Friday 29 August 2014

Theatre review: Eye of a Needle

This August has been a decent month for gay-themed theatre, and it's rounded off at Southwark Playhouse by Eye of a Needle, a dark comedy about asylum-seekers. Chris MacDonald's story makes points that could apply to people fleeing a number of dangers, but it focuses particularly on those seeking safety from countries where gay people are persecuted. Laurence (Nic Jackman) works at UK Immigration Control, assessing cases for entry to the UK, but with a barely-concealed directive from above that as many as possible be refused. With the sometimes manipulative intervention of his boss Ted (Stephen Hudson,) we see him deal with frightened Jamaican Harrison (Ekow Quartey,) but the person who really gets his attention is Natale (Ony Uhiara.) A vocal gay rights campaigner from Uganda and targeted by the press, her no-nonsense arguments and fearless comebacks make him pay attention to the persecution he deals with daily, in a way he hasn't before - and she's not above taking advantage of his obvious attraction to her.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Theatre review: Some Girl I Used To Know

Denise van Outen's one-woman show Some Girl I Used To Know is a semi-autobiographical story of a famous woman reflecting on past loves, interspersed with balladised versions of 1980s love songs. These range from the predictable - Kim Wilde's "You Came" - to the more unlikely - Sonia's "You'll Never Stop Me From Loving You." In between big numbers van Outen plays Stephanie, a successful lingerie designer, spending a couple of hours in a hotel room between interviews to promote her new line. She's annoyed because a journalist has twigged her marriage is going through a rough patch, and in the middle of worrying about her current relationship she receives a Facebook message from her first-ever boyfriend. As she considers meeting up with him again, she reminisces about her first love and heartbreak.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Theatre review: See Rock City And Other Destinations

One reason I don't like star ratings is that they make it hard to go into a show without preconceptions. I haven't read any reviews of See Rock City And Other Destinations but I've seen it get five stars - unfortunately they were spread across three or four different reviews. This apparent universal dislike for the piece made me go in wanting to see something in it that everyone else hadn't, but Brad Alexander and Adam Mathias' musical doesn't make that easy. The road trip is a much-loved American narrative, but one that's notoriously hard to translate to the stage. Alexander and Mathias approach this by steering in a different direction, throwing together a number of stories in which people visit a variety of landmarks. A cast of thirteen take on these little vignettes, starting with the title story in which waitress Dodi (Nancy Sullivan) has lived all her life in a town filled with "See Rock City" signs but never contemplated going there herself until a drifter (Alex Lodge) comes to her diner.

Friday 22 August 2014

Theatre review: Between

Oskar Brown and Nicholas Campbell perform vignettes from three gay-themed stories although, as Between goes on, it seems increasingly likely that these are all parts of the same person's story. Brown is also the writer of this South African two-hander directed by Geoffrey Hyland, which adds to the feeling that there's something autobiographical to the strands. They include an actor in a long-term relationship that's falling apart - Brown plays the actor whose boyfriend at first feels neglected sexually, but later emotionally as well. Elsewhere Brown is an acting coach and Campbell his student, trying to rehearse Sonnet 23 ("As an unperfect actor on the stage...") for an audition, but finding it hard to relate to Shakespeare's words - or possibly not wanting to give away quite how much he does relate to them.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Theatre review: Dessa Rose

Based on a novel by a man named Lear Sherley Anne Williams, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's musical Dessa Rose gets its European premiere by bringing some big voices into the small space of Trafalgar Studio 2. Set in America's Deep South in 1846, it follows the fractious, unlikely friendship between two women, one black, one white. Dessa Rose (Cynthia Erivo) is a pregnant, teenage slave who, when the father of her child is killed, violently rebels. Condemned to be executed once the baby's born she has no intention of sticking around her cell that long. Ruth (Cassidy Janson) is the lonely wife of a plantation owner (John Addison) whose lengthy business trips culminated in him never returning. Raised by a slave who was the only person she ever loved, Ruth is sympathetic to escaped slaves, and doesn't ask many questions if a group of black people turns up on her land.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Theatre review: Epstein – The Man Who Made The Beatles

After premiering in - of course - Liverpool, Andrew Sherlock's Epstein - The Man Who Made The Beatles comes to Leicester Square Theatre to tell the story of the band's first manager on the last night of his life. The opening statement that this isn't a play about the Beatles is given the lie by the title, but Sherlock suggests that's as much to do with Brian Epstein himself being unable to give up his affection for them, as it is with everyone he meets wanting to talk about his most famous clients. Used to being an outsider having grown up rich, Jewish and gay in Liverpool, when we meet Epstein (Andrew Lancel) in August 1967, he's made a habit of bringing rough trade back to his flat, the possibility of them robbing and beating him all part of the attraction. On this night he's picked up a pretty-boy Scouser known only as This Boy (Will Finlason) in a club.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Theatre review: The Immortal Hour

