Monday, 27 February 2017

Review: Scarlett, Hampstead Downstairs

"Don't you want to come home?"

Colette Kane's I Know How I Feel About Eve played at the Hampstead Downstairs space in 2013 and she now returns there with Scarlett, another of her plays destined to only be reviewed by the odd blogger due to the no press policy there. I'd be interested to see if it will be open to the critical community when it moves to co-producing partner Theatre Clwyd next month as the rationale behind excluding press - to create "a unique experience" - has always felt slightly odd.

Be that as it may, Scarlett offers a sadly all-too-rare opportunity at the Hampstead to see a play that is written, directed and exclusively stars women, something they should be happy to be publicising. We first meet its London-based title character on a weekend away to Wales which has extended into something longer, exactly how long is unsure but she's been looking at properties in the local estate agent and has found a dilapidated chapel and is ready to buy.

Review: Lizzie, Greenwich Theatre

"In the house of Borden, there’s a lock on every door"

I'd be fibbing if I tried to claim that rock is my kind of music. Although even as I say that, I've a residual fondness for the big hair and tunes of Heart from my childhood, Skunk Anansie figured large in my teenage years, and seeing Peaches live at the Astoria is one of my all time live music highlights, so evidently I'm more partial to (female) rock than I instinctively realise. 

And maybe it's just my frame of reference but elements of all three intermittently came to mind in Lizzie, written by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner. The storytelling of opener 'The House of Borden' is rooted in melodious soft rock, Eden Espinisa's extraordinary vocal can't help but bring to mind Skin at her fiercest and the chants of Somebody Will Do Something' felt but a breath away from 'Fuck the Pain Away'.

Review: Chigger Foot Boys, Tara Arts

"We were chosen because we think like Englishmen"

At a moment in British history when the political discourse around the contribution of (at least part of) the immigrant population has never been more highly charged, Patricia Cumper's Chigger Foot Boys could not be more timely. A largely unheralded part of the British Army in the First World War were the 15,600 men who formed the British West Indies Regiment, volunteers from British colonies who provided invaluable service and yet received despicable treatment.

Cumper is far too canny a writer to make her play - based on meticulous research and inspired by real events - that didactic though. The consequences of colonial attitudes and their prejudices are implicit, threaded through every heartbeat of her five fictional characters but never the sole focus, complicated as they are by the intersection of so many other things like cruel twists of fate and the full spectrum of human nature from its self-sabotaging worst to its soul-searching best, to create the rich fabric of their own narratives. 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

2017 Oscars - pre-ceremony thoughts

"For whatever reason, he spared a hamster"

When you see as much theatre as I do, it can be difficult to keep up to date with cinematic releases - if I have a night off, I rarely want to spend it in a dark room... - but I have tried my best this year to see at least some of the Oscar-nominated films, so that I can chip in once they've been distributed in a way that will doubtless cause some controversy or other.

Arrival - I absolutely adored this and am a little surprised it didn't figure higher in some of the bigger prizes, Denis Villeneuve's intelligent and restrained direction, Jóhann Jóhannsson's beautifully elegiac score, Bradford Young's cinematography evoking all the potential of worlds beyond our ken. And of course Amy Adams, deeply moving as the linguistics professor whose life is opened up by her encounters with alien beings who just want to talk. 

Review: Austentatious, Leicester Square

"We were put on this earth to flash the flesh"

Time for the monthly visit to Austentatious and this trip saw Jane Austen's undiscovered novel Tears and Torsos get its first airing, including all manner of slippery clay, parents inside a tiger, nudity, promiscuity and a diablo maniac in Brighton. As ever, it remains a brilliant way to spend a Sunday night, over and done with in an hour which means you can go home (like my friends did) or carry on drinking (like I accidentally did). Either way, you really should get yourselves along to one of their shows sooner or later. London dates here and UK dates here.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Originally developed as live shows in Melbourne and the Edinburgh Festival, multi-award winning and 'two-time Edinburgh Comedy Award Nominee' comic storyteller Sarah Kendall is set to bring her critically acclaimed trilogy of funny and moving stories to BBC Radio 4 starting on Tuesday 28th February.

