Saturday, 18 May 2019

Theatre review: Out of Water

In a South Shields school that's permanently getting "Requires Improvement" on its OFSTED reports, teacher Claire (Lucy Briggs-Owen) has been brought in to pilot an inclusion class scheme that's been successful elsewhere at turning round the fortunes of the most neglected students. It's not an obvious place for a pregnant, middle class lesbian to move to, and she's palpably nervous about how she'll be received there, but it's where her policewoman wife Kit (Zoe West) grew up, and she's convinced Claire it could be the place to start their family. Out of Water is the new play by Zoe Cooper, whose last play at the Orange Tree was Jess and Joe Forever, which means this an exciting prospect, but also has a lot to live up to. As in Cooper's earlier play this is a storytelling form of theatre, with Claire and Kit narrating fairly recent events, reliving their own part in them and taking on the other characters as needed.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Theatre review: Death of a Salesman

Spoiler alert: The salesman still dies.

If London's unofficial Arthur Miller festival has been all about the playwright's unforgiving criticism of capitalism, it's only fitting that its finale is Death of a Salesman, in which an unremarkable man gives his life to the system in hope of its promised rewards, and is instead discarded by it as soon at his usefulness is done. But as is very clear in Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell's production this is actually the tragedy of two men, father and son, each broken by a different aspect of what the American Dream promised them. Willy Loman (Wendell Pierce) is a 63-year-old travelling salesman who's been doing the job since his teens, and returns home early from a trip after a near-miss car accident. It's one of many in recent months and his wife Linda (Sharon D. Clarke) has reason to believe they've not been accidents at all but suicide attempts.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Theatre review: Small Island

This time last year Rufus Norris strayed out of his comfort zone for his big Olivier stage production with notoriously disastrous consequences, but he's back to much more familiar territory now for a big emotional, political epic that spans years, continents and clashing cultures. Helen Edmundson adapts Andrea Levy's Small Island, whose story about the Windrush generation has become topical again in recent years. Its three narrators are initially separated by an ocean, but chance and the Second World War will throw them together in life-changing ways: First up we meet Hortense (Leah Harvey,) a teacher in a remote Jamaican village whose romantic feelings about her cousin Michael (CJ Beckford) are crushed so abruptly it leaves her cold, spiky and pragmatic to the point of calculating; while she stays in Jamaica, Michael goes to England to join the war effort.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Theatre review: Jude

Edward Hall is stepping down as Artistic Director of Hampstead Theatre, and on paper a new Howard Brenton play seems a fitting swansong to his time there - after all Brenton is a big-name playwright who's had numerous premieres at the theatre during Hall's tenure. But where in recent years he's been best known as a writer of engrossing history plays, his latest is a loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure that, while always watchable, makes for a very, very odd choice of victory lap for Hall. Jude throws together the huge politics of asylum seekers with the more intimate politics of academia, all of it haunted - literally - by the classics. Teenager Judith (Isabella Nefar) is a Christian Syrian refugee in Hampshire, taking a job as a cleaner for graduate student Sally (Emily Taafe) and nearly getting fired on her first day when she steals a volume of Euripides in the original Ancient Greek.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Non-review: The Provoked Wife

Not a review because I'm afraid the curse of Restoration Comedy as directed by anyone-who-isn't-Jessica-Swale strikes again. Under normal circumstances I sit through shows in Stratford-upon-Avon to the bitter end regardless, because I'd only have to wait for my train anyway if I ducked out at the interval, but with today's train schedules all over the place with engineering work I had the chance for an early escape from The Provoked Wife. John Vanbrugh's third play (according to the prologue, in which he apologises for writing so many) opens with the familiar grumbling of Sir John Brute (Jonathan Slinger) about how much he's tired of his wife after two years of marriage. As a result he treats her with such indifference and rudeness that Lady Brute (Alexandra Gilbreath,) who's keen to point out she's never cheated on her husband despite never liking him much, now feels provoked to pursue an affair with his friend Constant (Rufus Hound, mainly delivering his lines when other actors are trying to deliver theirs.)

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Theatre review: Rosmersholm

Rosmersholm seems to get variously described as Ibsen’s masterpiece, or one his most obscure and difficult works. I would lean towards the latter description – it’s certainly not as frequently performed as the likes of Hedda Gabler or A Doll’s House, and although Ian Rickson’s production makes a stronger case for it than the last time I saw the play, it’s still a dense and wordy evening. Rae Smith takes advantage of having a West End stage (and even pushes it out a bit past the proscenium arch) to create the set, a huge hall in the titular house in rural Norway. The house is a character in the play inasmuch as it represents the legacy of generations of Rosmers, the family who own the adjacent mill and have been the town’s main source of work for centuries. The portraits may still look down imperiously from the walls but it’s onto a crumbling room – Smith’s set takes particular inspiration from the fact that room’s had water-damage.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors
(Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The production is previewing at the Globe prior to a tour.

