Monday 28 November 2022

Theatre review: Baghdaddy

Whoa, Baghdaddy (Bam-ba-lam)

Jasmine Naziha Jones' wildly hyperactive playwrighting debut Baghdaddy deals with the guilt of a woman who feels she could have done more to support her British-based Iraqi father when he was trying to process the wars in the country where much of his family still lived; but how much could she be expected to understand, when she was eight years old at the time? In Milli Bhatia's production the playwright herself plays Darlee, who remembers her Dad (Philip Arditti) and how he coped with living in safety while Baghdad was burning on the news. In both the 1990s' and 2000s' wars, he tried to support his family by doing one-man humanitarian runs, smuggling medicine, cash, and information held back by the regime to neighbouring countries where his brother could collect them. But back at home, all Darlee sees is her beloved father becoming distant.

Saturday 26 November 2022

Theatre review: Arms and the Man

Paul Miller directs his final show as Artistic Director of the Orange Tree, and it's no real surprise that it involves one of the two classic playwrights who've kept the wolves from the venue's door during his tenure. I would have personally preferred a Rattigan swansong, but Miller's gone instead for Bernard Shaw: Arms and the Man is one of Shaw's most famous titles, although I don't think I've had the opportunity to see it before, so like most of the two writers' works presented in Richmond, it's presumably fallen out of favour and been forgotten. It turns out to be a lightly farcical romantic comedy for the holiday season, and less overtly political than its title and premise might have suggested: Set in rural Bulgaria during one of the endless 19th century conflicts between the Russian and Austrian empires, the Bulgarian army (under the Russians) have just scored a major victory over the Serbians (under the Austrians.)

Thursday 24 November 2022

Theatre review: Here

Southwark Playhouse's current home on Newington Causeway has been rechristened Southwark Playhouse Borough, to differentiate it from the new venue down the road that it's going to be coexisting with for the next couple of years. It's also once again become the host of the annual Papatango playwrighting prize after it moved to the Bush last year - although it's now in the Large space after several years in the Little. I've often thought Papatango tends to favour fairly downbeat plays, though they generally come with some spark of inspiration that makes them worth catching. Well 2022's winner, Clive Judd's kitchen sink play Here, definitely provides the downbeat part, but unfortunately I personally failed to find in it the redeeming features to make its hefty running time worthwhile. The kitchen is in the West Midlands home of Monica (Lucy Benjamin,) which she inherited when her father died two years earlier, and which still has the 1980s decor he left behind.

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Theatre review: Henry V (Headlong)

This year's second London Henry V is a radically different beast than the Donmar's bombastic war epic, and different in fact from any I've seen before in 30 or so years of Shakespeare productions. The clichéd view of the play is of a jingoistic celebration of Englishness, but in the last two decades it's been rare to see it through anything other than a cynical eye as a story of British imperialism, and increasingly through the prism of an arrogant attitude towards Europe. Holly Race Roughan's production for Headlong, which opens at the Swanamaker before transferring to Leeds and Northampton next year, takes it right out of the canon of Shakespeare's Histories, reimagining it entirely as a brooding and claustrophobic Tragedy. And if I was less excited than some about Kit "Christopher" Harington's casting earlier this year, Big Favourite Round These Parts Oliver Johnstone getting his chance at one of the big Shakespearean leads is more the kind of thing to grab my attention.

Monday 21 November 2022

Theatre review: Blackout Songs

Joe White's Blackout Songs is an alcoholic love story, which Guy Jones' production plays as a kind of twisted rom-com: Anisha Fields' traverse set design is bordered by rows of chairs that call to mind AA (Alcoholics Anonymous, not the Automobile Association.) That's because an AA meeting is where the protagonists meet, but it soon becomes apparent they're not ready to commit to sobriety: Rebecca Humphries' Alice and Alex Austin's Charlie (the characters are listed as just "Her" and "Him" in the programme) both claim this is their first-ever AA meeting, and they don't even stay past the coffee: When she finds out he's going cold turkey, Alice tells Charlie that has a one-in-twenty fatality rate, and they should go out and get him one last drink to save his life.

