Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Review: East, King's Head

"Tell how it chanced that we sworn mates were once the deadly poison of each other’s eye..."

On the one hand, Jessica Lazar's production of Steven Berkoff's East - returning to the very King's Head theatre where it made its debut back in 1975 - is a ferociously charismatic whirlwind of stylised beauty and linguistic gymnastics that is an undoubted visceral thrill to watch and listen to. On the other though, there's a definite sense of style over substance over the length of its two hours, and a problematic niggle about the play's relationship to violence.

Set in the East End of yore, Berkoff uses his bastardised Shakespeare'n'slang prose style to depict the lives there with an extraordinary vigour. Nabbing a cigarette off a pal and violence, sex and violence, racism and violence, day trips to Southend and violence, bus rides on the number 38 and violence, beans on toast and violence - you get the picture. East in unapologetic in the bleakness of its vision for this substrata of society and in some ways, feel eerily prescient in that.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Review: Tiny Dynamite, Old Red Lion

"I know what fucking surf and turf is"

It is always fascinating to revisit the early work of writers who have gone on to bigger things and Tiny Dynamite offers that chance with Abi Morgan, screenwriter of such hits as Shame, The Iron Lady and Suffragette. This play, revived by David Loumgair for Time Productions, is somewhat of a challenge in the forthrightly enigmatic way in which it has been written and a set of creative decisions that show a pleasing affinity for taking risk.

As ever, not all of though decisions pay off. But when they do, Tiny Dynamite is full of small surprises. Anna Reid's design introduces water onto the small stage of the Old Red Lion to powerful effect, especially when combined with the electric effect of Zoe Spurr's lighting. And the gender-swapping of one of the three characters demonstrates the kind of active commitment to redressing gender inequality that remains all too rare in the theatre industry.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

My 10 favourite shows of 2017

Well we made it, just. 2017 passed by with just the 346 visits to the theatre, I don't really know why I do it to myself! Out of those, 33 were return visits to shows I'd already seen and I got out of London for 32 shows, not too bad considering I don't do Edinburgh and no-one is covering my travel expenses!

For the round-up, I've not included Roman Tragedies (which would have been very high indeed) as I'd seen it before and ranked it #1 that year. (Conversely, I didn't include Hamilton when I saw that last year, which is why it is on this year's list - my blog, my inconsistent rules!). And changing things up a little in reflection of what I want to the site to be, I'm not going to be doing a least-favourite list, nor a Leading Man feature - make of that what you will.
  1. The Revlon Girl, Park

    Getting to revisit this show after attending a reading a couple of years ago was an enormous privilege. And knowing in advance what it was going to do made it all the more achingly poignant in its study of life after Aberfan, I didn't cry like that in another theatre all year long, I didn't ovate like that either. One to watch out for should it ever return.

  2. A Little Night Music, Watermill

    Maybe I'm biased - this is where the blog gets its name from after all - but Paul Foster's production at the gorgeous Watermill Theatre was masterly. Actor-musicianship at its best, Josefina Gabrielle elevating 'Send in the Clowns' to the gods, a sexy man in uniform...what more do you want from your Sondheim?!

  3. Barber Shop Chronicles, National

    A show that utterly transformed what it felt like to sit in the Dorfman. I could watched two hours of the pre-show entertainment in all honesty, it was so entertaining, but Inua Ellams' study of black masculinity was a vital piece of writing  

  4. Hamilton, Victoria Palace

    If I hadn't seen it on Broadway this would probably have been #1. As it is, the gap between this top 4 was infinitesimal and there's no doubting that Hamilton is an extraordinary success that will hopefully live long at the newly refurbished Victoria Palace.

  5. Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Crucible/Apollo

    Whilst I'm delighted it is doing so well in London, it felt important to see this show in Sheffield, its spiritual home as well as its literal setting, new musical theatre writing that is forward-thinking in so many ways, not least its presentation of diversity.

  6. An Octoroon, Orange Tree

    And speaking of diversity, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins made us all think a lot harder than we're used to about race and how it is presented on our stages. A triumph for the Orange Tree and the deserved recipient of a NT transfer in the summer.

  7. Follies, National Theatre

    The head-dresses! The costumes! Every aspect of the design! 
    The Dee! The Quast! The Staunton!
    This may not be a perfect show but this was the perfect production of it.