Second night in a row for me of Brendan O'Hea's new touring ensemble, and another completely ridiculous play - although unlike Pericles at least The Comedy of Errors has every indication that Shakespeare actually meant for it to be ridiculous. Once we get a particularly egregious Basil Exposition speech out of the way the stage is set for Antipholus of Syracuse (Colin Campbell) and his servant Dromio (Beau Holland) to land in the hostile city of Ephesus, in search of their respective long-lost identical twin brothers. Despite having been looking for them for seven years they're unprepared for the fact that their doppelgangers actually do live there, and don't take the hint when they constantly get mistaken for Antipholus (Andrius Gaucas) and Dromio (Eric Sirakian) of Ephesus, including by the local twin's wife Adriana (Evelyn Miller.)

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Theatre review: Pericles (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The production is previewing at the Globe prior to a tour.

The summer season at Shakespeare's Globe has started, and like last year I'm starting it with the Tiny Tour. These continue to take the new format of three shows in repertory, with some* of the performances being an "audience choice" - neither cast nor audience will know until the last minute which of the three plays will be staged, subject to an audience vote. Brendan O'Hea's productions get a new cast to take over last year's Twelfth Night, with two new shows joining the rotation. Once again I have to wonder if the best-known play will get the nod almost every time - I doubt it's a coincidence that's the one making a return - but audiences will also have one of the real obscurities on offer. In fact the Globe seems to be one of the few places to give Pericles the time of day: The majority of productions I've seen have been there, and even the RSC quietly shelved it the last time it was due.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Theatre review: All My Sons

After a pair of more obscure plays a couple of months ago, this year's second brace of Arthur Miller plays offers up some of his most famous works; once again the Old Vic is involved in this unofficial mini-season, with Jeremy Herrin's starry production of Miller's early hit All My Sons. Bill Pullman (he's the Bill who's still alive) plays Joe Keller, a businessman whose factory became notorious during the Second World War when it was exposed as having provided faulty aircraft parts that led to the deaths of 21 airmen. Bill was exonerated but his business partner is still in jail for it. His own son Larry wasn't flying one of the affected planes but he disappeared on a mission, and three years after the end of the War everyone's accepted he must be dead except for his mother Kate (SALLY FIELD!) who still holds onto the hope that he might return. But her other son Chris (Colin Morgan) had returned home with news that will make her have to confront the facts.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Theatre review: The Half God of Rainfall

Inua Ellams scored his biggest hit to date by keeping things very much down to earth for his Barber Shop Chronicles, but for his follow-up he returns to more mythical storytelling with a vengeance: The Half God of Rainfall mixes Greek and Nigerian mythology with the more modern deities of professional sports. Modupe (Rakie Ayola) was high priestess to a river goddess and under her protection, but the Yoruba gods end up in a war with the Olympians, seemingly for no other reason than the fact that they're gods, and fight is what gods do. The Greeks win and Modupe is claimed as one of Zeus' spoils; he impregnates her and her demigod son is a baby who causes floods when he cries. When he's older Demi (Kwami Odoom) makes it rain in a more metaphorical way, as a star basketball player whose talent begins to earn him adoring fans.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Theatre review: Ain't Misbehavin'

Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby Jr’s 1978 show Ain’t Misbehavin’ was something of a precursor to jukebox musicals, celebrating songs written or popularised by Fats Waller between the wars, becoming one of the first people to bring jazz to a wider audience. Southwark Playhouse’s revival sees two people better known as performers making their debuts telling other people what to do: Tyrone Huntley as director and Oti Mabuse as choreographer. Adrian Hansel, Renée Lamb, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Landi Oshinowo and Wayne Robinson take on all the performance duties in a show that runs through thirty of Waller’s hits in under two hours. I’ve seen it described as a “revue-style musical,” although in reality it’s a straightforward revue without much connection to a traditional musical – there’s no thematic link between the songs, takis’ set recreating a glittering nightclub in which Alex Cockle’s band are ensconced to back up the five performers.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Theatre review: Other People's Money

Southwark Playhouse’s publicity blurb for Other People’s Money originally included an endorsement from the current (at time of writing) US President; if it was intended to appeal to audiences’ morbid curiosity it presumably failed, as that quote’s now been taken down from the website* and audiences can make their own minds up as to whether there’s a character in Jerry Sterner’s 1989 play whom Trump could possibly have identified with. Sterner essentially pits against each other two archetypes of what American business is all about: Andrew “Jorgy” Jorgenson (Michael Brandon, the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine,) is the 68-year-old CEO of The Wire and Cable Company of New England, a Rhode Island business founded by his father, which employs over a thousand people in its central plant; this has long since ceased to be profitable, but a number of successful side projects keep the company afloat.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Theatre review: Market Boy

David Eldridge’s Market Boy was commissioned for the Olivier in 2006, so the Union Theatre is a much smaller canvas for its first London revival; but there’s certainly something appropriate about the kaleidoscopic story of a busy market in the second half of the Eighties being housed in a repurposed row of railway tunnels. The titular Boy (Tommy Knight) first arrives at Romford Market in 1985 aged thirteen, when his Mum (Amy Gallagher) decides he needs a part-time job to make his pocket money. The Trader (Andy Umerah) gives him a job on his ladies’ shoe stall, which is obviously booming as he already has three other boys, Snooks (Joey Ellis,) Don (Callum Higgins) and Mouse (Joe Mason) working for him. And although from the start there are obvious tensions between some of the stallholders, the market is generally a busy and dynamic place with a lot of cash flying around.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Theatre review: Three Sisters

