Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The 2013 fosterIAN awards




Another bumper year of theatregoing draws to a close and the inevitable task of list-making comes upon us. So here's my top 10 productions of 2013, my favourite shows from a year where I saw over 300, illuminated with a few silly gifs (some with tenuous connections to the shows) which have been borrowed with love from here.

Full of the kind of invention that British directors so rarely bring to the stage, this glorious version of Ingmar Bergman’s epic played successfully with form and character to create the type of breathless experience that was utterly addictive. I booked to see it again within minutes of leaving and then went to Amsterdam to see the company again.



Full of laughter and tears, warmth and poignancy, Wells created another cracker of a play to mark him as one of our most noteworthy new playwrights. And though hugely important addition to the gay canon in its tale of (not quite so) straightforward teenage romance, its appeal remains universal.



Apparently some people didn’t like it, but within minutes of the show starting I knew I was seeing something special that fitted my tastes perfectly. A score unafraid to be complex, a fairytale unafraid to be different, a lead performance to cherish for a lifetime. 



A corker of a play that seemingly came from nowhere to utterly steal the heart. An unlikely friendship between a psychologically scarred soldier and a disabled girl scout proved to be one of the most moving experiences in a theatre all year long and scandalously played just a handful of performances in its limited run.



AKA the moment when Lucy Ellinson broke through, which ironically would most likely sit awkwardly with her and the kind of intimate theatrical experiences in which she excels. But there was no denying the impact of this monologue featuring her as a soldier struggling with the morality of drone warfare.



One of the most exciting new pieces of new writing this year, spearheading something of a movement in London theatres putting on plays about China. Here, Lucy Kirkwood juxtaposed the economic journeys of China and the USA whilst examining the institution of photojournalism in thrilling style. 



To think how close I came to staying in bed rather than going to see this is terrifying. But fortunately I was urged out of my pit into the bearpit of the Globe to see one of the funniest Dreams I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a few, 4 this year alone) but one which also brought new insights into the play.



Regent’s Park was truly alive, with the sound of Rachel Kavanaugh’s superlative production of this most classic of musicals. Old-school down to its very heart but sparklingly fresh performances from Charlotte Wakefield and Michael Xavier keeping it utterly delightful.



I’ll be the first to admit I’m not Ibsen’s greatest fan so it tends to take something remarkable to help me over that particular hump. And Richard Eyre managed that with his adaptation for the Almeida, doing away with the interval and teasing from Lesley Manville one of the performances of her career. 



As delicate and beautiful as the snowflakes that fell on the stage, this version was a masterclass in adaptation, borrowing from several different incarnations of the story yet still managing to fashion something that could only ever have been theatrical. Wach out for its rumoured West End transfer.


As for my least favourite plays of the year, it didn't feel like there were too many out and out stinkers. That said, I exercised the right of the swift exit perhaps more often than usual, leaving at the interval at a small number of shows that really weren't doing it for me. But for the shows I wish I'd left at the interval, Wag! The Musical, Geek! A New Musical, Fair Em and The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas probably rank up there, but Raving takes the prize as the single most objectionable piece of theatre I saw all year. 


And here are my favourite performances of the year.

Best Actress in a Play
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen Corner

Best Actress in a Musical
Rosalie Craig, The Light Princess

Best Actor in a Play
Philip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for Goalposts

Best Actor in a Musical
Kyle Scatliffe, The Scottsboro Boys

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Linda Bassett, Roots

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Leigh Zimmerman, A Chorus Line

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Kit Orton, The Hired Man

And that's enough of that. Here's to 2014.



Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Marianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen Corner
As Jean-Baptiste took her bow at the end of The Amen Corner, I found myself in that wonderful state of involuntarily rising to my feet – it doesn’t happen very often at all but it is a mark of the kind of acting that strikes deep into my soul. As she blazed across the stage in all her unshakeable fervour and blinkered righteousness, this marked a much-welcomed return to the theatre for this most excellent of actresses and I sincerely hope we get to see her back on the boards sooner rather than later.

