Saturday, 27 August 2016

Theatre review: The Two Noble Kinsmen (RSC / Swan)

I saw my first Shakespeare production aged 15, an RSC production of Macbeth which, like the company's entire ensemble seasons in those days, came to the Barbican. The Macbeths I've seen since must go into double figures but not every play is as frequently revived, and thanks to my largely eschewing theatre in the late nineties and early noughties, completing the set ended up taking 27 years but I've finally seen every canonical Shakespeare play^ on stage. Nowadays you have to go to Stratford-upon-Avon to catch the less popular titles but it's good that I was back at the RSC to tick off the last show on the list, and also appropriate that it should be what's generally accepted to be Shakespeare's final extant play, and to this day the most obscure, the Fletcher collaboration The Two Noble Kinsmen. Set in the same time and place as A Midsummer Night's Dream, it seems Shakespeare thought all Theseus (Gyuri Sarossy) and Hippolyta (Allison McKenzie) ever did was fight wars and watch shows, because once again they spend the start of the show doing the former, and the rest of it doing the latter.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Theatre review: They Drink It In The Congo

In among various classics that the Almeida is staging over the next year or so are a pair of premieres, starting with Adam Brace's look at white guilt and a country often called the most dangerous place in the world - but in the UK still probably best remembered as a soft drink jingle - They Drink It In The Congo. Stef (Fiona Button) works for a government-sponsored charity organising a festival of Congolese culture to raise awareness of the country and its various horrors. Together with the Congo-born Anne-Marie (Anna-Maria Nabirye) she leads the steering committee that is trying to agree on the acts, as well as ensuring there's an authentically Congolese voice in the decision-making. But even the seemingly simple elements prove impossible to reconcile, and that's before the organisers start receiving death threats.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Theatre review: Groundhog Day

Some things seem such bad ideas on the surface it's amazing to think of them succeeding once, let alone twice. The 1993 film Groundhog Day has a story based entirely around repetition, which should have made it struggle to entertain anyone, but of course it went on to become one of the best-loved comedies of all time. That global affection is a double-edged sword for any adaptation, as a guaranteed audience is also an audience likely to judge extremely harshly if they don't feel justice has been done to the original. Throw in a bit of Difficult Second Album Syndrome for songwriter Tim Minchin after the huge success of Matilda, and you've got a show with a lot of pressure on it. Minchin is joined by the film's screenwriter Danny Rubin to adapt the story whose setting comes from a genuine, eccentric local tradition.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Theatre review: The Burnt Part Boys

Not actually about a naked barbecue, The Burnt Part Boys is an American musical set in a West Virginia coal mining community in 1962. Ten years earlier a cave-in caused the death of several miners whose bodies were never recovered; the company promised that the specific area where it happened - now known as the Burnt Part - would stay closed as a tribute, but they're now going back on their word. Jake (Tintin Chris Jenkins,) whose father was one of the dead, has followed him into the job and is now among the first who'll be sent down the reopened tunnels, but when his 14-year-old brother Pete (Joseph Peacock) finds out about it he sees it as a desecration of their father's grave. Bringing along his best friend Dusty (Ryan Heenan) he steals some dynamite and tries to break into the Burnt Part.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Theatre review: 946

Although officially the new Globe regime won't see each cast double up over two plays, there's a lot of cast crossover between Emma Rice's A Midsummer Night's Dream and the family show she's brought with her from her previous company, Kneehigh, 946. Based on the novel The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, it's another in the writer's peculiar niche of children's stories about real war. War Cat 946 moves us from the First World War to the Second, and a coastal village in Devon where 12-year-old Lily (Katy Owen) argued with her father before he went off to join the war. Convincing herself she's not worried about his return, she puts all her concern into her cat Tips (puppeteered by Nandi Bhebhe,) who has a tendency to run away. The farming community gets further shaken up by the arrival of evacuees from London, including Lily's new friend Barry (Adam Sopp.)

