Thursday, 21 September 2023

Theatre review: Beautiful Thing

Not that I've been at this for a while or anything, but you can read a review of the 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing on this blog, and now here's the 30th anniversary one, and a fresh look at the play that's in essence one that knows the script's strengths and plays to them. The fresh look is in the casting, which director Anthony Simpson-Pike wanted to allow young gay black kids to see themselves reflected in the characters. The only change I noticed in the script was a quick reference where Sandra asks Jamie if he's being bullied racially. Other than that the story's still as written, and very much in the early Nineties - in fairness I'm not sure how you could try to update jokes about Wincey Willis, let alone the specific point of gay history that inspired Harvey to write this rainbow-tinted play.

Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Theatre review: Mlima's Tale

Theatres really make it hard for me to keep my visits under control sometimes: Although no doubt worth seeing, Lynn Nottage's story of the ivory trade through the eyes of an elephant sounded bleak enough that it might be better to give it a miss, but then the casting for Miranda Cromwell's production was announced, and made it harder to say no. In its opening moments, Mlima's Tale gives us a bit of a misdirect that it might actually be what the title promises, as Mlima (Ira Mandela Siobhan,) a 48-year-old bull elephant, begins to give us a potted history of his life, the rainy seasons he's seen, the children he's sired. But these are the final moments of his life before he's brutally killed by poachers - after numerous attempts evidenced by a dozen bullet scars, it's a desperate, amateurish Somali pair who finally take him down.

Monday, 18 September 2023

Theatre review: Police Cops: The Musical

A painfully silly musical spoofing 80s pop culture, whose uniformly talented cast includes an impossibly attractive man with comedy facial hair whose clothes keep falling off? Well I can't see what's in it for me. Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson, Tom Roe (book & lyrics) and Ben Adams' (music) Police Cops: The Musical is another in the long line of 1980s tributes/spoofs whose popularity doesn't seem to show any signs of fading, although you'd have to put quite a few of those other shows together to match the sheer relentless stream of gags the company (whose writer-performer trio's company also goes by Police Cops - unusually, no director is credited so presumably they're doing that as well) throw into this spoof of American cop shows and movies, and the action genre more broadly - Lethal Weapon is probably the most obvious comparison, but there's nods to Die Hard, The Karate Kid and even Back to the Future.

Sunday, 17 September 2023

Theatre review: Frank and Percy

From several years - on and off - of the violent teenage musical shenanigans of Heathers resident on its main stage, it's a major change of pace as Ben Weatherill's Frank and Percy comes to London via Windsor and Bath. The gentle romantic comedy has been well-received on those earlier runs but what made a London transfer almost inevitable was the star casting of the titular pair: Roger Allam is Frank, widowed a couple of years earlier, and with little left to comfort him in his retirement other than his spoilt dog. It's on one of their visits to Hampstead Heath that he meets fellow dog-walker Percy (Ian McKellen,) and they strike up some small talk (the play was partly inspired by the way dog-walkers during lockdown found that chatting to each other became a treasured social interaction.)

Saturday, 16 September 2023

Theatre review: That Face

Launching her career as the watersports fetishist's favourite playwright, Polly Stenham's That Face wasn't just famous for Matt Smith's Astonishing Coup de ThéâtreTM but also for the fact that it was written when she was 19. Exposing the extreme dysfunction of the sort of rich, upper-middle class people who would describe themselves as merely "comfortable," it begins with Mia (Ruby Stokes) getting sent home from boarding school for taking part in a hazing ritual - a ritual she decided to spice up a bit by slipping the 13-year-old victim with Valium she stole from her mother's stash, putting the girl in hospital. Mia's father is returning from Hong Kong to bribe the school into not expelling her, but his imminent arrival means he'll also check in on her mother.

