Thursday, 30 October 2014

Review: Who Do We Think We Are, Southwark Playhouse

“Maybe, just maybe, there is some hope”

Hope indeed, if new theatre company Visible are anything to go by. Gathering together a group of performers to create the only professional British theatre ensemble made up of older actors (60+ if we have to put a number on it) Who Do We Think We Are? sees them work with Sonja Linden to create a tapestry of tales of their considerable lives and experiences which stretch over so many of the key events of the twentieth century.

The concept is simple – the ensemble each work through a telling of their personal histories and given the international make-up of the group, the narrative stretches across the globe as well back to the outbreak of the First World War. As tales of grandparents and parents turn into stories of themselves - sometimes told alone, sometimes assisted by fellow members – the cumulative effect turns into something gently breathtaking in scope, in meaning, in power.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Review: Sunny Afternoon, Harold Pinter Theatre

To the tune of 'Waterloo Sunset'

"First on in Hampstead, now Harold Pinter, this is a musical
‘Bout how The Kinks did, become a huge band, back catalogue got full
So a show, it got wrote
Joe Penhall’s book and, Ray Davies’ music, tell us their ups and downs
Brothers Ray and Dave and their friends Mick and Pete, oh
They really, really wrote some good music though, lots of it sounds the same

Stalls in the theatre, have regular seating, apart from front and rear
Where seats are nailed down, round cabaret tables, chairs that don’t move are weird
But the show, it is strong
Three hours fly by, telling the story, most entertainingly
John Dagleish is good as Ray, George Maguire’s Dave too
But really, really Ed Hall’s cast is all fine, Dominic Tighe is mine

Went with my friend Chris, liked it but I wish, I could have brought my dad
Music is more of, his generation, would have made him feel glad
But I will, see him soon
And maybe I’ll take him, one day to this show, it’s bound to run and run

Sunny Afternoon’s fine."



Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd May
Photo: Kevin Cummins
NB: in all seriousness it is most enjoyable, even for someone who still can only really recognise 4 songs by The Kinks even though this is the second time I've seen the show. The accapella rendition of 'Days' is a spellbinding moment (pictured below) and I suppose it would have been nice to have had a little more of that musical invention though I'm just being extremely picky now. The soundtrack has been recorded by the cast and is available to buy here, feel free to buy me a copy ;-)  





Blogged: Stars in my eyes

I’m going to New York and this time, nobody’s gonna stop me… At the third time of trying (after traumatic passport lost and a wedding cancellation (someone else’s I should add), I will finally be making my way over to the Great White Way over New Year and though it will be my first trip there, I’m thinking I’m pretty much going to spend most of it in the theatre (where else!). I can do the touristy stuff next time because at the moment I’m just dazzled by the opportunities to see some proper famous people on the stage, shallow fame whore that I have turned out to be.

But even then, the people who I’m most excited about aren’t necessarily the ones you might expect – Bradley Cooper is headlining The Elephant Man but it’s Patricia Clarkson who’s most exciting me in that cast, Ewan McGregor may be the biggest name in Stoppard’s The Real Thing but it’s the opportunity to see Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cynthia Nixon that is getting me there and if Hugh Jackman is the main draw in The River, it’s the unexpected appearance of our very own Cush Jumbo that is most intriguing. That said, there’s no point in me pretending that I’m more excited about Ruth Wilson than Jake Gyllenhaal in Nick Payne’s extraordinary Constellations – we’ll call it the most high-scoring draw ever. 

Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux

“What can ordinary people do?”

Based on The Great Revenge of the Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang and mixing in texts from numerous other writers, Daniel York’s The Orphan of Zhao Redux is a most enchanting thing indeed. The play is perhaps sadly most notorious, in recent years at least, for being at the centre of a controversy when the RSC cast just three East Asian actors in minor roles (out of seventeen in total) in what has been known as the Chinese Hamlet, such is the piece’s significance. But York fully wrests ownership away from such unsavouriness to produce a gorgeous eight minute short that is a brilliant showcase for what might have been.

The film features fourteen leading lights of the British East Asian acting scene, the narrative scattered between them all and the text reshaped into something of a poem as just as much feeling as storytelling emerges through the individual lines. Ikin Yum’s stunning monochrome cinematography has been astutely edited by Andrew Koji and the beautifully evocative music underscores the whole affair with just the right level of intrigue and emotion. Not knowing the play didn’t matter a jot, the film stirs something elemental – especially in its haunting final minute – and had me thoroughly hooked from the start.

It’s beautifully acted too. I’ve seen some of these actors before, too little, symptomatic of casting opportunities perhaps but also down to me not rooting out more opportunities to see them (and also more East Asian theatre in general – the flurry that came in the wake of Chimerica #aiww, The World of Extreme Happiness, The Fu-Manchu Complex, Yellow Child etc has died away somewhat).

But seeing the powerful work of Stephen Hoo and Andrew Koji, Vera Chok and Gabby Wong, Julia Sandiford and Amanda Maud, Kunjue Li and Jennifer Lim to name but half of them (they’re all my favourites though) is proof positive that they could not only put on a production of the Chinese Hamlet (and they should because I now want to see it), they could put on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and I would come running (and they should because I reckon it would be wicked). Who can I speak to to make this happen?!

