Tuesday 31 December 2013

2013: Nick's Theatre Review of the Year

Hello! My name is Elder Nick,
And I would like to share with you the most amazing year.

Here we are again then with another review of my theatre year in London and... thereabouts. Thanks for coming along and reading what I've had to say. I say reading, judging by my blog hit stats most of you are just here to look at the pictures, which is fine, it's what "The Internet" is mainly for. Later on I'll be listing my most loved and hated shows, and announcing what's following 2012's Shivered as my 2013 Show of the Year. But before that let's see what was new, what bizarre theatrical memes kept coming back, and what awards I feel like giving out along the way, pretty much arbitrarily. Seriously, I can barely get excited about the likes of the Olivier or Evening Standard awards any more, with their old-fashioned Best Actor or Best Actress type gubbins, when I've got the likes of Best Nipples to announce.

Monday 30 December 2013

Theatre review: Protest Song

It's a long time since Rhys Ifans was a regular face at the National Theatre but he returns now to take up residence in The Shed as Danny, a homeless alcoholic who's spent the last seven years sleeping on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. The Square Mile is his idea of the perfect place for rough sleepers, as there's business people to beg cash from during the day, but nobody lives there so it's quiet at night. Things start to get a lot less quiet in the winter of 2011 though, as Tim Price's Protest Song is about what happens when someone who has no choice but to sleep rough is faced with hundreds of people who are doing it to make a political statement. St Paul's was of course the focal point of the Occupy London movement, and so for some months Danny shares his home with the protesters.

Friday 27 December 2013

Theatre review: Meet Me In St Louis

A 1944 Judy Garland film a couple of whose songs became enduring standards, the 1989 stage adaptation evidently didn't become quite as iconic, as it's only getting its UK premiere 26 years later. I'm not huge on old-fashioned musicals but Robert McWhir at the Landor has a good track record with them so Meet Me In St Louis was a good bet for a bit of a break over Christmas. Apparently based on a number of short stories, it's evident in the rather vague storyline that follows the Smith family of St Louis over the year 1903, as they anticipate the World's Fair opening in their town the following year. Along the way the two eldest daughters fall in love, and as Christmas approaches they face the possibility of having to leave the place they were born as their father plans to move the family to New York.

Monday 23 December 2013

Theatre review: The Duck House

In May 2009, a story broke about the biggest Parliamentary scandal in... well, in about a week, realistically. They're not exactly thin on the ground, Parliamentary scandals. The one we're looking at here is the expenses scandal, that saw Members of Parliament abusing their right to claim business expenses from taxpayers' money. Eventually the news would settle on the biggest issue, of MPs from all parties using their need for two residences (one in their constituency and one near Westminster) as a pure money-spinner. But initially all the attention was on the irrelevant receipts being charged to public funds, from the petty - 1p for a phone call - to the surreal - a moat, and a glittering toilet seat. The most notorious item an MP attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to claim for was The Duck House.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Theatre review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Earlier this year I loved The Play That Goes Wrong, but wasn't sure about the title, thinking it seemed a bit blunt and didn't reflect how inventive the farce contained within was. But that title may have turned out to be a stroke of genius that's allowed Mischief Theatre to spin it off into a franchise: Theatregoers in Reading have been seeing what happens when The Nativity Play Goes Wrong, and here in London the company have moved to the Pleasance Islington's main stage, where Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Once again we're guests of the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are hoping that their production of Peter Pan by "Jaime Barry" will be more successful than their previous efforts. Or at least result in fewer fatalities. But there's little hope of that with Chris (Henry Shields) still in charge, as well as Playing Mr Darling and Hook. And just in case enough didn't go wrong last time, this time they've got a revolve.

