Thursday, 30 June 2016

Review: Strangers In Between, King’s Head

“I’m not gay. I’m not full blown gay. I’m just… in Sydney”

Even though it’s only just over a decade old, Tommy Murphy’s Strangers In Between already feels like a bit of a period piece. In a similar way to Beautiful Thing, it depicts a version of metropolitan gay life that has already – in many ways - been left behind by the fast-changing pace of our society. From Scruff to Grindr to the depths of the internet, being gay is just different these days.

Which is not to say that Strangers In Between is fatally dated, it just operates in a kind of pseudo-space. It’s set in the sketchy King’s Cross area of Sydney where 16-year-old Shane has run away to from his hometown of Goulburn and got himself a job in a bottlo (off-license). There, his boyish charms attract the attentions of customers such as the built Will and the older Peter, who help him to find his feet and eventually, to deal with the past he’s fled.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Review: The Truth, Wyndham's

"Don't play those games with me"

In these post-referendum times, there's something a little ironic in the whole-hearted manner withw which British theatre has embraced French playwright Florian Zeller. From The Father to The Mother and now to The Truth, from the Theatre Royal Bath to the heart of the West End, Zeller is clearly having un moment. A moment that has been extended by the Menier Chocolate Factory transferring their production of The Truth into the Wyndham's Theatre for the summer.

Less inventive and affecting as his other two plays that we've seen, The Truth is more of an outright comedy, almost farcical at times, as the affair between Michel and his best friend's wife Alice threatens to spiral out of control as his own wife seems to be getting closer to discovering what is going on, and who knows what Alice's husband knows. But as ever with Zeller, it's very difficult to ascertain exactly what we - or his characters - can believe, the truth is as slippery and unknowable as ever.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #5

“When we are born, we cry”

Entries #1, #2, #3 and #4 - and here's number 5. 

Actually taking Lear to the White Cliffs of Dover seems like a good enough reason to mount the entire Complete Walk project if you ask me, and director Bill Buckhurst doesn’t disappoint. Belaris Free Festival’s interpretation gets a wee whirl before we move to Kent where Kenneth Cranham’s disoriented monarch comes across powerfully in jerky jump-cuts and voiceover and then ultimately powerful soliloquy. Skipping to the end of the play, Joseph Marcell then takes on Lear for a sensationally powerful reunion with Zawe Ashton’s deeply considered Cordelia.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Review: The Suicide, National

“Everything was free”

A late jaunt to the National to The Suicide, Suhayla El-Bushra’s fiercely contemporary updating of Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 play, before it closed. Though I have to say I wasn’t entirely convinced by it, Nadia Fall’s production is visually hugely ambitious, retooled for the world of YouTubers and hipsters, but ultimately feeling as shallow as the societal trends that it is trying to satirise.

Javone Prince’s Sam Desai is long-term unemployed and newly bereft of benefits, so disillusioned with the world is he that he decides to top himself but when a film clip of him making that decision goes viral, he’s swept along for the ride as all of society try to co-opt him for their own ends. To publicise a café, to get a music deal, to highlight the lack of adequate mental health care.

Cast of The Suicide continued

Happy London Pride - paying tribute to Orlando and beyond

"Love, sweet, not just for some but for everyone"

It's no secret that Broadway cares but there's still something extremely touching about a community coming together to help others, especially when it feels close to home. However others want to spin it, the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was an attack on the LGBT+ community and that is something that is just chilling in its cold reality. But from such horror comes something positive too as people rally together to share love and support, solidarity and hope that no matter how dark it gets, we're never alone. 

In London, the LGBT+ community has the Pride in London Parade to spark the coming together over what will be a poignant weekend. And on Broadway, Broadway Records President Van Dean, SiriusXM Radio Host Seth Rudetsky and Producer James Wesley have pulled together a dream choir of amazing performers to record a charity single of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s 'What The World Needs Now Is Love' to benefit the Orlando LGBT+ community. Take a look at the video below (and be blown away by such luminaries as Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel and so many more) but I urge you to please buy a copy too, to support this very worthy cause.