Short Film Review: Out of Darkness

"I have hundreds of souls dancing inside of me." 

It's hard to explain just how devastatingly moving Out of Darkness is. Written and directed by Manjinder Virk, it sees 9 people tell a story - the same story or maybe their own - the narrative is fragmented and shared by all. Ostensibly it is the same story, the varied experiences of death that an aid worker has gone through, but in the hands of this company, it is enriched, enhanced, expanded so that it does feel different in each of their hands. 

And what a cast Virk has assembled here, all shot from their head and shoulders - Tom Hiddleston may be the better known but my heart leapt to see Monica Dolan and Noma Dumezweni in there and in the stark black and white cinematography that makes the headshots feel like portraiture make it simply gorgeous to look at. 

Harry Escott's plangent score deepens the emotional current that runs through the film but to hear this cast talk of death, and life, and death with such purity and clarity -Andrew Gower is heartbreaking, Jimmy Akingbola too and the rich timbre of Dumezweni’s voice has never sounded more elegantly powerful - it is scarcely needed. I urge you to spend the tiny amount of money required to see this film in full, I promise you won't regret it.


Short Film Review #55

I have a thing about spiral staircases and though the one at the heart of The Last Ten is squared off, it is still freaky as shit. A genuinely disturbing film that is ingeniously conceived and shot by David Higgs with some fantastic cinematography from Nicole Heiniger, it’s all about the perspective as a single camera looking down the middle of a stairwell captures the story of a man returning home to find…well, that would be giving it away. Hitchcock-inspired brilliance, just don’t watch it on your own, or in the dark.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Review: Into The Woods, Ye Olde Rose and Crown

“The way is clear
The light is good"

Last night I saw some great fringe Sondheim and late last week I saw some of Grimm’s Tales brought to life and so in the natural coincidental way of things, tonight’s show combined both of those. Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods sweeps up a collection of those fairytale characters and asks the question what happens after happy ever after. And in Tim McArthur’s re-envisioning for All Star Productions way up north-east in the Walthamstow pub theatre Ye Olde Rose and Crown, it gains a surprising cultural relevance.

A big budget Hollywood adaptation may be on its way over the Christmas period but McArthur looks closer to home for inspiration, to the kind of popular television programming that clutters the schedule these days – Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, Jeremy Kyle ad nauseam – plus throwing in all manner of other modern references, Wills and Kate and the ubiquitous selfie. But somehow it does all hang together into a surprisingly cohesive whole, this motley crew bound together by the richly complex score and book.

Cast of Into the Woods continued



Monday, 27 October 2014

Review: Sweeney Todd, Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop

“Did you come here for a pie sir?

Tucked away in an unassuming side street in Tooting, Harrington’s Pie and Mash shop has incredibly been serving the locals for 106 years – a venerable local institution and now the location for a strikingly unique interpretation of Sondheim’s masterly Sweeney Todd. With room for just 32 inside, Bill Buckhurst’s production for Tooting Arts Club is shockingly intense, literally so given the constricted space and the predilection of the performers to jump up on the tables, get right in our faces or even rub a dab of some hair tonic in the case of one noted critic- this sure ain’t for the fainthearted.

As the company of eight command us to attend the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street (well, Selkirk Road actually!), there’s no escaping the compact world that they create but it is hard to imagine that you’d want to. It’s like a concentrated shot of musical theatre perfection, the operatic scale of the show distilled into an almost personal experience and led by the magisterial, menacing presence of Jeremy Secomb’s Sweeney whose eyes bore unblinkingly into the very soul, the intelligence of this immersive production shines throughout.

Review: The Wild Duck, Belvoir Sydney at Barbican

“There are things not everybody needs to know”

You’ve got to love an adaptation that ruffles a few feathers and Simon Stone and Chris Ryan’s take on The Wild Duck for Belvoir Sydney certainly does that, quite literally in one case as the show features a live duck that paddles the stage in a striking opening image. Part of the Barbican’s International Ibsen festival, this is a startlingly contemporary look at the Norwegian classic which strips it to its spine (as Stone says in a programme note) and reimagines it significantly as a modern fable about secrets and lies (and a duck).

Encased in the confines of Ralph Myer’s clear perspex box and dramatically illuminated by Niklas Pajanti’s utterly complete lighting design, the family drama of the Ekdals and the Werles play out to levels of intensity normally associated with Greek tragedy. And under this scrutiny, there’s nowhere for them, or us, to hide – the private grief of Anita Hegh’s catatonic Gina is exposed like a raw wound for nigh on 20 minutes, the uncontrollable anger of Brendan Cowell’s Hjalmar literally bounces off the walls, the target for Hedwig’s shotgun practice is quite simply the audience.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Review: Wet House, Soho Theatre

“Do you ever question your decision to pursue a career in the care industry?"