Friday 20 December 2013

Theatre review: Fortune's Fool

I wonder what kind of play Fortune's Fool, currently playing at the Old Vic, is? That's not a rhetorical question, I've just sat through the damn thing and I'm none the wiser. Tragicomedy is obviously what's being aimed for, but what's actually landed on the Old Vic's stage is anybody's guess. After 7 years in St Petersburg, Olga ( Lucy Briggs-Owen) is returning to the country estate she's sole inheritor of. She's bringing her new husband Pavel (Alexander Vlahos) and, this being late Tsarist Russia, the new man of the house will have the final say in all domestic matters. This could be bad news for Vasilly Kuzovkin (Iain Glen,) an impoverished gentleman whose own estates have been tied up in legal wrangles for decades. Vasilly has lived as a guest of the family for 20 years, but Pavel would be within his rights to turf him out. When a bullying neighbour gets him drunk for his own amusement, Vasilly reveals a family secret that makes his welcome wear out all the sooner.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Theatre review: Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse)

"Tom Hiddleston showering on stage." According to my blog stats, I've already been getting hits from people Googling that phrase long before I even saw the show. So there you go, at least now those people will actually find something for their troubles. Yes, Hiddles does take a shower on stage, although it's more like a quick splash. Calm down, he doesn't even take his trousers off, it's not like he's getting his Coriolanus bleached. He does also share a kiss with a man, but that's more of a quick peck on the lips than anything to get the Internet too moist in the gusset. But if these two headline-grabbing moments are nothing much to write home about, it's fortunately because they're throwaway elements of a solid production, as Josie Rourke tackles a simply staged but interesting Coriolanus.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Theatre review: The Last March

In 1910 Captain Robert Falcon Scott set off on an expedition to lead a British team to the South Pole, hoping to beat Roald Amundsen's Norwegian crew and be the first ever to make it there. They failed, Amundsen planting his flag first, and Scott's journey ended tragically when they didn't survive the trip home. Not an obvious starting point for knockabout comedy, but new company tinder are determined to give it a go in The Last March, devised by director Ian Nicholson and the company. Samuel Dent plays Scott, starting the story with the dream of an expedition that's captured the imagination of the press and public, but not actually found anyone to pay for it yet. A number of failed attempts to find a sponsor ends with the Royal Geographical Society, who agree to the funding as long as the mission includes a geological survey. With just the bare necessities (mainly scotch) packed, the march begins.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Theatre review: American Psycho

The last two Doctors have both undergone remarkable physical transformations on the London stage at the moment, and while David Tennant's makeover as Alanis Morisette is... special, I reckon it's trumped by Matt Smith's ridiculously buff, frequently scantily-clad regeneration into Patrick Bateman, the titular character of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. Smith's casting has of course been the only talking point ever since it was announced, rather overshadowing the other unusual thing about this premiere production: The songwriter behind Spring Awakening has turned the blood- and sex-drenched 1980s satire into a musical. When Smith's Bateman is first raised onto the stage through the trapdoor, he's perfecting his tan on his own sunbed. The skin, like the muscles under it and the clothes over it, is all part of the image that has to radiate success.

Monday 16 December 2013

Theatre review: Drawing the Line

Howard Brenton's on a bit of a roll at Hampstead Theatre, where he's debuting his third new play in just over a year. After the English Civil War and Chinese political prisoners he turns to the very last days of the Raj, with the 1947 partition of India, and the man charged with Drawing the Line. A respected judge but with no knowledge either of India or of maps, Cyril Radcliffe (Tom Beard) is called upon to redraw the map of the subcontinent. As the British Empire withdraws, India is filled with bloody religious conflict; although many different religions are represented in the country, Radcliffe's job is to divide along artificially simplistic lines: India for the Hindus, led by Nehru (Silas Carson,) and a new nation of Pakistan in the North for the Muslims, led by Jinnah (Paul Bazely.) With all the religious groups spread throughout the country, Radcliffe begins with a blank canvas, but his attempts at fairness will come across pressure not just from political interests, but personal ones as well.

Friday 13 December 2013

Theatre review: Beauty and the Beast (Young Vic)

A fairytale but definitely not a pantomime at the Young Vic's Maria, where Beauty and the Beast is more like Beauty and the breast. And the other breast. And some more breasts. And cocks and arses and filthy susans all over the place. Mat Fraser is an actor whose face is probably more familiar than his name from various bits of TV work, but he's probably best recognised by his arms: His mother took Thalidomide for her morning sickness so he was born with severely shortened bones in his arms and no thumbs. It was apparently his American wife Julie Atlas Muz who suggested Beauty and the Beast as a metaphor for how they met, and instead of divorcing her he's brought it to a stage with her, as well as a pair of actors they describe as their "puppeteer slaves," Jess Mabel Jones and Jonny Dixon. Talking teapots not included.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Theatre review: Emil and the Detectives

