Monday, 31 August 2015

Review: My Eyes Went Dark, Finborough

“You’re not to blame, but that doesn’t mean someone else is”

From an original concept by Matthew Wilkinson and Bob Goody, Wilkinson’s self-directed My Eyes Went Dark is an admirably ambitious and complex study of revenge and redemption and the true cost of forgiveness, playing at the redoubtable Finborough Theatre. Based on a true story, architect Nikolai Koslov’s world is shattered when an air disaster robs him of his wife and two children and the pursuit for his version of justice leads him to perilously close to the world of terrible vengeance. 

Matching Nikolai’s psyche, the play’s narrative is equally fragmented with scenes scattered over three countries and at least five years and Wilkinson makes us work hard for it with a stark and spare staging from Bethany Wells and little in the way of visual cues. But it is extraordinarily effective, especially with the powerful end-on lighting design from Elliot Griggs. Exposed as it is by the traverse stage, to watch how it illuminates the space without as much as the space within is most illustrative. 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Review: McQueen, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Am I going to make it?
‘You already know the answer to that question’”

One of the more surprising transfers of the year has to be McQueen's journey from the St James to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, its commercial success over-riding a (largely) critical drubbing (here's my original review). The play has been rejigged to insert an interval, rewritten to extend some scenes and add one whole new one, and recast to bring in fosterIAN award winner Carly Bawden for Glee's Dianna Agron - this last change proving the most effective in altering the show for the better. My full 3 star review for Cheap Theatre TIckets can be read here.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 7th November

Thursday, 27 August 2015

TV Review: Life in Squares

“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”

I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.

Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set - Vanessa Bell née Stephens - at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Landor

“Give me the meat without the gravy”

Based on a film from 1967, the musical of comedy pastiche Thoroughly Modern Millie actually only dates back to 2000, though a substantial deal of its humour harks back to an uncomfortably old-school era. Set in 1920s New York, Millie Dillmount arrives determined to marry for money instead of love but finds herself mixed up in a white slavery ring run by a faded actress pretending to be a Chinese woman (as you do). The Landor has a sterling record in successfully mounting small-scale productions of big musicals but Matthew Iliffe’s production doesn’t always hit the mark. 

Full of fresh young faces, the company brims with youthful vigour and there’s lots of potential on show. Sarah-Marie Maxwell displays wonderful comic timing, Samuel Harris could do with a little more volume but his patter song is good and in a number of small roles, Charlie Johnson stands out in the ensemble. But even with ethics aside, Steph Parry can’t quite carry off the jaded persona of Mrs Meers, nor Chipo Kureya invest bon vivant Muzzy van Hosmere with enough personality to really fill the room. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Review: Hamlet, Barbican


“The play’s the thing”

See, after all the kerfuffle and an insane (and irresponsible) amount of press scrutiny during its three week preview period (I hope all the hit chasing was worth it for everyone concerned), there’s still a regular piece of theatre at the heart of it. A company of cast and creatives trying to make art under the most trying of circumstances, a simple truth but one that seemed to have been largely forgotten in the rush to tap into the self-perpetuating frenzy around this production of Hamlet directed by Lyndsey Turner. 

Visually it is undoubtedly stunning, you can see where at least some of the inflated ticket price has gone (and whilst I’m on, £65 for stalls seats with a restricted view about which there was no warning, shame on you Barbican and Sonia Friedman Productions). Es Devlin’s opulent set has an enormous palatial grandeur about it which is latterly, spectacularly, crumbled in ruin, Jane Cox’s lighting carves out performance space beautifully from the stage, and Luke Hall’s video work is impressive too. But the play’s the thing remember, not just the production.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Review: Splendour, Donmar Warehouse

“If there’s a seam, tell her it’s usually where the anus was.”

An early play from Abi Morgan, Splendour premiered at Edinburgh in 2000 but is only now receiving its London debut at the Donmar Warehouse as part of a season of works by living playwrights. Directed by Robert Hastie who works such wonders on the all-male My Night With Reg, it also marks a nice rebalance with its all-female cast delivering four sensational performances as Morgan replays a single scene four times to allow us into the mind of each of the characters.