Sarah is a storytelling maestro, and in these three half-hour shows - A Day in October, Touchdown and Shaken - she gives a unique snapshot of small-town life in Australia in the late 80s and early 90s. At a time when most people were seeing Australians through the filter of Home and Away and Neighbours, Sarah’s shows present a darker underbelly to the stereotype of the sun-loving, happy-go-lucky Aussie teenager.

Effortlessly combining comedy and tragedy in equal measure, Sarah's tales of her teenage life blend intricate narratives with a cast of memorable characters, providing belly laughs along with moments of heart wrenching poignancy.

Casting news aplenty from the last week, the highlight of which was Cush Jumbo and Lois Chimimba joining Anne-Marie Duff in Common at the National. Also, Indira Varma and Julian Ovenden join the previously announced Aisling Loftus and Matthew Needham in Martin Crimp's The Treatment at the Almeida. That cast is completed by Gary Beadle, Ian Gelder, Ben Onwukwe, Ellora Torchia and Hara Yannas.

It's all about the poster... Sienna Miller and Jack O'Connell will star in a production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Apollo Theatre this summer. The production will be directed by Benedict Andrews (A Streetcar Named Desire) and produced by the Young Vic. It is the first Young Vic production to debut in the West End following transfers including A View from a Bridge, Golem and The Scottsboro Boys.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will run at the Apollo Theatre from 24 July to 7 October, with previews from 13 July.

After the resounding success of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair (Cadogan Hall November 2016) and the sell out concert of Alan Menken & Lynn Ahrens' A Christmas Carol (Lyceum Theatre, December 2016), with numerous five star reviews for both performances, The London Musical Theatre Orchestra is delighted to announce casting for its first concert of the 2017 season, Jason Robert Brown's hit Broadway musical Honeymoon in Vegas which will take to the London Palladium stage on 12th March 2017

Samantha Barks (Betsy) and Arthur Darvill (Jack) will be Maxwell Caulfield (Tommy), Rosemary Ashe (Bea), Nicolas Colicos (Johnny) and Simon Lipkin (Buddy), with supporting roles played by Daniel Amity, Maisey Bawden and Hywel Dowsell. Other roles in the production will be played by members of the LMTO chorus, including: Will Arundell, Lizzie Bea, Austin Garrett, Alice Gruden, Charlotte Kennedy, Richard James King, Emma Kingston, Lauren Lockley, Laura Messin, Oliver Stanley and Samuel Thomas.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Young Vic

"On the dank and dirty ground..."

Joe Hill-Gibbins' idiosyncratic 2015 take on Measure for Measure filled the Young Vic with inflatable sex dolls so it should come as little surprise that for his A Midsummer Night's Dream, he and designer Johannes Schütz have transformed the stage into a muddy paddock. With just a mirrored back wall to add to the set, the scene is thus set for an exploration of the "subconscious" of this most oft-seen (particularly in the year gone by) of Shakespeare's plays. 

There's some great work, delving into the murkiness of the relationships here. Far from spirits "of no common rate", these royal fairies feel like a real married couple in the throes of having to work things out yet again, Michael Gould's Oberon's manipulations as much as anguished as angry, and Anastasia Hille's Titania relishing the removal of the ball and chain as she plays sex games with Bottom, roleplaying the attending fairies in a witty twist. The intensity of their connection repeats itself later in another clever connection. 

Review: Touched, Nottingham Playhouse

"The world’s changing. It’s not going to go back to the way it was"

There's something admirable in actors who remain loyal to their roots - I'm thinking of the likes of Maxine Peake who has established a good deal of her stage career in her native North West and now Vicky McClure, who is making her professional stage debut in Nottingham, the town of her birth. Riding high on sterling TV credits like This is England and Line of Duty, she likely had opportunities aplenty in London theatres so it is salutary that it is to Nottingham Playhouse she has turned.

