Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Young Vic

"On the dank and dirty ground..."

Joe Hill-Gibbins' idiosyncratic 2015 take on Measure for Measure filled the Young Vic with inflatable sex dolls so it should come as little surprise that for his A Midsummer Night's Dream, he and designer Johannes Schütz have transformed the stage into a muddy paddock. With just a mirrored back wall to add to the set, the scene is thus set for an exploration of the "subconscious" of this most oft-seen (particularly in the year gone by) of Shakespeare's plays. 

There's some great work, delving into the murkiness of the relationships here. Far from spirits "of no common rate", these royal fairies feel like a real married couple in the throes of having to work things out yet again, Michael Gould's Oberon's manipulations as much as anguished as angry, and Anastasia Hille's Titania relishing the removal of the ball and chain as she plays sex games with Bottom, roleplaying the attending fairies in a witty twist. The intensity of their connection repeats itself later in another clever connection. 

Review: Touched, Nottingham Playhouse

"The world’s changing. It’s not going to go back to the way it was"

There's something admirable in actors who remain loyal to their roots - I'm thinking of the likes of Maxine Peake who has established a good deal of her stage career in her native North West and now Vicky McClure, who is making her professional stage debut in Nottingham, the town of her birth. Riding high on sterling TV credits like This is England and Line of Duty, she likely had opportunities aplenty in London theatres so it is salutary that it is to Nottingham Playhouse she has turned.

And not only that, it is to a local play by a local writer, Stephen Lowe's Touched, which lends the 1977 play a real sense of authenticity (and more exposure to Nottingham dialect than I've ever had before!). Set in 1945 in the 100 day period between VE Day and VJ Day, it focuses on the lives of the women left holding the country together in this time of great upheaval, which shows no signs of slowing down as a new Labour government look set to win the election and nuclear bombs about to fall.

News: #AlsoRecognised Awards shortlists announced

Shortlists for the third annual Also Recognised Awards have been announced by MyTheatreMates, founded by Mark Shenton and Terri Paddock. These audience-voted industry accolades celebrate talent in fields often overlooked by other award bodies. Voting is now open for all categories and closes on Sunday 26th March 2017. Cast your vote at:

The aim of the awards is to recognise some of those categories that are sometimes overlooked in other awards - for example, Best Musical Direction is one that is sadly unique to the Also Recognised roster. There's also a nod to the behind-the-scenes folk with awards for Best Twitter Engagement, Show Trailer and Show Poster recognising the invaluable part that marketing, especially digitally, has to play in the industry.

So find the shortlists below and head over to My Theatre Mates to cast your vote. I helped to draw up these lists along with Mark and Terri, Andrew Keates and Mike Dixon, and the rest of the My Theatre Mates collective, and I think the blend of West End, Off-West End, fringe and regional nominees reflects that, so I'll be most interested to see how the results pan out.

Best Ensemble Performance

• Belarus Free Theatre - Burning Doors at Soho Theatre & Tomorrow I Was Always a Lion at the Arcola Theatre
Boy - Almeida Theatre
Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy - Donmar at King’s Cross
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour - National Theatre
Steel Magnolias - Hope Theatre
Titanic - Charing Cross Theatre

Best Musical Direction

• Jordan Li-Smith – Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre
• Laura Bangay - Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre
• Michael Bradley - Grey Gardens, Southwark Playhouse
• Michael Reed - Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum
• Nick Finlow – Dreamgirls, Savoy Theatre
• Tom Deering - Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

Best Original Music

• David Bowie - Lazarus, King’s Cross Theatre
• Dougal Irvine - The Buskers Opera, Park Theatre
• Richard Taylor - Flowers for Mrs Harris, Sheffield Crucible
• Scott Frankel - Grey Gardens, Southwark Playhouse
• Tim Minchin - Groundhog Day, Old Vic Theatre
• Tim Phillips & Marc Teitler - The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

Best Shakespearean Production

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare's Globe
Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy - Donmar at King’s Cross
Hamlet - RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Henry V - Open Air Theatre
King Lear - Old Vic Theatre
Kings of War - Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

Best Musical Cabaret

• Ann Hampton Callaway & Amanda McBroom - The Pheasantry
• Barb Jungr & John McDaniel, That's Life - Brasserie Zedel
• Ceili O’Connor - The Understudy, Century Club
• Sally Ann Triplett - The Pheasantry
• Shoshana Bean - Pizza Express, St Martin's Lane
 Simon Lipkin, Jon Robyns & Giles Terera - Orange Tree Theatre

Best Show Poster

A Raisin in the Sun - Albany Theatre
Flowers for Mrs Harris – Sheffield Crucible
Hand to God – Vaudeville Theatre
Parade - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
The Maids - Trafalgar Studios
They Drink It In the Congo - Almeida Theatre

