Friday 28 April 2023

Theatre review: The Good Person of Szechwan

The Lyric Hammersmith's programming is currently giving me flashbacks to my drama degree, and particularly playwrights who, if you'd believed my course, are produced way more regularly than they actually are. After Dario Fo and Franca Rame it's the turn of Bertolt Brecht, and his political morality tale The Good Person of Szechwan. Three gods come to Earth on a mission to find a good person: If there isn't at least one left in the world, they won't be able to avert an apocalyptic flood that will wipe out the unworthy mankind. They've landed in a very poor district, where people are too busy trying to keep themselves and their families alive to worry about anyone else, but prostitute Shen Te (Ami Tredrea) has a reputation for generosity, and is chosen as the experiment's subject. The gods give her $1000 to set her up for the future, and she uses it to buy a tobacconist's shop.

Thursday 27 April 2023

Theatre review: Fucking Men

A big fringe hit a few years back, Joe DiPietro's Fucking Men is a take on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, the controversial 1920 play about a series of one-night stands that form a circle of people who find different kinds of comfort or release in sex. I don't think DiPietro's is the only version to have ever made the leap of adapting the story for gay characters, but it seems to have been by far the most successful. Past productions have been quite luxurious in their casting, with a different actor playing each of the ten characters, but some things have changed since 2008, including fringe venues' attitudes towards actually paying actors, so for Steve Kunis' revival at Waterloo East we get a cast of four, taking two or three parts each. Alex Britt, Charlie Condou, Derek Mitchell and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge are the cast taking on a series of variously sexy, funny and sad scenes.

Monday 24 April 2023

Theatre review: Animal

David (Christopher John-Slater) has cerebral palsy; he's also gay and as sexually frustrated as any man in his mid-20s who's physically unable to have a wank would be. We meet him on the phone to a sex shop's complaints line, after the sex toy he hoped would solve all his problems turned out to be too difficult to use. His best friend Mani (Harry Singh) suggests he bite the bullet and try to have sex with some actual men: After resisting for a long time David joins Grindr. Jon Bradfield's Animal, based on a story by Josh Hepple, is a witty and full-on look at people with disabilities as sexual beings with the same needs as anyone else, but with a different set of obstacles to satisfying them. Different rather than necessarily greater, as the issues and hangups of the able-bodied men he meets are at least as much of an obstacle to his happiness as anything to do with his condition.

Friday 21 April 2023

Theatre review: Eugenius!

Since its 2016 concert debut Ben Adams & Chris Wilkins' (book, music & lyrics) musical Eugenius! has been popping up in various concerts and full stagings; I have a feeling I was planning to catch its West End transfer, but that became a lockdown casualty. But the show's become known for developing an instant cult following, so instead we now get Hannah Chissick's revival at the Turbine Theatre, which may in fairness be a better home for a comic book musical much of whose appeal comes from a likeably thrown-together feel. Set at some point in the 1980s in a generically John Hughes Ohio high school, Eugene (Elliott Evans) is a bullied geek who dreams of an intergalactic superhero called Tough Man (Dominic Andersen) and his evil nemesis Lord Hector (understudy Louis Doran) by night, and turns the stories into comic books by day.

Thursday 20 April 2023

Theatre review: The Secret Life of Bees

Composer Duncan Sheik has developed quite the relationship with the Almeida, what with the premiere of American Psycho and the recent reimagining of Spring Awakening. It's the latter whose musical style immediately comes to mind as his latest show, written with Lynn Nottage (book) and Susan Birkenhead (lyrics) opens. This distinctive musical signature remains throughout, but with the addition of bluegrass, gospel and rock'n'roll flavours in keeping with the time and place of The Secret Life of Bees: In 1964 South Carolina, teenage Lily (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) feels ostracised by the rest of her town, because for reasons she doesn't like to discuss they blame her for the death of her mother, despite the fact that she was a small child at the time. So she's grateful for her family's maid Rosaleen (Abiona Omonua,) who's become her best friend.

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Theatre review:
Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial

It's ………

A speedy journey of less than a year from real-life courtroom drama to verbatim stage drama, the background to Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial is a story I should probably recap, although I have a feeling this very British celebrity feud is one that probably became infamous worldwide: Two women best known for being the wives - aka WAGs - of top-flight football players, Coleen Rooney (Laura Dos Santos) and Rebekah Vardy (Lucy May Barker) had been fodder for newspaper gossip columns for years. When an increasing number of personal stories were published about her, Rooney suspected someone on her private Instagram account had been leaking them to the press and set a classic trap: She planted fake stories only her prime suspect could see, and when they duly appeared in the papers she publicly called her out in the most famous ellipsis since Monty Python: "It's ……… Rebekah Vardy's account.”

Saturday 15 April 2023

Theatre review: Quality Street

Back in 2010 the Finborough Theatre revived Quality Street, the play that made J.M. Barrie's name, and was his most famous work before it was comprehensively overshadowed by Peter Pan. I've been waiting to see it turn up again ever since - and still find it odd that TV hasn't rediscovered it for adaptation as a Christmas special. What we do finally get is a new touring production courtesy of Laurie Sansom and Northern Broadsides. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, it's a farcical twist on Jane Austen romances as Phoebe Throssel's (Paula Lane) heart is broken when, instead of proposing like she expects, Valentine Brown (Aron Julius) announces he's joined the army. As well as the emotional blow there's a financial one, as she's recently lost half of her fortune and needed the support of a good marriage - unbeknownst to Valentine, it was his advice that led to the bad investment.