Now this, this is the state of the nation. A country in denial about its alcohol habits, a caring profession stretched to breaking point and beyond, a society ill-equipped to deal with the problems that arise from both – Paddy Campbell’s Wet House forces a brutally uncompromising look at what we too often turn our heads away from. And though it is a first play based on his own experiences working in a wet house – a residential facility for the chronically alcoholic and homeless where they can drink however much they want – its dramatic construction, mordant humour and stunning character work clearly mark Campbell as one to watch as Max Roberts’ production so skilfully shows.

He plunges wet-behind-the-ears new graduate Andy into the murky waters of Crabtree House, such a hostel somewhere in the North East, with just the soggy good intentions of Helen and the eviscerating bone-dry wit of Mike to help keep him afloat. As Andy tries to become accustomed to the working practices of caring for people who, on the face of it, can’t or won’t be helped, the appalling truth of how much this work demands bobs into view and the coping mechanisms necessary, shocking as they may seem, perhaps that little bit more justified. It’s a testament to the veracity of the writing that this equivocation feels utterly, completely earned. 

Review: Spine, Soho Theatre

“There’s nothing more terrifying than a teenager with something to say”

Amongst many things, this blog is useful for reminding me of exactly how I felt about this production or that actor but in some cases, I don’t need to be reminded. Seeing Rosie Wyatt in a solo piece for the first time (in Jack Thorne’s Bunny back in 2011) was a genuine revelation, at the time I was always unsure about monologues and hardly went to any and it is no overstatement to say she changed my mind about a whole genre – that’ll be why she was ranked as one of the top six female performances of the year for me. So it was no surprise to see me at the Soho Theatre Upstairs (again) on a dark October evening (again) to see Wyatt (again) in a solo show (again). Creatures of habit… us?

This time round it is Clara Brennan’s Spine to which she is giving her unbridled dramatic energy, inhabiting the play and the space so thoroughly that she ought to charge other people rent for coming in to use it when she’s not there. It’s quite a remarkable thing to watch, seeing her perform, as she flicks so effortlessly between the two characters of the show – ferocious but fragile Amy and perceptive pensioner Glenda – and traces the growing if unlikely friendship between the pair as circumstance thrusts them together. She demands the full attention too, some may baulk from the direct eye contact but it is such an integral part of the theatrical transaction here that it ought to be compulsory to embrace it. Be warned though, Wyatt takes literally no prisoners!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Re-review: The James Plays, National Theatre

“The wheel will turn. The wheel always turns. The wheel will turn around again."

One of the joys of a boxset is that they can be watched over and over again so when I equated the joy of seeing all three of The James Plays on the same day as below   I kind of knew in the back of my mind that I would be trying my damnedest to get to the second of the two three-show-days in order to get that experience again whilst the opportunity was there. 

And since I'm clearly in credit with the theatrical karma gods at the moment, a ticket made its way into my grateful hands and I was able to go through the whole 10 and a half hour rollercoaster ride through this vibrantly realised cross-section of under-explored Scottish history. As ever, it was great to be able to revisit such interesting plays - original reviews can be read here James I - The Key Will Keep The LockJames II - Day of The Innocents and James III - The True Mirror - especially now there's a little more distance from the Scottish referendum which coloured much of the coverage of the plays. There isn't too much more to say about them aside from I hope they are absorbed into the theatrical culture and emerge again soon somehow, somewhere. 

Cast of James III - The True Mirror continued



Cast of James II - Day of The Innocents continued


Cast of James II - Day of The Innocents continued



Cast of James I - The Key Will Keep The Lock continued



Cast of James I - The Key Will Keep The Lock continued



Saturday afternoon Memphis treats

Make no mistake, there's a talented cast at the heart of Memphis and here's some supporting evidence.

Killian Donnelly + Nadim Naaman – Agony (from Into the Woods)
An adorkable duet from these two princes amongst men.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Review: The Hunters Grimm, Teatro Vivo in Deptford

Once upon a time, an invitation wound its way into the inbox of an overworked online theatre reviewer, inviting him to the deepest, darkest parts of London town that few broadsheet critics ever dare to enter. The instructions laid a trail of enticing theatrical crumbs all the way south to the townstead of Deptford where brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm find themselves in something of a pickle. Famous of course for collecting stories, they’re in desperate need of assistance on their latest hunt for new tales and it is up to us, dear reader, to help them in the task, should you too accept the summons to The Hunters Grimm.
On a dark and cloudy night, dressed stout of boot and warm of cloak as we had been advised, our band of intrepid explorers found their way to The Spinning Room, the lair where the brothers have stored their collection so far. It was a place full of curiosity and I was glad I had arrived with plenty of time (you’d be well advised to do the same, etymological knowledge and gingerbread cookies don’t just fall off trees you know) as the gravity of the situation was imparted to us and just what we could do to help. Divided into two groups of Fearless Philologists and Bold Bibliophiles, with no little trepidation we ventured forth into the wilderness.

Review: Uncle Vanya, St James

“This is starting to get offensive"

Proving herself once, twice, three times a lady Chekhov adapter, Anya Reiss now finds herself in the slightly odd position where (I think) she’s had more of her adaptations produced than her original writing – it’s certainly one way of casting off the mantle of ‘saviour of new writing’ with which she has often been blessed/cursed. I didn’t catch her well-received take on Spring Awakening for Headlong earlier this year but it is reimagining the work of Chekhov that has really fired her mojo – recent versions of The Seagull and Three Sisters are now followed by an equally modern Uncle Vanya for the St James Theatre.