Great timing from the Almeida, as Rebecca Frecknall and FD Patsy Ferran return for their next collaboration straight after their Olivier success for Summer and Smoke. For Ferran at least this is something of a different proposition though: Where Tennessee Williams can be relied on for a barnstorming female lead, Chekhov is much more of an ensemble affair, and Ferran's Olga is by far the most low-key of the Three Sisters. For Frecknall, on the other hand, there's a more obvious link with her last show here as a fairly stripped-down production conjures atmosphere and heartbreak. As far as overwhelming visual themes go the closest thing to Summer and Smoke's gutted pianos are the plain wooden chairs that fill Hildegard Bechtler's askew stage, arranged like church pews in a wordless prologue that takes place at the General's funeral, a year before the events of Act I.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Theatre review: Sweet Charity

I started this blog in 2012, which coincided with when Josie Rourke took over the Donald and Margot Warehouse; barring the odd performance that got cancelled, that means I’ve now covered her entire run as Artistic Director as we get to her grand finale. Having had a hit with City of Angels, Rourke returns to Cy Coleman, who provides the music (with book by Neil Simon and lyrics by Dorothy Fields) for Sweet Charity. Anne-Marie Duff plays the titular Charity Hope Valentine, a New York “taxi dancer” – a barely-veiled front for prostitution, except unlike most of the other women Charity doesn’t do anything more than advertised. Nor has she really made the connection between this and the fact that she’s not managed to make any money in her eight years on the job – her tragedy is that she’s just not very bright, which combined with a romantic sensibility that makes her believe in a Hollywood ending means she invariably trusts the wrong men.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Theatre review: A German Life

Twelve years after unofficially retiring from the stage Maggie Smith* is back and, in typical fashion, not doing things by halves - A German Life is just her on stage for nearly two hours. Christopher Hampton’s monologue about Brunhilde Pomsel is based on the 106-year-old’s testimony, given shortly before her death after a lifetime of refusing to comment, to a documentary crew interested in her unique perspective on World War II. That perspective was as a secretary for the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, never working directly for Joseph Goebbels but for a number of his right-hand men. But her story begins earlier, with her first few jobs which were all for wealthy Jewish businessmen, an avenue of work which soon dried up as the Nazis came to power – and the Nazi party themselves became the best source of work, first at the state broadcaster and then at the Ministry of Propaganda itself.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Theatre review: Little Miss Sunshine

Michael Arndt, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine was something of a sleeper hit despite being a downbeat comedy whose story takes some wild lurches in tone. Add the fact that it's essentially a road trip movie and it's fair to call it, at the very least, an eccentric choice for musical adaptation. James Lapine (book) and William Finn (music and lyrics) are the writers attempting it in a show that premiered in 2011, and finally comes to the UK in a production by Mehmet Ergen that starts a tour at the Arcola. Hoping to be crowned the titular junior beauty queen is 8-year-old Olive (Sophie Hartley-Booth, Lily Mae Denman or Evie Gibson,) who finds out that the girl who beat her in a local heat has been disqualified (for taking slimming pills) and she's now in the finals - with only a couple of days to make it from New Mexico to the pageant in California.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Theatre review: Ghost Stories

For his final season at the Lyric Hammersmith Sean Holmes returns to the biggest commercial hit of his time there - Ghost Stories went on to have a couple of West End runs, international productions and a film adaptation – reviving the production he co-directed with its writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman. That means it’s the same production I saw when it premiered in 2010 so technically I could call this a re-review, but nine years is probably enough time to say I’m seeing it with fresh eyes. Having said that, I remembered a lot of detail, probably refreshed in my memory when I saw the film version. Which is fun, but the stage remains where this story works best: Simon Lipkin takes over the role originally played by Nyman himself, as parapsychologist Professor Goodman gives a lecture on ghosts, looking at paranormal tales from the earliest legends to the newest websites collecting “ghost” photos, and showing as he goes how they’re actually the mind’s eye seeing what it wants to see.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Theatre review: Pah-La

In the grand tradition of student activism (or at least in the tradition of talking about it,) when I was at university one of the student union spaces was called the Free Tibet Room. That was in the 1990s, and I wonder if it’s since been renamed to reflect a more recently popular cause; if people have forgotten about Tibet and its struggle to regain independence from China, Abhishek Majumdar is here to remind them with Pah-La, a play inspired by real events during the 2008 Lhasa riots. The title is a Tibetan word for “father,” and teenager Deshar (Millicent Wong) has gone against the wishes of her own to become a Buddhist nun, studying at a local temple. When Chinese police chief Deng (Daniel York Loh) leads a force to “re-educate” the nuns to the five principles of the Motherland’s supremacy over Tibet, Deshar’s Buddhist principles of non-violence are tested.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Theatre review: So Here We Are

DRAMA SCHOOL DISCLAIMER: Drama school productions are classed as amateur performances, which is why I always make this disclaimer; that said, I’ll hopefully be seeing everyone involved in professional productions soon, so I avoid judging them differently.

