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Monday, 27 June 2022

Theatre review: The Fellowship

Roy Williams, whose Death of England trilogy inadvertently ended up bookending the Covid lockdowns, now turns his hand to a traditional intergenerational family drama at he continues to explore the tensions and contradictions of the children of the Windrush generation. The Fellowship, set in 2019, makes explicit reference to that generation, in the unseen 91-year-old mother of Dawn (Cherrelle Skeete.) She moved into her younger daughter's house when her health started to fail terminally - it's implied if never explicitly stated that her deterioration really began with the Home Office scandal that she got caught up in. Dawn's feelings about a mother who was physically and emotionally abusive are complicated at best, but she's still taken on most of her care compared to older sister Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn,) a barrister and one of a tiny minority of black QCs, whose career has always taken precedence.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Theatre review: Mad House

A few years ago Bill Pullman gave a memorable performance at the Old Vic in All My Sons, and now he returns to the West End to play a more grotesque, but no less scene-stealing character. And he's clearly not a star name who wants all the limelight for himself: After sharing top billing with Sally Field last time, he now shares it with David Harbour at a time when he must have known the latest season of Stranger Things would give him most of the attention. This time Pullman plays Daniel, the patriarch of a dysfunctional family in a small Pennsylvania town, whose wife died of cancer a year earlier, and who's now slowly dying of multiple organ failure himself. He doesn't want to die in a hospice so, with the help of palliative care nurse Lillian (Akiya Henry,) his primary caregiver is eldest son Michael (Harbour.) He's the only one of Daniel's children willing to do it, and it may just be because he needs somewhere to live after spending a year in a mental institution.

Monday, 20 June 2022

Theatre review: That Is Not Who I Am

Theatres are going to have to keep trying to make up their Covid losses for some years to come, so you can forgive them if they try the odd gimmick to get bums on seats. Or at least you'd think you could, but the Royal Court's latest show has come with an elaborate framing device that extends way beyond the stage and begins with the publicity; something that could be described as underhand but in reality feels more like the theatre overtly trying to create an air of mystery, so why it seems to have made some critics quite so angry is a bit beyond me. In any case the setup is that the venue had discovered a first-time writer, a man in late middle age called Dave Davidson, who'd dabbled in playwrighting before but not had anything produced until That Is Not Who I Am. This pretence barely seemed to last a couple of days before it was commonly known Davidson was the pseudonym of an established author. Now that it's opened the information is easy to find but just in case anyone's still trying to go in blind, I'll keep the spoilers for after this text break.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Theatre review: The False Servant

Paul Miller is coming up to his final season as Artistic Director of the Orange Tree, a theatre he notoriously took over on the day it lost all its funding. He turned its fortunes around with an eclectic menu of surprisingly ambitious new work alternating with reliable classics, predominantly from Rattigan and Shaw, and it'll be interesting to see how far his successor Tom Littler will want to tinker with a successful formula. One thing I won't miss if they go in the new regime are Miller's occasional ventures to 18th century France for the comedies of Pierre Marivaux, which between The Lottery of Love and the latest offering, The False Servant, haven't exactly got my pulse racing. A wealthy young woman (Lizzy Watts) is contemplating a potential suitor, but wants to be sure of his character. Disguising herself as a man and calling herself The Chevalier, she befriends Lelio (Julian Moore-Cook) and immediately finds out why she should avoid the match at all costs.

Friday, 17 June 2022

Theatre review: Britannicus

In a year that's been dominated by stories of swings and understudies keeping the theatre industry going - halfway through and I've probably already seen more people covering roles than in any other year - another show having to cope with cast illness has been the Lyric Hammersmith's take on Jean Racine's Britannicus: Ben and I were meant to see the show last Friday but it got cancelled, and there were further cancellations this week. With the theatre, like so many, not being able to afford to carry regular understudies, it's only by bringing in two actors to cover roles script-in-hand that they've managed to reopen tonight, in time for us to be second time lucky and catch it before it closes next week. And even if not quite at its best I'm glad I managed to see a show I'd been particularly looking forward to - I've seen and enjoyed a past production that used the same Timberlake Wertenbaker translation that Atri Banerjee's production uses.

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Theatre review: Cancelling Socrates

Howard Brenton made his name as a topical political playwright, and in recent years has become mostly known for his history plays. Cancelling Socrates, as suggested by a title that mixes a contentious, politicised modern term with a classical figure, is something of both, although in the end maybe not quite enough of either. It's the story of the trial of Socrates in 399 BCE Athens, when he was accused of blasphemy with a side order of corrupting youths. As played by Jonathan Hyde, Socrates isn't necessarily any more of an atheist than anyone else around him, and though he's got some very arch thoughts about the badly-behaved Olympian pantheon he does seem to pray to them and make all the right gestures. The trouble is his famous, eponymous Socratic method of philosophy, which relies on asking questions and seeing where the answers take him. Sooner or later he's going to end up asking questions with dangerous answers.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Theatre review: Jitney