Cast of #BroadwayforOrlando continued

Cast of #BroadwayforOrlando continued

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #4

"Come now, what masques"

With 37 films to work through and no need to do them all in one weekend as the Complete Walk was originally designed, I'm rather enjoying working my merry way through them at my own pace. First, second and third sets of film can be found here. 

Given how many Dreams I’ve seen this year, it’s a little surprising that A Midsummer Night’s Dream can still surprise me but such is the enduring beauty of the play. Nikki Amuka-Bird and David Caves take on Hippolyta and Theseus in the stately surrounding of Wilton House in the English countryside in Wiltshire, done with a romance here by Rebecca Gatward that is rarely seen these days. The flip to the brilliantly feisty pairing of John Light and Michelle Terry’s Oberon and Titania (from the 2013 Globe version which ranks as myall-time favourite) is vibrant, but it’s gorgeous to go back to the further developing of an unexpected tenderness between two characters who rarely receive it. A snippet of Pearce Quigley‘s Bottom is a bonus but it is Caves and Amuka-Bird who are the bees knees here.

Friday, 24 June 2016

CD Review: Nadim Naaman - Sides

"Livin' for the moment's rewards"

I did
 like Nadim Naaman's first album We All Want The Same but with its compositions stretching over a decade of Naaman's songwriting, it didn't quite have the cohesion to show off his emerging talents. For his second CD though, he's gone all-out to demonstrate the depths of both sides to him as a musician - opting for a double-length album, half the songs are musical theatre numbers which have received his own spin, and the other half are original songs written over the last year. Thus Sides reaches with larger ambition, and succeeds.

Naaman has a marvelous showman quality to his voice but it's beautiful to hear him bring out all the colours he can - the sense of building excitement in The Hunchback of Notre Dame's 'Out There', the driving, the driving swagger of The Fix's One, Two, Three complemented by its tenderly heartfelt break. A jaunty 'Moving Too Fast' sees him looking back to one of his first professional roles as The Last Five Years' Jamie whereas his current gig - Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera - is acknowledged with a startling but hugely effective Latin-inflected treatment of its title song, accompanied by the glorious richness of Celinde Schoenmaker's voice.

The 2015 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize
James McArdle
, for Platonov in Platonov (Chichester Festival Theatre)

Second prize
Elliot Barnes-Worrell
, for Straker in Man and Superman (National Theatre)
Third prize
Freddie Fox
, for Romeo in Romeo and Juliet (Sheffield Crucible)
Joel MacCormack, for Orestes in The Oresteia (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Ken Nwosu, for Silvius in As You Like It (National Theatre)
Jack Colgrave Hirst, for Clown in The Winter’s Tale (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company at the Garrick Theatre)
Joshua James, for Konstantin in The Seagull and Nikolai in Platonov (Chichester Festival Theatre)
Emily Barber, for Imogen in Cymbeline (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Jenny Rainsford, for Miss Prue in Love for Love (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Jessica Baglow, for Marina in Pericles (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Jessica Brown Findlay, for Elektra in Oresteia (Almeida Theatre and Trafalgar Studios)

Thursday, 23 June 2016

CD Review: As Long As I Have Music - the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould

"There's still music in the air..."

As Long As I Have Music - the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould is a new album showcasing the new musical theatre writing partnership of composer Eyles and lyricist Gould. Gould has been a prolific writer for some time now, as evidenced on his last CD Words Shared With Friends and whilst Eyles may be a newer composer, the pair have clearly found a rich vein of collaboration. The album features songs from two Eyles & Gould musicals - Stiles + Drewe Award finalist A Pebble for Aaron and The Wonderful Musician, a new musical-in-development based on the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale, with a smattering of other songs too to complete the collection. 

