Thursday, 2 April 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Henry V (Barn Theatre)

Another regional theatre uploading an archive production online to fundraise while the doors are closed, and another grungy show to contrast with the slick offerings from the likes of the West End, National and RSC, this Henry V comes courtesy of the Barn Theatre in Cirencester, with Hal Chambers' production consciously using the ambiguity of Shakespeare's patriotic hero to reflect on the rise of populist, xenophobic politics in the 21st century. In a frantic opening, speeches from this play and the Henry IV ones preceding it are mixed with soundbites of frothing Brexiteers on Question Time, and the wild past of Prince Hal is referenced with real headlines about the current Prince Harry's party lifestyle. That Prince Harry has in recent years shown a more serious side, and so too does Shakespeare's Hal, now King Henry V (Aaron Sidwell), put on a much more serious face once he's running the country.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Stage-to-screen review:
Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual

More online theatre is being announced all the time to fill in the gap left by the buildings being shut, with the majority of what's coming up being shows I've already seen in person and reviewed. But that mainly applies to London and Stratford-upon-Avon, and the regional theatres I don't generally get to have been releasing material as well. In return for a donation, Leicester Curve are offering a recording of their 2018 show Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual for a week - this is an archive recording that was never intended for public release, but I guess even those have moved on in quality over the years, and instead of a static shot this is a perfectly watchable recording done with multiple moving cameras. Riaz Khan's original book was a response to the resurgence of racism on the football terraces in the noughties, through the lens of him finding an identity in the eighties in the unlikely family of the much-derided gangs of violent football hooligans known as casuals.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Stage-to-screen review: An Ideal Husband

With London theatres now closed for the foreseeable future the focus has very quickly shifted to how those of us who spend far too much time there can get our regular fix from home. Streaming quickly jumped in to take the strain and there should be plenty of culture available soon with the BBC planning a whole online festival, and a number of individual recordings starting to show up. In the meantime there's also a few existing platforms available; Marquee TV is one I only heard of recently, and which seems to lean heavily on the side of opera and dance, so its theatre offerings consist almost entirely of shows I've already seen. Their library does include almost all of Classic Spring's Oscar Wilde season from 2017-18 at the Vaudeville, including one installment I skipped at the time, An Ideal Husband. Jonathan Church directs a Wilde play with a more overtly political slant than most.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Theatre review: The Mikvah Project

The Mikvah Project feels a bit of an unlikely play to get a major revival within a few years of its premiere, when I was interested but not entirely convinced by it. But I've got a certain reputation to live down to as far as plays with extensive male nudity go and besides, I wanted to know if a different perspective would make it feel a bit more focused than it seemed last time. And Georgia Green's production - her professional debut, following its appearance last year as part of an Orange Tree new directors' showcase - does go some way towards filling in some gaps. The Mikvah is a Jewish ritual bath, more commonly used by women, but there are ones available for men as well, like the pair in Josh Azouz' play who meet there every Friday for particular reasons of their own. 35-year-old Avi (Alex Waldmann) goes to pray for the child he and his wife are trying to conceive (or as he puts it, he's praying to his balls.)

Friday, 13 March 2020

Theatre review: Love, Love, Love

I imagine there's a hiatus coming up in my theatregoing and reviewing, thanks to a certain global situation targeting the Baby Boomers, but in the meantime here's Mike Bartlett's own dig at that generation. After the Brexit result came in I predicted Love, Love, Love would be a play that kept coming back over the years, and here it is as Rachel O'Riordan's second directing gig in her inaugural Lyric Hammersmith season. It follows Sandra (Rachael Stirling) and Kenneth (Nicholas Burns) from first meeting to happy ending - but every chapter in their story has collateral damage they've become uncannily adept at ignoring. The first of these is Kenneth's brother Henry (Patrick Knowles,) whom Sandra has just started dating at the beginning of the play; older by only four years he appears to be from an entirely different generation.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Theatre review: Women Beware Women

