Friday, 30 September 2016

Review: The We Plays, Hope

"Get me the fuck off this plane
Or allow me to remain humane"

Following on from the success of The Me Plays at the Old Red Lion and in/out (a feeling) here at the Hope earlier this year, Andrew Maddock's The We Plays reaffirms his status as an exciting new playwright and one with an innate appreciation of what a monologue can do. The We Plays is made up of two stories, with two directors, but united by Maddock's understanding of what it means to be young but not necessarily sorted in contemporary society.

Cyprus Sunsets reintroduces the character of Me, a young man larging it from the minute we walk into the room as he sets off on a trip to the Mediterranean island, loaded with far more significance than we might ever suspect; Irn Pru is told from the perspective of none other than Prucilla Elizabeth Ally McCoist a Wee Dash of Salt N'Pepa Leigh, a feisty Glaswegian battling a tough job market among various other demons that gradually reveal themselves.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Review: Floyd Collins, Wilton's Music Hall

"Do you feel the kind of grace inside the breeze?"

One of the joys of having this blog is the aide memoire aspect of it, the theatrical diary that it has become, allowing me to trace how my tastes have shifted. I say this in particular reference to Floyd Collins, a show I didn't much enjoy the first time I saw it at its 2012 production at the Southwark Playhouse and yet which on this revisit, four years later, I adored. 

A substantial part of it comes with the musical complexity of Adam Guettel's score, one I (still) think few people would fall in love with instantly, but also one which has repaid repeated listens and the breadth of performers yearning to sing his music (Audra McDonald, Kelli O'Hara...), incrementally convincing me of its worth and culminating in the gloriously revelatory sound of Tom Brady's band tucked away in the balcony of Wilton's Music Hall.

Cast of Floyd Collins continued

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Not-a-review: The Libertine, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You will not like me”

There's probably a German word for a play that opens with a self-fulfilling prophecy such as the one above, but even I wasn't expecting how true it would be for The Libertine. Moving into the Theatre Royal Haymarket after a run in Bath, I haven't been this bored by a play in quite some time. From Stephen Jeffrey's writing to Terry Johnson's direction to Dominic Cooper's lead performance, I found it all all just fearfully dull.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd December

Cast of The Libertine continued

Monday, 26 September 2016

Review: R and D, Hampstead Downstairs

"What on earth is a soul?"

As the development of artificial intelligence advances ever closer to Skynet territory, so too does the complexity of the ethical questions around it. And it is these moral tensions that Simon Vinnicombe's new play R and D focuses on - as science creates robots seem ever more human, capable even of independent thought, where do we draw the line? Or is it already too late, is Judgement Day already written in the future history books?

R and D begins innocuously, as these things always do. Scientist David offers to cheer his widowed writer brother Lewis up by offering him a £3 million job (as you do), merely spending time with a woman called April and reporting on their relationship. Trick is, she's one of the most sophisticated robots ever constructed and through her interactions with the emotionally compromised Lewis, the bounds of technological progress are messily, murkily exceeded.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 2

“You believe in laws but there are only lechers"

For
 some reason or other, I stopped watching the second series of Ripper Street midway through and it's taken me until now to finally finish it. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it, it's more likely to do with running out of time to watch it on the iPlayer or something but anyhoo, I've managed it now. My review of Series 1 (which I thoroughly appreciated) is over here and I have to say that that enjoyment has continued, even if I do have a few reservations about its female voices.

It's a shame that in a crime procedural led by three men, two of the leading supporting female characters did not return for this second series. DI Reid's wife and kind-of-mistress (Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu) are both MIA, losing all the work done to establish them, and though Leanne Best is introduced as a local politician who can't help but flirt with Reid (he's played by Matthew Macfadyen after all), the overall weight of the series does thus feel a little unbalanced.

Cast of Ripper Street Series 2 continued

Cast of Ripper Street Series 2 continued

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Review: Yerma, Young Vic

"We used to have a life. 
We have each other and my empty womb"

It's Yerma yes, but not as you know it. Australian auteur Simon Stone (best known in the UK for The Wild Duck but whose Medea in Amsterdam was just masterful) has revised, reshaped, rewritten Lorca's 1934 tragic poem into an all-too-contemporary lament that throbs with the painful intensity of Billie Piper's stunning performance here at the Young Vic.

