Thursday 31 August 2023

Theatre review: A Mirror

In an unnamed totalitarian state, Jan Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller) is Director of the Ministry of Culture, tipped to become the next Minister and, unlike the current one, actually interested in culture: He strongly dislikes the Ministry's nickname of "censorship bureau," and prefers to think of himself as someone who nurtures promising artists and hones their talents into something that can be used for the glory of the Motherland - like the national treasure playwright Bax (Geoffrey Streatfeild,) whose success Čelik takes a lot of credit for. He thinks he's found the next big thing in mechanic and former soldier Adem (Micheal Ward,) whose debut play violates almost every censorship guideline in the book, but whose naturalistic style shows promise Čelik thinks he can mould. In fact the play is even less artful than the Director realises: Adem has a form of photographic memory, and the unconnected scenes in the play he's submitted are actually verbatim transcripts of conversations his neighbours have had, that he's heard through the building's thin walls.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Theatre review: Candy

A piece that began as a 15-minute short and has been developed in various forms over the last five years, Tim Fraser's Candy is a monologue for Will (Michael Waller,) a single, middle-aged Yorkshireman who was the only one in his friend circle not to go to University. His job selling car insurance isn't particularly exciting but he's good at it, and it helps support his mum and great-aunt, who like to sit in front of the TV watching and rewatching romantic comedies. Will himself doesn't consider himself particularly romantic but things take an abrupt turn when his best friend Billy moves back from London, and invites him to a gig. Billy performs in drag as the chanteuse Candy, and although he's perfectly aware that she's his best friend in a dress, part of Will believes she's real, and he falls in love with her at first sight

Friday 25 August 2023

Theatre review: Dumbledore Is So Gay

It probably won't come as much of a surprise that, despite having heard nothing but good things about Robert Holtom's Dumbledore Is So Gay from its earlier fringe runs, I was still very much in two minds about whether to book for its new run at Southwark Playhouse. As someone who was a Harry Potter fan, and who even though an adult when the books were first published derived some comfort from the stories at difficult times, it's something that's been very tainted in recent years by the author's views, and that I've been happy to cut out of my life (quite successfully as it turns out - I don't think I'd realised I'd have quite so little warmth left for the play's references to the books and films.) It's particularly grimly ironic that Holtom writes about the series' appeal to LGBTQ+ people, and the way it helps a young queer boy find his identity.

Thursday 24 August 2023

Theatre review: Next to Normal

Fifteen years after its Broadway debut Next to Normal gets its London premiere at the Donald and Margot Warehouse, and in many ways you can see why UK producers might have been wary of bringing it here for so long - and not just because it won the Pulitzer for drama, and should therefore automatically be treated with suspicion. It treads a fine line between the emotionally raw and the emotionally manipulative, and I'm still not sure which dominates overall; there's definitely moments that fall on one or other side of that line. Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey’s (book and lyrics) musical is certainly a bold take on mental health issues, as it introduces Diana (Caissie Levy,) her husband Dan (Jamie Parker,) and teenage children Gabe (Jack Wolfe) and Natalie (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) as an almost exaggeratedly average family.

Tuesday 22 August 2023

Theatre review: Makeshifts and Realities

The Finborough's latest rediscovery season next takes us back around 110 years, for a triple bill of short, proto-feminist plays that take a steely, pragmatic look at young women of a certain comfortable, upper-middle class, and how their seemingly carefree lives are left up in the air when the money runs out - and they've not been allowed a Plan B. The first two come from writer Gertrude Robins, and run together so smoothly you'd be forgiven for thinking - as some of the audience did at the interval - that they were a single piece. They do tell a single story: In 1908's Makeshifts, sisters Caroline (Philippa Quinn) and Dolly (Poppy Allen-Quarmby) are caring for an invalid mother and have had to take in a lodger to help pay the rent. Both talk a big game of being independent: Teaching assistant Dolly says she doesn't think she'll ever get married, while Caroline is tentatively wondering if the suffragettes might have a point.

