Saturday, 31 December 2016

12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror Christmas

"So thanks to you, some dork meets a girl, not much of a Christmas story..."

On the sixth day of Christmas, Black Mirror also gave to me...only bloody Jon Hamm!
Well this was a White Christmas but necessarily like the ones you used to know. Black Mirror's 2014 Christmas special saw writer Charlie Brooker go feature length and director Carl Tibbetts get crazy fortuitous as Jon Hamm just declared his love for the series and his interest in appearing in it one way or another, the result being this interlinked triptych of stories, combining as ever to chilling effect.

Hamm plays Matt, a man working in some unspecified remote location and sharing a cabin with Rafe Spall's Joe. They've been living together for five years without really communicating but this particular morning, Joe wakes up to Matt making Christmas dinner, determined to get the story of how he ended up in this isolated place. And sure enough, it is a tale of human exploitation of technological advancement.

Cast of White Christmas continued

12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror 2:3

"Sod 'name in lights', you're an app now my brother"

On the sixth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me...the always welcome Tobias Menzies
It's little surprise that Black Mirror returns to the world of politics in The Waldo Moment given how effectively it skewered its contemporary shallowness in The National Anthem. Here, the focus is larger than just the Prime Minister, centring on a protest vote movement that builds up around Waldo, a profane animated bear who interviews celebrities disarmingly in an Ali G-like manner. 

Waldo's latest victim is Tobias Menzies' insidious prospective Tory MP Liam Monroe and when an encounter between the pair goes viral, the powers-that-be behind the cartoon decide to enter him into the by-election. But the man who voices and plays Waldo via motion capture technology is far less convinced, failed comedian Jamie (Daniel Rigby) has no confidence in himself and as the public get thoroughly behind this new anti-establishment candidate, he finds it harder and harder to disentangle himself.

Friday, 30 December 2016

My 10 favourite shows of 2016

I started the year intending to see fewer shows than in 2015, when I made 304 visits to the theatre but somehow, I seem have crept up to 332 for 2016. The only consolation is that it is still some way off the high water mark of 2014...383. Anyway, here's my selection of the shows that made me sit up and sometimes stand up this year, the ones that truly stood out in a crowded diary and on whom I look back most fondly. (For reasons best known to myself, I've decided not to include my NY trip on here, on which case Hamilton would have been in first place, second place, third place etc etc...).


1 Mary Stuart

I always feel slightly guilty about putting a play I've seen in December on this list but Robert Icke's adaptation of Schiller's queen-off was pretty much everything I want from theatre. A director influenced by van Hove but making his own mark too, two of the best actors in the country in Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams, plus a company and creative team on fire. I went back the next week, got the same casting arrangement but still enjoyed it just as much, if not even more. If there's tickets left, for love of God book now!

2 Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

A titanic production by Dominic Cooke of August Wilson's classic, which set the tone for a superb year at the National Theatre, making a mockery of those who too easily decried the opening salvos of Rufus Norris' reign. Startling performances from O-T Fagbenle and Lucian Msamati kept the drama pinsharp, invaluable contributions from Sharon D Clarke as Ma Rainey herself kept it unpredictable, its racial commentary feels only too pertinent in the light of this tumultuous year. 

3 Minefield

Much of the LIFT 2016 programme was fascinating but Lola Arias' examination of what we ask of our armed forces was unexpectedly enlightening and thoroughly unmissable. Working with veterans from both sides of the 1982 Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas conflict, the melding of documentary theatre with something more, well, theatrical was piercingly strong and one of the most emotionally true things of the year.

4 Escaped Alone

So much of this production has etched itself onto my mind, I barely need to go and see it again when it returns to the Royal Court in January: "terrible rage", Miriam Buether's Jekyll and Hyde design, "terrible rage", that amazing cast, "terrible rage", Churchill's vivid imagery, "terrible rage".

5 A Raisin in the Sun

My first time seeing Lorraine Hansberry's masterpiece in an interpretation from Sheffield-based Eclipse and what a powerhouse of a play it is. I spent the journey home googling the amazing casts who have previously performed it but to my mind, the slightly ramshackle nature of this touring production suited it down to the ground perfectly.

6 Pink Mist

I described this as "as much dramatic poem as pure drama, a deeply lyrical response to the war on terror" and I can't think of any better way to reword it. A striking combination of powerful source materials, physical theatre, stunning design and a (if there's any justice) star-making lead performance from Phil Dunster.

