‘The Convert’ review – Letitia Wright is sensational in this haunting and emotive production

The Black Panther star leads a phenomenal cast in a powerful retelling of Danai Gurira’s play on faith and identity –

An epic three-act production takes place on a small stage in the Young Vic theatre. Wright plays Jekesai, a young Zimbabwean girl who ends up working for a Catholic priest  named Chilford (Paapa Essiedu) in a bid to avoid a forced marriage. What follows is an attempt by Chilford to convert Jekesai – now named ‘Ester’ – to the Roman Catholic faith, in a shocking and raw exploration of heritage and culture.

Wright stars as Jekesai, later renamed as ‘Ester’ by Chilford during his attempts to convert her to Catholicism. Photo: © Marc Brenner.

As two cultures collide, Gurira’s script tackles various identities, issues and beliefs with razor-sharp scrutiny. Powerful performers are given equally bold story arcs to play with. Essiedu is striking as the priest trying desperately to follow his faith, Humans’ Ivanno Jeremiah is chilling and sinister as the racist Chancellor, and Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo radiates confidence as the Chancellor’s wife, Prudence.

Pamela Nomvete, Jude Akuwudike and Rudolphe Mdlongwa complete the incredible cast – as Jesekai’s aunt Mai Tamba, Uncle and cousin Tamba respectively.

The play pans out effortlessly across three acts – with several twists and turns inside a fast-paced narrative arc – but it’s in the third and final act where Ola Ince’s masterful and erudite direction comes to light. Here, the choreography brilliantly accentuates the script, establishing imaginative visual metaphors which tap into the underlying theme of religion at the heart of the play. It’s made all the more engaging by a lot of the action taking place off-stage, providing the necessary fourth-wall break to immerse viewers in this tense and unsettling production.

This review is of a preview performance. The Convert is now showing at the Young Vic Theatre until 29 January 2019.

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‘Macbeth’ review – ‘24’ meets Shakespeare in Polly Tindlay’s tense psychological thriller

Christopher Eccleston makes his Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) debut alongside Niamh Cusack in this fast-paced and unnerving drama –

The Scottish Play is the best production for Eccleston to perform in his first RSC outing. Known for playing larger than life characters before – most notably The Doctor in Doctor Who and Maurice in The A Word – the actor now takes on the role of the ill-fated king in this new version of Shakespeare’s classic.

Photo by Richard Davenport (c) RSC

His performance is a powerful one, and one which works perfectly alongside Cusack’s bold take on Lady Macbeth. Elsewhere, the three witches are played by three girls, chanting Shakespeare’s prose in eery, childish singsong. Throw in an overbearing countdown timer and Michael Hodgson’s performance as the creepy janitor (Porter) – who keeps a running tally of all the bloody deaths – and you have a production which masters both suspense and fast-paced action.

Macbeth is now playing at the Barbican Centre until 18 January 2019.

‘Brexit’ review – Smart, witty political satire which leaves no stone unturned

An intelligent script gels with vibrant performances in this snappy, fast-paced mockery of the slowing constitutional dilemma –

Brexit poses as much of a challenge for politicians as it does for comedians and satirists. Both frustratingly vague and incredibly complex, it can be hard for a joke about something so dull as our exit from the European Union to land.

Timothy Bentinck is amusing as the procrastinating PM Adam Masters. Photo: Steve Ullathorne.

Brexit playwrights Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky also have the additional task of cramming in as many perspectives on Brexit into a single show as possible. The 75-minute play boldly swings at Labour and the Conservatives, soft and hard Brexit and the battle between remainers and Brexiteers. Making the point that we’re yet to make any real progress with the negotiations, Brexit‘s satire – perhaps rather worryingly – has remained timely for the whole of its run at the King’s Head Theatre.

