Thursday, 18 July 2019

Theatre review:
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

The Rev. Dr Baron Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Lord Webber BA (Hons) MEng, QC, MD, P.I. and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was originally conceived as a show for schools but gradually grew, until in the 1990s it was finally fully reinvented as a big-budget West End behemoth – so successfully that the same Steven Pimlott production has kept returning to the stage for nearly thirty years. Laurence Connor’s is the first new take on the show since then, although the story – from an otherwise fairly obscure Genesis passage – remains familiar: Jacob has twelve sons, of whom Joseph is the clear favourite and showered with gifts, because Jacob liked Joseph’s mum more than the other sons’ mums. Joseph has the ability to interpret dreams but not the ability to read a room, so he cheerfully tells his already-alienated brothers that this unequal treatment is just the start, and he’s had a premonition that some day they’ll all fall at his feet.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Theatre review: Ivan and the Dogs

The annual JMK award seems to have moved venues but the Young Vic has still hung on to the other directors’ bursary that’s showcased a couple of times a year in its smallest space: The latest Genesis Future Directors Award sees Caitriona Shoobridge direct Hattie Naylor’s 2010 monologue Ivan and the Dogs, based on a true story from Russia’s catastrophic financial collapse in the late 1990s, when even very young children were homeless and roaming the streets of Moscow on their own. Starting from the present day, Ivan (Alex Austin) flashes back to when he was four years old and kept overhearing his abusive stepfather telling his mother they’d have to put the child out on the streets because they could no longer afford to feed both him and themselves. Deciding to jump before he’s pushed, Ivan runs away to the other side of the city; but the glue-sniffing street kids frighten him too much for him to join one of their gangs.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Theatre review: Fiver

Southwark Playhouse's Large Theatre has long been a home for American musicals that never quite made it to the West End; could the Little (or whatever its equivalent ends up being in the new venues) find a similar niche as a home for new British musicals? It's only a couple of months since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button premiered there, and if Fiver doesn't come with quite the same gut-punch of having witnessed something very special, Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees' show about a five pound note shows off a prolific talent for composing a strong tune. The writer-composers also direct, and Ellison appears in the cast as a busker who kicks off the story when an audience member puts the titular note in his collection jar. He sticks around as narrator and guitarist for the rest of the show, but his co-stars Luke Bayer, Dan Buckley, Aoife Clesham and Hiba Elchikhe do most of the vocal heavy lifting from here on in.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Theatre review: Peter Gynt

The latest main-stage epic at the National is largely selling itself on the way it reunites the creatives from 2016 hit Young Chekhov on the Olivier stage - adaptor David Hare, director Jonathan Kent and star James McArdle. Building the whole show around the latter, Hare has transported Henrik Ibsen's weird social fantasy Peer Gynt to Scotland, although much of the mythology remains jarringly Nordic. Retitled Peter Gynt, it sees McArdle's title character starting out as a lovable fantasist, returning to Scotland from a war in which he's seemingly made a name for himself, except all his exploits start to sound suspiciously familiar to anyone who's seen any movies*. In reality, his biggest claim to fame is fighting mechanic Duncan (o hai, Lorne McFadyen,) but he gets the idea for a bigger stunt when he finds out his ex-girlfriend Ingrid (Caroline Deyga) has got together with Spudface (Martin Quinn) in his absence.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Theatre review: Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner

One of the advantages of middle age is being able to more or less ignore anything to do with the Kardashians, but it's impossible to be online and not osmose some things about them. Funnily enough, one of those things is the specific headline that kicks off the events of Jasmine Lee-Jones' Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner: The preposterous statement that the titular enemy of the gays* was the youngest-ever "self-made" billionaire, as if the wealth, privilege and profile she was born into weren't a factor. For student Cleo (Danielle Vitalis) this is more than just ridiculous but also a slap in the face, as she considers Jenner's personal brand to be built on appropriating black looks and culture, something which has been particularly on her mind both as the subject of her dissertation; and because her ex just dumped her for a white woman with a Jenner-like tendency to appropriate black style.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Theatre review: Jellyfish