7 Steel Magnolias

I was a little nervous seeing this as the film is so beloved and the previous stage adaptation didn't quite hit the mark but in the (literal) sweatbox intensity of the Hope in high summer, all the joy and tragedy of Robert Harling's tale came vibrantly to life. And given the intimacy of the space, it was brilliantly almost an immersive production, the company's laughter and tears at one with our own, it was all I could do not to embrace them and then get onstage for a shampoo and set.

8 The Grinning Man

This macabre Victor Hugo adaptation was a jewel in Bristol Old Vic's 250th anniversary celebrations and it must surely, surely, have future life whether in this theatre or another. Musically interesting, dramatically thrilling and altogether exhilarating, this was the kind of exciting musical theatre that makes me glad that I get myself out of London every now and then. 

9 Jess and Joe Forever

Achingly, delicately tender yet seriously committed to the sensitivities of its subject matter, Zoe Cooper's coming-of-age two-hander just blew me away. Derek Bond's nuanced direction of two deeply soulful performances from young actors Nicola Coughlan and Rhys Isaac-Jones made this a tear-soaked winner, I only wish I'd gone earlier in the run so I could have seen it again.

10 BU21

Another show returning in 2017, as it transfers to the Trafalgar Studios, and Stuart Slade's adventurous writing is certainly deserving of the wider attention it will get, examining the ways in which society responds to times of crisis, both in terms of those directly affected and those who have to join in via social media,

11-25

20 Yerma

And my least favourite shows...
Under new ownership, the St James will become The Other Palace next year as a home for new musical theatre and here's hoping it avoids anything as cringeworthy as Miss Atomic Bomb
No amount of drugs could induce me to go back to The Painkiller, an embarrassing throwback that formed part of Kenneth Branagh's residency at the Garrick 
A flawed take on Gatsby
Against the popular trend I know but I've never known as quickly that a comedy was not for me as The Comedy About A Bank Robbery
And last but by no means least, Bill Kenwright's most shameful hour in hanging Sarah Harding out to dry in Ghost

TV Review: Inside No. 9 - The Devil of Christmas

"They film Doctors in much the same way nowadays"


Just a quickie for this as I've never actually watched Inside No. 9 before, but enough people were making positive noises about its festive episode The Devil of Christmas that I found it hard to resist giving it a try, especially as it had Jessica Raine in the cast. And not knowing what to expect only added to the fun of a piece of television that revelled in wrong-footing its audience again and again.

Opening as a pastiche of 1970s Play for Todays as an English family arrive in an Austrian chalet for a skiing holiday, all plummy accents and stilted camera moves, the first rug pull comes with the arrival of a director's commentary over the top, arch remembrances and bloopers pointed out in real-time. And as the folktale horror of the story kicks in, based around the legend of Krampus, actual horror replaces it, more than once.

12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror 2:2

"How do you like it?"

On the fifth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me...justice. Rough justice.
White Bear feels like one of the sharpest, fiercest critics of the society we could become, or maybe that we are becoming, that Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror has given us thus far. Lenora Crichlow's Victoria wakes up disoriented and unable to remember anything about herself, the evidence at her feet suggesting she's just tried to take her own life. On leaving the house, people are around but don't respond to her cries for help, just stand there filming her on their mobile phones. Then a masked man appears and starts firing his shotgun at her...

Increasingly haunted by images of a young girl - her daughter? - and a man, Victoria flees her attacker with the help of a young couple Jem and Damien (Tuppence Middleton and Ian Bonar) who are also immune from whatever has taken over the majority of the population. And White Bear tracks their journey to try and stop the transmission of the signal that is causing this change. Yet there's so much more to the story which I don't want to reveal here, but rest assured it is another astonishingly assured entry into the Black Mirror canon.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 4


"You're not going down South?"

It's hard not to be a little disappointed with the fact that Series 4 of Last Tango in Halifax consists of only two episodes. But when the drama is of this good a quality, you can't begrudge Sally Wainwright taking her foot off the pedal here just a little (her Brontë Sister drama To Walk Invisible is also on over the festive period). And even with just 2 hours of television to play with, she still packs a lot in.

