Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Theatre review: Homos, or Everyone in America

A low-key meme in 2018 seems to be gay plays that engage with the legacy of Angels in America; The Inheritance was of course a two-part epic, while one of the characters in Jordan Seavey’s Homos, or Everyone in America refers to living in “a post-gay fantasia,” a nod to the subtitle of Tony Kushner’s play. If Seavey intends to look at as far-reaching an examination of gay identity as those plays, he’s got a much more modest canvas in mind, as his one-act play has four characters, but for the vast majority of its running time is a two-hander. A New York couple known only as The Writer (Harry McEntire) and The Academic (Tyrone Huntley) meet online, fall for each other quickly in real life, have a few happy if combative years together, break up, try to remain friends and, after a brutal reminder that homophobia hasn’t gone away even in an America with equal marriage rights, finally find a relationship that works for them.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Theatre review: Little Shop of Horrors

Last seen in London in 2007, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's Little Shop of Horrors is the Open Air Theatre's main musical offering of this summer, and if it hadn't already been a must-see for me the fact that Maria Aberg is directing definitely would have tipped the scale. And although everything that's fun about the show remains, there's certain directorial touches - and one casting choice in particular - that really make the production feel like it's been looked at with fresh eyes. The 1982 musical is based on a 1960 Roger Corman B-movie, a fact nodded at by Tom Scutt's design making the stage a drive-in cinema; but as the story's set on Skid Row and everything's run down, this drive-in is long-since closed and derelict, everything is grey and lifeless, and the scenery is wheeled on and off stage in shopping trolleys.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Theatre review: Bring It On

Currently in residence at Southwark Playhouse, I’m quite surprised that youth company British Theatre Academy managed to get the rights to Bring It On - given Hamilton fever is still high I would have thought there’d be lots of competition to cash in on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name. Miranda contributes songs alongside Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, with Avenue Q’s Jeff Whitty providing the book, based loosely on the 2000 teen comedy. Very loosely – I’m pretty sure in the film Eliza Dushku transferred to Kirsten Dunst’s school rather than the other way round and Phill, who seems to have a worryingly encyclopaedic knowledge of its many straight-to-video sequels, thought some of the plot points might have come from them. Campbell (Robyn McIntyre) has just been made captain of Truman High’s award-winning cheerleading squad, when a rezoning of the school district means she and unpopular student Bridget (Kristine Kruse) have to spend their senior year at the rough Jackson High, which doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Theatre review: Exit the King

"He thinks he's the first person ever to die."
"Everyone is the first person ever to die."

That’s the exchange at the heart of Exit the King, and the real gut-punch in what is, somehow, the first time the National Theatre has ever staged a play by Eugène Ionesco. King Bérenger (Rhys Ifans) can command the sun to rise and set, win global wars with the force of his will alone, kill anyone who displeases him simply by ordering that their head fall off, and though technically mortal will only die when he chooses. Except suddenly none of this works. Bérenger deciding his own time of death was dependant on him choosing something within an average human lifespan, and at 483 years old the choice has been taken out of his hands. After a three-day illness his nation has shrunk, the army is down to one Guard (Derek Griffiths) who can’t even hear, let alone obey the king’s orders any more, a huge crack has appeared in the palace wall and Mercury has collided with Saturn – but only in the skies above Bérenger’s kingdom. Outside its borders, everything goes on as usual.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Theatre review: £¥€$

After becoming a much-talked about show in Edinburgh and touring the world, Belgian company Ontroerend Goed's £¥€$ (pronounced "Lies") makes it to London for a limited guest run at the Almeida. Ten years on from the 2008 financial crisis there's nothing new about a show inspired by it (most recently The Lehman Trilogy took a very different look at its origins,) and the mechanics of how it became inevitable have been explained before; Ontroerend Goed's twist is to try and make the audience understand how bankers could casually risk the economies of entire nations, by turning global finance into an entertaining casino game. The Almeida's seating has been cleared out, replaced by a dozen tables surrounding the room, with the audience becoming players who are led to their table. If you've come to the theatre with someone else you'll be split up, to ensure you're surrounded by strangers and can't second-guess how they're going to respond.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Theatre review: Home, I'm Darling