Seeing two Shakespeare productions in a row isn't that unusual, especially once the summer season kicks off; two Middletons (Thomas, not Kate and Pippa) is rarer. Women Beware Women concludes the current Swanamaker season in a production by Amy Hodge that's fully aware of the potential for the play to chime with #MeToo, and gives Joanna Scotcher's design a 1980s aesthetic that nods at a time a lot of current cases date back to. The Florentine court becomes a gilded Art Deco hotel where Leantio (Paul Adeyefa) brings his new wife Bianca (Thalissa Teixeira,) only to immediately demand she be hidden away from public view because their elopement is still a dangerous secret. But on a public walkabout the Duke (Simon Kunz) spots Bianca at her window, and decides he must have her. Enter Livia (Tara Fitzgerald,) who's got a plan to get the Duke access to her in return for her own advancement.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Theatre review: The Revenger's Tragedy
(La tragedia del vendicatore)

Good though Rebecca Frecknall's take on The Duchess of Malfi was, I couldn't help but be sorry that it did away with my second favourite ridiculous Jacobean revenge tragedy murder (death by poisoned Bible.) My actual favourite ridiculous Jacobean revenge tragedy murder (death by poisoned skull) appears in Thomas Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy; would I be similarly disappointed? No of course not, because this is Cheek by Jowl's annual visit and Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod are more likely to add their own insane fuckery to a play than get rid of what's already there. Not content with having English, French and Russian companies on the go, they've teamed up with Piccolo Teatro di Milan to create their first Italian-language show. And aptly enough Italy is the setting for a play that goes out of its way to live up to its no-nonsense title's promise of revenge, and lots of it.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Theatre review: La Cage aux Folles [The Play]

I've had misjudged or unlikely musical adaptations on the brain recently, and not just because of the obvious suspect - announcements in the last couple of weeks have suggested that Joe diPietro alone is going to be flinging a hell of a lot of insanity at stages both sides of the Atlantic over the next few months. But then there's the other extreme, where a musical adaptation has worked so well it's overshadowed the original: The Jerry Herman / Harvey Fierstein musical is what comes to mind when you hear La Cage aux Folles, to the extent that Park Theatre have felt it best to append [The Play] to the title, to clarify that Simon Callow's new version is based on Jean Poiret's original French farce. Any songs that show up are going to be lip-synced because the title refers to a drag club run by Georges (Michael Matus) in early 1970s St Tropez.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Theatre review: Trainers, Or The Brutal Unpleasant Atmosphere Of This Most Disagreeable Season
(A Theatrical Essay)

Part of the Gate Theatre's USP is that every Artistic Director is allowed free rein on how they interpret the venue's remit as an international theatre. And while I've yet to see a cast get naked and throw food at each other, there's no doubting that Ellen McDougall's tenure is all about channeling the spirit of European avant-garde theatre. It's apparent again in Hester Chillingworth's staging of American writer Sylvan Oswald's Trainers, Or The Brutal Unpleasant Atmosphere Of This Most Disagreeable Season (A Theatrical Essay), whose cast of two greet the audience in a white room filled with random objects which will come to represent people and things in the story. Such story as there is, anyway - as the final part of the title says, this is intended to be an essay rather than a traditional play, and part of the attraction of an essay is that it's a medium without a defined form or structure.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Theatre review: A Number

A Number premiered in 2002, a few years after the Dolly the Sheep story and with the possibility and ethics of human cloning still a subject of much discussion. The amount of times it’s been revived since is a testament to the fact that Caryl Churchill created something out of that story that far transcends topical controversy, finding an enduring human side that Polly Findlay’s production at the Bridge explicitly focuses on. This is the third production of the play I’ve seen, and the first not to cast a real-life father and son, although Roger Allam and Colin Morgan have worked together in ersatz father/son roles before. And despite the genetic material there’s something ersatz about the father/son relationships they play out in A Number as well – I told the people I went to the show with to go in knowing as little about it as possible, and would recommend that to anyone planning on seeing it; in which case save this review until after you’ve been as well, as it’s a hard play to write about without major spoilers.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Theatre review: Pretty Woman

