Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Theatre review: Blues in the Night

Sheldon Epps’ revue Blues in the Night first appeared off-Broadway in 1980, and it’s probably no coincidence that that’s a couple of years after Ain’t Misbehavin’, which has also recently been revived in London. Before the concept of the jukebox musical came along to build a narrative around existing songs, both of these shows presented a much more loosely-connected collection of hit songs of the 1920s and ‘30s; although unlike the earlier show, Blues in the Night doesn’t theme itself around one specific composer or performer (although songwriter Bessie Smith seems to be represented more than most.) Instead it dips into a variety of jazz and blues standards and gives them to three women and a man in a dingy hotel/bar in the wee small hours of a hot Southern night. The title suggests this could be quite a downbeat evening but while a lot of the songs deal with trying to cope during the Great Depression, as well as with the ubiquitous musical theme of personal heartbreak, most of the time we’re in for a much more upbeat, defiant and sexy mood.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Theatre review: Venice Preserved

I've seen Venice Preserved once before, but as that particular production was an incoherent car crash that was 50% sales presentation for a property development and 50% people desperately shouting "immersive!" at you while asking for money for four hours, it's probably easiest all round to just treat Thomas Otway's Restoration thriller as completely new to me. Prasanna Puwanarajah directs a mercifully coherent production, although how much sense the plot itself makes remains up for debate. Jaffeir (Michael Grady-Hall) is recruited by his best friend Pierre (Stephen Fewell) to join a bloody rebellion against the corrupt ruling class of Venice; both swear loyalty to the cause, but each also has a personal vendetta against some member of the senate which is the real clincher in wanting to bring them down. In Jaffeir's case, it's his senator father-in-law Priuli (Les Dennis,) who disapproved of the marriage and went out of his way to punish him for it.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Theatre review: The Night of the Iguana

The latest Tennessee Williams revival features many characteristic elements from his most famous work, but also feels like a departure that hints at the more experimental phase he went into later in his career: Set in 1940 in a ramshackle, inaccessible Mexican hotel at the edge of the rainforest, The Night of the Iguana is a melodrama touching on a number of characters, but predominantly focusing on a trio of Americans: The Rev T. Lawrence Shannon (Clive Owen) is an alcoholic, not-technically-defrocked minister driven out of his church and the US for statutory rape; he makes a living as a tour guide, but his tendency to fall off the wagon every 18 months – and the ensuing meltdown – doesn’t endear him to the busloads of middle-aged women he shows around the area. He’s just had his latest lapse as the play begins, and instead of taking his tour group to the city hotel on their itinerary has brought them here, in the hopes that spending time with his friend the owner will help him.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Theatre review: Games for Lovers

Ryan Craig wrote the English version of Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s Our Class, which would probably have been my show of the year in 2009, except I didn’t start doing an annual theatre roundup until the year after. It’s not a connection you would easily make from seeing his latest, the light, slight relationship comedy/drama Games for Lovers. Logan’s (Calum Callaghan) relationship with Jenny (Tessie Orange-Turner) is quickly going tepid, and he tries to reinvigorate it by inviting her to move in with him. Logan’s continuing pursuit of something that’s not really working means his best friend Martha (Evanna Lynch) can’t make a move on a mutual attraction neither of them has wanted to be the first to admit to for years. She answers an ad for a flatshare with deluded wannabe lothario Darren (Billy Postlethwaite) who, in something of a coincidence pileup, is both an old acquaintance Logan has recently reconnected with, and someone who crashed and burned when he tried his pickup techniques on Martha only a couple of weeks earlier.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Theatre review:
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

The Rev. Dr Baron Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Lord Webber BA (Hons) MEng, QC, MD, P.I. and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was originally conceived as a show for schools but gradually grew, until in the 1990s it was finally fully reinvented as a big-budget West End behemoth – so successfully that the same Steven Pimlott production has kept returning to the stage for nearly thirty years. Laurence Connor’s is the first new take on the show since then, although the story – from an otherwise fairly obscure Genesis passage – remains familiar: Jacob has twelve sons, of whom Joseph is the clear favourite and showered with gifts, because Jacob liked Joseph’s mum more than the other sons’ mums. Joseph has the ability to interpret dreams but not the ability to read a room, so he cheerfully tells his already-alienated brothers that this unequal treatment is just the start, and he’s had a premonition that some day they’ll all fall at his feet.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Theatre review: Ivan and the Dogs

The annual JMK award seems to have moved venues but the Young Vic has still hung on to the other directors’ bursary that’s showcased a couple of times a year in its smallest space: The latest Genesis Future Directors Award sees Caitriona Shoobridge direct Hattie Naylor’s 2010 monologue Ivan and the Dogs, based on a true story from Russia’s catastrophic financial collapse in the late 1990s, when even very young children were homeless and roaming the streets of Moscow on their own. Starting from the present day, Ivan (Alex Austin) flashes back to when he was four years old and kept overhearing his abusive stepfather telling his mother they’d have to put the child out on the streets because they could no longer afford to feed both him and themselves. Deciding to jump before he’s pushed, Ivan runs away to the other side of the city; but the glue-sniffing street kids frighten him too much for him to join one of their gangs.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Theatre review: Fiver

Southwark Playhouse's Large Theatre has long been a home for American musicals that never quite made it to the West End; could the Little (or whatever its equivalent ends up being in the new venues) find a similar niche as a home for new British musicals? It's only a couple of months since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button premiered there, and if Fiver doesn't come with quite the same gut-punch of having witnessed something very special, Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees' show about a five pound note shows off a prolific talent for composing a strong tune. The writer-composers also direct, and Ellison appears in the cast as a busker who kicks off the story when an audience member puts the titular note in his collection jar. He sticks around as narrator and guitarist for the rest of the show, but his co-stars Luke Bayer, Dan Buckley, Aoife Clesham and Hiba Elchikhe do most of the vocal heavy lifting from here on in.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Theatre review: Peter Gynt