The brace of songs from The Wonderful Musician are both strong - Joe Sterling capturing a beautiful sense of optimistic innocence in the title track and Michael Riseley and Kayleigh McKnight soaring on 'Perfect Companion'. But it's the trio of tunes from A Pebble for Aaron that stand out. Kieran Brown's reflective 'The Flowers Have Faded', the raw anger of Keith Ramsay's 'I Want You To See You' and the aching pain of Shaun McCourt's 'Losing Him' are point towards a richly emotional and poignant musical that is touching even in these brief excerpts here. The marriage of longing melody and lyrical meaning works superbly well here. 

Review: Ross and Rachel, Battersea Arts Centre

"I'll be there for you..."

Can anyone of a certain generation (well, my generation) hear that Rembrandts theme song and not want to clap along, even if just mentally? Such is the depth of the cultural penetration that Friends managed over its decade of television dominance and then subsequent re-run overkill, that even someone who hasn't watched an episode of the comedy stands a chance of recognising the names Ross and Rachel. Which is partly why playwright James Fritz has so named his latest show.

A big hit in Edinburgh last summer, Ross and Rachel is now midway though a UK tour and its entire run at the Battersea Arts Centre. And it's not hard to see why - people may come because they've some affection to their Geller/Green memories but they'll be hooked by Molly Vevers' performance. Alone onstage, she gives us both sides of the story of a couple whose identities have been subsumed into one, their relationship - and the myths around it - having become bigger than either of them.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #3

“A lot of fighting ensues”

The Globe's Complete Walk is being released in dribs and drabs for all to see and given the helter-skelter busy-ness of a blogger's life, it's actually working out quite well in working my way through them slowly. Click on the links for the first lot and the second lot for read about them and head below for 

Dominic Dromgoole is one of the directors lucky enough to secure the same actor for his film as for the stage versions of the play – Jamie Parker took on Henry V to great acclaim in 2012, clips of which we see here, but there’s a special thrill in seeing him on the fields of Agincourt, chatting incognito with Joel MacCormack’s sceptical soldier. And the final shot, showing Agincourt for what it is today is subtly but beautifully done.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

"This revolt of thine is like another fall of man"

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn't newsworthy in and of itself but we don't and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles - the intrigue of Glenda Jackson's return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter's Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.

Insofar as Robert Hastie's modern-dress production has a conceit, it's of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell's Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role - and it's hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry's head. And from then, it's a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle's square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross' movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr.

Cast of Henry V continued

Review: BARBU, Spiegeltent London Wonderground

"Ma-gique, ma-gique, ma-gique..."

 Alfonse scored a big success with their iconic production Timber! and this summer, they're returning to entertain audiences on London's South Bank with their third - BARBU. They describe their show as a raucous and sexy cabaret and that pretty much hits the mark for this Québécois company as they combine circus tricks and magic tricks, beer-keg juggling and burlesque, acrobatics and audience participation (and alcohol too), the majority of which is delivered by bearded men and women (but mainly men) in their pants.

From roller-skaters pulling each other around by their beards to a man dressed as a glitterball whirling inside a Cyr wheel, the guys using one of their company as an actual skipping rope to human pyramids that seem to defy the laws of physics, the sheer amount of both skill and skills on display is a constant delight. Alain Francœur's direction keeps things constantly moving and each segment sufficiently compact that if, say, gob-smacking trampolining or juggling ain't your thing, it's soon over (although the latter really should be, the scarves and the cups are just genius).

Monday, 20 June 2016

Review: Wild, Hampstead

"You have no freedom, no choice, at the moment you don't even have a passport"

It's a truth universally acknowledged that Mike Bartlett is one of our finest contemporary writers and so it is pleasing to see that his new play Wild sees his reunite with creatives with whom he has had great success. Director James Macdonald was at the helm of the intense inter-relationships of Cock and designer Miriam Buether has reveled in transforming spaces such as the then-Cottesloe for Earthquakes in London and the Almeida for Game and both are on top form once again here.