It's the film that made a generation of little girls write "crack whore" in their "what I want to be when I grow up" essays, so it was only a matter of time before Pretty Woman got turned into a musical. The movie's enduring popularity means that there was always going to be a ready-made audience for it, so the question was going to be whether the creatives would put in much effort, or just figure that the cash will roll in whatever the reviews say. One positive sign is that instead of the unholy union of jukebox musical and film adaptation (neither of which are necessarily a problem on their own, but together...) we've got original songs by, of all people, Bryan Adams and his long-time songwriting partner Jim Vallance. On the other hand neither of them had written for musical theatre before, which has a tendency to go one of two ways.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Theatre review: Be More Chill

Is any other country's art as disproportionately about High School as America's? You have to believe that all the angsty teens we've seen on stage and screen for decades aren't exaggerating, and it's an experience that really does scar everyone for life if so many people are willing to spend the rest of their lives telling stories about it. The dog-eats-dog race to be popular gets a sci-fi twist in Joe Iconis (music and lyrics) and Joe Tracz' (book) Be More Chill, which felt to me like an endearing mashup of Loserville and Little Shop of Horrors. Alarmingly skinny video game geek Jeremy (Scott Folan) seems happy enough with his status as a loser who'll come into his own when he gets to college, but when the bullying gets too much for him and even Christine (Miracle Chance,) the oddball girl he likes, falls for a jock (Miles Paloma,) Jeremy becomes desperate enough to try anything to become more popular.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Theatre review: & Juliet

Given the amount of terrible shows I've seen over the years when the signs really should have been there, regular readers of this blog might both have surmised that FOMO has a certain amount of influence on what theatre I book. So an expensive West End show that, despite a cast and creatives I like, I don't feel compelled to spend money on, comes as a bit of a relief. The idea of a jukebox musical of the songs of Max Martin - songwriter for a seemingly endless list of artists that includes the Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, Broccoli Spears, P!nk and Bon Jovi - built around an alternate ending for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet seemed perfectly skippable when it premiered last year. Except, proving that my instincts can be an absolute disaster in what I avoid as well as what I see, David West Read's & Juliet got rave reviews both from offical critics and, more importantly, theatre Twitter, and started to sound very much like my kind of thing.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Theatre review: Far Away

The usual January trend of grim and serious shows has well and truly continued into February this year, but my diary's due to go into a period with a bit more light relief. Before it can though, a particularly disturbing dystopia - but as it's courtesy of Caryl Churchill, it comes to the stage with unusual flair and extraordinary succinctness, running well under an hour but creating whole worlds in that time. The final show in Michael Longhurst's first year at the Donald and Margot Warehouse is Lyndsey Turner's production of Far Away, which opens with a child, Joan (Sophia Ally or Abbiegail Mills,) unable to sleep on her first night staying at her aunt and uncle's house. Her aunt Harper (Jessica Hynes) tries to comfort her, and discovers that Joan's been disturbed by creeping out of bed at night and witnessing what happens in the shed, where several terrified adults and children have been brought for "processing."

Monday, 24 February 2020

Theatre review: Pass Over

Over the years I've come to trust Indhu Rubasingham's judgement, which is the only reason I would book for a play whose blurb compares it to Waiting for Godot - especially so soon after putting myself through some actual Beckett again. Antoinette Nwandu's play about the ongoing epidemic of black Americans being shot by police turns the pair of tramps into homeless African-Americans living under a railway bridge, their inability to move from the spot not down to abstract existential dread but the very specific knowledge that anyone who tries to get away gets gunned down. Paapa Essiedu plays Moses, whose name, like the play's title Pass Over, references the other overt influence on Nwandu's play, the biblical book of Exodus, and while Moses himself often despairs, his friend Kitch (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) has faith that he can lead his people to a Promised Land.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Theatre review: No Sweat

