Theatre

The Faultline Between Love and War

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Review of 'A Russian in the Woods' by Peter Whelan, Barbican, London

Peter Whelan's play deals with the human wreckage of war and imperialistic rivalry. Set in a devastated Berlin in 1949, this production focuses on Pat Harford, a young British soldier. He arrives in Germany shortly after superpower politics have changed direction. Stalin has metamorphosed into a totalitarian dictator intent on conquest, and the storm clouds of a new conflict gather.

Head Above the Rest

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Review of 'Richard III' by William Shakespeare, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

'If you believe no one is born bad, that it's the world that makes them bad, then 'Richard III' becomes a fascinating play about the human condition.' So comments Michael Grandage, the director of a recent sell-out run of 'Richard III' at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre.

The actor who plays Derby in the production also comments that 'people are not physically beheaded in England (today) for disagreeing with whoever's in power, but they are politically beheaded.'

Grim Fairy Tales

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Review of 'Shockheaded Peter' by Heinrich Hoffman, Albany Theatre, London

'Shockheaded Peter' is billed as junk opera. It's a musical with songs like you've never heard, and it looks like a cross between a sinister Victorian play written by Roald Dahl, and a film directed by Tim Burton and starring the child catcher from 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. It's dark and sinister but it's also extremely funny. The show is based on a collection of German children's stories called 'Struwwelpeter', written in 1844 by Dr Heinrich Hoffman.

When Black and White Unite

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Review of 'The Syringa Tree' by Pamela Gien, National Theatre, London

This play brought back many heart-wrenching impressions and feelings I had as a child growing up in apartheid South Africa. In the play Salamina, the loving black nanny of Lizzie, a six year old white child, is pregnant, and when Lizzie wants to announce the coming joy, Salamina reacts in terror: 'No, no, don't tell anybody', because if you're a black servant you can't keep your child--the police will take it away. The police come stalking relentlessly late at night, and the frightened black servants climb up the branches of the syringa tree to hide.

Toys are Not for Use

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Review of 'The Magic Toyshop' by Angela Carter, Old Vic, London

'That summer she was 15, Melanie discovered she was made of flesh and bone. 'Angela Carter's 1967 novel opens with the start of the painful and enchanting journey of adolescent self discovery. Brimming with intense symbolism, the dynamic theatre company Shared Experience, with their mix of physical theatre and narration, accomplish a compelling adaptation.

Stark Exposure

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Review of 'The Island' by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, Soho Theatre, London

'The Island' is Robben Island, South Africa's high security prison for black opponents during the apartheid era. It was notorious for its harsh conditions and the brutal treatment of political prisoners.

Royal Results in Stratford

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Joan Littlewood's Theatre Royal in Stratford, east London, revolutionised British theatre with shows such as 'Oh What a Lovely War', 'The Hostage' and 'A Taste of Honey'. Peter Gee spoke to the theatre's director, Philip Headley, about continuing the battle to make theatre relevant and vital to working people's lives.

Q. In what way has Joan Littlewood's legacy affected your approach in attracting a working class audience to your theatre?

A. She was totally concerned with social inclusion, except the term hadn't been invented then. She always spoke of the continuous loop between theatre and the community. We draw on ideas, experiences and talents from the community, and create shows and present them back to the community. As the demography of the local community changes, so must the shows presented on stage.

Q. What barriers exist that stop people coming to theatre?

Caught Between Life and Death

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Review of "No Man's Land" by Harold Pinter, Lyttleton Theatre, London

Harold Pinter has a unique distinction - he has two phenomena named after him. The 'Pinteresque' has come to refer to his complex and challenging theatrical style, while a 'Pinterism' is, according to pro-war journalist David Aaronovitch, an ill judged and unjustified criticism of US foreign policy.

So Pinter has made his anti-establishment mark in both theatre and politics. This would make any production of his work worth a look. The current revival of Pinter's 1975 play No Man's Land at the National Theatre comes with other recommendations.

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