Thursday, 25 May 2017

Theatre review: Othello (English Touring Theatre / Wilton's Music Hall)

Richard Twyman takes over as Artistic Director of ETT with a production of Othello whose stripped-back nature points to the restrictions of a touring production, but doesn't get in the way of atmosphere and dangerous intensity. Othello (Abraham Popoola) has wooed and married Desdemona (Norah Lopez Holden) in secret, and when her father finds out he tries to get the soldier punished. But it's clear Desdemonda acted entirely of her own volition and besides, despite being an outsider to Venice, he's one of their most effective generals, and is needed at a battle in Cyprus. So this plan to take down Othello fails, but its architect remains unsuspected: Iago (Mark Lockyer,) a trusted ensign overlooked for promotion, has developed a violent hatred of his general, and now comes up with a much more complicated and bloody plot, to convince Othello his new bride is cheating on him, and fan his jealousy into a murderous rage.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Theatre review: Angels in America, a Gay Fantasia on National Themes Part 1: Millennium Approaches

For the second year in a row London's hottest theatre ticket, with reviews to match the level of anticipation, is an epic play in two parts with a supernatural element. But far from the obvious appeal of Harry Potter, this year it's a 25-year-old American play about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s that was the instant sell-out. Tony Kushner's Angels in America comes in at well over seven hours, the first three acts of which are haunted by a sense of dread at something apocalyptic on the way - hence its subtitle, Millennium Approaches. Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield) is a flaboyant gay man who's just found out he's got the virus. His boyfriend of a few years, Louis Ironson (James McArdle,) is still deeply in love with him but very quickly realises a fact he hates himself for: He can't handle staying with Prior to watch him get sick and die.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Theatre review: Vice Versa, or, The Decline & Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands of his Canny Servant Dexter & Terence the Monkey

The Roman theme of this year's RSC season in Stratford extends to the Swan, most obviously in Vice Versa, or, The Decline & Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands of his Canny Servant Dexter & Terence the Monkey. Phil Porter's farce is inspired by the plays of Plautus, although they're not the only thing that's been "lovingly ripped off" - that tagline itself comes from Spamalot, and Janice Honeyman's production resembles nothing so much as a Carry On film - there's even a nod to the famous "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me" line from the play's gull, Braggadocio (Felix Hayes.) The vain and ludicrous General returns to Rome from a war, bringing with him some of the people he's enslaved - including the lady Voluptua (Ellie Beaven,) whom he's taken as a concubine.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Theatre review: Life of Galileo

Lizzie Clachan has turned the Young Vic into a planetarium for Joe Wright's production of Brecht's Life of Galileo, one of the most visually stunning and inventive shows on the London stage right now. The set is in the round, with a central pit where some of the audience sit on cushions, with the actors mingling around them. It gives the impression of a group of students in a relaxed setting, sitting around a charismatic teacher who's on a roll. The teacher is Galileo Galilei (Brendan Cowell,) the subject he's excited about the Copernican Heresy, which proposed that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and which astronomer Giordano Bruno had recently been burned at the stake for promoting. But Galileo teaches in Padua, which has a special exemption from the Inquisition's clutches and besides, having stolen credit for the invention of the telescope, he now has a tool that he can actually use to look at the stars and prove Copernicus right.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Theatre review: Salomé (National Theatre)

It's looking as if the successful Les Blancs was a fluke, and Yaël Farber really does believe that people walking around a stage incredibly slowly is the very essence of Dame Theatre. Her Salomé, which she writes as well as directing, has the tagline "the tale retold," but it's arguable whether it does even that - if you were raised in a non-Christian society and had never heard of Salomé, would you be any the wiser after this? I wouldn't put money on it. She's the niece and adopted daughter of King Herod, who lusts after her and demands an erotic dance from her in return for anything she desires; she asks for the head of the prophet Iokanaan, also known as John the Baptist. On stage the story is best known in the sole tragedy written by Oscar Wilde - which the RSC are, coincidentally, about to stage - in which her motives are those of a vengeful woman spurned, but Farber has a different interpretation of why she was so bloodthirsty.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Theatre review: A Lie of the Mind

I'm still a long way from being a fan of Sam Shepard's work but I've been getting on a lot better with the plays that have been revived this year. They're still quintessentially American, and a focus on what it means to be an American man is at the heart of them, but like in Buried Child there's a wider scope of interest and an unsettling edge of the surreal to A Lie of the Mind. Initially appearing to be about domestic violence, it becomes a spiral of insanity as the violent, unpredictable drunk Jake (Gethin Anthony) arrives at his brother's house claiming that he's beaten his wife to death. In fact Beth (Alexandra Dowling) is still alive, but the attack has left her with brain damage. Jake, too, seems to be out of his mind, the extremity of his violence leading to a nervous breakdown. Both of them get taken back to their parents' homes to recover, but neither house is really a good place for anyone's mental health.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet (Union Theatre)

