of time until the whispers of conspiracy begin and the knives are sharpened.

For Storyhouse's summer production of Julius Caesar, director Loveday Ingram has brought the setting right up to date too. This is a play for today, these times of political extremes and turmoil, despite its vintage. So out go the togas and amphitheatres and in come the sharp business suits and presidential lecterns. Modernising Julius Caesar may be the obvious thing to do (Robert Hastie did the same again with his recent Crucible Theatre production in Sheffield), but it gives the play fresh life, invigorating its message by telling it from a 21st century perspective. Christopher Wright's Caesar may not look like Donald Trump, but he's depicted very much in a presidential vein, complete with rally flags and banners of red, white and blue.

Friday, June 23, 2017

REVIEW: BoHo (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

Working in the City is hard. It's stressful. Maybe it's not as hard as coal mining or fire-fighting, and not as stressful as policing or soldiering, but in context, city slickers have a tough time, not least because of the pressures they put on themselves to be successful. To beat their colleagues and to be the best, no matter how or what.

David Jones is just another cog in the giant wheel of this industry. He wears a sharp suit, maintains a healthy body, and is great in bed (or so he tells us). But what happens when the pressure to maintain this vision of perfection starts to get too much, and the veneer begins to crumble?

Although BoHo - a co-production between Theatr Clwyd and Hijinx - takes city slicker David as its central character, this "dystopian musical misadventure" is not strictly about bankers and financiers. David is an avatar for us all, for each and every one of us making our way through life in the best way we know how. David, for all his sharp-suited, pill-popping trappings, is an everyman who hurts and feels and struggles just like the rest of us.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

INTERVIEW: Playwright Brad Birch on Black Mountain (Paines Plough, Theatr Clwyd)

A script is like a recipe – the playwright sets out the ingredients and their properties, but it takes a team of chefs to cook up the finished dish. That's how Brad Birch, whose latest play Black Mountain will receive its world premiere at Mold's Theatr Clwyd on July 11th, thinks about his various creations.

Brad's work is far more than a simple list of ingredients, however. As writer in residence with the Welsh new writing theatre company Undeb, as well as being attached to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Brad has enjoyed his fair share of successes, whether it's receiving the prestigious Harold Pinter Commission in 2016 to write a new play for the Royal Court, or winning a Scotsman Edinburgh Fringe First Award for his 2013 play Gardening: For the Unfulfilled and Alienated.

The Mid Wales-born writer penned his first piece, The Snow Queen, in 2008 for Mid Powys Youth Theatre, and has since seen his work produced by Cardiff's Sherman (Light Arrested Between the Curtain and the Glass, 2011), the Royal Court (Permafrost, 2011, and Where the Shot Rabbits Lay, 2012), Dirty Protest (Milton, 2013), the Royal Exchange (Tender Bolus, 2014) and the Orange Tree (The Brink, 2016), among others.