Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre

“Governments fall, wars break out – there’ll be nothing left of this country” 

Recent Croatian history forms the fascinating backdrop to Tena Štivičić’s 3 Winters, a multi-generational family drama that stretches across nearly 70 years and endless drama, both political and personal. From the 1945 establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that replaced the monarchy and promised a bright future, to its collapse in 1990 presaging both independence and the bitterly fought Balkan conflicts of that decade, and then on again to a 2011 that heralds another form of confederacy as Croatia enters into EU accession talks. Štivičić’s focus remains on a single household throughout but it can’t help but be influenced by the turbulence of the times.

That household is the Zagreb home of the Kos family, a plush place passed into their hands during the nationalisation of property at the end of the Second World War. So the residence that Monika previously served in becomes the house her daughter Rose moves into with her daughter Masha. Masha grows up to be a forthright wife and mother of two and as the clan gathers to celebrate the wedding of one of those daughters Lucia, years of frustrations and secrets and history and lies begin to uncoil as past events catch up with present actions. Štivičić takes her time to set up the play in a languorous first half but the pay off is intensely wielded after the interval.

Cast of 3 Winters continued

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The 2014 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards


WINNER Tom Hiddleston, Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse
Ben Miles
, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, RSC Swan and Aldwych
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge, Young Vic


WINNER Gillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic
Helen McCrory
, Medea, National Theatre’s Olivier
Tanya Moodie, Intimate Apparel, Ustinov Bath and Park Theatre
Billie Piper, Great Britain, National Theatre’s Lyttelton
Kristin Scott Thomas, Electra, Old Vic


Intimate Apparel, Lynn Nottage, Ustinov Bath and Park Theatre
WINNER The James Plays, Rona Munro, Edinburgh Festival Theatre and National Theatre’s Olivier
King Charles III
, Mike Bartlett, Almeida and Wyndham’s
The Nether, Jennifer Haley, Royal Court




Stephen Daldry, Skylight, Wyndham’s
Yaël Farber, The Crucible, Old Vic
WINNER Jeremy Herrin, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, RSC Swan and Aldwych
Ivo van Hove
, A View From The Bridge, Young Vic


Barney Norris, Visitors, Arcola
Dan O’Brien, The Body Of An American, Northampton Royal & Derngate and Gate Notting Hill
WINNER Beth Steel, Wonderland, Hampstead


Dogfight, Southwark Playhouse
Here Lies Love, National Theatre’s Dorfman
WINNER The Scottsboro Boys, Young Vic and Garrick
Sunny Afternoon
, Hampstead and Harold Pinter Theatre


Bunny Christie, Emil And The Detectives, National Theatre’s Olivier
WINNER Es Devlin, American Psycho, Almeida
Mark Henderson
, (lighting), Kate Bush’s Before The Dawn, Eventim Apollo
Ashley Martin-Davis, Wonderland, Hampstead


Matthew Beard for his performance in Skylight, Wyndham’s
John Dagleish for his performance in Sunny Afternoon, Hampstead and Harold Pinter Theatre
Robert Hastie for his direction of My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse
WINNER Laura Jane Matthewson for her performance in Dogfight, Southwark Playhouse


Here Lies Love


Kate Bush (Before the Dawn)


Tom Stoppard

Review: A Farewell To Arms, The Old Market

“Reading makes the text habitable, like a rented apartment”

Combining theatre and film with text and technology, Imitating the Dog’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel A Farewell To Arms is an adventurous trek into multimedia storytelling. Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks’ direction sees the leads filmed live but separately, the footage combined into a single scene on large screens all around; Simon Wainwright’s video design sees pages of Hemingway’s book projected onto walls as the words deconstruct and dissolve around the actors; the adaptation foregrounds the epic love story between US ambulance driver Frederic Henry and British Catherine Barkley play out against the final year of the First World War, but it also sees the company commenting on and questioning the action even as they’re acting it out.