Encased in a glass box, the audience in traverse (designer Lizzie Clachan doing some extraordinary work), Piper plays Her, a woman in her mid-30s with a successful career as a blogger (I KNOW!) and happily married to the slightly older John. As the societal narrative goes, they buy a house and then decide to start a family but despite the fecundity of those around them, they struggle to conceive.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Review: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Royal Court

"How much you think we're gonna be worth when Freedom comes?"

There is scheduled to be at least another six parts to Suzan-Lori Parks' ambitious play cycle but don't let that put you off, the three hours of Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) are well spent in exploring race, slavery and the US civil war and how its pernicious legacy permeates through even to contemporary (US) society. Jo Bonney's production is not always the easiest to watch but then how could it be, rather it seeks to provoke serious thought and consideration about what it meant - and what it still means - to be free.

To take on such a grand narrative and possibly to alleviate some of the intense seriousness, Parks has playfully borrowed from a range of storytelling techniques, most notably the Greeks, And through them establishes her interpretation of the African-American experience - the magpie nature of Emilio Sosa's costume design with details both period and present-day, reinforcing the continuing relevance of its message. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall

"We are worth your shillings"

Marking the first major concert presentation of the show in over 20 years, The Hired Man in concert saw Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s 1984 musical take over the elegant surroundings of Cadogan Hall, for a glorious evening celebrating one of the all-time greats of British musical theatre writing. With a boutique orchestra conducted by Andrew Linnie, an ensemble of over 20 singers and a lead cast of bona fide West End and Broadway stars, it was a powerfully effective treatment of the material.

The Hired Man is based on Bragg’s 1969 novel, part of his Cumbrian Trilogy, following the lives of labourer and miner John Tallentire and his wife Emily as they battle first the hardship of agricultural life in a fast-industrialising world and then the impact of the First World War on their whole community. And supporting it, Goodall’s music and lyrics draws on English folk tradition, as well as his own melodious style, to create a soulful, stirring score that lingers long in the mind with its hummability and heartbreak.

The Hired Man in concert cast continued

The Hired Man in concert cast continued

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10

"Come, sit on me"

The Taming of the Shrew

Christopher Haydon takes Eve Best and John Light over to the Villa Businello-Morassutti in Padua, to make me sure that the world is in need of a proper production of the Best/Light Shrew as they spar achingly, beautifully, with each other. Toby Frow's rambunctious 2012 production also comes up a treat with Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day equally impressing.



Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Music Review: Björk, Royal Albert Hall

"Moments of clarity are so rare
I better document this"

It takes something special to get me to a gig rather than a play these days, but Björk is that something special as I racked up my 8th time seeing her live in nearly 20 years of concert-going (here's reviews of number #6 and #7. This acoustic concert was billed as a one-off (though due to the speed with which it sold out, a second date at Hammersmith Apollo was added) and marked the first time that the Icelandic singer has taken the stage at this austerely beautiful venue.

The show coincided with the launch of the Björk Digital exhibition at Somerset House, featuring her groundbreaking forays into virtual reality videos but in contrast with the high tech there, this concert stripped things back to just strings. And for the heart-sore, emotionally bruising material of most recent album Vulnicura, this was a marriage made in heaven, the arrangements making you appreciate just how complex a composer she has matured into.

Review: Good Canary, Rose Kingston

“I can’t handle another book right now”

Quite the coup for the Rose Kingston this, not just in John Malkovich’s London debut as a director but in the English language premiere of Zach Helm’s 2006 play Good Canary. The two go hand in hand though, Malkovich having previously helmed its opening run in France (as Le Bon Canari) and then its subsequent production in Mexico (El Buen Canario), a clear affinity for the material bringing him back time and again.

The play is a hard-hitting, at times searing, examination of mental illness and how they intersect both with the creative process and the reality of being a woman in the contemporary USA. On top of the world after great notices for his first novel, Harry Lloyd’s Jack is mulling over a big bucks offer for the next but his wife Annie, Freya Mavor, is self-medicating her mental health with a hefty speed addiction and neither are clear what impact such a change might have on their lives.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #9

"Man is a giddy thing"




Much Ado About Nothing

Quite a bold gambit here, as Jessica Swale's Sicily-set scenes are interpolated with Jeremy Herrin's glorious 2011 production. And most glorious within that production, Eve Best's heart-breaking, life-affirming recounting of a star dancing is placed front and centre. So Katherine Parkinson and Samuel West are up against it a bit, swanning luxuriously but longfully around the Villa Ida in Messina, never too far from Best and Charles Edwards doing Beatrice and Benedick as well as they ever have been done.