With Jitney I hit my personal half-century point in August Wilson's American Century Cycle - having seen the plays covering the 1910s, 1920s, 1950s and 1980s, Headlong's production at the Old Vic takes us to the 1970s, and the first play in the cycle in order of writing. The next one Wilson wrote was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and this play shares some similarities in setup: We're in another sunless room with a group of men taking breaks from work. This time it's a cabin that houses an unlicensed cab office: The licensed ones won't go to some of the more dangerous parts of Pittsburgh, which is where Becker's (Wil Johnson) drivers come in. And even they're not willing to stay there too long - one of their mantras to customers who call is "be ready, I won't wait." In between jobs they come back to the office to warm up by the electric fire, and when the phone rings the man who's been waiting longest gets to answer it and take the next fare.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

Theatre review: The Glass Menagerie

I'm sure the likes of A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof beat it in terms of name recognition, but in my experience The Glass Menagerie is the most frequently-produced Tennessee Williams work; the latest take on it makes five productions I've seen. It was the first Williams play I saw on stage and remains my favourite, although Jeremy Herrin's production seems determined to change that: As lifeless hatchet-jobs on beloved classics go it's not quite on a par with Mark Rylance's energy-sapping Much Ado, but it does share some of that sense of someone just plopping the play onto the stage, and walking away shrugging. In a play whose autobiographical nature is barely disguised, a cramped 1930s St Louis apartment houses what's left of the Wingfield family, scraping by ever since the father abandoned them. Williams' avatar Tom (Tom Glynn-Carney) works in a soul-destroying warehouse job by day, and spends his nights "at the movies."

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Theatre review: Starcrossed

Mercutio's most memorable scene in any given production of Romeo & Juliet is likely to be the showboating Queen Mab speech, but his most famous line is the "a plague o' both your houses" refrain of his dying speech. As I get older and look at Shakespeare plays in different ways, one of the things I find notable about the play is that this speech, largely directed at Romeo, isn't entirely fair: The historic feud between the Montagues and Capulets might be the root cause of Mercutio's death, but the immediate cause is his own recklessness. Romeo has actually defused a volatile situation before Mercutio riles the thuggish Tybalt again, leading to a duel and, eventually, both their deaths. Rachel Garnet's Starcrossed, a reimagining of Romeo & Juliet, works in part as a possible explanation of this plot hole around why a character unrelated to either side of the feud, who's been happy to play the class clown until then, suddenly stokes up the fire in one of its most dangerous participants.

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Theatre review: Bonnie & Clyde

It's a human peculiarity to take dead-eyed career criminals and turn them into heroes, celebrated by the very people whose money they've taken. But I'm not here to talk about the Jubilee parade, instead I bypassed the crowds and went to the Arts Theatre for Bonnie & Clyde, a musical I had to postpone when I got Covid in April. Frank Wildhorn (music,) Don Black (lyrics) and Ivan Menchell's (book) show flopped on Broadway but has developed a cult following since, and a concert version last year has now been developed into Nick Winston's production, its first full staging in London. During the Great Depression, West Dallas is a dead end its residents just want to get away from; Bonnie Parker (Frances Mayli McCann) dreams of becoming a famous film star, but a different kind of celebrity comes along when Clyde Barrow (understudy Barney Wilkinson) escapes from prison.

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Theatre review: Henry VIII (Shakespeare's Globe)

Despite being named after a monarch more famous than any of Shakespeare's other History Plays, Henry VIII has always languished in obscurity - this is only the second time I've seen the play, and I've yet to see any evidence that it deserves better. It's one of the late collaborations with John Fletcher, with all the unevenness that implies, but it's also a play that reflects the way Shakespeare's work tended to bow to the trends of its time, in this case the popularity of big spectacle and pageantry (so much so that it's best known for including the special effect that burned down the original Globe.) It also came a decade after the death of the last Tudor monarch, meaning it was now safe to portray that particular dynasty on stage, while also tapping into nostalgia for Elizabeth I's reign. All solid commercial reasons for creating a show, and the latter element feels topical, seeing it on the Jubilee weekend, but they don't suggest a great play for the ages.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Theatre review: Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare's Globe)

2022's ubiquitous Shakespeare is the much-loved but problematic Much Ado About Nothing, and for my second major production of the year (and the first I've actually managed to get to in person) it's Lucy Bailey's return to Shakespeare's Globe. And groundlings will be pleased to know that this time she's embraced the venue's tradition of gently teasing and playing with the standing audience members, rather than actively trying to kill them. Joanna Parker's design keeps the Italian setting and moves it to 1945; the company's regular singing of "Bella Ciao" reassures us the soldiers at the heart of the story were anti-fascist rebels (or just big Money Heist fans.) After their victory, Don Pedro's (Ferdy Roberts) battalion retire to the estate of Leonata (Katy Stephens,) where two of Pedro's soldiers will find romance with major obstacles: In Benedick's (Ralph Davis) case a classic love/hate rom-com, but in Claudio's (Patrick Osborne) something more sinister.