Honourable mention: Michelle Terry, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)
We always knew Terry would make an excellent Titania but the real surprise came with the huge impact she managed to make as Hippolyta, making the character register in every scene in which she appeared and anchoring the production with a clear sense of just how much the path of true love never runs smooth no matter one’s status.

Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron

7-10
Hayley Atwell, The Pride; Jessica Barden, Armstrong's War; Doña Croll, All My Sons; Dervla Kirwan, The Weir

Best Actress in a Musical

Rosalie Craig, The Light Princess
One of those performances that has to be seen to be believed, Craig demonstrated core strength like no other performer on the London stage as the princess Althea, unwavering in a show of immense physicality supported by a team of human puppeteers to help her to float. Add to that a flawless vocal and a pitch-perfect portrayal of a young woman struggling to come to terms with her place in the world and you have the kind of memorable amazingness that will linger long in the mind.

Honourable mention: Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
If nothing else, Erivo deserves plaudits for a literally show-stopping performance, having to deal with the practicalities of the mid-song ovations that often greeted her. Whereas they may not have been welcome in these quarters, Erivo’s ascendance to leading lady status certainly was.

Zrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music

7-10
Julie Atherton, The Hired Man; Sarah Galbraith, Chess; Joanna Riding, The Pajama Game; Scarlett Strallen, Candide


Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical


Best Actor in a Play

Philip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for Goalposts
Maybe a bit of a cheat, but I couldn’t pick between the two stars of one of the best new plays of recent years and the most genuinely lovely depiction of teenage romance you could ever hope to see. I’ve seen them three times and have a sneaky trip booked to the last performance at the Bush too.

Honourable mention: Al Weaver, The Pride
Beautifully affecting, Weaver has been an actor I’ve had my eye on for a time and so it was pleasing to see him deliver the goods in a major production, opposite Harry Hadden-Paton in Jamie Lloyd’s The Pride.

Brian Cox, The Weir
Benedict Wong, Chimerica

7-10
Richard Clothier, 50 Words; Harry Hadden-Paton, The Pride; Mark Quartley, Armstrong's War; Ben Whishaw, Mojo

Best Actor in a Musical

Kyle Scatliffe, The Scottsboro Boys
As Scottsboro boy-in-chief Haywood Patterson, Scatliffe personified beautifully the horrendous struggle of the young men who found themselves at the mercy of the justice system in the Deep South. The burden was strong given the under-writing of his compatriots but he delivered intense emotion and fervent conviction that the right thing would eventually happen, in what has to be a career-defining role.

Honourable mention: Declan Bennett, Once the musical
The brooding intensity of Bennett’s Guy fitted the aching romance of Once like a glove, elevating the score from any potential moments of lachrymosity into something subtly beautiful and stirring in its simplicity. 

David Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music

7-10
Gavin Creel, The Book of Mormon; Fra Fee, Candide; Douglas Hodge, Charlie andthe Chocolate Factory; David Hunter, The Hired Man


Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Linda Bassett, Roots
The Donmar proved a powerhouse for female performances this year and in Roots, it was Linda Bassett who took the honours as the rural mother, conveying decades of hardship, making do and a hard-won no-nonsense attitude almost entirely through the minutiae of managing the family home. A breath-taking performance of perfectly studied and understated detail. 

Honourable mention: Deborah Findlay, Coriolanus
Tom Hiddleston may have been the big name in the Donmar’s Coriolanus but for me, it was Deborah Findlay’s Volumnia that was the biggest performance, scorching the earth before her as the militaristic mother driving her son’s career and then breath-takingly chastened as the tragic consequences are reaped. 

Anna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner

7-10
Claudie Blakley, Chimerica; Kirsty Bushell, Edward II; Naomi Frederick, TheWinslow Boy; Fenella Woolgar, Circle Mirror Transformation

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Leigh Zimmerman, A Chorus Line
She won the Olivier earlier this year and now she can add a fosterIAN to the list - her dry put-downs as the wise-cracking Sheila enlivened A Chorus Line no end, trying to shield herself a little from the reality of being one of the older members of the group and seeing her last shot at stardom slipping away. 

