Saturday 30 November 2019

Theatre review: The Boy in the Dress

With Cameron Mackintosh recently finding a loophole around having to give them a cut of the Les Misérables profits, it's not surprising if the RSC are on the lookout for another big musical earner to replace it, and join Matilda as a way of bankrolling some of their less commercial work. And it's definitely the latter show they have in mind with this new musical of David Walliams' popular children's novel The Boy in the Dress - just as Walliams' books themselves invite a Roald Dahl comparison by using Quentin Blake illustrations, so Robert Jones' colouring-book design for Gregory Doran's production instantly calls to mind the company's last big musical juggernaut. Mark Ravenhill (book,) Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers and Chris Heath's (music and lyrics) adaptation opens in a nameless English town, the setting for a family to explosively break up as a woman walks out on her husband and two young sons.

Thursday 28 November 2019

Theatre review: The Arrival

In a year when many theatre professionals have been branching out into new fields, prolific director Bijan Sheibani presents his first show as playwright at the Bush. Taking particular inspiration from his productions of The Brothers Size and Barber Shop Chronicles, The Arrival looks at the relationship between two men who only find out in their late twenties that they’re brothers. Tom’s (Scott Karim) biological father had Middle Eastern heritage, so he always knew his white parents had adopted him; what was a surprise, when he eventually sought out his birth parents, was that they were still married, and had had two more children, who they kept. His sister now lives in Germany but his brother Samad (Irfan Shamji) has, by coincidence, moved to the same part of London as him, and when the two meet up they instantly get on. The play opens as they start to spend time together and get to know each other.

Saturday 23 November 2019

Theatre review: Mary Poppins

Disney© seem to have well and truly moved into the Prince Edward Theatre, as no sooner has Aladdin ended its run than Mary Poppins is back at the same theatre where this version of P L Travers' stories debuted in 2004. This is the Julian Fellowes adaptation which uses familiar songs from the film by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, rearranged by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe who also provide a few new numbers of their own. Zizi Strallen (part of the Z-series of Strallens that also includes Zeppo, Zumba and Zermajesty) takes over the iconic title role of the magical nanny who flies in out of nowhere one day to take care of Jane (Ellie Kit Jones, alternating with Adelaide Barham, Imogen Bourn, Charlotte Breen and Nuala Peberdy) and Michael (Edward Walton, alternating with Joseph Duffy, Samuel Newby, Gabriel Payne and Fred Wilcox) Banks.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Theatre review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

- Runs off with a suspicious stranger who offers her cake.
- Takes her siblings to Narnia in the full knowledge it'll put them and Mr Tumnus in danger.
- Is a PreCIOUs pRiNCEss.
- Runs off with a suspicious stranger who offers him Turkish Delight.
- Betrays his siblings only because he's enslaved by magic.
- Is a nasty little traitor who's probably going straight to Hell LOL.
Yes, it's one of the most famous stories of Christians living in the closet, C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe getting a new staging as the Bridge Theatre imports Sally Cookson's Leeds Playhouse production. And no, I'm not sure why I booked again to see a story I mainly grumble a lot about, except I probably quite like grumbling about it.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Theatre review: Richard III
(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

There's a lot of good actors about but not all of them have a Dick in them; Sophie Russell makes her own case as she continues in her role from Henry VI to play the deranged lead in Richard III. After the first play in this pairing I wondered if Ilinca Radulian and Sean Holmes would take a completely different tack with the Henriad's conclusion or follow right on from where they left off; the graffitied, muddy stage we open with immediately shows it's the latter, although as the play goes on it develops some new flourishes of its own. Playing Richard III as an immediate continuation of the Wars of the Roses has an effect on how Richard is played: The York family were happy to indulge Richard's psychotic side to do their dirty work, resulting in Edward IV (Sarah Amankwah) in power; their mistake was assuming that would be enough for him. Instead Richard wants the spoils for himself - so what if the only people left in his way are his own family?

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Theatre review: Henry VI (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

The Globe's announcement that last winter's Richard II was the start of the complete Henriad cycle being performed on their stages this year was something to get excited about but also came with the inevitable problem for the company: The first tetralogy is full of popular hits but while the second ends on another crowd-pleaser in Richard III, the three Henry VI plays that precede it are a much harder sell. Peter Hall and John Barton's Wars of the Roses trilogy compressed them into two plays, and as it turns out the Globe Ensemble's way around the issue is even more drastic, chopping and changing them into a single three-and-a-half hour epic. In reality, and entirely unsurprisingly, if there is such a thing as a massive fan of Part One they should probably not get their hopes up - the fact that King Henry (Jonathan Broadbent) is already old enough to walk and talk as the play begins should be a clue that the largely unrelated prequel wouldn't figure, and we open with the introduction of the figure who will haunt the whole second tet, his queen Margaret (Steffan Donnelly.)