Friday, 27 May 2022

Theatre review: Legally Blonde

The Open Air Theatre launches its 2022 season with one of its trademarks, a hit Broadway/West End musical reinvented for the space; but both the choice of musical and the kind of reinvention feel like a big step forward for what can traditionally be an old-fashioned, tourist-courting venue. Laurence O'Keefe & Nell Benjamin (music & lyrics) and Heather Hach's (book) Legally Blonde is based on a novel by Amanda Brown, but more famously the Reece Witherspoon-starring film adaptation. Elle Woods (Courtney Bowman) is a wealthy Malibu girl who likes tiny dogs and the colour pink; from the start, Bowman's take on Elle is no dumb blonde, but neither has she done much to dispel the stereotype. She did graduate from UCLA, but she mainly seems to have gone there to join a sorority and nab herself a future husband.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Theatre review: The Father and the Assassin

Despite, or perhaps because of, the amount of extra-long shows I've seen recently, I seem to be in the mood to see something epic at the theatre lately - in scope if not necessarily in length. The Olivier is a natural home for that kind of event, and the latest premiere there seemed like it might deliver. The good news is that Anupama Chandrasekhar's The Father and the Assassin does that in spades, and in a subtler way than the huge stage might suggest. The Father of the title is Mohandas Gandhi (Paul Bazely), but the play's real focus is on the man who killed him, Nathuram Godse (Shubham Saraf.) Godse narrates his story, and begins by running his own childhood in parallel with the rise of Gandhi to political prominence with his Ahimsa philosophy of non-violent resistance.

Monday, 23 May 2022

Theatre review: The Breach

In the mid 1970s in Louisville, Kentucky, a construction worker fell off scaffolding and died. Faulty equipment was to blame, but the company managed to get away with paying the family the bare minimum compensation, so by the time we meet his teenage children in 1977, they're struggling to keep their heads above water, and the younger child is being badly bullied at school. Acton (Stanley Morgan) might be small, asthmatic and awkward, making for an easy target, but he's also very smart, so soon he finds a pair of protectors: Two older boys will keep him safe if he helps them prepare for their exams. Naomi Wallace's The Breach takes place entirely in the basement of his small house, which the well-off Hoke (Alfie Jones) and his sidekick Frayne (Charlie Beck) think would make a great clubhouse for the trio. But first they need permission from Acton's older sister Jude (Shannon Tarbet.)

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Theatre review: Wars of the Roses (RSC / RST)

I'm back in Stratford-upon-Avon for the Empire Strikes Back of Shakespeare's York v Lancaster trilogy: Originally titled Richard, Duke of York, most commonly (and confusingly) known as Henry VI Part 3, the RSC have opted for the blindingly obvious title that both Shakespeare and the First Folio editors managed to miss, Wars of the Roses. Following straight on from Rebellion, the gloves are off and so are any masks hiding who's behind the threats to Henry VI's reign. The Duke of York (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) makes his challenge known, and begins to muster forces, supported by his sons Edward, later Edward IV (Ashley D Gayle,) George (Ben Hall) and Richard (Arthur Hughes.) When the "kingmaker" Warwick (Nicholas Karimi) pledges his allegiance to the Yorkist cause as well, their victory seems assured.

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Theatre review: The House of Shades

Anne-Marie Duff returns to the stage, bringing with her the usual trepidation over what her generally questionable taste in plays will serve up this time. Beth Steel's The House of Shades isn't among the dodgier shows I've seen Duff in (I made it to the end of this one,) but it does suggest that if you asked her if she wanted a side of subtlety with her political commentary, you'd get a firm "no thanks!" Blanche McIntyre directs a family saga of a Nottinghamshire mining town, spanning from 1965 to 2019 - from optimism about what the trade unions and the Labour Party could do to help the country, all the way to the fall of the "red wall." Duff plays Constance, who fled an abusive father in the only way available to a woman in her position: By marrying the first man who came along. But starting her own family with Alistair (Stuart McQuarrie) soon just turned into a different kind of trap.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Theatre review: House of Ife

After her tenure running the Bush got interrupted soon after she took over, Lynette Linton continues to put her stamp on the venue by directing House of Ife, Beru Tessema's drama about three Ethiopian-British siblings and the family tensions that come to a head when their brother dies. Twins Ife and Aida (Karla-Simone Spence) moved to England when they were just about old enough to remember something of living in Ethiopia; Tsion (Yohanna Ephrem) and Yosi (Michael Workeye) were both born in London. The three siblings we meet are combative but pretty well-adjusted, but around the age of 16 Ife went off the rails in ways we gradually find out more about; the play opens after his funeral, as they try to celebrate their brother's memory while their mother Meron (Sarah Priddy) tackles the competitive mourning of the ladies from church in the next room.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Theatre review: Two Palestinians Go Dogging

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Press Night for this is next week. This may mean the running time issue I mention later in this review may have been improved a bit by then.

The Royal Court isn't afraid to tackle the political issues that most steer clear of, so it's perhaps not entirely surprising that their latest premiere tackles the conflict between Israel and Palestine - from the Palestinian perspective that's generally shied away from, and largely through the medium of black comedy. Sami Ibrahim's Two Palestinians Go Dogging has a title that's meant to sound like the setup to a joke, but we're also assured many times that public sex is literally something its indefatigable leading lady has been known to indulge in; it's also the setting for a couple of unlikely Israeli-Palestinian encounters on a more intimate level. The story begins in 2043, although apart from the fact that the Prime Minister of Israel is the reanimated corpse of Benjamin Netanyahu there's nothing much to differentiate it from 2022.