At first glance, it might not look like Buether has done much to the Hampstead's main stage but you can rest assured that she'll have tipped the world on its axis by the end of the play, and what a fierce play it is. Bartlett has turned his gaze to the realm of information security as he imagines the experience of an Edward Snowden-like figure called Andrew who stuck two fingers up to the state by releasing sensitive data online. Sequestered in a Moscow hotel room on the run, he's left awaiting his fate. 

Competition - Win a pair of tickets to EUGENIUS! starring Warwick Davies

The wait is over…Eugenius, the eunique new musical is here! Playing for one night only at the London Palladium featuring an all-star cast led by Warwick Davis.

Come and be part of the world premiere concert performance at the London Palladium on 29th June 2016. With an incredible cast, led by Warwick Davis (Star Wars, Harry Potter) and a host of award-winning musical theatre names including the Olivier award winning David Bedella (In The Heights, Jerry Springer The Opera), Amy Lennox (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), Samuel Holmes (Mrs Henderson Presents, Spamalot), Summer Strallen (Top Hat, The Sound of Music) and narrated by comedian Marcus Brigstocke.

Eugenius is a classic love story between two kids – Eugene and Janey. She is mad on him, but he always has his head inside a comic book – so much so that he actually writes his own comic about a superhero. Against the odds, Eugene’s creations take him to Hollywood and he becomes the unlikely hero of his own intergalactic battle! With hit song after hit song and a brilliantly funny script, “Eugenius!” is the musical you’ve been waiting for, even if you don’t like traditional musicals!

Review: YOUARENOWHERE, LIFT 2016 at Shoreditch Town Hall

"The world happens, again and again and again"

You are now here or you are nowhere? Which is it? Does it matter? Has the amount of hype for this show torpedoed its chances with me? Will the fact I know there's a 'thing' to watch out for ruin it? Should I have booked for the beginning of the run instead? Does it matter? Are we allowed to talk about how hot Andrew Schneider is? He gets a bit sweaty but that's fine isn't it? Have I got any Robyn on my iPhone? Why is it that hearing rave reviews from certain people turns me off? Does it really matter? Does any of it?

Presented by LIFT, Shoreditch Town Hall and Gate Theatre, Schneider's YOUARENOWHERE arrived in East London for a brief week-long sojourn and preceded by such notices as those mentioned above, quickly became one of the hot tickets of the 2016 LIFT Festival. Which brings with it its own set of problems as I hate not being able to make up my own mind about something, hell it's one of the reasons I'm a blogger so that I can tell other people what to think!

Review: The Donkey Show, Proud Camden

"I'm gonna say hee, and you're gonna say haw"

So we hit my sixth different production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2016 with The Donkey Show - A Midsummer Night's Disco which is less Shakespeare than Shalamar, more Baccara than the Bard. Setting up shop for the summer in nightspot Proud Camden, Athens is thus swapped out for the more hedonistic locale of Club Oberon, where trapeze artists swing from the ceiling, fire breathers roam the stage and pole-dancing go-go boys take the place of fairies.

First created by Randy Weiner and Diane Paulus in 1999, the immersive nature of the production - audience members are encouraged to dance throughout, climbing on podiums optional, - proved a hit formula as disco classics replace iambic pentameter and aerial hoop work is substituted for characterisation. The reimagined and much-reduced story sees merry wanderers of the night Mia, Dmitri, Helen and Sander at the mercy of club hostess Lady Puck, a drag artiste on rollerskates, pushing pills left right and centre at the bidding of nefarious owner Oberon.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Review: Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse

"You're quite something, aren't you"

The Faction are probably best known for their repertory seasons, running over the early months of the last six years at the New Diorama, brightening up dark wintry nights with their inventive reimaginings of classical plays. Their tenure there has now come to an end though and so they're branching out to alternative venues and times of the year, popping up now at the Southwark Playhouse with a new version of Gorky's rarely-performed Vassa Zheleznova.