And whilst I’d love to say these adaptation are going from strength to strength, for me it is much more a case of diminishing returns. Moving The Seagull to a contemporary Isle of Man chimed well but Three Sisters suffered a little (well, a lot) in the shift to a modern British embassy and so too does Uncle Vanya here, relocated to a Lincolnshire farm in the modern day. The sense of crippling stagnation, of an entire way of life on the precipice is present but none of the deep emotion or eternal tragedy of the characters that should elevate its concerns to the universal.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi

“Rome may not have been built in a day but Dagenham sure was” 

Based on the real-life tale of the Ford sewing machinists whose strike in 1968 kicked into motion a groundswell of a movement that shook Harold Wilson's administration and culminated in the Equal Pay Act of 1970, Made In Dagenham is one of those rare beasts - a brand new big-budget British musical. William Ivory wrote the story up into a 2010 film by Nigel Cole but here it is Richard Bean who has written the book, with David Arnold composing the score and Richard Thomas penning the lyrics, with Rupert Goold taking on directorial duties.

The show naturally has had a lengthy preview period (opening officially 5th November) and I saw it a week ago, not having intended to write about it, but after a couple of people emailed me to ask my opinion, I thought sod it, I'll write it up! So take it all with a pinch of salt, I suspect the show may not be to the liking of some but I really rather enjoyed it, with its huge amiability, its cracking lead in Gemma Arterton and that crucial level of interest that comes from a true story (and one whose legacy continues today, somewhat unresolved). I'll be going back soon but here's what I thought first time round.   

Cast of Made in Dagenham continued



Cast of Made in Dagenham continued



Review: The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace

“We are slowly destroying the long tentacles of the state machine…”

You gotta love a playtext that starts with a communiqué from the author and that’s just what James Graham does with The Angry Brigade. Split into two parts, ‘The Branch’, which sees a Special Branch team trying to catch a Baader-Meinhof type group of British terrorists, and ‘The Brigade’ which sees them their attempts to avoid capture, Graham offers up a world of interpretation in how they might be played, ending with the slyly anarchic note “perhaps just do what you like”.


James Grieve’s production for Paines Plough plays ‘The Branch’ first – following the police investigation into bombs that have been left in strategic locations like the Royal Albert Hall and the home of a government minister. A special unit is set up to try and get into the minds of what turns out to be a group of homegrown anarchists by following (some of) their example. It’s really rather funny and Harry Melling’s biscuit dunking is something I will cherish for life!  

Review: Our Town, Almeida

“The morning star always get wonderful bright the minute before it has to go”

Some images sear themselves into the mind, never to be forgotten and for me, the staging of the third act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was such a one – something so simply done yet achingly powerful in effect, all the more so given it isn’t immediately apparent. And after Mr Burns, it is the second time in three plays that the Almeida has delivered a doozy of a third act – one can’t help but feel sorry (or laugh) at the doofuses that left at any of the intervals.

It is interesting to see the strength of the reactions to David Cromer’s version of this show – in the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford decries it as glib, desultory and that final act as smug(!) and Jake Orr dismissed it thus
which just goes to show different strokes for different silly folks eh (I was part of that audience...)

Cast of Our Town continued



Review: The Rivals, Arcola

 “Through all the drama — whether damned or not —
Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.”

The main beauty of Selina Cadell’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s evergreen The Rivals is her mastery of the Restoration form which sees no fourth wall separating players and punters. So on taking the stage, her actors acknowledge the audience in their own ways – awkward bows, tacit nods, arched eyebrows – and continue to address us throughout, an expositionary monologue here, an announcement of the scene’s location there, a gossipy aside everywhere. What really makes it work though is the warmth and wit with which the company fold us into its welcoming arms.

With a wicked glint in her eye and wryly pursed lips, an extravagantly dressed Gemma Jones ensures her Mrs Malaprop reaches the very pineapple of her comic potential and with no less captivating humour, Nicholas Le Prevost makes even the lewdest of Sir Anthony Absolute’s comments a hilarious part of his incorrigible charm. They have decided that her niece Lydia Languish and his son Captain Jack Absolute are an ideal match but young Lydia – an outrageous Jenny Rainsford who plays her on the edge of sanity to hugely entertaining effect – has her heart set on the romantic, and penniless, hero of her dreams.

Short Film Review #54

A full-on Irish history epic, Tom Waller’s Eviction is an unflinching look at the difficult relations in 19th century Ireland with fearsome English landlords putting the frighteners on their Irish tenants and pushing them to ever more desperate measures. It’s really quite shocking but very well done and the production values are excellent – Gay Hian Teoh’s cinematography and Eddie Hamilton’s editing are top notch and a cast that includes Cillian Murphy and Rupert Vansittart make this well worth watching.