A quick look at a short but sharp show that aims to shine a light on the disproportionate levels of LGBTQ+ homelessness that's often unnoticed due to the unexpected shelter people find: Writer/director Vicky Moran's semi-verbatim piece No Sweat is set in a gay sauna, whose very nature as a place to disappear in for unspecified periods of time, where drugs and casual sex are the norm, makes it easy to fall through the cracks - possibly on purpose. Tristan (Denholm Spurr) is university educated and sounds posh so generally comes across as well-off, but his middle-class Surrey parents still turned him away when he came out. He treats the sauna as somewhere to rest up, get a shower and watch some TV, but mostly finds shelter through Grindr hookups who also give him breakfast the next morning.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Theatre review: The Whip

It's been a lacklustre Swan season so while its final production, Juliet Gilkes Romero's The Whip, isn't without flaws I still found it the strongest offering. The title comes from the nominal lead's position, as Alexander Boyd (Richard Clothier) is the Chief Whip for the ruling Whig party in the early 1830s, but as the issue that defines his time in Parliament is the abolition of slavery in British colonies the title inevitably has a much more sinister double meaning. Boyd's initial mission is actually the reform of child labour in British factories, but he's diverted onto the abolition bill that's been dragging through Parliament for years. Slavery might never have been legal in the UK itself but the Empire's wealth comes from allowing it to continue in its colonies, and the West Indies are its last bastion. Finalising a deal hasn't been easy because too many politicians have a personal interest: Boyd is chosen to champion the cause as one of the few MPs not to be a slaveowner himself.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Theatre review: Nora: A Doll's House

You can't move without tripping over a production of A Doll's House lately and the Young Vic, whose last production of it feels comparatively recent in the scheme of things, is back at it with a production first seen in Glasgow last year. Ibsen's play is a proto-feminist story whose heroine finding her strength and identity caused a scandal in its day, and rather than present it as written or relocate it to a single new setting Stef Smith's version attempts to see just how much Nora's story would change over the course of a century. The retitled Nora: A Doll's House casts three versions of its leading lady: Amaka Okafor is 1918 Nora, a dutiful housewife still feeling some of the thrill of being allowed to vote for the first time. Natalie Klamar is 1968 Nora, a pill-popping mother of three idly, or not so idly wondering how her life might be different if the Pill and legal abortions had come along just a little bit sooner. And Anna Russell-Martin is Nora in 2018, propping up a family who've been living on credit.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Theatre review: The High Table

The Bush's current season opened with a commitment to telling the stories of queer women of colour, a theme that's revisited in the latest main-house show as actor Temi Wilkey's playwrighting debut The High Table follows the preparations for a British-Nigerian lesbian wedding. It's an event the family are going to have a lot to say about - and not just the living family. Tara (Cherelle Skeete) introduces her parents Segun (David Webber) and Mosun (Jumoké Fashola) to her fiancée Leah (Ibinabo Jack) for the first time three months before the wedding. They've been together for some time and engaged for nine months at this point, so the fact that Tara has put it off for so long suggests she's worried about their reaction. And while they, in theory, accepted her coming out as bisexual a few years earlier, this confirmation that their daughter won't settle down with a man after all makes them show their true colours, and they refuse to attend the wedding.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Theatre review: Death of England

The National Theatre's website notes that Death of England opening at the Dorfman makes its co-writer and director Clint Dyer the first black British artist to have worked on its stages as actor, writer and director. It's worthy of mention but more significant, it seems to me, although probably harder to quantify in terms of firsts, is that Dyer and Roy Williams are two black British writers telling a story specifically about white Englishness in such a high-profile venue. In a frenzied tragicomic monologue Rafe Spall plays Michael, an Essex flower-seller whose father dies on his shoulder in the pub, keeling over suddenly when England get knocked out of the 2018 World Cup by Croatia. Fuelled by grief, alcohol and cocaine he tries to reconcile his feelings of loss with his deep-held disgust at his father's racism and increasing flirtation with the far right.