Still mourning the loss of Kate and adjusting to life as a single mother to Flora, Sarah Lancashire's Caroline uproots her family to the rural outskirts of Huddersfield as she's taken a new headship at a state school there. And newlywed Gillian is struggling with guilt of what she did to her new husband's brother, to whom she was also married. Meanwhile, Alan and Celia are sucked into the world of am-dram.

12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror 2:1

"She didn't know it was fake"

On the fourth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me...Hayley Atwell and a Humans protoype
Be Right Back, the first episode of Series 2 of Black Mirror, finds all sorts of interesting pre-echoes in Series 2 of Humans which has just finished airing this month on Channel 4. There, Carrie-Anne Moss' grieving scientist was looking at ways in which to effectively transfer the consciousness of her comatose daughter into the digital realm and here, Brooker imagines a possibility where the process has been exploited into something one can buy.

Hayley Atwell's Martha is devastated when her husband Ash, Domhnall Gleeson, is killed in a car crash in the remote area where they live, all the more so when she discovers she is pregnant. Lost in the throes of grief, an acquaintance - a brilliantly gobby Sinéad Matthews - offers to sign her up to something that will help her cope and Martha finds it impossible to resist. For it is an online service that collates the digital footprint of the deceased, their social media profiles and suchlike, to create a virtual replica of the deceased with whom you can 'communicate'.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The 2016 fosterIAN nominations

The end of year round-up continues with the acting performances that stood out for me, the ones that made me sit up, and sometimes stand up. As ever, I have used the label 'best', the categories should really be considered 'favourite' as that is what the fosterIANs (fos-tîr'ē-ən) are - my favourites. So please find below the 2016 fosterIAN award nominations, categories expanded to 7 nominees (and sometimes more!) because I am that indecisive, winners to be announced in the coming days. 

Best Actress in a Play
Uzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The Maids
Gemma Arterton, Nell Gwynn
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Juliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, The Tempest

Best Actor in a Play
Phil Dunster, Pink Mist
Paapa Essiedu, Hamlet
O-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Rhys Isaac-Jones, Jess and Joe Forever
Lucian Msamati, Amadeus

Lucian Msamati, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Danny Sapani, Les Blancs


Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Jade Anouka, The Tempest
Lizzy Connolly/Amanda Lawrence, Once in a Lifetime
Nadine Marshall, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Tanya Moodie, Hamlet
Sian Phillips, Les Blancs
Rachael Stirling, The Winter's Tale
Susan Wokoma, A Raisin In The Sun

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Anthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Rudi Dharmalingham, 
Mary Stuart
Nick Fletcher, The Deep Blue Sea
Jonjo O'Neill, Unreachable
Peter Polycarpou, Scenes from 68* Years
Alan Williams, Mary Stuart

Best Actress in a Musical
Samantha Barks, The Last 5 Years
Clare Burt, Flowers for Mrs Harris
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity
Cassidy Janson, Beautiful
Landi Oshinowo, I'm Getting My Act Together...
Jenna Russell, Grey Gardens

Best Actor in a Musical
Declan Bennett, Jesus Christ Superstar
Dex Lee, Grease
Louis Maskell, The Grinning Man
Hugh Maynard, Sweeney Todd
Ako Mitchell, Ragtime
Charlie Stemp, Half A Sixpence
Mark Umbers, She Loves Me

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Josie Benson, Sweet Charity
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Murder Ballad
Sheila Hancock, Grey Gardens
Rachel John, The Bodyguard
Katherine Kingsley, She Loves Me
Gloria Onitiri, 
The Grinning Man
Jennifer Saayeng, Ragtime

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Adam J Bernard, Dreamgirls
Julian Bleach, The Grinning Man
Daniel Crossley, Sweet Charity
Tyrone Huntley, Jesus Christ Superstar
Stuart Neal, 
The Grinning Man
Dominic Tighe, She Loves Me
Gary Tushaw, Ragtime

TV Review: The Witness for the Prosecution

"You're a liar, aren't you"


After the success of And Then There Were None last Christmas, it was most pleasing to see another Agatha Christie adaptation on the schedule for this year. And given how good The Witness for the Prosecution was, here's hoping that the BBC can persuade Sarah Phelps to make this a new annual tradition as it is proving to be a most fruitful creative enterprise, completely reinvigorating a genre that has arguably gotten a little too cosy, stale even.

