Wednesday 31 August 2022

Stage-to-screen review: Oliver Twist

The National Theatre's NTatHome platform won't be troubling Netflix in terms of volume of content any time soon, but its library has grown significantly since it launched a couple of years ago. As well as the NT's own archive and the productions screened to cinemas with NTLive, it also makes sense as a longer-term home for filmed performances that were screened online during lockdown by a variety of UK theatres, on a variety of platforms. So one such show is Leeds Playhouse's 2020 adaptation of probably the best-known full-length novel by Charles Dickens (Chickens to his friends,) Oliver Twist. Intended to tour, which obviously in 2020 wasn't going to happen, Amy Leach's production was instead made available to stream, in a filmed version that occasionally uses subtitles to supplement the access features that are incorporated into the staging itself.

Sunday 28 August 2022

Radio review: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore

It's the couple of weeks of calm before the storm when London theatres gear up to grab the attention back from Edinburgh and all launch new shows at once. While they build up to that and I have a rare full week without theatre, as usual I'll top it up with radio and screen adaptations. A few years ago I listened to Radio 3's production of Lucy Prebble's The Effect, which starred Damien Molony and Pirate Jessie Buckley. It seems the two actors made the most of their time in the recording studio as at the same time they played Giovanni and Annabella, the incestuous brother and sister in John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. In a play Pauline Harris' audio version sees as a twisted response to Romeo & Juliet, Giovanni seduces Annabella, and they begin an affair that soon leaves her pregnant.

Thursday 25 August 2022

Theatre review: Cruise

2021 was a game of two halves in theatre, with an almost even split between the time when shows were all online, and when they started to reopen to live audiences. It was something I reflected in my end of year review, skipping my usual Top Ten shows and instead offering two #1 shows, one live, one in the quickly-evolving digital format. Jack Holden's Cruise straddled both media, appearing first in a filmed version before being chosen as one of the shows to reopen the West End, in a socially distanced Duchess Theatre. Chez Partially Obstructed View the show got my top spot in the online category - I loved it and would have been happy to see it again, but the original live run came right after I'd seen it digitally, which was a bit too soon to revisit it. Now, helped in part by an Olivier nomination for Best New Play, Bronagh Lagan's production gets another short run, this time playing the Apollo at full capacity.

Tuesday 23 August 2022

Theatre review: The Trials

With climate catastrophe seeming more bleakly inevitable by the minute, you'd think the near future looked depressing enough without imagining an even more dystopian version of it; but fair play to Dawn King, whose The Trials goes for it anyway. At some point in the future, climate change has made the air outside unbreathable without masks, droughts and flooding are regular occurrences, and refugees have had to flee much of the planet for the few areas that are still just about habitable. Being the generation that will have to live with the consequences of what the preceding ones did, children and teenagers have seized control, and the twelve young protagonists of King's play have been called to two weeks' jury duty, to judge their elders' crimes. But these aren't politicians or industrialists who wilfully destroyed the environment for profit; all of them were tried long ago, and the spotlight has now moved onto anyone who could be considered to have done less than they could have to stop the disaster.

Thursday 18 August 2022

Theatre review: Tasting Notes

With Southwark Playhouse's Large auditorium currently experiencing a yeast infection, it might have been complementary if the Little had put on a show about beer. Unfortunately the scheduling hasn't worked out quite so on-theme, and instead we get a show about wine: Richard Baker (music & lyrics) and Charlie Ryall's (book & lyrics) Tasting Notes takes place between 7pm on Monday and 7pm on Tuesday in a reasonably successful wine bar, LJ's: The eventful 24 hours, which include the deaths of one cat and one lead character, are played out in song six times, from the differing perspectives of five of the staff and one of the customers. Hassled owner LJ (Nancy Zamit) is exhausted by having to cover for missing staff and a business that's picking up, but not quickly enough to afford some of the necessary improvements. She's essentially good-natured but her tiredness makes her snap at her staff, and to cap it all off she's about to make a grim discovery.