Honourable mention: Nicola Hughes, The Color Purple
In a musical full of strong black women, Hughes proved herself one of the strongest with an extraordinary performance in The Color Purple as singer Shug Avery, utterly self-possessed and ultimately self-obsessed and never less than unmissable when onstage. 

Amy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple

7-10
Lucyelle Cliffe, When Midnight Strikes; Kaisa Hummerland, The Boys from Syracuse; Joanna Riding, Stephen Ward; Liz Singleton, Fiddler on the Roof


Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Taking on as famous a role as Nick Bottom has plenty of pitfalls, but Pearce Quigley fearlessly took up the challenge in Dominic Dromgoole’s revelatory and riotous production at the Globe and delivered a wittily sardonic Bottom that made him one of the most comic parts of one of the funniest productions of the year.

Honourable mention: Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Due to the randomness of the design of the first act, it was pure chance that my first encounter at Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Scenes from a Marriage was with Fernhout and Hadewych Minis’ version of Johan and Marianne. But from the very first moments, his intensity sucked us right in whilst the twinkle in his eye (plus his predilection for mingling in amongst the audience) made him a hugely magnetic presence.

Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)

7-10
Toby Jones, Circle Mirror Transformation; Eric Kofi Abrefa, The Amen Corner; Peter McDonald, The Weir; Kyle Soller, Edward II

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Kit Orton, The Hired Man
Though his rugged charms are undeniable, Orton more than earned his place here in the delightful actor-musician production of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man that graced Colchester and Leicester. A compellingly masculine presence as the flirtatious Jackson and beautifully-voiced throughout, he also revealed himself to be a dab hand on the fiddle, demonstrating all the strings to his bow. 

Honourable mention: Michael Matus, The Sound of Music
Across a sterling ensemble, Matus’ huge geniality as fixer Max Detweiler was a highlight in the Open Air Theatre’s excellent The Sound of Music, his avuncular charm a pleasure to watch and a great way to subtly reinvent the role for himself.

Ben Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, The Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line

7-10
Stephen Ashfield, The Book of Mormon; Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys; Clive Rowe, The Light Princess; Jon Trenchard, Fiddler on the Roof
  

Monday, 30 December 2013

The 2013 fosterIAN nominations

Sifting through 300+ productions has proved harder work than I thought, though a much welcomed reminder of just how much I managed to see this year. Though I have used the label 'best', the categories should probably best be considered 'favourite' as that is what the fosterIANs (fos-tîr'ē-ən) are, the acting performances that stood out for me, the ones that made me sit up, and sometimes stand up. So please find below the 2013 fosterIAN award nominations. 

Best Actress in a Play
Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen Corner
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron

Best Actor in a Play
Brian Cox, The Weir
Philip Duguid-McQuillan, Jumpers for Goalposts 
Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for Goalposts
Al Weaver, The Pride
Benedict Wong, Chimerica

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Linda Bassett, Roots
Anna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Deborah Findlay, Coriolanus
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)

Best Actress in a Musical
Rosalie Craig, The Light Princess
Zrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music

Best Actor in a Musical
Declan Bennett, Once the musical
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Kyle Scatliff, The Scottsboro Boys
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Amy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Nicola Hughes, The Color Purple
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple
Leigh Zimmerman, A Chorus Line

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Ben Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, The Scottsboro Boys
Michael Matus, The Sound of Music
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Kit Orton, The Hired Man
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line


TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

"We must stay positive my dear, and hope that he at least died in a duel”

The jewel in the BBC’s Christmas programming for 2013 was the adaptation of PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, her continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but in the vein of her own murder mystery style. Stripped over three days (because schedulers don’t seem to believe we can wait between episodes any more), the trio of hour-long, lusciously-filmed episodes were perfect for plumping in front of the telly for, without having to engage the brain too much, and proved an interesting exemplar of both the weaknesses and strengths of James’ enterprise.

The story begins six years after the wedding between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy as the preparations for their annual ball are rudely disrupted by the wayward arrival of Lydia’s coach and her breathless announcement of murder. An investigation into the woods around Pemberley soon reveals a body and it is Lydia’s husband the dastardly Mr Wickham who is suspected of the deed. Thus follows a crime procedural (of sorts) as Lizzie and Darcy try to get to the bottom of who exactly killed the man, whilst negotiating their tangled history of their families and trying to avoid social shame. 