Sometimes my, some might say fairly reasonable, resolution not to see plays I already know I don't like, is at odds with my intention to keep an eye on gay-themed theatre, and see if it's being held to a high quality. Which brings me to the Union's adapted version of Romeo and Juliet, which director Andy Bewley gives not one but two high concepts: It's now a gay love story, and one set in a world synonymous with toxic masculinity - professional football. Montague and Capulet are two Verona teams with an historic rivalry, Romeo (Abram Rooney) plays on the former's youth team, Juliet (Sam Perry) on the latter's, and when they fall instantly and violently in love feel the need to keep it secret. Especially once Romeo ends up in the middle of a violent clash between the two sides that leaves two people dead.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Theatre review: The Treatment

The latest Almeida season opens with Martin Crimp's 1993 play The Treatment - "treatment" as in the summary of a movie pitch, as well as the way people treat each other. Anne (Aisling Loftus) is describing a difficult life, culminating in her marriage: Kept in a small apartment she never leaves, her husband would sometimes tie and gag her, not to abuse her physically but to give lengthy speeches, waxing lyrical about car parks and strip lights. She's telling her story to Jennifer (Indira Varma) and Andrew (Julian Ovenden,) married as well as being producing partners, and interested in developing her story. They bring in down-and-out playwright Clifford (Ian Gelder) to script it, and bombastic actor John (Gary Beadle) to play the husband, as well as to provide some star wattage that'll attract investors.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Theatre review: Manwatching

It originated at the Edinburgh Festival a couple of years ago, which may explain why Manwatching's high concept relies on a plentiful supply of stand-up comedians: The comic monologue is written by a woman, who's been kept anonymous for reasons that aren't entirely surprising (the fact that she mentions having trained as an actor made me think Alecky Blythe*, but it would be a major change of style for her, and besides, there's nothing to say it's an established playwright, for all I know this could be her first work ever staged.) Whoever she is, this is very much a woman's story, but delivered by a different man every night. The Royal Court has listed the male comedians who'll be taking part but not their schedule, so you don't know who your performer is until they arrive onstage - tonight it was Adam Buxton, to the obvious excitement of some of the audience, who walked out onto a stage bare except for an elderly printer. The printer's there because the comedians have no idea what the content of the monologue is; it prints out 45 pages of script while they introduce themselves.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Theatre review: Assata Taught Me

It must surely be time for Ellen McDougall to announce her first shows as Artistic Director of the Gate, and if there's one thing I hope she carries on from her predecessor's run - apart from the overall quality, but you'd hope she's aiming for that anyway - it's the short and snappy running times. After the epic run of last night's show I was looking forward to something more concise, and Christopher Haydon's final piece of programming provides it. Kalungi Ssebandeke's debut play Assata Taught Me is short, sharp and sometimes even sweet, imagining what life might be like as one of the world's most-wanted women. Assata Shakur was a high-profile Black Panther, imprisoned for killing a policeman; she escaped and fled to Cuba where she's been ever since, but she remains on the FBI's Most Wanted list, with a $2 million bounty on her head. So, at least as Ssebandeke imagines her, she's free but always has to stay on the alert.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Theatre review: The Ferryman

The last time Jez Butterworth wrote a 3-and-a-half hour rural epic for the Royal Court Downstairs it was the mega-hit Jerusalem, and his latest looks to replicate at least some of that success: It sold out at the Royal Court and had already announced a West End transfer months before opening. But where Jerusalem was a very particular vision of England, The Ferryman takes us to 1980s Northern Ireland and the issue that's dominated centuries of its history. The Troubles are both distant and ever-present in a remote farm in County Armagh where IRA man-turned-farmer Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) now lives with his extended family. As well as his wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly) and their seven children, this includes several elderly aunts and uncles plus his sister-in-law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) and her teenage son Oisin (Rob Malone,) who've lived there ever since Quinn's brother vanished ten years earlier.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Theatre review: Julius Caesar (RSC / RST & Barbican)

It's ironic that Gregory Doran, to me the epitome of reverential, by-the-numbers Shakespeare, should have delivered my favourite-ever Julius Caesar a few years ago in a comparatively exciting and revelatory production; because Doran having temporarily handed over the reins to Angus Jackson for the Roman season at the RSC, it's Jackson who now serves up perhaps the most vanilla version of the same play I've seen so far. Have no doubt you can expect togas, swords and sandals from Robert Innes Hopkins' design as Julius Caesar (Andrew Woodall) returns to Rome triumphant after a military victory. His popularity sees the people clamour to give him political power at home, but not everyone's impressed: Cassius (Martin Hutson) has never been a favourite of Caesar's and doesn't want to wait and see how he'll fare under the new regime.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Theatre review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