Friday, 15 September 2023

Theatre review: Infamous

For a small studio theatre, albeit a very central one, Jermyn Street Theatre gets to premiere new work by some well-known playwrights; although on recent form there does seem to be a reason these particular works don't find a more mainstream home. The latest is April De Angelis, whose Infamous is a weirdly unenthusiastic look at Georgian celebrity (and regular Blackadder punchline) Emma Hamilton. We first meet Emma (Rose Quentin) in 1798, the young wife of the septuagenarian ambassador to Naples. A former prostitute who climbed the social ladder as mistress to various powerful men, she's already achieved some notoriety as a close friend of the Neapolitan royals, whose influence makes her husband favour them over his own country's interests. But it's nothing compared to the infamy she's got planned.

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Theatre review: The Little Big Things

Back to @sohoplace, the theatre with a name so current it's kept its tamagotchi alive for a whole two weeks, and the new West End venue's first musical. Nick Butcher (music & lyrics,) Tom Ling (lyrics) and Joe White's (book) The Little Big Things is based on the autobiography of artist Henry Fraser, who is paralysed from the shoulders down and paints using a stylus he holds in his mouth. A promising teenage rugby player, Fraser was 17 when he had an accident on holiday in Portugal with his older brothers (Jamie Chatterton and Cleve September) that saw him flown back to England and to the hospital where he spent several months. The show is narrated by two versions of Henry that talk to each other in his head: The able-bodied Henry from before the accident (Jonny Amies) and the Henry after it, in a wheelchair (Ed Larkin.)

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Theatre review: Birthright

T.C. Murray's 1910 play Birthright is apparently inspired by the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, so I assume I don't need to say anything more about the plot. No? OK, it's set on a farm in rural Ireland where Bat (Pádraig Lynch) and Maura Morrissey (Rosie Armstrong) have two grown-up sons: Hugh (Thomas Fitzgerald) is his mother's favourite, the sportsman, poet and scholar with an interest in current affairs and the wider world. Shane (Peter Broderick) is the born farmer, and therefore his father's favourite. In fact it's not so much that Bat likes Shane more, as it is that he hates Hugh with a fiery vengeance, basically for taking after his mother more than him. Still, Hugh's the oldest, and therefore Bat has always sworn that the farm will be left to him, while Shane, who's been keeping the place going for the last few years, is planning to emigrate to America in a few days' time.

Sunday, 10 September 2023

Theatre review: As You Like It (Shakespeare's Globe)

Continuing to suggest Michelle Terry's vision for Shakespeare's Globe is as the most joyously queer theatre in That London, and tying that into the gender-bending embedded in many of Shakespeare's plays, the 2023 summer season closes as it opened, with a production largely cast with LGBTQ+ performers in roles that don't necessarily match their pronouns. Ellen McDougall's As You Like It goes one step further by making its queerness an integral part of how it divides the play's two very different worlds. We begin in the monochrome court of Duke Frederick (Dale Rapley,) who usurped his position from his own brother, whom he banished to the forest. But he allowed his niece Rosalind (Nina Bowers) to remain, as she was so close to his daughter Celia (Macy-Jacob Seelochan.) But a wrestling competition reminds him that his brother's former allies are still around.

Thursday, 7 September 2023

Theatre review: God of Carnage

I hadn't initially booked for the Lyric Hammersmith's revival of God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza's follow-up to "Art" - I'd seen the original West End production of Christopher Hampton's translation, and remembered not being particularly fussed by it. A great cast made the difference when it was announced, and got me back to Reza's other story of insufferably upper-middle class people having a meltdown in a joylessly chic living room. Ladies and Gentlemen: The French. We're in Veronica (Freema Agyeman) and Michael Novak's (Martin Hutson) flat, where they're hosting Alan (Ariyon Bakare) and Annette Raleigh (Dinita Gohil) for the afternoon. The Raleighs' 11-year-old son Ferdinand has hit the Novaks' son Bruno with a bamboo cane in the school playground, knocking out two of his teeth.