I didn't catch Ben Weatherill's Jellyfish when it premiered last year but Tim Hoare's production has been given a higher-profile second life, transferring from the Bush's Studio to the National's Dorfman for a brief run. Written specifically for its lead actress Sarah Gordy, Jellyfish approaches a subject that feels uncomfortably taboo - a romantic relationship in which one person has a learning disability - with such casual sweetness it soon feels nothing of the sort. But there's no denying that it's a relationship with a unique series of challenges as 27-year-old Kelly (Gordy,) who has Down's Syndrome, flirts with 30-year-old Neil (Siôn Daniel Young,) who doesn't have a disability. Despite his own reservations Neil realises that his feelings for Kelly are real, and that she's also deadly serious about wanting a relationship with him.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Theatre review: The End of History...

Ten years ago Jack Thorne set an entire play in the wee small hours of the 2nd May 1997, and with his latest play's opening scene taking place about six months after that date it's clear he's not yet done interrogating what the hope and optimism of Tony Blair's first victory actually ever amounted to. Blair is much more of a background noise than a central theme in The End of History..., a family drama spanning twenty years that often has the feel of a sitcom that's gone unusually dark. Sal (Future Dame Lesley Sharp) and David (David Morrissey) are a kind of embarrassing sitcom mum and dad (right down to the clichéd trope of the mum who's a terrible cook,) with the main source of embarrassment being their commitment to their left-wing beliefs and causes, their enthusiasm for which has never dulled.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream
(Regent's Park Open Air Theatre)

After a valiant effort by Richard II at the start of the year, A Midsummer Night's Dream has well and truly come along to replace last year's Macbethorama as 2019's most ubiquitous Shakespeare. The Bridge, Open Air Theatre and Globe are all showing off their Bottoms, and it's the second leg's turn for me as director Dominic Hill is brought in from Glasgow to Regent's Park for a new take on the play that must surely be the venue's most-performed. It's the story of Oberon, King of the Fairies (Kieran Hill) and his plan to humiliate his Queen Titania (Amber James) into giving him a changeling child of hers, with a plot involving a love potion; and the mortals who get caught up in the middle of the chaos when they wander into the woods, including a troupe of amateur actors and a quartet of starcrossed lovers.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Theatre review: Noises Off

The Old Vic's 2012 production of Noises Off was only the second show I reviewed on this particular blog, so given Michael Frayn's play is regularly described as the greatest farce (and one of the greatest comedies in general) ever written it's probably not that surprising if someone thought it was time for it to return to London. The Lyric Hammersmith is where it premiered in 1982, and as it's currently in a bit of a limbo state between artistic directors Jeremy Herrin has grabbed the opportunity to bring the play back to where it all began. It's a farce within a farce within a farce, as director Lloyd (Lloyd Owen) attempts to preside over the technical rehearsal of Nothing On, a creaky and convoluted farce about to embark on a national tour after nowhere near enough rehearsal. The cast barely know their lines let alone their blocking, but that's not going to cause as many problems as the company's personal lives.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Theatre review: Europe

I first went to the Donald and Margot Warehouse during the Sam Mendes days, so I'm on to my fourth Artistic Director of the venue as Michael Longhurst starts his tenure by directing Europe, a 25-year-old David Greig play whose original inspiration was the breakup of Yugoslavia but whose nebulous, borderline-surreal setting makes it feel timeless. The town where the action takes place is never named, but it's somewhere in Europe, close to a national border but otherwise pretty remote and easy to ignore. Even easier, soon: Trains going to every corner of the continent pass through, but all of a sudden they don't stop at the local station. Station Master Fret (Ron Cook) can't figure out the new timetable he's been sent, not realising the fact he can't find when the trains are meant to arrive is an underhand way of telling him the station is closing.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Theatre review: Henry V, or Harry England (Shakespeare's Globe)

Now I'm not saying things in my day job have been a bit fraught lately, but there's been a lot of office discussions about the theory that sociopaths make the most natural and successful company directors. It's a thought you can't help but apply to one of England's best-loved kings when, as with the Globe Ensemble's Trilogy Day performances, the same company play Henry V following straight on from Henry IV Part One and Part Two. For those first two plays designer Jessica Worrall draped the theatre's middle gallery with the standards of many noble houses involved in the fighting, but now they've been replaced and it's just Henry's three golden lions that adorn the whole theatre; a sign that there's no more time for infighting and now everyone's together under one banner against a foreign foe? Or that it's now the Plantagenet way or the highway?