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Theatre review: Oklahoma!

Regular readers of this blog will both know I traditionally have certain reservations about musical theatre pioneers Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II - namely that if it weren't for the famous and beloved tunes, their work would fall somewhere between "horribly dated" and "nightmarishly distressing" and not get staged anymore. One of their shows I hadn't seen before - I don't think I've even seen the film - is their original, genre-defining hit Oklahoma! But Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein's production, which transfers to the Young Vic from New York, promised to come with a radical, twenty-first century reimagining of the musical Western about farmers trying to squeeze a bit of singing and dancing in between the relentless dry-humping. Because Fish and Fein's approach to the show is to dispense with any euphemisms and cuteness, and strip it down to a story about people who just want to have sex with each other (whether or not the other party is entirely consenting, because Hammerstein.)

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Theatre review: Age of Rage

Six Greek tragedies in four hours, told through the medium of Dutch Doom Metal? Ivo van Hove must be in town. And given what he deposited on the stage the last time he was here, that's not necessarily the most reassuring thought, but at least Age of Rage comes to the Barbican courtesy of van Hove's regular ensemble at Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, with the promise of following in the footsteps of past epics like Roman Tragedies and Kings of War. In fact, now that Robert Icke has joined the company as a resident director, with shows like The Doctor joining their repertoire, it's surprising that this show was created instead of Icke's Oresteia doing likewise, because in terms of story if not style, Age of Rage follows the same cycle of Greek mythology: The Oresteia, but expanded to take in the beginning of the family feud with the sacrifice of Iphigenia in Aulis.

Friday, 6 May 2022

Theatre review: Jerusalem

Just as there are a lot of actors who get forever identified with one role, there are also roles that get identified strongly with one actor. But I've never seen so many people insist that it's unthinkable for anyone other than the original star to take over a role, as I have with Mark Rylance and Rooster John Byron in Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem. It's a theory the latest West End revival has no intention of challenging as, 13 years after first playing the role, Rylance returns to Ian Rickson's production. He brings with him some more of the original Royal Court cast, including Mackenzie Crook as Rooster's hapless sidekick Ginger, an unemployed plasterer who insists he's actually a DJ. What he mostly is is off his face, as what brings him to the dilapidated caravan on the edge of a Wiltshire wood is the same as brings most people there: Rooster is the village's resident drug dealer.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Theatre review: Middle

After what was meant to be a busy couple of weeks of theatregoing got derailed by me catching Covid, my first show back since testing negative again is the second in a loose trilogy about relationships: Beginning, the hit play about the first couple of hours of a brand-new relationship, was intended as a one-off, until writer David Eldridge decided during previews that it could in fact live up to its title, and begin a cycle of plays about relationships at different stages. So five years later we get a different couple whose marriage is, the title tells us, somewhere in the Middle. Although that's not how it initially feels when Maggie (Claire Rushbrook) gets up in the middle of the night to make herself a hot drink because she can't sleep, and husband Gary (Daniel Ryan) follows her downstairs, asking what's wrong. Her reply doesn't beat around the bush: "I'm not sure I love you any more."

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Theatre review: Henry VI: Rebellion (RSC / RST)

After a couple of years kept away from Stratford-upon-Avon by Miss Rona, followed by a further delay caused by Miss Eunice, it is at least apt timing that I should return to the RSC on Shakespeare's birthday. And, leading up to the end of Gregory Doran's tenure there and the conclusion of his staging the Complete Works (some exclusions apply, the amount of plays we say Shakespeare wrote may go down as well as up) that began with Richard II, the inevitable end point was the series of Henry VI plays leading up to Richard III. The play usually known as Henry VI Part 1 is probably Shakespeare's least-loved work and the company must have been dreading having to convince people to come see it, so they used the excuse of lockdown to present it as a streamed rehearsed reading, aka Let's Not Stage It And Say We Did. Which does have the added advantage of being able to skip ahead and present a trilogy of plays that were actually intended as such.

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Theatre review: The Corn is Green

Future Dame Nicola Walker gets the top billing she's always deserved as the Lyttelton revives The Corn is Green, Emlyn Williams' semi-autobiographical play about escaping the narrow constraints put on the people of a remote Welsh village by class, poverty, and the simple expectation that things will always be as they have always been. Somewhere in North Wales, the locals are sent down the coal mines from the age of ten, most never learn to read or write, and nobody can imagine a future where the next generation doesn't do exactly the same dangerous work as their fathers. It's certainly not a thought the local landowner, referred to only as The Squire (Rufus Wright) would want to encourage - as the majority shareholder in the mines, a steady supply of cheap, uneducated labour suits him well. So he's unimpressed when Miss Moffat (Walker) arrives, having decided to spend a recent inheritance on opening a school in the village.