Review: Dedication – Shakespeare and Southampton, Nuffield

“In the end, who knows what is true?"

Nuffield’s commissioning of new writing that is connected to the area has long been impressive (I still remember The Saints most fondly) and continues with Nick Dear’s new play Dedication – Shakespeare and Southampton, their contribution to the Shakespeare400 celebrations. The Southampton here though is Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, rather than the place and the subject of the play, a dramatised fantasia on what lengths to which their relationship might have entailed.

All we know for sure is that Shakespeare dedicated two narrative poems to him - Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece - and from these slim pickings, Dear imagines three competing, but not necessarily contradictory scenarios which are played out simultaneously. The patron in pursuit of artistic excellence or personal fame, the playwright seduced by the prospect of a bulging purse or simply the bulge in his pants. a pair of contemporaries locked together in swordplay or gay lovers dancing a pavane (great movement work from Siân Williams).

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

TV Review: National Treasure, Episode 1

"Is he supposed to be nice?"

Just a quickie to cover the first episode of this new Jack Thorne drama on Channel 4, and I'll review the series as a whole once all four episodes have aired. National Treasure takes its inspiration directly from Operation Yewtree and its revelations about the nefarious activities of veteran TV personages, to give us an exploration into how such a scandal could unfold, sweeping up everyone in its path and uncovering a painstakingly hidden past.

Robbie Coltrane takes the role of Paul Finchley, one half of a much-loved TV comedy duo, whose world is rocked by a historical accusation of rape. Placed under investigation by the police, his personal life is shaken, not least his marriage to Julie Walters and his shaky relationship with recovering addict daughter Andrea Riseborough. And once the news conveniently slips into the media, his professional life is also called into question as the number of accusations multiplies.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room

"Everyone is sensitive to something"

Given the amount of writing that Tennessee Williams produced - not a year goes past without a premiere of some new short play or other by him - it's no surprise that there's a good deal of his work that falls into the little-performed category. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one such play, written in 1976 and now revived at Notting Hill's Print Room, directed by Michael Oakley.

In a St Louis, Missouri apartment sometime in the 1930s, a group of women spend a sweltering Sunday preparing for a picnic, illuminating as Williams so often does, the precarious nature of women's place in society. All four are single but at different stages in their life and naturally it is the youngest - civics teacher Dorothea - who is the driving force, believing she has the most at stake.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National

"We should show life...as we see it in our dreams."

The Seagull may be the most ensemble-focused of the three plays that make up Young Chekhov but with the glorious Anna Chancellor appearing as the mercurial Arkadina - her star cachet getting her out of having to do either of the other two - the attention can't help but be drawn to her and her extraordinary stage presence.

This may be the most well-known of the Chekhov plays being presented here, it certainly deservedly emerges as the strongest, and so David Hare's freshened-up version has little of the heavy work it had to do with the others. Jonathan Kent's production places it at the end of the three-show day deliberately, it's where it sits chronologically and you really do get to see the maturation of the writer, his ability to develop his characters and themes more dramatically effectively.

Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National

“People think there’s something deep about despair. But there isn’t”

With Platonov failing to even make it onto the stage in his lifetime, Ivanov came to be Chekhov's professional debut as a playwright. As such, it bears many of the hallmarks of a writer still coming into his strengths - having identified what he wants to say to the world, he's still working out the most devastatingly effective way of doing it. The first time I saw Ivanov has the distinction of being one of the first times I ever really enjoyed a Chekhov play, seduced as I was by Kenneth Branagh's portrayal for the Donmar in the West End (which also had a little known actor called Tom Hiddleston in it...), 

I'd be lying if I said I could remember enough about Tom Stoppard's version to compare and contrast with David Hare's new adaptation here, but Geoffrey Streatfeild's interpretation of the title character does feel a little less of an outright cock. Don't get me wrong he's still a Grade-A tool (misogynist, anti-Semitic, serial cheat) and 'mid-life crisis' remains the pathetic catch-all excuse it ever has done, but there's a real sense of the depths of the black clouds of depression that lie over this Ivanov and the social pressures that has put him under that offer at least a little insight, if not outright sympathy, for his situation.

Cast of Ivanov continued

Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National

“Whatever you do, don’t rely on your own judgement. That’s the worst mistake you could make

Platonov
 wasn't performed in Chekhov's lifetime and even in this radically adapted version by David Hare, I'm not 100% sure that it works. You can see the attraction in terms of the Young Chekhov context - a trilogy of the Russian's early work - but for me, the main pleasure comes in seeing the benchmark from which his later genius advanced.

It's not for lack of trying from Jonathan Kent's production, lead by a sparkling performance of disreputable charisma from James McArdle as an unhappily married teacher intent on spreading his vodka-fuelled discontent through the bedsheets of most of the local community, not least Nina Sosanya's Anna and Olivia Vinall's Sofya, with little care for the impact of his actions.

Cast of Platonov continued

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Review: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National

"Fuck the singing, we’re just gonna go mental"

A hit in Edinburgh last summer and arriving at the National after a UK tour, National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre co-production Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is a riotous shot in the arm for musical theatre and all the better for it. An adaptation of a 1998 Alan Warner novel The Sopranos scripted by Lee Hall (he of Billy Elliot amongst others) and directed by Vicky Featherstone (she of the Royal Court), the remainder of the run is perilously close to selling out so I'd buy your ticket now and then come back and read the review!

Our Ladies is a convent school in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, and its choir are on their way to Edinburgh for a singing competition. But it is less Mendelssohn on their mind than "getting mental", as their concoctions of cocktails disguised in flasks and lemonade bottles attest and having got themselves booted out of the contest, proceed to do just that, with a view to returning to Oban to try their luck in their local club - The Mantrap - where, rumour has it, a crew of submariners have temporarily put down anchor.

Review: Husbands and Wives, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

"We don’t want to make a big thing about it"

Well it had to happen didn't it, a less than stellar piece of theatre in my revered Stadschouwburg in Amsterdam, but I take comfort from the fact that it wasn't Ivo directing... Instead it was Simon Stone returning to Toneelgroep Amsterdam after his scorching Medea in 2014, to present a version of Woody Allen's 1992 film Husband and Wives. I say a version, it's actually extraordinarily faithful to the film, to its detriment.

For though it is huge fun to see members of the Toneelgroep ensemble cutting loose on comedy for the first time, Allen's story doesn't contain too much real insight into love and marriage in the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first, and so cleaving as close to it as Rik van den Bos' adaptation does, it's hard not to see Husbands and Wives as a perplexing choice, both for the company and the director.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Royal Exchange

"I don't want realism, I want magic"

The thing is, if you're going into a Sarah Frankcom/Maxine Peake collaboration with any notion of it being traditional, then more fool you. The pair have worked together several times (notably on The Skriker and Hamlet) and are clearly interested in advancing their creative vision, undoubtedly a feminist one but equally excitingly, an utterly adventurous one. So to label their take on Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire gimmicky is reductive, to bemoan its lack of specificity narrow-minded, to characterise its colour-blind casting thus a fucking disgrace. FYI Cavendish, if the actress playing Stella had been white, they still wouldn't have been "related", it's called imagination.

Having got that off my chest, I should say that this is a remarkably intense Streetcar and it is one that requires dedication throughout its 3 hours+ running time, Frankcom's key conceit taking its time to play out as Peake charts Blanche DuBois' startling decline in the New Orleans abode of her sister Stella and her virile but violent husband Stanley. Uprooted from any over-riding sense of particular time and space, Fly Davis' design has a strangeness that takes some getting used to, its expressionistic flourishes framing some stunning imagery. And this increasingly hallucinatory atmosphere is played up by the presence of Creole figures that haunt Blanche, floating around the edge of her consciousness more and more as her anxieties increase.

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3

"Why would the devil be interested in you?"

And so the penny drops, John Logan's Penny Dreadful comes to an end after 3 highly atmospheric seasons of gothic drama, anchored by a sensational performance from Eva Green that ought to have been way more recognised that it was. It's taken me a little while to get round to watching the series after writing about the first episode so apologies for that, but sometimes, life (and summer holidays) just get in the way. Beware, spoilers will abound.

In some ways, the ending of Season 2 acted as a finale that really worked, the key characters left shell-shocked by what had befallen them and scattered across the globe, as manifested in a gloriously down-beat last half-hour of Episode 10. And so the main challenge of Season 3 was to find a way to reconnect their stories in a way that was at least thematically interesting, if not necessarily the most dramatically satisfying.