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Theatre review: Allegro

Much as I have issues with Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II - mainly to do with the varied and jaw-dropping ways they find to be offensive, and the fact that "Some Enchanted Evening" on a loop for three hours doesn't constitute a musical - there's no denying the position they occupy in American musical theatre - essentially regarded as its creators - and the love for them worldwide. So the fact that one of their shows has never actually been staged in the UK before has to make you wonder why, while still being fascinated to find out what it's actually like. Their third collaboration after big hits Oklahoma and Carousel, Allegro tanked on Broadway in 1947 but Southwark Playhouse's perennial re-interpreter of classic musicals, Thom Southerland, and his choreographer Lee Proud throw everything at this attempt to make sense of the story of Joseph Taylor Jr (Gary Tushaw,) a talented small-town doctor who's disillusioned when he takes a high-paying job in a big city.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Theatre review: Young Chekhov - The Seagull

Last year's big one-day, three-play marathon, The Wars of the Roses, followed Shakespeare's rarely-performed Henry VI plays with the much-loved and frequently revived Richard III. So too this year when it's Anton Chekhov's turn, and after the very obscure Platonov and fairly rare Ivanov, Young Chekhov at the National takes us up to his first big hit, and my personal favourite, The Seagull, in the same theatre where I first saw the play. Tom Pye's set for the whole trilogy has, as far as possible, avoided the usual stuffy drawing rooms and, taking it's cue from Chekhov's love of a disappearing natural world, been dominated by dead trees and shallow waters. This water has colonised even more of the stage for the finale, with all of the upstage area now a lake, through which characters sometimes wade to make a dramatic entrance.

Theatre review: Young Chekhov - Ivanov

This may be Young Chekhov but it's already time for a midlife crisis play in the middle section of Jonathan Kent's productions of David Hare's translations. Ivanov (Geoffrey Streatfeild) is 35 and depressed, feeling trapped in his home with consumptive wife Anna Petrovna (a completely different Anna Petrovna but again played by Nina Sosanya, showing range as she goes from educated woman to completely dependent on her husband's attention,) and his bombastic uncle Count Shabyelski (Peter Egan, from the 1980s.) As with the characters in Platonov, property doesn't always come with the money to maintain it, and Ivanov is hugely in debt to the two women who between them control the town's finances. Ivanov begins an affair with Sasha (Olivia Vinall,) daughter of his main creditor.

Theatre review: Young Chekhov - Platonov

Another theatrical marathon day as a trio of productions originally seen in Chichester come to the Olivier. Jonathan Kent directs David Hare translations of Anton Chekhov's early work, grouped together and played either individually or in one day as Young Chekhov. First up is the playwright's first, unfinished full-length play Platonov, in which a rural community deal with twin obsessions of sex and money - too much of one and not enough of the other. Cash is thin on the ground for the upper-class widow Anna Petrovna (Nina Sosanya,) who's running her late husband's estate entirely on loans from local loan shark Shcherbuk (David Verey,) but she's still a young woman and the wealthy Porfiri (Jonathan Coy) has proposed. But Anna only has eyes for the same man all the other local women do.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Theatre review: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

The last time the National Theatre hosted the National Theatre of Scotland it was very much the story of the men in charge, but in this latest visit, directed by the NTS' former Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone, it's all about young women making the most of things. Lee Hall's Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour follows six girls from the titular Catholic school in the Scottish port of Oban. The school's sky-high teen pregnancy record has earned it the nickname Virgin Megastore, but they intend to show a much more restrained front when the choir travels to Edinburgh for a competition. The girls themselves have other ideas, and sneak out the night before the contest to see the city. Orla's (Melissa Allan) cancer was supposedly cured at Lourdes, and as a result she's been showered with money she plans to spend getting drunk and trying to find a boy to lose her virginity to.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Theatre review: The Collector