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Theatre review: Wolf Cub

Ché Walker wrote Wolf Cub in Atlanta, in the aftermath of Donald Trump's election in 2016. While people around the world wondered how it could have happened, for Walker it seemed obvious the seeds were sown decades earlier, by another Republican President who was a celebrity before he was a politician, who used polarising language to turn Americans against each other and demonise the poor and minorities. Crucially for this story, Ronald Reagan also survived an international scandal, in which in order to interfere with a foreign nation's election results, both arms sales to Iran and an influx of drugs into the US were fair game as fundraisers. Wolf Cub tells the story of the Reagan (and Bush) years through the experiences of Maxine (Clare Latham,) who when Reagan first comes to power is a nine-year old living with her father in the rural South. Her mother having apparently fled years earlier, she's left alone to deal with her father's physical and emotional abuse.

Friday, 15 April 2022

Theatre review: Anyone Can Whistle

Following Stephen Sondheim's recent death, I'm sure we're going to be getting a whole slew of new revivals commemorating a legendary songwriter whose work is rarely off the stage at the best of times. If they haven't materialised yet it's probably because high-profile producers are fighting over the rights to his most beloved works, so I guess in that context it makes sense that the first new production in London since his death is a fringe take on a show most famous because, even in the 1960s, critics and audiences weren't stoned enough to think it was any good: I imagine that at any given time the rights to Anyone Can Whistle are very much available. In a former industrial town whose only remaining business seems to be a psychiatric clinic known as The Cookie Jar, the nonspecifically corrupt mayor Cora Hoover Hooper (Alex Young) orders her lackeys to revive the town's fortunes by any means necessary.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Theatre review: Scandaltown

All of a sudden we're getting to see everything Mike Bartlett kept himself busy with during lockdown, with his second premiere in the space of a week. I hadn't quite registered that I'd booked them two days apart from each other, but they do show a contrast in a playwright who likes to experiment with style, and has grown fond in recent years of using familiar classic theatrical genres to reflect on the present day. So if The 47th was a tragicomedy so dark it bordered on the apocalyptic, Scandaltown, opening at the Lyric Hammersmith in a production by Rachel O'Riordan, goes for much less ambiguous laughs, applying the convoluted plots and stock characters of Restoration comedy to 21st century concerns. Phoebe Virtue (Cecilia Appiah) and her twin brother were raised in the country, and are considerate, environmentally conscious and unselfish.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Theatre review: The 47th

Mike Bartlett has played around with pastiche in the past, never more successfully than when King Charles III took Shakespearean themes and language and applied them to an imagined future of the British Royal family. Later this week he'll be premiering his take on Restoration Comedy, but for The 47th he returns to blank verse, also reuniting with director Rupert Goold, and Lydia Wilson on Lady Macbeth duties, although the venue changes to the much larger Old Vic, befitting a lead character who's fond of a rally: As with the previous production, most of the fictionalised characters aren't played as impressions of the real people, but Donald Trump's mannerisms are so pronounced and familiar that it would be odd not to recreate them. And after a few years of TV work where you could actually tell what his face looked like, Bertie Carvel returns to his days as a theatrical chameleon with a comic but creepily uncanny impersonation of the 45th President of the United States.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Stage-to-screen review: Much Ado About Nothing
(RSC / RST & BBC)

After Covid kept me away from Stratford-upon-Avon for two years, the aftermath of 1990s Gladiators winner Storm Eunice kept me away a bit longer when I was due to see the RST reopen with Roy Alexander Weise's take on Much Ado About Nothing. The BBC has come up with another chance to catch it though, with a filmed performance that's now available on iPlayer. Much Ado is set to be this year's most ubiquitous Shakespeare play, and another 2022 meme it's contributed to is the understudy having to permanently take over a lead role: Michael Balogun, himself the beneficiary of a sudden promotion, dropped out just before opening and Luke Wilson (not that one) got the plum role of Benedick. And he makes the most of the opportunity, easily becoming one of the best things in a frankly bizarre production whose high concept design overwhelms it.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Theatre review: "Daddy" A Melodrama

It's hard enough trying to keep up with everything going on in London theatre without adding Broadway to the mix, but even so I can't help but know that Slave Play was causing a stir in New York before Covid. So far I haven't heard any suggestion of it making the transatlantic trip but Jeremy O. Harris' earlier play "Daddy" A Melodrama has, after a lockdown delay of its own, now landed at the Almeida complete with its original creative team. Franklin (Terique Jarrett) is a young, gay black artist who moved to California a couple of years ago to pursue his career. His collections of doll versions of himself are slowly building a following, and while he's not quite got to the stage of making big money from his creations yet, he's got an enthusiastic supporter in gallerist Alessia (Jenny Rainsford,) who's about to host his first high-profile exhibition. A few weeks before it opens, he meets wealthy, white, fifty-something Andre (Claes Bang.)

