‘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.

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‘Exit the King’ review – Rhys Ifans delivers a respectable performance in this absurdist comedy

A 400-year-old king (Rhys Ifans) is refusing to die. It sounds promising and above all, absolutely ridiculous, but with hit-and-miss humour, you do start to wish that he’d get on with it – ★★★☆☆

A madcap play about existentialism has the potential to be both hilariously daft and incredibly thought-provoking. At its smartest, it can raise intelligent points about life and dying. At its most bonkers, it can have Harry Potter star Rhys Ifans rolling and floundering around the stage as a crazed monarch.

Photo: Simon Annand.

In a production which is completely off the rails, it’s Ifans’ performance as the King which really stands out. Handed some impressive monologues in his role, the actor recites them with a Shakespearean air – something which is perhaps one of the play’s many jokes which isn’t quite apparent on the first try.

Other notable performances include Indira Varma’s role as the impatient Queen Marguerite, who shines in the final scenes, and Doctor Who‘s Adrian Scarborough offers most of the intriguing remarks from this production as The Doctor (no, not that one).

Outside of these three characters, the rest of the cast’s talents are wasted. Derek Griffith’s role as an over-enthusiastic royal guard revolves around the same repeated joke, while Amy Morgan plays a devoted lover that doesn’t have much to offer in terms of dialogue. Debra Gillett’s part as a nurse, although brilliantly acted, fails to pack either an intelligent or comedic punch.

Granted, absurdist comedy is very much an acquired taste, but in a weird way, there must be a method to the madness. Interesting ideas about death are raised in one of Ifans’ many poetic monologues, but the final comment towards the end of the play is lost in Eugène Ionesco’s flowery language. The great big moral of the story – the opportunity to make the underlying point far more apparent to the audience – is the final punchline. As one approaches the end of the play, one expects there to be one remark which undermines the sentimentally – yet it never arrives.

Slightly underwhelming in nature and with a bag full of light jokes that don’t quite land, Exit the King is missable, but sees Rhys Ifans deliver an impressive performance.

Exit the King is now playing at the Olivier Theatre until 6 October.

‘The Lehman Trilogy’ review – Sam Mendes directs this fast-moving and poetic tale of Western capitalism

Adam Godley, Ben Miles and Simon Russell Beale deliver phenomenal performances in this three hour-long epic exploring a detailed history of Western capitalism through the lens of one Bavarian family – ★★★★

They say the best things come in threes. In the case of the National Theatre’s sell-out show, The Lehman Trilogy, actors Godley, Miles and Russell Beale navigate Es Devlin’s incredible office space set with marvellous elegance and professionalism. Unique as individual actors and powerful as a group, the trio flow between multiple characters seamlessly in what is an incredible theatrical feat.

Photo: Mark Douet.

Away from the stage, adapter Ben Power, director Sam Mendes, designer Devlin and pianist Candida Caldicot’s collaboration gives this production its final classical polish. Power’s vibrant writing Live piano melodies from Caldicot heighten the  while Mendes’ direction feels suitably methodical on Devlin’s revolving set. It’s fast-moving – both in sense of chronology and choreography.

Such is the pace of the production that it can at times feel a lot to take in – the two intervals allowing the audience time to process each part of the time-travelling tale. This may sound worrying for a play exploring as complex an issue as the progress of Western capitalism, but explored through the lens of The Lehman Brothers, the wider points about economics, marketing and finance become clearer and more anecdotal.

Another grounding aspect of the trilogy, which also provides some wonderful charm and humour, are the little motifs which appear regularly throughout the production. Tightrope walkers, card dealers, shop signs and the announcement that one is about to “take my leave” are wonderful bursts of eccentricity which, together with incredible performances from the cast – breathe life into the financial world in which we find ourselves.

Three hours and three parts later, and there’s three well-deserved bows for a sensational trio of performers. Truly classical in nature, The Lehman Trilogy is a fine piece of immersive, three-dimensional theatre.

While standard tickets for The Lehman Trilogy at the Lyttleton Theatre are now sold out, day tickets can still be bought on the day of the performance and Friday Rush tickets are also available every week at 1pm. 16 to 25 year olds can also purchase tickets through the National Theatre Entry Pass scheme.

‘Network’ review: Bryan Cranston is sensational in this timely adaptation of Chayefsky’s classic

I’m mad as hell, as I’m not going to take this anymore’ is the chant at the centre of Paddy Chayefsky’s classic film, Network. In a time of post-truth and outrage, Lee Hall’s adaptation for the National Theatre adds a present-day backdrop which makes the story all the more chilling.

Howard Beale is the anchorman turned sensationalist messenger in this thought-provoking production. Photo: Jan Versweyveld.