The latest main-stage epic at the National is largely selling itself on the way it reunites the creatives from 2016 hit Young Chekhov on the Olivier stage - adaptor David Hare, director Jonathan Kent and star James McArdle. Building the whole show around the latter, Hare has transported Henrik Ibsen's weird social fantasy Peer Gynt to Scotland, although much of the mythology remains jarringly Nordic. Retitled Peter Gynt, it sees McArdle's title character starting out as a lovable fantasist, returning to Scotland from a war in which he's seemingly made a name for himself, except all his exploits start to sound suspiciously familiar to anyone who's seen any movies*. In reality, his biggest claim to fame is fighting mechanic Duncan (o hai, Lorne McFadyen,) but he gets the idea for a bigger stunt when he finds out his ex-girlfriend Ingrid (Caroline Deyga) has got together with Spudface (Martin Quinn) in his absence.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Theatre review: Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner

One of the advantages of middle age is being able to more or less ignore anything to do with the Kardashians, but it's impossible to be online and not osmose some things about them. Funnily enough, one of those things is the specific headline that kicks off the events of Jasmine Lee-Jones' Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner: The preposterous statement that the titular enemy of the gays* was the youngest-ever "self-made" billionaire, as if the wealth, privilege and profile she was born into weren't a factor. For student Cleo (Danielle Vitalis) this is more than just ridiculous but also a slap in the face, as she considers Jenner's personal brand to be built on appropriating black looks and culture, something which has been particularly on her mind both as the subject of her dissertation; and because her ex just dumped her for a white woman with a Jenner-like tendency to appropriate black style.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Theatre review: Jellyfish

I didn't catch Ben Weatherill's Jellyfish when it premiered last year but Tim Hoare's production has been given a higher-profile second life, transferring from the Bush's Studio to the National's Dorfman for a brief run. Written specifically for its lead actress Sarah Gordy, Jellyfish approaches a subject that feels uncomfortably taboo - a romantic relationship in which one person has a learning disability - with such casual sweetness it soon feels nothing of the sort. But there's no denying that it's a relationship with a unique series of challenges as 27-year-old Kelly (Gordy,) who has Down's Syndrome, flirts with 30-year-old Neil (Siôn Daniel Young,) who doesn't have a disability. Despite his own reservations Neil realises that his feelings for Kelly are real, and that she's also deadly serious about wanting a relationship with him.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Theatre review: The End of History...

Ten years ago Jack Thorne set an entire play in the wee small hours of the 2nd May 1997, and with his latest play's opening scene taking place about six months after that date it's clear he's not yet done interrogating what the hope and optimism of Tony Blair's first victory actually ever amounted to. Blair is much more of a background noise than a central theme in The End of History..., a family drama spanning twenty years that often has the feel of a sitcom that's gone unusually dark. Sal (Future Dame Lesley Sharp) and David (David Morrissey) are a kind of embarrassing sitcom mum and dad (right down to the clichéd trope of the mum who's a terrible cook,) with the main source of embarrassment being their commitment to their left-wing beliefs and causes, their enthusiasm for which has never dulled.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream
(Regent's Park Open Air Theatre)

After a valiant effort by Richard II at the start of the year, A Midsummer Night's Dream has well and truly come along to replace last year's Macbethorama as 2019's most ubiquitous Shakespeare. The Bridge, Open Air Theatre and Globe are all showing off their Bottoms, and it's the second leg's turn for me as director Dominic Hill is brought in from Glasgow to Regent's Park for a new take on the play that must surely be the venue's most-performed. It's the story of Oberon, King of the Fairies (Kieran Hill) and his plan to humiliate his Queen Titania (Amber James) into giving him a changeling child of hers, with a plot involving a love potion; and the mortals who get caught up in the middle of the chaos when they wander into the woods, including a troupe of amateur actors and a quartet of starcrossed lovers.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Theatre review: Noises Off

The Old Vic's 2012 production of Noises Off was only the second show I reviewed on this particular blog, so given Michael Frayn's play is regularly described as the greatest farce (and one of the greatest comedies in general) ever written it's probably not that surprising if someone thought it was time for it to return to London. The Lyric Hammersmith is where it premiered in 1982, and as it's currently in a bit of a limbo state between artistic directors Jeremy Herrin has grabbed the opportunity to bring the play back to where it all began. It's a farce within a farce within a farce, as director Lloyd (Lloyd Owen) attempts to preside over the technical rehearsal of Nothing On, a creaky and convoluted farce about to embark on a national tour after nowhere near enough rehearsal. The cast barely know their lines let alone their blocking, but that's not going to cause as many problems as the company's personal lives.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Theatre review: Europe

I first went to the Donald and Margot Warehouse during the Sam Mendes days, so I'm on to my fourth Artistic Director of the venue as Michael Longhurst starts his tenure by directing Europe, a 25-year-old David Greig play whose original inspiration was the breakup of Yugoslavia but whose nebulous, borderline-surreal setting makes it feel timeless. The town where the action takes place is never named, but it's somewhere in Europe, close to a national border but otherwise pretty remote and easy to ignore. Even easier, soon: Trains going to every corner of the continent pass through, but all of a sudden they don't stop at the local station. Station Master Fret (Ron Cook) can't figure out the new timetable he's been sent, not realising the fact he can't find when the trains are meant to arrive is an underhand way of telling him the station is closing.