Timothy Bentinck (The Archers) is the fictional Prime Minister hesitant to make progress on Brexit, while his frustrated political consultant Paul Connell (passionately and candidly portrayed by Adam Astill) continues to push for progress. Elsewhere, Pippa Evans and Thom Tuck play the remain-backing and Eurospectic cabinet ministers respectively, with Tuck delivering a hilarious, almost pantomime-like take on the Etonian Tory politician stereotype.

Perhaps the strongest form of satire in Brexit is the fact that all the comedic nonsense isn’t far removed from what we’re seeing in our real-life discussions about our withdrawal from the Union. If not making comedic and absurdist jokes about Twitter resignations or the tireless back-and-forth between remainers and leavers, the vibrant assortment of characters provide witty and logical takedowns on Brexit’s many flaws, complexities and contradictions – such as having both International Trade and Brexit departments, when the former can only be achieved after securing the latter.

As our withdrawal from the European Union continues to dominate the headlines, Brexit is the perfect comic relief for frustrated voters and enthusiastic politicos.

Brexit is now playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 17 November.

‘I’m Not Running’ review – David Hare’s Labour drama fails to score political points

Siân Brooke (Sherlock) is powerful and emotive as junior doctor Pauline Gibson despite a weak, confusing script from the political playwright – ★★☆☆☆

With politicians like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson gaining increasing popularity in the word of personality politics, one would hope that a play exploring the relationship between the individual and the party – written by someone described as “the premiere political dramatist writing in English” – would be a sharp, critical look at a rising trend.

Siân Brooke (Sherlock) is the doctor faced with a tough decision in David Hare’s I’m Not Running. Photo: Mark Douet.

I’m Not Running, David Hare’s 17th production for the National Theatre, chronicles Pauline Gibson (Brooke) and her journey into Labour party politics after campaigning to save her local hospital. It’s a story which, in the 70th birthday year of the NHS and at the time of Corbynism, has a lot of promise in terms of political commentary. Yet instead, it all feels rather dated. Old jokes about Labour are cracked which we’ve heard in the political arena already, and the disorienting jumps between the past and the present fail to keep things fresh.

As such, what could have been a tense political drama becomes a slow, dragging romance. Ralph Myers’ revolving, domestic set design feels repetitive after several scenes, while the many subplots of the show only really gain impact in the final moments of the second and final act.

Pauline’s relationship with ambitious young campaigner Meredith Ikeji (Amaka Okafor) is raw and emotional, while the main feud between Pauline and her ex-boyfriend Jack (boldly played by Alex Hassell) comes to a head in the last few moments of the show. The tension is entertaining, but long overdue – an underwhelming result of a whole act’s worth of build-up. There’s two contrasting feelings that the production has more to offer, or could have a much shorter running time.

On the topic of running, the play’s title, I’m Not Running, relates to the question of whether Pauline is considering standing for leader of the Labour party – something brilliantly set up in the first scene with her advisor, Sandy (Joshua McGuire) during a refreshing, intelligent take on a typical press conference. As the show edges towards Pauline’s decision, her reasons aren’t quite so clear as a result of the rather confusing, tangled plot. Its closing remarks feel like a rushed attempt at making political comments about issues such as female representation in the Labour party which don’t fit in to the wider plot. Whatever points Hare were trying to make are lost in what is a predictable, disappointing conclusion.

There’s a sense that the playwright wanted the motif of running to relate to Pauline’s character. It could well refer to her shying away from press attention throughout the play – the result of a broken woman with a lot of emotional baggage – but such an idea doesn’t work when the character is passionately played by Siân Brooke. It could never have been a tale of ‘soul searching’ when her character is confident from the start. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the script.

I’m Not Running is currently playing at the Lyttleton Theatre until 31 January 2019.

‘A Very Very Very Dark Matter’ review: Martin McDonagh pushes new boundaries in this edgy comedy

Jim Broadbent is hysterical in a production that is classic McDonagh: hilarious, dark and absolutely bonkers –

There’s a degree of newfound self-awareness and confidence in McDonagh’s latest production. The humour is edgier and the plot is his most absurd yet – and he knows it.