Yes, catching the odd LAMDA production does open up the possibility that I’ll get bragging rights for spotting a star of the future, but it can also be a chance to see a play I missed the first time round – in this case because Luke Norris’ 2013 play So Here We Are premiered in Manchester. While Norris-as-playwright is yet to have had as big an impact as Norris-as-actor had on that girls’ school party when he took his shirt off in A View From The Bridge, I’m pretty confident he’s got it in him, as the first half in particular of this play about young men’s mental health demonstrates. Nate Gibson’s set is a concrete wall on the banks of the Thames, where four men in their twenties are hanging around after the funeral of their friend Frankie, drinking, smoking, and waiting for the dead man’s girlfriend Kirstie (Amy Vicary-Smith) to arrive with balloons for one last ceremony she has in mind.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Theatre review: Top Girls

Which five people, living or dead, real or fictional, would you invite to your dream dinner party? To most people that’s a creaky old conversation-starter, but to Marlene (Katherine Kingsley) it’s the perfect way to celebrate a promotion, in the famous opening act of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. It’s 1981, Marlene’s become the first female Managing Director of Top Girls Employment Agency, and she’s gone to a trendy restaurant with five women from history and legend who embody a female ideal - or at least someone’s idea of it. Victorian adventurer Isabella Bird (Siobhan Redmond) and 13th century Japanese concubine, Buddhist nun and author Lady Nijō (Wendy Kweh) made their own way in a man’s world while others, like Pope Joan (Amanda Lawrence) and Brueghel’s soldier-woman Dull Gret (Ashley McGuire) took on masculine roles, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Theatre review: The Taming of the Shrew
(RSC / RST & tour)

With Shakespeare's plays so well-known, and the amount of people who presumably include a theatre trip to one of the plays, whichever one's playing, in a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, the RSC must get more than its share of audience members who don't really look at the description of the show. You could even miss the fact that Justin Audibert's production of The Taming of the Shrew was going to be notably high-concept. That would explain the "ooooohhhh"s of sudden understanding, after opening scenes full of women eager to push the plot forward, when Baptista (Amanda Harris) introduces her eldest and most difficult son, Katherine (Joseph Arkley.) Audibert's idea isn't to cross-cast the play but to set it in an alternate 1590 (the likely year of the play's premiere,) in which the world has developed exactly the same, but as a matriarchy. So wealthy women like Baptista run the show, and their sons depend on marriage to secure their futures. But the yobbish Katherine is too independent to attract a husband when there's more compliant men like his brother Bianco (James Cooney) around.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Theatre review: Grief is the Thing With Feathers

Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a poetic novel about a man who’s unable to tell the difference between Grief and a duster suddenly left widowed and looking after two young sons; as well as dealing with the grief he also has to figure out how he’s going to organise his family’s life now that the person who did it all is gone, and once all the well-meaning visitors have left. A writer who’s meant to be starting a book on Ted Hughes’ Crow poetry, Hughes’ trickster bird becomes an imaginary friend to both him and his children, guiding them through the process in an erratic, sinister way. Enda Walsh adapts and directs the text for the stage as a vehicle for his regular collaborator Cillian Murphy, who plays the grieving Dad, as well as the Crow. Designer Jamie Vartan has provided a vast, mostly empty flat for Murphy to play out the story in, helped by a lot of projection work from Will Duke.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Theatre review: After Edward

As the name suggests, Shakespeare’s Globe is and always will be most associated with reviving work by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. But they’ve always included some new writing in the mix, and a year into her tenure as Artistic Director I’m wondering if that’s what’s going to define Michelle Terry’s time there. Granted, there’s been one honking error of judgement in Eyam, but Emilia has just transferred to the West End and a second raft of good reviews, and now Edward II gets a companion piece written by its lead actor, which certainly speaks to Terry’s nose for trying something new. Tom Stuart’s After Edward takes place not only immediately after Marlowe’s play, but specifically after Nick Bagnall’s production that’s still playing in repertory. So the room’s in total darkness when recently-deceased Edward (Stuart) falls through the trapdoor in the ceiling onto the Swanamaker stage, and Richard Bremmer’s Archbishop of Canterbury makes sure he’s OK and helps him light the candles before reverting to character and berating him for his sexuality.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Theatre review: Undetectable

Tom Wright's Undetectable opens with a pretty unorthodox gay relationship: Personal trainer and Instagram influencer Lex (Freddie Hogan) has been going out with former client and primary school teacher Bradley (Lewis Brown) for three months but they haven't had sex, or indeed done anything more than kiss, yet. This is on Bradley's instigation that they should try an old-fashioned kind of courtship, and although they've shared a bed they've never even seen each other naked in person (although Lex has sent a few dick pics.) They've not quite got to the point of meeting each other's families yet but the next best thing is Lex introducing Bradley to his friends, after which they decide that tonight's the night to make their relationship physical. Except neither of them has a condom, which leads to an angsty conversation about HIV.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Theatre review: Blood Knot