Cast of Death Comes to Pemberley continued


TV Review: The Thirteenth Tale

“Do you believe in ghosts”

The BBC having decided that we needed to be scared this Christmas put on this ghost story, adapted from a novel by Diane Setterfield. In many ways, The Thirteenth Tale ticks the boxes of the stereotypes of the genre – ginger people, creepy twin girls, a haunted house, a spooky housekeeper not telling the new governess everything, a disembodied girl’s voice singing nursery rhymes. But putting a twist in, it also adds Vanessa Redgrave in a ginger wig and Olivia Colman with her serious face on to make a melodramatic but somewhat unsatisfying piece of television.

Redgrave plays Vida Winter, a dying novelist whose most famous work was called Thirteen Tales despite only containing twelve, and whose biographical details have long been surrounded by obfuscation and contradictions. As the wolf comes baying at the door, as she describes her end-stage pancreatic cancer, she summons biographer Margaret Lea to her home to finally tell the truth about her life. But Vida’s choice was no accident and as Margaret peels through the impenetrable layers of the thirteenth tale, she is forced to face up to her own stories.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

TV Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

“No-one knows how long it is going to last. No-one’s irreplaceable.”

Originally broadcast around the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss’ docudrama about the creation of the long-running sci-fi TV programme was repeated over Christmas and so I couldn’t resist watching it over again. The programme itself ends up being a little constrained by its format at times like these, the expectations of a ‘special’ sky-high when the strength of the show (for me) is in its richness over the length of a series. And so the anniversary ‘special’ (and indeed the regeneration episode in the Christmas ‘special’) operate almost as stand-alones which aren’t always as successful as a storyline built up over numerous episodes.

And in the case of the anniversary, this was exacerbated by the sheer quality of Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time which told the story of the birth of the series, from its genesis at the BBC, through the young guns who drove it to transmission and the tale of William Hartnell, the actor who took on the unknown role and started one of the enduring successes of the televisual era. It was full of details and grace notes that would have delighted the fanbase but more importantly, it also worked for the uninitiated as a powerful piece of drama with huge emotional impact (its finale was more moving than anything given to the real Doctor Who).

Cast of An Adventure in Space and Time continued

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 2

“If she’s sat through King Lear, she’ll want to lie down”

Series 1 of Last Tango in Halifax really was a piece of great British television and so it was most gratifying to see it receive critical and commercial acclaim and thus be recommissioned for a second series. And clearly conscious of what made it such a success first time round, Sally Wainwright hasn’t changed much at all, especially not the quality of her writing, or the show’s (sadly) remarkable focus on the older generations.

We left Series 1 with (almost) childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia reunited at his hospital bed after her homophobia and his heart attack but moving swiftly on, the focus of this new set of six episodes subtly shifted towards their daughters – Sarah Lancashire’s somewhat prim Caroline and Nicola Walker’s earthy Gillian. And the show really benefitted from this I think, these two superb actresses relishing the richly complex characterisations of two richly complex women.

Cast of Last Tango In Halifax Series 2 continued

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange

“It’s not exactly Roman Holiday, is it?”

Victoria Wood’s That Day We Sang premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 and it fair near captured my heart with its archetypal northern charm and its determination to find the special in the mundane. I wrote about the show back then but Sarah Frankcom’s production for the Royal Exchange features a reworked and recast version of this play with songs which has proven to be a canny choice indeed for the Manchester venue’s festive offering.

The show tells the story of how a group of Mancunian schoolchildren ended up performing with the Hallé Orchestra in 1929 on a Purcell recording and also the results of a get-together 40 years later for a Granada TV documentary. The two strands interweave and overlap as two of the choir engage in a putative romance after the reunion, the aspirations of their younger selves contrasted with the drabness of the older and the potential spark ignited after the long-awaited meeting.