Furthermore for this performance (which I only later discovered was captioned as opposed to them being an integral part of the design) were the subtitles, adding in an extra layer to the potent mixture as another iteration of Hemingway’s narrative voice. The resulting interplay between the various media added a most fascinating texture – the text a constant reminder of its novel form, the minor variations uttered by the performers an indication of the artificiality of said context, and the live video slipping in and out of sync heightening the theatricality, becoming something more than just a simple replication of what is occurring but an interpretation of it, an alternative version even. The post-show discussion revealed a fair few people disgruntled by the time lag but for me it niggled with interest.

Saturday afternoon music treats

Maria Friedman - As If We Never Said Goodbye/With One Look (from Sunset Boulevard)
Not content with stopping the world from turning with an amazing rendition of the first song, Friedman then nails the second without stopping for breath – a truly iconic performance.

Beverley Knight – Colored Women (from Memphis)
One of my favourite songs from the show sung live at the launch gig and reason enough to book for Memphis now if you ask me ;-)

Friday, 28 November 2014

Review: Far Away, Young Vic

“The cats have come in on the side of the French”

Blinking ‘eck, she’s a rum one that Caryl Churchill and having now seen Far Away, it is easy to see why we haven’t seen much of the play since its debut in 2000 despite Churchill’s reputation as one of (if not the) pre-eminent living British playwrights. It is perhaps a statement of intent then from Kate Hewitt, the most recent winner of the JMK Award (given to allow practical learning opportunities for young theatre directors of thrilling vision and promising ability), to turn to Far Away for her production funded by the proceeds. 

Short but anything but sweet, and tucked away into the Young Vic’s studio space, the play encompasses five scenes that show a world heading for the brink as grim atrocities and warmongering become second nature. Samantha Colley stands out (she really has taken The Cut by storm this year after a stunning debut in The Crucible down the road) as Joan – first seen as a young girl blighted by nightmares that her aunt (Tamzin Griffin) can’t quite dispel as they’re rooted in a terrible truth.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Competition: win Billy Elliot The Musical Live on DVD

Recorded a couple of months ago, Billy Elliot The Musical Live has now been released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download and I have 3 copies of the DVD to give away to you lucky readers. You can read my review of it here and find out more about it here but in order to win, you just need to answer this simple question.

Which former Prime Minister has a song about them in Billy Elliot which begins ‘Merry Christmas…’
a) Tony Blair
b) Margaret Thatcher
c) Clement Attlee

To enter, send your answer by email to ianfoster32 at, including your name and postal address by 3rd December. Successful entries will be notified by email by 5th December.

Terms and conditions 
I ain’t grand enough to have terms and conditions – just do as the good lady RuPaul says and don’t f*ck it up. 

Competition: win Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance – Dangerous Games on DVD

Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance – Dangerous Games took the London Palladium by storm earlier this year and will be returning to the West End in March next year at the Dominion Theatre as part of its world tour. If you’re a fan of the fleet-footed Flatley then this new staging of the show will be right up your alley and is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download. I do however have 3 copies on DVD to give away to you if you can answer the following question correctly. 

Which former Girls Aloud singer is a part of Dangerous Games
a) Nadine Coyle
b) Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini
c) Sarah Harding

To enter, send your answer by email to ianfoster32 at, including your name and postal address by 3rd December. Successful entries will be notified by email by 5th December.

Terms and conditions 
I ain’t grand enough to have terms and conditions – just do as the good lady RuPaul says and don’t f*ck it up. 

Review: Theatre Uncut 2014, Soho Theatre

“Knock knock,
Who’s there,
The Welfare State…”

The Theatre Uncut initiative was set up in 2010 as a response to the proposed government cuts in arts spending as it invited a number of playwrights to write short plays which would then be available to download and perform “rights-free in a week of mass theatrical action”. An impressive array of writers – Neil LaBute, Mark Ravenhill, Lucy Kirkwood - have gotten involved across the past few years and one of this year’s best new plays – Clara Brennan’s Spine – started life in this format in 2012.