Monday, 4 April 2022

Theatre review: The Fever Syndrome

Hampstead Theatre may now be run by Roxana Silbert but some things don't change, and it remains London's main home for That American Play Where An Extended Family Gets Together After A Long Time, Preferably At Thanksgiving But That’s Optional. Silbert herself directs the latest iteration of a play every American playwright seems, for some reason, to be legally obligated to write and just change the character names. The twist is Alexis Zegerman isn't even American so The Fever Syndrome is... a tribute act maybe? It does tick every other box, including the ever-popular Asshole Genius add-on feature, as the excuse for bringing three siblings and their partners to the New York brownstone they grew up in is their father receiving a lifetime achievement award. Richard (Robert Lindsay) is an obstetrician and IVF pioneer, who still bears a grudge against the Republicans for delaying his research on religious grounds, meaning Britain beat America to the first test tube baby.

Saturday, 2 April 2022

Theatre review: Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe / Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank)

A familiar annual feature at Shakespeare's Globe has been the Playing Shakespeare With Deutsche Bank production created specially for schools, which gives away thousands of free tickets to students. Its popularity has seen it become increasingly open to general audiences, and after a couple of past productions were made available online during lockdown, this year's has been given an additional few weeks' run after the school parties have seen it. The fact that the shows are heavily edited meant that for the first time ever I felt able to risk a standing ticket among the groundlings without too much fear of putting my back out, so after over a decade seeing most shows at the Globe I finally got to be right at the front of the action, where Rose Revitt's design has added a deep thrust into the yard. As these shows are tied to the school curriculum I don't remember it ever being anything other than Macbeth or Romeo & Juliet, and the fact that this thrust is a blasted heath is a clue as to whose turn it is.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Theatre review: Straight Line Crazy

Playwright David Hare, actor Ralph Fiennes and director Nicholas Hytner reunite at the Bridge Theatre where they last collaborated on Beat the Devil; that one was a monologue, and while Straight Line Crazy surrounds Fiennes with a large cast, it can sometimes feel just as much of a one-man show. Certainly the true story it tells, of a man whose influence changed the face of America's cities in the twentieth century, seems a fascinating one: Robert Moses (Fiennes) was an urban planner, although he hated the term because it implied a lot of theory, not action, and he was determined to get things done regardless of whether the people they impacted wanted them or not. In the first act we meet him in the 1920s, pushing through his plans for Long Island: A playground for the rich, he intends to open up its parks and beaches to the public of New York by building roads, giving them a break in the leisure time the workers are now starting to see as a right.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Theatre review: The Human Voice

I've loved a lot of Ivo van Hove's work but I'm far from finding him faultless - some of his screen-to-stage adaptations have been positively soporific, and the David Bowie musical is just a baffled question mark in my memory - so while I hope for the best, I don't assume every one of his shows will knock it out of the park. And while his reunion with Ruth Wilson for a Jean Cocteau monologue had a lot of anticipation behind it, sadly it goes very much into the other column of the director's work. In The Human Voice, Wilson plays a woman on the phone to her ex-boyfriend soon after their breakup; he's moved out of her apartment, but she still has a few of his things (including his dog) to send to him. He's also promised her one last conversation - although she found out he was having an affair and anticipated that he would leave her a few weeks before it happened, she's still not adjusted at all to the idea of being without him.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

Theatre review: Our Generation

While we don't currently have the mass cancellations we were seeing at the height of Omicron, some shows are still being more affected by Covid than others: The performance of Our Generation I'd originally booked for last month got cancelled - by this point it had become apparent it was nearly four hours long, so to be honest I didn't mind the opportunity to reschedule from a Tuesday night to a weekend - and tonight's almost went the same way, as two cast members had had positive test results and the Dorfman doesn't carry understudies. Fortunately two of their castmates were able to read in all their roles as well as playing their own, so Sarita Gabony covered Anna Burnett's part and Stephanie Street read in Debbie Chazen's tonight. And I'm glad they did, as despite its epic length it would have been a shame to miss Alecky Blythe's epic of five years in the lives of teenagers, her most significant and affecting work since London Road.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Theatre review: Clybourne Park

I'm yet to see Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin In The Sun, famous as a classic work on race in America, not to mention one of the first big successes by a black female playwright, but I am now seeing a second London production of a more recent hit directly inspired by, and set in the same neighbourhood as, Hansberry's play. I think if Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park had been written now there would be more questions asked about whether this was a male white playwright's story to tell (and there's always been a certain amount of controversy around the subject,) but when it premiered in 2010 it was a big success, even becoming that rarity: A Pulitzer winner I don't hate. And Oliver Kaderbhai's revival demonstrates why, as the bold choice to tackle America's most contentious subject with broad comedy is backed up by Norris' pitch-perfect comic escalation.

Saturday, 19 March 2022

Theatre review: Tom Fool

I can see why prolific German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz' 1978 play Tom Fool might seem ripe for revival: Its attack on capitalism dehumanising workers is particularly focused on the way it defines the roles and priorities of men and women, a relevant subject when clichés about masculinity are being interrogated. Whether that's enough to make an incredibly dry and dusty play feel worth another look in 2022 is a different story altogether. Otto (Michael Shaeffer) works on the assembly line at a BMW plant. He makes enough money to support his family and afford a few luxuries, but not so much that he doesn't need to keep an eye on the cost of everything, or treat his valuables with care: When the boss borrows his Parker pen and forgets to give it back, it's a matter for sleepless nights and worried rants to his wife for weeks.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Theatre review: Cock

You're subconsciously trying to prove something, and we won't blame you for that, but you have to understand it has consequences for the people involved. Parklife!