Cast of That Day We Sang continued

Thursday, 26 December 2013

TV Review: The Tractite Middoth

“Where others had a soul, he had a corkscrew”



Mark Gatiss seems to have had a golden touch of late at the BBC which makes one wonder if he was allowed to pursue this adaptation of MR James’ ghost story as something of a vanity project, free from a more discerning critical eye that might have asked why bother. The production values of The Tractite Middoth are beyond question and the acting of a good standard, but the overall is let down by a complete clunker of a story, a nonsensical series of contrivances and convolutions that flail around ridiculously.


Young librarian William Garrett is pulled into a bitter family feud over a hidden will when a stranger arrives at his premises looking for a particularly mysterious item and as he is sucked further deeper into the intrigue, supernatural influences make it an ever-more terrifying experience, for him. Because for us, it is just silliness piled on silliness, the quest set by a wicked uncle for the two relatives who would inherit his vast estate becomes pointless in the end, there’s convenient chance meetings which keep the narrative clunking on and scary noises aplenty to remind us this is a ghost story.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Review: Chicago, Curve

“Nothing stays in fifty years or so, it’s gonna change you know”

The thrills of Kander & Ebb’s iconic work Chicago became somewhat lost as the show grew into a stalwart long runner in London’s West End, turning to an unending procession of stunt casting moves to keep the crowds coming. But though I’m a great fan of the show, the temptation to go and see it again was never there, not even as it closed, the innate razzle-dazzle had gone missing. So the prospect of a brand new production at Leicester’s Curve Theatre, directed by Paul Kerryson and choreographed by bright young thing Drew McOnie, raised hopes that it might be back.

And boy is it ever. The Curve has been home to some excellent musicals during Kerryson’s tenure and Chicago is right up there with the best, as a vibrant recasting of the familiar elements of the show infused with a fresh vitality that literally sparks off the stage. Away from the faux glamour of the latest evictee from the jungle or fading Hollywood star, the focus on genuine musical theatre talent restores an integrity to the show which allows it Kerryson to really play up the viciously biting satire of sensation-hungry audiences which is as relevant today as it ever was.

Theater Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas 2013

It appears to be the year of theatrical covers of Do They Know It's Christmas? and this one certainly ramps up the star wattage (and seems weirdly specifically designed for RevStan!) with its cast. Put together by current Les Mis stars Anton Zetterholm and Rob Houchen as part of their Room9 fundraising campaign for WaterAid. They've had an Advent calendar of videos (which can be viewed here) and today's clip pulled together an incredible roster of performers from major theatre shows from across Europe and the USA. Watch the video below to see who you can spot, and then please visit their fundraising page to give what you can for this great cause.



Cast of Theater Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? continued


Review: Aladdin, New Wimbledon

"I'm anybody's for a pint of semi-skimmed and a walnut yoghurt”

Coming out of Puss in Boots, I said this will be the last panto I see this year. Oh no it wasn’t… The New Wimbledon has built up a reputation to rival the Lyric Hammersmith and the Hackney Empire in London pantomimes, producing slickly professional productions starring high-profile names such as David Hasselhoff, Dame Edna and last year, Priscilla Presley. This year though, the celebrity wattage is homegrown in the form of Jo Brand, who takes the role of the Genie of the Ring in Aladdin

And with someone who actually understands what pantos are all about (Presley’s air of bemusement at the whole shebang was hilarious), the dynamic of the show feels like a properly old-school affair. Brand’s hugely dry wit makes her perhaps too laconic a presence for the kids but she certainly makes the adults laugh, the presence of two Britain’s Got Talent acts lends a variety feel to the whole affair and in Matthew Kelly’s Widow Twankey, there’s a game dame indeed.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Re-review: American Psycho, Almeida

“You’ll see why Santa loves the snow”

It’s turning out to be quite the month for revisits of shows – I had a pair of tickets for American Psycho which I passed onto a friend after I was lucky enough to be invited to the press night, thinking it would be fairer to let someone else get to see the show as it was sold out. But after a drunken night out and some research on my phone, we discovered a few stray tickets (assumedly returns) were available for purchase on the Almeida’s website and after an evening of lemonades, my benevolence wasn’t quite so persistent…

My companion hadn’t seen it so I didn’t feel quite as guilty as I might have, and I really enjoyed the show so was looking forward to seeing it again, even after a relatively short interval. My thoughts from last time are here and so I’ll just concern myself with a few observations here. Matt Smith clearly loves an adlib, the revolve broke down again and he flirted a little with the stagehand trying to fix it; in the final number, it is actually Ben Aldridge doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the singing; and it really is impressive how effective Sheik’s score is in focusing almost entirely on setting the mood of the piece rather than furthering the narrative.

