Saturday 29 February 2020

Theatre review: Pretty Woman

It's the film that made a generation of little girls write "crack whore" in their "what I want to be when I grow up" essays, so it was only a matter of time before Pretty Woman got turned into a musical. The movie's enduring popularity means that there was always going to be a ready-made audience for it, so the question was going to be whether the creatives would put in much effort, or just figure that the cash will roll in whatever the reviews say. One positive sign is that instead of the unholy union of jukebox musical and film adaptation (neither of which are necessarily a problem on their own, but together...) we've got original songs by, of all people, Bryan Adams and his long-time songwriting partner Jim Vallance. On the other hand neither of them had written for musical theatre before, which has a tendency to go one of two ways.

Thursday 27 February 2020

Theatre review: Be More Chill

Is any other country's art as disproportionately about High School as America's? You have to believe that all the angsty teens we've seen on stage and screen for decades aren't exaggerating, and it's an experience that really does scar everyone for life if so many people are willing to spend the rest of their lives telling stories about it. The dog-eats-dog race to be popular gets a sci-fi twist in Joe Iconis (music and lyrics) and Joe Tracz' (book) Be More Chill, which felt to me like an endearing mashup of Loserville and Little Shop of Horrors. Alarmingly skinny video game geek Jeremy (Scott Folan) seems happy enough with his status as a loser who'll come into his own when he gets to college, but when the bullying gets too much for him and even Christine (Miracle Chance,) the oddball girl he likes, falls for a jock (Miles Paloma,) Jeremy becomes desperate enough to try anything to become more popular.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Theatre review: & Juliet

Given the amount of terrible shows I've seen over the years when the signs really should have been there, regular readers of this blog might both have surmised that FOMO has a certain amount of influence on what theatre I book. So an expensive West End show that, despite a cast and creatives I like, I don't feel compelled to spend money on, comes as a bit of a relief. The idea of a jukebox musical of the songs of Max Martin - songwriter for a seemingly endless list of artists that includes the Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, Broccoli Spears, P!nk and Bon Jovi - built around an alternate ending for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet seemed perfectly skippable when it premiered last year. Except, proving that my instincts can be an absolute disaster in what I avoid as well as what I see, David West Read's & Juliet got rave reviews both from offical critics and, more importantly, theatre Twitter, and started to sound very much like my kind of thing.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Theatre review: Far Away

The usual January trend of grim and serious shows has well and truly continued into February this year, but my diary's due to go into a period with a bit more light relief. Before it can though, a particularly disturbing dystopia - but as it's courtesy of Caryl Churchill, it comes to the stage with unusual flair and extraordinary succinctness, running well under an hour but creating whole worlds in that time. The final show in Michael Longhurst's first year at the Donald and Margot Warehouse is Lyndsey Turner's production of Far Away, which opens with a child, Joan (Sophia Ally or Abbiegail Mills,) unable to sleep on her first night staying at her aunt and uncle's house. Her aunt Harper (Jessica Hynes) tries to comfort her, and discovers that Joan's been disturbed by creeping out of bed at night and witnessing what happens in the shed, where several terrified adults and children have been brought for "processing."

Monday 24 February 2020

Theatre review: Pass Over

Over the years I've come to trust Indhu Rubasingham's judgement, which is the only reason I would book for a play whose blurb compares it to Waiting for Godot - especially so soon after putting myself through some actual Beckett again. Antoinette Nwandu's play about the ongoing epidemic of black Americans being shot by police turns the pair of tramps into homeless African-Americans living under a railway bridge, their inability to move from the spot not down to abstract existential dread but the very specific knowledge that anyone who tries to get away gets gunned down. Paapa Essiedu plays Moses, whose name, like the play's title Pass Over, references the other overt influence on Nwandu's play, the biblical book of Exodus, and while Moses himself often despairs, his friend Kitch (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) has faith that he can lead his people to a Promised Land.

Sunday 23 February 2020

Theatre review: No Sweat

A quick look at a short but sharp show that aims to shine a light on the disproportionate levels of LGBTQ+ homelessness that's often unnoticed due to the unexpected shelter people find: Writer/director Vicky Moran's semi-verbatim piece No Sweat is set in a gay sauna, whose very nature as a place to disappear in for unspecified periods of time, where drugs and casual sex are the norm, makes it easy to fall through the cracks - possibly on purpose. Tristan (Denholm Spurr) is university educated and sounds posh so generally comes across as well-off, but his middle-class Surrey parents still turned him away when he came out. He treats the sauna as somewhere to rest up, get a shower and watch some TV, but mostly finds shelter through Grindr hookups who also give him breakfast the next morning.