Monday, 20 October 2014

CD Review: Bugsy Malone (NYMT 1997)

“We could have been anything that we wanted to be”

The news that the Lyric Hammersmith will be reopening with a production of Bugsy Malone will have rightly gladdened the hearts of all right-thinking people and it also reminded me that I had the soundtrack to the show that I’d not gotten round to listening to yet. Where the film (featuring the likes of Jodie Foster and Scott Baio, as well as Mark Curry, Dexter Fletcher and Bonnie Langford) dubbed adult voices onto its child performers, the National Youth Music Theatre mounted an all-youth production that ended up in the West End and which had amongst its number, a certain Sheridan Smith.

There’s real interest in the soundtrack for musical fans as Paul Williams donated songs that were not included in the film, ‘That’s Why They Call Me Dandy’ and ‘Show Business’, the first of which is quite an adorable character number for Dandy Dan (sung here by Stuart Piper and the company) and the second of which is no great shakes (sung by Alex Lee, presumably the Lena Marelli character). And amongst the more familiar numbers are some lovely arrangements which bolster the tunes – the second half of ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ becomes a tender duet, the utterly beautiful ‘Tomorrow’ enhanced by company BVs.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Review: Three Sisters, White Bear

“You know what London pubs are like – you don’t know anyone and no-one knows your name”

Looking back over the blog, it turns out I’ve seen Chekhov’s Three Sisters four times in recent years and all of them have been a modern updating of some sort and now I’ve seen FiasCo Theatre’s version at a spruced up White Bear Theatre in Kennington, I’m on five for five. This uncredited adaptation sees the sisters moved to present day Britain, moved by their father from their beloved London to an unspecified place in the north (with a train station 12 miles away) and a military garrison nearby.

The Prozorovs are rechristened as the Earnshaws and in a nifty bit of renaming that nods to one of Chehov’s possible inspirations, Olga, Masha and Irina have become Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Ed Sheeran and Bastille may blast over the stereo but otherwise, the modern references are just lightly sprinkled throughout in just the right quantity - it is a pretty respectful, condensed take on the story which reiterates the crushing paralysis of inaction no matter the time or place.

Review: Rachel, Finborough

“I hear people talk about God’s justice and I wonder.”

Written in response to the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan contained in 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel has the remarkable tag of being the first play by an African-American woman to ever be produced professionally. Despite that, it has languished mostly unseen since then and this revival by the Finborough marks the European premiere and a contribution to the work of Black History Month. It’s easy to dismiss work such as this saying it has collected dust on the shelves for a reason but this fascinating context alone surely negates that and in Ola Ince’s production, dramatic reasons emerge too.

Commissioned by the NAACP (about whom I wrote my undergraduate dissertation oddly enough), it set out “to use the stage for race propaganda in order to enlighten the American people” about the African-American experience and given that it is still an ongoing struggle for playwrights today, what Weld Grimké achieved in the early 20th century is significant. There’s a lack of sophistication to her writing that is undeniable, the overly expositional dialogue clunks once too often in asking its searching questions about comprehension and compromise, as the educated but endearingly naïve Rachel comes to terms with the racist world she must engage with.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: MilkMilkLemonade, Ovalhouse

“Boys have to be boys”

I knew I’d like MilkMilkLemonade from the moment I read the publicity which introduced the word ‘bittersilly’ into my lexicon, a twist on the bittersweet realities of growing up different that reflects the persuasive, almost daft charm of Joshua Conkel’s writing. From the outset, it’s clear we’re in for something alternative (alt-country, even) as James Turner’s design has us sat on a circle of haybales with chickens made of balloons all around and a nervy narrator introducing us to the homespun delights of life on the chicken farm for Emory and his Nanna.

Except those delights are few and far between. Emory is a gay fifth-grader who loves nothing more than twirling his ribbon, playing with his doll Starlene and his best friend Linda (who just happens to be a giant chicken) and rehearsing his unique routine to ‘Anything Goes’ for the talent show that will be his ticket outta Hicksville. But that’s not how a boy’s supposed to be as the grim-faced oxygen-mask-guzzling Nanna constantly reminds him, Emory ought to spend more time with bullying pyromaniac Elliot from down the road, a true man’s man in the making.

Not-a-Review: The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic


I’d love to review Simon Stephens’ version of The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic but Katie Mitchell’s enthusiasm for the naturalistic approach meant I heard very little, and I mean very little of it. It’s not even as if I could see to lip-read either, the crepuscular lighting combining with a propensity to mutter and the choice that several made to speak with their backs to the audience. I’m not commenting on Mitchell’s artistic choices, I’m simply being truthful about how the basic difficulty of just hearing what was going on. And as such, I’m just not inclined to comment on anything more. If you have any sort of hearing problem, I urge you to ensure you get to the captioned performance on 27th November.

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Booking until 29th November

Cast of The Cherry Orchard continued



Review: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Charing Cross Theatre

“Quand on n'a que l'amour
A s'offrir en partage”

No he’s not. Jacques Brel is dead and buried in French Polynesia next to Paul Gauguin but his unmistakable spirit is to be found in the oddly sterile surroundings of the Charing Cross Theatre in this revue of the music that made a maître of the world of chanson. Comprising nearly 30 of his songs performed by a company of four, director Andrew Keates has made a determined choice to avoid the concert-type presentation often associated with revues for something much more theatrical.

