Thursday 29 June 2023

Theatre review: Mrs Doubtfire

I have absolutely nothing against the increasing amount of musicals based on movies; since they began to appear a century ago musicals have been a genre that more often than not adapted existing stories. Cinema has now been around long enough that it provides a vast library of material to provide inspiration, and I've enjoyed many shows based on stories that first appeared on film. Still, it's all in what you do with it, and a show has to offer more than just a nostalgia trip for fans of the original. Wayne Kirkpatrick (music & lyrics,) Karey Kirkpatrick (book, music & lyrics) and John O'Farrell's (book) adaptation of Mrs Doubtfire doesn't have that extra reason to exist, and the ways it does expand on the film are almost weirder than the story itself. Daniel Hillard (Gabriel Vick) is a hyperactive unemployed actor and impressionist, who's more of a friend than a parent to his three kids.

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Theatre review: Stumped

Heading into what could be an odd season of programming at Hampstead, with no funding and no artistic director, it looks like transfers and co-productions could be the way forward for the troubled venue. Downstairs we get a show from Original Theatre, a company that seems to be predominantly creating streaming work, and a play by Shomit Dutta, a classicist who was captain of Harold Pinter's amateur cricket team. Stumped imagines an encounter between Pinter (Andrew Lancel) and another absurdist playwright with a love of cricket. In fact Samuel Beckett (Stephen Tompkinson) had briefly been a professional player in his youth, but at the time that he agreed to join Pinter's team he hadn't played for decades. The two playwrights wait for their turn to bat, Beckett twitchy and superstitious, Pinter injured but booming confidently in his affected dramatic voice.

Thursday 22 June 2023

Theatre review: The Pillowman

Not only do the shows cancelled for the 2020 lockdown keep coming back to life, it does seem like that lost year of theatre had an extraordinary amount of shows I'd been particularly looking forward to: Like The Pillowman, the 2003 play widely regarded as Martin McDonagh's best, but which I hadn't seen yet. Originally slated to star Tom Sturridge, I did wonder if it was a coincidence that the production's rescheduling was announced shortly after The Sandman's renewal, as if they'd been waiting to see if Sturridge could still make it, or if they should go in a different direction. Quite a different direction at it turns out: Lily Allen's casting is apparently the first time the lead character of Katurian has been reimagined as a woman. Katurian and her brother Michal (Matthew Tennyson) led a childhood of cruel and unusual abuse by their parents, whom she eventually murdered.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Theatre review: Romeo & Juliet (Almeida)

Now pretty firmly established as the Almeida's current big-draw director, Rebecca Frecknall tackles her first Shakespeare at the venue, and goes for one regular readers will both know I rarely get on with. In Romeo & Juliet a gang war between two families has been a blight on Verona for who knows how many years if not centuries. Romeo (Toheeb Jimoh) and Juliet (Isis Hainsworth) are teenagers from opposite sides of the conflict, but when Romeo sneaks into a party at his enemies' home, he and Juliet fall in love at first sight. Aware that their families' feud will forbid any relationship between them, they go for an extreme solution and marry in secret. But the violence affects them directly soon enough, Romeo gets exiled for murdering Juliet's cousin, and their convoluted plots to continue fooling their families end in tragedy.

Monday 19 June 2023

Theatre review: Paper Cut

If theatre has a tendency for unintended themed programming, where a number of creatives simultaneously decide to tackle similar ideas, then young gay men with disabilities is shaping up to be one of the themes coming to prominence in 2023. It's fertile theatrical ground: Some of the best theatre showcases the experiences of people who belong to minorities, so those of people who belong to two or more will present unique insights. Never mind the fact that in the intersection of these particular two minorities you get a group that can become slaves to a very particular idea of physical perfection, with another living and even thriving with very different bodies. The Park Theatre seems to be the hub for these stories at the moment - not long after Animal in the main house, we get Paper Cut in the studio, and Andrew Rosendorf's play also takes in PTSD, and soldiers' place in the world after they can no longer serve.

Friday 16 June 2023

Theatre review:
When Winston Went to War With the Wireless

There's a tendency for previously obscure ideas or stories to get multiple interpretations all at once. Sometimes the coincidence just seems random, at others there's an obvious logic to it: You can see why events of recent years might inspire multiple writers to look back at a historical event when a Conservative government attempted to control the output of the BBC. Six months ago I'd never heard of the feud between Winston Churchill and the BBC's first Director General, John Reith. Then earlier this year I listened to a radio drama about the subject, and within weeks it had been announced that Jack Thorne would be premiering his own take on the subject at the Donald and Margot Warehouse. Having been left with altogether too many W tiles, Thorne presents When Winston Went to War With the Wireless.

Thursday 15 June 2023

Theatre review: Groundhog Day

Honestly, I feel like I've been here before...

The Old Vic premiered Danny Rubin (book) and Tim Minchin's (music & lyrics) Groundhog Day in 2016, and the musical adaptation of the beloved 1993 film was a hit with critics and audiences, which we expected to see make a fairly quick transfer to the West End. Instead the producers decided to take it to Broadway first, where it hoped to replicate the success of its original limited run. Things didn't quite pan out that way - a troubled and accident-prone run fizzled out, and the show lost its momentum. Seven years later Matthew Warchus' original production returns to the stage where it began life, with original star Andy Karl coming back to the lead role of weatherman Phil Connors, and the same warm reception it got the first time.