Originally a Christie short story from 1925, later adapted into a courtroom-based play in 1953 (a version of which I saw a few years ago), the story revolves around the murder of wealthy femme d'un certain âge Emily French. The prime suspect is Leonard Vole, her lover, who we discover is a married man and who just happens to have been made the sole beneficiary of French's will. Vole's court case relies on the testimony of his wife Romaine but naturally, things prove not to be quite that simple.

12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror 1:3

"Sorry I go a bit weird and wonky sometimes"

On the third day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me...three cheating lovers
The Entire History of You is the final part of the first series of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror and finds itself somewhere in the middle of the preceding two episodes in terms of its sci-fi/reality interface. Here, future technology has advanced so that people have 'grains' implanted that record memories and allow them to played back whenever but the story it is used to tell is an all-too-familiar one of human jealousy.

Toby Keggell's Liam is an unhappy lawyer whose miserable state of mind after a difficult work appraisal leads him to suspect his wife, Jodie Whittaker's Ffion, of having an affair with a former lover called Jonas, a suave Tom Cullen. It played out eerily effectively, especially in the look on people's faces when 'recalling' but never really took flight into as superlative a piece of television as episodes one or two.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror 1:2

"Everything's just a bit wider apart"

On the second day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me...two lovelorn kids

Fifteen Million Merits takes place in a fiercely satirical version of our entertainment culture, where appearing on reality TV is king and everyone else is trapped in a factory-like environment where they must cycle for hours on end to generate all the electricity needed. Forced to watch inane crap on the screens that constantly surround them, their activities are frequently interrupted by adverts, just like on the Channel 4 player!

Daniel Kaluuya's Bing has inherited 15 million merits from his brother on his passing and decides to use them to enter Jessica Brown Findlay's Abi into Hot Shots, the X Factor-like show with a scarily vacuous Julia Davis and a sinister Cowell-a-like Rupert Everett. This is the only route out of their slave-like existence but sure enough, nothing is as simple as it seems and as ever, you have to be careful what you wish for.

Monday, 26 December 2016

9 of my top moments in a theatre in 2016

The end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances should be on their way soon, once the food coma has abated, but to tide you over, here's my list of 9 of my top moments in a theatre over 2016, the things that first come to mind when someone says 'what did you enjoy this year'. For reference, here's my 2015 list and 2014 list.

The 'arrival' of the Hope Theatre

I've been gazumped by The Stage in recognising this Islington fringe theatre for a stellar year but it is no more than Matthew Parker and his team there deserve. Over the course of 2016, intelligent and exciting programming has made the Hope into a must-see venue for me, no mean feat in a market already full of fringe venues and new ones opening every time you look up. From promoting new writing to astutely chosen revivals, scorchingly personal writing to themed seasons culminating in delightfully campy lesbian musicals, this theatre has been on fire all year long and has made me excited to see every single thing they put - and there's precious few places, large or small, that can say that.

Wizards and magic and owls, oh my

I'd have to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child again before deciding officially whether it is a great piece of drama or not, but there's no doubting that it is a stonking piece of theatre and the atmosphere at the very first shows was something quite amazing to be a part of, even from the back row of the balcony. The romantic sweep of Christine Jones' set and Steven Hoggett's movement, John Tiffany's endlessly imaginative direction and of course, the masterfully jaw-dropping effects from Jamie Harrison. It felt like something I'd never seen before and in the case of Sprocket the Owl, it was something no-one else saw either! 

(c) Stephen Cummiskey

Miriam Buether turning the world upside down

It's incredible that in the same month that I saw Harry Potter, a play at the Hampstead Theatre matched it for simply astounding set design. Miriam Buether's work on Wild was jaw-droppingly good and what I was particularly proud of on a personal level, was how I managed to reference it in plain sight in the review, yet still managing to avoid spoilers.
See also: opening in the same month, Bob Crowley's design for Aladdin was impressive against such stiff competition

The Hired Man brought to orchestral life

I knew the concert version of The Hired Man at Cadogan Hall would be good, but I wasn't prepared for just how emotional it would be. Hearing Jenna Russell and John Owen-Jones duetting on 'No Choir Of Angels' took me to the edge, being joined by Matthew Seadon-Young for the soaring 'If I Could' pushed me right over to leave me quietly sobbing for most of the interval.