Thursday 13 April 2023

Theatre review: Life is a Dream (La Vida es Sueño)

Cheek by Jowl make a welcome return to touring and to the Barbican, and add yet another international company to the ever-growing collection - in fairness the Russian ensemble probably aren't feeling welcome in too many places at the moment. Instead we have the first Spanish-language show from the company, and a Spanish Golden Age classic in Pedro Calderón de la Barca's Life is a Dream. We're in Poland (you can tell it's authentically Poland from the way all the characters have Spanish names,) for a kind of aggressively evil fairytale crossed with The Man in the Iron Mask: King Basilio's (Ernesto Arias) wife died in childbirth; rather than put that down to a tragic but common occurence in the 17th century, he labeled the baby a murderer, and consulting his horoscopes decided that his son Segismundo was going to grow up angry, violent and unpredictable.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Theatre review: Sea Creatures

One of the more baffling and dreamlike plays I've seen in a while, Cordelia Lynn's Sea Creatures seems to have a solid enough setting: A holiday home on an unnamed part of the British coast, where a noted academic brings her family every summer. Shirley (Geraldine Alexander) was the youngest woman ever to be awarded a professorship at her university, but she hasn't published anything for a decade and has become vague and distracted - she's sometimes described as not being able to tell the difference between animate and inanimate objects. Her partner Sarah (Thusitha Jayasundera) is an artist; no matter what the subject of her art is meant to be, she always ends up with a painting of a lobster. Shirley's eldest daughter George (Pearl Chanda) is heavily pregnant but not happy about it, and responds angrily to anyone who points it out, while youngest daughter Toni (Grace Saif) is a childlike 22-year-old.

Saturday 8 April 2023

Theatre review: BLACK SUPERHERO

A rescheduled trip to a show I was meant to see a couple of weeks ago: Actor Danny Lee Wynter was also starring in his playwrighting debut BLACK SUPERHERO, but had to drop out mid-run for personal reasons, leading to a week of cancelled performances. Lewis Brown, who's performing with script in hand but rarely needing to consult it at this point, has replaced him as David, a black, gay actor whose career isn't exactly going the way he planned: He lives with his younger sister Syd (Rochenda Sandall) and works with her as the entertainment at children's parties. His avoidance of drink and drugs, and references to his therapy sessions, hint at some past trauma that's holding him back, but he blames his career problems firmly on not being attractive or masculine enough: His very buff friend Raheem (Eloka Ivo) is also black and gay, but he's doing well enough to be accepted on a celebrity-only dating app.

Thursday 6 April 2023

Theatre review: A Little Life

I think it's the first 2023 show to self-identify as "the theatrical event of the year" - certainly A Little Life has become a hot topic, whether because of selling out so conclusively it's already added a second West End run, or the discussion of whether it represents the apex of misery porn, or just because people like celebrity cock (something this blog has never had any strong opinions about, obviously.) Then there's the fact that it's had a decidedly marmite response from the critics - my personal experience with Ivo van Hove has been very love/hate as well so this really could have gone any number of ways. van Hove and Koen Tachelet adapt Hanya Yanagihara's 2015 novel about Jude (James Norton,) one of a quartet of university friends who stay close throughout their lives. He's well-liked but it's openly acknowledged among his friendship group that he's so private they don't know the most basic things about him.

Tuesday 4 April 2023

Theatre review: Berlusconi

When I sent my list of upcoming theatre trips to the friends who usually accompany me, Phill said he didn't even need to look past the title of Berlusconi, the musical, to say yes. Ian and Jim both said they also wouldn't have needed to read the blurb to make a decision, but... for a different reason. Yes, this is one of those shows that really could have gone one of two ways, and Ricky Simmonds and Simon Vaughan's musical about the disgraced former Prime Minister of Italy grabs every opportunity to choose the wrong one. Silvio Berlusconi (Sebastien Torkia) was a cruise-ship singer turned building magnate, turned media mogul, turned politician. The latter seems to have largely been an attempt to get political immunity from prosecution from innumerable cases of financial crime and corruption in his companies, but still resulted in three non-consecutive terms as PM.

Monday 3 April 2023

Theatre review: Further than the Furthest Thing

The directing bursaries that have been a feature at the Young Vic for a while have been moving on to bigger places in the last couple of years: The JMK award has moved from the Clare to the Orange Tree, while the Genesis Fellowship has made a shorter trip, through the bar to the main house. For the latter, Jennifer Tang directs Further than the Furthest Thing, Zinnie Harris' breakout 1999 play inspired by the Tristan da Cunha islands halfway between South America and Africa, and a volcanic eruption that led to the main island being evacuated in 1961. Harris' island isn't named, and has a quasi-mythical nature that means it's probably best not to take the connection too literally. What it does share with Tristan is its tiny population and extreme remoteness - it's visited only once a year by a British ship bringing supplies to supplement the limited crops that can be grown there.

Saturday 1 April 2023

Theatre review: Julius Caesar (RSC / RST & tour)

Continuing both the year's major Shakespearean theme of plays that only survive because of the First Folio, and my personal one of traipsing around the country to see Shakespeare plays I don't particularly like, the RSC's 2023 season moves onto Julius Caesar. Like Romeo and Juliet, this is one of the plays I find starts well enough then resolutely loses steam in its second half, and my favourite productions tend to be those that play without an interval, allowing the tension of the early conspiracy scenes to keep the more muddled later battle scenes going. The script is also pretty ambiguous about the validity of the conspiracy and the accusations against Caesar, allowing directors to explore a variety of possibilities in different productions. Atri Banerjee's production in the RST and on tour does have an interval; and while it certainly has a visual identity, what it's actually using it to say about the story is much less obvious.