Monday 12 June 2023

Theatre review: Es & Flo

Sometimes I hit a pleasingly strong streak of shows and the last few weeks seem to have been one of those - but did all the best ones have to be the tear-jerkers? In Jennifer Lunn's Es & Flo, the titular couple have been together for 36 years, after meeting as protesters at Greenham Common. Esme (Liz Crowther) was unhappily married at the time, and though she divorced her husband after meeting Flo (Doreene Blackstock,) it was far from painless: She lost custody of her son, and has never had a close relationship with him since. Flo has been the constant in her life ever since, but they never married when it became legal, or made any kind of legal provision. Everything is in Es' name, which is becoming an urgent problem - as Es is showing increasing signs of dementia, and won't agree to sign the power of attorney.

Thursday 8 June 2023

Theatre review: Great Expectations

A week ago I saw the spoof Bleak Expectations, this week it's the turn of the actual Charles Dickens (Chickens to his friends,) although there's times when this too feels like it's edging into parody, as a 19th century writer often lauded for his comedy gets it staged by one of the most beloved stand-ups of the 20th and 21st. If it wasn't for the ubiquity of A Christmas Carol, the melodrama Great Expectations would no doubt get the top spot as Chickens' most-adapted book - its most recent TV version was mainly talked about in terms of why there was any need for Olivia Colman to put on Miss Havisham's wedding dress when it was still lightly toasted from Gillian Anderson's turn. At least Selina Cadell's production has an unusual USP: Mark Izzard has adapted the story as a monologue for Eddie Izzard.

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Theatre review: Hope has a Happy Meal

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: I saw the show a couple of nights before Press Night.

When she became a teen mother Hope (Laura Checkley) abandoned her family and baby son, leaving him with her sister to raise, and went travelling around the world. She cut off all contact but 24 years later she's returned home unannounced, to try and reconnect with what family she has left. But home is the People's Republic of Koka Kola, a cross between North Korea and M&M's World, where everything from the trains to the forests is owned and run by multinational corporations. Tom Fowler's Hope has a Happy Meal is a similarly jarring mix of styles and themes, which opens with Hope telling a rambling but clever joke, before turning into, variously, a fairytale road trip, a thriller, and a kitchen sink drama, all with a touch of surreal comedy and a sense that if the concept of hope returned after a long absence, its journey would be as rocky and weird as that of the character of the same name.

Monday 5 June 2023

Theatre review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I may have to consciously try to keep this review short, because I suspect it's either that or sit up all night writing a dissertation and flailing. In 2019, Jethro Compton (book and lyrics) and Darren Clark (music and lyrics) presented their musical adaptation of the endlessly reinvented F. Scott Fitzgerald short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in Southwark Playhouse's Little Theatre. It was a short run but I ended my review at the time hoping it would have bigger and better things in its future. It was a widely-held opinion and I'm not claiming any special foresight, but we know by now how theatrical gems can disappear without trace. But its return to the theatre four years later in the new main Elephant stage not only steps up the scale but also comes with a list of big-name producers plus West End and Broadway names in the leads, so it's fair to say its potential has been spotted.

Sunday 4 June 2023

Theatre review: The Comedy of Errors
(Shakespeare's Globe)

Sean Holmes liked a touch of European avant garde theatre when he was running the Lyric Hammersmith, and since coming to Shakespeare's Globe he's been responsible for some of the more eye-catching high-concept productions there, but this year he gets the tights and codpieces of the more "heritage" shows for The Comedy of Errors. There's also a hint of Les Misérables as the show opens, with flag-waving and singing about how great Ephesus is, and how they've fought back against the injustices done to them by Syracuse, with a hostile environment (/automatic death sentence) for any Syracusians who wash up on their shores. This is bad news for a number of the characters, but particularly Egeus (Paul Rider,) who's the only one to get caught. Egeus was shipwrecked while searching for his long-lost identical twin sons, and their identical twin servants.

Friday 2 June 2023

Theatre review: Once On This Island

Regent's Park opens its 2023 Open Air Theatre season with Once On This Island, Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty's (music) loose musical adaptation of The Little Mermaid, reinterpreted as a fable about colourism in Haiti. Ti Moune (Gabrielle Brooks) is introduced as a legend of the island, a dark-skinned foundling girl adopted by Mama Euralie (Natasha Magigi) and Tonton Julian (Chris Jarman.) They are peasants, a class dictated by their darker skin - the wealth and power of the island rests with the lighter-skinned Grands Hommes, descended from Napoleonic settlers and their black mistresses. They congregate at a luxury hotel, banning the peasants from profiting off the tourists, but one day the heir to the hotel fortune has a car accident on the wrong side of the tracks. Ti Moune finds Daniel (Stephenson Ardern-Sodje) close to death.

Thursday 1 June 2023

Theatre review: Bleak Expectations

We've had films and TV get stage adaptations, now radio gets in on the act; it ended on Radio 4 eleven years ago, but like its characters Mark Evans' Bleak Expectations has risen from the dead in a new and disturbing form. Evans has written a stage version that adapts mainly the first of the five series of frantic Dickensian parody about Pip Bin (Dom Hodson) and his sisters Pippa (Serena Manteghi) and Poppy (Rachel Summers.) Their rich, happy Victorian childhoods go wrong when their father dies in a freak penguin-related accident, and their mother (Ashh Blackwood) does the only respectable thing for a widowed woman of her time, and immediately goes mad. The siblings' nemesis is their new guardian, Gently Benevolent (John Hopkins,) who makes no secret of the fact that he's constantly plotting to murder Pip and marry one of his sisters for the inheritance.