Even with the Old Vic Tunnels long gone there seems no end to the amount of railway arches under Waterloo Station being used as theatres. The network of performance spaces known as The Vaults have colonised another tunnel down the road, now confusingly christened The Vault Theatre, and a dingy kind of space is apt for Mark Healey's adaptation of John Fowles' The Collector. The setting is a large basement kitted out in mismatched old furniture, the cellar of a remote 17th century farmhouse bought by Frederick Clegg (Daniel Portman) after winning millions in the lottery. Working class, poorly educated and socially awkward, the money has opened up possibilities for him, but he's gone straight for the darkest possible interpretation of this: He's been obsessed with art student Miranda Grey (Lily Loveless) for months, and can now collect her.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Theatre review: Yerma

Yerma isn't actually yer ma, she's not anybody's ma, that's the problem: Writer/director Simon Stone does a loose - very loose - adaptation of Federico García Lorca's play about a woman with a malfunctioning uterus. Relocated to present-day London, Billie Piper plays a journalist identified only as "Her," who's never had any particular wish for children until she and husband John (Brendan Cowell) buy their own house. On the night they move in they decide to try for a child after all, and ceremonially destroy her birth control pills, but as years go by and her sister Mary (Charlotte Randle) seems to have baby after baby despite no apparent wish to, Her remains childless through endless rounds of IVF. In Lorca's original, it's the whole of society judging Yerma for failing to produce a child, but in a 2016 context it becomes her own personal obsession that starts to drive her mad.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Theatre review: The Past is a Tattooed Sailor

Whatever I saw immediately after Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was going to have a tough act to follow, but this is going from the sublime to the ridiculous: Going from a seemingly unlimited budget to zero budget isn't necessarily a bad thing, some of my favourite shows have been in rooms above pubs, including this one. But going from a script carefully crafted by experts to a confused vanity project is something else entirely: Journalist Simon Blow's first, and hopefully last play, The Past is a Tattooed Sailor is based on his own youth and real experiences with an elderly relative (in fact the publicity has been so keen to point out it's about Bright Young Thing Stephen Tennant that I'm not sure why he bothered to change the names.) Upper-class but orphaned and now penniless, Joshua (Jojo Macari) discovers he still has a wealthy relative, his great-uncle Napier (Bernard O'Sullivan,) who had a colourful youth and now lives in a crumbling country house reliving it from his bed.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Theatre review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part Two

Tonight it's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part Two, and as with Part One of J.K Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany's story I'm going to to do a review with some degree of spoilers, a little bit spoilery for plot, a bit more so for characters and staging, as a record of my reaction for myself if nothing else. So read on if you've seen the plays already or are involved in the production and already know everything; or, I guess, if you're absolutely sure you have no intention of ever seeing it either at the Palace or when it eventually opens on Broadway and, probably, territories all around the world. If you have tickets, are planning on going to see it or there's any chance you might some day, #KeepTheSecrets and stop reading after this paragraph.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Theatre review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part One

Shows are always plugging themselves as "the theatrical event of the year"- most recently Sunset Boulevard attempted the line, rather foolishly as if there's ever been a year when that title has had no contest, this is it: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two were a phenomenon as soon as tickets went on sale, and now the show's actually opened the response has actually lived up to expectations. Playwright Jack Thorne is the first writer J.K. Rowling has entrusted to script an entirely new, canonical Harry Potter story, although she and director John Tiffany collaborated with Thorne on putting the story together. I chose to see this over consecutive nights so will review the parts separately too, although reviewing a show where it's important to #KeepTheSecrets is a tricky business. Ultimately this blog is a record for myself as well as reviews for others, so I will be giving it a go - so here's a little spoiler disclaimer:

After the text cut, expect some spoilers - I'll be mentioning some characters and their actors, and the general starting point of the plot, but I won't give away all the twists. Still, if you have any intention of seeing this show, I'd say - spoilering this review itself - I loved it, now don't read below the cut. Even if you won't be seeing it until 2017 or even until it makes it to Broadway, come back and read what I thought then - I can wait.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Theatre review: The Plough and the Stars