It's a Moppets Christmas Carol in the Olivier this year where the National, usually preferring to cast adults as children for its big family shows, has taken its cue from the likes of Billy Elliot and Matilda and put a lot of faith in child actors. Many, many child actors. Many. Adapted by Carl Miller from the book by Erich Kästner, Emil and the Detectives is a story of Germany in 1929, meaning that right from the word go there's an edge to the show for the benefit of the adults, even as the kids get a story to get excited about. Emil (Toby Murray tonight, alternating with Ethan Hammer and Daniel Patten) has been trusted by his mother (Naomi Frederick) to go on the train alone, to visit his grandmother in Berlin and deliver her an envelope full of cash. When it goes missing, Emil decides to track down the thief, a notorious bank robber, with the help of the Detectives: The many, many children from all walks of life keen for an adventure. Many.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Theatre review: The Night Before Christmas

Not too surprisingly for the second week of December, I'm in the middle of six solid days of seasonal1 offerings, all of them with a slightly different flavour to the traditional Christmas fare. Soho's take is a revisiting of Anthony Neilson's play The Night Before Christmas, which he's rewritten as a musical with lyrics by himself and director Steve Marmion, and music by Tom Mills. There's certainly a creature or two stirring in Neilson's very adult version of the story, set in a warehouse owned by Gary (Navin Chowdhry,) a former city trader and now dealer in counterfeit goods. The toys and gadgets may be fake but he doesn't fancy having them stolen regardless, so when he catches an intruder in an elf costume he ties him up and calls his friend Simon (Craig Kelly.) By the time Simon's arrived though, Gary is convinced the man isn't a burglar at all, but an actual Elf (Craig Gazey,) who claims to have fallen off the sleigh, and needs to be returned before midnight or he'll die.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Theatre review: Fault Lines

An office-based comedy can be a good vehicle for shining a light on the kinds of jobs everyone knows someone must have to do, but don't usually think too much about. When thinking of disaster relief charities, we're likely to imagine the people going to the scenes of earthquakes and tsunamis to help survivors. But someone has to make sure the money's going to the right place and keep the charity visible enough that more of it keeps coming in, and these are the people Ali Taylor puts at the centre of Fault Lines. Employing just four people plus an unpaid intern, a lesser-known disaster charity is struggling to stay afloat. An earthquake in Pakistan on Christmas Eve gives manager Pat (Nichola McAuliffe) the idea of being the first people on the scene. But the staff are hungover and bickering, and prone to making big mistakes.

Monday 9 December 2013

Theatre review: Let The Right One In

A teenage vampire love storyNO WAIT, COME BACK! IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK! Having read John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and seen the first of the two film adaptations, Let The Right One In feels very familiar to me but it seems not everyone has even heard of it, so may need reassuring that absolutely nothing sparkles. Except maybe some blood in the snow. Instead this is a bleakly Scandinavian but strangely romantic coming-of-age story that takes in vicious bullying, blurred gender identity and an undercurrent of paedophilia. Basically standard Christmas fare for the Royal Court, where Jack Thorne's adaptation comes following its premiere earlier this year for the National Theatre of Scotland. And though the original 1980s Swedish setting remains (with an authenticity that goes all the way to chocolate bars called Plopp) the accents are all Scottish in John Tiffany's atmospheric production.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Theatre review: Operation Crucible

The demise of Sheffield's steelworks will be a big deal in the West End next year when The Full Monty comes to town, but for now here's a group of (sadly) more conservatively-dressed men from the days when the city's industry was not just flourishing, but crucial to the country's survival. The manufacture of knives and forks left Sheffield's two local football teams fighting over the nickname "Blades," but during the Second World War knives were replaced by more dangerous weapons as the city became the heart of Britain's munitions manufacturing. Despite being the place where Spitfire parts were made, the only time German planes were heard overhead was when they were on their way to bomb another city. But on the 12th of December 1940 Germany finally realised the strategic importance and Sheffield got its own Blitz, leaving it almost flattened.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Theatre review: Jack and the Beanstalk (Lyric Hammersmith)

There's a new creative team behind the scenes for the Lyric Hammersmith's pantomime this year, but for the fourth year running it's Stevie Webb's job to hold things together on stage. Tom Wells takes over writing duties and Dan Herd directs Jack and the Beanstalk, in which Hammersmith is terrorised by the giant Nostril and his henchman Mr Fleshcreep (Nigel Richards,) and only a girl called Jack (Rochelle Rose) and her green-fingered best friend Sprout (Webb) can save the day by climbing up a beanstalk into the sky. And along the way of course there's songs, audience participation, double-entendres for the grown-ups, topical references (Zumba, Miley Cyrus and Mumford & Sons are popular targets) and very, very bad jokes.