Discovering Lorraine Hansberry, for myself

Before March this year, I'd never seen a Lorraine Hansberry play and seeing two in a month - Eclipse's touring A Raisin in the Sun and the National Theatre's Les Blancs - absolutely blew me away. Both will rank very highly in my end-of-year list but more than that, I enjoyed finding my own way into loving Hansberry's work. It's all very well being told someone is good (even when that someone is my mum, who has ranked Raisin... as one of her favourite plays for a while) but I much prefer forming these opinions for myself and now I can hand-on-heart agree that Hansberry's was a superb talent.

The glorious rise of Noma Dumezweni

There's something beautiful in seeing karmic justice being served, especially to an actor who you've admired for a goodly while. Noma Dumezweni may not have been a household name at the beginning of the year but the trifecta of stepping into the lead role of Linda at a moment's notice, making her directorial debut in I See You, and then nailing her inspired casting as the adult Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has seen her profile rise stratospherically. Most impressive of all the serene grace with which she has handled all manner of racist trolling on Twitter.

Finally getting 'Satisfied'

In a most rare example of restraint from myself, I had the Original Cast Recording of Hamilton for something like a year without listening to it, knowing that I would be doing my damnedest to see the show. And sure enough, with several months planning and the help of a generous birthday gift, I got to see the original cast live at the Richard Rodgers Theatre whereupon I experienced the absolute genius and glory of Renée Elise Goldsberry's 'Satisfied' completely unspoiled. Without exaggeration, one of the best moments of musical theatre ever written.
See also: getting to relive the sumptuous harmonies of Jessie Mueller, Kimiko Glenn and Keala Settle in 'A Soft Place To Land' from Waitress thanks to the wonder of Broadway cast recordings

(c) Pascal Victor

Isabelle Huppert being Isabelle Huppert

I'd argue that Isabelle Huppert is one of the finest actors in the world and what is particularly exciting about her is that she rarely takes easy, predictable decisions in her choice of collaborators and material. From films such as Elle to La Pianiste, she always provokes and so perhaps it was no surprise that a rare UK theatre appearance would be equally challenging. If anything got me through the nearly 4 hours of Phaedra(s), it was the undeniable electric star quality that she radiates, no matter what she's doing.
See also: getting to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart is always a pleasure, even if I had to suffer Pinter for the privilege

Holding the curtain in Derby 

A personal one here but one that still makes me chuckle. Back in March, I was invited to Derby Theatre to see the double bill of Look Back in Anger and response piece Jinny but the train I was booked on was cancelled. I got on the next one, knowing that time would be extremely tight, but I wasn't expecting that when I got to the station, the wonderful Heidi from Derby Theatre bundled me into her car along with Mark Lawson, Michael Coveney and some other bloke, drove us to the stage door, where we were rushed into the theatre where they had held the beginning of the performance for our arrival! Not bad for a two-bit blogger ;-)

12 Days of Christmas - Black Mirror 1:1


"Oh for...fucking internet"

On the first day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me...a politician fucking a pig.

Can Charlie Brooker ever have conceived that four years after The National Anthem aired, the theme of his first episode of Black Mirror would actually come horrifically to life as Lord Ashcroft's biography of David Cameron alluded to unsavoury acts with a pig's head.

Anthology series Black Mirror kicked off with an all-star cast in this episode, where the kidnapping of Lydia Wilson's popular Princess Susannah is followed by a YouTube video ransom demand, insisting that Rory Kinnear's PM, well, fuck a pig live on air. Downing Street try desperately to shut down all publicity but there's much wry amusement watching how ill-equipped they are to real with the realities of social media whipping up a news storm and just how much at mercy of the court of public opinion we all are once one's head pops up over the parapet.

Cast of The National Anthem continued

Friday, 23 December 2016

20 shows to look forward to in 2017

2017 is only just over a week away now and the reviewing diary is already filling up! All sorts of headline-grabbing West End shows have already been announced (The Glass Menagerie, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Don Juan In Soho, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia) and the National look to continue a sensational year with another (Twelfth Night, Consent, the heaven-sent Angels in America), so this list is looking a little further afield to the London fringe and some of the UK theatres I hope to get to throughout the year.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

After hearing Elizabeth Newman speak passionately on a panel discussion about women's theatre, I kinda have a big (intellectual) crush on her, so I'm very keen to see her tackle a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew of the classic Anne Bronte novel in a theatre that is very close to my heart.


