Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible

"There is more to life than you ever knew, than you ever dreamed,"

Sheffield feels the right place for Flowers for Mrs Harris to come into bloom, its delicately understated charm and musicality making this a world away from the brash, cut-throat commercialism of West End musicals. That's not to say I wouldn't love to see this show come down to the capital, for it does deserve such wider attention, but rather to celebrate the creation and nurturing of musical theatre from all parts of the country, a recognition of a theatrical ecology that thrives far beyond the M25.

Daniel Evans' artistic directorship of Sheffield Theatres, which ends with this production, has been a key part of that over the last few years and it is pleasing to see that his presence in the overall picture will continue as he departs for Chichester Festival Theatre. As for now, we get a gorgeous piece of unmistakably British musical theatre that is as heart-warming and tear-jerking as they come, a tenderly sentimental exploration of far-fetched dreams and earthily real friendships.

Short Film Review #64

"Hope and memories go together"

A hotch-potch of video clips for your pleasure!



The Lion King gets a new ex-rugby playing Kiwi Simba.

Review: Human Animals, Royal Court

"I'm taking my cat's Prozac"

The pigeons are revolting, the foxes are running riot, those damn cockroaches just won't die - so far so realistic in Stef Smith's debut play for the Royal Court. But Human Animals take its thesis three steps further to a place where animal nature has become dangerously unpredictable and taken human nature along with it. And as environmental crisis threatens to turn into ecological apocalypse, it becomes increasingly difficult to see where the real problem lies.

Smith explores this world through the interconnected lives of six characters, their interactions played out in a series of duologues that sees them all spiral out differently but still downwardly. Ashley Zhangazha's Jamie tries to find meaning in eco-activism, giving the cause a hand; Lisa McGrillis' Lisa, his partner, finds economic advancement but at personal cost; Sargon Yelda's bureaucrat Si seems more interested in flirting with men in bars (like Ian Gelder's suave John) than making his blithe assurances that all is ok seem truly convincing.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Review: An Evening with Matthew Strachan & Guests, St James Studio

"You'll enjoy the thrill because you can"

There's an event at the St James Studio in a couple of weeks called Sunday at the Musicals which has over 20 female singers coming together to celebrate the world of musical theatre, showing off what can be achieved in the freedom of the one-night cabaret form. Which just goes to point up the relative disappointment of a night called An Evening with Matthew Strachan & Guests which just managed the two, with one song a piece.

Strachan is a composer of considerable credits (as per Wikipedia) but has the ignominy, or perhaps renown, of being best known for writing the theme tune to TV show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And as we discover throughout the couple of hours of his show, there's much more to his back catalogue, with time spent in Nashville writing for others providing an anecdote or two to accompany the material.

TV Review: The Hollow Crown - The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III

"The king's name is a tower of strength"

The Hollow Crown reaches its climax with a solid and occasionally very strong Richard III which once again shimmers with quality and hints of artistic innovation. And for all the lauding of Benedict Cumberbatch's starring role, it is pleasing to see Dominic Cooke and Ben Power give Sophie Okonedo's excoriating Margaret of Anjou her due as one of the real pleasures of running these plays together is to trace her complete arc (for she's the only character to appear in them all) and root her enmity - alongside that of so many others - in something most palpable.

Cooke's direction also benefits from loosening its representational restraints, Richard III's monologues and asides make this a different type of play and Cooke responds with a series of interesting choices (though the surfeit of nervy finger-tapping was a touch too much for me) making great use of both gloomy interiors and hauntingly effective exteriors. Playing so many scenes in woodlands was an inspired decision as it leant a real eeriness to proceedings, whether Margaret or Richard bursting from the bushes to disrupt the private mourning of Elizabeth or Anne.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #2

"I would you were as I would have you be"

Our journey along the Complete Walk, at our own speed and from the comfort of our own home, continues apace. Here's my thoughts on the first suite of films and now there's four more for your delectation.



Twelfth Night comes to us from Parham House, West Sussex, with the glorious Olivia Williams and Susannah Fielding playing Olivia and Viola/Cesario. And directed by Jessica Swale, it's deliciously exciting and erotic as the former is utterly thunderstruck by the latter, both actors hitting the mark perfectly and suggesting that this would be a production for the ages were it ever to happen in full. It is spliced with Tim Carroll's 2012 production which saw Mark Rylance reprise his Olivia, a performance of which, in all honesty, I was no real fan back then and remain so now.


Sunday, 22 May 2016

Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse

“We're privileged to welcome you here"

Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.

For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten's 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year's news because we're not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart's Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from.