It is a choice that mostly works. Brel’s music explored the length and breadth of the human condition and Keates uses this to offer a wide variety of staging choices for the material, treating each song almost as its own little world whether it is love lost, love found, sailors drinking or funerals watched. They come in different forms too, a music hall vaudeville turn here, a dramatic scene played out amongst the cabaret tables up front there, and some pure uncomplicated singing for good measure too.

Saturday afternoon Gypsy treats

Gypsy gets the Saturday afternoon treatment here after Chichester’s brilliant revival.

La dame LuPone absolutely nailing it here, such emotional texture packed into every line and with incredible variation too – wish I’d been able to see this live.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Review: Guilt & Shame - Going Straight, Soho Theatre Upstairs

“Come and be a real man”


I couldn’t possibly start recommending that one should drink before every show but nestled in the late timeslot (10.15pm start) at the Soho Theatre, it would be rude not to imbibe at least a little before going in to see Guilt & Shame’s Going Straight (although I would imagine it is just as much fun whilst stone-cold-sober, as long as you’re up for it). Somewhere between a play and a comedy sketch – on entrance, we get a blue or pink hairnet depending on gender - it’s a raucous, supremely silly but also relentlessly funny experience that would be well worth searching out if there were more performances scheduled (tomorrow is the last night).


Gabriel Bisset-Smith and Robert Cawsey play Gabe and Rob, a pair of friends who are struggling with their sexuality. Well, Rob’s sexuality, he’s a gay virgin and overly vocally heterosexual Gabe is determined to get him on the straight (and narrow) by indoctrinating him in a six step program he has developed called The Church of Clarksianity. The tasks Rob must fulfil are increasingly daft and incorporate a great deal of audience participation which is where the loosened inhibitions may well come in useful (though I don’t think tonight’s audience needed too much guidance in the glory hole-based dance routine!)  

Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Rock 'n' roll is just black people's blues sped up”

Though much of the US civil rights movement’s achievements came through political means, this time of huge shift in American society was also underpinned by significant cultural change and it is this that the Tony-award-winning show Memphis focuses on, in exploring how white radio DJ Huey Calhoun sent shockwaves over the airwaves of this Southern city in the 1950s by ignoring the entrenched racial divisions and playing ‘race’ music for all to hear. And as rock and roll began to capture the attention of the nation, so too was Huey’s attention completely captured by the soulful energy of upcoming singer Felicia Farrell and the underground blues club in which she performs (which belongs to her brother).

That she is black and he is not doesn’t matter to him but it sure as hell does to everyone else (they may sing that 'Everybody Wants To Be Black On A Saturday night' but there are still laws preventing mixed marriage) and it is this that provides the dramatic heft to Joe DiPietro’s book, such as it is, to this musical that otherwise puts its focus squarely on the music. And what an unexpected place that music comes from – David Bryan, who just happens to be Bon Jovi’s keyboard player – has compiled a fully original score which pulls in influences from Motown-flecked pop, gospel, R&B and 80s power ballads naturally (I mean, look at the guy’s hair!) – it’s highly tuneful if not instantly catchy but delivered with the conviction it is here, it demands the attention and will doubtless reward relistening (if not rewatching as well ;-))

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Cast of Memphis continued

Cast of Memphis continued

Review: Barnum, New Wimbledon


“If I present an educated poochWho’s trained to dance the hoochie cooch 
What better way to waste a bit of time” 

We’re so used now to the big Chichester musicals making the automatic leap into the West End that it was something of a surprise to hear that last year’s Barnum would not be getting the much-rumoured transfer even with less than stellar reviews. And seeing the show for the first time tonight in its retooled version – Jean Pierre Van Der Spuy directing an adaptation of Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel’s CFT production - which is heading out on a very extensive UK tour that stretches to next August, it is not hugely difficult to see why, if one looks at it with a coolly dispassionate eye. 

Mark Bramble’s book has showman PT Barnum following his dreams to put on the world’s first travelling circus but little dramatic impetus to form a more interesting narrative journey. And Cy Coleman’s score with Michael Stewart’s lyrics has some pleasant enough songs in it – ‘Come Follow The Band’ and ‘There’s A Sucker Born Every Minute’ – but it also has a lot of filler; for such an ambitious show, it is a rather bland musical experience. Fortunately it is also blessed with some game-changing visuals and Andrew Wright’s peerless (certainly for his generation) choreographic gifts.

Cast of Barnum continued



Review: East is East, Trafalgar Studios

“You not need to know my bloody business, missus”

There’s much indeed to love about East is East, the 1996 Ayub Khan Din play that was later made into a successful film (albeit one I have yet to catch), not least in the return of the remarkable Jane Horrocks to the stage and another of Tom Scutt’s impressive sets, marking him as one of the most interesting designers working in UK theatre at the moment. The play itself came at what could be considered a watershed moment in cultural representations of British Asians but given what has happened in the 20 or so years that have passed since its writing, it is interesting to consider how it stacks up now against today’s society. 