Adapted by Emily Juniper who has transported the play to a Liverpool in the midst of the dockers' strike of the mid-90s, Sian Polhill-Thomas' Vassa is the tough-as-nails head of a shipping company whose grip on power is slowly being loosened. The business belonged to her husband's family but he's long been busy failing to be a rock star, so it has been her guts and determination that has built the firm's success, but at some considerable personal cost and as crisis looms, things don't look to be getting any easier.

TV Review: Mum

"I feel as sad as the sisters of Lazarus"

A number of the reviews of the first episode of Mum (here's mine) were cautiously optimistic but commented that Stefan Golaszewski's writing wasn't really funny enough for a sitcom, or up to his previous TV show Him and Her. I hope that people persisted with it though, for it emerged as a simply beautiful piece of television, closer to a drama in the end than an outright comedy, and all the more affecting and effective for it.

In some ways, it's not that surprising that it wasn't a canned laughter kind of show - an actor of the stature of Lesley Manville, with her nearly 40 years of collaboration with Mike Leigh, wouldn't do that, would she (I guess My Family being the exception here...). Instead, what we got was a subtle meditation on how life continues after bereavement, working through the stages of grief and minutiae of life over the course of that tricky first year. Plus Manville ate a large crisp in one go, now you don't get that kind of quality just anywhere!

Cast of Mum continued

Friday, 17 June 2016

Review: Macbeth, New Wimbledon Studio

"Who could refrain that had a heart to love"

Theatre company Arrows & Traps came belatedly onto my radar with their rather stunning rendition of Anna Karenina earlier this year so I was keen to check out what they'd do next, which turned out to be Macbeth in the similar black box space of the New Wimbledon's Studio. Adapted and directed by Ross McGregor, this modern Macbeth continually builds on its interesting choices to deliver a final 10 minute sequence that is as achingly affecting as any version of the play I've ever seen.

And they are strong choices for the most part too. Arrows & Traps' commitment to gender equality sees them offer up a company that has 6 women to 5 men, casually flipping Duncan (Jean Apps) and Banquo (an excellently badass Becky Black) into female roles and having the witches double up as murderers and soldiers. In some ways its a small thing but in others, it still feels radical; as pointed out, majority-female fight scenes as those seen here are few and far between. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Review: Karagula, Styx

"He had no way of knowing it would get so out of control"

Full disclosure - I saw a preview of Karagula, one which lasted until 11pm and so you may rightly assume that it left me disgruntled. But I'm my own worst enemy sometimes, I'm not the biggest fan of Philip Ridley when he's erring on the fractured narrative side and I had been warned. But Radiant Vermin was so good, Mercury Fur shines brightly in the memory, and Ridley's own poetry had left me very well inclined towards him when news of this new production broke.

Mounted by D.E.M. Productions and PIGDOG in a location initially kept secret but now revealed as Styx, a converted ambulance station in Tottenham Hale, Karagula is a wildly ambitious thing, claiming to be one of the largest productions ever mounted Off-West-End. And in some ways, you can see it, the attention to detail in some of the costumes, the sheer sweep of the universes that it covers, the audacity of the satire attempted on dissolute Western behaviour patterns.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward

"A hundred thousand things to see"

Say Aladdin to most people across the world, and Disney would hope that the first thing that comes to mind is their 1992 animated film. In the UK though, the title is indelibly linked to pantomime and so it feels a little incongruous to have a major musical production of it opening in the middle of June. And whilst Casey Nicholaw's production hasn't stimped in any conceivable way when it comes to the look of the show (striking design from Bob Crowley), there's still a faintly hollow ring to the whole proceeding.

A big hit on Broadway, Aladdin has been pretty much replicated and transplanted into the Prince Edward. Which is good in terms of the undeniable quality of the Disney brand - the family-friendly ethos, the slickness of the design, the unexpected self-referential dips into other Disney musicals. And in the knowing performance of American Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie, there's a respectful homage to the character that Robin Williams brought to life so memorably on screen, which still carves its own identity too.