Probably South Africa's best-known living playwright, Blood Knot is one of Athol Fugard's earliest (1961) anti-Apartheid plays, and it's one in which the regime splits a family down the middle. Sons of the same black mother but with different fathers, Zach (Kalungi Ssebandeke) is black, while his brother Morrie (Nathan McMullen) can pass for white, but has lived most of his life on the black side of the divide. There was a brief period when Morrie went away, but he returned a year ago to their shared shack where, for reasons that are never explicitly revealed, he seems to stay 24/7. Zach goes out to work - as a gatekeeper making sure no black kids go into a white park - and does the shopping, while Morrie stays at home every day cooking and planning for the small farm they'll buy when they've saved up enough of his brother's wages. But after a year, Zach is also feeling trapped.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Theatre review: Downstate

Whether it’s tackling racism with hilarious consequences, or tackling capitalism with… well, there were definitely consequences, for those of us who had to sit through it at least*, Bruce Norris hasn’t been a playwright to shy away from a tricky subject and an explosive format. Downstate is more low-key than some of his earlier work but subjects don’t get more contentious than convicted paedophiles, or Norris’ - impressively successful - attempt to approach them in an even-handed way. Todd Rosenthal’s set is the shared living room of the four-bedroom Illinois bungalow that serves as a halfway house for sex offenders who’ve served their prison terms, but are still considered dangerous and have to live under severely restricted conditions. Early in the play we discover a new one of these restrictions, as the exclusion zone around a school has ben extended to include the local grocery store – as well as the bus stop that would take them to the next best option.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Theatre review: The Rubenstein Kiss

When Roy Cohn dies in Angels in America he’s visited by the ghost of one of the earliest and most notorious victims of his long and questionable legal career: Ethel Rosenberg, like her husband Julius, was sent to the electric chair for alleged collusion with the USSR at the height of McCarthyism, Cohn having been the chief prosecutor for the communist-obsessed senator. His role as mentor to a young Donald Trump means I won’t be surprised if Cohn himself starts turning up as a ghostly figure in plays still to come, but he doesn’t make an appearance in The Rubenstein Kiss, James Phillips’ barely-fictionalised version of the Rosenbergs’ case and legacy. A shame, because a larger-than-life figure might have been just the kick this long, drawn-out evening desperately needs. Jakob (Henry Proffit) and Esther Rubenstein (Ruby Bentall) are dedicated communists, something that doesn’t cause too many problems during the War, when the USSR is still America’s ally.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Theatre review: Admissions

Trafalgar Studios is just down the road from The Motherfucker Of Parliaments but while its main house show is highly topical, it’s a current American scandal it links into – that of Ivy League Universities, and the lengths people will go to to get their kids into the best ones, regardless of whether they deserve a place. Although Joshua Harmon’s Admissions looks at a different angle of the story than the outright bribery and cheating that’s been in the news, it could still have coasted on topicality to become a hit – if only it was any good. Sherri (FD Alex Kingston) is the admissions officer, and her husband Bill (Andrew Woodall) the headmaster, at an exclusive private boarding school. The measure of Sherri’s success seems to largely be in how much diversity she can bring to the student body, and in her decade or so in the job she’s managed to get the non-white student populace from negligible to nearly 20%.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Theatre review: Betrayal

I've seen Pinter's Betrayal twice before, most recently eight years ago in the same theatre that's since been named after the playwright, and where it returns now; Jamie Lloyd's light touch with Pinter's work makes this probably the best production of it I've seen. Lloyd's Pinter at the Pinter season was meant to have ended with Pinter Seven, but whether it turned out they'd leased the building for longer than intended, or that Tom Hiddleston was interested in taking part and could put some bums on seats, his company have added this one last run to the bill, the one-act play about a love triangle with its famous reverse-chronology structure. Zawe Ashton plays gallery owner Emma, whose marriage to Robert (Hiddleston) is ending after he admitted to cheating on her; in a night-long heart-to-heart, she retaliated by confessing she'd had a seven-year affair with his best friend Jerry.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Theatre review: Alys, Always

For Nicholas Hytner’s latest project at his own theatre he directs Alys, Always, Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of Harriet Lane’s novel that plays out like a low-key (very low-key) Talented Mr Ripley - a book that’s name-checked in the play itself. In fact lots of books get name-checked as Frances (Joanne Froggatt) works at a Sunday broadsheet with a dwindling readership, a sub-editor on the book reviews section but, if she’s noticed at all, treated as a glorified gopher by the more dominant personalities on her team. Driving home at night after Christmas at her parents’, she witnesses a car accident and sits with the injured driver waiting for the ambulance. She ends up being with the driver, Alys, when she dies, and a few weeks later the family ask to meet Frances so she can tell them about her last moments in person. Frances doesn’t think it’s a good idea until she realises who the family are.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Theatre review: Medea