Devised as a way of creating a rapid response to current political concerns, this year’s theme has coalesced around the provovation ‘Knowledge is Power, Knowledge is Change’ and the five writers collaboratively involved are Anders Lustgarten, Clara Brennan, Inua Ellams, Vivienne Franzmann and Hayley Squires. And a motley crew they make up, punching hard with a raw energy that is variable and visceral and vocal and vibrant.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Review: The Hypochondriac, Richmond Theatre

“Keep your sex and rock'n'roll
But leave the drugs, I'll take them all"

Queer, faggot, poof, shirtlifter…it’s the kind of language that is thankfully becoming rarer in public discourse and yet, it still creeps in with an alarming regularity that means it will be a long time before it truly becomes verboten in a similar manner to the n-word. I raise this as Richard Bean’s recent playwriting is particularly guilty of this – Great Britain had multiple references (though with no published script, I can’t quote ‘em), Made in Dagenham had a handful of faggots and his version of The Hypochondriac features poofs and AIDS jokes, delivered without irony in front of a replica of Gilbert and George’s Spunk Blood Piss Shit Spit

The arguments are easily made – ‘oh, that is what people said in today’s tabloid offices/1970s factories/sixteenth century France’ – but the worry, for me, comes in the audience reaction and the legitimisation that is implicit in the inclusion of such language in a comedic environment. It is an assumption I’m making but it really doesn’t feel like the laughter that comes from a character being labelled a faggot or poof comes from a good place, or any kind of interrogation of what it means to use such words.

Short Film Review #59

Toilets from Gabriel Bisset-Smith on Vimeo.
Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s Toilets is a great twist on your average rom-com, focusing on the people that just pop into your life every now and again but leaving such lasting impressions that one always wonders what if… For George, it is the American Fee who is his recurring theme, always appearing when he’s in the middle of something with his almost-out lesbian friend Link, and these fleeting moments are brilliantly conceived. Centring these encounters around conveniences is a neat way of linking them and the common threads of sex, drugs and dance music add an entertaining edge to this almost-love story.

Monday, 24 November 2014

DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live

“When the stars look down and know our history”

And what history there is to behold - a run in the West End which has stretched for nearly a decade now, a company that ranges from ages 6 to 84 (surely a record!), a live broadcast to cinemas worldwide which was the first event cinema release to top the UK box office and which contained a finale that brought together 25 young men who have all played the role of Billy. That recording of Billy Elliott the Musical has now been released on DVD so that the theatrical experience can now be recreated in the comfort of your own home and allows to see the detail that you may have missed from your seat in the Victoria Palace Theatre. 

That’s the crucial bit really. For all those that worry that filmed recordings are going to replace live theatre, there does seem to be a missing of this salient point that not everyone sees the show from prime seats in the centre stalls. The magic of the theatrical experience can and is tempered by uncomfortable seats and unfortunate viewing lines – so a DVD offering close-ups and other unique shots offers a much-welcomed addition to that experience - and as reasonable a deal as £105 is for a family ticket (the starting price I should add), £15 or so enables a necessary widening of access to a show, which captivate a new audience so much they decide to book tickets – this isn’t a zero-sum game.

Cast of Billy Elliot continued

Cast of Billy Elliot continued

Cast of Billy Elliot continued

Cast of Billy Elliot continued

Review: Off the Page – Microplays 1-3 from the Royal Court and the Guardian

“I smoke fish...all the time” 

The Guardian have partnered with the Royal Court to create a series of what they are calling microplays (short films by any other name, and I assume they’re trying to differentiate this from the short films that are being done in collaboration with the Young Vic…) on a range of six subjects. Each one – food, fashion, music, sport, education and politics - has seen a Guardian journalist work with a playwright to gain inspiration to create a minutes-long microplay which is then rapidly brought to life by some high-class directors and actors and hosted on the Guardian’s website. 

The most recent of these is Death of England, written by Roy Williams and directed by Clint Dyer after a discussion with the Guardian’s Barney Ronay. It features Rafe Spall in scintillating form as a grieving working-class son at his father’s funeral who makes an ill-advised attempt at a eulogy which quickly degenerates into a rant about football and race, conflicted ideas about English identity and the state of the national team and notions of what loyalty really means. It couldn’t be a more hot-button topic if it tried (due to the efforts of my hometown team) but it is Spall’s captivating performance of Williams’ insightful script that really grips. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review: Sheltered, Tabard

“This is the only reason I look forward to Christmas Day”

Those looking for a little counterintuitive Christmas theatre programming could do worse than head over to Turnham Green where a middle class Christmas Day dinner descends into a cross between Abigail’s Party and The Hunger Games. Greg A Smith’s Sheltered is a spikily amusing play about “the homeless and the heartless” and delivers its twists and turns with skill in Stuart Watson’s production for Against the Grain at the Tabard Theatre.