Cast of Aladdin continued

Cast of Aladdin continued

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Review: Kenny Morgan, Arcola

"Say what you like but there’s been a crime committed. More than one I should say–"

As Helen McCrory scorches the earth beneath her with a transcendental take on Hester Collyer, the lead part in Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, the time felt right to then take in Mike Poulton's Kenny Morgan. In this play, Poulton draws back the veil that society demanded Rattigan draw over his intended original subject, dramatising the real events that inspired the deep tragedy of his writing.

For Rattigan drew directly from his own life - a ten year relationship with a man named Kenny Morgan ended due to his lover's depression and as he ricocheted into a destructive new relationship, Rattigan had to look on helplessly as Morgan spiralled ever deeper into tragedy. At a time when both suicide and homosexuality were illegal, it is no wonder the playwright opted to code The Deep Blue Sea.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Review: Phaedra(s), LIFT 2016 at the Barbican

"Va-t’en fous le camp ne me touche pas ne me parle pas reste avec moi."

Funny story - I actually bought a ticket to see Phaedra(s) in Paris when it was first announced, such is the hold that Isabelle Huppert has over me. Naturally having done so, a few months later a short run at the Barbican was announced as part of LIFT 2016 and for once, I erred on the side of caution by opting not to head over to the Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe and waiting for its arrival in the UK (something I didn't do with Kings of War in Amsterdam...)

It probably helped that I had already made the trip to Paris to see Huppert once before, 2014's Les Fausses Confidences crossed that boundary and I'm glad, for though there was much to appreciate in Phaedra(s), it is extremely challenging too. Stretched over 3 hours 40 minutes with just the single interval, Krzysztof Warlikowski's multimedia-heavy production stitches together different versions of the story of Phaedra, the wife of Theseus who fell in love with her stepson Hippolytus, with predictably tragic consequences.

Review: This Much (or an act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage), Soho Theatre

"Put it away, someone might see!"

What does marriage equality really mean for gay relationships? A chance to just be like straight people, to perhaps repeat the patterns of our parents, or something more, something different. This tension is where John Fitzpatrick locates his play This Much (or an act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage), seen in Edinburgh last summer and now making its bow in the Soho Theatre's upstairs space.

And it's Gar doesn't know what he wants - living with his partner Anthony who keeps dropping hints about how many kids he wants (4) and how nice it would be to get hitched, and conducting a fling with online hook-up Albert who's more interested in the most daring place he can flash his cock. Caught between the two men, the stability of one and the sexual excitement of the other, Gar is forced to confront what he really wants from life.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace

"How is that even possible?!"

Well it's finally here, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 have landed at the Palace Theatre in a blaze of insane publicity and media coverage desperate for a touch of that JK Rowling magic to drive web traffic. In some ways, I'm no different (hence this post!) but in one crucial way I do have the advantage - I'm one of the lucky audience members who has now seen both shows, along with the one and only scene-stealing appearance of Sprocket the owl.

It's no secret that Rowling is asking people to #KeepTheSecrets and there's always an interesting tension about whether or not one should observe an embargo when you've paid for your ticket (a whole £10 per show too, we weren't going crazy!). So for now, I'm leaving you with this little collection of teasers about some of my favourite things from the show and be warned, they do increase in mild spoilerishness (mostly about staging, the final E is the one to avoid if you're not sure...forgive me JK!).

Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continued

Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continued

Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continued

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Review: The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios

"Any movie that is commercialised is necessarily a piece of shit"

Having had my fingers burned by Zach Braff, I steered clear of Matthew Perry, but the lure of Olivier-award-winning (for Beautiful) and 3-time fosterIAN award nominee Katie Brayben suckered me in for Jesse Eisenberg (combined with not having to pay for the ticket hehe, hurrah for other people's poor planning). The West End clearly has a tradition of proving a (too-welcoming) home for US actors with self-penned plays to put on and the latest to try their luck here is Eisenberg with The Spoils.