Following the Globe giving The Taming of the Shrew a new setting, the National Theatre has its own production to mark the centenary of Ireland's Easter Rising, with The Plough and the Stars. Sean O’Casey's play, long controversial for being seen as pro-IRA, looks at a group of characters in a Dublin tenement in scenes six months apart: The first two acts take place in November 1915, with them going about their daily lives: Nora (Judith Roddy) is trying to get her new husband Jack (Fionn Walton) away from the Irish Citizen Army, her uncle Peter (Lloyd Hutchinson) is constantly arguing with his Communist nephew The Young Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor,) and Mrs Gogan (Josie Walker,) recently widowed and whose daughter has Period Drama Cough, doesn't get on with her Protestant neighbour Bessie (Justine Mitchell,) whose son is fighting in World War I, and who likes to lean out of her windows shouting into the street like Trekkie Monster.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar

We're going way back through the mists of time for this one, back to a time when Dr Baron Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Lord Webber BEng actually came up with more than two tunes per show, and Jesus Christ Superstar is all the better for it. Originally a concept album, it means that although it's staged fairly frequently, it's usually as a concert, so Timothy Sheader's full staging in Regent's Park is something of a rarity. Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice created a musical passion play with a sympathetic slant on the reviled figure of Judas (Tyrone Huntley.) Jesus Hector Christ (Declan Bennett) has been building a following for the last three years, and although Judas still believes in his teachings, he has three main concerns: That Jesus Horatio Christ doesn't quite practice what he preaches, especially in the case of Anoushka Lucas' (strong-voiced but not all that impactful) Mary Magdalene; that they're not helping the poor directly any more; and the refusal to deny rumours of being the actual son of God.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Theatre review: Into the Woods

The Menier Chocolate Factory's mission is usually to colonise as much of the West End and Broadway with its own shows as possible, so importing a show from the US is an unusual move for them, especially when it's an actor-musician production, a style that's been popular with, and successful for, various homegrown companies in recent years. Directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld (who both also appear in the cast) have chosen one of Stephen Sondheim's most popular works though, and one with a high profile after being made into a recent film. Into The Woods throws together Cinderella (Claire Karpen) and her Prince (Brody,) Rapunzel (Emily Young) and her Prince (Andy Grotelueschen,) the beanstalk-climbing, giant-killing Jack (Patrick Mulryan) and a bloodthirsty Little Red Riding Hood (Young,) all their stories taking place as a result of a Baker (Steinfeld) and his Wife (Jessie Austrian) desperately wanting a child, and needing to lift the curse that's keeping them childless.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Theatre review: Growth

I'm pretty sure Paines Plough hate London audiences and don't want them to see their shows - I can't see any other reason for setting up the only London dates of their new Roundabout tour in a well-hidden corner of Hackney 20 minutes' walk from the nearest tube station. Indeed, they succeeded in keeping people away from the final London performance of Growth, which is a shame as Luke Norris' new play works well even with a small turnout, but I think could have really captured the attention of a full house. Norris' first play looked at the health issues of an older man, but now he looks at those of someone a lot closer to his own age. Andy Rush plays Tobes, who loses his job, his girlfriend and his flat in the course of a few weeks. But all his frustrations end up focusing on something else he's about to lose.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Theatre review: Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe)

Emma Rice's first season at the Globe is called "Wonder," as in "I wonder where all the shows have gone?" I feel like I've barely set foot in there this summer yet, but in fact I'm nearing the end of the main season. The last of the three shows that make up the majority of the summer schedule is Iqbal Khan's take on Macbeth. Like Rice herself and Caroline Byrne he's been given free rein to break out of the venue's old house style, and like them he gets mixed results. When the Scottish king Duncan (Sam Cox) rewards his best general Macbeth (Ray Fearon,) he little imagines he will take these new honours and seek out much greater ones: A supernatural apparition has foretold to Macbeth that he will be the next king, and his wife is keen for him to speed up the process with a spot of regicide.