  8. Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

    Emma Rice bade farewell to the Globe in the most Emma Rice-ish way possible, with a glorious new musical that brought sound, light and chocolate-making into the Sam Wanamaker like never before (and probably never again!).

  9. Hamlet, Almeida

    A thought-provoking, modern interpretation that showed Robert Icke (after last year's Mary Stuart) really establishing his place as one of our most exciting, innovative directors. Andrew Scott wasn't bad either...

  10. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory

    I really thought this warm-hearted British musical would have given the Menier another West End transfer but apparently it wasn't to be. A real shame as it was really rather good.

    Shows 11-25 below the cut

Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon
It is great news indeed that this Orange Tree production will be gaining further life in 2018 with a transfer to the National Theatre in the summer. I really hope that as much of the original cast comes with it, especially Nwosu who anchored the complex ideas of the show with confidence and clear-sighted integrity. 

Honourable mention: Andrew Scott, Hamlet

In the parlance de nos jours, Scott managed that most difficult of things to really make this most-well-known of roles his own, his collaboration with Rob Icke breathing a conversationally, contemporary life into the part that was utterly mesmerising.

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Gary Lilburn, Trestle
Ian McKellen, King Lear
Cyril Nri, Barber Shop Chronicles
Sam Troughton, Beginning
Bryan Cranston, Network; Conleth Hill, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; James McArdle, Angels in America

Best Actor in a Musical

Giles Terera, Hamilton
In the midst of all the hype and expectation that was the first preview, and in a production that had no right to be that polished and on-point, there was no doubt in my mind about who the star of the evening was. Terera's Burr feels very much his own creation and delivers a well-deserved push into the limelight for this most charismatic of performers - I suspect this won't be his first award.

Honourable mention: Scott Hunter/Andy Coxon, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Hitting the right time and place, I first saw Yank! in the afternoon of London Pride and a happier, gayer Clowns I could not have been. And at its heart is the epic, tragic romance of Stu and Mitch, brought to beautiful life by Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon respectively.

John McCrea, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Philip Quast, Follies
Michael Rouse, Superhero
Jamael Westman, Hamilton
Alastair Brookshaw, A Little Night Music; Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris; Dominic Marsh, Romantics Anonymous

Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Hattie Morahan/Kate O'Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide
How to split these three? Why would you even want to. Their effortless grace, their ferociously detailed complexity, their heart-breaking connectivity, all three will live long in my mind.

Honourable mention: Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Not far behind in the fierceness stakes was this epic role of near-Chekhovian proportions, tailored by Mike Bartlett for one of his frequent collaborators. Quite why this hasn't followed Ink into the West End I'm not sure.

Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman; Imelda Staunton, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; Rosie Wyatt, In Event of Moone Disaster

Best Actress in a Musical
Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
A second three-way tie? Hey, it's my blog and my rules! From Dee thoroughly owning the Olivier through song and dance, to Gabrielle making me feel like I was hearing 'Send in the Clowns' for the first time, to the sheer beauty of Walker's uncompromising love for her son, this was only way I could reward a banner year for leading female musical performances.

Honourable mention: Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women
Sadly ineligible to win since her name doesn't begin with J..., Giselle-Ward nevertheless blew me away at the heart of this gorgeous musical which, if there's any justice, should continue the Hope Mill's admirable record of London transfers.

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T'Shan Williams, The Life


Carly Bawden, Romantics Anonymous; Sandra Marvin, Committee; Marisha Wallace, Dreamgirls;

Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Fisayo Akinade, Barber Shop Chronicles
To pick someone out of this prodigiously talented ensemble almost feels unfair, but Ellams' narrative did repeatedly land on Peckham and the contested ownership of that salon was given blistering power by Akinade's Samuel, bristling under the control of pseudo-father figure Emmanuel.

Honourable mention: Brian J Smith, The Glass Menagerie
To borrow from a different Tennessee Williams play, Smith was every inch the gentleman caller we all have been fantasising about since high school.

Philip Arditti, Oslo
Gershwn Eustache Jnr, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Fra Fee, The Ferryman
Patrice Naiambana, Barber Shop Chronicles
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Angels in America


John Hodgkinson, The Ferryman; Peter Polycarpou, Oslo; Sam Reid, Girl From the North Country

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Jason Pennycooke, Hamilton
Getting to play both Jefferson and Lafayette means Pennycooke has twice the opportunity to make an impact and he does so, on both accounts, with real flair. I've long been a fan of his and this show is a brilliant showcase for his talents.

