Thursday 28 September 2023

Theatre review: untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play

Arriving on the Young Vic stage in a blaze of chaos to match the flurry of asterisks in its title, Kimber Lee's untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play is an Asian-American actress' equal parts angry, exhausted and exasperated look at the stereotypes around East Asian women that have persisted in Western art for at least a century, and one story in particular that won't go away. And although the version hiding in plain sight in the title is the one that's most notoriously caused controversy (especially on Broadway,) Lee's metatheatrical version of the story takes us back to the original, and walks us through Puccini's tragic opera Madama Butterfly. An ebullient narrator (Rochelle Rose) breathlessly takes us through the tale of Kim (Mei Mac,) a Japanese peasant girl whose mother (Lourdes Faberes) convinces her the way ahead is to seduce and marry an American sailor.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Theatre review: Pygmalion

Future Dame Patsy Ferran and Bertie Carvel both return to the Old Vic to pair up as Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins in Bernard Shaw's* Pygmalion, in a typically stylised Richard Jones production that reveals the play as a dark comedy. It doesn't need to reveal its social and political concerns - compared to its more famous musical adaptation, Shaw's play lays those bare pretty forcefully itself. Ferran's Eliza is a flower-girl in Covent Garden who tries to sell to middle-class theatregoers on their way home, and when her basket of flowers is knocked to the ground she unleashes her loud cockney accent, strangled vowels and tendency to express her emotions through random wailing noises. This happens to be in front of the first chance meeting between two celebrated linguists with an interest in regional accents and dialects.

Friday 22 September 2023

Theatre review: It's Headed Straight Towards Us

Closing off what's been a very strong week of theatre for me is a fairly starry premiere for the Park Theatre: Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer are the writers of disaster comedy It's Headed Straight Towards Us and I did wonder more than once if this was a project that the writers had been working on for a while, perhaps with the original intention of performing it themselves - I could certainly see Edmondson in the role that's ended up going to Rufus Hound. The setting is the luxury trailer of C-list actor Hugh (Samuel West,) never the most celebrated actor of his generation (no knighthood, only an MBE,) but having made a good living for himself in recent years as the butler to a volcano god in a cheesy but wildly successful action movie franchise. The latest installment is being filmed on the side of an actual Icelandic volcano*.

Thursday 21 September 2023

Theatre review: Beautiful Thing

Not that I've been at this for a while or anything, but you can read a review of the 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing on this blog, and now here's the 30th anniversary one, and a fresh look at the play that's in essence one that knows the script's strengths and plays to them. The fresh look is in the casting, which director Anthony Simpson-Pike wanted to allow young gay black kids to see themselves reflected in the characters. The only change I noticed in the script was a quick reference where Sandra asks Jamie if he's being bullied racially. Other than that the story's still as written, and very much in the early Nineties - in fairness I'm not sure how you could try to update jokes about Wincey Willis, let alone the specific point of gay history that inspired Harvey to write this rainbow-tinted play.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Theatre review: Mlima's Tale

Theatres really make it hard for me to keep my visits under control sometimes: Although no doubt worth seeing, Lynn Nottage's story of the ivory trade through the eyes of an elephant sounded bleak enough that it might be better to give it a miss, but then the casting for Miranda Cromwell's production was announced, and made it harder to say no. In its opening moments, Mlima's Tale gives us a bit of a misdirect that it might actually be what the title promises, as Mlima (Ira Mandela Siobhan,) a 48-year-old bull elephant, begins to give us a potted history of his life, the rainy seasons he's seen, the children he's sired. But these are the final moments of his life before he's brutally killed by poachers - after numerous attempts evidenced by a dozen bullet scars, it's a desperate, amateurish Somali pair who finally take him down.

Monday 18 September 2023

Theatre review: Police Cops: The Musical

A painfully silly musical spoofing 80s pop culture, whose uniformly talented cast includes an impossibly attractive man with comedy facial hair whose clothes keep falling off? Well I can't see what's in it for me. Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson, Tom Roe (book & lyrics) and Ben Adams' (music) Police Cops: The Musical is another in the long line of 1980s tributes/spoofs whose popularity doesn't seem to show any signs of fading, although you'd have to put quite a few of those other shows together to match the sheer relentless stream of gags the company (whose writer-performer trio's company also goes by Police Cops - unusually, no director is credited so presumably they're doing that as well) throw into this spoof of American cop shows and movies, and the action genre more broadly - Lethal Weapon is probably the most obvious comparison, but there's nods to Die Hard, The Karate Kid and even Back to the Future.

Sunday 17 September 2023

Theatre review: Frank and Percy

From several years - on and off - of the violent teenage musical shenanigans of Heathers resident on its main stage, it's a major change of pace as Ben Weatherill's Frank and Percy comes to London via Windsor and Bath. The gentle romantic comedy has been well-received on those earlier runs but what made a London transfer almost inevitable was the star casting of the titular pair: Roger Allam is Frank, widowed a couple of years earlier, and with little left to comfort him in his retirement other than his spoilt dog. It's on one of their visits to Hampstead Heath that he meets fellow dog-walker Percy (Ian McKellen,) and they strike up some small talk (the play was partly inspired by the way dog-walkers during lockdown found that chatting to each other became a treasured social interaction.)

