Monday 30 January 2023

Theatre review: Sound of the Underground

Defying easy categorisation, Sound of the Underground, created by writer Travis Alabanza and director Debbie Hannan, mixes scripted theatre with drag cabaret on the Royal Court's main stage. Alabanza has brought together eight drag performers from the underground club scene to throw together a messy evening - but one whose underlying concerns are clear. CHIYO, Lilly SnatchDragon, Ms Sharon Le Grand, Mwice Kavindele as Sadie Sinner The Songbird, Rhys Hollis as Rhys’ Pieces, Sue Gives A Fuck and Wet Mess begin by introducing themselves. The show has factored in the fact that Tammy Reynolds as Midgitte Bardot's disabilities will sometimes mean they can't appear, so at some performances, like tonight, there's a stand-in: Namely their pre-recorded dialogue and a cardboard cut-out.

Friday 27 January 2023

Theatre review: The Boys Are Kissing

Theatre503 always feels like a trek to get to and from, so I don't often include it in my regular venues, but Zak Zarafshan's The Boys Are Kissing seemed like a fun premise, and proved a good bet - taking that premise and running with it, even before it adds a camp supernatural twist on top. We're in the territory of middle-class couples navigating parenting dilemmas they never expected to face, and trying to do the best for their kids in the face of cutthroat playground politics, but with a very 2023 look at sexuality and gender: 9-year-old Lucas and Samir were seen by their classmates kissing in the playground, leading to a bit of gossip among the kids and a whole lot more among their mums. The headteacher has suggested their parents discuss the incident, so Lucas' parents Sarah (Amy McAllister) and Matt (Philip Correia) visit Samir's mothers Chloe (Eleanor Wyld) and Amira (Seyan Sarvan.)

Thursday 26 January 2023

Theatre review: The Unfriend

Former Doctor Who and Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat goes back to his sitcom roots for his playwrighting debut, and brings along some more TV connections - his regular collaborator Mark Gatiss directs black comedy The Unfriend, first seen in Chichester and now transferring to the Criterion. It mines familiar comic territory by throwing some truly objectionable people on stage together, and some of the characters aren't very nice either. Grumpily-married London couple Peter (Reece Shearsmith) and Debbie (Amanda Abbington) meet brash Denver widow Elsa (Frances Barber) on a cruise, and after a lot of emails invite her to stay for a few days. It's only on the day she arrives that they decide to do a quick Google search on her name, and discover she's suspected of being a serial poisoner who's killed at least six people - but had never left quite enough evidence behind for a case to stick.

Sunday 22 January 2023

Stage-to-screen review: Prima Facie

When I caught Covid last spring and had to miss a number of shows I'd booked, some felt more of a wrench than others; Suzie Miller's Prima Facie, named after a legal procedure to determine whether a case has enough standing to go to court, was very well-received but also counted as one of 2022's big theatrical events, thanks to Jodie Comer making her West End debut in the monologue. I did at least figure it would eventually turn up on NTatHome since I knew it had been screened to cinemas, but thought it might take a couple of years since a Broadway run is coming up. In fact it's streaming for a limited time a bit earlier than expected, albeit not in all territories so it won't impact on live ticket sales. Comer plays Tessa, a young barrister whom we first meet on cocky form, bragging about the way she tricks witnesses into incriminating themselves on the stand.

Friday 20 January 2023

Theatre review: Hamlet
(Lazarus / Southwark Playhouse)

I don't have a lot of firm rules for myself on how to write reviews, and those I do have mainly involve avoiding bad habits I dislike in other writers. So I try to always include some description, however cursory, of a play's basic story: Everyone's knowledge and experience is different, so why should I assume that a reader already knows the plot, even if the play's Hamlet? But it's not always easy to follow my own rule if the production itself seems to make the assumption that the audience is ahead of the game - if it's not really telling a story, how do I summarise it? I've been following the work of Lazarus Theatre Company on and off over the years, especially since they've become regulars at Southwark Playhouse. Ricky Dukes' productions of the classics tend to be ambitious, with all that that entails, but they always feel like a risk worth taking: Results can be mixed, but there's usually at the very least some interesting elements to take from his ideas. But he may have overreached himself this time.