Thursday 17 November 2022

Theatre review: From Here To Eternity

When Stuart Brayson (music) Tim Rice (lyrics) and Bill Oakes' (book) musical adaptation of From Here To Eternity debuted in the West End in 2013, I found it hard work, but the songs from Brayson were a highlight, and have stayed on my playlists since. So on balance I decided to give it another go in its off-West End return at Charing Cross Theatre, where it gets a smaller-scale production from Brett Smock. And while it still feels like adapting James Jones' novel and the classic film for the stage was an idea flawed from its conception, this more streamlined take on the show (it's a revised script with a number of songs moved, removed or replaced with new ones entirely - the balance of book to music was one of my issues with the original) is a definite improvement. The action takes place in Hawaii in the fortnight before the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Theatre review: Not Now

When a planned revival of last year's Yes So I Said Yes fell through, the Finborough Theatre avoided going dark for a month by scheduling the London premiere of another David Ireland play, his recent short comedy Not Now. It's a story that almost feels like it could have been inspired by a running Twitter joke about Jonjo O'Neil's 2012 Richard III, as it opens with aspiring Belfast actor Matthew (Matthew Blaney) rehearsing the opening soliloquy, and trying not to pronounce the first word as "NOY." He's got up early to rehearse his speech because he's flying to London later in the day to audition for RADA, and he feels like he should deliver it in a laboured English accent he associates with classical performances of Shakespeare (he's also able-bodied but putting on an exaggerated hunchback and limp, so never mind it not getting him into drama school, he'd have been cancelled before his career even began.)

Monday 14 November 2022

Theatre review: Mary

Rona Munro's second James Plays trilogy has kicked off in Scotland (hopefully with a London run in its future) with James IV, but before that there's another entry in her cycle of plays about the Stuart rulers. Although Mary feels like a bonus feature rather than the next chapter, and not just because it's premiering out of chronological order: Instead of the bloody epics of the main sequence, Mary is a two-scene discussion with just three characters, and the titular Queen of Scots isn't even one of them. There is a James though, but he's not King: James Melville (Douglas Henshall) is a Lord loyal to the Queen at a time when much of the Scottish aristocracy seems to be plotting against her. We open at Linlithgow Palace in 1567, shortly after the murder of Mary's second husband Lord Darnley, father of James VI and I. The scheming Lord Bothwell is the likely culprit, but gossip also puts Mary herself under suspicion.

Thursday 10 November 2022

Theatre review: Good

John Halder (David Tennant) is a University literature professor and author of a few well-received novels, whose generally happy life does bring him a few causes for stress: His elderly mother has lost her eyesight and is struggling to cope on her own; his best friend, the Jewish psychotherapist Maurice (Elliot Levey) is as neurotic as any of his patients and insists on trying to analyse John whenever they meet; and he's seriously considering leaving his wife Helen (Sharon Small) for one of his students. At least his professional life is going well, as he's a rising star of the Nazi party. Dominic Cooke's production of CP Taylor's Good finally makes it to a West End stage on the third attempt*, and like any play chosen for its uncomfortable topicality the precise moments that chime with recent events may have changed slightly in two years, but the overall relevance remains.

Tuesday 8 November 2022

Theatre review: Marvellous

Nica Burns' pet project @sohoplace, the first new-build West End theatre in 50 years (as long as you define that very strictly within both geographical and SOLT-membership terms) has opened on what was formerly the site of the Astoria. A glass-fronted building with the general design aesthetic of a multiplex in a shopping centre, and toilets that do exist, as long as you don't look for them where the signs tell you to, it will probably, like most new theatres, take a while to feel welcoming and familiar. It also has an @ in its name, to show that it's at the cutting edge, assuming that it's currently 1997. At least things are done right in the auditorium, where it matters: In-the-round as the default configuration is a bit of a challenge to the idea that West End theatres look a certain way, and gives the venue an intimacy - I was in the Stalls but it looks like the galleries would feel reasonably close to the action as well. They're being praised for having the best seats in the West End, admittedly a bar that can be cleared just by pointing them at the stage.

Friday 4 November 2022

Theatre review: Not One of These People

Martin Crimp is no stranger to the main stage of the Royal Court, although the way some of his past work has gone down there might be why his latest isn't being presented as a full run, but for only four performances - so short that by the time I can write and publish this review it'll already be finished. Or it might be that Not One of These People is being treated more as a short performance art installation, which it was originally conceived as: A rolling monologue that would require only one live performer and some technology, to be part of the theatre's reopening after lockdown. In the end that timing didn't work out so it eventually developed into something different, but still with a novel approach to avoiding crowds of actors on stage together: In Christian Lapointe's production Crimp himself reads the lines of 299 characters, and their faces are projected onto a screen.

Thursday 3 November 2022

Theatre review: A Single Man

Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man was famously made into a film a few years ago, best known for starring Colin Firth and Nicholas Hoult in his pants. Now the Park Theatre's main house plays host to a stage adaptation by Simon Reade, and while the white pants are ably filled, the Firth-shaped hole proves harder to ignore. The story is a day in the life of a fifty-something English academic who teaches literature at a California university. His last day on earth, in fact, as foreshadowed in Philip Wilson's production when we first meet George (Theo Fraser Steele) asleep in his bed, lying flat on his back under a white sheet as if on a slab. It's less than a year since his boyfriend died in a car accident, and George is still adapting to being single again; we see him fill his day with work, friends and bars, in between memories of his lost love.