Persuasion, Royal Exchange

Another literary adaptation in the North-West and another where the choice of director is instrumental in its inclusion here. Jeff James (La Musica) has worked closely with Ivo van Hove as an associate director and so the thought of what he might be cooking up for this world premiere of Jane Austen's novel is most exciting indeed.


3 Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Crucible

Described as a coming-of-age story with a twist, Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae's new musical is the last show in the final season of Daniel Evans' artistic directorship in Sheffield and true to form, it looks to be a brave and important piece, once again giving voice to those who aren't necessarily normally heard in this genre (cf: Flowers for Mrs Harris).


The Convert, Gate

Danai Gurira's Eclipsed was my play of the year in 2015 and so it's great to see her work returning to the Gate Theatre, exploring another piece of recent African history that will doubtless be once again uncompromisingly thought-provoking.


5 BU21, Trafalgar Studios,

I loved BU21 when it opened at Theatre503 last year so it is great to see Stuart Slade’s ingeniously inventive play getting a well-deserved transfer into the West End here. Set in the aftermath of a fictitious terrorist attack, it's disturbing and absolutely essential.

Narvik, HOME Manchester and then UK tour

A new play with songs by Lizzie Nunnery, inspired by tales from naval veterans and stories of her grandfather’s time in the Navy, this show comes courtesy of Box of Tricks, a company whose utterly beautiful Plastic Figurines ranked highly in my 2015 list. I won't be catching this until its final venue in the tour so look out for it in February and March.


He(art), Theatre N16

Andrew Maddock had a good year last year - his in/out (a feeling) and The We Plays both impressed at the Hope Theatre - and his latest looks like an interesting proposition too. It's playing at the Theatre N16 which, of course, is in Balham (right by the station).


a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), Royal Court

The talk may be about Jez Butterworth's latest selling out but for my money, a new debbie tucker green play is where the excitement lies in what looks to be a fascinating year ahead at the Royal Court.


good dog, Watford Palace and then UK tour

Arinzé Kene's return to writing with this tiata fahodzi production is sure to be one not to miss as he tackles the realities of growing up in a multi-cultural society.


10 I Capture the Castle, Watford Palace and Bolton Octagon

Dodie Smith's novel is a rather lovely thing so the idea of its eccentric Englishness being captured in a musical is one that certainly appeals. Book and lyrics are by Teresa Howard, music is by Steven Edis and Brigid Larmour directs.


11 Obsession, Barbican

I know I said I'd try to keep off the beaten track with this list but Jude Law guesting with Toneelgroep Amsterdam? Er yes please!!!


12 Hamlet, Almeida

Similarly - Andrew Scott and Robert Icke! Plus Juliet Stevenson not budging from where she is just now.


13 Holding The Man, Brockley Jack

I saw this play not knowing a thing about it back in 2010 and no word of a lie, I wept in my seat until the Trafalgar Studios had pretty much emptied. So this production doesn't have too much to live up to, honest, aside from being one of the best gay plays I've ever seen.


14 We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary, Albany

Keeping things queer, Inky Cloak's new show looks like another vital piece of LGBT+ theatremaking, spotlighting the crucial importance of queer spaces and highlighting why club culture matters on a political, emotional and human rights level at the very time when it appears to be most under threat in an ever-gentrifying London.


15 An Octoroon, Orange Tree

I don't know too much about this Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play aside from some people getting very excited about it and the fact that director Ned Bennett has the kind of exciting mind to make it unforgettable one way or the other.


16 The Wild Party, The Other Palace

In his infinite wisdom, The Lloyd-Webber has decided to rename St James Theatre as The Other Palace but the more interesting thing about his takeover of the venue is its focus on musical theatre. Its opening season begins with this Michael John LaChiusa piece which has been cast amazingly to the hilt, a must-see if only for Donna McKechnie.

17 Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre,

This Fringe First Award winning production, written by Richard March and Katie Bonna, combines drama and poetry, rhythm and rhyme in a laugh-a-minute exploration of modern romance but has caught my eye due to its winning cast of Felix Scott and Ayesha Antoine who ought to make a most charming couple indeed.


18 Cyrano, New Vic and then touring nationally

Another mention for Deborah McAndrew here with this new adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s romantic comedy Cyrano de Bergerac, which is the first of three productions Northern Broadsides will be staging to celebrate its 25th anniversary year. Adapting the verse freely to ape the vigorous swashbuckling of the musketeers, this shows a good nose for good drama.


