Sunday, 22 January 2017

Review: The Tempest, Southwark Playhouse

"Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments"

The RSC may have Simon Russell Beale and cutting-edge digital technology but the Southwark Playhouse has real heart when it comes to The Tempest. I missed the press night, which had the happy consequence of meaning that I actually got to watch this Shakespeare for Schools production with its intended audience, hordes of schoolchildren of mixed ages who, by the show's end, were thoroughly rapt (though perhaps not quite as tear-stained as I).

Streamlined into 90 interval-less minutes and infused with a real sense of theatrical ingenuity, Amy Draper's production does a fantastic job of reinterpreting the Bard without dumbing him down. Anchored by a deeply compassionate Prospero from Sarah Malin, this Tempest is rooted in fallibility and forgiveness, the clear-sighted storytelling never letting us forget that it is only in the recognition of the former that we can expect the latter.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Review: The Lower Depths, Arcola

“Living is fucking impossible and that's the truth of it”

The Arcola launch their Revolution Season, marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and exploring its considerable impact, with a new production of Gorky's The Lower Depths played by an ensemble who will remain on duty for the subsequent play in the main house The Cherry Orchard. And whilst I do enjoy getting to visit and revisit an ensemble, I have to admit to really not enjoying this.

Translated by Jeremy Brooks and Kitty Hunter-Blair and directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, The Lower Depths focuses on the downstairs from Chekhov's upstairs, the angst of the aristocracy replaced by the desperation of the downtrodden and it really is as much fun as it sounds. A cast of nearly 20 play an assortment of misery-bound miscreants passing through a Moscow lodging house for the destitute, complaining volubly about their lot in life.

Re-review: BU21, Trafalgar Studios 2

"Every night on the news there’s literally always some sort of massively catastrophic end-of-the-world shit going down... And I always wonder ‘how would I cope, if that happened to me?’"

I enjoyed Stuart Slade's BU21 massively when it played the Theatre503 early last year (see my original review and my top ten of 2016) but I hadn't intended to revisit the show - sometimes the memory of it is plenty sufficient. The feedback from friends who had appreciated the play just as much persuaded me to change my mind though and I'm glad I went back, as there was as much that I'd forgotten as there was that I remembered I loved, making this a definite recommendation from me, even if you've been before.


Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 18th February

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Review: Winter Solstice, Orange Tree

"A new world which will last for ever..."

I'm pretty sure every time a German production is mounted in the UK, it is slapped with the mantle of 'most popular contemporary German playwright' (see Franz Xaver Kroetz's The Nest from late last year) - a sign that audiences here still have to be led gently by the hand towards European drama with whispered encouragements of 'well he is the best they have, you know'.

This time, it is Roland Schimmelpfennig's turn, as his 2013 play Winter Solstice receives its British premiere at the Orange Tree in this Actors Touring Company production directed by Ramin Gray. And it is well worth the effort as though it may flirt with the experimental, it also cuts through to the elemental - as piercing an insight into the rise of the far right as we've seen on any stage.

Preview: VAULT 2017

Established now as one of the major arts festivals in London, VAULT Festival returns from 25th January to 5th March 2017 at its original home beneath Waterloo Station and, for the first time, at satellite venues Network Theatre (just to the side of Waterloo) and Morley College (a little further away past Lambeth North). As ever, the programme features an exciting selection of shows exploring many themes via many more mediums. Full information and tickets are available now via VAULTFestival.com.


I'm still working out exactly what and how much I am going to see but I have got a few selections of the things that have definitely caught my eye. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Review: Promises Promises, Southwark Playhouse

"That's what you get for all your trouble"

On the face of it, you could see why reviving Promises Promises would be an appealing prospect - written by Neil Simon from a Billy Wilder film and featuring a score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. But digging even just a little deeper - a running time of nearly 3 hours and an antiquated set of gender politics made it a tough one to watch, and an even tougher one to excuse in today's society.

If you were so inclined, you could argue that Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond's original screenplay for the 1960 film The Apartment is "a triumph of 1960s sexual work-place politics" but quite what that has to say to audiences today is very unclear, (apart from gentlemen d'un certain âge craving the good old days natch). I have liked much of director Bronagh Lagan's previous work but I can't help pondering the choice here.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Review: 2017 London Jam - Austentatious, Wilton's Music Hall

"We're going to have to tell the vicar"

The 2017 London Jam is a festival of improvisation presented by The Showstoppers, in association with Extempore Theatre & Something for the Weekend, featuring a wide range of improv stars from across both the UK and the world - the improvised Ibsen troupe from Norway being the unlikeliest inclusion there. Naturally, we went along to see our beloved Austentatious and as ever, they did not disappoint.