Review: Giving, Hampstead Downstairs

"There seem to be a lot of people out there with a lot of money who don’t quite know what to do with it"

I'm pretty sure that in 30 or so years time, we will be talking about Sinéad Matthews with the hushed reverence accorded to the likes of Dame Judi as she's surely a shoo-in for a similar ennoblement. And I'll be telling everyone about the times I got to see her in the intimacy of the Hampstead Theatre's downstairs space. Last year saw her star in the The Wasp and this year she returns there in Hannah Patterson's Giving, directed by Bijan Sheibani, giving us another opportunity to see one of the finest actors in the country up close and personal. 

She plays Laura in Patterson's new play, a journalist tasked with profiling leading British businesswoman Mary Greene for her current affairs magazine. Greene is of interest because she has decided to give away huge amounts of her wealth in a newfound burst of philanthropy. But as Laura investigates further, she finds that there's a whole industry that's grown up around giving, organisations who act as brokers between the millionaires and the charities, and its these motives that she decides to interrogate, regardless of the consequences.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Review: The Quentin Dentin Show, Above the Arts

"Absolute profound happiness in 60 minutes or less"

It's a big claim for a little show to make but The Quentin Dentin Show gets pretty close in its own unique way. And what a way it is - a bit Rocky Horror, a bit Dale-Winton-presented-Saturday-evening-gameshow, a bit 2am-at-the-Joiners'-Arms, and yet entirely its own thing. Sliding into the late evening slot at the Above the Arts Theatre, it's that random but tasty slice of musical theatre that you didn't know you needed at the end of the night.

I can describe the plot - frustrated pharmacist Nat and would-be writer Keith have hit a stumbling block in their relationship, as evidenced by a bowl of bland pasta, but are offered the chance of couples therapy (of sorts) when Keith conjures up a supernatural therapist from inside his radio - but that's only half the story of Caldonia Walton's production, which magics up the kind of carefree energy that makes you see why it was a hit in Edinburgh.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Review: This Is Living, Trafalgar Studios

"I know it's hard but you're hurting me"

One of the rarest things to find in the theatre, for me at least, is people I actually want to spend time with. On stage, of course. But Alice and Michael, the couple at the heart of Liam Borrett's debut play This is Living, are just that - adorable, engaging, quirky, funny, utterly and thoroughly human. There were times where I could have listened to them talk for hours, whether the awkward bumbling of their first encounter or their flirtatious banter or the precious moments of genuine soulmate connection, I can't remember the last time I just wanted to kick back and listen like this.

Which is exactly what Borrett wants, as he pulls the rug out from underneath the relationship by killing Alice off. Spoilers I hear you cry but don't worry, that's how the play opens, with Michael having to tell his partner that she died 12 hours ago. From there, we get a beautifully restrained and moving exploration of love and loss as we flick between present and past and back again, sometimes in the space of a howled emotion or a single sentence, the unimaginable pain of losing a loved one both exacerbated and made more tolerable by clinging onto the memories of a life lived.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Review: Blue/Orange, Young Vic

"They see what they want to see, not what they really see"

I seem to be surrounded by people who saw and loved the original production of Blue/Orange, with its extremely tasty cast of Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetal Ejiofor, and who love to tell me about it! It was however before my time (here in London at least) and so my first, and only, previous experience of the show was with Tiata Fahdozi's all-female version at the old Arcola, with a less starry but no less interesting cast of Helen Schlesinger, Esther Hall and Ayesha Antoine.

I mention this because it is interesting to me the ways in which people's journeys with plays are shaped by these interactions, especially when they have been lauded as modern classics. Of the eight, only two are going back to this new production at the Young Vic (it doesn't seem to be inspiring repeat visits), and the one who has been already didn't like it. And critics' responses thus far stretch from Aleks Sierz reconfirming its status as a contemporary classic to Matt Trueman declaring that it hasn't aged well.

Re-review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

"Enough is never enough..."

Just a quickie for this return of a show that ranked 6th out of the 304 that I saw last year, Philip Ridley's Radiant Vermin. Metal Rabbit and Supporting Wall's production remains an absolute corker as it dissects the contemporary property market and all the societal baggage that goes with it in the most inimitable of ways. This revival returns to the Soho Theatre ahead of a trip to New York but finds itself in the upstairs space rather than the main house, which is a bit of a shame as it doesn't work quite as effectively here, though 'tis only a minor quibble.

My original review can be read here and much remains true about David Mercatali's excellent production. There's added piquancy now in the casting of Scarlett Alice Johnson (a replacement for Gemma Whelan who sadly had to withdraw) as she's the IRL partner of Sean Michael Verey and so their chemistry is fascinating to behold as their couple submit to the machinations of Debra Baker's 'helper'. Definitely recommended whether you caught it last year or no.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 28th May, then transfers to 59E59 Theatres, New York