Theatre review: Henry IV Part Two, or Falstaff (Shakespeare's Globe)

"Fie, this is hot weather gentlemen."

Henry IV Part Two lacks the single clear antagonist of Part One, so instead the Globe Ensemble's renaming of the plays calls this one Falstaff, after the character who in this instalment finds out he grossly overestimated his importance to Prince Hal (Sarah Amankwah.) With the start time at 4pm this play occupies the hottest part of this Trilogy Day, and while the emotional depth of this part means it's frequently seen as superior to its predecessor, the story takes a while to get going which sometimes, especially in the first hour or so, gives the production the feel of Difficult Second Album Syndrome. But Federay Holmes and Sarah Bedi's production continues, as in Part One, to have scenes overlap, which keeps the energy up; with the multiple character doubling it also has the actors make a point of swapping roles onstage, nowhere more effectively than when Philip Arditti goes from Doll Tearsheet to Henry IV.

Theatre review: Henry IV Part One, or Hotspur (Shakespeare's Globe)

Michelle Terry's Globe Ensemble returns for a second year with a couple of returnees from last year's cast - including, of course, Terry herself. This time around their shows are a continuation from the winter season's Richard II in what is intended to be a year-long complete run through both of Shakespeare's History Tetralogies. Sarah Bedi and Federay Holmes direct a trio that takes us to the end of the First (in historical if not writing order) Tet, and which as well as regular performances are also getting a handful of Trilogy Days, following the characters (those of them who make it) throughout the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V. There's also been renaming of these three instalments to reflect who the Ensemble see as the central character of each piece, so we open with Henry IV Part One, now named Hotspur after the fiery rebel played by Terry.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Theatre review: Present Laughter

While I appreciate a lot of the witty lines I've never been quite sure why Noël Coward's popularity has never majorly faltered - there's good stuff there but never enough to convince me he deserves quite the standing he continues to have. It's something that nags at the background of even the most successful revivals like this one - fortunately for Matthew Warchus, his production of Present Laughter has enough aces up its sleeve to keep those niggles very firmly in the background. The most obvious of these is Andrew Scott, who after years of being a firm favourite among regular theatregoers in the know got an overnight worldwide following after Sherlock, but who in recent months seems to have stepped up to another new level thanks to Fleabag. It's apt enough, then, that he's playing Garry Essendine - Coward's fairly transparent author-substitute may be famous predominantly for his stage work, but he also commands a kind of obsessive fandom.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Theatre review: The Hunt

From the first Rupert Goold productions I saw I've associated the director with the ability to put the nightmarish on stage (in a good way,) and it's not a knack he's lost as his latest Almeida show plays out like a horror film, innocuous beginnings building to hair-raising tension. But there's no serial killers or supernatural elements to The Hunt, David Farr's adaptation of a Danish film by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm. Instead there's two very modern fears at play, the one of monsters in our midst and the other of being falsely accused of being one of those monsters. Of course my main current image of Denmark is of somewhere almost empty, apart from the odd person suddenly keeling over dead or running around yelling "Rasmuuuuuuuuuuus!" and, while the town where the play's set isn't quite that deserted, it's clearly been shrinking in recent years.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Non-review: Stuff

DISCLAIMER: Not calling this a review because I don't think it’s fair to review amateur productions, let alone school shows. But this is a different kind of school show, part of the National Theatre's annual Connections Festival.