Enter Howard Beale (Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston), a news anchorman who breaks down live on air, announcing his plan to kill himself on his television show in a week’s time. What follows is the tale of commercial corruption and opinion vs. fact as the network obsesses over the boost in ratings…

Over nearly two hours, the story unfolds in an immersive multimedia format that further adds a modern touch to the plot. A large screen towers on-stage and on a set that serves as a studio, newsroom and restaurant (from which lucky audience members can eat and view the show) all at once. Add that to moments of audience participation and scenes outside the theatre and Ivo van Hove’s immersive direction smashes the fourth wall, bringing us further into the dystopian world.

It’s an intensity compounded by Cranston’s performance, delivering powerful and thought-provoking monologues effortlessly. Naturally, such a portrayal of the main protagonist detracts from other sub-plots – in this case, the rather under-developed story of Head of News Max Schumacher (Primeval‘s Douglas Henshall) and Director of Programming Diana Christensen’s (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery) relationship. Although brilliantly acted by the pair, it’s overshadowed by a feeling of it all being a bit too cliché and – in amongst the more extreme parts of the play – feels out of place.

Yet, it’s a play which demands further thought after seeing it. With no interval, there isn’t enough thinking time to process it all until the final bow. At that point, one can consider Howard Beale’s words – including a powerful closing speech – and Max and Diana’s partnership in more depth. It’s the sign of three incredible individuals coming together. Hall’s writing mixes with van Hove’s production to create the perfect atmosphere for Cranston to take centre-stage, delivering a performance that is – in every meaning of the word – sensational.

Rating: 4 out 5 stars

Accessible theatre: Seeing a relaxed performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

If you’ve been around since November 2015, you’ll know just how much I love the play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. An extraordinary tale about the unique mind of Christopher Boone, I fell in love with its sheer emotiveness. So, when the opportunity came up for me to see it for a second time, of course I said yes.

Curious Incident Theatre Sign
I was able to see the show for the second time on Monday night. This time at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

However, unlike the first performance, this one was a little bit different. For the first time as a theatre-goer, I attended a relaxed performance of a play, with my good friend Connor, who is autistic.

Ahead of the performance, I had a few questions in mind. The main one being what changes to the show would there be? At the start, for example, there are a sequence of flashes. With sharp lights being a possible issue for some autistic people, seeing how they would deal with that was interesting.

Luckily, I found a video online which explained some of the changes: a reduction in strobe lighting, the theatre doors remaining open throughout, and the audience lights staying on for the whole show too. If anything, most of the changes were to calm the intensity of theatre, and it worked. It certainly felt relaxed whilst also remaining powerful and emotive when it needed to be.

Another thing I noticed was a sheet of paper detailing some of the aspects of the show which may be an issue, including shouting, lighting and sound effects which audience members should be aware of. Yet another thing which helped to put the minds of audience members at ease.

All of this had us nicely prepared for the show itself. I won’t go into too much detail about it (see my first review for that), but in short, it was another emotive, raw and magical performance. I was left buzzing, even though I had seen the play already.

Curious Cast on Stage
Some of the cast came out afterwards to answer questions from the audience.

What was even more exciting was the question and answer session with the cast and director afterwards. With this not being something offered after the first performance I saw, I was excited to put some questions to the actors, including the importance of silence in the play (how much is too much) and memory tips – these actors have to remember some complex lines indeed! It was also great to hear the cast discuss autism, too, and their approach to the issue.

Liam with actor Sam Newton
Actor Sam Newton, who plays Christopher in the current UK tour.

Thanks, once again, must go to Sam Newton (who played Christopher) for stopping for a quick photo, as well as the rest of the cast. It was a phenomenal performance. A big thank you as well to the Birmingham Hippodrome, who were able to make the show accessible to so many people.

Musical Discovery: ‘Maths Appendix’ by Adrian Sutton (from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

Admittedly, I’ve never used to be a fan of soundtracks. Maybe it’s because I didn’t pay attention to the music whilst I was watching the movie or play. However, over time I’ve started to notice them. First, it was Find You by Zedd feat. Miriam Bryant and Matthew Koma. Now, after seeing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time last month, I was blown away by how imaginative and emotive the music was. So, for today’s Musical Discovery, I review Maths Appendix by Adrian Sutton.

With Maths Appendix combining euphoric violin melodies with fluttering electronic effects, this song from the soundtrack certainly creates intrigue. I shall not spoil the play, but this song is from an upbeat part of the play, and the track definitely proves that. Also, in terms of how it ties in with the story as a whole, the synth melodies can be seen as conveying Christopher’s logical mindset, whilst the strings show the character’s creative side. Even if these assumptions are wrong, it’s such a magical piece of music regardless. Aside from this one song, the entire soundtrack for the play by Adrian Sutton is incredible.

What do you think of the soundtrack? Have you seen the play? Comment below!

Liam