Laura Wade’s new play opens with a cheesy domestic scene straight out of a 1950s sitcom, as perfectly-coiffed housewife Judy (Future Dame Katherine Parkinson) floats around her kitchen making breakfast for her estate agent husband Johnny (Richard Harrington,) making sure he’s got everything ready so he’s not late for work. But before she can get on with the cleaning and tidying she needs to look up a couple of housekeeping tips on the internet, because Home, I’m Darling takes place in the present day. Having met through their shared love of all things ‘50s, the couple have decked out their house in authentic period designs and goods – even if that means a fridge that only works when it feels like it – decanting all their groceries into period-appropriate containers and, when Judy was made redundant three years ago, decided to take the experiment further by living their daily lives as if it was sixty years earlier, right down to the traditional gender roles.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Re-review: King Lear (Duke of York's)

King Lear is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I must have seen at least a dozen productions by now, so I don't say it lightly that Jonathan Munby's Chichester production from last year was the best I've seen yet - in fact I chose it as my overall favourite show of 2017. With Ian McKellen in the titular role it was always going to make commercial sense to transfer it to London, and I wasn't going to miss the chance to see it again even if I knew the changes that come with a transfer meant it couldn't quite match up to the original experience. For one thing, the Duke of York's might be a small theatre by West End standards but it's a world away from the intimacy of the Minerva, where even sitting near the back of the theatre only actually translated to the fifth row or thereabouts, and the cast made lots of entrances and exits by an aisle right next to me.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Theatre review: Pity

After the comparative triumph of writing the Olivier’s least-worst new play of 2017, Rory Mullarkey returns to the Royal Court where his somewhat disjointed style of playwriting goes up a notch to fully embrace Absurdism. Pity opens on a generic town square – it used to be the Market Square but there isn’t a market any more – where an ice cream stall has been set up, and Francesca Mills runs a tombola before the show starts. A man named only as Person (Abraham Popoola) starts to narrate his day – unemployed, he people-watches as it’s the only way to spend his time that doesn’t cost anything – and meets a Professor (Paul Bentall) who’s in the middle of a reactionary rant to his daughter when he’s struck by lightning and killed instantly. Person responds by proposing to Daughter (Sophia Di Martino) and the two marry without getting round to learning each other’s names.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Theatre review: Allelujah!

A couple of things worth getting out of the way straight away: Alan Bennett's latest play is his best since The History Boys. Not necessarily the biggest compliment considering the reception to The Habit of Art and especially People, but if Allelujah! isn't the 84-year-old's best-ever work* it certainly doesn't disappoint. The second thing that needs saying is that underneath a hugely entertaining surface this is an unapologetically angry, political play. For all that AB has a reputation as a cosy, cuddly National Treasure who doesn't like being called a National Treasure, his work has always had this sharpness - the quintessential Englishness† of his work always tempered with anger and frustration at what he sees eroding his idea of what makes the country worth celebrating. In Allelujah! that anger is never not tangibly bubbling under the comedy and tragedy of his epic hospital story.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Theatre review: As You Like It (Open Air Theatre)

Second time lucky at the Open Air Theatre's As You Like It - if you thought London hadn't had a drop of rain for weeks you weren't in NW1 last Friday, when it came down so heavily the performance was abandoned before it could even start. Although this afternoon's grey clouds never resolved themselves into another downpour the fates still seemed against me seeing this production: At least two audience members fainted 20 minutes in, leading to a pause in the performance, and the least said about the pigeon that tried to land on my head in the second act the better. But Max Webster's production made it to the end, and the multiple marriages at the end of one of the more music-heavy Shakespeare plays, made even more so here with some original compositions by Charlie Fink.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Theatre review: But It Still Goes On