This spring is going to be busy with new Mike Bartlett work, but before that a high-profile revival: It's been over a decade since he first showed London his Cock, but now it returns, and with it return limited runs with big-name casting. The original production starred Ben Whishaw and Andrew Scott, but that was very much when they were mainly known to theatre audiences, before Peruvian bears, horny priests and Bond films brought them to a wider audience. For the play's West End debut at the Ambassadors, Marianne Elliott has got the male leads very much at the height of their popularity (with prices to match, although it turns out the more reasonably priced back of the Circle has decent sightlines, and legroom that's... not great, but not technically a human rights violation.) The attention-grabbing title has various possible meanings, but at the heart is a man whose relationships deteriorate into something resembling a cockfight.

Sunday, 13 March 2022

Theatre review: Bacon

Teenage codependency at the Finborough where Sophie Swithinbank's Bacon sees two 15-year-old outsiders find a kind of escape with each other - before discovering they're as bad for each other as anything they're escaping. Middle-class Mark (Corey Montague-Sholay) has moved to a Catholic boys' school after his parents' divorce, and quickly finds he won't break into any of the established friendship cliques in any hurry, especially as a rather quiet, fussy and studious boy. Darren (William Robinson) has the swagger and intimidating talk of a bully, but fewer social skills than even that would suggest: He's suspended from school so often, he has as little a friendship circle there as Mark. They clash on Mark's first day, but then at every one of his attempts to socialise Darren seems to be around. When Darren frames Mark so they end up in detention together, one of the boys at least starts to admit to himself that this is becoming a weird kind of friendship, and that he's excited about it.

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Theatre review: The Merchant of Venice
(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Measure for Measure, Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice doesn't sound like the most exciting season imaginable on paper, but the Swanamaker has been firing on all cylinders this winter, and in what could have been the least promising offering of all it turns out they've saved the best till last: Abigail Graham's is probably the best Merchant I've ever seen, and not just because she's cut the entirety of Act 5. In fact, as we've come to expect from the Globe, it's not a production that's precious with the text, cutting and reshuffling to serve its purpose. In this instance, it's to set the action in the high-risk, masculine, bullying culture of modern-day city traders, so we open with Aaron Vodovoz' geeky Launcelot Gobbo asking for a job with Bassanio (Michael Marcus.) He's made to play a drinking game as part of his application, which mainly involves a penalty every time he says the word "Jew" - and as he's talking about wanting to leave his current employer, the Jewish moneylender Shylock, he says it a lot. He ends up very drunk and humiliated, but gets the job.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Theatre review: The Woods

It might be long past time to add David Mamet to the pile of theatre creatives life's honestly way too short to be doing with: The Woods may be one of those rare shows that comes in slightly under the advertised running time, but it feels about twice as long. Dating from 1977, it's one of the battle-of-the-sexes plays Mamet really should have realised aren't his forte by now, and sees young couple Nick (Sam Frenchum) and Ruth (Francesca Carpanini) take a break at the remote cabin Nick inherited from his family. City girl Ruth is charmed and endlessly fascinated by the rural setting but Nick, who spent a lot of time at the cabin as a child, seems to associate the place with bad memories and be frightened of almost everything about the surrounding woods and lakes, to the point that you have to wonder why he ever agreed to return there in the first place. What he's probably really afraid of is being with his girlfriend in a place with no distractions, and having to confront what his actual feelings are.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Theatre review: After the End

It's a truism by now that any show staged seems to end up with a (usually bleakly) ironic relevance to current events, more often than not a different one than was actually intended. When Theatre Royal Stratford East scheduled a revival of a play about two people trapped together in a nuclear fallout shelter, they probably imagined it would raise the odd wry smile of recognition from people who've spent the last two years in and out of various levels of lockdown; instead it's more likely to remind a London audience that the Express is currently running articles about whether the compete annihilation of the capital by nuclear bomb would negatively impact on house prices in Surrey. Dennis Kelly actually wrote After the End in response to 9/11, which is why the nuclear weapon that goes off just before the story starts is a terrorist attack by a suicide bomber rather than an act of aggression by a foreign power.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Theatre review: The Collaboration

Andy Warhol made a couple of cameo appearances in the Young Vic's last production, Best of Enemies; for Anthony McCarten's The Collaboration he takes centre stage. But where the 1960s Warhol we saw last year was at the height of both his creativity and his celebrity, the 1984 Warhol (Paul Bettany) we meet now is all too aware that - while still a big name - his work has become predictable, his prices are falling, and the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeremy Pope) are the names on everyone's lips now: Warhol still hangs out with Yoko Ono, but Basquiat gets photographed with (and may or may not be sleeping with) Madonna. The two wildly different artists do share an agent, Bruno (Alec Newman,) and he sees the idea of an unlikely collaboration between the two as a way both of propelling his up-and-coming client even further, and of revitalising the established one's flagging creativity.