Best Show Trailer

Half a Sixpence – Chichester Festival & Noel Coward Theatre
Hedda Gabler - National Theatre
Nice Fish - Harold Pinter Theatre
This House - Headlong, Garrick Theatre
Trainspotting - King’s Head Theatre & The Vaults
Unreachable - Royal Court Theatre

Best Solo Performance

• Cush Jumbo - White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Southbank Centre & Good Chance Theatre
• James Cartwright - Raz, Trafalgar Studios
• Luke Wright - What I Learned From Jonny Bevan, Soho Theatre
• Ruby Wax - Sane New World, Arts Theatre
• Sean Michael Verey - Tonight with Donny Stixx, The Bunker
• Sophie Melville - Iphigenia in Splott, National Theatre

Theatre Event of the Year

• Emma Rice’s departure announcement from Shakespeare’s Globe
Shakespeare Live! at the RSC as part of Shakespeare 400th birthday celebrations
• The premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Three-show day for the Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy
• Understudy Natasha J Barnes stepping in - triumphantly - for Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl
• Understudy Ria Jones stepping in - triumphantly - for Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard

Best Twitter Engagement

• @ChichesterFT - Chichester Festival Theatre
• @HPPlayLDN - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
• @NationalTheatre - National Theatre
• @SchoolOfRockUK - School of Rock
• @TheRSC - Royal Shakespeare Company
• @WickedUK - Wicked

London Newcomer of the Year

• Anthony Boyle - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre
• Charlie Stemp - Half a Sixpence, Chichester Festival & Noel Coward Theatre
• Frankie Fox - Boy, Almeida Theatre
• Samuel Thomas - Floyd Collins, Wilton's Music Hall
• Sarah Snook - The Master Builder, Old Vic Theatre
• Zoe Cooper (playwright) - Jess and Joe Forever, Orange Tree Theatre & tour

Review: Twelfth Night, National

"A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man"

There's nowt so queer as folk, at least not in Simon Godwin's version of Illyria here. A gender-swapped Malvolia longs after her mistress Olivia, hipster-fop Sir Andrew Aguecheek is entirely smitten by a flirtatious Toby Belch, Antonio follows up his snog with Sebastian by inviting him to a rendez-vous at local drag bar The Elephant. And that's before we've even dealt with the sexual confusion that Shakespeare himself engineered in Twelfth Night, as shipwreck survivor Viola disguises herself as her presumed drowned twin brother and wreaks havoc on the libidos of Olivia and Orsino alike.

 a mark of the success of Godwin's production that it wears this all so lightly. It's a modern-dress version for a modern sensibility (if not for the audience member who gasped audibly at the first gay kiss) and one that is rooted in a real sense of playfulness, as an expertly cast ensemble just have a huge amount of fun with it. Phoebe Fox's delicious Olivia, who gives new life to the phrase 'dance like nobody's watching'; Oliver Chris' Chelsea playboy of an Orsino, in the throes of a mid-life crisis having just turned 40; Tim McMullan's swaggeringly confident Sir Toby ever accompanied by Niky Wardley's spirited Maria and the comic masterpiece that is Daniel Rigby's Sir Andrew. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

Review: The Wild Party, The Other Palace

"Blame it on the gin"

There's no doubting the visual flair that choreographer Drew McOnie is able to conjure in his work - In The Heights and Jesus Christ Superstar being just two recent examples - and so it is no coincidence that his move into directing has begun with dance-heavy pieces. Strictly Ballroom lit up the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before Christmas and now The Wild Party opens up the programming at The Other Palace, Andrew Lloyd Webber's rebranded St James Theatre.

Michael John LaChiusa's musical version is not the first adaptation of Joseph Moncure March's epic poem to hit London this year - that title goes to the Hope Theatre's two hander from last month. But it does have its own tunes presented as a vaudeville, a real mish-mash of every 1920s style you can think of and more, which makes for a bold and brash evening - especially as performed by this lavishly assembled ensemble - but ultimately, one of little staying power. 

TV Review: The Good Fight Episodes 1 + 2

"Diane, when did you get so cynical?"

I hadn't intended to write about this spin-off from The Good Wife but its opening two episodes were just too full of insane goodness impossible to ignore - I mean just look at that poster art for one. The earlier seasons of The Good Wife were fantastic, US network television close to its best, but the show definitely lost some of its sparkle as its core ensemble collapsed and none of the replacement cast members were able to deal with the unchecked gravititational vortex of its key star Julianna Margulies as Saint Alicia Florrick.