Tuesday 16 August 2022

Theatre review: Sister Act

I've so far managed to avoid every incarnation of Sister Act The Musical that's run in London, not out of any particular animosity towards it, just because the idea's never really grabbed my interest. I was quite happy to skip the latest production as well, which was originally due to run exactly two years ago, then got postponed again last year. Due to star the source film's leading lady Whoopi Goldberg, it was a hot ticket but I was put off by the idea of the venue. Two years and two reschedules later, Goldberg was no longer available, but to be honest Beverley Knight was a bigger draw for me personally; she leads a cast of big names that include Jennifer Saunders, Keala Settle, Clive Rowe, Lesley Joseph and Lizzie Bea. Alan Menken (music,) Glenn Slater (lyrics,) Bill & Cheri Steinkellner (book) and Douglas Carter Beane's (additional material) musical moves the film's story to 1977, to give the songs disco and Motown influences.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Theatre review: All of Us

All of Us opens with a neat little reverse: Two women sit opposite each other, Jess (Francesca Martinez) needing some help to get to her chair because she has Cerebral Palsy, Rita (Lucy Briers) apologising for being late and taking out a pad to take notes on the session. But Jess isn't the patient, she's the therapist, who's making slow but steady progress with Rita's OCD. Martinez is probably most recognisable as a comedian but here doubles as writer and star of a tragicomic play tearing into the last 12 years of austerity cuts to vital benefits, particularly to people with disabilities. Jess is busy, productive and independent in everything except her own body, whose "wobbly" nature means she needs help from flatmate Lottie (Crystal Condie) and care assistant Nadia (Wanda Opalinska) to dress herself and cook.

Sunday 7 August 2022

Theatre review: The Tempest (Shakespeare's Globe)

The Tempest is often staged as an allegory for Britain's colonial past, but the latest London production goes for the metaphor of a much more up-to-date British cultural colonisation. For the final Shakespeare production of the summer season, and the second from the current resident Globe Ensemble, Sean Holmes and Diane Page take us to a nameless island that more closely resembles a Spanish resort full of English ex-pats, than it does a remote and forbidding land. Like a more fortunate King Lear, Prospero (Ferdy Roberts) enjoyed the privileges of being Duke of Milan, while openly having no intention of doing any of the associated work or pay attention to politics. It made him very easy to displace in a coup, and he was banished with his daughter Miranda (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi) to this remote island. But thanks to some magical knowledge, he quickly managed to become ruler of the place and command its magical creatures.

Friday 5 August 2022

Theatre review: Yeast Nation (the triumph of life)

There must be something about Southwark Playhouse that inspires Benji Sperring towards the colour green: The director's last show in the Large was The Toxic Avenger, and now from a green lead we move on to an entirely green cast. Urinetown creators Mark Hollman (music & lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book & lyrics) have come up with an even more surreal theme for a musical than public toilets, by going back to the year 3,000,458,000 BCE and the first single-cell yeast organisms that could be considered life on Earth. Yeast Nation (the triumph of life) has recently been selling itself as "London's most controversial musical," which isn't quite accurate as the term has to be "divisive" - many of the official reviews seem to have completely panned it, and based on the turnout even on a Friday night that seems to have affected ticket sales. But, appropriately enough, the yeast-based substance it's most turned out to resemble is Marmite, because among those who made the trip many have loved it.

Thursday 4 August 2022

Theatre review: Much Ado About Nothing
(National Theatre)

The year's third major Much Ado About Nothing is the starriest, courtesy of John Heffernan and Future Dame Katherine Parkinson as Benedick and Beatrice at the Lyttelton. The National's go-to Shakespeare director Simon Godwin was best-known for directing new work when the RSC hired him to give a fresh eye to The Two Gentlemen of Verona nearly a decade ago, and while that was the start of a major change of direction for his career, he's still bringing that outsider's attitude to one of the most beloved comedies of all. Dialogue has been cut, moved, assigned to different characters, and while it's all Shakespeare's work it doesn't all necessarily originate in this play (there's even the best part of a sonnet bulking up Hero's role.) At heart the play - and its most famous couple - remain the same, but the irreverent treatment of the text yields results in making many of the plotlines and characters less problematic.

Monday 1 August 2022

Stage-to-screen review: Henry VI Part 1
Open Rehearsal Project (RSC)

The Phantom Menace of Shakespeare's Plantagenet history cycle, Henry VI Part 1 is the unloved prequel that seems to exist mainly to cause a headache for companies like the RSC and Globe: There's an expectation that they'll make their way through the entire canon every decade or so, but a couple of the plays feel like a hell of a lot of effort and expense for a show nobody will actually want to come and see. As the least popular part of an extended sequence of plays Henry VI Part 1 suffers the most from this - I've only seen it live in its own right once - and theatres tend to go for some variation of not actually staging it and saying they did. Usually this involves merging it into the other two Henry VI plays, like the Swanamaker's last attempt did particularly ruthlessly, but the RSC chose instead to make a virtue out of necessity and knock this one out as a lockdown project online: Gregory Doran and Owen Horsley directed a professional cast in rehearsals last summer, which were live-streamed for anyone interested in seeing the company's rehearsal process.