Tuesday, 5 September 2023

Stage-to-screen review:
Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical

Dennis Kelly (book) and Tim Minchin's (music and lyrics) musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Matilda was first seen in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010 and made it to the West End in 2011, but it took until 2022 for a movie adaptation (now streaming on Netflix) to be released. The wait seems to have been an entirely positive thing, as it's allowed Matthew Warchus - who also directed the original production - to look at it afresh, and come up with a screen version that doesn't really take many visual cues from the stage show, but does match it for eccentric charm. The opening song, "Miracle," is set on a maternity ward, and when we got a series of shots of babies in cribs, soundtracked by their thoughts singing about how amazing their parents tell them they are, I knew this was going to be fun.

Thursday, 31 August 2023

Theatre review: A Mirror

In an unnamed totalitarian state, Jan Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller) is Director of the Ministry of Culture, tipped to become the next Minister and, unlike the current one, actually interested in culture: He strongly dislikes the Ministry's nickname of "censorship bureau," and prefers to think of himself as someone who nurtures promising artists and hones their talents into something that can be used for the glory of the Motherland - like the national treasure playwright Bax (Geoffrey Streatfeild,) whose success Čelik takes a lot of credit for. He thinks he's found the next big thing in mechanic and former soldier Adem (Micheal Ward,) whose debut play violates almost every censorship guideline in the book, but whose naturalistic style shows promise Čelik thinks he can mould. In fact the play is even less artful than the Director realises: Adem has a form of photographic memory, and the unconnected scenes in the play he's submitted are actually verbatim transcripts of conversations his neighbours have had, that he's heard through the building's thin walls.

Tuesday, 29 August 2023

Theatre review: Candy

A piece that began as a 15-minute short and has been developed in various forms over the last five years, Tim Fraser's Candy is a monologue for Will (Michael Waller,) a single, middle-aged Yorkshireman who was the only one in his friend circle not to go to University. His job selling car insurance isn't particularly exciting but he's good at it, and it helps support his mum and great-aunt, who like to sit in front of the TV watching and rewatching romantic comedies. Will himself doesn't consider himself particularly romantic but things take an abrupt turn when his best friend Billy moves back from London, and invites him to a gig. Billy performs in drag as the chanteuse Candy, and although he's perfectly aware that she's his best friend in a dress, part of Will believes she's real, and he falls in love with her at first sight

Friday, 25 August 2023

Theatre review: Dumbledore Is So Gay

It probably won't come as much of a surprise that, despite having heard nothing but good things about Robert Holtom's Dumbledore Is So Gay from its earlier fringe runs, I was still very much in two minds about whether to book for its new run at Southwark Playhouse. As someone who was a Harry Potter fan, and who even though an adult when the books were first published derived some comfort from the stories at difficult times, it's something that's been very tainted in recent years by the author's views, and that I've been happy to cut out of my life (quite successfully as it turns out - I don't think I'd realised I'd have quite so little warmth left for the play's references to the books and films.) It's particularly grimly ironic that Holtom writes about the series' appeal to LGBTQ+ people, and the way it helps a young queer boy find his identity.

Thursday, 24 August 2023

Theatre review: Next to Normal

Fifteen years after its Broadway debut Next to Normal gets its London premiere at the Donald and Margot Warehouse, and in many ways you can see why UK producers might have been wary of bringing it here for so long - and not just because it won the Pulitzer for drama, and should therefore automatically be treated with suspicion. It treads a fine line between the emotionally raw and the emotionally manipulative, and I'm still not sure which dominates overall; there's definitely moments that fall on one or other side of that line. Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey’s (book and lyrics) musical is certainly a bold take on mental health issues, as it introduces Diana (Caissie Levy,) her husband Dan (Jamie Parker,) and teenage children Gabe (Jack Wolfe) and Natalie (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) as an almost exaggeratedly average family.

