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Phil Willmott travels through theatreland...

Reviewed: West Side Story, Brief Encounter and The National's Her Naked Skin and Some Traces Of Her


Late July and early August find me busy organising London’s Free Theatre festival so this week I sent my spies out to cover some of the capitals recent, and gay related, theatrical openings on my behalf.

Here’s the actress and academic Sally Anne Gritton on HER NAKED SKIN by Rebecca Lenkiewicz at the National Theatre:

“The plot centres on a passionate lesbian love affair set amidst the Suffragette Movement at its height in 1913. Hunger striking in Holloway prison, inhuman force feeding, protests and pompous parliamentary debate rattle a Britain on the cusp of war. This play is an astonishing achievement from the first living female playwright to grace the Olivier stage. Howard Davies directs with exquisite clarity and sensitivity, performances from Jemima Rooper as the young seamstress Eve Douglas and her older lover Lady Celia Cain played by Lesley Manville are nothing short of superb. This play delivers far in excess of expectation. A wonderful, life-affirming portrait of love in crisis. This well-crafted gem is not to be missed.”

Meanwhile the film maker Stewart Alexander had a far less successful evening in the Cottesloe, the smallest of the National's three theatres. This was his response to the play ...SOME TRACES OF HER by celebrated Lesbian director Katie Mitchell:

“KM’s latest theatre/cinema hybrid is very impressive. You have to admire the careful planning, and slick execution. But that’s about as deep as it goes. By trying to produce a work on multiple levels it slips between the cracks and flounders between stage and screen. For something aiming to be so multi-dimensional, it’s incredibly flat. The story, adapted by the director and company from Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot,” is difficult to follow if you’re not familiar with the source. The dialogue is terrible, and it’s interspersed with the characters’ thoughts, or poetry, delivered in a deadpan drone.”

Fortunately trainee Theatre producer had a much happier time at WEST SIDE STORY:

“To mark this show’s 50th anniversary Sadler Wells is currently hosting Joe McKneely’s stupendous revival until 31st August. It has already gained rapturous receptions in Paris, Beijing and Tokyo and judging by its standing ovation on its first night here it is set to take London by storm on equal measures. Sadler Wells lends itself spectacularly to such a piece. With its enormous black reflective sprung stage, simple mood lighting backdrops producing stunning silhouettes and its moveable scaffolding set, Robbins’ original choreography becomes the focus and highlight of the piece. Ryan Silverman’s Tony wins us over with his flawless vocals, and the emotional integrity between him and Sofia Escobar’s Maria completely holds the piece together. Lana Gordan plays a feisty sensuous Anita and is well matched to Marco Santiago’s toxic Bernado."

Finally, actor Joe Wicks was ecstatic about Noël Coward’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER, with it’s new cast, live on stage at the Carlton Cinema on the Haymarket:

“Amidst the raucous clatter and steam of a 1930’s railway station tea-room is played the heart-achingly tragic and desperately brief love story of middle class Alec and Laura. Their self-destructive affair has been brought tenderly from the film to the stage by Kneehigh Theatre. Forbidden love in 1930’s Britain was clearly something with which Mr. Coward could empathize strongly and this pours through into the raw emotions of his characters. With the stigma attached to a brief extra-marital affair, we imagine how hopelessly impossible it must have been to be openly gay. The blend between film projections and theatre, music hall slapstick and epic romance is perfectly balanced, plus the strong ensemble playing keeps this show charmingly engaging throughout”

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