In one of the complete restructurings of the Donald and Margot Warehouse auditorium that have been an occasional theme during Josie Rourke's tenure, Peter McKintosh has added an extra row of seats to make the circle in-the-round, and removed all the stalls seating, to be replaced by tables and chairs all around the stage. It transforms the venue into a Prohibition-era Chicago speakeasy for Simon Evans' production of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, about a man seen as a joke, rising to great power and bringing destruction in his wake. Arturo Ui (Lenny Henry) is a lumbering, awkward gangster who chances upon some dirt on the powerful Dogsborough (Michael Pennington,) and blackmails his way into the city's cauliflower trade. With the success of his protection racket over the vegetable market, Ui takes acting lessons to disguise his awkwardness and make him a better public speaker, and his new mix of threats and rhetoric starts to build a following.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Theatre review: The Cardinal

It may be a Troupe production at Southwark Playhouse's smaller space but the Royal Shakespeare Company's fingerprints are all over The Cardinal: The director and many of the cast are RSC regulars, there's a feeling the text has been thoroughly investigated, the programme features both articles from academics and a misleading running time, and there's even a dance break, as was de rigeur during the Michael Boyd years. The fact that James Shirley's play has even seen the light of day again can be traced back to the RSC as well, as it made the final four a couple of years ago when they were looking for an obscurity for the Swan. It lost out to Love's Sacrifice but director Justin Audibert clearly thought it was a shame for it not to reach an audience. On this evidence I would have to agree, it's got its problems, especially in the second half, but has a lot to recommend it as well.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Theatre review: While We're Here

Barney Norris is an up-and-coming playwright who's presumably got a big change of style in store - this time next year his Nightfall will be playing at the new 900-seat Bridge Theatre. For now though things remain super-intimate again as he opens another new space, the Bush's Studio which aims to recreate roughly the size of the original pub theatre. While We're Here takes place in a cosy living room (designed by James Perkins) in Havant, a town near Portsmouth which, if the play is anything to go by, seems more like the middle of nowhere. Carol (Tessa Peake-Jones) has lived there, and in the same house, almost her entire life. Eddie (Andrew French) is more of a drifter, literally so in recent years when he's fallen on hard times and been sleeping rough. The two had a brief relationship twenty years ago soon after Carol's divorce, and have now reconnected by chance when they bumped into each other in a park. Carol has invited him to stay at hers until he can get himself settled.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Theatre review: Late Company

The Shaun-Hastings are setting places for a dinner party with people they don't really know. Michael (Todd Boyce) is a conservative politician recently elected to the Canadian Parliament, Debora (Lucy Robinson) a "campaign wife" and one-time artist (a steel cock-and-balls she sculpted is the first thing the audience sees in Zahra Mansouri's design when coming into the Finborough.) They've looked into their guests and are a bit worried that while they themselves are clearly wealthy, Tamara (Lisa Stevenson) and Bill (Alex Lowe) might be the wrong kind of rich, and Debora thinks they're probably a bit vulgar. The reason for this awkward comedy of manners is a lot darker than the surface makes it look. Michael and Debora had a teenage son, Joel, who killed himself some months earlier. Bill and Tamara's son Curtis (David Leopold) was a ringleader among those who bullied him to his death.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Theatre review: City of Glass

It's a week of adaptations within adaptations - last night's Obsession was an English translation of a Dutch stage adaptation of a film adaptation of a novel, and tonight City of Glass is Duncan Macmillan's version not just of Paul Auster's novel, but also specifically of Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli's graphic novel adaptation of the story. Which is itself full of retellings of itself, and who exactly is narrating it is very much up for discussion. To wit, the lead character of Daniel Quinn is played simultaneously by two actors: Chris New and Mark Edel-Hunt occasionally appear on stage together but mostly alternate scenes, swapping places during blackouts. In fact, given how low the lighting is, I imagine people sitting quite far from the stage would have taken a while to realise this was happening, as despite the two men not looking much alike, even from the third row of the stalls it sometimes took a moment to be sure which one was on stage.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Theatre review: Obsession

Toneelgroep Amsterdam's season at the Barbican continues with a new play, based on a film by Luchino Visconti - whose work Ivo van Hove frequently stages - and with a cast half made up of Dutch ensemble members, and half of British guest actors (although at times even the latter seem to have picked up the Dutch accent.) After filling it with furniture and audience members for Roman Tragedies, Jan Versweyveld uses the size of the Barbican stage to leave vast empty spaces for Obsession, which takes place in a bar - one that apparently does have some customers, we just don't get to see them. Instead Gino (Jude Law,) a drifter, wanders in playing the harmonica and looking for something to eat, which he may or may not be able to pay for. He's a mechanic and stays to do a few jobs around the place in exchange for his room and board, but the real reason he's sticking around is because he's fallen instantly in lust with the barmaid Hanna (Halina Reijn,) and the second her much older husband Joseph (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) is gone they start an affair.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Dance review: Nuclear War