From the outset, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be your traditional Christmas Day as would-be YouTube celebrity Jenna sets up a hidden camera in anticipation of some major pranking, and her parents Tamsin and Harry welcome in their special guest – a homeless guy called Rory, the fifth such person they’ve invited in in what has become an annual tradition, goodwill to all men indeed. As the goose roasts, the parsnips get honeyed and the party games come out, the atmosphere becomes increasingly charged and we soon find out why.

Review: Man To Man, Park

“It was risky, but I had no choice”

There’s something truly extraordinary in Tricia Kelly’s performance in this one-woman play Man To Man. As Elsa Gericke, she plays a woman who chooses to abandon her identity and take on her recently deceased husband’s, along with his job, in order to achieve a measure of independence and a shot at surviving through the harsh times of economic depression in 1920s Germany. This decision affects the rest of her life, or his life, as she maintains the deception at great cost during the troubled history of the following decades.

Caught between who she is and who she was, Kelly never lets us forget that her whole persona is a performance - something being acted as a disguise - with aching hints of that sublimated femininity everpresent. The play is told by Gericke looking back on her life, slipping effortlessly betwixt past and present through a sozzled haze of schnapps and from the collapsed armchair of Eleanor Field’s design and the dim richness of Sarah McColgan’s lighting, Kelly utterly owns the smaller of the Park’s theatres with a fearsome display of acting.

Preview: Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Angry men don't write the rules and guns don't right the wrongs”

The season to be jolly is fast approaching but if the idea of Christmas cheer in the theatre leaves you, well, less than cheerful, then the Menier Chocolate Factory's festive offering this year may well be up your street. The highly prolific director Jamie Lloyd is taking on Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, which sees Sondheim's music and lyrics coiled around John Weidman's book exploring the men and women who tried (whether successfully or not) to assassinate a President of the United States.

It's hardly the most Christmassy of shows and I think that is pretty much the point. And Sondheim's enduring popularity (especially at this venue) makes it a safe bet even before the luxurious quality of the cast and company comes into the equation. I saw the first preview on Friday, my booking radar having gone a little awry as I was away when the tickets were released, so instead of reviewing the production, I'm offering you 10 things to look forward to and look out for and if I get to see the show later in the run, I'll review it 'properly' then. Here be mild production spoilers (all hidden behind links).    

Cast of Assassins continued

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review: Girlfriends, Union

"I’ve left my job and my boyfriend called Bob"

The Howard Goodall season at the Union Theatre, soon to move to new premises, has been one of its more enterprising moves in recent times. Love Story and the dreaming both had their moments but the third piece in the trilogy – Girlfriends – feels like the weakest of the lot. Bronagh Lagan’s production can’t do much to disguise the reasons that the show was a commercial flop on its 1987 debut but also adds its own complications with a truly unnecessarily awkward staging choice – how this wasn’t picked up on earlier on is baffling.

The show itself suffers from promising one thing – looking at the experience of working women in the Second World War – and delivering another – the romantic travails of two of them. The company is even split 10 to 2, women to men, and yet the focus settles firmly on this pair of love stories to the severe detriment of many of the supporting characters who remain scarcely sketched caricatures. That three men collaborated on the book – Richard Curtis and John Retellack along with Goodall – might be part of the problem.

Saturday afternoon music treats

Bonnie Langford – Puttin’ On The Ritz
Huge amounts of fun and footwork from a woman who amazingly looks pretty much the same now, nearly 20 years later.

Cassidy Janson – Nightbird Cries (from Cheri the Musical)
Gorgeous, just gorgeous.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Re-review: Urinetown, Apollo

“When a young girl has as many lines as I do, there’s still hope for dreams"

Though Urinetown’s run at the St James Theatre was very well-received (including here by yours truly), I have to profess to being a little surprised that a West End transfer was announced. The quirky nature of the show didn’t immediately seem to lend itself to one of the larger houses but without any mid-sized theatres in town, there’s no choice but to supersize when in reality, an extended run at the St James would have been ideal. It was sad to see the house so quiet for this midweek matinée and the run has now been shortened by a couple of weeks to allow My Night With Reg to move in so perhaps it was too hard a sell but Jamie Lloyd’s production certainly has much going for it. A few thoughts follow.