And not only that, it is to a local play by a local writer, Stephen Lowe's Touched, which lends the 1977 play a real sense of authenticity (and more exposure to Nottingham dialect than I've ever had before!). Set in 1945 in the 100 day period between VE Day and VJ Day, it focuses on the lives of the women left holding the country together in this time of great upheaval, which shows no signs of slowing down as a new Labour government look set to win the election and nuclear bombs about to fall.

News: #AlsoRecognised Awards shortlists announced

Shortlists for the third annual Also Recognised Awards have been announced by MyTheatreMates, founded by Mark Shenton and Terri Paddock. These audience-voted industry accolades celebrate talent in fields often overlooked by other award bodies. Voting is now open for all categories and closes on Sunday 26th March 2017. Cast your vote at:

The aim of the awards is to recognise some of those categories that are sometimes overlooked in other awards - for example, Best Musical Direction is one that is sadly unique to the Also Recognised roster. There's also a nod to the behind-the-scenes folk with awards for Best Twitter Engagement, Show Trailer and Show Poster recognising the invaluable part that marketing, especially digitally, has to play in the industry.

So find the shortlists below and head over to My Theatre Mates to cast your vote. I helped to draw up these lists along with Mark and Terri, Andrew Keates and Mike Dixon, and the rest of the My Theatre Mates collective, and I think the blend of West End, Off-West End, fringe and regional nominees reflects that, so I'll be most interested to see how the results pan out.

Best Ensemble Performance

• Belarus Free Theatre - Burning Doors at Soho Theatre & Tomorrow I Was Always a Lion at the Arcola Theatre
Boy - Almeida Theatre
Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy - Donmar at King’s Cross
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour - National Theatre
Steel Magnolias - Hope Theatre
Titanic - Charing Cross Theatre

Best Musical Direction

• Jordan Li-Smith – Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre
• Laura Bangay - Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre
• Michael Bradley - Grey Gardens, Southwark Playhouse
• Michael Reed - Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum
• Nick Finlow – Dreamgirls, Savoy Theatre
• Tom Deering - Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

Best Original Music

• David Bowie - Lazarus, King’s Cross Theatre
• Dougal Irvine - The Buskers Opera, Park Theatre
• Richard Taylor - Flowers for Mrs Harris, Sheffield Crucible
• Scott Frankel - Grey Gardens, Southwark Playhouse
• Tim Minchin - Groundhog Day, Old Vic Theatre
• Tim Phillips & Marc Teitler - The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

Best Shakespearean Production

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare's Globe
Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy - Donmar at King’s Cross
Hamlet - RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Henry V - Open Air Theatre
King Lear - Old Vic Theatre
Kings of War - Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

Best Musical Cabaret

• Ann Hampton Callaway & Amanda McBroom - The Pheasantry
• Barb Jungr & John McDaniel, That's Life - Brasserie Zedel
• Ceili O’Connor - The Understudy, Century Club
• Sally Ann Triplett - The Pheasantry
• Shoshana Bean - Pizza Express, St Martin's Lane
 Simon Lipkin, Jon Robyns & Giles Terera - Orange Tree Theatre

Best Show Poster

A Raisin in the Sun - Albany Theatre
Flowers for Mrs Harris – Sheffield Crucible
Hand to God – Vaudeville Theatre
Parade - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
The Maids - Trafalgar Studios
They Drink It In the Congo - Almeida Theatre

Best Show Trailer

Half a Sixpence – Chichester Festival & Noel Coward Theatre
Hedda Gabler - National Theatre
Nice Fish - Harold Pinter Theatre
This House - Headlong, Garrick Theatre
Trainspotting - King’s Head Theatre & The Vaults
Unreachable - Royal Court Theatre

Best Solo Performance

• Cush Jumbo - White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Southbank Centre & Good Chance Theatre
• James Cartwright - Raz, Trafalgar Studios
• Luke Wright - What I Learned From Jonny Bevan, Soho Theatre
• Ruby Wax - Sane New World, Arts Theatre
• Sean Michael Verey - Tonight with Donny Stixx, The Bunker
• Sophie Melville - Iphigenia in Splott, National Theatre