The tale is an autobiographical one – Khan Din was himself part of a large family from Salford with a white British mother and a Pakistani father and a thinly disguised version of this household is what he puts on stage. It’s 1971 and George’s overbearing paterfamilias is keen for his seven children to respect and revere their sub-continental heritage, especially at a time when East Pakistan was fighting for its independence. He’s appalled that his children consider themselves more British than Asian though and have no respect for the customs he would impose upon them, especially in the arranged marriages he tries to secure for the family.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Review: The Infidel, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“I've got some money in ISAs, 
But none of it goes to ISIS”

With songs about fatwas, foreskins and fundamentalism amongst many others, it is clear that this musical adaptation of 2010 film The Infidel has no truck with the easily offended and rightly so. Initially one may be a little disarmed by the frankness with which the opening number makes the simple but telling point that Muslims are real people too but the warm encouragement to laugh along with them soon becomes irresistible as the wickedly observed sense of humour in David Baddiel’s book and lyrics overcomes any lingering reservations. 

It helps that lead character Mahmud Nasir is so wonderfully, whole-heartedly appealing in a cracking performance from Kev Orkian as a typical everyman cab driver who swears, enjoys a beer and yeah, happens to be Muslim. This relaxed, modern approach to Islam extends to his family – Mina Anwar’s fantastic Saamiya and newly-engaged son Rashid, the highly likeable Gary Wood – but Mahmud is thrown a curveball when going through the effects of his deceased mother, he discovers adoption papers that indicate he was actually born Solly Shimshillewitz to Jewish parents.

DVD Review: The Infidel (2010)

“Solly Shimshillewitz? Why didn't they just call you "Jewie-jew-jew-jew-jew" and be done with it?”

Not having seen the film of The Infidel before catching the musical adaptation at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, I quickly rectified that with a cheeky online rental on my new iPhone 6+ (plug!). Written by David Baddiel and directed by Josh Appignanesi, it was a moderate success in 2010 although watching it now, I was struck by how comparatively muted the humour was and impressed that Baddiel and co saw musical theatre as the best way to translate the story for the stage as it isn’t immediately obvious.

Omid Djalili takes on the role of Mahmud, the British Muslim whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he is in fact adopted and is Jewish by birth to boot, and impresses in the everyman part of the role, emphasising the story’s point about how we all wear our beliefs differently but no less strongly. He’s a little more restrained than I was expecting though and Archie Panjabi, good as she is, feels miscast as his wife, their relationship improbably imbalanced and so lacking the deep-seated connection that ought to be holding them together even during the most strained times.

Short Film Review #53


A nightmare audition is nothing new but Jonathan Kydd’s 15 minute Shakespeare’s Wart is an inspired take on the hoary old trope. Kydd plays the auditionee in front of Peter Wight and Bill Fellows as a bad cop bad cop pair of auditioners who send him on a ridiculous journey of improv work, daft accents and crocodile chasing as he bids for a part in Henry IV Part II. It’s a little slow to get started but in its latter half, becomes genuinely hilarious as the demands become ever more extreme whilst Wight and Fellows remain as deadpan as ever in the face of such silliness. 


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Review: Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre

“You got nothing to hit but the heights”

Considered to be one of the greatest roles for a woman in the American musical theatre, Mama Rose is the twisted soul at the dark heart of Gypsy yet it is not a show that has travelled much across the ocean. The likes of Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters and Tyne Daly have all had their turn as Rose but my first and only experience of the show was in Leicester a couple of years back where Caroline O’Connor took on the role for Paul Kerryson’s marvellous production there. This Chichester Festival Theatre revival, surely already destined for the West End, really ups the ante by reuniting Imelda Staunton with director Jonathan Kent (at the request of Sondheim himself according to this interview) after their hugely successful Sweeney Todd here in 2011.

It’s a high bar to set but for me, I think Gypsy exceeds it with some extraordinary work here. Arthur Laurents’ book, suggested by the memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, follows the path of Mama Rose’s ultimate stage mom as she drags her two daughters through the toil and grind of trying to make it in showbusiness, touring a vaudeville show around the country which stars the fading youthfulness of younger sister Baby June. But times are a-changing and Mama’s sure determined so when audiences start to disappear and June quits to do her own act, older shyer sibling Louise is thrust into the limelight. Only now burlesque is what is selling tickets and we find out just how far Rose is willing to push Louise in order to achieve her ultimate goal, whatever that turns out to be.

Cast of Gypsy continued



Radio Review: An Interlude of Men / De Wife of Bristol / In the Depths of Dead Love

“It’s a blip when you’re 25, after 55 it’s a shambles” 

Lesley Bruce’s An Interlude of Men is blessed with a brilliant pair of performances, Deborah Findlay and Barbara Flynn play Bren and Hilly whose lifelong friendship is thoroughly explored when Bren comes to stay and help as Hilly’s broken her wrist. They revisit girlhood memories and lament the time they drifted apart a little due to each being married and in the cosy warmth of nostalgia, they start to plan for a future together reclaiming that lost time. Bruce cleverly structures the rhythm of the play around the heady emotion of their initial reunion and the subsequent cooling off period and though it ends on a rather plaintive note, it sings with hard-won authenticity.

