50 Word Reviews: 3 Winters, Bull and Charles III

50 word reviewsWe like theatre. We like words. So here are words (50 or fewer to be exact) about theatre we have seen recently. (Next time we’ll publish them before the shows concerned close and everything).


3 Winters (Written by Tena Štivičić, National Theatre)

Ambitious (if uneven) mix of family drama and national politics that melds a great collection of roles for women with a wooshy set and several heart-pumping speeches about communism. Continues National’s trend of under-edited new writing, but important and moving on a history I feel ashamed for knowing little about.



King Charles III (Written by Mike Bartlett, Almeida @ Wyndhams)

Impressively and unnoticeably written in verse, King Charles III is too predictable in the first half and not challenging enough in the second. Easy laughs abound and much fun is to be had here but flimsy cause and effect and characters mean it feels underwritten. Good populist fun.



Bull (Written by Mike Bartlett, Young Vic)

Slick dialogue, direction and acting doesn’t mask the fact that in scale, imagination and scope Bull is disappointingly slight. Casually, maybe facetiously, bleak (with no possibility for change) I was never going to get on with Bull: humanity is both more terrible and more beautiful than anything on offer here.



(NB: We actually like Mike Bartlett’s work A LOT, but – more messy, complicated, problematic, joyous stuff like Earthquakes in London and 13 please.)

On Courage 1

It was pointed out to me this week what an absurd thing it is for people to do to sit in a darkened room with a group of strangers and be transfixed by a person on a stage pretending to be someone else. And I’m sure if you thought about it too hard you’d have to nod and say – yes, it is an absurd thing. Make believe and all that.

But me, I always liked make believe.

And this week I had one of those reminders of how stomach-churning, hairs of the back of your neck raising theatre can be during the last twenty minutes of Mother Courage and Her Children at the National. To be entirely honest I’d gone out of curiousity rather than expectation (in one of those random gaps that occur in theatre-going I’d never seen a Brecht play on stage). The most used word about the production from those I’d asked about it was “long”. And long doesn’t bother me – once you’ve sat through a Wagner opera then “long” isn’t something that scares you – but when the first thing that springs to mind about a production is its length? Not so good.

And yes, Mother Courage is long. With a first half of two hours I don’t think I’m being controversial in saying that it is too long. And, yes, having a live band on stage (and slowing up the action even more) was a little self indulgent. Okay, rather a lot.

But – and this is one of those huge, clunking buts – I was never less than engaged. I loved the invention. I loved the humour. I loved the money I could see had been spent. I loved, loved Fiona Shaw as a Mother Courage that you were at once compelled and repulsed by.

And I would have gone home happy enough with that. Then in one of those moments that only come around every so often everything just came together in the last twenty minutes of the show in such a way that it split my world a little. Brecht’s story, the acting, the directing, the sound, the lighting and then, oh, the music – and I wanted to scream. Wanted to jump up and bang with Katrin. And then in the play’s dying moments as eternity stretched out in front of me I wanted to melt into the sound of the voice, and the drum beat, as Mother Courage continues as she must continue. Wanted this not to finish as I cried and my heart broke a little and I saw something that I can’t articulate but which I understood completely.

Could that moment have been written? No, of course it couldn’t. It compelled me so completely because it was a product of more than words. The effect of light into darkness, of a rhythm in a song, of a quiver in a voice.

Which is probably why I find myself here, writing for performance and not writing a novel because all of the stuff you can’t control, all the places your words can go – that’s what excites me.