Jim Broadbent portrays another quirky and eccentric character in his latest role – this time its the children’s author Hans Christian Andersen. Photo: Manuel Harlan.

In a house in Copenhagen, Hans Christian Andersen (hilariously and comfortably portrayed by Broadbent – an actor known for playing bumbling, over-enthusiastic characters) has a secret hiding in a box in his attic in Copenhagen. A Very Very Very Dark Matter is an apt description of what unfolds.

As much as the play reaches new extremes for the Irish playwright, there’s the usual McDonagh tropes dotted throughout the plot. Striking similarities with The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Ryan Pope and Graeme Hawley play the two antagonists trying to hunt down and kill one of the lead characters. Except this time it’s two red men named Dirk and Barry from Belgium.

Outside the role of being daft comic relief, the pair’s part in the story centres historical grudges and time travel. It’s to be expected from such a production, but its execution – save from a couple of laughs – is confusing and somewhat meaningless on a larger scale.

Perhaps the funniest chemistry comes from Andersen’s interactions with fellow author Charles Dickens (Phil Daniels). Daniel’s bluntness and dry wit as Dickens mixes brilliantly with Broadbent’s charming, naive Andersen in scenes where most of the play’s one-liners can be found.

Contrast this with the scenes between Hans and young girl ‘Marjorie’ (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles) where the play’s darker, serious side comes to light. Bold and sharp, it’s an impressive theatrical debut for Ackles.

Running for an hour and 30 minutes, A Very Very Very Dark Matter is short, but by no means sweet. Finely directed by Matthew Dunster, the short running time keeps things fast-paced and gripping, before leaving you wondering what the hell just happened.

This review is of a preview performance of the production. A Very Very Very Dark Matter is now playing at the Bridge Theatre until 6 January 2019.

‘King Lear’ review – Ian McKellen plays the tragic role with blistering emotion and bravado

McKellen delivers a bold and striking performance as the ill-fated king in this epic Shakespearean tragedy – ★★★★☆

McKellen gazes out into the audience after an incredible three-hour performance at the theatre where he made his debut 54 years ago. There’s a feeling that this is a standout role in the actor’s incredible career – a bittersweet, personal reflection on a phenomenal acting history.

Ian McKellen (left) and Danny Webb (right) deliver bold performances as Lear and Gloucester respectively. Photo: Johan Persson.

“I’m not the first actor who has wanted to return to this play, as if unfinished business,” he writes in the official programme. “Perhaps it’s just that the closer you get to the King’s age, the more telling it becomes – for some, more a therapy than a job.” It’s a sentiment present on the stage – a portrayal which feels incredibly personal and reminiscent.

The production, a West End transfer from Chichester Festival Theatre, is one bravely directed by Jonathan Munby. While the first half of the production is a slow establishment of the main characters, the mid-show cliffhanger and second half is where this modernised retelling really comes to life. Ben and Max Ringham’s harsh, drum-heavy score brings a sense of urgency to the story, and Lucy Cullingford and Kate Waters choreography work – as movement director and fight director respectively – maintain the tense and eccentric tones of Shakespeare’s work.

It’s a sense of elegance that also comes with the performances, too. James Corrigan’s Edmund is one of cunning villainy, brilliantly expressive to the extent that his lines are completely accessible to a modern audience. Luke Thompson (Edgar) and Danny Webb (Gloucester) work perfectly as individuals, but also as a duo, effortlessly bouncing off each other’s lines to create two broken characters worthy of the audience’s empathy.

With immersive set designs from Paul Wills – to the extent that even the fake rain smells of petrichor – King Lear feels more like a cinematic film than a stage production (one images those who saw the recent NT Live showing of the play will agree). Yet, of course, theatregoers would expect nothing less for such a legendary star of both stage and film.

King Lear is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 3 November. 16 to 25 year olds can purchase £5 tickets on the day through the Chichester Theatre’s Prologue scheme.