19 The New Nigerians, Arcola

Written by Hackney-born writer Oladipo Agboluaje and directed by Rosamunde Hutt, this world premiere of a gripping tale of conflict and compromise, setting the scene for a political revolution in 21st century Nigeria is an exciting piece of programming as part of the Arcola's Revolution season.


20 Junkyard, Bristol Old Vic, Clwyd Theatre Cymru and Rose Kingston

A Headlong musical? Sure! Especially when it has been written by Jack Thorne.




Thursday, 22 December 2016

Review: Art, Old Vic

"I just wanted an enjoyable evening"


As someone who considers themselves otherwise rather culturally inclined, I always feel a bit sheepish admitting that I don't much care for art. Going around a gallery with other people all around and pretending to know what is good about this painting or that is just not my bag, although I did spend an enjoyable couple of hours at the Rijksmuseum last week, on my own and with their app providing commentary on a recommended tour of the highlights, so perhaps there's hope for me yet.

Which is all a prelude to saying that the idea of Yasmin Reza's Art never appealed to me during its previous stays in the West End, and that even tripping along to the Old Vic for this new revival marking the twentieth anniversary of the play was something of a reluctant stretch. But go I did, to see Matthew Warchus resurrect his original production in the theatre where he is now artistic director, reuniting his creative team with a new cast of Rufus Sewell, Paul Ritter and Tim Key.

Review: After October, Finborough


"Listen: things will be different after the play comes on – completely different… Only a few more weeks, Francie, and you’ll see. Your whole life will change. I promise you it will"

Managed to sneak into After October at the Finborough  in its final week due to several people raving about it and glad I did, for it was a Christmas cracker. Rodney Ackland's Before The Party was an under-rated triumph at the Almeida a few years ago so I don't know why I didn't book in for this earlier on. But pleasing to see it has had such a successful run, a well-deserved airing for an under-served writer and a continuation of the Finborough's extraordinarily reliable track record of unearthing real gems from neglect (this is the first London revival of the play since its debut in 1936).

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 22nd December

DVD Review: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3

"You can't put a price on avoiding deep vein thrombosis"

I sat down to watch the new episodes of Last Tango in Halifax on the iPlayer but only as it started, did I realise that I had somehow neglected to watch Series 3 when it aired a couple of years ago. So having tracked it down, I indulged in a good old binge of quality Sally Wainwright drama. I loved Series 1 and Series 2 but in the final analysis, found this third season to be a little disappointing by comparison.

Since we're more than two years down the line now, I think I can safely discuss the main reason for this - the killing-off of Nina Sosanya's Kate in an unexpected incident of Dead Lesbian Syndrome. It was a high value example of the trope as well, considering it happened on the day after her wedding to Sarah Lancashire's Caroline and whilst she was heavily pregnant with the child they intended to raise together.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Review: Saint Joan, Donmar

"Must a Christ perish in every age to save those that have no imagination"

This
 is Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan but very much via Josie Rourke, as the medieval piety of the pre-show entertainment gives way to the uber-modernity of this interpretation with the opening flourish of a tablecloth being whipped away (more impressive than it sounds!). The gods being worshipped here are high finance and business as scenes are set in companies like Vaucouleur Commodities Brokerage and Dauphin Holdings, Evan Davies and Bloomberg news tickers give us regular updates and it is in the midst of all this that Gemma Arterton's Joan arrives, the sole figure in period dress.

Dealing with an amusing take on the egg crisis of the first scene, and using Skype to correctly identify Fisayo Akinade's spoiled manchild heir of a Dauphin in the next, the modern take is clever but there's a strange tension that never quite resolves. The text has been cut but not completely modernised, so talk of battles and forts sit alongside the rise and fall of stocks and shares and it doesn't settle into an interpretation that didn't leave me going 'you what now' until it starts to play the drama straight as in the English plot to bring about the downfall of the woman uniting the French against them.

Review: De Meiden, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam

"Alles terug"

The class struggle is an innate part of Jean Genet's The Maids but the mark of many a good drama that has endured for several decades is its ability to handle new interpretations by the directors who seek to revive them. Jamie Lloyd refracted the play through the lens of American racial politics for his visually striking production at the Trafalgar Studios earlier this year and ever the iconoclast, Katie Mitchell, making her directorial debut at Toneelgroep Amsterdam, chooses to put a migrant labour spin on her more naturalistic version.