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Theatre review: Makeshifts and Realities

The Finborough's latest rediscovery season next takes us back around 110 years, for a triple bill of short, proto-feminist plays that take a steely, pragmatic look at young women of a certain comfortable, upper-middle class, and how their seemingly carefree lives are left up in the air when the money runs out - and they've not been allowed a Plan B. The first two come from writer Gertrude Robins, and run together so smoothly you'd be forgiven for thinking - as some of the audience did at the interval - that they were a single piece. They do tell a single story: In 1908's Makeshifts, sisters Caroline (Philippa Quinn) and Dolly (Poppy Allen-Quarmby) are caring for an invalid mother and have had to take in a lodger to help pay the rent. Both talk a big game of being independent: Teaching assistant Dolly says she doesn't think she'll ever get married, while Caroline is tentatively wondering if the suffragettes might have a point.

Thursday, 17 August 2023

Theatre review: The Effect

Easily one of the best plays of the 2010s, Lucy Prebble's The Effect returns to the National Theatre where it premiered, but it swaps the studio theatre for the Lyttelton, and the theatrical richness and tricksiness of Rupert Goold for Jamie Lloyd's simultaneously stripped-back yet brash style. Lloyd brings a design coup, as Soutra Gilmour reconfigures the Stalls and stage to make a traverse, putting the quartet of characters under the kind of intense clinical scrutiny their minds and bodies are subject to in the story. In a large medical complex - the ruins of an old mental asylum are still on the grounds - a group of volunteers take part in a medical trial. Connie (Taylor Russell) and Tristan (Paapa Essiedu) flirt with each other from the get-go, but as their time isolated from the outside world goes on, they seem to be falling violently in love with each other for real.

Wednesday, 16 August 2023

Theatre review: The Garden of Words

Adapting Japanese animation for the stage seems to be the new big trend, and as well as the Studio Ghibli juggernauts that also means smaller-scale anime like Makoto Shinkai's The Garden of Words, a low-key, dreamlike coming-of-age drama that follows the growing friendship between a teacher and pupil - although their Shinjuku school is evidently big enough that they don't, at first, realise that it links them. Takao (Hiroki Berrecloth) is a friendless 15-year-old who dreams of being a shoemaker when he grows up, while Yukari (Aki Nakagawa) is a literature teacher who's been caught up in a scandal when a student falsely accused her of inappropriate behaviour. Whenever it rains they both skip off school and escape to a temple garden, where she reads poetry and he sketches designs for women's shoes.

Friday, 11 August 2023

Theatre review: La Cage aux Folles

A few years ago the original French play La Cage aux Folles played a run at the Park Theatre; now Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein's (book) better-known, to English-speaking audiences at least, musical version returns to London as Timothy Sheader's final production at the Open Air Theatre before he swaps it for the Donald and Margot Warehouse. It's a good cap on his time as Artistic Director at Regents Park, showcasing at it does a fresh production of a classic musical, with a lot of heart, a lot of energy, and a design (in this case particularly Ryan Dawson Leight's showstopping costumes) that would be in a lot of trouble if, say, it ever rained in summer in London. The spectacular frocks are there, of course, because the titular club is the French Riviera's premier drag cabaret.

Thursday, 10 August 2023

Theatre review: Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe)

The Globe's latest Macbeth comes courtesy of director Abigail Graham, who casts Max Bennett as the Scottish nobleman whose prowess on the battlefield earns him extra honours. But thanks to a prophecy from three witches, he expects even more: They promised him the throne, and spurred on by his wife he decides not to wait and see if fate will make the prophecy true, but instead murders the King and takes his place straight away. Compared to most recent Globe productions Graham's doesn't play around with gender with quite as much gleeful abandon, but we still get a Queen instead of a King - Tamzin Griffin's Queen Duncan comes across as a capable but uninspiring leader, who brushes over the fact that she's said Macbeth and Banquo (Fode Simbo) were equally important to the military victory, but only actually rewarded the former.