Unusually for a British playwright, Simon Stephens is a vocal fan of European directors' theatre, where the text is a starting point to be treated as faithfully or otherwise as the director decides. So it's not too big a stretch that he's also interested in his work being interpreted through the gift of dance, and the premiere production of Nuclear War is directed by Imogen Knight, who usually works as a movement director, with the instruction that she could use as little or as much of the scripted speech as she wants. In the event, though some of it is spoken by the actors on stage, much is pre-recorded as voiceover by Maureen Beattie, who plays a woman still in mourning for someone she lost seven years ago, but has finally decided to go out into the city again in search of someone - as the short piece goes on it seems increasingly that she's looking for a new man, maybe just to have sex with.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Non-review: The Philanthropist

If the odds of me coming back after the interval are anything to go by, West End comedy plays are in dire straits this year. I made an early escape from The Miser, and now another play with a Molière connection, Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist, had me rushing for the exit as well. Cast entirely through watching Channel 4 catch-up, plus that episode of Doctor Who where Lily Cole played a fish, Simon Callow's production offers little justification for why it should be revived. In roles they're patently too young for, Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal play stuffy university English lecturers who witness a (probably accidental) suicide in the opening scene. Perhaps out of empathy, the play also proceeds to die a death as Bird's Philip and his fiancée Celia (Charlotte Ritchie) host an evening of drinks for a few colleagues and a successful author.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Theatre review: Whisper House

The venue formerly known as the St James Theatre has been bought by Dr Baron Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Lord Webber BA (Hons) MEng, QC, MD to stage new musicals and, presumably on the basis that it being hidden in a back street wasn't obstacle enough to audiences finding it, has been renamed The Other Palace. A nod, I guess, to it being between the Victoria Palace and Buckingham Palace, but with there actually being two Palace Theatres in London already, one of them down the road, that technically makes this The Other, Other, Other Palace. In any case, everyone seems to read it as The Other Place, which is yet another theatre entirely, so basically what I'm saying is good luck with the #brand recognition, guys. Anyway, my first trip there since the name change is to a musical from Spring Awakening and American Psycho songwriter Duncan Sheik, but Whisper House is a much less explosive affair than either of those two.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Theatre review: Guards at the Taj

The Bush has just reopened after a major rebuild of its new building, that comes with reserved seating and new separate entrances for the box office, auditorium and toilets, which should hopefully all add up to a less nightmarish time in the bar area. It looks nice enough, although let's hope Madani Younis doesn't have any ideas about it being the most beautiful theatre there ever was or ever will be - if Guards at the Taj is anything to go by I'd hate to think what he might do to the builders. Rajiv Joseph's play takes its theme from a popular myth about the building of the Taj Mahal: Over the 16 years of its construction it was hidden behind temporary walls, and only its architect and the men building it were allowed to see it before it was finished, on pain of death to anyone who snuck a look. Joseph sets his play on the night before the unveiling, with Taj Mahal out of bounds for a few more hours.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Theatre review: The Hypocrite

2017 is the year of Hull as UK city of culture, and although they're based in Warwickshire the RSC have got in on the act, co-producing a new commission with Hull Truck Theatre. The city is at the heart of The Hypocrite, which although being written in the style of a Restoration comedy takes its story from true events from well before the Restoration, indeed before there was any need for a Restoration, as the titular character, Sir John Hotham (Mark Addy,) was the Governor of Hull in 1642, just as the Civil War was about to break out. His story was a scandal that put the city at the centre of the action, so it's natural that Hull's best and funniest living playwright should be chosen to tell it. But he must have been busy so they just got Richard Bean in to recycle some of the more successful bits from One Man, Two Guvnors.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Theatre review: The Winter's Tale (Cheek by Jowl)

After a couple of years away Cheek by Jowl finally return to London, and with their English-speaking company, with a rather odd production of a Shakespeare play I rarely like. Director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod go pretty basic for The Winter's Tale, on an almost-bare stage, with music only playing occasionally, and a monochrome Sicilia where King Leontes' (Orlando James) story opens with a dumbshow that gives us an idea of his relationship with the three most important people in his life, his lifelong best friend Polixenes (Edward Sayer,) King of Bohemia, wife Hermione (Natalie Radmall-Quirke,) and their son Mamillius (Tom Cawte.) The happy tableaux of the opening belie the fact that Leontes will soon lose all three of them due to a violent fit of jealousy that's completely unprovoked and makes little sense.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Theatre review: 46 Beacon

A gentle - perhaps too gentle - coming out story parks up at the smaller Trafalgar Studio for a month, Bill Rosenfield's 46 Beacon looking back at gay life in early 1970s America through rose-tinted glasses. Or possibly rose-tinted velour. Robert (Jay Taylor) is an English actor approaching middle age, who's taken a job in a Boston theatre to take a break from problems at home. Alan (Oliver Coopersmith) is a teenager with a part-time job at the theatre, and Robert has spotted and taken an interest in him, noticing that Alan is interested too. After one performance he invites him back to his small flat where he gently seduces him. And yes, although it's made clear Alan wants to be seduced but is mostly just reticent because of nerves about his first time and admitting his sexuality to himself, there is a bit of a creepy undertone to the age gap (though Robert doesn't realise at first just how big the gap is. The age gap, not his anus.)