Cast of American Psycho (re-review) continued

Review: Blink, Soho Theatre

“Being watched makes doing things more attractive somehow. Just simple things”

2012 saw Phil Porter’s Blink take Edinburgh and then London by storm with its quirky charms – its study of grief and love intersecting on two quietly damaged souls – and so it is hardly surprisingly that 2013 has seen the show travel as far as India, before returning to the intimacy of the Soho Theatre’s upstairs space. Director Joe Murphy has wisely kept original actors Rosie Wyatt and Harry McEntire onboard and the luxury of revisiting the production was one which I enjoyed immensely.

There’s much that connects Jonah and Sophie – each has lost a parent to cancer and both are struggling to adapt to life in London, barely keeping afloat in the great metropolis. So it seems right that they gravitate towards each other in their own inimitable way, finding their own sort of connection, masquerading as love. For though this may seem like an indie version of a rom-com, its heart lies somewhere deeper, more meaningful in uncovering the complexities of being with another. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Review: Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse

"Most dangerously you have with him prevailed"

This is truly a Coriolanus for our times. Josie Rourke’s intimate chamber production for her Donmar Warehouse made ripples by casting Tom Hiddleston in the title role, a rare return to the stage for an actor now catapulted into Hollywood’s hotlist, but in so many other ways, it is an intelligent reading of the text that subtly recasts Shakespeare’s tragedy into something if not exactly relatable, then certainly recognisable.

Roman general Coriolanus is viciously successful on the battlefield but when he is urged to move into a political career, he faces a whole new set of challenges. Enormous pressure from his domineering mother that has stunted his lifelong emotional growth, a disdain for the very same ‘great unwashed’ whose votes he needs, and an establishment gunning for him from the word go. Rourke ensures huge clarity in her adaptation of this most brutal of tragedies which proves most compelling.

Cast of Coriolanus continued


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych



“Manipulation, that’s the technique, 
This conversation must not leak” 

It’s a curious thing, to take a relatively obscure figure, base a musical on him that is then named after him, yet leave a vacuum where his central presence ought to be the driving force. For all that Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton place the character of Stephen Ward at the centre of Stephen Ward the Musical, he remains far too inscrutable, far too unexplored for us to buy into the main premise of the show which is that Ward, who committed suicide after being made the scapegoat for the Profumo scandal of 1963, is a tragic victim of Establishment hypocrisy.

But for all Alexander Hanson’s sterling efforts as the osteopath-turned-social fixer who engineered the first meeting of Secretary of State for War John Profumo and wannabe showgirl Christine Keeler, the show suffers from making him narrator as well as protagonist. So he is lumped with huge swathes of exposition, made increasingly worthy due to a slavish attention to real-life events, as a huge cast of characters flash by momentarily in the service of telling a story, but leave us none the wiser as to what Ward was like as a person, what motivated him, what moved him.

Cast of Stephen Ward continued


Christmas music 2013

A Very West End Christmas



A rather special project, A Very West End Christmas has gathered up a group of nearly 50 musical theatre performers to record an EP of 5 Christmas classics for a number of charitable causes – Great Ormond Street’s Giggin’ for Good, West End Fests for CRY UK and The Band Aid Charitable Trust. It’s a steal at £3.95 for the EP and with some seriously great talent onboard, assembled by co-producers Kris Rawlinson and Darren Bell, it’s a mostly very good listen.


The strongest numbers are, a little perversely, actually the ones which don’t feature the full choir. Michael Xavier croons perfectly through The Christmas Song (although it is sad that there is no accompanying video of him roasting his chestnuts…), Chloe Hart and Jeremy Hart have lots of fun in a swinging Baby It’s Cold Outside, and there’s an interesting arrangement of O Holy Night featuring Sabrina Aloueche, Jodie Jacobs and Katie Payne (though that song will always belong to Hannah Waddingham for me). 