Thursday 19 January 2023

Theatre review: Allegiance

Jay Kuo (book, music and lyrics,) Marc Acito & Lorenzo Thione's (book) Allegiance had a relatively brief Broadway run a few years ago, but its original star, the beloved queer elder and Star Trek icon George Takei, whose own family partly inspired the story, has remained a staunch supporter of the project. He's evidently been instrumental in its getting a London transfer - so much so it's been rebranded as George Takei's Allegiance for its run at Charing Cross Theatre. It's not surprising that the Japanese-American actor wants the story to be widely told, as it covers a chapter of its racist past America has been remarkably good at hushing up: I'm not sure when I first heard about the internment camps for Japanese-Americans but it must have been a couple of decades after I first learnt about the Second World War. I guess having American movies control much of the way that story's told makes it easy to leave out inconvenient facts.

Tuesday 17 January 2023

Stage-to-screen review: The Play What I Wrote

As usual January has some lulls in theatregoing that I'm topping up with filmed productions I missed the first time. and one BBC iPlayer offering leftover from the Christmas schedule seems a pretty appropriate choice for the time of year, even if it wasn't specifically festive: Morecambe and Wise were a comedy duo and beloved British institution, and particularly in the 1970s their Christmas special was always the most-watched show, fondly remembered to this day. (I'm sure it creates an annual bind for the BBC - if they don't show an episode they'll get complaints about breaking with tradition, if they do they'll get them about flooding the schedules with reruns.) I'm sure we did get a showing of the real thing, but a good compromise between new and old is this filming of the 2021 revival of Sean Foley, Hamish McColl and Eddie Braben's tribute The Play What I Wrote, inspired by Braben's original scripts.

Thursday 12 January 2023

Theatre review: As You Like It (@sohoplace)

Back to @sohoplace Theatre, the venue with a name so current it has a pretty solid strategy in place for the Y2K bug, and it gets its first Shakespeare production in Josie Rourke's autumnal As You Like It. Opening with a song from Martha Plimpton's Jaques, it sets the tone for a production that largely reflects that character's melancholy worldview. Rosalind (Leah Harvey) and her cousin Celia (Rose Ayling-Ellis) leave the court they grew up in after a coup by Celia's father, and go to the forest of Arden in search of Rosalind's father, the banished rightful Duke. But before they leave Rosalind's just had time to meet and fall in love at first sight with Orlando (Alfred Enoch,) a dispossessed noble who's also just been banished. By the time they meet up again in the forest Rosalind has disguised herself as a man, and instead of coming clean comes up with a convoluted plan to test his love, because while this may be my favourite Shakespeare comedy honestly he's just throwing plots at the stage to see what sticks.

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Theatre review: Mandela

I may not have started the year with a rescheduled show but that doesn't mean theatre's out of the woods yet - I was due to see Greg Dean Borowsky, Shaun Borowsky (music and lyrics) and Laiona Michelle's (book) new musical Mandela a month ago but the performance was cancelled due to cast illness as, it was recently announced, have half the performances of a show that seems to have been particularly unlucky. There were still covers on tonight, including in the title role, so it's not quite the full Nelson, but the show did go ahead... and what an odd show it is. Covering the bare bones of roughly three decades of Nelson Mandela's (understudy Akmed Junior Khemalai) life, it shows him as one of many in the crowd of black South Africans whose peaceful protest is broken up with violence.

Friday 6 January 2023

Theatre review: The Art of Illusion

After a couple of homegrown successes, Hampstead Downstairs premieres a play that's already been a hit in France for Alexis Michalik (whose plays have all had long runs there, as the playwright himself informs us in the programme. Multiple times.) The Art of Illusion gets its UK premiere in a version by Waleed Akhtar and a production by Tom Jackson Greaves, but while its premise playfully tunes into an appealing sense of wonder, it soon comes a cropper when trying to make a story out of it. In fact the play follows three Parisian stories, two real, one fictional: In the first half of the 19th century, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (Kwaku Mills) is a magician and automaton-designer who becomes the father of modern magic, taking the tricks from carnival sideshows to theatres and royal courts. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Georges Méliès (Norah Lopez Holden) is a big fan of Robert-Houdin's, who uses this sense of magic and spectacle when he becomes a filmmaker and pioneer of visual effects.

Wednesday 4 January 2023

Theatre review: Watch on the Rhine

My first theatre trip of 2023 is to the Donald and Margot Warehouse. It's the show I'd actually planned to open the year with, and that in itself is one up on last year (which started with a bunch of cancelled and hastily-rescheduled performances from 2021.) I went into Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine knowing very little about it beyond the vague blurb on the website, and frankly being able to go in and be surprised is my ideal way to see a show. That blurb promised a German-American family taking in German relatives during the Second World War, before the USA had officially picked a side, so I was prepared for some queasy revelations about where the family's sympathies lie. Instead Hellman has a more defiant message in mind, and director Ellen McDougall delivers a tense domestic thriller about the moral ambiguities of heroism.