It’s nice to see a company supporting its own rather than parachuting in a ‘name’ for the sake of ticket sales and so Richard Fleeshman is replaced as the show’s hero Bobby Strong by Matthew Seadon-Young who has been there from the beginning. And likewise Julie Jupp and Alasdair Buchan will be stepping up to step into the shoes of Jenna Russell and Marc Elliott when they leave at the end of November – it’s a natural and brilliant progression route and it something that should definitely be encouraged. (Naturally the show isn’t immune to economic realities and so it is Phill Jupitus who will be coming in for Simon Paisley Day, an interesting choice but as I’ve never seen him on stage one I’m a little unsure about.)

Cast of Urinetown continued

Review: Twelfth Night, ETT at Richmond Theatre

“For women are as roses..."

It is seriously impressive how sparklingly fresh Jonathan Mumby has managed to make Twelfth Night in his production for English Touring Theatre which I caught at Richmond Theatre this week. The familiarity, even overfamiliarity, which many have with Shakespeare’s work means it can often be hard to get too excited about yet another production but Mumby’s work here has all the hallmarks of a successful and subtle reinvigoration.

Colin Richmond’s artfully distressed design and an original suite of songs from Grant Olding locate this version of Illyria in the folky fancies of Brian Protheroe’s Feste, a move which pays dividends in extending its oft-melancholy mood to all and sundry. So Hugh Ross’ Malvolio is more tragi than comic, a deep sadness apparent under the prickly exterior. Milo Twomey’s Aguecheek is a rueful soul indeed and Doña Croll’s Maria has a marvellous pragmatism.

Cast of Twelfth Night continued

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Re-review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy

“It's important to be artful”

Celebrating recent cast changes, both intentional (Bonnie Langford and Gary Wilmot in for Samantha Bond and John Marquez) and unexpected (Alex Gaumond hastily replacing Rufus Hound), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is approaching its one year anniversary in the West End with a renewed energy. And with the changing strengths of its leading players, it also feels like quite a different show, one which is well worth (re)visiting.

My original review can be read here and much of it still holds true. This isn’t the show to reinvent the musical form but nor is it trying to, rather it is a treat of the old-school variety as David Yazbek’s bouncy music and lyrics carries along Jeffrey Lane’s conman-based book on a ray of retro Riviera-infused sunshine. A wink to the audience here, meta-theatrical jokes there, a whole deal of hamminess from Robert Lindsay everywhere, this is a show that knows exactly what it is and revels in it.

Cast of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels continued

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Review: Macbeth, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre

“If it were done, when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly”

There’s something a little ironic about NYT’s assurance that this is the “only West End showing of Macbeth this autumn” when I will have seen 3 productions of the Scottish play this month. Sure, the muddy paths of Clapham Common and the dusty hall of the London Welsh Centre might fall a little short of the shabby chic of the Ambassadors Theatre but it is a clear indication of the enduring popularity of this programming choice which forms one third of a rep season which also includes Private Peaceful and a modern telling of Dorian Gray in Selfie.

And sure enough, Ed Hughes’ concise adaptation offers up the best of the bunch for the season, the bold thematic vision working well and releasing the play from any dusty RP connotations. From the outset as Grace Chilton borrows the spirit of Alan Cumming’s iconic Emcee to the haunting presence of Lady Macbeth’s ghost during a key moment, Hughes’ liberating attitude (he also directs) makes this a rapid-fire success which pays its own tribute to the WWI anniversary as well as crackling with youthful energy. 

Cast of Macbeth continued

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre

“The world doesn’t work in our favour”

Rufus Norris is set to take over the artistic directorship of the National Theatre in April next year but makes an admirably bold move in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Adapted by David Hare from the 2012 non-fiction work of the same name by Katherine Boo, who spent three years living, investigating and writing about life in the Indian slum of Annawadi which lies in the shadow of Mumbai airport, it’s sprawling and scrappy yet epic and enlightening as it elucidates something of what it means to be this far below the poverty line. It is rarely comfortable viewing but its unflinching and unsentimental approach feels essential.