Regaling us with the tale of Fear and Fascination, full of illicit hat-wearing, malevolent vicars with a predilection for flashbacks, and sheep-loving surprises, this was the team at their best, taking their time with a slow start to to tease out some utterly surreal story strands. The bit of audience participation was unexpected good fun, but it was the surprise murder and the group's stunned reaction and subsequent glee that made it one of the best unknown Jane Austen novels I've yet seen.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

South West London Law Centres, a charity that provides specialist legal advice in social welfare law for people who cannot afford to pay privately for a lawyer, are holding a comedy fundraiser event, Jokes For Justice, on February 23rd 2017 at The Bedford Pub, Balham. Nish Kumar, Jonny and The Baptists and Sophie Willan will be performing on the night to help raise funds to continue their work across South West London. After the devastating legal aid cuts of 2013, our income has been slashed by over 40% and ten other Law Centres have already closed down - funds are desperately needed to support access to justice for those most in need within our communities.

Opening next month is Cirque du Soleil's first-ever UK arena tour of its signature production, Varekai. Directed by Dominic Champagne, this production pays tribute to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to those who quest with infinite passion along the path that leads to Varekai. The critically-acclaimed show, updated and featuring new acts yet to be seen in the UK will visit the Sheffield Arena, Dublin’s 3Arena, Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena and Leeds’ First Direct Arena in February 2017, followed by the Genting Arena in Birmingham, Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena and The SSE Hydro, Glasgow in March 2017. Tickets are on sale online at www.cirquedusoleil.com and at livenation.co.uk/artist/cirque-du-soleil-tickets.. Advance tickets are available from £45 (+ booking fee).

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Review: The Wild Party, Hope

"Queenie was a blonde, and her age stood still"

Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem managed the remarkable feat of having two musical adaptations thereof running in the same year in New York, one of which - by Michael John LaChiusa - will be the first show in the newly rebranded The Other Palace next month. Getting in early though is Mingled Yarn Theatre Company with their own cabaret-influenced interpretation of The Wild Party, running now at The Hope Theatre.

It is musical, rather than a musical, as the show opens with a marvelously sultry take on Britney Spears' 'Toxic' delivered by the supremely confident Anna Clarke (a performer so good you suspect she must have some Strallen blood!). And as she's joined by Joey Akubeze, we're soon whisked away into the decadent world of vaudeville turns Queenie and Burrs and their fabulously louche but fatally lustful lifestyle, complete with aggressive fruit-eating.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review: Abigail, Bunker

“What would you do to take control?”

Fractured timelines can be an interesting way to tell a story – fragmented shards of drama shuffled in a non-linear narrative, forcing audiences to piece together a throughline to the truth, such as it may exist. But in these cases, we are very much at the mercy of playwrights actually providing enough information to reconstruct enough of a plot. And sad to say, I’m not too sure that Fiona Doyle’s Abigail actually does that. 

That’s not to say that we need to be given all of the answers, to have everything spelled out for us completely, but Abigail remains inscrutably vague to the end. It would be a fascinating exercise to reorder the script here, reconstruct Doyle’s writing to see if that really is the case but in its current state, directed by Joshua McTaggart over the course of an initially intriguing hour, the play still proves frustratingly ephemeral.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Review: Brains, TheatreN16

"Jeff, there's no time for hysterics"

One of the most impressive things about the set-up at Balham's Theatre N16 is its commitment to nurturing new work and new companies in the face of an increasingly hostile funding climate. So the likes of Thick & Thin Theatre, a London-based company founded last year, are supported to develop and mount their work, such as their new play Brains, written and directed by Cameron Szerdy.

Brains is set in an office at the pharmaceutical company MediBite Inc. in a near-future world that has been ravaged by a virus that has turned much of the population into zombies. When the discovery of a potential cure well and truly sets the pigeons among the staff there, from ball-busting CEO Ursula to disengaged intern Tina, no-one is quite prepared for the cut-throat insanity that is revealed.

Review: HE(ART), TheatreN16

"This? In your chest? It can be stronger than it's ever been"

An interesting change of tack here from Andrew Maddock, who has been steadily carving out a niche for himself in doing creative things in and around the world of monologues (qv #1, #2, #3). Opening at Balham's TheatreN16, HE(ART) starts in a Maddockian (Maddockish? Maddockesque?) way with two separate duologues intercut with each other, and playing out at the same time. But over the running time of just more than an hour, it transforms into transgressively exciting.

Staged in the round (well, the square) in a boxing ring-like space in this production by Lonesome Schoolboy, In the one corner we have young couple Alice and Rhys doing battle over what kind of art they want to buy for their living room. And in the other, there's siblings Kev and Sam, gearing up for an altogether different kind of conflict, characterised by the fact that the former should be in prison.