Saturday 16 November 2019

Theatre review: A Museum in Baghdad

Wars in the Middle East have taken a horrific toll on human lives; sometimes just as well-publicised is the loss of archaeological sites and priceless historical artefacts to collateral damage, looting and wanton destruction. Hannah Khalil's A Museum in Baghdad explores the tricky ground of trying to weigh out the relative value of lives and history. In overlapping scenes it follows two women, one historical, one fictional, both trying to launch the same titular museum eighty years apart. The nation of Iraq was created after the First World War out of various warring tribes in the region then known as Mesopotamia, under a king installed by the British rulers, and the understanding that it would be granted independence once the country was on its feet. Archaeologist Gertrude Bell (Emma Fielding) was one of the architects of the country and its laws, and when we meet her in 1926 she's in the process of setting up a central museum of treasures that tell the story of the region's history and cultural significance.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Theatre review: Unknown Rivers

Chinonyerem Odimba’s Unknown Rivers is a reaction against stereotypes about black women, particularly the “strong black woman” trope, which Odimba feels is an expectation that only adds more pressure to a group with a higher-than-average tendency towards mental illness. She offers as an example four women of colour, two of whose mental health problems are quite quickly apparent, but all of whom have had issues with depression at some stage in their lives. When Nene (Nneka Okoye) became a teenage mother she retreated completely from the outside world: She never leaves the flat, and looks after her daughter when she’s at home but her mother Dee (Doreene Blackstock) has to take her to school, the playground and anywhere else outdoors. Nene’s best friend Lea (Renee Bailey) has been visiting her twice a week ever since she got ill, and thinks the time might have finally come for her to brave the outside world.

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Theatre review: Shook

Papatango award winners have tended towards some pretty bleak plays in the past, but while this year’s winning entry goes to some nasty places – both metaphorically and literally – its overwhelming tone is of a very dark comedy. Samuel Bailey’s Shook takes place in the small classroom of a young offenders’ institution in London, where the teenage inmates can’t study for the GCSEs their peers on the outside are taking except in special circumstances, but they are required to fill their time with vocational classes, as well as on other subjects that could help them in the outside world and stop them from returning in the future. For those inmates who are, or are about to be, teenage dads, Grace (Andrea Hall) is starting a class on how to care for the baby once they get released; Bailey’s play rarely takes place during the sessions themselves, but usually catches up with the three boys just before or after class.

Monday 11 November 2019

Theatre review: Ghost Quartet

Hot on the heels of Preludes another Dave Malloy musical makes its London debut, as does the venue where it plays: The Boulevard Theatre is built on the site of a long-lost theatre of the same name in central London; the website says the Boulevard “sits in the centre of Soho’s infamous streets and alleyways,” and I don’t know that I would have personally led with a reminder of the chances of getting mugged but hey, you do you. The building was formerly the Raymond Revue Bar and still has a massive sign for it on the wall, but once you run the gauntlet of shops selling poppers and Viagra the inside is less tits’n’minge, more the looking-like-a-mid-range-hotel feel that the front of house areas of new-build theatres always go for these days. The auditorium itself is promising though – the seats are comfortable with actual leg room, and the venue looks well-equipped and flexible: Simon Kenny’s design puts us in the round but it looks like various other layouts would be possible without losing the good sightlines.

Friday 8 November 2019

Theatre review: The Antipodes

In what is becoming a regular occurrence Annie Baker's latest play gets its UK premiere in the Dorfman, where for The Antipodes her particular brand of hyperrealism tips that little bit further into surrealism. Baker herself co-directs with designer Chloe Lamford, whose deep thrust stage is a luxurious but personality-free conference room in which the characters will spend weeks or maybe months of their lives around the table - there's enough Perrier stacked up against the wall to get them though a siege. There is a real-life situation the scene evokes: The writers' room of an American TV show where stories are pitched and constructed. But exactly what kind of story Sandy (Conleth Hill) has gathered a team - some of whom have worked with him before, some of whom are new - to tell remains vague.

Thursday 7 November 2019

Theatre review: Great Expectations

After last week’s debacle I was hoping the other show alternating in the National Youth Theatre’s rep at Southwark Playhouse would actually give the young people it’s meant to be showcasing something to work with; and while on paper I’m not a great fan of Charles Dickens, Great Expectations proves a much more successful evening. In stark contrast to Frankenstein tying itself in knots, Neil Bartlett streamlines Dickens’ story of social climbing and a poor young boy given a glimpse of a world (and a girl) he’s not willing to say goodbye to. Its children may not be quite as blatantly abused as in other Dickens books but in Great Expectations they’re very much a commodity to be handed around at adults’ whims – Pip (Joseph Payne) begins the story as an orphan in the care of his sister, and the most exciting event of his life was discovering the escaped convict Magwitch (Jemima Mayala) in the marshes and helping him.

Monday 4 November 2019

Theatre review: On Bear Ridge

Shifting constantly between intimate lament for rural communities and ways of life that are gradually dying out, and outright apocalyptic drama, Ed Thomas’ On Bear Ridge takes place in a butcher’s shop on the top of the titular mountain. Given the character names, all-Welsh cast and the fact that Thomas and Vicky Featherstone’s production has come straight to the Royal Court from National Theatre Wales there’s a definite flavour of where this remote area might be, but the Beckettian tone of the play suggests it’s more the case that it’s everywhere and nowhere. Almost everyone has left Bear Ridge but devoted couple John Daniel (Rhys Ifans) and Noni (Rakie Ayola) have been running the butcher’s as more of a general store for years and are sticking around despite the fact that there’s barely any food left to feed themselves, let alone sell to anyone else, and they’re running out of furniture to burn for heat.

Friday 1 November 2019

Theatre review: When the Crows Visit

If the last few years have seen a cultural shift towards highlighting the harassment and abuse women have been routinely suffering around the world, Indian playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar has some particularly brutal truths to speak to her own country, and horrors she sees as having been silently passed down the generations. She takes inspiration - very loosely - from Ibsen's tale of the sins of the father being visited on the son, Ghosts, for her own story of a son returning home with a terrible secret, When the Crows Visit. Widow Hema (Ayesha Dharker) lives in the home she inherited from a husband so violently abusive she's considered lucky to have survived him. The seven years since his death have been a kind of liberation for her but she still has a constant reminder in her mother-in-law Jaya (Soni Razdan) who still lives with her, along with her young carer Ragini (Aryana Ramkhalawon.)