Saturday 22 February 2020

Theatre review: The Whip

It's been a lacklustre Swan season so while its final production, Juliet Gilkes Romero's The Whip, isn't without flaws I still found it the strongest offering. The title comes from the nominal lead's position, as Alexander Boyd (Richard Clothier) is the Chief Whip for the ruling Whig party in the early 1830s, but as the issue that defines his time in Parliament is the abolition of slavery in British colonies the title inevitably has a much more sinister double meaning. Boyd's initial mission is actually the reform of child labour in British factories, but he's diverted onto the abolition bill that's been dragging through Parliament for years. Slavery might never have been legal in the UK itself but the Empire's wealth comes from allowing it to continue in its colonies, and the West Indies are its last bastion. Finalising a deal hasn't been easy because too many politicians have a personal interest: Boyd is chosen to champion the cause as one of the few MPs not to be a slaveowner himself.

Thursday 20 February 2020

Theatre review: Nora: A Doll's House

You can't move without tripping over a production of A Doll's House lately and the Young Vic, whose last production of it feels comparatively recent in the scheme of things, is back at it with a production first seen in Glasgow last year. Ibsen's play is a proto-feminist story whose heroine finding her strength and identity caused a scandal in its day, and rather than present it as written or relocate it to a single new setting Stef Smith's version attempts to see just how much Nora's story would change over the course of a century. The retitled Nora: A Doll's House casts three versions of its leading lady: Amaka Okafor is 1918 Nora, a dutiful housewife still feeling some of the thrill of being allowed to vote for the first time. Natalie Klamar is 1968 Nora, a pill-popping mother of three idly, or not so idly wondering how her life might be different if the Pill and legal abortions had come along just a little bit sooner. And Anna Russell-Martin is Nora in 2018, propping up a family who've been living on credit.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Theatre review: The High Table

The Bush's current season opened with a commitment to telling the stories of queer women of colour, a theme that's revisited in the latest main-house show as actor Temi Wilkey's playwrighting debut The High Table follows the preparations for a British-Nigerian lesbian wedding. It's an event the family are going to have a lot to say about - and not just the living family. Tara (Cherelle Skeete) introduces her parents Segun (David Webber) and Mosun (Jumoké Fashola) to her fiancée Leah (Ibinabo Jack) for the first time three months before the wedding. They've been together for some time and engaged for nine months at this point, so the fact that Tara has put it off for so long suggests she's worried about their reaction. And while they, in theory, accepted her coming out as bisexual a few years earlier, this confirmation that their daughter won't settle down with a man after all makes them show their true colours, and they refuse to attend the wedding.

Monday 17 February 2020

Theatre review: Death of England

The National Theatre's website notes that Death of England opening at the Dorfman makes its co-writer and director Clint Dyer the first black British artist to have worked on its stages as actor, writer and director. It's worthy of mention but more significant, it seems to me, although probably harder to quantify in terms of firsts, is that Dyer and Roy Williams are two black British writers telling a story specifically about white Englishness in such a high-profile venue. In a frenzied tragicomic monologue Rafe Spall plays Michael, an Essex flower-seller whose father dies on his shoulder in the pub, keeling over suddenly when England get knocked out of the 2018 World Cup by Croatia. Fuelled by grief, alcohol and cocaine he tries to reconcile his feelings of loss with his deep-held disgust at his father's racism and increasing flirtation with the far right.

Saturday 15 February 2020

Theatre review: The Visit, or,
The Old Lady Comes To Call

After Angels in America was a transatlantic success for the National Theatre twice over, it's no surprise if they're keen to bring Tony Kushner back to their stages; the Olivier this time, and instead of an original story it's for an adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's obscure 1956 play The Visit, or, The Old Lady Comes To Call; but one thing that definitely hasn't changed is Kushner's determination that, once he's got the audience through the doors, he's going to keep them there as long as humanly possible. And while it doesn't fly quite as far into the realms of magic realism as his most famous work, this play - essentially an extended fable on debt of many different kinds - is full of oddities. It takes place over a few days in 1955 in the town of Slurry, New York State, once a manufacturing hub but now collapsing, its various businesses sold up to unseen buyers and liquidated years ago, and now reduced to selling the church bells for scrap metal.

Thursday 13 February 2020

Theatre review: Leopoldstadt

Widely regarded as England's greatest living male playwright, Tom Stoppard has suggested that Leopoldstadt will be his final play*, which has inevitably meant a lot of attention on Patrick Marber’s premiere production – the Wyndham’s had the “House Full” sign out tonight. It’s a broadly epic sweep over the life of an extended Jewish family in Vienna during the first half of the 20th century, opening and closing with scenes between men with contrasting views of their place in the world and the significance of their heritage. In 1899 Hermann (Adrian Scarborough) is the head of the wealthy Merz family, owner of a textile factory that’s benefited from the trade routes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, compared to the treatment of Jews in the century just ending, he sees the Vienna of his time as a progressive city where he can integrate. In fact there’s a Christmas tree in the opening scene, because Hermann converted to Christianity to marry Gretl (Faye Castelow.)