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Theatre review: Diminished

In one of the better Hampstead Downstairs shows in a while, actor and filmmaker Sam Hoare makes a strong playwrighting debut with Diminished, which director Tom Attenborough sets in a clinical in-the-round space provided by the space's regular designer Polly Sullivan. It's a blank canvas that evokes a mental facility where Mary (Lyndsey Marshall) is being held. Although it takes a while for it to be said out loud it's clear she's there because she killed her severely disabled baby daughter. She'll be pleading diminished responsibility on the basis that depression and exhaustion caused temporary insanity, but with only a couple of days left until her trial she's decided that's not what she wants. She says she knew exactly what she was doing and deserves to serve a full prison sentence, and tries to convince Dr Parker (Rufus Wright) that his initial diagnosis was wrong.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Theatre review: The Lottery of Love

Its programming is fairly varied but Artistic Director Paul Miller's productions of classics a couple of times a year have become a signature of the Orange Tree. He usually picks British plays from the last century or so, but this time he's ventured a bit further afield, to the 18th century French writer Marivaux and his comedy The Lottery of Love. Sylvia (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Richard (Ashley Zhangazha) have been promised to each other since childhood, and are about to meet for the first time. Their fathers have both agreed they only need to go ahead with the marriage if they like each other, and Sylvia wants to make sure she catches Richard as he really is, not just on his best behaviour. So she hatches a scheme, agreed to by her father Mr Morgan (Pip Donaghy,) to trade places with her maid Louisa (Claire Lams,) and get all the gossip from her prospective husband's servants.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Theatre review: 42nd Street

The pull-quote on the poster promises one of the most famous openings in musical theatre - no, not Elaine Paige's vagina, but the seemingly infinite rows of tap-dancing chorus girls and boys who fill the stage as the curtain goes up on 42nd Street. Harry Warren (music,) Al Dubin (lyrics,) Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble's (book - Bramble also directs) musical is based on a novel, presumably a pretty short one as this classic story of overnight stardom is the Broadway success fantasy at its simplest. Peggy (Clare Halse) is fresh off the bus in New York when she flukes her way into the chorus of a new Broadway show. During the out-of-town tryouts though, leading lady Dorothy (Sheena Easton) breaks her leg, and the only wait, Sheena Easton? I haven't heard that name in decades. OK, fair enough, Sheena Easton it is. The only way for the show to go on is to cancel all the previews, bring the Broadway opening forward, rehearse Peggy in the lead in 36 hours straight and open to the critics immediately.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Theatre review: Consent

It feels like a while since we had a new Nina Raine play so Consent is a welcome arrival at the National, and the playwright's sharp dialogue finds a natural home in a group of friends most of whom are barristers. Kitty (Anna Maxwell Martin) and Edward (Ben Chaplin) have been married for ten years and have only just had their first child; Rachel (Priyanga Burford) and Jake (Adam James) have two children but their marriage has hit a rocky patch as Rachel suspects Jake of having an affair. The sextet is rounded off when Ed sets up his colleague Tim (Pip Carter) with Kitty's actor friend Zara (Daisy Haggard,) but this has the side effect of the two men's antagonistic relationship in court spilling out into their personal lives as Tim accuses Ed of actually wanting Zara for himself.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Theatre review: Incident at Vichy

Arthur Miller remains popular and respected enough that rediscoveries of his obscure work always do well - the Finborough's latest has already sold out its run and added a couple of extra matinees. But unlike No Villain audiences won't find something that echoes his more famous work too closely, as director Phil Willmott's contention is that Incident at Vichy is the closest Miller came to absurdism. The setting is a concrete and frightening enough one though: In the early days of the Nazi occupation of France, several men are taken off the streets of Vichy; some have their papers checked, some have their noses measured. They're left in a waiting room and called in one by one to be seen by a German scientist (Timothy Harker.) Most are Jewish, although given the rumours they've heard they don't mention that at first, only using the euphemism "Peruvian."