Friday 6 December 2013

Theatre review: Candide (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Who'd have thought I'd be seeing a second show called Candide within a matter of months? What with Mark Ravenhill's "response" at the RSC, and the research that Ravenhill admitted was necessary before seeing it, I'm starting to feel very familiar with Voltaire's satire on optimism, despite never having read it. Raised on the philosophies of Pangloss, who teaches that this is the best of all possible worlds, therefore everything that happens must be for the best, Candide travels the world seeking his lost love Cunegonde. Beset by catastrophe after catastrophe, he blandly ascribes them all to the mysterious but necessary machinations of a benevolent god. The version of the story now being revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory is Leonard Bernstein's operetta, which has gone through a number of different versions over the years - the one used here is a 1988 text first staged by Scottish Opera, with book by Hugh Wheeler and lyrics by 70% of the earth's population.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Theatre review: Henry V (Michael Grandage Company at the Noël Coward Theatre)

A year ago it looked certain that the Michael Grandage Season at the Noël Coward Theatre would be one of the theatrical events of 2013, but as it draws to a close I wonder how long we'll even remember it for. Not that the star-studded quintet of plays has been bad, at least not always, but it's certainly not been stellar either. The last time Grandage took on a West End theatre for a year he ended with Jude Law as Hamlet, and they reunite to close this season as well with a go at Henry V. On inheriting the crown, Henry instantly abandons fun and games in favour of a ruthless ambition to reclaim French territory he believes rightfully his. Convincing himself that god is on his side, the way things pan out does nothing to disprove this theory as his tiny, exhausted English army trounces their stronger enemy.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Theatre review: Gastronauts

Dinner and a show, although which is which isn't clear in the Royal Court's Gastronauts from writers April De Angelis and Nessah Muthy, and director Wils Wilson. In a "departure lounge" in the Jerwood Upstairs, the audience is encouraged to choose from fluorescent drinks in shot glasses - though if the one I chose was anything to go by they weren't alcoholic but fruit and vegetable juices, I couldn't put my finger on what mine was but it tasted familiar - before going into an area set up with restaurant tables. Andy Clark, Imogen Doel, Nathaniel Martello-White and Justine Mitchell are flight attendants serving us, with Alasdair Macrae as the captain providing music and narration. In between performing short scenes about food, the significance it takes in our lives and the price - not just financial - of it, the cast also encourage the audience to try out some interesting food samples, all with a story to tell.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Theatre review: The White Carnation

Not actually a play about evaporated milk, The White Carnation sees the Finborough Theatre find another seasonally-appropriate show from the archives - this time a Christmas ghost story. Although we're not really in for thrills and chills here because the ghost is the central character, and his behaviour is resolutely non-spooky. John Greenwood was a wealthy stockbroker, killed along with his wife and friends by a German bomb during a Christmas Eve party. For the next six years the ruins of his townhouse are haunted by the party being played out again every December 24th, but on the seventh year they don't all disappear at midnight: Greenwood (Aden Gillett) is left behind, believing no time to have passed, and wondering why the police are accusing him of breaking into his own house. He still has a physical body but like the flower in his buttonhole he doesn't age, and he doesn't show up in photos.

Monday 2 December 2013

Theatre review: The Shape of Things

Neil LaBute has written a loose trilogy of plays about body image, which began with The Shape of Things. Set among graduate students at a small-town American university, Adam (Sean McConaghy) is overweight, unkempt and socially awkward, badly in debt and working two jobs to pay it off. One of them is at an art gallery, which is where he meets Evelyn (Anna Bamberger,) an art student intent on spray-painting a cock onto one of the sculptures. They make an unlikely couple but Evelyn gives him her number anyway and soon they're dating. She may look out of his league but he catches up fast - her influence sees Adam start going to the gym and eating better, lose a huge amount of weight as a consequence, change his style and even get a nose-job. And as his looks change, so does his behaviour.