In some ways it's an unfair comparison, Braff and Perry were first-time playwrights and the air of vanity project was thus hard to shake off; The Spoils is Eisenberg's third play so he's at least a bit more committed to the cause. That said, for me, on this evidence I'd rate him much more as a actor than as a writer. At the heart of the play is the anti-heroic Ben (played by himself, natch), a gift of a role in terms of its compelling awfulness but ultimately a frustrating character to watch as there's little more to him than this one note.

Guest review: By The End Of Us, Southwark Playhouse

Due to a date with Helen McCrory, I wasn't able to make this show, but its premise was one that was sufficiently interesting to send a friend who is much more into video games than I am (my limit is pretty much Tetris...) So here is @merrychrissmyth's debut on There Ought To Be Clowns.

Video games and immersive theatre are something of a natural Venn diagram - manoeuvring around a world constructed entirely for your benefit. Block Stop’s latest production, By The End Of Us is a “Live Video Game: a video game performed by live actors, controlled by you”, with the action taking place simultaneously in The Little of the Southwark Playhouse and in what appear to be the Vaults of Waterloo Station. It’s an ambitious gambit, albeit not one that always pays off.

In the game, two protagonists are simultaneously playing at cross-purposes. The assassin, Mia Culper (say it out loud) is controlled by the Single Player, a sole audience member sequestered away from the auditorium. Sam, a security guard, is controlled by an electronic popular vote by the members of the audience. Mia must assassinate a target, Sam must prevent her from achieving her goal.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Review: The Deep Blue Sea, National

"My God, how I hate getting tangled up in other people's emotions."

For such a enduringly magnificent play and a lead part considered "one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama", it's then a little surprising (and sad) that it has been a good while since we've seen a major production of The Deep Blue Sea, especially given the number of Hamlets and Lears we continually get. 2011 saw Maxine Peake and Amanda Root take on Hester in Leeds and Chichester respectively but now, Helen McCrory stakes her claim as one of the finest living British actors in playing the part at the National Theatre. 

The production sees her reunite with director Carrie Cracknell after their striking Medea, and their collaboration similarly heightens the blistering emotion of the drama. Terence Rattigan's story of shattered lives in a shattered post-WWII society drew heavily on his own tumultuous romantic life, homosexual subtext thus coded into the tale of a woman unable to maintain the veneer of respectability to a judge she does not love, instead opting to plunge into the instability of an affair with a troubled former RAF pilot.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Review: The Go-Between, Apollo

"I had to forget..."

Although you'd be hard-pressed to notice, something other than Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's first preview happened in theatreland last night. New British musical The Go-Between opened and you can read my 4 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be found here.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 15th October

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Southwark Playhouse

"Is anyone here a purist?"

Have you ever had a recurring dream? Or Dream, as in A Midsummer Night's...? This marks production number 5 that I've seen this year, 6 if you're inclined to include Russell T Davies' TV adaptation from last week, but it is to this Shakespearean stalwart, albeit in a deconstructed take, that Go People and Glass Half Full have turned for their latest production.

We enter the Southwark Playhouse's Large space with no set, no costumes and a group of 7 unprepared actors with no obvious plan aside from to somehow perform this play with 17 characters. But we soon come to see that this is the most carefully constructed of omnishambles here, the text co-opts Act I, Scene ii - the Rude Mechanicals' first - to sort out its roll-call, before doubling back to deliver Act I, Scene i, and then pauses to allow the 'director' to run a Q&A session with the session about whether we miss Egeus or not.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Review: Odd Shaped Balls, Old Red Lion

"Finally, a piece of me made sense"

The narrative about the lack of out gay sportsmen and women has to be accompanied by an examination of the ways in which 'news' of sexuality is reported and received, especially in the social media age. And fortunately that's the focus of Richard D Sheridan's Odd Shaped Balls, first seen in Edinburgh last year and presented here in a reworked version by Plane Paper Theatre (who also delivered the excellent Don't Smoke in Bed at the Finborough earlier this year.)