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Theatre review: Love in Idleness

It's hard to review any show with Eve Best in it and know for sure how good the play itself is. I suspect Love in Idleness is a pretty mediocre play by Terence Rattigan's standards - which still puts it above most, admittedly - but Best's presence elevates it to a thing of pure joy. She plays Olivia, a poor widow whose son was evacuated during World War II and has been living in Canada for the last four years. The War is nearing its end and Michael (Edward Bluemel,) now nearly 18, is returning to London, meaning his mother has to find a way to tell him something she's been putting off: She's been living with a wealthy Canadian industrialist who's also serving as Churchill's cabinet minister for tanks. Sir John Fletcher (Anthony Head) is still married but has separated from his wife and is only holding off on a divorce to spare the Government a scandal; he's promised to marry Olivia once the war is over.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Theatre review: Adam and Eve and Steve

Taking what's usually a homophobic cliché and turning it into a decidedly gay-friendly musical is Wayne Moore (music) and Chandler Warren's (book and lyrics) Adam and Eve and Steve. God (Michael Christopher) has created Adam (Joseph Robinson) and is preparing to create a mate for him when Beelzebub (Stephen McGlynn) intervenes and creates Steve (Dale Adams) instead. By the time Eve (Hayley Hampson) turns up Adam's already besotted with his new male friend. In fact he likes both of them equally but the fact that everyone's telling him he should be with Eve exclusively only puts him off her. Warren and Moore's show promises a bit of silly fun and absolutely delivers - the songs aren't going to win any awards for originality but they're lively and daft, and the cast have a lot of fun singing them that transfers to the audience.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Theatre review: The Life

I would consider Sharon D. Clarke to be a fairly big name, certainly in London theatre circles, so it's a bit of a coup for Southwark Playhouse that she's starring in their latest musical. But then Clarke seems like the kind of actor who'll choose roles based on how much she likes them rather than how starry they are, whether it's panto or an ageing hooker in an ensemble piece like The Life. If Guys and Dolls is the classic musical about Broadway's past as one of New York's seediest streets, then Cy Coleman (music) Ira Gasman and David Newman's (book and lyrics) musical catches up with it a little while before it gets cleaned up and tourist-friendly, and finds it more dangerous than ever. It's 1978* and almost every character we meet is either a prostitute or a pimp; Vietnam vet Fleetwood (David Albury) currently only pimps out his own girlfriend Queen (T'Shan Williams) as they save up to get away from New York and make a new start.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Theatre review: Don Juan in Soho

Having heard there was a stage left in London without one of his shows on it, Patrick Marber directs a revival of his Don Juan in Soho at Wyndham's. A modern relocation of Molière's Don Juan, it does stick to blank verse and a sometimes stylised turn of phrase in among the text speak and swearing. David Tennant plays DJ, heir to an earldom who, with no real demands on his time, chooses to spend all of it chasing after sex. Although he's happy enough to pay for it, he takes particular pleasure in pursuit and corruption, and in the opening scene has just returned from honeymoon: Having pursued the virginal Elvira (Danielle Vitalis) for two years and married her just to get her into bed, he's now got what he wanted and has cheerfully broken her heart, telling her he wants a divorce after a fortnight.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Theatre review: The Wipers Times

Next year's centenary of the Armistice will probably see as many First World War plays as the centenary of its start did, but Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have got in early with their offering, and as befits editor and writer of Private Eye their angle is to look at a satirical publication. The Wipers Times takes its title from a weekly (if they could find the paper to print it that week) newspaper published from the trenches, which in turn was named after the English soldiers' mispronunciation of Ypres. That's where former printer Sergeant Tyler (Dan Tetsell) discovers a working printing press, which his Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton) and Lieutenant Pearson (George Kemp) use to create a morale-boosting collection of spoof advertisements and takedowns of the official war correspondents, whose articles make it sound as if they're in the trenches, it's just that no soldier has ever actually seen them there.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Theatre review: The Chemsex Monologues

Patrick Cash's The Chemsex Monologues has had some good buzz in the last year, but the King's Head's packed schedule (which tends to put shows I might otherwise be interested in on at 9pm on a school night,) meant there wasn't a chance for me to see it; Luke Davies' production now returns and has a couple of matinees, so I managed to fit it in. Although it deals with gay characters I can identify with the play about as much as I can with one set in a remote African village: I've never been a big clubber, my sanity's fragile enough without adding drugs to the mix, and frankly the idea that you could be having enough sex to get bored of it and need chemicals to spice it up seems like science fiction. Still, Cash manages to invoke a world that doesn't seem all that alien in the end, despite revolving around a series of club nights and the private sex parties that follow them, where everyone is on a cocktail of drugs so safe sex easily becomes an afterthought.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Theatre review: Antony and Cleopatra (RSC / RST)

The bonkers Titus Andronicus aside, the Roman plays aren't among my favourite Shakespeares, but they're hard to avoid this year: The RSC is basing its entire summer season around them, and only a week after seeing Ivo van Hove's Roman Tragedies I'm in Stratford-upon-Avon for a full take on the play that provided that epic with its climax: Antony and Cleopatra starts with Mark Antony (Antony Byrne,) who was among the victors at the end of Julius Caesar (which I'll be catching, out of order, in a few weeks' time,) as part of a Triumvirate sharing power over the Roman Empire. Lepidus (Patrick Drury) is older and a voice of reason, but the younger Octavius Caesar (Ben Allen) is more unpredictable, and could make a play for sole power if he thinks Antony's no longer up to the task of maintaining an empire.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Theatre review: The Bear / The Proposal