Monday 10 February 2020

Theatre review: The Haystack

Roxana Silbert finally directs her first show since taking over Hampstead Theatre with the last production of her opening season, Al Blyth's debut full-length play The Haystack. The people searching for needles in it are GCHQ computer coders Neil (Big Favourite Round These Parts Oliver Johnstone) and Zef (Enyi Okoronkwo,) on secondment to the counter-terrorism division when they impress the Deputy Director, Hannah (Sarah Woodward) so much she keeps them in her team permanently. They do wonder exactly what their first assignment actually has to do with terrorism: Junior Guardian journalist Cora (Rona Morison) has discovered a possible connection between Saudi Arabian money and a number of British MPs, and the pair are set to task finding her source. After some time monitoring Cora they're suddenly taken off the case, only for her source, a Saudi princess (a pre-recorded Sirine Saba) to die in mysterious circumstances.

Saturday 8 February 2020

Theatre review: Endgame / Rough for Theatre II

A fairly quick review, I think, for the latest star vehicle at the Old Vic: Regular readers of this blog may both recall that I finally called time on Samuel Beckett a few years ago, having decided that I'd given him more than enough chances, and that no redeeming feature had ever been enough to make up for my dislike of his work. But my mum's been a huge Alan Cumming fan since reading his memoirs, so a chance to see a rare London stage appearance from him made a good Christmas present; plus I know people who were coming all the way from America to see Daniel Radcliffe, so Richard Jones' double bill got added to my calendar. It opens with the short play Rough for Theatre II, in which C (Jackson Milner) is a silhouette standing on the sill of the window he's about to jump out of. A (Radcliffe) and B (Cumming) are a pair of bureaucrats - possibly in C's own mind - going through paperwork full of evidence that will determine whether or not he'll go through with it.

Thursday 6 February 2020

Theatre review: Time and Tide

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The press officially get invited tomorrow; I could only fit in a trip to this during the preview period.

Presented by Relish Theatre, a Norfolk-based company that aims to showcase creative talent from the regions, if James McDermott's Time and Tide is a love letter to the seaside town of Cromer it's a very subdued one. On the end of a pier that's slowly sinking, May (Wendy Nottingham) runs the failing café she inherited from her mother - but not for much longer. Local businesses have been closing up and selling off their shops to chains for the last few years, and May has someone from Pret a Manger coming to view the premises. But first she has a full Monday's work to get through with the help of her two assistants. She didn't even expect to see Nemo (Josh Barrow) today as he's due to get on a train at 6 to go to London and begin a drama course. But he wants to keep himself busy rather than spend his last day in town moping over the fact that his best friend didn't show up to his leaving drinks.

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Theatre review: The Welkin

After adapting Chimerica for TV Lucy Kirkwood returns to the stage for a play that feels equally epic in ambition, even if instead of spanning continents this one is largely set in a single room. It does have its thoughts on the stars though, as The Welkin takes place in Suffolk in 1759, the year in which Edmond Halley had predicted the comet that would eventually bear his name would appear. It's a scientific discovery that's captured the imagination of people even in remote, small towns like this one, with everyone regularly mentioning it, hoping they might catch a glimpse of the celestial body. But if human knowledge is expanding to include the heavens, women like midwife Lizzy Luke (Maxine Peake) find that progress closer to home is much slower than they would like. Summoned grudgingly away from her laundry, Lizzy's expertise has had her requested by a local judge to take part in one of the few areas of Georgian law left to the judgement of women.

Saturday 1 February 2020

Theatre review: The Sugar Syndrome

How do you evoke nostalgia for the fairly recent past? At the moment the sound of a dial-up modem does the trick very effectively, which is handy when the play is a revival of Lucy Prebble's first-produced play The Sugar Syndrome. That sound opening the show clues us in not just to its 2003 setting, but also to what must have been one of the first major plays to look at relationships formed online and, to start with at least, how you might not be getting quite what you were expecting. 17-year-old Dani (Jessica Rhodes) has been using chatrooms to meet people in real life, but some awkward fumbling (how does the props person make stage-jizz anyway, and how do they credit it on their CV?) with the smitten, awkward Lewis (Ali Barouti) turns out not to be exciting enough for her, and her next meeting is more unconventional and potentially dangerous: Pretending to be an 11-year-old boy, she befriends convicted paedophile Tim (John Hollingworth) and arranges to meet him IRL.