Beat the Devil review – Bridge Theatre

My first indoor theatre experience after lockdown was, perhaps inevitably, this Covid-19 monologue written by David Hare about his own experience of having the virus.

To make this play possible, the Bridge Theatre has had the majority of its seats removed, enabling a masked audience to sit in socially isolated clusters. And it works. It feels safe. One hopes it will prove a viable model for other theatres to follow suit.

Hare’s rage-filled, and often very funny, script is brought to life by Ralph Fiennes on a simple set that consists of little more than a desk and chair. In a blue shirt and jeans, often with his hands on his hips, Fiennes is an engaging and likable narrator for this pandemic diary packed with politics and polemic.

Unsurprisingly, Hare directs much of his anger at the government’s handling of the crisis, and makes some fascinating points about the ministerial use of language; but what struck me most about this play was that it was the first time – despite all the blanket media coverage and survivors’ stories – that I had a genuine sense of what it must be like to have the virus invading your body.

Hare doesn’t skimp on the detail, and Fiennes gets to deliver delicious lines about food tasting like “sewage” and his skin turning the “colour of Bela Lugosi”. There are touching, intimate descriptions too – such as the moment when Hare’s wife Nicole places herself on top of him like a duvet in an attempt to cool his fever.

Directed by Nicholas Hytner, and running for just under an hour, this is a simple, beautifully written piece, that really helped me take stock of the extraordinary events of the last few months.

Unlike the pandemic, I didn’t want it to end.

Beat the Devil is at the Bridge Theatre in London on assorted dates until 31 October

Monologues review – Oxford Castle

It’s been six months since The Man in the Grand Circle has sat in a grand circle, or indeed any kind of theatre seating. Happily, that period of enforced abstinence came to an end tonight in the beautiful, floodlit courtyard of Oxford Castle.

Starting with Richard III’s “Winter of our discontent” and ending with Puck’s epilogue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Monologues offers 16 of Shakespeare’s best-loved speeches in quick succession, presented with few frills but plenty of gusto by actors from Oxford’s BMH Productions and Siege Theatre.

It’s an evening brimming with powerhouse performances – including Kieran Donnelly’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” from Julius Caesar, Craig Finlay and Martha Ibbotson’s “Get thee to a nunnery” scene from Hamlet, and Alex Lushington and Amber-Anne Allen’s sizzling pre-murder pep talk from Macbeth.

I also enjoyed Rachel Wilmshurst’s feminist take on Henry V’s “Once more into the breach” speech, which she performs amid scattered #MeToo placards.

Crucially, each segment left me wanting more – and I’d love to see some of these performances in a complete version of the play. Hopefully that’s all to come.

The whole socially-distanced show was engagingly hosted by Ed Blagrove, who put each scene into context and even managed to include a timely quarantine joke about the Greek islands in his introduction to The Comedy of Errors.

Frankly, I couldn’t have wished for a better reintroduction to live theatre than this.

Monologues is at Oxford Castle & Prison until 5 September