Three decades after the miners’ strike of 1984, families in northern England are riven because relatives crossed the picket line.
Either ultra-topical or else historic with contemporary resonance are the smart choices of subject matter for any playwright seeking to thrill an audience. The building of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest structure, falls somewhere in between, given that it opened in 2010 and the maltreatment and suicides of its construction workers are old news.
Adaptations of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol began around 30 years after his death and proliferated during the 1930s and 40s with a wealth of radio productions, notably one featuring Orson Welles and sponsored by Campbell’s Soup.
Sergio Blanco’s hugely ambitious text is a clever conceit. It is the story of T. a middle-aged man driven to investigate the theme of Oedipus for his new play. He does this by interviewing a young prisoner who is serving several life sentences for murdering his father.
Sam Shepard’s 1983 play has now become a theatre classic because of the hugely challenging roles it gives to four actors. The plot centres around the love-hate relationship between an incestuous half-brother and sister.
It’s an indictment of society when the well-born, well-bred and very carefully brought-up are willing to condemn those they supposedly love on circumstantial evidence. As a homosexual living in times that brushed him aside as a confirmed bachelor, Noel Coward more than many must have felt the urge to scandalise the hypocrites drinking tea from china cups who passed for the civilised classes.
The absurdity of preparing a role you will never perform because a God-like director never summons you is so superlatively Beckettian it’s amazing no understudy had thought of making it into a play until understudy-turned-writer Dave Hanson found inspiration while waiting endlessly in the wings. Or perhaps everyone else just baulked at the challenge of measuring themselves against Beckett’s genius, which can make the excruciating sublime.
This was my first trip to Emily Dobbs’ pop-up venue Found 111 on the Charing Cross Road. It is impressive. I had missed this play at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014 and was pleased at the chance of catching it. I was not disappointed.
If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone, not so much because of the dangers that lurk there as for our far greater ability to fight them as a team. That’s the standout message from this dark and gleeful take on a clutch of fairy tales and on real relationships.
Ex Machina/Robert Lepage: Needles and Opium Barbican Theatre, 7 – 16 July 2016
Writer and director Liam Borrett: ‘Saying goodbye has always interested me. Whilst it happens at different times to different people, the fact remains that it is an unavoidable part of life.’
Thomas Ovans enjoys an evening at the theatre which recalls a golden age of cinema.