A Dutch company presenting an Australian version of a Greek tragedy to a British audience; if it sounds like Ivo van Hove's Toneelgroep Amsterdam (now renamed Internationaal Theater Amsterdam) you'd be right, although this time it's Simon Stone adapting and directing Euripides, Vera Hoogstad and Peter Van Kraaij translating his new text into Dutch and captions translating it back to English at the Barbican. One of my favourite performers from van Hove's Roman Tragedies, Marieke Heebink leads a reinvented Medea, a play whose basic story is a faithfully modernised version of the one Euripides told, but which in a couple of crucial details - one of them at the start, one at the end - is as major a departure from the original as Stone's version of Yerma was. The first big difference is that, although the Medea of the original myth had a history of violence against her own family, at the opening of Euripides' version nobody has an inkling she might turn it against her husband.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Theatre review: Waitress

Jessie Nelson (book) and Sara Bareilles’ (music and lyrics) musical tragicomedy Waitress, based on Adrienne Shelly’s film and currently entering its fourth year on Broadway, comes to the West End with one of its former New York leading ladies, Katharine McPhee, in the title role. Jenna is one of the waitresses at a small-town diner that specialises in pies, but she’s also the cook who bakes them, and comes up with a new flavour invention every day to be the daily special. She themes these around her moods and preoccupations of the day, so ends up with flavours like blueberry and bacon, or marshmallow and mermaid (?) pie that have become the diner’s signature dish. At the start of the show she’s devastated to discover that she’s pregnant – and that it is her husband Earl’s (Peter Hannah) baby.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Theatre review: Tartuffe, the Imposter

Molière’s religious con-man Tartuffe has been around a lot in the past year, but for various reasons (having bronchitis when I was meant to be seeing it in Stratford-upon-Avon; avoiding the Theatre Royal Haymarket like the plague) the National’s is the first of the current crop I’ve caught. And certainly as adapted by John Donnelly and directed by Blanche McIntyre the play shows why so many people have chosen it at this particular moment. Robert Jones’ set is a garishly opulent living room that nods to the play’s origins at Versailles, but the action’s been relocated to Highgate where Orgon (Kevin Doyle,) who made his fortune in unspecified dubious ways, lives with his mother Pernelle (Susan Engel,) daughter Mariane (Kitty Archer,) son Damis (Enyi Okoronkwo,) second wife Elmire (Future Dame Olivia Williams) and her brother Cleante (Hari Dhillon.) All except Pernelle are currently horrified at the puritanical turn the household has taken.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Theatre review: The Son

The Son is being advertised as the final installment in a trilogy of Florian Zeller plays that began with The Father and continued with The Mother; apart from the obvious connection in the titles there isn't, to me, a link that The Height of the Storm couldn't lay equal claim to. If not more so, because while all four are about families dealing with one person's deteriorating mental health The Height of the Storm, like the first two in the series, features a narrative that dips in and out of that fractured mind, putting the audience on the back foot. If The Son's narrative is also meant to be unreliable that's not apparent, though, as we appear to be seeing what the other characters can when 17-year-old Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston) reacts to his parents' divorce with a violent depression. His mother Anne (Amanda Abbington) discovers that he hasn't turned up at school for three months, and turns to her ex-husband for help.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Theatre review: Richard II
(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The professional reviews for Richard II don't appear to be in yet.

It'll get overtaken by the ubiquitous Midsummer Night's Dream later in the year, but for the moment Richard II is the Shakespeare play everyone wants a piece of. It's unsurprising given the grim topicality of John of Gaunt's speech, but at Michelle Terry's theatres it's also meant as the kicking-off point for the entire eight-play History cycle to be produced over the next year. Not that Lynette Linton and Adjoa Andoh's production doesn't stand on its own, being notable for its all-women of colour cast and company. The Swanamaker is currently also playing the story of how the title character's great-grandfather took his crown for granted and ended up losing it, but Richard (Andoh) isn't really one to learn lessons from the past and, having ascended to the throne at the age of three, assumes the god-given nature of his power means no mere human would dare to challenge it.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Theatre review: As You Like It (RSC / RST & tour)

A chaotic train journey nearly scuppered my first Stratford-upon-Avon trip of 2019, but it's a good job I made it in the end because Kimberley Sykes' low-key metatheatrical As You Like It is at times delightful. Stephen Brimson Lewis' design for the opening scenes is a simple grass carpet on the thrust in front of black curtains, although the court of the usurping Duke Frederick (Antony Byrne) doesn't seem particularly austere to start with - but the back story in which he banished his own brother, the lawful Duke, is an indicator that nobody's safe from his violent whims, not even his niece Rosalind (Lucy Phelps.) He's allowed her to stay on at court for the sake of his own daughter, but a reminder that there are still people loyal to his exiled brother makes him kick her out. That reminder comes in the form of the son of a former enemy, and when Rosalind is banished so is Orlando (David Ajao.) They both end up in hiding in the forest, which would be great for them because they've fallen in love; except neither knows the other is there.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Theatre review: Come From Away

