Aleks Sierz

Aleks Sierz
regional managing editor - United Kingdom

Aleks Sierz is a British theatre critic. He is the author of In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today (Faber, 2001), The Theatre of Martin Crimp (Methuen, 2006), John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (Continuum, 2008), Rewriting the Nation: British Theatre Today (Methuen, 2011). His latest book, co-authored with Lia Ghilardi, is The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre: The First Four Hundred Years (Oberon Books, 2015). Sierz has written for publications including Tribune, The Arts Desk and The Stage, as well as newspapers such as The Independent. He co-edits Theatre Voice.

Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man” at The Playhouse Theatre: Is It Possible to Get Too Much of American Politics?

Is it possible to get too much of American politics? With Donald Trump’s daily tweets invading our digital space, a new Kevin-Spacey-free House Of Cards on the, well, cards, and new films set in Watergate times, it might be that few will have any appetite for this revival of Gore Vidal’s 1960 play, The Best Man, which is set during a Democratic Party convention, and now makes its West End debut. But to dismiss it completely would be a pity because, for all the creaks of its plotting, this is quite a watchable account of political in-fighting. After all, any show...

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“Jubilee” at The Lyric Hammersmith: Adapting Punk Classic

The late Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee is a punk classic. I think he was in his Fellini phase, his vision peopled by freaks, dwarfs, and cracked actors. And punks of every description. Plus a few New Romantics. And a touch of Andy Warhol (as in film-maker). The film is theatrical, situationist, punky, camp, awkward, word-choked, and often as slow as a drop of sweat dribbling down your back on a hot day—basically a mess, but great if you see it as a late nighter. And stoned. If not, a touch embarrassing. Cringe-making. You just need to pick out the good bits like...

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Contemporary “Electra” by DumbWise at The Bunker Theatre

Electra is the protagonist in two Ancient Greek tragedies, one by Sophocles and the other by Euripides. The story is typically bloody: as the daughter of King Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra, she wants to revenge the murder of her father by her mother. In her sights are both Clytemnestra and her mother’s new lover, Aegisthus. But unable to do the deed herself, Electra awaits the return of her long-lost brother Orestes, who everyone else says is dead. He isn’t, of course, and when he returns there is much spillage of blood. It is, after all, a revenge tragedy....

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The Bathroom Play: Georgia Christou’s “Yous Two” at The Hampstead Theatre

Theatre is a business as well as a craft. In an age of austerity cuts, and at a time when most Off-West End venues have studio spaces as well as main stages, this can lead to practical problems. In his program note to Georgia Christou’s debut play, Yous Two, Edward Hall—Hampstead Theatre’s artistic director—explains that his theatre has lost £122,000 due to a 14 percent Arts Council cut. Since this threatens his Downstairs studio space, which costs some £100,000 a year to run, he is now actively promoting the work staged on this small stage. As he points out, inviting...

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“Frozen” at The Haymarket Theatre

Whatever the weather, this week is Frozen. On Broadway, the Disney musical of that name begins previews, but let’s let that go. In the West End, our Frozen has no Elsa, no Anna, and no glittery gowns. Although it does have plenty of ice imagery. No, our Frozen is a much darker story; it’s a revival of Bryony Lavery’s 1998 award-winning play about a child killer—definitely no singing, no dancing, no hummable tunes. But it does have an outstanding cast: Suranne Jones (a familiar agonized face from Doctor Foster), Jason Watkins, and Nina Sosanya. The story of Frozen is told by only three characters in a mixture of...

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“Gundog” at The Royal Court

First the goats, and now the sheep—has this venue become an urban farm? Rural life, which was once so central to our English pastoral culture, is now largely absent from metropolitan stages. And from our culture. Apart from The Archers or the village gothic of shows like The League Of Gentlemen, the countryside has become a lost world, a blank space on which any playwright can project their imaginary stories. So Gundog, Simon Longman’s Royal Court debut, comes across not as a real account of farming folk, but as a highly symbolic rural no-space of shepherds and sheep in a forgotten corner of...

