Sunday, 1 May 2016

Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre

"Some would say change is inevitable"

It was fascinating to go back to Bruce Norris' multi-award-winning play Clybourne Park more than five years after its London debut both at the Royal Court and then in the West End, particularly since I'd finally gotten round to seeing the play that it riffs on in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Daniel Buckroyd's Made in Colchester production originated at the Mercury there last month and pleasingly will tour the UK throughout May, significantly extending the reach of this sharp comedy/

Clybourne Park is the Chicago suburb to which Hansberry's Younger family intend to move in her 1959 play, its residents committee reacting by trying to buy them off to preserve what they call their 'common background' when what they mean is its all-white racial make-up. Norris explores both sides of this by setting his first half in the house the Youngers are trying to buy in 1959 but then skipping forward 50 years after the interval to reveal a changed neighbourhood, riven by the same problems.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva

"While you’ve flitted and you’ve flirted 
I’ve had rubber gloves inserted"

The Telegraph describes Travels With My Aunt as the perfect Sunday night musical, but whilst I'm all for a smattering of "gentle feel-good enjoyment" (I loved both Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen with the best of them), it's hard not to feel that this show also panders to the less-flattering side of that comparison too. In that it is thoroughly old-fashionedly middle-of-the-road, the traditional white, middle-class kind of undemanding entertainment that rarely gets the pulse racing yet still raises an eyebrow with the amount of stereotyping that it purveys.

You can see why Jonathan Church chose it to open his last season at the Chichester Festival Theatre, it's a safe bet for that venue and its typical audience and there's nothing wrong in that, I just can't pretend to have any enthusiasm for it. A musical adaptation of Graham Greene's 19969 novel of the same name, it comes from the same team who brought us Betty Blue Eyes - writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. But where that show had a liberating sense of nostalgia, this one kept me prisoner.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Review: Lucky Stiff, Drayton Arms

"Worlds of things to try, how can you refuse them?"

Everyone's gotta start somewhere and for writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty, their musical theatre career began with their 1988 show Lucky Stiff. They'd go on to win Tony Awards for shows like Ragtime but this work definitely has the feel of a writing team still finding their feet. An adaptation of the Michael Butterworth novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, this musical farce makes bold claims from its opening number 'Something Funny's Going On' but sometimes you're left wondering if its funny-haha or just funny-odd.

It's an unevenness that is underlined by MKEC Productions' approach here at the Drayton Arms, director Marc Kelly reaching ambitiously to give us all the conventions of a farce, as it plays out here in a Monte Carlo hotel but on limited means, failing to conjure much luxury or laughter. Without the knowing wink to acknowledge the naffness, in a manner like Acorn Antiques say, the attention can't help but be drawn to unwieldy yet wobbly door frames and barely disguised camp beds, which is a shame as this enthusiastic company deserve better.

Review: Corbyn the Musical - The Motorcycle Diaries, Waterloo East

"Do it for Islington"

You make theatre, musical or otherwise, out of political satire at your peril. Last month at the Waterloo East Theatre saw UKIP! The Musical, written last year, already feel like a period piece and at the same venue, Corbyn the Musical - The Motorcycle Diaries has now opened, written more recently but still unable to keep up with the fast-moving and quite frankly ridiculous state of modern British politics and the media coverage thereof. 

It's not so much that Corbyn the Musical feels dated but rather that the nature of its comedy means that you want it to be as up to date as possible as the days when Corbyn's every action was decried as a front page gaffe seem to have passed. This show is competing in a market where the likes of Merton and Hislop are able to quickly respond to, for example, Ken Livingstone being cornered in a disabled loo having to defend his views on Hitler (a subject surely ripe for a one-man musical epic) and as such, lacks the requisite contemporary bite.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore, Hackney Empire

"The gentleman is quite right. If you please" 

If you have seen one of Sasha Regan’s all-male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, then you know exactly what you're getting with HMS Pinafore; if you haven't, then there's many a pleasant surprise in store. This production of the evergreen show has been seen before, at the Union in 2013 and on tour in 2014 but is being reprised here for another UK tour stretching from Yorkshire to Cornwall and it remains as refreshing as a Fisherman's Friend.

Regan's approach sees Sullivan's score stripped back to solo piano, musical director Richard Bates doing sterling work from the keys, and Gilbert's book performed by a set of 16 strapping sailors, the conceit here being performance as a way of passing the time, to lift spirits flagging a little after receiving letters from their loved ones. It's a canny framing device and one which works effectively with hardly any tinkering with the plot at all.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Review: Elegy, Donmar

"What would you choose?"