Honourable mention: Mark Anderson, The Grinning Man
New to the cast from Bristol, Anderson's take on Dirry-Moir was inspired in its quirky warmth and the moment where I thought he was going to sit down next to me was a mildly hilarious highlight in a great show.

Fred Haig, Follies
Cornell S John, The Life
Chris Kiely, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Gareth Snook, Romantics Anonymous
Obioma Ugoala, Hamilton


Rob Fowler, Bat Out of Hell; John Hopkins, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾; Tom Norman, Salad Days

Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Thinking about this most well-received of plays, it is the role of Aunt Maggie Faraway who lingers most in my mind, the elegiac beauty of her speeches an elegant way of folding in traditions of Irish storytelling and emphasising the deep bonds of family. Breathtaking work from Brennan.

Honourable mention: Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange)
When done well, Olivia is one of my favourite Shakespearean roles and the statuesque Kennedy didn't disappoint with a highly-sexed take on the character which embraced all the physical potential of her height.

Sheila Atim, Girl From the North Country
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Lashana Lynch, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Kate O'Flynn, The Glass Menagerie

Susan Brown, Angels in America; Jessica Brown Findlay, Hamlet; Denise Gough, Angels in America

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Tracie Bennett, Follies

All I have to say is 'I'm Still Here'. I'M STILL HERE!

Honourable mention: Rachel John, Hamilton
Only the tiniest of margins separated these two and it's only really the fact that she's not Renée Elise Goldsberry that held John back from the title.

Christine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody's Talking About Jamie

Nicola Hughes, Caroline or Change ; Cathy Read, Little Women; Sharon Sexton, Bat Out of Hell

Monday, 1 January 2018

The 2017 fosterIAN nominations

Behold the 2017 fosterIAN award nominations, recognising the acting performances that stood out for me, the ones that made me sit up, and sometimes stand up. As ever, I have used the label 'best', the categories should really be considered 'favourite' as that is what the fosterIANs (fos-tîr'ē-ən) are - my favourites. 

Friday, 29 December 2017

11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017

As ever, the wait for the end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances has to continue until I've actually stopped seeing theatre in 2017. But in the meantime, here's a list of 11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017, the things that first pop into my mind when someone says 'what did you enjoy this year'. For reference, here's my 2016 list, 2015 list and 2014 list.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

20 shows to look forward to in 2018

There's all sorts of big productions arriving in the months to come (Long Day's Journey Into Night, the return of Amadeus, PATTI LUPONE!) but I'm using this spot to highlight some of the shows on the London fringe and around the UK (and Amsterdam...) that have piqued my interest and which I hope to get to review.

So in no particular order...

1 Oedipus, Toneelgroep Amsterdam

Robert Icke.

Hans Kesting and Marieke Heebink.

That is all!

2 Tiny Dynamite, Old Red Lion

It's always interesting to look back at earlier works of writers who have gone on to bigger things and January offers the first chance in 15 years to see this Abi Morgan play, with a cast that includes Niall Bishop, Eva-Jane Willis and Tanya Fear.

3 Othello, Liverpool Everyman

With Golda Rosheuvel taking on the title role, Gemma Bodinetz's adaptation promises to shake up Shakespeare in a most fascinating way.

4 Oranges & Elephants: The Musical, Hoxton Hall 

A new all-female musical about two rival female gangs in Victorian London? Well go on then! From an idea by Lil Warren and directed by Susie McKenna in the imposing surroundings of this East End landmark, this piece headlines their Female Parts festival.

5 Broken Glass, Watford Palace

The Tricycle's revival of Arthur Miller's neglected classic was an absolute highlight of 2010 and it is a production that has stuck long in my mind - so, not much to live up to! Charlotte Emmerson leads the cast here in a production that marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

6 Sasha Regan's All-Male Iolanthe, UK tour to be announced

These all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions have been great fun but for my money, Iolanthe was by far the best, finding a way into the conceit that is both highly effective and deeply moving. So it's great to see that it will be touring the UK 2018, watch this space for more details.

7 The Space - One Festival, The Space

Packed with unforgettable stories, bold new writing and world premieres, 19 brave performers take to the Space’s stage in this final year of the One Festival which celebrates solo performances in all its variety.

8 Wonderland, Nottingham Playhouse

Beth Steel's play was first seen at the Hampstead with an extraordinary design coup, so it will be interesting to see what Morgan Large does with the space for its regional premiere in the area where it is set.