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“Girls And Boys” at The Royal Court

This is Carey Mulligan week. She appears, improbably enough, as a hard-nosed cop in David Hare’s BBC thriller Collateral, as well as onstage at the Royal Court in London’s Sloane Square (she’s much better live than on film.) In a 90-minute monologue, written by Dennis Kelly, Mulligan explores a contemporary love story, and she is in good hands. Kelly is the wordsmith behind the edgy GCSE syllabus play DNA and The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, as well as the (by contrast) infinitely sweeter Matilda The Musical, so you would be forgiven for expecting a rather acerbic view of modern marriage. And you’d be...

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Immersive “Julius Caesar” at The Bridge Theatre

“Two things only the people anxiously desire—bread and circuses,” said the Roman poet Juvenal. He was describing the decline of the Roman Empire, but the phrase seems wholly appropriate as a description of current affairs. Tax cuts are bread; Donald Trump’s antics are a circus. All over the world, populism strides the national stages, and politicians manipulate the people with false promises and fake news. Meanwhile, intellectuals scratch their heads and blunder into the wrong actions. Yes, this is the world of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, as seen by this venue’s artistic director, Nicholas Hytner, in a thrilling and stimulating...

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Men, The Internet, and Politics: “The Believers Are But Brothers” at The Bush Theatre

Do boys never leave the playground? Just when I was reasonably sure that the crisis of masculinity was an old-fashioned trope—I mean, so very 1990s—along comes a one-man show that investigates how lonely young men, seething with resentment, surf the internet, attracted like flies to shit by tech-savvy extremist groups of both secular and religious persuasions. And boy are they persuasive! Javaad Alipoor explores this dark world in The Believers Are But Brothers, his Edinburgh Fringe hit from last year, which now visits the Bush Theatre in west London. Because it’s about the internet, the audience is encouraged to join...

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“Imaginationship” at The Finborough Theatre Explores a Divided Nation

It’s the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Finborough Arms pub, so Neil McPherson, artistic director of its upstairs theatre, is in a celebratory mood. He’s promoting an appetizing menu of new writing, classic revivals, and other events. An early success is Sue Healy’s Imaginationship, a highly entertaining and freshly written play which explores the idea of a divided nation by setting the story in Great Yarmouth, a place which voted for Brexit with a 72 percent majority in 2016. With its falling wage levels, low percentage of university graduates and high proportion of working-class residents, the town symbolizes all the left-behind...

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lan Ayckbourn’s “The Divide” at The Old Vic

Playwright Alan Ayckbourn basically comes in two flavors: suburban comedies of embarrassment and sci-fi fantasies. His latest, The Divide, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival last year in a two-part six-hour version, has been now been trimmed down to a single very long evening for its short stay at the Old Vic in London. Written not as a conventional play, but as a “narrative for voices,” it is a dystopian fable about the relationship between men and women in the aftermath of a terrible plague which has decimated humankind. Think Handmaid’s Tale; but also think Juliet, think Romeo. After the...

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“My Mum’s A Twat” at The Royal Court

What a brilliant title! Yes, this one must be up there with the likes of Jim Cartwright’s I Licked A Slag’s Deodorant or Alan Bennett’s Kafka’s Dick. Not to mention Shopping And Fucking or The Vagina Monologues. So I was quite determined to enjoy My Mum’s A Twat, Anoushka Warden’s debut play, and the playwright—whose day job is Head of Press and Publicity at this venue—has made that very easy for me. This female monologue is so nimble and lively, so brightly written and humorous, that I was well entertained for every one of its 80 minutes. What a great way to start the year! Billed...

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“The Birthday Party” – Revival at Harold Pinter Theatre

Is modernism dead and buried? Anyone considering the long haul of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party from resounding flop in 1958 to West End crowd-pleasing classic today might be forgiven for wondering whether self-consciously difficult literary texts have had their day. In Brexit Britain, where everyone is a populist now, there might not be much of a demand for difficult art, but people still seem to crave entertainment. So it’s good to see that this 60th-anniversary revival of Pinter’s most canonical drama still works both as a funny situation comedy and as a thought-provoking disturber of the peace. And with a crowd...