Whether accurate or overemphasised, a strongly matriarchal societal structure emerges in this version of Annawadi as wives and mothers seize the initiative in the face of feckless husbands and sheer necessity. Which results in the pleasing preponderance of excellent female roles – Stephanie Street’s Sikh Asha is the fixer for the entire neighbourhood, putting work at the expense of even a special birthday party her kids have put on; Thusitha Jayasundera’s crippled Fatima is a cyclone of malevolent anger that dominates her household; and Meera Syal’s practical Zehrunisa looks set to secure her family’s future out of the slum with some canny deal-making.

Cast of Behind the Beautiful Forevers continued

Short Film Review #58 - The Joy of Six

The Joy of Six

Six short films packaged together on a handy single DVD and featuring some tip top actors, it's a wonder it's taken me this long to get round to watching it! I've added trailers and clips where I could find them, but I'd say the combined set is worth the investment if shorts are your thing.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Review: God Bless The Child, Royal Court

“What would you do differently next time Badger?" 

The first thing that strikes you as you enter the Royal Court’s upstairs space for God Bless The Child is the complete immersiveness of Chloe Lamford’s set design. It may sound clichéd but it really does feel like you’re stepping into a primary school classroom and the level of detail is so pitch-perfect, it isn’t long before you utterly forget where you are and get swept up in reading the various school projects on the wall and admiring the crayon-colouring of the flags of the world. It’s a great start to what emerges as a slyly subversive play that shows you're never too young to be a revolutionary. 

As with Vivienne Franzmann and Mogadishu, Molly Davies brings a wealth of teaching experience to her playwriting after many years in the job and in shows in the little details of its characters. The enthusiasm with which Ony Uhiara’s youthful Ms Newsome seizes on new teaching initiative Badger Do Best, the cautious eye on finances that Nikki Amuka-Bird’s head Ms Evitt maintains, the seen-it-all pragmatism of old-school teaching assistant Mrs Bradley, perfectly cast in Julie Hesmondhalgh. And as government-appointed educational Svengali, Amanda Abbington’s Sali Rayner has a chilling evangelical zeal. 

Cast of God Bless The Child continued

Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion

“Stay out of my sight cos you’re likely to light my fuse”

South of the river, Philip Ridley’s natural home is the Southwark Playhouse but up north, it is the Old Red Lion that has proved an ideal fit as a series of revivals there continues with Piranha Heights. The warped uniqueness of his apocalyptic worldview is well suited to the claustrophobic intimacy that can be generated in this Angel pub theatre, under the new artistic directorship of Stewart Pringle, and this D.E.M. Productions take on this 2008 play is no exception. 

There’s anger here, elemental fury that literally shakes the walls of Cécile Trémolières’ inventive set as the responsibilities that one generation owes to the next are explored and exploded, and repeated as the next ones come along. The impact of parental legacies – both emotional in the psychological damage they can inflict, and physical in the passing on of property and effects – make this a fantastical yet gripping theatrical experience under Max Barton’s direction. 

Review: Cheek By Jowl’s As You Like It, screening at Noël Coward Theatre

“One man in his time plays many parts”

Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of this particular production and the launch of The Sophie Hamilton Archive which chronicles over 30 years of their work, getting to attend a screening of Cheek By Jowl’s As You Like It was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday evening. Shown in the very Noël Coward Theatre (or Albery as was) where it was recorded, the event was made extra special by the attendance of the entire revival cast who proudly took their bows onstage at the end, in front of the film of them taking their bows on that same stage – a lovely moment.

Declan Donnellan’s original production dates back to 1991 and as pointed out by one of the speakers tonight, its cross-gender and colour-blind casting made and still makes it a most transformative piece of theatre and one with great foresight (even if sadly, messages about women taking on male roles still haven’t quite sunk in) in a pre-Propeller, Section 28-pasing age. What emerges as most pleasing is the utter lack of gimmick with no overarching conceit to justify the decisions here, starting simply with a troupe of identically dressed actors and the desire to tell a story.

Cast of As You Like It continued

Film Review: The Imitation Game

“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”

As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.