They’re in an unidentified dictatorship - perhaps redolent of somewhere in Eastern Europe, perhaps not – and as we come to realise, it is in its final days. And in the presidential palace, beautifully realised by Peter McKintosh, the president’s wife and her best friend are waiting increasingly apprehensively with a photojournalist and her interpreter. As time restarts and replays, Morgan expertly layers up a gripping story whilst exploring the fascinating inner lives of these women.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Review: The Trial, Young Vic

"Innocent men like you are found guilty all the time"

The joy of my own blog (even if I can't seem to release myself from the self-imposed tyranny of mentioning at least something about every show I see) is that I can write what I want. And on leaving the Young Vic on the penultimate day of the The Trial's run, the prevailing opinion was 'well that was a trial' and 'Kate O'Flynn wasn't half bad'. And so that's your lot. 

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Booking until 22nd August

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Review: Sweet Charity in concert, Cadogan Hall

“You're a blockbuster buster"

It’s been five years since the Menier’s glorious revival of Sweet Charity so London has been waiting a wee while for the misadventures of Charity Hope Valentine to return to our stages but with this semi-staged concert version at Cadogan Hall, it’s been largely worth the wait. A cast led by Denise Van Outen, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, and an ensemble of bright young things from ArtsEd Ensemble combine to joyous effect and with barely a week’s rehearsal, it’s all the more impressive for that.

Van Outen makes a great Charity, infusing a wonderfully wry sense of humour into her demeanour which cleverly reinforces her indefatigable spirit. Supremely confident vocals and a smooth move or two in Matt Flint’s choreography make her a constant joy to watch and one could well imagine her nailing the role in a full-blown production too, especially if she were joined by Michael Xavier as the various men she encounters. Never mind the frozen peaches and cream, HE’S the stuff of dreams whether the appealing nerdishness of Oscar or the hapless lothario that is Vittorio, his lusciously rich voice undoubtedly one of the best in British musical theatre.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Review: Ladylogue, Tristan Bates

“I’m a pretty normal sort of person”

In a theatre world reveling in David Suchet’s Lady Bracknell and Craig Revel Horwood’s Miss Hannigan, one has to be grateful for companies like The Thelmas and their unflagging resolve to readdress this balance. Their particular focus lies more in encouraging new writing and none more so than in Ladylogue, their evening of six one-woman shorts, all written by emerging female playwrights, playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe.

And a vivid and vibrant collection they make too in Madelaine Moore’s production here. From Maria Yarjah’s self-performed Family (Mis)fortunes tracing a young woman’s trials on social media once her parents have discovered Facebook to the poetic swirl of Sarah Milton’s The Night Tella, expertly delivered by Joana Nastari’s edgy narrator, the mood shifts considerably throughout the evening but never failing to place women’s stories at their heart.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Review: Sinatra - The Man and His Music, Palladium

"I'm feeling so bad
Won't you make the music easy and sad"

Traditional theatre shows seem to be struggling in the London Palladium at the moment so it was little surprise to hear that it would be once again filled by something more akin to entertainment than solid West End fare. Sinatra - The Man and His Music is that show and my two star review for Official Theatre can be read here - safe to say I was not a big fan.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Booking until 10th October

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

"You can't kill me
I can't ever die"

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it.

Friday, 14 August 2015

CD Review: The Postman and the Poet (2011 Concept Album)

“Now is the time when the people of Chile come together”

I'm going to put it out there, I have no idea why new musical The Postman and the Poet hasn't received a major production yet. This concept album was recorded in 2011 and has to rank as one of my favourite things I've listened to over the last few weeks of all these cast recordings, if not the whole year. It's even based on source material that has Oscar-winning connections to endear it to risk-averse audiences - if From Here To Eternity can make it to a West End theatre, I'm sure The Postman and the Poet could make a decent stab at it too.

The show is based on Antonio Skármeta's novel Ardiente Paciencia, on which the 1994 Oscar-winning film Il Postino was based, but Trevor Bentham and Eden Phillips' book keeps the story of the musical in Isla Negra, a small fishing village on the Chilean coast and in the early 1970s, when political turmoil threatened to overwhelm this South American country. And Michael Jeffrey, a composer new to me,  has pulled together a hugely exciting and accomplished score that blends its Latin influences seamlessly into a grand musical theatre style.