How important is it to create atmosphere before a show starts? The Immortal Hour takes place in a spooky enchanted wood, and as the audience enters the Finborough is lit by very low green-and-blue lights. It certainly creates atmosphere, although it's mainly one of confusion, as people struggled to find an empty seat in the near-darkness1, and one lady tried to sit down in the aisle next to me, falling over and needing me and one of the musicians to help her back to her feet. Still, the forest in Rutland Boughton and Fiona Macleod's operetta is a dangerous one, and how better to establish that than by crippling the audience? Macleod was, in fact, a man called William Sharp, and Fiona seems to have been a fully-fledged alter-ego rather than just a pen-name. The bio notes are a bit vague on whether Sharp actually left the house dressed as Fiona, but he seems to have convinced W.B. Yeats among others that he was two different people. Part of Fiona's persona was as an expert on Celtic mythology, which is what she brings to this libretto.

Saturday 16 August 2014

Theatre review: The White Devil

After providing highlights of the last two RSC seasons with King John and As You Like It, this year's outing for director Maria Aberg was a show to look forward to, but John Webster can be tricky. And The White Devil is a typically convoluted plot: The setting is Rome, where recently-arrived duke Bracciano (David Sturzaker) soon lusts after Vittoria (Kirsty Bushell,) but she's already married to the poor Camillo. With Vittoria's sister Flaminio (Laura Elphinstone) acting as her sister's pimp, Bracciano tries to get Camillo (Keir Charles) out of the way so he can bed his wife. But he soon wants a more permanent solution both for Camillo, and for his own wife Isabella (Faye Castelow.) When they are both found murdered, Vittoria's adultery means she's also trageted as the killer, and a show-trial follows. The lovers manage to flee Rome and get married, but there are people who want revenge for their former spouses' deaths.

Friday 15 August 2014

Cabaret review: Laughing Matters with Celia Imrie

In 2009 I saw a play called Mixed Up North, in which Celia Imrie's character had to offer an audience member - me, on the night I went - a slice of cake. Theatregoing on the scale that I do it throws up these little celeb encounters now and again, but I guess it's a sign of the affection held for Miss Babs that this is one story people always remember: Even five years later I can't mention Imrie without someone mentioning cake, and I strongly suspect my tombstone will read "Celia Imrie Gave Him Cake That One Time." So I couldn't really pass up this latest opportunity to see her on stage: With her damehood still apparently in the post, she's kept a high profile that might help speed it up, including this cabaret show of songs, sketches and anecdotes, Laughing Matters at the St James Studio.

Thursday 14 August 2014

Theatre review: Dogfight

Making a comparatively swift journey of two years from New York to the Elephant and Castle is another musical premiere for Southwark Playhouse. Apparently based on a River Phoenix film, although it's not one I'd ever heard of, Dogfight has a book by Peter Duchan1 and music & lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It's 1963, and the "Three Bees" are a trio of marines whose friendship stems from little more than having the same initial. The night before they ship out to Vietnam they have one last blowout planned, starting with a marine tradition: The dogfight is a bet that sees them picking up women, and the winner is the one who brings the ugliest date to the party. Eddie Birdlace (Jamie Muscato) ends up at a diner, where lonely, awkward waitress Rose (Laura Jane Matthewson) seems a likely candidate.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Theatre review: Sommer 14 – A Dance of Death

The Finborough resumes its occasional series "THEGREATWAR100" with a look at the causes of World War I from a German perspective. Rolf Hochhuth’s Sommer 14 – A Dance of Death is structured as a Danse Macabre, the mediaeval allegory of Death as the great leveler, dancing with everybody in the end regardless of their status when they were alive. But Death (Dean Bray,) in the guise of a recently-killed German soldier, is unable to fulfill his role. Faced with killing on an industrialised scale, he's no longer able to provide the personal touch to those dying on the Front, imagining a "cutting machine" taking lives in bulk. Instead he focuses on the men at the top, visiting them in the earlier months of 1914 and trying to figure out why they caused the war that broke out in July of that year.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Re-review: King Lear (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

When I saw the Globe's small-scale touring King Lear last year, the American teenagers sitting behind me were beyond thrilled to be seeing Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as the King. So it's apt that this year's tour will take in a number of US venues, as Joseph Marcell returns to Bill Buckhurst's production, and hopefully more teenagers will find a love of Shakespeare through a beloved figure from their childhood TV. I rarely return to a production unless it's outstanding, but the Globe feels like such a major part of my summer it tends to get a free pass, and although not perfect this Lear was good enough for another look. I did economise on the high prices by trying out the slightly cheaper, restricted view Gentlemen's Room seats; it was a good choice and I'll probably repeat it next year, as I avoided getting a seat too far round so didn't spend the whole time looking at the backs of the actors' heads.