Monday, 28 February 2022

Theatre review: The Forest

Florian Zeller's written his play again, and this time it gets its world premiere not in his native French but in English, and not at the Kiln but a couple of stops down the Jubilee Line at Hampstead Theatre. As usual Christopher Hampton takes on translation duties for The Forest, for most of the characters at least - I got the distinct impression that Laurence had had her dialogue run through Google Translate. This disparity in style presumably has some significance; either that, or Gina Mckee has seriously pissed someone off, and got punished with the role of a rather dim-witted robot. Laurence is married to Pierre, a successful and influential surgeon, played in Jonathan Kent's production by both Toby Stephens and Paul McGann. We first see the Stephens version in his Paris apartment with his wife, preparing to make a speech making major recommendations on French medical policy and its relationship with Big Pharma.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Theatre review: Henry V (Donmar Warehouse)

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Yet another show where the press night has been pushed back due to some preview performances having to be cancelled.

Welp, a grimly appropriate day to go see a show about a country being invaded because a neighbouring ruler has a sense of entitlement to it. The first Shakespeare production under the Donald and Margot Warehouse's current team sees Max Webster take on Henry V, with Kit "Christopher" Harington in the title role. Webster's production actually begins by taking us back to the Henry IV plays that precede it, and showing us Harington's Hal partying with thieves and cutthroats, before receiving news of his father's death. Foreshadowing events in the play itself, we see him refuse to make the promises of leniency for thieves his friends ask for, before ascending the throne and coldly rejecting his former close companion Falstaff (Steven Meo.) Once in power Henry wastes no time in making it clear his interests as king lie in expansion, specifically in building a spurious case for being rightful ruler of France. He makes demands that are inevitably rejected, and begins his invasion.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Theatre review: The Chairs

A rare appearance for Eugène Ionesco's absurdist work in a major London production - only the second in the decade I've been writing this blog - also features a more regular sight as Kathryn Hunter appears with husband and regular collaborator Marcello Magni in the first of two planned productions this year. At the Almeida Omar Elerian directs his own adaptation of Ionesco's The Chairs, and for the second show in a row here a revival gives an opportunity to address very modern concerns about climate change, as an impossibly elderly couple watch the world flood outside their windows, and remember a time when everything seemed brighter. But the Old Man (Magni) has a plan: He's been a janitor, or Master of the Mop and Bucket, all his life, but in his spare time he's been preparing and perfecting a speech that holds all the solutions to the world's problems. He doesn't feel able to deliver the message in front of an audience himself, but fortunately he's found a professional Speaker who can do it..

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

Stage-to-screen review: tick, tick... BOOM!

Touch wood and everything, but I seem to be back at a point where a completely theatre-free week is a bit of a rarity for me, but I did know that a couple, like this one, were coming up. So I made sure to hang on to a few of the radio or screen adaptations of stage works that I used to keep myself and this blog going during lockdown, including the Lin-Manuel Miranda-directed adaptation of tick, tick... BOOM! This also ended up being the week Andrew Garfield got an Oscar nomination for the film, so it's turned out to be fairly apt timing as well. I seem to be regularly drawn back to Rent despite my very mixed feelings about it, but Jonathan Larson's punctuation heavy* earlier musical is one I'd only seen once in a fringe production which left me distinctly underwhelmed. But Miranda does have the advantage of a new screenplay by Dear Evan Hansen's Steven Levenson to help make sense of the story.

Friday, 4 February 2022

Theatre review: Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks

Not shying away from a smuttily comic title, Sarah Hanly's debut monologue Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks maintains a similar irreverent tone throughout, taking on eating disorders, drug abuse, death and women's social inequality with an incongruously breezy tone. Hanly herself plays Saoirse, whose story begins as a rebellious teenager in an Irish Catholic school, where on the one hand she's talking back to her teachers, exposing the hypocrisies everyone just seems to go along with and demanding a meaningful sex education. On the other hand she's not as in control as she outwardly appears, disappearing into the toilets several times a day to make herself sick. The monologue is framed as Saoirse speaking to her friend Aisling, a fellow anorexic, trying to keep her enthusiastic about life by recounting wild tales from her teens, and catching her up on what's happened since she moved to Dagenham to go to drama school.

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Theatre review: Hamlet (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

From Sir Andrew Aguecheek straight to Hamlet is an unusual career progression but it's the one George Fouracres has taken since joining the Globe's ensemble cast last summer. After two standout comic turns the announcement he'd be playing Shakespeare's most famous tragic lead was welcome news to me, especially after the last Hamlet I saw actively played against any trace of humour or likeability in the character. Sean Holmes' production is the first time the play's been tackled indoors in the Swanamaker, and the first in the venue since the current Artistic Director played the role in her opening season. And there's some similarities between this and the Michelle Terry version in a general approach that avoids one overarching conceit; but Holmes' production both takes this experimentation with ideas several steps further, and results in, for my money at least, a much more entertaining - if far from cohesive - evening overall.