All the little lights: Griffin Independent & Just Visiting's This Is Where We Live

On the bare Griffin stage, there’s a little bit of magic that happens every time an audience enters the space, every time the lights go down and an actor walks on stage. This time is no different. On the tiny stage, painted a deep blue, the story of two teenagers – Chris ‘Odd Boy’ and Chloe ‘from the Underworld’ – plays out in a vivid and hypnotically potent concoction of words, in Vivienne Walshe’s This Is Where We Live.
Winner of the 2012 Griffin Award, This Is Where We Live is “a love story that conjures Orpheus leading his Eurydice out from the underworld of small town hell,” and amongst all the pain, and the shit, and the awkwardness of being a teenager, let alone being a teenager in a small town, there is a light that seems to come from the stars, and it seems – at least, for a while – that anything is possible.


Broken mirrors: STC's The Maids

I thought perhaps this time Benedict Andrews’ mise en scène would make sense, that his staging techniques and or Effects would be justified by the production’s context and or the text’s demands. Being the fourth production of Andrews’ that I have seen – Measure for Measure (Company B Belvoir, 2010), The Seagull (Belvoir, 2011), Every Breath (Belvoir, 2012) – I thought that perhaps I had seen it all (in many respects, I suppose I have), but The Maids only confirmed the fact that Andrews is perhaps on a different planet to most people, especially myself.
In some ways, I think I understand what he is trying to do, it’s just that his execution and implementation – his deployment and reliance upon– of Effects end up distracting from any kind of message or examination he could be trying to make or conduct. For instance: I understand the notion of constant surveillance that pervaded Measure for Measure (and now The Maids), but the live-video-feeding cameras on large screens on either side of the stage meant you were watching them not the actors on stage. I understand the idea of the storm in The Seagull, but to have ‘ash’ falling from the heavens and not be referenced at all in the dialogue seems clumsy, immature. To depict (frequent) sex acts on stage seemed to negate any point he may have been making, and turned Every Breath into a farce. So now in The Maids, when we have glass walls on either side of the stage, mirrors, a live video-feed from seen and unseen cameras dotted around the stage perimeter and dressing; when the set is destroyed (to an extent) and sex acts hinted at though never fully realised; when characters seem to actually use an on-stage toilet, it really does feel like we have seen it all before. And I guess we have.


It’s all Greek to me: Bell Shakespeare’s Phèdre

Untranslatable is a word often used to describe Racine’s plays, we are told in the program to Bell Shakespeare’s latest production, Phèdre. And watching the play, part of me cannot help but wish it had stayed thus, however much it hurts me to admit it. Based on the Greek myth of Phèdre, Racine’s play is a downward spiralling tragedy, much like Shakespeare’s own Macbeth and Hamlet, until at the end, tragedy befalls everyone, and Theseus and Théramène are left to pick up the pieces.
If Anna Cordingely’s set was anything to go by, the production should’ve been sumptuous. A decaying room, perhaps in a French palace, it consisted of an elongated octagonal room with the front walls removed – stairs tiled in black and white, six large windows at the rear, a ceiling with a hole smashed through it (due to a god’s intervention, perhaps?), a chaise divan and two similarly-upholstered chairs… a picture of faded elegance. The space was lit effectively by Paul Jackson in bolts of harsh fluorescence, gentle gold, and electric blue, and added to the former grandeur of the play’s location. Kelly Ryall’s sound design and ‘score’ were both effective in unsettling the audience from the opening salvo of scratching susurrations to the final blackout, almost as if the gods somewhere were spinning disks of thunder and lightning. It was used in scene breaks too, and in tiny unobtrusive blurts when a character entered via the stairs, and though my description of it sounds somewhat disparaging, it was one of the production’s strongest points, and complemented the set in its depiction of a once-faded decadence, something familiar now in disarray, beyond repair. However, when you added the cast – headed by Catherine McClements as Phèdre – something inherently 'magical' disappeared.


More life: Belvoir’s Angels in America, Parts One and Two

It’s one of the biggest plays of the late twentieth century, perhaps one of the last entries in the American canon, one of the newest classics, and it’s not without its own kind of grandeur. Written as two plays, and billed as “an epic double-comedy of love and hate, heaven and earth, past and future,” Tony Kushner’s Angels in America is set in 1985, and revolves around a group of “marginalised individuals in New York in the last years of the Cold War,” as the AIDS epidemic sweeps them all up in its path. To see the two plays in sequence on consecutive days is by turns compelling and grueling, and I don’t think it would be any easier seeing them on the same day.
Staged within a beige-tiled atrium, Angels in America is directed with a vitality and cleverness by Eamon Flack, and to use a character’s analogy, it’s all a bit like an octopus with its eight arms waving about, trying to keep track of every character, every actor, each plotline, and still keep everything in the scope of the bigger picture. Now a generation old (as a complete play, it is a year or two younger than I am), whether you realise it or not, it’s “actually a play about the beginning of the era we’re now in the thick of.”