Friday 8 August 2014

Theatre review: The Picture of John Gray

Gay-themed theatre is being well-served in London at the moment with My Night With Reg getting revived, while at the Old Red Lion a new play looks at one of the best-known "inverts" in history from a different angle. Oscar Wilde never actually appears in C.J. Wilmann's The Picture of John Gray but the characters we do see are at the mercy of the celebrated writer; or rather of his wildly variable levels of popularity. Rozanna Vize's design is of an artist's studio, reflecting The Vale, the scene of much of the action. It's the much-loved home of Charles Ricketts (Oliver Allan) and Charles Shannon (Jordan McCurrach,) a popular pair at the heart of Wilde's circle, thinly-veiled versions of whom appeared in his controversial novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Even less concealed is the identity of the real Dorian himself, and when we first meet John Gray (Patrick Walshe McBride) he's reveling in his position not just as the object of Wilde's affection, but also as the inspiration for the beautiful protagonist.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Theatre review: A Streetcar Named Desire

If a sign of what makes "event theatre" is how hard it is to get tickets, then Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire must be the biggest show of the year. Even for a ticket-booking ninja like me the experience was traumatic, featuring as it did a woefully unprepared and overloaded website, and nearly 24 hours' worth of assaults on the booking link before I could get anything. At least those who do manage to get seats will have as good a view regardless of where they end up, thanks to one of the most notable features of Benedict Andrews's production. Andrews was last at the Young Vic two years ago with a Three Sisters that brought Chekhov both into the present day and out of the traditional trappings, and he does the same now for Tennessee Williams. The New Orleans of this Streetcar is decidedly modern-day white trash, Magda Willi's set the skeleton of a small prefab apartment that Stella Kowalski (Vanessa Kirby) shares with her husband Stanley (Ben Foster.)

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Theatre review: My Night With Reg

A classic gay play follows an adaptation of Russian literature in the Donmar Warehouse's consistently eclectic programming. First seen in 1994 and surprisingly rarely revived since, Kevin Elyot's My Night With Reg was a breakthrough as a play with all-gay characters that became a West End hit and is, certainly among those I've seen, one of the best of the late-'80s and '90s plays dealing with the impact of AIDS (a disease that's never named here.) Elyot's tragicomedy is at heart the story of three friends who were close at university, but in the decade or so since graduating haven't been great at staying in touch: Guy (Jonathan Broadbent) is having a housewarming for the flat he's just moved into alone, and has invited John (Julian Ovenden,) after a chance meeting. He doesn't expect John to show up but he does, awkwardly reigniting the unrequited love Guy always had for him.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Theatre review: Marry Me A Little

There's no shortage of Stephen Sondheim works but there always seems to be an appetite for more; hence the 1980 show Marry Me A Little, in which Craig Lucas and Norman René compiled a number of Sondheim's songs into an hour-long revue. Some, like the title song which comes from Company, are familiar but the majority were cut from earlier drafts of his shows. They're largely either love songs or heartbreak/breakup songs so lend themselves to a vague framework of a story about a couple. There's no dialogue, and looking up the show online it seems that it's down to the individual production to decide exactly what story it's telling. So Hannah Chissick's production at the St James Theatre's downstairs Studio space makes it the story of a couple who are just in the process of breaking up.

Friday 1 August 2014

Theatre review: The Get Out

The Royal Court tends to have a bit of a siesta over August, but before it shuts up shop, three performances only of a sketch show that doesn't look anywhere near as hastily put-together as it actually is: Based on a project done as part of last year's Open Court, Anthony Neilson, who also directs, asked for submissions a few weeks ago for comic sketches, by anyone who'd ever worked at the Royal Court in any capacity. He and Robin French went through 50 submitted pieces and have compiled the best into The Get Out (unfortunately the cast-sheet doesn't list the writers who made the final cut.) Pippa Bennett-Warner, Imogen Doel, Nathaniel Martello-White, Jonjo O'Neill, Barnaby Power and Sophie Russell are the cast, and the framing device is an awards ceremony where some kind of disaster has reduced the venue to rubble, but everyone's still desperate to pick up a statuette.