But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan.

Cast of The Imitation Game continued

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Saturday afternoon music treats

Madalena Alberto – Climbing Uphill (from The Last Five Years)
Accompanied by a cute anecdote about auditioning.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Review: Macbeth, Omnibus and Clapham Common

“Upon this blasted heath you stop our way”

Following handsome bearded men down shadowy paths has long been a vocation on Clapham Common but for the next couple of weeks, the entertainment being provided is of a more theatrical bent as the Omnibus presents a promenade production of the Scottish play which leads its audience on a journey both outside and in. It’s a canny, modernised take on Macbeth which makes inventive use of its locale to thrust us right in the midst of the action.

Whether huddled around a bonfire in the empty paddling pool, jammed into a crowded alleyway, guests at the banqueting table or spectators in the midst of hand-to-hand combat, Gemma Kerr’s production is more site-responsive than truly immersive and is the better for it, with less distraction from the bleakness of this world that has been created, where society is crumbling and the privations of long-running war are felt keenly by everyone.

Review: State Red, Hampstead Downstairs

“I’m a black man shooting other black man for a living”

Whoop whoop, that’s the sound of da police, or at least a whole lotta police-related drama at the Hampstead Theatre, both upstairs and down. In the main house, Roy Williams’ Wildefire is examining life in the Met from the street level whilst downstairs, Atiha Sen Gupta makes a long awaited return with State Red, another new play looking at institutionalised racism in the force (and society at large too) right up to the highest level of Police Commissioner and asks just how far we’d go in the name of family. 

White, living in Muswell Hill and in his 50s, it seems Richard is a shoo-in for the job. 36 years of service, a mixed marriage for the diversity card, schmoozing with all the right people, the only fly in the ointment is the return of his son Luke from a year AWOL after an incident at work. For he’s a copper too and after shooting a black unarmed teenager dead, has suffered something of a breakdown. With the inquest fast approaching, he’s threatening to smash through the party line with his own version of events even if doing so would ruin his father’s prospects.

Review: Private Peaceful, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre

“I’d shoot a rat because it might bite me, I’d shoot a rabbit because I can eat it. Why would I ever want to shoot a German? Never even met a German”

I’m not normally in the habit of reading reviews of shows before I see them but as I wasn’t sure I’d be going to the NYToGB’s Rep Season this year, I read up on the rather miserable day that many critics seem to have had on the press day for Selfie and Private Peaceful. You wonder if their feelings about one melded into the other or maybe they really just didn’t like what was on offer. Ever the contrarian, again I didn’t find it to be anywhere near as bad as made out.

It may be that this being my first experience of Simon Reade’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel helped here, the memory of the starkly effective one man version of the show clearly lingering strongly in the minds of many. But 2012 saw a film of the story released, again scripted by Reade, so the precedent for expanding the cast has hardly been set by the company here and as a bustling tale of life both before and during the First World War for the Peaceful brothers.

Cast of Private Peaceful continued

Review: Girls Like That, Unicorn

“And it wasn’t planned, but we all just turn away, like, turn our backs” 

The encroachment of social media and cyber-bullying into the classrooms and lives of young’uns today is proving to be fertile ground for writers as Evan Placey’s Girls Like That follows on from Kathy Rucker’s Crystal Springs in the late summer in exploring the ramifications of lawless behaviour in this uncharted territory. Placey’s play centres heavily in St Helen’s School, where the girls have known each other since the earliest days of primary, but such ties prove easily sundered when naked pictures start to be passed around digitally.

The boy gets away with it, he’s a real hottie and a stud in the making. But Scarlett isn’t so lucky, the girls she thought were her friends slut-shame her mercilessly, calling her a whore and worse, and relish the opportunity to make her life a misery. A company of six young women capture brilliantly the fierce energy of social groupings like these, the speed with which teasing becomes taunting, and the shifting power dynamics that exist within. This Friday morning performance was full of school parties and I wonder how much of it resonated with their own experiences…

Thursday, 13 November 2014

DVD Review: 4321

"You took my shopping and then you took my virginity" 

Oh lordy, I have no idea what Noel Clarke is like as a person but on this evidence he is in desperate need of someone to tell him ‘no son, no’. Having shown promise with his earlier work, sees Clarke moving onto what he sees as the next level , it just so happens that it is the next level down rather than up. A brash would-be comedy thriller that dreams so dreadfully of transatlantic success and yet comes off as exploitative try-hard, depressingly manipulative and a laughable vanity project. 