Not actually a show about ejaculating from a distance, Come From Away is in fact a hit Broadway musical about the week following 9/11, and the huge impact the attacks had on a place a long way from New York or Washington: In the early days of Transatlantic flight the Canadian island of Newfoundland was a refuelling stop, and as a result a large airport was built there; once planes became able to make the journey without stopping it was left largely unused, except for emergency landings. There were suddenly a lot of those when the USA became a no-fly zone in September 2001, and 38 planes carrying nearly 7000 people were diverted to the town of Gander. Irene Sankoff and David Hein's musical follows the people of the town as they respond to the emergency by trying to make the situation as welcoming for the stranded, frightened passengers as possible when they end up staying nearly a week.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Theatre review: Shipwreck

Now a regular name at the Almeida, American playwright Anne Washburn’s previous plays there Mr Burns and The Twilight Zone (about to get a West End transfer) have taken well-known popular fiction and refashioned it into something different; the former in particular explored the blurring lines between made-up stories and what we believe is true, so it makes an inevitable kind of sense that Washburn would be at the front of the line of playwrights to tackle Donald Trump, whose reality is made up of confidently-asserted fictions. She does this in typically sideways fashion in Shipwreck by looking at the guilt and panic of a group of upper middle-class liberals wondering if there was more they could have done to prevent Trump’s election and the worst of what he did once in office. The Trump presidency always offers up new topics of conversation but in this instance the latest is former FBI director James Comey’s revelations about a private dinner between the two of them.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Theatre review: Equus

Peter Shaffer's 1973 play Equus is a psychological thriller heavily inspired by the then-popular theories of R. D. Laing; the theories have long since been discredited but Equus remains popular, and Ned Bennett's new production for English Touring Theatre makes it clear why it still has something that resonates 46 years later. Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla) is a child psychiatrist convinced to add to his already-heavy workload because his friend, the magistrate Hester (Ruth Lass) thinks he's the only one who can give the boy a fair hearing. 17-year-old Alan Strang (Ethan Kai) has been sent to an institution after blinding six horses in the stables where he had a weekend job. When he meets the initially uncommunicative Alan, Dysart discovers a young man who rather than hating the animals he maimed, has had a lifelong love and fascination for them that tipped over into religious worship.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Theatre review: Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train

Kate Hewitt's production of Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train is the first time Stephen Adly Guirgis' play has been revived in London since 2010, when I saw a production at the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios. The Young Vic's main house is a much larger space but set designer Magda Willi has found interesting ways to evoke the different kinds of confinement and freedom in this prison-set drama. The location is New York's Rikers Island prison, and as the play opens the glass walls on Willi's traverse set form a small central cell where Angel Cruz (Ukweli Roach) waits to hear his fate. He's there because, after all his attempts to free his friend from a cult failed, he shot the "son of god" cult leader in the ass. He's facing an attempted murder charge but insists he only planned to hurt the man, and his lawyer should be able to plead the charge down; until complications in surgery kill his victim and he suddenly finds himself up for First Degree Murder.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Theatre review: Gently Down the Stream

Martin Sherman, who turns 80 this year, has a long list of theatre and movie writing credits but is still best remembered for Bent - which itself has its 40th anniversary this year - a play that reminded people of the oft-forgotten persecution of LGBT people by the Nazis. Having long wanted to write a more general "gay history" play he finally struck on the way to do it by following 13 years of a relationship with a 35-year age gap, in Gently Down the Stream. And "gently" is the right word for a play that covers some of the same ground, and has some of the same concerns as, The Inheritance, but in a much more intimate way. The concerns are those of Beau (Jonathan Hyde,) originally from New Orleans but, having travelled the world accompanying torch song singers on the piano, now long since settled in London where he works as a lounge pianist in a restaurant.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Theatre review: All About Eve

Ivo van Hove's love of translating cinema to the stage (while keeping a few cinematic tricks in his back pocket) brings him to the 1950 classic All About Eve, a fairly obvious fit for a return to the theatre as it's all about backstage intrigue and ambition, and based on a stage play in the first place. The production was originally set to star Cate Blanchett in the role made famous by Bette Davis, but she ditched it to star in a play that you can only see if you win a load of old ballots. For me it worked out, as I prefer her replacement Gillian Anderson, a woman who can spell both "Gillian" and "Anderson," as opposed to one who can spell neither "Kate" nor "Blanket." Anderson is Broadway grand dame Margo Channing, a star currently wowing the crowds in a role specially written for her by popular playwright Lloyd Richards (Rhashan Stone,) who's lining up a role in his next play for her as well.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Theatre review: Berberian Sound Studio

Before Josie Rourke takes on her own final production at the Donald and Margot Warehouse she's bringing back a well-known theatre name in an unfamiliar role: Tom Scutt makes his directorial debut with Berberian Sound Studio, an unexpected first venture for someone whose day job is designing visuals. Because although Scutt and Anna Yates have indeed designed a detailed 1970s Italian sound studio that gives the play a strong visual identity, Joel Horwood's play is, as the title suggests, really all about its soundscape. Based on a 2012 horror film by Peter Strickland - apparently a cult favourite although I'd never heard of it before this adaptation was announced - it sees sheltered sound designer Gilderoy (Tom Brooke,) who's only ever worked on nature documentaries from the isolation of his shed in Surrey, accept a job offer from an Italian director who's a big fan on his work.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Theatre review: Cougar