So sisters Claire and Solange here are middle-aged Polish women - underpaid, underappreciated and in at least one case, really quite ill - who have found work keeping house for Madame, or rather keeping her super-luxe apartment. The relationship is a complex one though as we see them passing the time by enacting and re-enacting the ritualistic murder of their employer, raging against the system in the only way that they can - in secret, in private, away from the eyes of a Western society that doesn't really give a fuck when it is oppressing. 

Review: De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

"Samenleven met jou... maakt me minder eenzaam. Het is de enige mogelijkheid te vergeten dat we langzaam afsterven"

Honestly
, just look at the photos below, there are just no words to describe how stunning the creative vision of Ivo van Hove, Jan Versweyweld and the rest of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam crew is (co-producing here with Toneelhuis and the Ruhrtriënnale). At a point where I was a little worried that there might be a little van Hove overkill going on (London theatregoers currently have the choice of Hedda Gabler and/or Lazarus), De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan (The Things That Pass) served as the perfect reminder that only a fool would take him for granted in the stunning way that he brings theatre to life.

De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan is an adaptation of a Louis Couperus novel, a Dutch writer from the turn of the last century whose work appears to be undergoing a Rattigan-like re-invigoration as its extraordinary psychological acuity is being rescued from the previously dusty image it has been saddled with. An epic family story, it probes into the legacy of Dutch colonial times and the way in which unresolved bad deeds can infect generation after generation to pernicious effect, depicting the atomisation of the nuclear family long before it became the norm that it is today, something reflected in the austere timeless beauty of Versweyveld's design.

Cast of De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan continued

Review: De Andere Stem, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam

"Ik ben misschien de enige die jou kan troosten, maar ik ben de laatste die je kan helpen"

Jean
 Cocteau's 1930 monologue La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice) has been a part of Toneelgroep Amsterdam's repertoire for a few years now, though sadly I've not been able to fit it into any my trips there, What I could schedule though was De Andere Stem (The Other Voice), a response piece written by Ramsey Nasr and so I booked myself in, despite not actually having seen what it was responding to!

La Voix Humaine takes the form of a telephone call in which we hear an unnamed woman talk to an ex whom she is barely over, a relationship still invested with huge emotion and what Nasr does in De Andere Stem is to imagine the other side of the conversation, what kind of man could evoke such passion in someone, what might he have done. Directed by Ivo van Hove, it is ferociously intense, very much of a piece with Song From Far Away which played at the Young Vic last year.

Review: Anything Goes, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

"If love affairs you like. 
With young bears you like. 
Well, nobody will oppose!"

Last year's Christmas musical at Highgate's Upstairs at the Gatehouse - Legally Blonde - was a break from recent tradition which has seen them lovingly recreate classic Broadway musicals like Guys and Dolls, Crazy For You and Singin' in the Rain in miniature. Though smaller in scale, Ovation's productions have never been lacking in ambition and so I was most pleased indeed to see Cole Porter's Anything Goes on the slate for this festive season.

And as per usual, John Plews' distillation of the 1934 show is a thrill from start to finish, slickly directed in its traverse staging which allows both for a practical paciness and a real fluidity of movement, especially in the cleverly constructed choreography of Chris Whittaker. With plenty of tap, a whole deal of razzmatazz and some absolute corkers of a song ('You're The Top', 'I Get A Kick Out Of You', 'Blow Gabriel Blow'), it's near song and dance heaven,

Cast of Anything Goes continued

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Review: Jingle Bell Christmas, Royal Albert Hall

"With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings"

Just a quickie for this slice of Christmas party fun at the Royal Albert Hall. Never having been to one of these before, and so not realising quite what a tradition it is for some people as witnessed by the level of tinsel, fairy lights, and light-up Christmas jumpers and hats on display, Jingle Bell Christmas was an unexpected delight in its unashamedly retro way. A concert made up of Christmas pop hits from yore, plus the inevitable Mariah Carey, its non-stop festivity proved pretty much impossible to resist.

An energetic John Rigby conducted the London Concert Orchestra and vocal ensemble Capital Voices to great effect in this iconic venue, and there was something rather wonderful about being inside the Royal Albert Hall in party mood. The times I've been, like for Björk, Follies, even a Christmas carol concert six years ago, have always been more serious affairs and so it was just nice to be in there with such an informal, and fun, atmosphere for once, something akin to what the last night of the Proms might feel like.