I think most theatres wore out their commitment to commemorating the First World War in 2014, so it hasn't dominated programming in the centenary of its final year like it did in the first. But the Finborough is still committed to its THEGREATWAR100 strand, and Millennials feeling under constant attack from their grandparents' generation might take some small comfort from But It Still Goes On, in which even those who fought in the trenches are regularly dismissed as feckless wasters. In fact there's a strong feel of "it was ever thus" to much of Robert Graves' play. Best known for I, Claudius, which due to a sacred rule of comedy I have to pronounce "I, Clavdivs," Graves was commissioned to write the play in 1929 but it was never produced - possibly because the producers of Journey's End were expecting a similar story of life in the trenches, rather than one of how the survivors have to move on with very little help from those they fought for.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Theatre review: Under the Blue Sky

AMATEUR PRODUCTION DISCLAIMER: As usual, I like to point out that drama school presentations are officially classified as amateur productions; and as usual, I'm going to ignore that in the way I review this, as everyone involved could be professional very soon.

And so to one of my occasional trips to LAMDA's public performances, where I try to spot stars of the future and (spoiler alert!) fail miserably. David Eldridge's Under the Blue Sky premiered in 2000, and I last saw it when it was revived in the West End ten years ago, but there are moments when you can see the through-line in Eldridge's writing with his most recent hit, Beginning. A triptych of loosely connected scenes all involving teachers at an Essex public school, Under the Blue Sky opens with Nick (Barney Fishwick,) who works at a rough East London school, inviting his best friend and colleague Helen (Helen Reuben) for a meal to tell her he's planning to take a job at the private school. For the idealistic Helen this is a blow as she believes they can do the most good where they are, but her anger is really down to the fact that she was hoping the dinner was about something else - she's been not-so-secretly in love with Nick for years, and thought he was going to confess he feels the same.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Theatre review: The Lehman Trilogy

After having apparently been a hit across Europe, Stefano Massini’s The Lehman Trilogy gets its first English-language version from Ben Power, and a glossy production at the Lyttelton from Sam Mendes. Apart from very brief glimpses of supernumeraries, the three-and-a-half hour play is cast only with three actors, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley. In the current theatrical climate it's hard not to notice that a banner production at the National Theatre exclusively stars middle-aged white men, but then it's hard to argue that the middle-aged white men they're playing haven't had a significant enough effect on today's world for their story to need to be told: The fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 was the trigger for the most recent global recession, whose political after-effects are very much coming to play now; this is the story of the men who created the company, and the descendants who steered it in directions that helped put global finance on a knife-edge.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Theatre review: The Winter's Tale
(Shakespeare's Globe)

Time for the second “Emilia” play in the Globe’s summer season, although as the Emilia (Zora Bishop) in The Winter’s Tale is a lady-in-waiting with few lines it’s not the strongest argument for the name’s significance to Shakespeare. The story really revolves around Leontes (Will Keen,) the Sicilian king and slipper enthusiast who’s been best friends with Bohemian king Polixenes (Oliver Ryan) all his life. But a sudden bout of jealous insanity convinces him that Polixenes is having an affair with his wife Hermione (Priyanga Burford,) and nothing will shake him of that conviction. Courtier Camillo (Adrian Bower) manages to convince the visiting king that his friend is plotting to kill him, and they escape back to Bohemia, but the heavily pregnant Hermione isn’t so lucky: Publicly accused of cheating, she’s thrown into jail, put on show-trial and even the literal word of god (a judgement from the Delphic oracle) can’t convince her husband of her innocence.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Theatre review: For King and Country

A First World War scandal that still resonates is the treatment of British deserters, hundreds of whom were executed for cowardice after incidents of what we would now identify as PTSD, and who were only formally pardoned as recently as 2006. So John Wilson’s 1964 hit, which was later filmed, would seem a play that could still hit a nerve today, but unfortunately Paul Tomlinson’s production almost seems to go out of its way to demonstrate why For King and Country has lain neglected for the last 30 years. Private Hamp (Adam Lawrence) has been caught casually trying to leave the Western Front and been brought in front of a Court Martial. One of the few surviving members of his platoon after four years in the trenches, getting trapped in a bomb crater for several hours triggered a sudden change in behaviour, and with Shell Shock starting to be recognised as a real thing, Lieutenant Hargreaves (Lloyd Everitt) thinks he’s spotted a real instance of it.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Theatre review: The Lieutenant of Inishmore