Thursday 17 August 2023

Theatre review: The Effect

Easily one of the best plays of the 2010s, Lucy Prebble's The Effect returns to the National Theatre where it premiered, but it swaps the studio theatre for the Lyttelton, and the theatrical richness and tricksiness of Rupert Goold for Jamie Lloyd's simultaneously stripped-back yet brash style. Lloyd brings a design coup, as Soutra Gilmour reconfigures the Stalls and stage to make a traverse, putting the quartet of characters under the kind of intense clinical scrutiny their minds and bodies are subject to in the story. In a large medical complex - the ruins of an old mental asylum are still on the grounds - a group of volunteers take part in a medical trial. Connie (Taylor Russell) and Tristan (Paapa Essiedu) flirt with each other from the get-go, but as their time isolated from the outside world goes on, they seem to be falling violently in love with each other for real.

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Theatre review: The Garden of Words

Adapting Japanese animation for the stage seems to be the new big trend, and as well as the Studio Ghibli juggernauts that also means smaller-scale anime like Makoto Shinkai's The Garden of Words, a low-key, dreamlike coming-of-age drama that follows the growing friendship between a teacher and pupil - although their Shinjuku school is evidently big enough that they don't, at first, realise that it links them. Takao (Hiroki Berrecloth) is a friendless 15-year-old who dreams of being a shoemaker when he grows up, while Yukari (Aki Nakagawa) is a literature teacher who's been caught up in a scandal when a student falsely accused her of inappropriate behaviour. Whenever it rains they both skip off school and escape to a temple garden, where she reads poetry and he sketches designs for women's shoes.

Friday 11 August 2023

Theatre review: La Cage aux Folles

A few years ago the original French play La Cage aux Folles played a run at the Park Theatre; now Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein's (book) better-known, to English-speaking audiences at least, musical version returns to London as Timothy Sheader's final production at the Open Air Theatre before he swaps it for the Donald and Margot Warehouse. It's a good cap on his time as Artistic Director at Regents Park, showcasing at it does a fresh production of a classic musical, with a lot of heart, a lot of energy, and a design (in this case particularly Ryan Dawson Laight's showstopping costumes) that would be in a lot of trouble if, say, it ever rained in summer in London. The spectacular frocks are there, of course, because the titular club is the French Riviera's premier drag cabaret.

Thursday 10 August 2023

Theatre review: Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe)

The Globe's latest Macbeth comes courtesy of director Abigail Graham, who casts Max Bennett as the Scottish nobleman whose prowess on the battlefield earns him extra honours. But thanks to a prophecy from three witches, he expects even more: They promised him the throne, and spurred on by his wife he decides not to wait and see if fate will make the prophecy true, but instead murders the King and takes his place straight away. Compared to most recent Globe productions Graham's doesn't play around with gender with quite as much gleeful abandon, but we still get a Queen instead of a King - Tamzin Griffin's Queen Duncan comes across as a capable but uninspiring leader, who brushes over the fact that she's said Macbeth and Banquo (Fode Simbo) were equally important to the military victory, but only actually rewarded the former.

Saturday 5 August 2023

Stage-to-screen review: All's Well That Ends Well
(RSC / Sky Arts)

Last year, like this year, a couple of my planned theatre trips outside of That London got scuppered by rail strikes; one of them was Blanche McIntyre's production of All's Well That Ends Well at the RSC. It was a particular shame because McIntyre has been an interesting director of some of the more obscure, more problematic Shakespeare plays, and you don't get many that fit both descriptions better than this one. Rarely performed (arguably with good reason,) it was even included in the original trio of Problem Plays whose tone made them difficult to categorise (like Measure for Measure, which McIntyre's also tackled before, this one got lumped in with the Comedies by the First Folio.) The fact that its lead romantic couple are actually meant to lack any hint of sexual chemistry is the least of the issues which has kept it on the expanded list of plays with seriously problematic elements for a modern audience.

Thursday 3 August 2023

Theatre review: Word-Play

Conceived during a Royal Court writing fellowship in 2019, postponed from a planned run last year and now finally making it to the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in 2023, it’s not hard to see where the inspiration for the inciting event in Rabiah Hussain’s Word-Play might have come from: The unseen politician who kicks off the story’s action isn’t named, but he’s a chaotic Prime Minister prone to gaffes; pretty much any words are liable to come out of his mouth at any time unless they include an apology. Some words have come out of his mouth at an 11am press conference: They include “can” and “seen,” and which way the emphasis falls on them could be spun to mean a variety of things, but like the politician’s name the whole sentence and what it means are never explicitly spoken in the play, most of which takes place over the next twelve hours following the incendiary gaffe.