Riffing off of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, Edson Burton’s De Wife of Bristol is a wryly amusing take on the classic tale of one of the more vibrant characters in The Canterbury Tales and transplanted to the modern day, it gains real currency in its new location in the Afro-Caribbean community. Lorna Gayle’s Clarissa da Costa is a retired woman who has worked her way through a number of husbands and is now dispensing marital advice to recently arrived Jamaican housekeeper Shanti, a delicately moving Susan Wokoma. Shanti has her own tale to tell as well and together, they edge towards a way into the future. Jude Akuwidike, Cyril Nri and Alex Lanipekun are fun as the various men but make no mistake, this is a woman’s world.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I did not think I should live till I were married"

In a brief programme note, Gregory Doran declares he’s “sticking his neck out” to suggest that Much Ado About Nothing may also have been known as Love’s Labour’s Won during Shakespeare’s lifetime and thus makes a novel yet inspired partnership with Love’s Labour’s Lost in an RSC double bill. Whether true or not is by and by in the end (though Shakespearean scholars will doubtless disagree) as Christopher Luscombe’s cross-cast productions combine to great effect as well as standing proud in their own right in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Where Love’s Labour’s Lost was set just before the outbreak of the Great War, Love’s Labour’s Won picks up English society as peace has finally been achieved and the Christmas of 1918 might at last be a merry one and from the outset, it feels like a more fitting interpretation. Beatrice’s independence of mind having been nurtured by the freedom of being able to work; Don John arriving as a soul-weary, battle-scarred PTSD sufferer; the rush of Claudio, Benedick, even Pedro to thoughts of marriage an emotional response to an unimaginably traumatic conflict - there’s a pleasing fit to it all.

Cast of Love's Labour's Won continued



Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You that way: we this way"

Always a fan of a project, the RSC have paired up Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing - which they posit may have been once known as Love’s Labour’s Won – relocated the plays to an England either side of the First World War and let Christopher Luscombe loose at them with a single company, led by Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry. The RSC have hit on a cracker in uniting this pair, reuniting them in fact as they are RADA chums of old, with the wry looks and crackling tension between Berowne and Rosalind clear from the off. 

A truly excellent comic actor, Bennett has the wonderful gift of always seeming on the verge of corpsing and for Berowne, it really works. The last to be co-opted into the King of Navarre’s aesthetic scheme of abstinence for him and three buddies, the first to point fingers when incriminating love poems start to appear once ladies arrive on the scene, Bennett shows us that this is a man well aware of the daftness of the enterprise he’s gotten swept up in. But he’s also an actor of much depth as he conveys the genuine sense of surprise that accompanies his own unexpected tumble head over heels and the crushing heartbreak of the play’s end.

Cast of Love's Labour's Lost continued



Sunday, 12 October 2014

Review: Damn Yankees, Landor



“You gotta know what game to play and how to play it”

Faust via baseball, with songs – that’s Damn Yankees, the latest musical revival to hit Clapham North’s Landor Theatre, in a nutshell for you although the picture below gives a little more detail about the production… Hapless Joe Boyd blithely makes a deal with the devil to become Shoeless Joe Hardy who can save his beloved baseball team’s shockingly bad season even if it means leaving his wife behind. Sure enough though, as he helps the Washington Senators to victory after victory, suspicions about his sudden arrival are roused and it turns out he’s kinda missing his wife after all – can you go back on a deal with the devil? 

It’s always a thrill to see choreography that tests the limits of this intimate space and Robbie O’Reilly’s work here is particularly striking in the group numbers – bringing to life the eternal conflict between obsessive sports fans and their spouses in the vibrant opening number ‘Six Months Out Of Every Year’, giving us the taut sensuality of a Latin dance club, or stripping the baseball team to their towels to show off their…ahem ‘Heart’. A show at the Landor also needs a director who understands the wide aspect of the stage and how to use it both efficiently and effectively. 

Cast of Damn Yankees continued



Saturday, 11 October 2014

Review: The Distance, Orange Tree

“You’ve more chance of survival if you stay put”

Paul Miller’s subtle reinvention of the Orange Tree continues apace with Deborah Bruce’s The Distance, an exploration of a more complex side to parenting and friendship that is challenged when one of their group suddenly returns from Australia. Bea emigrated there to get married and have two beautiful kids but she’s turned up on best friend Kate’s Sussex doorstep alone and with their other good friend Alex also there to lend support, they to sort out Bea’s life for her, little suspecting what it is that Bea has actually done. Truth be told, I wasn’t the hugest fan of Bruce’s first play Godchild which premiered downstairs at Hampstead last year but the chance to see Helen Baxendale return to the stage tempted me over to Richmond.

There’s much to appreciate in the amusing and frank way Bruce depicts how parenthood, and different experiences thereof, affects the tight bonds of friendship. The ease with which Baxendale’s Bea, Clare Lawrence-Moody’s Kate and Emma Beattie’s Alex interact with each other is brilliantly portrayed as they bicker and banter and nurture and natter – their lives don’t stop because of Bea’s dilemma, it just has to fit into the tumble of jigsaw pieces that makes up the hustle and bustle of everyday living and so gets added to the ever-growing list of things that need to get sorted. The inclusion of the London riots is a canny move here, not as a focal point for the play but just a backdrop of a world still spinning.