Monday 31 January 2022

Theatre review: The Glow

When Alistair McDowall says he prefers his plays to offer more questions than answers you should believe him: The playwright who's previously taken us into the Cthulhu mythos and to Pluto now appears to take us into a Victorian ghost story, before veering off into a whole new English* mythology. In 1863, self-styled spiritualist medium Evelyn (Rakie Ayola) is roaming the cells of an asylum in search of someone to use as a conduit in her séances. She finds a woman she names Sadie (Ria Zmitrowicz,) who's forgotten her own name and everything else about herself, and essentially kidnaps her, bringing her back to stay with her. The horror-movie feel is tempered with humour as Evelyn's brattish son Mason (Fisayo Akinade) throws tantrums at having to share the house with the new arrival, but he may have a point about the woman they really know nothing about.

Thursday 27 January 2022

Theatre review: The Book of Dust - La Belle Sauvage

The last of what were meant to be my Christmas shows that got bumped into January sees Nicholas Hytner at the Bridge revisit one of his biggest successes from his time at the National Theatre: He and playwright Nicholas Wright turned Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy into an epic two-part play, and a production I still remember fondly. Bryony Lavery now takes over adaptation duties for Pullman's prequel, The Book of Dust - La Belle Sauvage, which takes the story back to Lyra's world. It's an alternate universe where the Church - known as the Magisterium - has an authoritarian grip on all aspects of life, which in this even darker take on the world includes a fascistic private army, as well as a junior version that encourages schoolchildren to turn their parents and peers in to the authorities for perceived offences against the Magisterium. But the most obvious difference between this world and Lyra's is a physical one.

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Theatre review: Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story

From one musical theatre extreme to another, and straight after a big, brand-new and decidedly messy show, I'm crossing the river for a compact chamber musical that's been a fringe favourite since its 2003 debut. Stephen Dolginoff's (book, music and lyrics) Thrill Me is subtitled The Leopold & Loeb Story, and follows a crime shocking even by 1920s Chicago standards. Framed by a parole hearing for Nathan Leopold (Bart Lambert), now in his fifties, he's given one last chance to shine a new light on one of the most written-about murders of the century, and convince them that one of the "Thrill Killers" is safe to go back on the streets. Leopold & Loeb famously inspired the play and film Rope which, for their time, are comparatively obvious in the homoerotic subtext to the central relationship. Writing in the 21st century, Dolginoff can all-out make it text as we go back to meet the two men aged 19.

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Theatre review: Hex

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: All the remaining run of Hex has been reclassified as previews.

My most-cancelled show of the Christmas season - I had to reschedule it twice - the National Theatre's new musical Hex has missed so much of its planned run that what's left is now being considered a preview, prior to it returning for what they'll be hoping will be a more successful second try at the end of the year. This is probably for the best - I'd hazard a guess that composer Jim Fortune, book writer Tanya Ronder and lyricist/director Rufus Norris will be giving it a few tweaks between now and then. Whether the promising premise can actually be converted into a hit is another story. Hex applies to Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty the central conceits of two of the most popular fairytale musicals of all time: The revisionist take on a character usually seen as the villain, most famously used in Wicked, and the second act exploring what happens after the Happy-Ever-After, as used in Into the Woods.

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Theatre review: A Fight Against...
(Una Lucha Contra...)

Chilean playwright Pablo Manzi's A Fight Against... (Una Lucha Contra...) was developed at the Royal Court at a time when his country was experiencing a lot of violent unrest against the state and inequality, culminating in recent elections that saw voters lean much more to the Left than had been expected. Some of the play's scenes inevitably reflect this energy, but as the ellipsis in the title suggests, not all of the characters know - or necessarily care - who or what they're fighting. In five separate, but possibly connected scenes spanning the last 140 years, we see characters trying to make sense of their own, or other people's anger: Beginning with Chilean university professor Carla (Jimena Larraguivel,) who returns from a day's teaching to announce that one of her students attacked and threatened to kill her. Her husband (Joseph Balderrama) understandably wants to know more, but something her student said might have alarmed Carla even more than the violence, and she's reluctant to say much.

Thursday 6 January 2022

Theatre review: Peggy For You

As we go into 2022 Hampstead Theatre finally gets to finish its 2020 season reviving notable works that premiered there over its first six decades. After the bleakness of the last offering we get something lighter in Peggy For You, Alan Plater's affectionate - but not uncritical - tribute to legendary agent Peggy Ramsay. She was the top name for representing playwrights, but despite her fearsome reputation she would have seen any success her clients achieved as largely incidental; and over the course of the day we meet three clients at very different stages of their careers. But first we meet Peggy (Tamsin Greig) crashing on the sofa of her office, having spent the night bailing out one of her most illustrious clients after he ran amok at the French Embassy. Arriving far too early for his appointment is Simon (Josh Finan,) a young writer who sent her a script.

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Theatre review: Force Majeure

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Force Majeure has had its press night pushed back by the usual.

Are steep stages going to be a 2022 theatrical meme? After Spring Awakening's set of steps comes an off-kilter, steeply raked white stage dominating the Donald and Margot Warehouse for Michael Longhurst's production of Force Majeure. The reason for these white expanses is that Tim Price's midlife crisis play, based on a film by Ruben Östlund, takes place at a ski resort in the French Alps, where a Swedish family have decided to take a rare holiday together. Ebba (Lyndsey Marshal) thinks her husband spends too much of his time at work and not enough with their kids, so she's convinced Tomas (Rory Kinnear) to revisit a place he often went to as a child, and try to forge a relationship with his own, increasingly difficult children: Vera (Bo Bragason, alternating with Florence Hunt) is entering her teenage years and has, in a detached way, decided her parents are heading for divorce, while Harry (Oliver Savell, alternating with Henry Hunt) is having an alternately clingy and shouty phase.

Saturday 1 January 2022

Theatre review: Spring Awakening

I'm starting 2022 as I'd like it to go on, not only with a show that got cancelled at the end of 2021, but one which proves an absolutely storming opener to the year: Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik's (music) Spring Awakening is the musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind's radical 19th century play about teenagers' repressed sexualities and the devastating consequences of their parents keeping the realities of the world from them. The pop-rock songs are an anachronistic jolt from the 1890s German setting of the dialogue scenes, but it's surprising how much of the plot - that encompasses teenage pregnancy, abortion, suicide and same-sex relationships - comes straight from Wedekind. Friends since childhood, the teenagers have been separated into single-sex schools and discouraged from meeting each other.