Two victims of this were Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart, in there from the beginning and much abused by the end, and Cush Jumbo's Lucca Quinn whose arrival in the seventh and final season promised much but ultimately suffered from writing that would not, could not, allow her independence from Florrick. So it is tempting to see The Good Fight as an apologia from series creators Robert King and Michelle King as, along with Rose Leslie's newcomer Maia Rindell, they form the three leads of a brand new ensemble show that is serving up life!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dispatches from the Vaults #3

"Did you not learn anything?"

Henry Carpenter's The Quentin Dentin Show was a deserved Edinburgh whose late night charm transferred well to the late night slot at the Above the Arts Theatre last year, so it makes sense that his new musical, Summer Nights in Space, billed as a sequel in spirit if not in content, has opened as part of The Vaults festival. But where I was seduced by the random insanity of its predecessor, this new sci-fi musical still feels like a work-in-progress with work still to be done.

All John Spartan has ever wanted to do is go to outer space but like many a man with an obsession, this dedication has come at a cost to his friendships and marriage as he finds himself packed off on a solo mission, which ultimately isn't at all what it seems. Matthew Jacobs Morgan's space traveller is thus left to carry a huge amount of the show by himself and sadly, Carpenter's book just doesn't give him enough material to sell it as a dynamic one-man-show.

(c) Lidia Crisifulli

The 17th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards winners in full

Here's the full list of the 17th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards winners. No real surprises here, there rarely is with these awards voted for by the public but it is nice to see a real spread across the musicals categories rather than one show dominating as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child does with the plays. And we'll just ignore the leniency with the deadlines that meant Dreamgirls was able to sneak in despite having only played a handful of previews by the time nominations closed...congrats to all the winners and nominees.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Radisson Blu Edwardian
Ian Hallard for The Boys in the Band
Ian McKellen for No Man's Land
Jamie Parker for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Kenneth Branagh for The Entertainer
Ralph Fiennes for Richard III

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Live at Zédel 
Billie Piper for Yerma WINNER 
Helen McCrory for The Deep Blue Sea
Lily James for Romeo and Juliet
Michelle Terry for Henry V
Pixie Lott for Breakfast at Tiffany's

Best Actor in a Musical, sponsored by The Umbrella Rooms
Andy Karl for Groundhog Day
Charlie Stemp for Half a Sixpence WINNER 
Michael C Hall for Lazarus
Michael Xavier for Sunset Boulevard
Ramin Karimloo for Murder Ballad

Best Actress in a Musical, sponsored by The Hippodrome Casino 
Amber Riley for Dreamgirls WINNER
Carrie Hope Fletcher for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Devon-Elise Johnson for Half a Sixpence
Glenn Close for Sunset Boulevard
Sheridan Smith for Funny Girl

Best Supporting Actor in a Play 
Anthony Boyle for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Derek Jacobi for Romeo and Juliet
Freddie Fox for Travesties
Jonjo O'Neill for Unreachable
Paul Thornley for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Best Supporting Actress in a Play, sponsored by Tonic Theatre 
Jenna Russell for Doctor Faustus
Meera Syal for Romeo and Juliet
Noma Dumezweni for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Poppy Miller for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Vanessa Redgrave for Richard III

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical, sponsored by Encore Radio 
Adam J Bernard for Dreamgirls
Ian Bartholomew for Half a Sixpence
Joel Montague for Funny Girl
Trevor Dion Nicholas for Disney's Aladdin WINNER 
Tyrone Huntley for Jesus Christ Superstar

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, sponsored by Newman Displays 
Amy Lennox for Lazarus
Emma Williams for Half a Sixpence WINNER 
Rebecca Trehearn for Show Boat
Sophia Anne Caruso for Lazarus
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt for Murder Ballad

Best New Play, sponsored by JHI Marketing 
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery
The Flick
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures or iHo
The Mother

Best New Musical, sponsored by Shine Creative Solutions
Disney's Aladdin
Groundhog Day
Half a Sixpence
School of Rock WINNER

Best Play Revival 
The Boys in the Band
The Deep Blue Sea
The Dresser
No Man's Land WINNER

Best Musical Revival, sponsored by R&H Theatricals Europe 
Funny Girl WINNER 
Jesus Christ Superstar
Show Boat
Sunset Boulevard

Best Direction 
Casey Nicholaw for Disney's Aladdin
John Tiffany for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Matthew Warchus for Groundhog Day
Michael Mayer for Funny Girl
Rachel Kavanaugh for Half a Sixpence

Best Choreography, sponsored by Encore Radio 
Andrew Wright for Half a Sixpence WINNER
Casey Nicholaw for Disney's Aladdin
Casey Nicholaw for Dreamgirls
Drew McOnie for Jesus Christ Superstar
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane for Groundhog Day