Irene Cara once declared she was going to live forever. But as advances in medical science enable us to live longer and survive once fatal conditions, the question remains about the quality of the life that remains. Nick Payne's Elegy, further exploring the neurological theatrical so vividly started in plays like Constellations and Incognito, imagines society in a near-future scenario where the choice can be made to have part of the brain removed and artificially regenerated. The price though, the loss of huge swathes of memory.

Payne pulls no punches in showing us the impact of such a decision as when we meet post-surgery Lorna and Carrie for the first time, the former has no recollection of the latter to whom she has been married for many years. And cast as perfectly as they are here in Josie Rourke's production in the form of Zoë Wanamaker and Barbara Flynn, Elegy has its achingly affecting moments as the non-linear narrative shows us Lorna as she was, as well as who she is now, and how the contours of her relationship have changed over time, particularly in the face of a degenerative brain disease.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Review: The Toxic Avenger, Southwark Playhouse

"Let me tell you a story about a man with a strange complexion"

Baby, can’t you see, I’m calling. A show like this, should wear a warning...that warning should be avoid the front row if you're squeamish about having your face touched by strangers! For The Toxic Avenger is nothing if not hands on, drawing its Southwark Playhouse audience right into its B-movie world, the poison paradise of the New Jersey town of Tromaville. And as we come to see, whether just a taste on the lips or a full-body dunking, the effects of toxic waste are clearly having an impact.

Based on the 1984 film of the same name, a cult classic of which I hadn't heard, its hero is Melvin Ferd the Third, a geeky scientist determined to clean up the town but who soon finds himself the victim of such a dunking. Transformed and deformed, he emerges as Toxie, the Toxic Avenger - all rippling abs and dangling eyeballs - and newly fortified to tackle the dastardly Mayor whose scheming has caused the pollution and also take the plunge with hot blind librarian Sarah who rejected him as a nerd.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Review: Doctor Faustus, Duke of York's

"The hot whore of celebrity”


Jon Snow is dead. Isn't he? I suspect there'll be a twist in the tail as far as the newly started sixth series of Game of Thrones is concerned but for the meantime, Kit Harington is alive and kicking his way through this raucous reinvention of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus for The Jamie Lloyd Theatre Company. 

My 3 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here. And my little preview piece from a couple of weeks ago is here.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Photo: Marc Brenner

Booking until 25th June

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Review: Kings of War, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

"I did not yet know the value of the throne"

It's well over six years now since Toneelgroep Amsterdam blew open my tiny little mind with their Roman Tragedies. Back at a time when this blog was in its infancy, back when I 'only' saw something like 10 shows a month, back when making the decision to see a six-hour-long Shakespearean epic in Dutch was something surprising. Nowadays of course it is second nature, I regularly visit Amsterdam to see this extraordinary company work and I've been to New York to see director Ivo van Hove cast his magic on Broadway too in The Crucible. But it is nice to only have to go to the Barbican to see them too and at just the four and a half hours, Kings of War is practically an amuse-bouche!

My spoiler-free review from Amsterdam is here but so much more resonated with me second time around, so we're going deeper here folks. As with the significantly worthier The Wars of the Roses (more than twice as long in toto, less than half as good), the impetus for the storytelling comes from merging Shakespeare's first history cycle, only van Hove goes one further and includes Henry V (and arguably a smidgen of Henry IV Part 2 too). So the overarching narrative becomes one of power - the violence of seizing it, the realities of maintaining it, the struggle to keep it - as played out over and over again in this vicious cycle of dynastic tussles. 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

"I am a spirit of no common rate"

The culmination of the BBC's celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don't care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn't do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion.

TV Review: Shakespeare Lives - The Works

"Make me acquainted with your cause of grief"

The Works is a short film written and directed by Elliot Barnes-Worrell that rather ingeniously explores life for a group of young people on a Peckham estate using only the words of Shakespeare. Barnes-Worrell has worked his way through the Complete Works and woven together his own story by splicing diverse characters and speeches into one powerfully effective whole.

So when tension erupts into a fight between rival factions ("Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?"), a nearby do-gooder called Portia intervenes to break them up ("The quality of mercy is not strained..."), breaking off from a chat with her girlfriend Celia (you always knew that, right?!) and so on and so forth. Barnes-Worrell is endlessly inventive in the way he cherry-picks the source material but it isn't always immediately clear who is who in the power structures on this estate.

#Shakespeare400 DVD collection

“Tempt not a desperate man”

There’s a wealth of Shakespearean content available on film and this is just a mere scratching of the surface that takes in:


Five Kenneth Branaghs – Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It, as well as the Othello in which he starred but did not direct;

Two more McKellens in Othello and Richard III

And a Coriolanus
A Merchant of Venice
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Maxine Peake’s superb Hamlet

Plus Brucie bonuses in the real-life backstage film of The Bridge Project and a fictional backstage film called A Midwinter’s Tale. Happy reading!