In response to the battle lines that have been drawn around the world's public bathrooms with regard to transgender people in recent years, the Young Vic was one of the first London theatres to put up signs making clear visitors there can use whichever loo they feel more comfortable in. So it's not too surprising to see this inclusive attitude extend to the programming, and the latest Genesis Award winner in the Clare has a cast made up of a trans man, a trans woman, and the bearded drag cabaret star better known as Le Gateau Chocolat. And it is, of all things, an Anton Chekhov double bill that director Lucy J Skilbeck uses to look at fluid gender identities. The Bear / The Proposal is a pair of one-act comedies, and in the first half things are played, no pun intended, straight.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Theatre review: Limehouse

In the last couple of years the Donald and Margot Warehouse has been increasingly staging new political plays, with the latest finding painfully topical relevance in events from 1981, when a breakaway group from Labour formed the Social Democratic Party. Steve Waters' Limehouse takes place over a long Sunday, after a party conference in which the Unions' influence overturned every centrist proposal, positioning Labour firmly at the far left. Already known as the Gang of Four for their vocal disagreement with the direction the party was taking, David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill,) Bill Rodgers (Paul Chahidi,) Shirley Williams (Debra Gillett) and Roy Jenkins (Roger Allam) see this as the final straw that will make the party permanently unelectable. They usually meet at the more central home of one of the others, but today Owen insists they come to his house in Limehouse for a change of scenery.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Theatre review: The Frogs

Well into the realm of Stephen Sondheim marginalia, it sounds as if the original 1974 version of The Frogs was never even meant as a full musical. Sondheim and Burt Shevelove took Aristophanes' comedy and built a short revue out of it, not very well-received and soon becoming an obscurity. Nathan Lane then took that revue and expanded it into a full-length show in 2004, Sondheim bulking it up with seven new songs. This, too, was poorly received and went back to being a footnote, but the Jermyn Street Theatre now gives it another try, inspired by the bleak state of current affairs that mirrors the premise of Aristophanes' original: Dionysus (Michael Matus,) god of theatre and wine among other things, despairs at the state of the world and decides people need a great mind like Bernard Shaw to boost their spirits while showing them the error of their ways.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Theatre review: The Kid Stays in the Picture

Telling a true story that features more than a couple of troubled movie productions, The Kid Stays in the Picture has had some teething problems of its own. Simon McBurney and James Yeatman's adaptation of Hollywood producer Robert Evans' memoirs had to cancel its first few previews and postpone press night to tonight. Whether this was down to technical glitches in the multimedia - of which there were still a few in evidence - or the format of the show not coming together I don't know, and to be honest would believe either. Evans started his cinematic career as an actor, one given a chance by a couple of powerful producers who went against the advice of actors and directors to cast him in major roles (the title is a quote from Darryl F. Zanuck putting his foot down.) As it turns out the directors were right, the producers were wrong, and Evans was a critical flop in both his big movies.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Theatre review: Roman Tragedies

It visited the Barbican several years ago, but now that Ivo van Hove is one of the biggest names in theatre internationally, there's enough of an enthusiastic audience for his work to sell out three more performances of one of his most famous Toneelgroep Amsterdam productions. And it certainly takes a certain amount of confidence in the director to commit to watching Roman Tragedies - it runs for six hours without a conventional interval, and is performed entirely in Dutch (with surtitles.) This promenade production conflates three of Shakespeare's four Roman tragedies - the three that have at least some basis in historical fact, beginning with Coriolanus. This first play is the least connected to the rest of the action, as we skip a couple of centuries forward at the end of it, but it does add a symmetry to the evening: Early on Coriolanus (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) sneers in disgust at the prospect of having to smell the common people if he has to campaign for their votes, a sentiment expressed again almost word for word by Cleopatra (Chris Nietvelt) near the end.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Theatre review: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

This year's big-name West End casting is getting into its stride now, and after her all-conquering Gypsy Imelda Staunton is one of the biggest; although, having long been a stage stalwart the amount of seasons Conleth Hill has managed to survive in Game of Thrones must have made him a draw to much of the audience as well. Add Luke Treadaway and you've got a high-powered cast for James Macdonald's revival of a 20th century American classic. Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is the archetypal story of a toxic marriage imploding but, as slowly becomes apparent over one very long night, the situation is even more twisted than it initially appears. George (Hill) is a History lecturer at a small East Coast university, and as his wife Martha (Staunton) is the daughter of the all-powerful college president, it might be expected that he'd have easily advanced in his career.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Theatre review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Southwark Playhouse puts comic books on stage again although we're in significantly darker territory than Usagi Yojimbo with Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which adapts Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel set in 1976 San Francisco. Minnie (Rona Morison) is 15, the same age her mother Charlotte (Rebecca Trehearn) was when she had her. She might not be adding another teenage pregnancy to the family but her own sexual awakening is far from healthy, as she's been seduced by her mother's seedy boyfriend Monroe (Jamie Wilkes.) It's an ongoing affair and although Minnie hasn't particularly fooled herself that it's love, she's still pretty smitten. With an out-of-her-depth mother fond of a number of recreational drugs, and a seemingly more sensible ex-stepfather, Pascal (Mark Carroll,) who writes her letters encouraging her to keep studying, but has something of a distant, academic interest in her himself, Minnie's left to find her own way.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Non-review: The Miser