Rose Lewenstein's strange and sexy Cougar puts a luxury hotel room on the Orange Tree's in-the-round stage, a single set that stands in for dozens of identical rooms around the world. The first one is in London where Leila (Charlotte Randle) has been speaking at a conference. One of her colleagues made an aggressive pass at her in the hotel bar afterwards, and barman John (Mike Noble) came to her defence, hitting him with an ice bucket and losing his job in the process. Leila's taken a room in the hotel and brings John back to it for the night - nothing happens between them but they both want it to, so she proposes a deal: She'll pay for him to come with her on her many international business trips, have sex with her at night and see the world during the day while she's at work. But as soon as they get through customs they're strangers again, and John has to promise not to fall in love.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Theatre review: The American Clock

London's improptu Arthur Miller festival continues with my second of his more obscure works in a week. The Old Vic will be featuring one of the more famous plays in a couple of months when All My Sons opens, but first The American Clock, which has another close link to The Price in that it's once again a story of the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the resulting Depression. Except this is a much more on-the-nose approach, a sweeping review of the way people were affected throughout America, although it does have a single Jewish family at its heart, played in Rachel Chavkin's production by three sets of actors: We follow Moe Baum, initially played by James Garnon, his wife Rose (Clare Burt) and teenaged son Lee (Fred Haig - you know when you suddenly realise something like "oh he must be David Haig's son seeing as how they have the same last name and THE EXACT SAME FACE" and then feel stupid for not noticing it the first second you saw him? That.)

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Theatre review: Edward II

The second winter mini-season at the Swanamaker takes the theme of kings who were deposed, opening with Christopher Marlowe’s take on the subject; later in the season we’ll have Shakespeare’s response to it, as well as a more modern take. But first Edward II, the 1592 play that Ian McKellen is praising on his current UK tour as the first English play with an openly gay protagonist. It’s something that productions in more prudish eras must have tried to downplay – I imagine the whole LOOK THEY JUST DON’T LIKE FLATTERERS, OK? thing would have been made a big deal of – but it must have been a stretch, because it’s hardly subtext. Nick Bagnall’s production certainly doesn’t leave much room for doubt as to why, as soon as Edward II (Tom Stuart) takes the throne, his lords and ministers immediately take so violently against him.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Theatre review: The Price

I’m not aware of any particular Arthur Miller milestone this year (both his centenary and the tenth anniversary of his death would have been in 2015) so maybe it’s just a case of everyone having the same idea that’s led to so many theatres staging his work this year. In a couple of months’ time two of his most famous works will be back in London but first a couple of lesser-known pieces; and while at times The Price justifies its comparative obscurity, for most of its lengthy running time Jonathan Church’s production makes a strong case for the revival. Both written and set in the 1960s, the story is nevertheless rooted in the Depression of the ‘30s. The Franz family were children of New York millionaires who lost everything in the Crash except for their house; their mother having died around the same time, they moved everything into the attic so they could let out the rest of the building.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Theatre review: Ian McKellen on Stage - With Tolkien, Shakespeare, others...and you!

A couple of years ago Ian McKellen did a series of gala shows as a fundraiser for the Park Theatre, and with 2019 marking his 80th year he’s decided to revive that performance for a wider audience. This time around he’s doing 80 performances, each on a different stage across the country, with the proceeds going to the theatres or to a charity or community project associated with them. A couple of the venues have a few seats whose prices don’t break the bank, so I caught up with the awkwardly-titled Ian McKellen on Stage - With Tolkien, Shakespeare, others...and you! at the Arts Theatre. Many of the theatres on the tour have a personal connection to McKellen, and in the case of the Arts it’s where he made his amateur West End debut in a University show, and where he decided (after a particularly glowing review) to try it professionally. He says he can show you the exact paving stone outside the theatre where he made the decision.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Theatre review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist

I don’t harbour any particular illusions that my reviews make much difference to what anyone does or doesn’t go to see at the theatre, but there’s certain shows where what I, or anyone else for that matter, thinks is going to have even less influence on people’s decisions than usual: A play in which Tom Lenk from Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays Tilda Swinton is something you either want to see or you don’t. For me it’s an automatic yes, and I’m glad it is because Byron Lane’s Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist might be the funniest, silliest comedy I’ve seen since Bears in Space. In Tom DeTrinis’ production, writer Lane also plays Walt, who’s reacting badly to a breakup, and when his hamburger is delivered with pickles he didn’t ask for it’s the final straw that leads him to attempt suicide. It’s only the fact that he’s tried to overdose on hair-restoration pills that means he fails, and is alive to discover that when his ex-boyfriend moved out, he advertised the spare room on Craigslist.