Cast of A Very West End Christmas continued


Cast of A Very West End Christmas continued

Cast of A Very West End Christmas continued

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Review: Lizzie Siddal, Arcola

“To yearn for something – doesn’t that make life more intense?”

The tangled personal lives of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and those that inspired them have been much explored by art historians and television makers alike (amongst many) and so Jeremy Green’s play – Lizzie Siddal at the Arcola – enters a crowded marketplace and doesn’t quite manage to make enough of a name for itself to stand out. Lotte Wakeham’s production is perfectly watchable, boasting a strong central performance from Emma West as ‘the muse that could’, but never really reaches beyond the world of biopic.

Siddal was a young woman who found herself at the centre of a vibrant art movement in the form of the Pre-Raphaelites – inspiring many, posing as models for some (Millais’ Ophelia for one) and also harbouring her own ambitions of becoming an artist. The play looks at how her relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti hampered her, along with the difficulties in negotiating the attentions of her powerful patron John Ruskin and the ill health that plagued her life, resulting in an addiction to laudanum that proved disastrous.

Review: Richard II, Barbican

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”

I am aware that I’m flying in the face of received wisdom here but I really wasn’t a fan of the RSC’s Richard II. The announcement of David Tennant in the leading role ensured its sell-out success (regardless of the actual strength of the production) and its transfer to the Barbican after its initial run in Stratford-upon-Avon likewise proved to be the quickest of sellers. Its critical notices have been close to superlative too, so the level of expectation was certainly high.

But for all of this, I found Gregory Doran’s production to be largely quite dull, it hardly ever provoked excitement or even piqued my interest in the slow-moving telling of its tale of regime change and the corrosive effects of absolute monarchy on the individual. The inferences of a Christ-like demeanour to this King are heavily played and Tennant laps this up, irascible and irritable throughout and increasingly given to thoughts of his own divinity. Intentional perhaps, but hard to like.

Richard II cast continued



Re-review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“Ringing out, ringing out…”


Visit number three to this most lovely of shows for me, though I’m lagging way behind the super-fans who are surely up to double figures by now. Original review is here, taster preview post from my first viewing here, and given their exhaustiveness, there’s really little else to add. The Light Princess really is the loveliest of shows and its uniqueness and complexity, the very things that turned others of, is precisely what keeps me coming back (I’ve currently got two revisits booked in before it ends…). 

The lushness of the score, tangled as the forest that divides Sealand and Lagobel on first hearing, but richly rewarding repeated listens; the gobsmacking consistency of Rosalie Craig’s immensely physical performance replete with flawless vocal, the gorgeous romanticism of the whole production – you really should book if you haven’t done so already.

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg




Cast continued for re-review of Light Princess

Monday, 16 December 2013

Review: American Psycho, Almeida

“But the truth is no-one ever dare says,
You can never go wrong with the right Hermès"

The prospect of a musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’ cult classic of a novel American Psycho, already memorably filmed with Christian Bale, was enough to get the tastebuds salivating, well before it was announced that outgoing Doctor Who actor Matt Smith would be taking on the lead role which meant that tickets were suddenly like gold dust. And it is rather pleasing to be able to say that they are rightfully a hot ticket – not just because of an excellent lead performance by Smith as the nihilistic serial killer Patrick Bateman, but because this production - an Almeida Theatre and Headlong co-production in association with Act 4 Entertainment – is imbued with sheer quality from top to pert bottom.

Set in the midst of late 80s consumerism gone mad, Bateman is a New York banker obsessed with living the high life and living it better than his colleagues as they try to out-do each other with their ability to get tables at the hottest restaurants, work out to get the tightest abs, dress in the coolest designer clothes and win the all-important battle of the business cards. He’s got a society girlfriend too, Evelyn, but all the superficial glamour and glitz disguises a hollow core, emptier than his beloved 80s power tunes, and in order to fill the void within himself, Bateman has become a serial killer on the sly, butchering his way through any number of people that annoy him but still never really finding satisfaction.