Theatre Event of the Year

• Emma Rice’s departure announcement from Shakespeare’s Globe
Shakespeare Live! at the RSC as part of Shakespeare 400th birthday celebrations
• The premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Three-show day for the Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy
• Understudy Natasha J Barnes stepping in - triumphantly - for Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl
• Understudy Ria Jones stepping in - triumphantly - for Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard

Best Twitter Engagement

• @ChichesterFT - Chichester Festival Theatre
• @HPPlayLDN - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
• @NationalTheatre - National Theatre
• @SchoolOfRockUK - School of Rock
• @TheRSC - Royal Shakespeare Company
• @WickedUK - Wicked

London Newcomer of the Year

• Anthony Boyle - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre
• Charlie Stemp - Half a Sixpence, Chichester Festival & Noel Coward Theatre
• Frankie Fox - Boy, Almeida Theatre
• Samuel Thomas - Floyd Collins, Wilton's Music Hall
• Sarah Snook - The Master Builder, Old Vic Theatre
• Zoe Cooper (playwright) - Jess and Joe Forever, Orange Tree Theatre & tour

Review: Twelfth Night, National

"A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man"

There's nowt so queer as folk, at least not in Simon Godwin's version of Illyria here. A gender-swapped Malvolia longs after her mistress Olivia, hipster-fop Sir Andrew Aguecheek is entirely smitten by a flirtatious Toby Belch, Antonio follows up his snog with Sebastian by inviting him to a rendez-vous at local drag bar The Elephant. And that's before we've even dealt with the sexual confusion that Shakespeare himself engineered in Twelfth Night, as shipwreck survivor Viola disguises herself as her presumed drowned twin brother and wreaks havoc on the libidos of Olivia and Orsino alike.

 a mark of the success of Godwin's production that it wears this all so lightly. It's a modern-dress version for a modern sensibility (if not for the audience member who gasped audibly at the first gay kiss) and one that is rooted in a real sense of playfulness, as an expertly cast ensemble just have a huge amount of fun with it. Phoebe Fox's delicious Olivia, who gives new life to the phrase 'dance like nobody's watching'; Oliver Chris' Chelsea playboy of an Orsino, in the throes of a mid-life crisis having just turned 40; Tim McMullan's swaggeringly confident Sir Toby ever accompanied by Niky Wardley's spirited Maria and the comic masterpiece that is Daniel Rigby's Sir Andrew. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

Review: The Wild Party, The Other Palace

"Blame it on the gin"

There's no doubting the visual flair that choreographer Drew McOnie is able to conjure in his work - In The Heights and Jesus Christ Superstar being just two recent examples - and so it is no coincidence that his move into directing has begun with dance-heavy pieces. Strictly Ballroom lit up the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before Christmas and now The Wild Party opens up the programming at The Other Palace, Andrew Lloyd Webber's rebranded St James Theatre.

Michael John LaChiusa's musical version is not the first adaptation of Joseph Moncure March's epic poem to hit London this year - that title goes to the Hope Theatre's two hander from last month. But it does have its own tunes presented as a vaudeville, a real mish-mash of every 1920s style you can think of and more, which makes for a bold and brash evening - especially as performed by this lavishly assembled ensemble - but ultimately, one of little staying power. 

TV Review: The Good Fight Episodes 1 + 2

"Diane, when did you get so cynical?"

I hadn't intended to write about this spin-off from The Good Wife but its opening two episodes were just too full of insane goodness impossible to ignore - I mean just look at that poster art for one. The earlier seasons of The Good Wife were fantastic, US network television close to its best, but the show definitely lost some of its sparkle as its core ensemble collapsed and none of the replacement cast members were able to deal with the unchecked gravititational vortex of its key star Julianna Margulies as Saint Alicia Florrick.

Two victims of this were Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart, in there from the beginning and much abused by the end, and Cush Jumbo's Lucca Quinn whose arrival in the seventh and final season promised much but ultimately suffered from writing that would not, could not, allow her independence from Florrick. So it is tempting to see The Good Fight as an apologia from series creators Robert King and Michelle King as, along with Rose Leslie's newcomer Maia Rindell, they form the three leads of a brand new ensemble show that is serving up life!