Saturday 16 September 2023

Theatre review: That Face

Launching her career as the watersports fetishist's favourite playwright, Polly Stenham's That Face wasn't just famous for Matt Smith's Astonishing Coup de ThéâtreTM but also for the fact that it was written when she was 19. Exposing the extreme dysfunction of the sort of rich, upper-middle class people who would describe themselves as merely "comfortable," it begins with Mia (Ruby Stokes) getting sent home from boarding school for taking part in a hazing ritual - a ritual she decided to spice up a bit by slipping the 13-year-old victim with Valium she stole from her mother's stash, putting the girl in hospital. Mia's father is returning from Hong Kong to bribe the school into not expelling her, but his imminent arrival means he'll also check in on her mother.

Friday 15 September 2023

Theatre review: Infamous

For a small studio theatre, albeit a very central one, Jermyn Street Theatre gets to premiere new work by some well-known playwrights; although on recent form there does seem to be a reason these particular works don't find a more mainstream home. The latest is April De Angelis, whose Infamous is a weirdly unenthusiastic look at Georgian celebrity (and regular Blackadder punchline) Emma Hamilton. We first meet Emma (Rose Quentin) in 1798, the young wife of the septuagenarian ambassador to Naples. A former prostitute who climbed the social ladder as mistress to various powerful men, she's already achieved some notoriety as a close friend of the Neapolitan royals, whose influence makes her husband favour them over his own country's interests. But it's nothing compared to the infamy she's got planned.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Theatre review: The Little Big Things

Back to @sohoplace, the theatre with a name so current it's kept its tamagotchi alive for a whole two weeks, and the new West End venue's first musical. Nick Butcher (music & lyrics,) Tom Ling (lyrics) and Joe White's (book) The Little Big Things is based on the autobiography of artist Henry Fraser, who is paralysed from the shoulders down and paints using a stylus he holds in his mouth. A promising teenage rugby player, Fraser was 17 when he had an accident on holiday in Portugal with his older brothers (Jamie Chatterton and Cleve September) that saw him flown back to England and to the hospital where he spent several months. The show is narrated by two versions of Henry that talk to each other in his head: The able-bodied Henry from before the accident (Jonny Amies) and the Henry after it, in a wheelchair (Ed Larkin.)

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Theatre review: Birthright

T.C. Murray's 1910 play Birthright is apparently inspired by the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, so I assume I don't need to say anything more about the plot. No? OK, it's set on a farm in rural Ireland where Bat (Pádraig Lynch) and Maura Morrissey (Rosie Armstrong) have two grown-up sons: Hugh (Thomas Fitzgerald) is his mother's favourite, the sportsman, poet and scholar with an interest in current affairs and the wider world. Shane (Peter Broderick) is the born farmer, and therefore his father's favourite. In fact it's not so much that Bat likes Shane more, as it is that he hates Hugh with a fiery vengeance, basically for taking after his mother more than him. Still, Hugh's the oldest, and therefore Bat has always sworn that the farm will be left to him, while Shane, who's been keeping the place going for the last few years, is planning to emigrate to America in a few days' time.

Sunday 10 September 2023

Theatre review: As You Like It (Shakespeare's Globe)

Continuing to suggest Michelle Terry's vision for Shakespeare's Globe is as the most joyously queer theatre in That London, and tying that into the gender-bending embedded in many of Shakespeare's plays, the 2023 summer season closes as it opened, with a production largely cast with LGBTQ+ performers in roles that don't necessarily match their pronouns. Ellen McDougall's As You Like It goes one step further by making its queerness an integral part of how it divides the play's two very different worlds. We begin in the monochrome court of Duke Frederick (Dale Rapley,) who usurped his position from his own brother, whom he banished to the forest. But he allowed his niece Rosalind (Nina Bowers) to remain, as she was so close to his daughter Celia (Macy-Jacob Seelochan.) But a wrestling competition reminds him that his brother's former allies are still around.

Thursday 7 September 2023

Theatre review: God of Carnage

I hadn't initially booked for the Lyric Hammersmith's revival of God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza's follow-up to "Art" - I'd seen the original West End production of Christopher Hampton's translation, and remembered not being particularly fussed by it. A great cast made the difference when it was announced, and got me back to Reza's other story of insufferably upper-middle class people having a meltdown in a joylessly chic living room. Ladies and Gentlemen: The French. We're in Veronica (Freema Agyeman) and Michael Novak's (Martin Hutson) flat, where they're hosting Alan (Ariyon Bakare) and Annette Raleigh (Dinita Gohil) for the afternoon. The Raleighs' 11-year-old son Ferdinand has hit the Novaks' son Bruno with a bamboo cane in the school playground, knocking out two of his teeth.

Tuesday 5 September 2023

Stage-to-screen review:
Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical

Dennis Kelly (book) and Tim Minchin's (music and lyrics) musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Matilda was first seen in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010 and made it to the West End in 2011, but it took until 2022 for a movie adaptation (now streaming on Netflix) to be released. The wait seems to have been an entirely positive thing, as it's allowed Matthew Warchus - who also directed the original production - to look at it afresh, and come up with a screen version that doesn't really take many visual cues from the stage show, but does match it for eccentric charm. The opening song, "Miracle," is set on a maternity ward, and when we got a series of shots of babies in cribs, soundtracked by their thoughts singing about how amazing their parents tell them they are, I knew this was going to be fun.