Professional reviewers get most of the perks but there's one reserved for those of us who pay for our tickets: The right to make a run for it at the halfway point without feeling guilty about it*. So I can't call this a review of the whole of Molière's The Miser, loosely adapted by Sean Foley and Phil Porter, and directed by the former. I didn't actually hate it - if I had I'd probably have stuck it out so I could rip it to shreds with all the information to hand - I just knew by the interval that there was little to be gained from sticking around. In a production that appears to have been cast by watching a week's worth of repeats on Dave, Griff Rhys Jones plays the titular Harpagon, whose children won't see a penny while he's alive, which is a problem as they've both fallen for poorer people: Daughter Elise (Katy Wix) loves butler Valere (Matthew Horne) and son Cleante (Ryan Gage) their neighbour Marianne (Ellie White.)

Monday, 13 March 2017

Theatre review: Ugly Lies the Bone

Lindsey Ferrentino's Ugly Lies the Bone is a play for only five actors - one of whom stays offstage almost throughout - looking at a domestic situation. There's a reason it's landed on the big Lyttelton stage at the National though, and that's because it also encompasses a much larger world, albeit a virtual one. Jess (Kate Fleetwood) has returned from her third tour in Afghanistan after getting caught in an IED explosion, with horrific burns that cover half her face and much of her body. She's in constant pain and coming back to where she grew up doesn't even have the comfort of familiarity: Her Florida town's economy was based around space shuttle launches, but with NASA ending the programme the town has dried up, jobs are scarce and it's becoming a ghost town. Her mother is now in a nursing home with dementia, and Jess refuses to visit her because she's afraid she won't recognise her.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Theatre review: Snow in Midsummer

A few years ago the RSC got caught up in a controversy over not casting enough British East Asian actors in classic Chinese play The Orphan of Zhao - a controversy that now looks very minor compared to the recent Print Room shitshow - but they now seem to be trying to make amends with a new ongoing project of translations of classical Chinese theatre. Of course the RSC's tendency to announce instantly-forgotten projects is notorious - how's that plan to stage the Shakespeare canon in the RST in 5 6 8 years with no repeats going? - but if the opening production is any indication, we have to hope this one has legs. Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's Snow in Midsummer is a free adaptation of a 13th century classic, Guan Hanqing's The Injustice to Dou E That Moved Heaven and Earth.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Theatre review: Othello (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

With its black title character Othello is, unsurprisingly, most often used as a way of looking at racism, but for the last of this year's Swanamaker season Ellen McDougall has a different approach in mind. After all, the only overt racism in the play comes from Othello's enemies, but with help from a little tinkering with the text McDougall exposes how the misogyny in the play's world is even more deep-rooted. General Othello (Kurt Egyiawan) has made Michelle Cassio (Joanna Horton) his new lieutenant, to the fury of his ensign Iago (Sam Spruell,) who'd been expecting the promotion. Using his reputation as the most trusted of the officers, Iago decides to take revenge in a slow, insidious way.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

theatre review: a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)

debbie tucker green is one of the few playwrights who seems to get away with directing the premiere productions of her own work. this may be because, despite a poetic quality they all share, each of her plays has a very distinct feel, and the way they're staged is often integral to that. take her latest, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), which marks itself out as doing things differently as soon as you walk into the royal court upstairs: merle hensel's set design is like an inverted thrust staging, with the five actors on a raised stage that runs around three of the walls, while the audience sits in the middle on stools, turning to watch the action. sometimes the actors perform together, others they stand across the room from each other, delivering their lives over the audience's heads. and that's a very on-theme metaphor for a play about the way love can alternately attract and repel people.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Theatre review: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Like so much about Hamlet, the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are open to endless interpretation. Two old friends of Hamlet's, they're brought in by King Claudius to spy on his nephew's erratic behaviour, get to the bottom of it if they can, and report back. Later they're used by him again as messengers in an attempt to have Hamlet killed, a plot that ends up backfiring on them. But their appearances are sporadic and brief, leaving each production to fill in the gaps, particularly with regard to how guilty they are of collaboration: Are they happily betraying their friend in return for promised reward? Unhappy with their actions but aware they'll be in danger if they don't comply, like Rosencrantz in the current Robert Icke production, or honestly believing they're helping, like Guildenstern in the same production? Or are their onstage scenes the only idea they have of the main plot, meaning they're barely aware of the story or their part in it?