Theatre

Edinburgh Festival 2012 round up

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The Edinburgh Festival responded to last summer's riots with musicals and documentary dramas, but the most interesting show on this theme set about organising its audience into noisy protesters who won their demands.

The play Kemble's Riot takes the audience back to the Old Price Riots of 1809 when, for 66 days, performances at Covent Garden were disrupted by audiences protesting at an increase in ticket prices. We became that audience: stamping our feet, shouting and chanting "Old prices!" as we re-enacted phases in a struggle that forced actor-manager Kemble to apologise and reduce prices.

Democracy

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Michael Frayn is a bit of a rarity: he writes both good novels and good plays. His backstage farce Noises Off has been playing to great reviews in the West End, while novels such as Spies have achieved widespread acclaim.

Now the Old Vic has revived Frayn's 2003 play Democracy. It's a political thriller - with the emphasis definitely on politics. The production tackles the true story of the relationship between 1970s West German chancellor Willy Brandt and Gunter Guillaume, a Stasi spy who infiltrated his inner circle and inadvertently caused Brandt's downfall. It can be a bit heavy going at times, but it's worth it. This is a gripping espionage thriller that also serves as a timely meditation on modern politics.

Posh

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Writer Laura Wade
Duke of York's Theatre, London

Laura Wade's play Posh started life at the Royal Court Theatre in the months before the last general election. Looking back it can be seen as a warning.

This play, updated for its latest run, has lost none of its edge. It is still a poignant and humorous examination of the elite currently ruling Britain.

Wild Swans

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Director Sacha Wares

Young Vic, London, until 13 May

As I took my seat at the Young Vic, the narrow stage was crowded and noisy showing a 1930s Chinese street with cigarette sellers, beggars, cooked food, shoppers, bullying soldiers and a querulous fine lady carried in a sedan chair. The audience added to the vibrant noise. In 80 minutes this adaptation of Jung Chang's biography of her grandmother, her mother and her own childhood winds through China's turbulent 20th century, ending with her escape and the destruction of all that her parents tried to achieve.

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

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Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is a truly great play, presented here in a compelling production. I can't recommend strongly enough that you go and see it.

Why is one of the greatest plays of the 20th century more or less unknown? Why hasn't it been filmed? Why isn't it taught in schools? The answer, quite simply, is racism.

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl was part of the new wave of drama in the 1950s, plays which depicted the society of the time and included working class characters. It had beaten almost 2,000 other plays to win a drama competition in 1957. But it was set not in England but in Trinidad. Its characters are a group of poor Trinidadians, living crammed into a small yard around a water tap and speaking Caribbean English.

The House of Bernarda Alba

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Almeida Theatre

Written shortly before his murder by fascists during the Spanish Civil War, The House of Bernarda Alba is the last and most powerful of Lorca's plays. In a new production for the Almeida Theatre, this story of repression and resistance has been transposed to rural Iran. Unfortunately, I couldn't help feeling that much of the original play's complexity has been lost in this adaptation. The translation is more or less line by line. As a result, the dialogue often has a painfully stilted feel to it. This undermines Lorca's poetry and his politics.

Juno and the Paycock

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National Theatre until 26 February 2012

What makes Juno and the Paycock a masterpiece is that even today it teaches us important lessons about Irish society that should have been learnt nearly a century ago. This tragi-comedy is the second play of Sean O'Casey's Dublin trilogy and was first performed in 1924. It's a grim tale of the Boyle family who live in a tenement in Dublin during the Irish Civil War that began in 1922.

The Playboy of the Western World

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When The Playboy of the Western World as first performed at the Abbey theatre in Dublin in 1907, it didn't go down well. In fact, it sparked a riot among the audience.

Set in the early 20th century, this darkly comic play explores the fascinations and frustrations of country life. It follows the fate of Christy Mahon, a runaway, who finds himself a guest at the pub belonging to Michael James Flaherty. By confessing to killing his father, he unexpectedly becomes hero of the local town, and the love interest of Flaherty's daughter Pegeen. Christy acts as a mirror for the people of the town, building his boastful stories upon their own desires, only to have them turn on him when he finally tries to live up to their ideal.

Neighbourhood Watch

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Neighbourhood Watch is veteran playwright Alan Ayckbourn's 75th play. It is a strongly political drama set in an upper middle class neighbourhood. The protagonists Martin and Hilda are siblings and new residents at Bluebell Hill, which overlooks a working class housing estate.

The siblings meet a few of the locals at their housewarming party. After Martin encounters a young boy, who he assumes to be trespassing through his garden, the pair decide to set up a Neighbourhood Watch group. When the group decide to go ahead without the involvement of any police officers, the previously quiet inhabitants of Bluebell Hill become vigilant and the play takes a darker turn.

Edinburgh Fringe 2011 round-up

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Opposition to the cuts is so widespread that it was bound to find its way into the Edinburgh Fringe.

On 26 March around half a million marched in London against the cuts. What happened that day to a classical bassoon player and hundreds of protesters in a store in Oxford Street is the subject of the extremely funny show, Ben Brailsford: My Fortnum & Mason Hell.

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