Best Costume Design
Gregg Barnes for Disney's Aladdin WINNER
Gregg Barnes for Dreamgirls
Katrina Lindsay for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Matthew Wright for Funny Girl
Paul Brown for Half a Sixpence

Best Set Design 
Bob Crowley for Disney's Aladdin
Christine Jones for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Lez Brotherston for Show Boat
Miriam Buether for Wild
Rob Howell for Groundhog Day

Best Lighting Design, sponsored by White Light 
Charlie Morgan Jones for Little Shop of Horrors
Hugh Vanstone for Groundhog Day
Jack Weir for The Boys in the Band
Natasha Katz for Disney's Aladdin
Neil Austin for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER

Best Video Design, sponsored by PRG XL Video 
Andrzej Goulding for Groundhog Day
Finn Ross and Ash Woodward for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Finn Ross for The Tempest, RSC
Laura Perrett for Murder Ballad
Tal Yarden for Lazarus

Best Off-West End Production, sponsored by Les Misérables
The Boys in the Band (Park Theatre)
Grey Gardens (Southwark Playhouse)
The Last Five Years (St James Theatre) WINNER
Side Show (Southwark Playhouse)
Ragtime (Charing Cross Theatre)

Best Regional Production, sponsored by MTI (Europe) 
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (National Tour)
Flowers for Mrs Harris (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield)
The Girls (National Tour)WINNER
The Grinning Man (Bristol Old Vic)
Rent (National Tour/St James Theatre)

Best West End Show, sponsored by Capezio 
Kinky Boots
Les Misérables WINNER
Matilda the Musical
The Phantom of the Opera

Equity Award for Lifetime Achievement (So Far)
Cameron Mackintosh

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Review: The Wedding Singer, Curve

"Pour a double gin,
here's to your double chin"

Back when Adam Sandler was, you know, tolerable, he did rom-coms like 1998's The Wedding Singer and where even moderately successful films go, musical theatre adaptations surely follow. Tim Herlihy adapts his own screenplay along with lyricist Chad Beguelin, and original music comes from Matthew Sklar, and the result is a perfectly competent piece of musical theatre which is fun without ever really being fantastic.

Opening at Leicester's Curve ahead of a 8 month long UK tour (dates and venue at the end of this review), you can see where Nick Winston's production has made its key decisions - Francis O’Connor's set has its eye on quick get-outs and so Jack Henry's video projections do a lot of the heavy lifting in setting the 80s milieu. And the casting mixes West End reliability with TV name recognition, the cherry on the cake of course being Ruth Madoc.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Review: Flew the Coop, New Diorama

"This is a true story. Events are told exactly as they happened, apart from the ones that are completely made up"

Part of the New Diorama's Emerging Theatre Company Programme 2015, Lost Watch have spent the last four years building quite the reputation for themselves. Their latest show Flew the Coop takes inspiration from a photograph of real-life British prisoner of war Horace Greasley and Silesian translator Rosa Rauchbach, for whom he claims he escaped over 200 times in order to conduct a love affair.

It is told, with great energy and enthusiasm, through the prism of the Rauchbach Greasley Association Society Club (RGASC), a motley crew of Silesians (a historic region now split between Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic) who lovingly re-enact the story of their heroes with great ingenuity, using an array of brooms, brushes, sticks and buckets and not much more besides.

Review: Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Crucible

"Sometimes you've got to grab life by the balls
You take those balls and tuck 'em between your legs"

We should be talking about Sheffield, and how its place in the fragile ecosystem of British musical theatre has only become more and more invaluable. Nurturing shows like Flowers For Mrs Harris and This Is My Family into existence and taking pride in their understated nature, the venue has also been incubating new writing talent. Well, new to musical theatre at least, for Dan Gillespie Sells is the lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling and Tom MacRae has written several episodes of Doctor Who and sitcom Threesome. And inspired by a BBC3 documentary, a meeting with director Jonathan Butterell and a fairy godmother-like intervention from Michael Ball, the result is brand spanking new musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie.

And what a joy it is, a breath of feel-good fresh air that can't help but leave you feeling fabulous. With career advice flying by unheeded, all 16-year-old Jamie is really bothered about as his school-time comes to an end is whether he will attend the school prom as his drag persona Mimi Me or not. And rather brilliantly, the writing hones in on Jamie just as a young man - yes he's queer and a kween but he's also a person still finding out the extent of his identity and how to relate to a wider world that isn't necessarily always set against him. It's a refreshing take on LGBT+ storytelling, and a sorely needed one, tipping its hat to the tales of coming out and battling against intolerance that have gone before and then finding its own space to parse the consequences of being this fierce in the real world.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

"Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act"

In what's been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott's No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come - the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan's inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott's oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there's a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there's strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering's anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey.