Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dispatches from the Vaults #3

"Did you not learn anything?"

Henry Carpenter's The Quentin Dentin Show was a deserved Edinburgh whose late night charm transferred well to the late night slot at the Above the Arts Theatre last year, so it makes sense that his new musical, Summer Nights in Space, billed as a sequel in spirit if not in content, has opened as part of The Vaults festival. But where I was seduced by the random insanity of its predecessor, this new sci-fi musical still feels like a work-in-progress with work still to be done.

All John Spartan has ever wanted to do is go to outer space but like many a man with an obsession, this dedication has come at a cost to his friendships and marriage as he finds himself packed off on a solo mission, which ultimately isn't at all what it seems. Matthew Jacobs Morgan's space traveller is thus left to carry a huge amount of the show by himself and sadly, Carpenter's book just doesn't give him enough material to sell it as a dynamic one-man-show.

(c) Lidia Crisifulli

The 17th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards winners in full

Here's the full list of the 17th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards winners. No real surprises here, there rarely is with these awards voted for by the public but it is nice to see a real spread across the musicals categories rather than one show dominating as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child does with the plays. And we'll just ignore the leniency with the deadlines that meant Dreamgirls was able to sneak in despite having only played a handful of previews by the time nominations closed...congrats to all the winners and nominees.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Radisson Blu Edwardian
Ian Hallard for The Boys in the Band
Ian McKellen for No Man's Land
Jamie Parker for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Kenneth Branagh for The Entertainer
Ralph Fiennes for Richard III

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Live at Zédel 
Billie Piper for Yerma WINNER 
Helen McCrory for The Deep Blue Sea
Lily James for Romeo and Juliet
Michelle Terry for Henry V
Pixie Lott for Breakfast at Tiffany's

Best Actor in a Musical, sponsored by The Umbrella Rooms
Andy Karl for Groundhog Day
Charlie Stemp for Half a Sixpence WINNER 
Michael C Hall for Lazarus
Michael Xavier for Sunset Boulevard
Ramin Karimloo for Murder Ballad

Best Actress in a Musical, sponsored by The Hippodrome Casino 
Amber Riley for Dreamgirls WINNER
Carrie Hope Fletcher for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Devon-Elise Johnson for Half a Sixpence
Glenn Close for Sunset Boulevard
Sheridan Smith for Funny Girl

Best Supporting Actor in a Play 
Anthony Boyle for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Derek Jacobi for Romeo and Juliet
Freddie Fox for Travesties
Jonjo O'Neill for Unreachable
Paul Thornley for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Best Supporting Actress in a Play, sponsored by Tonic Theatre 
Jenna Russell for Doctor Faustus
Meera Syal for Romeo and Juliet
Noma Dumezweni for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Poppy Miller for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Vanessa Redgrave for Richard III

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical, sponsored by Encore Radio 
Adam J Bernard for Dreamgirls
Ian Bartholomew for Half a Sixpence
Joel Montague for Funny Girl
Trevor Dion Nicholas for Disney's Aladdin WINNER 
Tyrone Huntley for Jesus Christ Superstar

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, sponsored by Newman Displays 
Amy Lennox for Lazarus
Emma Williams for Half a Sixpence WINNER 
Rebecca Trehearn for Show Boat
Sophia Anne Caruso for Lazarus
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt for Murder Ballad

Best New Play, sponsored by JHI Marketing 
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery
The Flick
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures or iHo
The Mother

Best New Musical, sponsored by Shine Creative Solutions
Disney's Aladdin
Groundhog Day
Half a Sixpence
School of Rock WINNER

Best Play Revival 
The Boys in the Band
The Deep Blue Sea
The Dresser
No Man's Land WINNER

Best Musical Revival, sponsored by R&H Theatricals Europe 
Funny Girl WINNER 
Jesus Christ Superstar
Show Boat
Sunset Boulevard

Best Direction 
Casey Nicholaw for Disney's Aladdin
John Tiffany for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Matthew Warchus for Groundhog Day
Michael Mayer for Funny Girl
Rachel Kavanaugh for Half a Sixpence

Best Choreography, sponsored by Encore Radio 
Andrew Wright for Half a Sixpence WINNER
Casey Nicholaw for Disney's Aladdin
Casey Nicholaw for Dreamgirls
Drew McOnie for Jesus Christ Superstar
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane for Groundhog Day

Best Costume Design
Gregg Barnes for Disney's Aladdin WINNER
Gregg Barnes for Dreamgirls
Katrina Lindsay for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Matthew Wright for Funny Girl
Paul Brown for Half a Sixpence

Best Set Design 
Bob Crowley for Disney's Aladdin
Christine Jones for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Lez Brotherston for Show Boat
Miriam Buether for Wild
Rob Howell for Groundhog Day

Best Lighting Design, sponsored by White Light 
Charlie Morgan Jones for Little Shop of Horrors
Hugh Vanstone for Groundhog Day
Jack Weir for The Boys in the Band
Natasha Katz for Disney's Aladdin
Neil Austin for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER

Best Video Design, sponsored by PRG XL Video 
Andrzej Goulding for Groundhog Day
Finn Ross and Ash Woodward for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Finn Ross for The Tempest, RSC
Laura Perrett for Murder Ballad
Tal Yarden for Lazarus

Best Off-West End Production, sponsored by Les Misérables
The Boys in the Band (Park Theatre)
Grey Gardens (Southwark Playhouse)
The Last Five Years (St James Theatre) WINNER
Side Show (Southwark Playhouse)
Ragtime (Charing Cross Theatre)

Best Regional Production, sponsored by MTI (Europe) 
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (National Tour)
Flowers for Mrs Harris (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield)
The Girls (National Tour)WINNER
The Grinning Man (Bristol Old Vic)
Rent (National Tour/St James Theatre)

Best West End Show, sponsored by Capezio 
Kinky Boots
Les Misérables WINNER
Matilda the Musical
The Phantom of the Opera

Equity Award for Lifetime Achievement (So Far)
Cameron Mackintosh

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Review: The Wedding Singer, Curve

"Pour a double gin,
here's to your double chin"

Back when Adam Sandler was, you know, tolerable, he did rom-coms like 1998's The Wedding Singer and where even moderately successful films go, musical theatre adaptations surely follow. Tim Herlihy adapts his own screenplay along with lyricist Chad Beguelin, and original music comes from Matthew Sklar, and the result is a perfectly competent piece of musical theatre which is fun without ever really being fantastic.

Opening at Leicester's Curve ahead of a 8 month long UK tour (dates and venue at the end of this review), you can see where Nick Winston's production has made its key decisions - Francis O’Connor's set has its eye on quick get-outs and so Jack Henry's video projections do a lot of the heavy lifting in setting the 80s milieu. And the casting mixes West End reliability with TV name recognition, the cherry on the cake of course being Ruth Madoc.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Review: Flew the Coop, New Diorama

"This is a true story. Events are told exactly as they happened, apart from the ones that are completely made up"

Part of the New Diorama's Emerging Theatre Company Programme 2015, Lost Watch have spent the last four years building quite the reputation for themselves. Their latest show Flew the Coop takes inspiration from a photograph of real-life British prisoner of war Horace Greasley and Silesian translator Rosa Rauchbach, for whom he claims he escaped over 200 times in order to conduct a love affair.

It is told, with great energy and enthusiasm, through the prism of the Rauchbach Greasley Association Society Club (RGASC), a motley crew of Silesians (a historic region now split between Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic) who lovingly re-enact the story of their heroes with great ingenuity, using an array of brooms, brushes, sticks and buckets and not much more besides.

Review: Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Crucible

"Sometimes you've got to grab life by the balls
You take those balls and tuck 'em between your legs"

We should be talking about Sheffield, and how its place in the fragile ecosystem of British musical theatre has only become more and more invaluable. Nurturing shows like Flowers For Mrs Harris and This Is My Family into existence and taking pride in their understated nature, the venue has also been incubating new writing talent. Well, new to musical theatre at least, for Dan Gillespie Sells is the lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling and Tom MacRae has written several episodes of Doctor Who and sitcom Threesome. And inspired by a BBC3 documentary, a meeting with director Jonathan Butterell and a fairy godmother-like intervention from Michael Ball, the result is brand spanking new musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie.

And what a joy it is, a breath of feel-good fresh air that can't help but leave you feeling fabulous. With career advice flying by unheeded, all 16-year-old Jamie is really bothered about as his school-time comes to an end is whether he will attend the school prom as his drag persona Mimi Me or not. And rather brilliantly, the writing hones in on Jamie just as a young man - yes he's queer and a kween but he's also a person still finding out the extent of his identity and how to relate to a wider world that isn't necessarily always set against him. It's a refreshing take on LGBT+ storytelling, and a sorely needed one, tipping its hat to the tales of coming out and battling against intolerance that have gone before and then finding its own space to parse the consequences of being this fierce in the real world.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

"Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act"

In what's been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott's No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come - the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan's inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott's oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there's a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there's strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering's anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey.

TV Review: The Moorside Episode 2

"You haven't lost your faith in people, have you?"

The problem with using superlatives is that it is so easy to get carried away. And having declared the second series of Unforgotten to be sure of being one of the best pieces of television we'll see this year, I'm now having to add The Moorside to that same category. The first episode blew me away and the second, directed by Paul Whittington and written by Neil McKay, confirmed the show as a devastating tour de force.

Occupying the slightly hazy ground of docudrama, where real-life events are augmented with highly researched dramatised scenes, The Moorside nevertheless smacks of the ring of truth from start to finish. The second instalment picks up with Shannon Matthews having been found by the police and whilst the community who came together so dramatically to search for her celebrate, questions about Karen Matthews' involvement in the disappearance of her daughter hang ominously in the air.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Review: We Raise Our Hands In The Sanctuary, Albany

"Time moves differently in the dark"

Cover Her Face, Inky Cloak's trans reinterpretation of The Duchess of Malfi is one of those rare things, a show that has properly stuck in my memory, so the news of their new show - the intriguingly titled We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary - was most pleasing indeed. That it promised an uplifting story of the power of gay friendship and the enduring importance of queer spaces, plus the pulsing beats of 1980s club sounds, was the cherry on the proverbial.

Set in 1981, two young black gay men discover the safe haven of the London gay club scene, but only find real sanctuary when they take advantage of the connections they're building to create their own club night to reflect and respect all the things they are - black, British, gay, fabulous. Success, as ever though, comes at a cost, and not just personally in what proved to be a most devastating decade for the LGBT community.

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here's my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn't expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang's scorching writing, it's hard to imagine that we'll see much better television than this before the year is out.

That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end.

Cast of Unforgotten Series 2 continued

Monday, 13 February 2017

Review: La Ronde, Bunker

"If we're going to do it, let's fucking do it"

Sex sells. And so Arthur Schnitzler's 1897 play of 10 interlinked intimate encounters has proven enduringly popular over the years - adapted for the gays, for fans of musicals, for Charlie Spencer's libido... - and now Max Gill has taken a decidedly 21st century gender-neutral approach to La Ronde for the opening salvo in the Bunker's second season. A giant roulette wheel dominates Frankie Bradshaw's set and as it spins, it is thus left to chance to dictate who of the company - 2 women, 2 men - will tag in to play the next two-hander (or not as the case may be, the wheel refusing to land on one of the actors on press night). 

So from Premier Inns in Hillingdon to doctors' surgeries, bland apartments to hot and sweaty lifts, all sorts of shenanigans play out. Tinder dates gone awry, ex-lovers unable to resist each other, sex workers going about their business, marriages gone stale, the unpredictable nature of the casting means that everything is up for grabs here and between them, Alexander Vlahos, Amanda Wilkin, Lauren Samuels and Leemore Marrett Jr do a fine job, whether it is Vlahos slipping into black PVC hotpants or Wilkins nailing each and every one of her vivid characterisations.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Review: Anyone Can Whistle, Union

"Laugh at the king or he'll make you cry"

 ever-modest Sondheim considers Anyone Can Whistle 'a laudable attempt to present something off-centre in mainstream musical theatre', whilst trying to contextualise his first ever commercial failure. But be that as it may, it remains one of his lesser performed works for a reason (it was seen most recently in London directed by Tom Littler at the Jermyn Street in 2010 I think) as Arthur Laurents' book strains so hard to be zany that it hasn't noticed how fatally confused it is. 

Corrupt Mayor Cora Hooper Hoover and her cronies plot to save their town from going bankrupt by faking a miracle, which attracts tourists aplenty and a bus load of patients from the local asylum who soon escape and mingle into an indistinguishable crowd. Then a fake psychiatrist turns up, who falls in love with a fake miracle verifier from Lourdes...concentrate too hard on this lot and you'll end up in the asylum with them. Director Phil Willmott thus wisely focuses on the manifold strengths that his production brings to the table. 

Review: Don Quixote in Algiers, White Bear

"Don't blame the bridle for what the donkey did"

They say you should live before you start to write and there's no doubt that Miguel de Cervantes did exactly that. His legacy as one of, if not the greatest writer in the Spanish language was secured by his novel Don Quixote but in the years before it was published, de Cervantes was, among other things, a tax collector, a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada, a resident of Seville jail, and a soldier who was captured by Barbary pirates and held captive for five years between 1585 and 1580.

And it is that period of captivity in the Ottoman-ruled city of Algiers that playwright Dermot Murphy has chosen to set his play Don Quixote in Algiers, imagining what life might have been like and how his experience shaped crucial aspects of his creative thinking. It's a bold concept and a formally adventurous play, but also one that proves difficult to crack as its fragmented narrative is more impenetrable than playful and the weight of its detailed research rarely allows the piece to fly.

Dispatches from the Vaults #2

"I didn’t think you all look the same"

I saw Tim Foley's Astronauts of Hartlepool at the end of a long weekend and truth be told, I was just too tired to enjoy it properly. I'd love to read it and see it again, and then probably read it again, to get a fuller appreciation of how complex its hour. Layers upon layers are built up by Foley in his political sci-fi epic (Battlestar Galactica (the remake) as done by BBC3) in which Sophie Steer's Aidan encounters multiple versions of Rakhee Thakrar's dimension-hopping Nadia. They always meet in Hartlepool but all is not what it seems, even for the Brexit-voting North-East and Foley intelligently works in a deep critique of where we've let our country get to as well as keeping the tone admirably light. I just need to be less tired so I can concentrate more, sorry y'all.

Borderland/Calais was formulated as a response to not just the closure of the Calais refugee camps but also the media coverage thereof, using verbatim theatre techniques to give voice to those disenfranchised, dehumanised, demonised even by being part of what could be called one of the great humanitarian crises of the 21st Century. Over the week of the run, the programme featured a range of guest performers, from Rudi Dharmalingam, Lucy Ellinson and Yusra Warsama, to Denise Gough and Vera Chok who I saw deliver Borderland, written by Prasanna Puwanarajah and Stephanie Street, and Inua Ellam who performed Calais, woven from the Twitter Feeds of the Help Refugees and the Refugee Info Bus by Maddy Costa.

Not-a-review: Four Weddings in a Funeral reading, Hampstead


It is slightly terrifying to think that it is 23 years since Four Weddings and a Funeral was released - the world will insist on reminding me I'm getting older... And though I don't think I've actually seen it in about 20 years, the prospect of a reading of the film as part of the Hampstead Theatre Festival had quite the allure. Mainly because of John Heffernan and Jemima Rooper in the cast if we're being honest, and they were worth it, but I'm low on time so I'm leaving it at that.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Review: Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack

"The art of investigation"

God, Russia, booze, ghosts, vomit, legacies, tables, blood, metal, tears, redemption, hatred, cruelty, love, sex - the programme notes couldn't capture Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment any more succinctly if it tried. So it is remarkable then, that in Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus's 90 minutes-straight through adaptation presented here by Arrows & Traps, there's a second distillation of the Russian epic that similarly captures so much of what has made it an enduring literary classic.

This it does by fashioning something new, something theatrical, out of the narrative. You could while away the hours pointing out what has been 'missed out' from the book but at over 600 pages long, your bum will be thanking you for exactly that. For it speaks to what makes a good adaptation, a version that is canny enough not to attempt to slavishly recreate every detail of every page, but rather embody something that is undeniably of its spirit but takes a bold step or two of its own as well.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

TV Review: Apple Tree Yard

“Before I met you I was a civilised woman”

Based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, psychodrama Apple Tree Yard has proved itself most watercooler-worthy with its twisting plot, classy cast and yes, controversial moments making it a hit thriller for the BBC. The story revolves around Yvonne Carmichael - celebrated scientist, mother of two, wife to Gary - who, when a chance encounter at work leads to an unexpected quickie with a literal tall dark and handsome stranger, finds her entire world tipped upside down by the consequences that follow.

Written by Amanda Coe and directed by Jessica Hobbs, the first episode plays out as a rather marvellous exploration of a 40-something woman rediscovering her sexuality and having the kind of illicit affair that makes you write naff diary entries (as Yvonne does...). But by the end of the first hour, the drama takes the first of several hard turns as [spoiler alert] she is brutally raped by a colleague. The use of rape as a dramatic device is one which should always be interrogated but here, coming from the text as it does and its devastating impact detailed as painstakingly as it was in episode 2, it felt appropriately handled and never gratuitous.

Photograph: BBC/Kudos/Nick Briggs

TV Review: The Moorside Episode 1

"Anyone tells you you're not a good mother, you can tell them to shove it up their arse"

Coming from the same creative team as the extraordinary Appropriate Adult, it is no surprise that the first episode of new BBC two-parter The Moorside was a superlative hour of TV, leaving me eagerly awaiting the second instalment next week (just like the good old days, none of your stripping a show across consecutive days here). And as they did by looking at the deeds of Fred and Rosemary West through the experience of the social worker drafted in to assist him, the 2008 case of missing Dewsbury schoolgirl Shannon Matthews is retold here largely through the eyes of Julie Bushby, a friend of Shannon's mother, who was instrumental in leading the community effort to find the young girl. 

Where Appropriate Adult excelled was in its first-rate casting, securing the services of Emily Watson, Dominic West and a truly fearsome Monica Dolan to lend the work real gravitas. And if The Moorside doesn't necessarily have an Oscar nominee in its company, it has a no less sensational trio at its core (all with sterling theatrical credits too). Sheridan Smith is the highest profile as Julie Bushby but Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones' Yara Greyjoy) more than matches her with a frankly terrifying performance of blankness curdling into disturbing strangeness as Shannon's mother Karen. And following on from her recent high profile turn in Sherlock, Siân Brooke also excels as her increasingly sceptical friend Natalie.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Dispatches from the Vaults #1

"Who knew the world needed a two-hander musical about chemsex?"

Keeping on top of reviews is a challenge at the best of times, so throwing in a whole bunch of festival shows from the Vaults makes time management even more challenging. So I'm opting to round up shorter reviews of what I've seen in the week into a single post. First up is Thom Sellwood's Happy, the aforementioned chemsex musical and also a whole lot more. Constructed as something of a meta-theatrical experiment, it takes the form of a pitch for a new show, wrapped around the confessional outpouring of a man struggling to deal with the comedown from his last, successful, show.

Lounging in his East London flat and firing up Grindr on a regular basis, Thom (the character) is battling with ideas of self-worth and whether the notion of just 'being happy' is a false construct in a society only interested in selling us things. On top of that, Thom (the pitcher) is dealing with the stress of his creative partner not turning up and though his friend Carrie has stepped in at the last minute to sing the songs, she's barely up to speed. Thus comes in a second level of interrogation about personal and creative satisfaction as Thom and Carrie spar over his increasingly outrageous behaviour. It's all perfectly pitched on the teetering edge of collapse, highly convincingly so and definitely one to look out for.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Review: Holding The Man, Brockley Jack


At the end of the 2010 West End production of Tommy Murphy's Holding The Man, his adaptation of Tim Conigrave's novel about his relationship with a guy named John, I was so distraught that I wept in my seat at the Trafalgar Studios for several minutes. So the prospect of seeing it again was one I approached with caution, even as Big Boots Theatre Company intrigued me with their production at the Brockley Jack.

Holding The Man is much more than your conventional relationship drama though, covering as it does their love affair from the mid 1970s until the early 1990s and thus staking its place as a first-hand documentation of the ravaging impact of the arrival of HIV/AIDS in the worldwide gay community. It is brutally, unflinchingly honest and as such, transcends any notion that the material is dated or that such plays are no longer relevant.

Review: They Built It. No-One Came., Greenwich Theatre

"Neither of us were very charismatic.
'That was a problem'"

Inspired by a true story published in the New York Times, Fledgling Theatre Company's They Built It. No-One Came. was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival last summer and has now resurfaced for a short run in Greenwich ahead of a UK tour starting in May. It's the tale of two young men who, finding hostility to the love affair that blooms between them, opt out of society altogether to set up an "intentional community", a commune by any other name, where they can create someplace new, someplace better.

It's a tempting prospect, going back to nature and living in peace and harmony, but over a decade after setting up shop, Tobias and Alexander are still waiting for their first member to join them. So when eventually a troubled young man named Pablo does rock up, his integration into the lifestyle here is far from smooth sailing. And written by Callum Cameron, this awkwardness is given a brilliantly homespun, lo-fi treatment that is frequently hilarious.

News - Rachel Parris and Andrew Hunter Murray announce solo dates

"What do we really know about Jane Austen?"

If you've followed me with any regularity, then you'll know that I have become something of an Austentatious groupie, more often than not on the last Sunday of the month (and on selected other dates and venues too) you'll find me at the Leicester Square Theatre regaling us with one of Jane Austen's lost novels, improvised on the spot from a title suggested by one of the audience. 

One of these days, it will be mine that is picked, I'm sure of it! (I came close a couple of weeks ago though, look!)

January's show saw them welcome back the wonderful Cariad Lloyd after a brief maternity break and take on Lust and Lesbians, creating something surprisingly moving and dramatic for once, as well as exceedingly funny with its scandalised servants and threesomes in Magaluf. But I'm mainly here to let you know that at least two of the Austentatious crew have solo shows coming up at the Soho Theatre in March. 

Rachel Parris: Best Laid Plans plays downstairs from 6th - 8th March and Andrew Hunter Murray: Round One (he's a QI elf doncha know) plays upstairs from 2nd to 8th March and both are guaranteed to be bloody good nights out.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Review: What's In A Name?, Birmingham REP

"I'm a forty-year-old bachelor, who wears orange, likes Michael Bublé, and lived in San Francisco for a year"

Its rather lazy, and stereotypical, approach to laughing at the gays aside, there's a quite a lot to enjoy here in the Birmingham REP's production of the award-winning French play What's In A Name?. Written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière, Le Prénom has been widely translated and produced, as well as receiving a film adaptation, but this version translated by Jeremy Sams for Just for Laughs Theatricals, marks the play's British premiere.

Set in the Peckham apartment of Peter and Elizabeth (of course I went to Birmingham to see a play set 10 minutes from my flat!), the sharp comedy revolves around that staple of many a dramatist - the awkward dinner party. The hosts have invited her brother and his best friend Vincent and his heavily pregnant wife Anna, plus their 'confirmed bachelor' friend Carl, and over a Moroccan buffet and bottles of Chateau Margaux 1985, all manner of uncomfortable truths are revealed.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Review: The Rover, Swan

"Come, put off this dull humour with your clothes, and assume one as gay and as fantastic as the dress my cousin Valeria and I have provided, and let's ramble"

I've not been heading up to the RSC with that much regularity recently, but I'll go anywhere for Alexandra Gilbreath and given that The Rover had the added bonus of Joseph Millson, the trip was a no-brainer. It also helped that it was written and directed by women, not that frequent an occurrence in Stratford. And written not just by any woman, Aphra Behn was one of the first professional female playwrights and this play dates from 1677.

And directed by Loveday Ingram, it is a sprightly bit of fun indeed. Set in the heady mist of carnival time, all bets are off as the normal rules of society are suspended. Three sisters disguise themselves to escape the strict futures ahead of them, and a group of Englishmen arrive in port ready and willing to create the lads on tour archetype. Chief among the sisters is Hellena, due to enter a nunnery so more than happy to make the acquaintance of the rakish and randy Willmore.

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Duke of York's

"The future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it"

John Tiffany might well be taking over the West End by stealth. His Critic’s Circle-winning Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is still maintaining its extraordinarily successful run, currently booking until April 2018, and now his production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, previously seen in the US and last year in Edinburgh, arrives at the Duke of York’s. And though Tiffany’s gift for direction may be taking fantastical flight over at the Palace Theatre, rest assured it is no less magical here. Kate O’Flynn’s Laura first appears like a spirit, passing right through the furniture as she is evoked by her brother, likewise Cherry Jones’ Amanda arrives out of thin air.

 for all this, including movement are largely governed by long-time collaborator Steven Hoggett so that the eating of dinner becomes as finely choreographed as a ballet, the production’s magic comes from the humanity with which its characters are treated. As narrated from the future by her estranged son Tom, Amanda Wingfield is often overplayed, the faded Southern belle craving the limelight, but here she is a mother first and foremost and Jones never lets us forget that. She’s incredibly expansive and inextricably lost in memories of her youth but here she is deeply caring and self-aware too, it is a beautifully judged performance from an actress finally making her London debut after an illustrious Broadway career.

Review: Hearing Things, Omnibus Clapham

"How's life in the asylum?"

It can be easy to make grand, sweeping statements about the artistic vision of your theatre company but much more difficult to actually follow through. So it is impressive to see Playing ON, who "make theatre with communities whose voices are seldom heard", do exactly that with their new play Hearing Things. Developed from five years of careful and painstaking collaboration with the staff, patients (and their relatives) from mental health institutions including the Maudsley and Homerton, playwright Philip Osment draws back the curtain just a little on the world of psychiatry.

Reflecting the broad scope of its source material, and perhaps hinting a little at the experience of mental health issues, the multiple stories Hearing Things tells are fractured, their pieces shuffled out of order as the company of three actors dip in and out of a range of characters. It's a brave approach but one which is directed with great fluidity by Jim Pope, making great use of a reconfigured auditorium with Miriam Nabarro and Jemima Robinson's in-the-round staging creating a really playful space, for even though mental health is a weighty subject, there's flashes of real humour here too. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Review: Death Takes A Holiday, Charing Cross

“I’m Death. 
'And you’re on holiday?'”

The ways in which the titles of shows are worked into the script are a source of endless amusement and new musical Death Takes A Holiday is no exception, pointing up as it does the ridiculousness of the show's conceit. Based on the 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza, which has been adapted for the silver screen a few times, most recently in the Brad Pitt stinker Meet Joe Black, Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan's book tells the story of what happens when Death falls head over heels for an Italian duke's daughter and so decides to take a couple of days annual leave to follow through,

Posing as a Russian prince, he joins the aristocratic family at their Lake Garda country pile, ostensibly to learn about human emotions but truth is, there's only one he's that keen on. And given that the main object of his study, Grazia, is a fan of the moody gothic look - despite being engaged to someone else - there's little doubt as to whether will be alone when he returns to the day job at the end of the weekend. It's a curious lack of dramatic imperative for a show running over two hours, especially since there's the potential to have a proper love triangle, instead Maury Yeston's expansive score is left to fill the gaps.