Even at its base, it is a disappointment. The structure of the film follows four young friends as they deal with a particularly hectic time involving some gangsters and a bag of conflict diamonds they’ve nicked. Clarke retells the story from each woman’s point of view, a tried and tested device, but one which is wasted here – the narratives are kept essentially separate with no sophisticated intersection or interplay in the storytelling that would actually justify the format. 

DVD Review: 1234

“Step one – learn three chords”

Those who know me will instantly recognise the main point of interest for me in this film (lovely lovely Kieran Bew who was lovely in a pub in Bath once) but it also stars Ian Bonar who holds a special place in my heart for being the first lead Tom Wells character I ever did see in Me, As A Penguin back in 2010. Sadly, neither could really save Giles Borg’s low-budget indie flick for me as 1234 fails to bring anything significant to the world of band movies.

The premise of the film is simply that an ill-matched group of 3 guys and a girl set up a band and that really is about it. But even within this simplicity which could have worked, there’s a paucity of believable characters with realistic relationships or any real sense of personal involvement as the writing is just so thin. So it becomes extremely hard to get invested in or even really care about the dilemmas the band finds themselves in and as that is all there is to the plot, the film is sunk from the outset.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Review: Selfie, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre

“Ugliness is unfortunate. Beauty is unforgivable”

Written and devised by Brad Birch along with the company of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain’s rep season (this is the second year they’ve ventured into the West End with a triple bill), Selfie is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray reimagined for the iPad generation. Transplanted from the whirl of Victorian bohemia to the vacuous poseurs of Hoxton’s hipsters, the portrait of this Dorian (here a woman) is captured digitally but in other respects, largely follows the downwards spiral of Wilde’s original. 

It is grindingly hard to care about Mountford, Shenton is grim and gruelling, Gardner has mediocre material – it is fair to say that Selfie didn’t really click with the critics but in all honesty, I couldn’t see quite what provoked such particular ire. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fair deal that doesn’t work – especially in relation to the source material – but that this company (made up of 18 to 25 year olds) is being empowered to devise theatre for West End audiences feels like something to be celebrated and if they’re not allowed to take risks now, then when? 

Cast of Selfie continued

Review: The Piano Man, New Diorama

“He couldn’t speak. But he could play Tchaikovsky”

You may or may not remember the case of The Piano Man, a dishevelled gentleman found washed up on the Kent coast who for four months was utterly silent, baffling those trying to help him rediscover who he was and what had happened to him. Opting to examine this story and to devise an original piece of theatre out of it, AllthePigs reflect and refract the events through a contemporary prism, finding their own route into the strange world of Andreas Grassl as he eventually turned out to be. Delving back into his recent personal history to suggest the impact a traumatic split with his boyfriend might have had on his emotional health, exploring the differing ways that the press and the medical establishment treated him whilst nothing was known, going off at a tangent to hear current thinking on how the brain works in relation to memory and identity, they come at the tale from all angles. 

Director Sam Carrack has done an excellent job in working the devised nature of the show into something more organically fluid, providing connective tissue for the constituent parts. Angelo Paragoso’s expressive movement work has a powerful impact when it pulls the whole company together to evoke feelings of helplessness and loss of control, but it is equally compelling when depicting the intimacy between Andreas and his lover. A neat parallel is drawn between being blinded with a surfeit of scientific terminology in a lecture about the brain and being overwhelmed by medical professionals all keen to solve the latest mystery. And scattered as these segments are, they rarely feel disjointed due to these criss-crossing links which bind them into an often beguiling piece of theatre which possesses a gentle but insistent power, even when it converses in German.

Women in theatre - October 2014

The headline figures

% of women in the 47 shows seen in October

Actors: 43%
Writers: 26%
Directors: 34%
Designers: 38%
Light: 16%
Sound: 16%

Number of shows with 50% or more women in the cast - 21 

With 50% or more women
Total Cast