It's years since I last went to one of these performances (I think I was last tempted by an Anthony Neilson offering) but it's probably no huge surprise that what got me back this time was finding out, very last-minute, that Tom Wells had written one of this year's new short plays that the National sends to schools and youth theatre groups around the country. Teachers and students choose the play they want to stage, and of all the various productions one of each play gets a public performance at the Dorfman. Wells' Stuff is the sixth-form play by Bolingbroke Academy, a new-ish London school in their first year of Connections. And while I won't review the likeable kids performing, the play itself shows Wells, unsurprisingly, as a natural writer for teenagers, with his mix of serious subjects and goofy optimism matching the kids' attempts to figure out the world and where they fit in it.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Rehearsed reading review: Geography of Fire /
La Furie et sa géographie Part One

I'd say roughly 8% of my online #brand is me grumbling at the Finborough Theatre for never bringing back Armstrong's War for a full run (yes they know, yes they'd like to, no they can't get the funding.) So in the absence of that the best I can do is check out the other Colleen Murphy plays the theatre regularly premieres in the hope that she's got another gem up her sleeve. This year's Vibrant Festival includes a rehearsed reading of another of her works to deal with war, but on a much more epic scale - in fact the three hours plus of Geography of Fire / La Furie et sa géographie that we get here is only Part One of a planned two-parter. The website blurb says the play stands alone in its own right, but I'd argue there's too many threads left hanging at the end to really call it a complete story, not least of all that the battle at the centre of the play has only just about got started by the curtain call. Specifically the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham near Quebec during the Seven Years' War.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Theatre review: The Damned (Les Damnés)

The continuing demand for Ivo van Hove to collaborate with companies around the world led to this 2016 production for the Comédie-Française for which the director's love of filmmaker Luchino Visconti's work once again inspired him: This time van Hove and his regular team of collaborators adapt Visconti's film The Damned (now Les Damnés,) about a wealthy family imploding during the rise of the Nazis. In other words yes, in the latest instalment of "shows that couldn't be more Barbican if they tried," it's a French company's production of a Belgian director and Dutch creative team's adaptation of an Italian film about Germans. The story starts on the night of the burning of the Reichstag, an incident that almost overshadows the birthday party for Baron Joachim von Essenbeck (Didier Sandre.)

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Theatre review: Bitter Wheat

Let's face it, the prospect of an incredibly rare John Malkovich stage appearance has to be the main if not only draw to Bitter Wheat, David Mamet's new play which sounded like a pretty bad idea from the moment it was announced: A #MeToo-themed play officially not based on Harvey Weinstein but absolutely and undeniably based on Harvey Weinstein, if nothing else it seemed to demonstrate a remarkable tin ear to exactly whose story this is to tell. Or maybe Mamet is the best person for the job, in the sense that at least he got there before Neil LaBute. And who knows, maybe the play would surprise everyone and be much better than expected. But no, it's actually worse, because as well as hitting all the bum notes feared, it's also kind of... dull. In what I feel incredibly generous in describing as the plot, Malkovich plays Barney Fein (again, not to be in any way confused with Harvey Weinstein,) one of Hollywood's most powerful and feared movie producers, who we first see screwing over a writer by refusing to pay for the script he delivered.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Theatre review:
After Dark; or, a Drama of London Life

Whenever a radical new playwright comes along to change the kind of theatre people want to watch, the big names in vogue at the time tend to get swept away for a while, but get rediscovered and brought back into performance eventually. But while Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw are credited with that kind of revolution in Victorian theatre, their immediate predecessors have pretty much stayed in the obscurity they were cast into. I’ve always sort of assumed this was partly because the popularity of music hall at the time meant there weren’t many big names there to be swept away in the first place; and of what’s left, if even somewhere like the Finborough hasn’t seen fit to rediscover the hits of the time, there’s probably a pretty good reason. Well now the Finborough has rediscovered the big West End hit of 1868: Dion Boucicault’s comedies occasionally resurface but it was his melodramas that made him a household name, and my suspicions for why these plays remain obscure are proven right: From a 2019 perspective After Dark is very, very bad – in the best possible way.