Cast of Penny Dreadful Season 3 continued

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Not-a-review: Dreamplay, Vaults

Taking a pass on this as due to the site-specific and promenade nature of the production, I think I heard about 25% of it, if I'm lucky. Cavernous, echoey spaces are not my friend, and constantly having to move in a large group meant it was impossible to locate myself in a good position to lip-read throughout, never mind the scene that was played out in the dark.. Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

Review: Torn, Royal Court

"What you don't know doesn't harm you"


Not for the first time, Ultz's design disarms you. You enter the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs to find it done up like a community centre, a circle of functional, grey plastic chairs in the middle of the room, a tea and coffee station off to the side. So begins Nathaniel Martello-White's new play Torn and as Adelle Leonce's Angel opens up the family meeting that she has called to work through some particularly pressing issues, you think you've got a handle on it.

You haven't. For though it is stripped back, Torn is a fantastically knotty and complex piece of writing: full of fragmented flashbacks; verbose, overlapping dialogue; actors switching characters, sometimes mid-scene. It's clear Martello-White has been using his time as a writer on attachment at the Royal Court well, for this is brave and ambitious work, both thoughtfully demanding and thought-provoking, it digs deep into the lengths families will go to to protect their own.

Review: If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You, Old Red Lion

"I don't want to find out it's fucked when I've committed to it not being fucked"

Aside from a corker of a title, John O'Donovan's If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You also marks a significant moment for the Old Red Lion as the first production to hail from its newly relaunched literary department. Aimed at further supporting both the development and staging of new writing, it has made an intriguing start with this rather delicately, and deceptively, meditative play. 

In a small town in the west of Ireland, Mikey and Casey are hiding out on the roof of the latter's family home. Hiding because they just raided a petrol station for a pathetic haul and having had a little more luck in relieving Casey's mother of a wodge of cash and his stepdad of his stash of cocaine, they've legged it from the police and now they're just waiting for them to leave so they can head on to a Halloween party.

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #8

A bit of an odds and sods collection this one, I wasn't much a fan of any of them tbh,

Julius Caesar from Villa dei Quintili, Rome



Sunday, 11 September 2016

Review: Strife, Minerva

"There is only one way of treating men, with the iron hand … yield one demand and they will take six"

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays is an interesting one, full of the sort of plays I wouldn't ever have chosen to see and so using it as a guide to stretching my theatrical viewing has been illustrative. Which is a roundabout way of saying the latest play I wouldn't necessarily have chosen for myself that I went to see was John Galsworthy's 1909 Strife at the Minerva in Chichester, incidentally marking Bertie Carvel's directorial debut.

Set around an industrial dispute at a Welsh tinplate works where a strike has been running for six months, Strife examines the stresses this places on all concerned. The workers, who don't have the support of their union; the board, who have travelled from London to thrash out a compromise; and the firebrand leaders of each faction who might not be so different as all that, each equally stubborn in refusing to budge from their position.

Cast of Strife continued

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Review: Two Short Plays About Gays, Hope

"This is the face of a man who shags rent boys"

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, and a whole lot more besides, Two Short Plays About Gays is a powerful evening at the Hope Theatre, blessed by a stunningly excoriating performance from Louise Jameson. For rather than short and sweet, it is bracing and bittersweet, both shorts written by Lesley Ross (also a lyricist whose work I've reviewed here - Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross) with a bruising sense of honesty and directed uncompromisingly by Nigel Fairs.

First up is Middle Aged Rent in which a gentleman d'un certain âge (Ross, performing as Gregory Ashton) recounts the experience of moving to London in the 1980s, his teenage self appearing onstage with him. The realities of leaving home as a young gay man, ostracised from his family and without any money, are presently frankly, the choices neither excused nor eulogised and crucially, they're told with dynamism as surprises - both cruel and comic - come his way.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Review: The Plough and the Stars, National

"Choke a chicken"

Gruelling Irish dramas seem to pop up with some regularity at the National and Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars is just the latest to test my patience. The play is considered O'Casey's masterpiece but given that I didn't last past the interval of Juno and the Paycock here a few years ago, I didn't enter the Lyttelton with the highest of expectations.