James Hall is rugby team the Chiltern Colts' star player, spearheading their latest promotion to the top tier of the game. But with success comes increased exposure and as a media handler is brought in to help prevent the sweary faux pas for which Jimmy has become infamous, it soon becomes clear that there's more than just loose lips that he wants to keep under wraps. For though he's loved up with a girlfriend, he's also secretly intimately involved with a man.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Review: Minefield, LIFT 2016 at the Royal Court

"Somehow we understood each other"

Bringing together veterans from both the Argentine and British sides, Lola Arias' Minefield is a piercingly potent exploration of the 1982 Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas conflict. Now in their 50s, these six men - Lou Armour, David Jackson, Rubén Otero, Sukrim Rai, Gabriel Sagastume and Marcelo Vallejo - have worked with Arias to create a fascinating collage that blends fiction with fact, a documentary realness enhanced by a little dramatic flair.

As such, Minefield doesn't seek to retell the political narrative of this war, but rather reframe it in our minds as a collection of personal experiences, further refracted through the prism of theatremaking. This is apparent from the beginning, as each man reenacts their audition process live to camera, which is played out on Mariana Tirantte's striking cuboid set (video work by Martín Borini), their gentle humour soon giving way to recollections about their lives as military men. 

Review: Off The Kings Road, Jermyn Street

"I am so lonely..."

Academy Award-nominated stars are appearing in the unlikeliest of places off-West End at the moment, but the key is to work out the connection. Fatal Attraction's Anne Archer will soon be appearing at the Park in The Trial of Jane Fonda, which just happens to be written by her husband, and Jeff Bridges is now to be found at the Jermyn Street Theatre in Off The Kings Road, as a favour to his friend Neil Koenigsberg, a Hollywood publicist, manager, producer and first-time playwright.

To be clear, it's an "e-appearance" from Bridges, via the medium of pre-recorded Skype interactions but the point still holds, it's all about the connections. And you might wonder if those connections helped this production into theatres, for it isn't necessarily the strongest piece of writing from Koenigsberg. Even with a company of just five, Off The Kings Road is too filled with uninspired stock characters whose hackneyed dialogue give them little chance to escape stereotype.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Review: Everything by my side, LIFT 2016 at Crossrail Place

(c) Laura Limp
"There was a moment in time..."

The things we end up doing for theatre, like climbing into a bed in the middle of a busy footbridge in Canary Wharf for a good quarter of an hour... And not alone either, there was a woman in there too, I can't even remember the last time I was between the sheets with a member of the opposite sex! But such is the set-up for the Argentinian Fernando Rubio's Everything by my side, part of the 2016 London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), and what a subtly beautiful thing it is.

Seven double beds are lined up in the tunnel and in each one a storyteller awaits, as each member of our group is allocated a number and given the simple instructions - take off your shoes, get into bed, and remain silent. Once there, it's a most incongruous feeling, such close proximity with a complete stranger and the noise of commuters continuing to rush by. But slowly, as the whispered tale begins, as the storybook opens, an extraordinary sense of intimacy builds up.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National

"Something Greek sounds good"

It's the ideal isn't it, shipping off to a Greek island to escape grey clouds in June and point-settling about plus ones, and its what Charlotte and Theo have done in Alexi Kaye Campbell's new play Sunset at the Villa Thalia. He's a playwright seeking inspiration, she's an actress who loves him very much, and so they're renting a cottage on the idyllic isle of Skiathos. But the year is 1967, a momentous year in Greece's political history, and the American couple they've bumped into at the port aren't quite as benign as they might seem.

Harvey and June are swiftly invited over for drinks on the terrace and as tongues are loosened on the ouzo, we discover that he works for the US government in a shadowy role. With these heavy hints of the CIA, we discover what Kaye Campbell is up to as it was American intervention - in aid of stifling the threat of Soviet expansion - that arguably partly facilitated the military coup that's about to happen. And it's not just nations he's manipulating but the people around him, as he convinces Charlotte and Theo to buy the cottage from its desperate owners who are emigrating to Australia.