9 The Cherry Orchard, Bristol Old Vic/Royal Exchange

A Bristol Old Vic and Royal Exchange Theatre co-production featuring a new translation of the play by Rory Mullarkey. the twin titanic talents of Kirsty Bushell and Jude Owusu at the head of this ensemble should make this a must-see.

10 Trust, Gate

Jude Christian is one of our most exciting and innovative directors, so to see her working in the intimate space of the Gate again is something not to be missed, especially with this acclaimed German play.

11. Caroline or Change, Hampstead

A much deserved transfer for this stunning musical, which was one of my top shows of 2017 as Sharon D Clarke continues a gorgeously rich vein of form in recent years.

12 Chip Shop Chips, Box of Tricks UK tour

Theatre and fish'n'chips - a match made in heaven. The exciting Box of Tricks company are taking this Becky Prestwich play out to a vast range of unconventional venues and I really hope I get to see it, and not just for the chippy tea...

13 Happy Days, Royal Exchange

The combination of Sarah Frankcom and Maxine Peake has already been proven to be one of the UK's most electric collaboration and this time, they're turning their hand to Samuel Beckett.

14 Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice, The Other Palace

This is the two-time Tony Award nominee and two-time Golden Globe Award winner's debut cabaret and her "husky alto" seems tailor-made for it - this should be an intimate delight.

15 The Last Ship, UK tour

This musical by Sting didn't quite have the life on Broadway that it was aiming for (though I did quite like it myself) and being a most British show, it ought to do extremely well on this tour. I look forward to seeing who is cast in it.

16 The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse

Donmar productions hardly need more exposure but the cast for this Peter Gill revival makes it definitely worth your attention, with the likes of Jonathan Bailey and Ben Batt onboard, it'll be good.

17 Great Expectations, UK tour

What more could you need than this pic of Nichola McAuliffe as Miss Havisham to convince you to see this?!

18 The Assassination of Katie Hopkins, Theatr Clywd

The clickbaity nature of the title aside, this new musical by Chris Bush and Matt Winkworth about truth, celebrity and public outrage looks like it could tap into something very telling about our society. Could see my first trip over to Mold...

19 Frost/Nixon, Crucible

The iconic Donmar production of this Peter Morgan play was 'before my time' so the chance to see it - in Sheffield - is one that I am certainly interested in taking. Jonathan Hyde and Daniel Rigby take on the roles of the duelling pair.

20 Foul Pages, Hope

I promise I am interested in the play as well, but there are promotional images and there are promotional images that are relevant to my interests. Matthew Parker's directorial choices are always interesting pieces and this fresh take on Shakespearean history looks set to continue that.

What has captured your attention so far? And is there anything else you think I should have in the diary? Let me know, and happy 2018 theatregoing.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Review: Hamilton, Victoria Palace

"A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists, 
Give me a position, show me where the ammunition is"

Change doesn't just happen, it has to be ushered in by visionaries determined to shake up the status quo to allow the rest of us to shuffle in in their wake. This is true of many things but particularly when it comes to diversity in our theatres, which makes it pleasing that this first production of Hamilton outside of the US has maintained its commitment to multiracial casting in its depiction of the travails of ill-fated Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. 

Sure, shows such as Motown the Musical and Dreamgirls offer much-welcomed opportunities for performers of colour. But its the vision of the likes of Michael Buffong and Talawa casting an all-black Guys and Dolls and Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail making this decision that allows those performers to get the kind of credits on their CV that would otherwise never be gained. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Advent Competition: win three month's subscription to Digital Theatre

As it is Christmas, the generous folks over at Digital Theatre have offered up a great prize of three months subscription for full access to all of Digital Theatre’s shows for one lucky reader.

You will have access to over 65 productions, the majority of which are exclusive to DT, including: Simon Russell Beale in The Tempest, Paapa Essiedu in Hamlet and Antony Sher in King Lear, all from the Royal Shakespeare Company; Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet in All My Sons; Richard Armitage in The Crucible; David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing; operas and ballets from the Royal Opera House and the English National Ballet; and concerts conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and starring the London Symphony Orchestra.

All you have to do to enter is finish this phrase in the best way you know how - "all I want for Christmas is..." Email your entry to, and if you like my Facebook page and/or follow me on Twitter, you will get an extra entry into the competition for each. 

The competition closes at midday on 24th December and the winner will be notified by email.