And nor did it meet them. Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin's revival may possess poignant resonance in marking the centenary of the crucial event it builds up to - the Easter Rising of 1916 - but it also feels like it takes a century to get round to it. A large ensemble populate the tenement building at the heart of the community featured here and they all get their chance to have their considerable say.

Cast of The Plough and the Stars continued

Review: Allegro, Southwark Playhouse

"We muffle all the undertones,
The minor blood-and-thunder tones;
The overtones are all we care to play"

Even Rodgers and Hammerstein can have a duff moment. Allegro is a rarity amongst their catalogue in that its 1947 debut was not the equal of the shows that they wrote before and after - you may have heard of them, Carousel and South Pacific... - and so has languished pretty much in obscurity ever since. But in these content-hungry, revisionist times, nothing lays untouched for too long and it is the expert hand of Thom Southerland who has brought us Allegro's European premiere to the Southwark Playhouse.

I reviewed the 2009 first complete recording of the show in the summer and was surprised at how musically strong it was (helped of course by a stellar cast) so was intrigued to see how the book played out alongside it. And for me, it is not too hard to see why this is a show that has collected dust rather than accolades on the shelf. Telling the life and times of an ordinary American Joe, called Joe, from birth to childhood (told by puppets, eeesh!) through to mid-life crisis but so ordinary is Joe, so everyday the details of his life, that it is hard to get too excited by it.

Cast of Allegro continued

Review: Vanities - The Musical, Trafalgar Studios 2

"All relationships rearrange"

In some ways, you can see why Vanities: the Musical has taken its time to make its way over the ocean since its 2008 premiere. Based on a 1976 play by Jack Heifner which follows the friendship of three young women from Texas over ten years - and for its time, a daring look at the changing role of women in society - Heifner's book for the musical extends the story to a fourth act and by at least another decade, but it is unevenly plotted and rather superficial.

The beauty of Racky Plews' production for Aria Entertainment though is that it takes all of this in its stride and in some pitch-perfect casting in the form of Lizzy Connolly, Ashleigh Gray and Lauren Samuels, imbues the material with a real sense of heart. So as Joanne, Kathy and Mary move from high school to college, to the personal and professional lives that they dreamed of and by which they are taken by surprise, we're totally drawn in by their performances.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Review: The Inn at Lydda, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

"Some things are better left out of the history books"

Have you heard the one where Jesus, the three wise men and Caligula walk into a pub? No? Well it is pretty much the set up for John Wolfson's curious new play The Inn at Lydda, at least once you've thrown John the Baptist and Tiberius Caesar in there as well. An eclectic bit of programming in the candlelit surroundings of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Wolfson has spun his tale from a tidbit in the New Testament Apocrypha and taken it to almost-farcical levels of comedy.

Ailing Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar has heard of a legendary healer over in Judea and so off he pops to be cured by him, only problem is we're in the days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Stopping off at a hostelry in the city of Lydda where this news filters through, their party bumps into Tiberius' lascivious great-nephew and heir Caligula, plus three weary travellers who have been waiting 33 years to reunite with a man who might just be hiding in a nearby cave.

Review: Acts of Defiance - The Festival, Theatre503

"I'm in a cop car
I got here by accident
I think"

Produced by Mama Quilla and Theatre503, Acts of Defiance is a multidisciplinary festival which is "an explosive examination of female dissidence and a shameless celebration of global female defiance". Film, spoken word, community-based work sit alongside a programme of six short plays, curated by Kay Adshead, which fold in a world of influences - feminism, diversity, sexuality, race, motherhood - to their tales of defiance, all accompanied to brilliant effect by Rosie Bergonzi's percussion, evoking both the freeing beauty of dancing in a gay club to the fear of being caught in urban nightmare with the beat of her drum.

Once the cast found their feet, opening playlet The Nightclub by Chloe Todd Fordham proved to be one of the most quietly affecting. Directed with graceful economy by Rachel Valentine Smith, the tales of three disparate American women - an 85 year old recent widow, a middle-aged mother estranged from her daughter, a young Muslim (Marlene Sidaway, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Karlina Grace-Paseda respectively) - all searching for something different yet fatefully entwined together.