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“Rita, Sue And Bob Too” at The Royal Court: The Revival for #MeToo Era

Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director of this new writing venue, is riding high. Very high. A couple of weeks ago, she was voted the most influential person in British theatre by The Stage, the industry newspaper which annually compiles a top 100 list. Number one! This is not only because of her programming—which has included Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman—but also her activism. She is one of the most prominent voices to speak out against sexual harassment and the abuse of power in the theatre industry. Her support of the #MeToo campaign and organization of the No Grey Area event at the Court in...

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“Tiny Dynamite” at Old Red Lion Theatre

The marvelous is a dangerous place. Especially in memory. Today I still remember seeing the first production of Abi Morgan’s masterpiece Tiny Dynamite in October 2001, and ever since I have thought of it as one of the definitive moments of recent British new writing. Yes, in my memory the production—which was directed by Vicky Featherstone and performed by Frantic Assembly—was one of those shows which glows in the mind, a perfect blend of words, movement, and staging. But, in the cold light of now, is the piece as good as I think it is? A beautiful fringe revival says yes, it really, really,...

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“The Jungle” at The Young Vic: New Immersive Docu-Drama

Refugees, it is said, have no nationality—they are all individuals. This new docu-drama, The Jungle, deftly put together by theatre-makers Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, is a somber account of a couple of recent years of the great European migration crisis, and acts as a testament to the individuality and complexity of the refugee experience. As this co-production between Good Chance theatre company, the National, and the Young Vic opens, in an immersive production steered by directors Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, it raises various troubling questions about this kind of theatre, most of which are addressed by the...

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“Daisy Pulls It Off” at The Park Theatre

History is a good place to talk about our contemporary concerns. And British theatre loves plays that are set in the past. Some of the most popular shows in postwar theatre history do a bit of time-travel in order to make a point about the present. This energetic revival of Denise Deegan’s Daisy Pulls It Off, first staged in 1983, is a case in point. The original production was a big hit, running for 1180 performances in the West End. Now, with age-blind and diverse casting, and fielding actors familiar from the Harry Potter films, Hollyoaks, Father Ted, Coronation Street, and EastEnders, this is a...

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“FCUK’D” at The Bunker Theatre

Is Britain’s welfare system unfit for purpose? Well, all the news channels seem to suggest that it’s collapsing, and Niall Ransome’s debut, a short but strong new solo play, with its screaming title FCUK’D, is in complete agreement. When welfare doesn’t care, it’s individual families that suffer, and this monologue shows what happens to a specific Hull family. Their sad story is told by Boy, whose father has abandoned home, and whose mother has drink and depression problems, and is unable to care for him or his younger brother, Matty. Boy, who is an older teen, looks after his much...

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“Misalliance” at The Orange Tree Theatre

George Bernard Shaw was a theatrical superman. A critical attack dog, as well as a creator of problem plays both pleasant and unpleasant, he invented the drama of ideas, under the motto: “If you do not say a thing in an irritating way, you may just as well not say it at all.” Misalliance, his 1909 play about class relations, family, and feminism, is a fine example of his intellectual sparkle and makes for a stimulating evening in the theatre. Having successfully revived GBS’s Widowers’ Houses (in 2014) and The Philanderer (last year), the Orange Tree’s Paul Miller now takes on this Shavian rarity. Misalliance is...

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“Goats” by Syrian Playwright Liwaa Yazjiat at The Royal Court

The civil war in Syria spawns image after image of hell on earth. Staging the stories of that conflict presents a challenge to playwrights: how do you write about horror in a way that is both accurate and entertaining? Goats, by Syrian playwright and documentary film-maker Liwaa Yazji, translated by Katharine Halls, is part of the Royal Court’s international project with writers from Syria and Lebanon and takes up this challenge. Her angle is to look at propaganda and to show how truth is the first casualty of war. She also examines what happens when that propaganda is questioned. Set in a...

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