It’s starting to look like 2018 might be the first year I don’t see Damien Molony on stage since I started this blog; instead it’s his Being Human predecessor who makes his West End debut in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. And while I guess Poldark fans probably make up more of the audience, it’s those of us who are used to seeing Aidan Turner covered in blood who’ll be most at home here. We first meet Turner’s Mad Padraic when he’s torturing small-time drug dealer James (Brian Martin,) stringing him upside-down from a meat hook and asking him to choose which nipple to lose. A nationalist considered too crazy even for the IRA, Padraic has joined splinter group the INLA instead, and has spent the last year travelling around Ireland, blowing up chip shops (they’re not really a legitimate political target, but they’re much easier to infiltrate.) James’ nipple is saved at the last minute by a phone call from Padraic’s father.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Theatre review: Heathers

London might have to wait a bit longer for the musical adaptation of Mean Girls, but another classic American high school movie about, well, mean girls, gets the musical treatment in the meantime. Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s Heathers, based on the film by Daniel Waters, premiered off-Broadway and has been further workshopped since, now arriving on The Other Palace’s main stage in a production directed by Andy Flickman. Heather Chandler (Jodie Steele,) Heather McNamara (Sophie Isaacs) and Heather Duke (T’Shan Williams) are top of the social ladder of an Ohio High School, and led by the fearsome Heather Chandler they pass judgement on who should be accepted or demonised. When they discover Veronica (Carrie Hope Fletcher) has a talent for forgery they allow her to join their gang, but when she refuses to go along with bullying her oldest friend Martha (Jenny O’Leary) she’s kicked back to the bottom of the social pecking order.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Theatre review: Genesis Inc.

Marking the 40th anniversary of the first test tube baby, Hampstead Theatre stages Genesis Inc., Jemma Kennedy’s satire of the monetisation of reproduction. The tangled plot follows two couples whose experience of the titular IVF clinic throws them together in unexpected ways: Bridget (Laura Howard) is an ambitious financier who’s had her eggs frozen there in case she wants a baby in the future, and overhears that Harry Enfield’s intermittently South African Dr Marshall wants to float the company on the stock market; she decides to pitch to represent him. Meanwhile her best friend Miles (Arthur Darvill) is a gay, Jewish music teacher who’s just got a job in a Catholic boys’ school, and has gone partly back into the closet in the belief that it’ll help him keep his job. Bridget is bearding for him, but with the fertility clinic on her mind, she wonders if the time has come for her to have a baby, and whether instead of an anonymous sperm donor she should ask Miles.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Theatre review: Miss Littlewood

The influential theatre director and coat thief Joan Littlewood will always be associated with Stratford, so it seems inevitable that a new musical about her life would premiere there; but maybe there was some confusion about which Stratford, because instead of East London Miss Littlewood has turned up in the West Midlands, opening at the RSC. Sam Kenyon's musical sees Joan Littlewood (Clare Burt) narrate her own life, taking control of the story in a way that will prove characteristic of the way she worked. The show's conceit is that a further six actors also play her in various stages of her life, showing her getting older, but also suggesting constant reinvention - the younger Joans all represent different aspects of her personality, the older ones an attempt to tie them all together.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Theatre review: Fun Home

The Young Vic’s programme is announced so far in advance that only now, months after Kwame Kwei-Armah took over as Artistic Director, do we get the final show programmed by his predecessor David Lan. And it’s a powerful note to end on, as he imports Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron’s (book and lyrics) unconventional Broadway musical hit Fun Home, which adapts Alison Bechdel’s non-linear, autobiographical graphic novel for the stage. The story device sees Kaisa Hammarlund as the adult Alison try to write her book, struggling to come up with the correct caption to describe her relationship with her father Bruce (Zubin Varla,) the relationship which forms the centre of her story. It’s largely the story of her coming to terms with her sexuality and coming out, told through flashbacks to her childhood as Small Alison (Harriet Turnbull, alternating with Brooke Haynes) and her college years as Medium Alison (Eleanor Kane.)