Cast of Acts of Defiance continued

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Review: Ghost, New Wimbledon

"It really doesn't matter what comes after or before"

Where to begin... I was a big Girls Aloud fan back in the day and so I was definitely intrigued to see Sarah Harding onstage in this new touring version of Ghost. And being a Girls Aloud fan I'm allowed to be affectionately mocking of her as per this clip, which is far far removed from the opprobrium she has been facing since opening last week at the New Wimbledon. It's quite a shocking level of scathing criticism that has been levelled her way and one which speaks deeply of nothing less than societal misogyny.

For there is no denying that this is an embarrassingly bad production at the moment but the fact that she is shouldering the blame for it is hugely unfair. Director Bob Tomson and producer Bill Kenwright simply have to take the responsibility for putting something that just isn't ready on the stage and asking people to pay money to see it. I've seen dress rehearsals that were better than this and one can just cannot imagine the irresponsibility of the decision-making that led them to go ahead instead of delaying by a week or so. Money clearly rules.

Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi

"At least a rat ‘as got an excuse"

In the cut-throat world of the West End, introducing a new musical is an undoubted challenge so it is quite gratifying to see the backers of Bumblescratch going all out to make its mark with this gala concert launch. With merchandise available, a full-throttle social media campaign in train, and a top-notch cast and creative team making the most of their two week rehearsal period, there's certainly no lack of ambition here.

Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666, the show is told from the perspective of plague rat Melbourne Bumblescratch and the anthropomorphic nature of the musical should come as no surprise once you learn it was written by Robert J Sherman, who has both form of his own (Love Birds) and an impressive family history (A Spoonful of Sherman) to live up to when it comes to writing a tune or two.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Review: Counting Stars, Theatre Royal Stratford East

"How much are you worth?"

Hand on heart, how many British nightclub attendants have you ever seen? You know, the ones you usually try and avoid eye contact with in the toilets, with their trays of perfume and lollipops and a too-small pile of tips. Difficult as it may be to test, I'd argue that its precisely the kind of job that most would turn their nose up at, hence immigrant labour being sourced and exploited. And that is what is at the heart of Atiha Sen Gupta's scorching play Counting Stars, currently at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Tucked into a backstage area, Diego Pitarch's design places us right in the seat of the action, in the toilets of the Club Paradise in Woolwich, where Sophie and Abiodun are working a shift, hoping to later celebrate their one-year anniversary. Both Nigerian immigrants, they work a different cleaning job by day and return to Paradise each night, even if shockingly, they are paid absolutely nothing - their only money comes from those tips. See what I mean about being exploited.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Review: Home Chat, Finborough

"I've got to convince you of my complete innocence and I don't know how"

It's a mystery really, how a playwright as renowned as Noël Coward can have a play that few have heard of and even fewer have actually seen. But it's a genuine marvel that that play turns out to be a sparkling diamond, the Finborough once again coming up with the goods in exploring deep into the dustier realm of the literary canon. Home Chat has not been seen in the UK for nearly 90 years but on the evidence of Martin Parr's revelatory production here, you wouldn't be surprised to see it take it place alongside the more familiar of Coward's works that frequently pepper the repertoire.

Not least because it contains a corker of a female lead in the figure of Janet Ebony, a garrulous gutsy character who tosses contemporary notions of morality under the microscope and finds British society to be severely lacking. Home Chat begins with a train crash, wittily mounted here in miniature, but it's not the disaster that is the focus, rather the scandalous implications for its survivors. For it is revealed that Janet and her best friend Peter Chelsworth, who both escaped unscathed, were sharing a sleeping car and their family and friends back in Chelsea are simply outraged.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Review: The Burnt Part Boys, Park

"I watch women every Sunday tend a row of empty graves
Wives of men whose bodies never left company caves"

Another quickie as I continue to catch up with the openings I missed whilst on holiday. Receiving its European premiere here at the Park, The Burnt Part Boys continues the surprising number of musicals about mining (Floyd Collins alone would have scratched the itch, never mind Billy Elliot) and true to form, is musically really quite interesting. Chris Miller's score folds in bluegrass and folk influences as befits its West Virginia setting and is certainly the strongest part of the show.

Mariana Elder's book follows the impact of a tragic mining disaster on the hillside community of Pickaway - several men were killed and their bodies trapped underground but ten years later, news breaks that the mine is to be reopened, causing varied responses from the sons who lost their fathers. And particularly from brothers Pete and Jake, the former stealing some dynamite from his older sibling - now a miner himself - to force his own solution.