Monday, 31 May 2010

Review: Ingredient X, Royal Court

“You’re addicted to addicts...”

The latest play to open upstairs at the Royal Court is Nick Grosso’s Ingredient X, described as a “tough new comedy about addiction” and his first new play in 10 years, and one featuring the incredibly hard-working Lesley Sharp already in her third major role of 2010 after The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and Ghosts.

Katie's invited her friends Deanne and Rosanna round to watch X-Factor in their swish apartment with her partner Frank, a recovering drug addict. The women take pleasure in treating him like a skivvy, sending him out on random errands for their wicked amusement. But when he disappears for more than half an hour, doubts about his whereabouts and the strength of his recovery creep in and Deanne and Rosanna, themselves haunted by their own failed relationships and their own insecurities, waste no time in antagonising Katie, playing on her inherent fears about Frank’s possible relapse.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Review: The Crucible, Open Air Theatre

“I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you”

It really is a good time to be an Arthur Miller fan in London: All My Sons is receiving rave reviews at the Apollo Theatre and now you can see The Crucible at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in a chilling new production of a play.

The Puritans of Salem, Massachusetts are shocked when a group of their young girls are caught dancing in the woods and one of them falls into a coma. Accusations of witchcraft soon start to fly and as the hysteria mounts and a full-blown witch-hunt ensues, vendettas about land and money, and also of the heart, are pursued sub rosa as events snowball to a shockingly brutal conclusion. The struggle between truth and righteousness, between protecting self-interest and rising to the need of the greater good, is personified in the Proctor family, John and Elizabeth.

Cast of The Crucible continued

Review: The Late Middle Classes, Donmar Warehouse

“We live in secret almost all the time”

I love Helen McCrory. Like really love her. I have an endless list of actresses whom I really like, but McCrory sits pretty on top of the heap, having found a place in my heart through a select number of roles in film, tv and onstage, almost all of which are indelibly etched on my mind, such is the power of her acting. So when she was announced as leading the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Simon Gray’s The Late Middle Classes, I giddily booked my tickets for this, the second preview. Written in 1999, the play actually opened in Watford but did not make the anticipated transfer into London, being bizarrely usurped by a shortlived play called Boyband so this marks the first time it has been seen in the capital.

Set in the 1950s, it follows a middle-class family, bored Celia, work-obsessed Charles and their son Holliday who is discovering about life through his music lessons with the neighbourly Mr Brownlow. It is actually told in flashback by the adult Holliday recollecting his childhood after an impromptu visit to his old music tutor and the challenges posed by the post-war environment in the UK. It is felt much more strongly by his parents whose privileged position in the class structure has been lost in the face of continuing rations and an almost pyrrhic sense of victory which has not resulted in any improvement in their lives.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Review: The Man, Finborough

“I can’t do anything now...without Mum going ‘ooh you and your London ways’”

Isn’t it great when sometimes you have your low expectations just thoroughly confounded. Having booked my ticket to see The Man at the Finborough Theatre for this particular date to ensure I could see the reading of Mike Bartlett’s new play Bull later on the same evening, I was quite disappointed when the cast was announced, the lead role being shared by four actors including Samuel Barnett but on my night, we were being landed with the playwright James Graham instead. So off I trotted to Earls Court fully prepared with grumpy indignation, but I am pleased to say that I think we just might have witnessed something very special indeed.

As you enter the small auditorium, you are handed a receipt and told to keep hold of it as it will form part of the story. The set is simply dressed with piles of receipts, magazines, an iPod and speakers as the focus is on the receipts we have in our hand. Ben arrives on the pretext of trying and failing to complete his tax self-assessment form and begins to go through the pieces of paper one by one, taking them from us and deciding whether they are claimable expenses or not, telling the stories that lie behind them whilst doing so. It means that each night, the whole story will be told in a different way in a different order, providing a “uniquely interactive experience” which for once is exactly what it says.

(Not a) Review: Bull, Finborough

“He only takes part in marathons to sleep with the charity workers”

Mike Bartlett’s new play receives its world premiere here at the Finborough as part of Vibrant, their 30th Anniversary festival celebrating new plays from playwrights with connections to the Finborough theatre. In a move surely designed to provide the West End Whingers with a few more months of jokes, the play is called Bull, making it an ideal companion piece to his last, immensely successful, and Olivier award winning play Cock, I can see the double bill already...A Cock and Bull Story anyone?! The 30 premieres are all staged readings but offer an intriguing look at what some of the most exciting fresh playwrights are currently working on.

Faced with recession and cutbacks, the company has decided to lose someone from Thomas's team. He is determined it won't be him, but his two colleagues have other ideas. Daniel Ryan, fresh from his run in Posh as a put-upon publican, is Thomas, a put-upon businessman here, unfortunately not the intellectual equal of his peers and consequently the perfect victim for their goading and bullying, the bull to their matadors assumably. Ryan plays the dunderhead extremely well, his indignant anger doing little to help his cause and the way in which he is cut down quite heartbreakingly difficult to watch.

Review: Salome, Richmond Theatre

“You must not look at her. You look too much at her.”

Salome has quite some theatrical pedigree: presented by Rupert Goold’s Headlong company and directed by Donmar Associate Jamie Lloyd, Oscar Wilde’s one act tragedy based on the Biblical story has been radically refashioned into a bold new production currently touring the UK (Oxford, Newcastle and Brighton remain) before settling at the Hampstead Theatre for a month on 22nd June.

Set in a post-apocalyptic futuristic industrial hellhole somewhere in the Middle East, spoiled princess Salome takes a perverse fancy to Iokanaan (John the Baptist) despite or perhaps because of the grim prophecies he has for her mother, Herodias, and stepfather, the Tetrarch King Herod. It seems as if these prophecies, and the detestation both Herod and Herodias have for the prophet, are the reason for Salome’s sudden obsession but when Herod makes her an offer she can’t refuse involving a dance, the opportunistic princess sows the seeds for her own downfall.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Review: Pygmalion, Royal Exchange

"You have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being..."

A fortuitous set of circumstances combined to enable me to go see Pygmalion at the Royal Exchange with Aunty Jean and my father, being up near Manchester for the weekend, and how glad am I that I did. I used to visit the Royal Exchange quite often when younger but it is years since I have been and I was also quite intrigued to see the play itself, never having seen it before, only in its adapted musical form as My Fair Lady. (I was on the lookout for the links between the two in particular around the songs, but the only song title I picked up from the dialogue was ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face’).

When Henry Higgins makes a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn a cockney flower girl into a lady, he sets out to change Eliza Doolittle completely and equip her for life in high society - but he reckons without the spirit and strength of Eliza herself. It is a scathing comment on the class structure of Britain at the turn of the century and a surprisingly modern take on the gender politics of the time, but above all highly entertaining and really rather funny.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Review: All My Sons, Apollo Theatre

"I'm his father and he's my son, and if there's anything bigger than that I'll put a bullet in my head!"

Featuring two heavyweights of British acting talent, David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker, the new production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue has already attracted comments which have somehow made it onto big banners up at the theatre along the lines of “as close to a summer blockbuster as the West End can get”. Given that the first preview was just last night, this does seem a little previous, but having attended said first preview, I can honestly say never a truer word was said: this tale of guilt, denial and responsibility is just sensational!

Set in late 1940s smalltown America, All My Sons looks at what happens when capitalist greed runs amok hand in hand with a lack of moral responsibility. Joe Keller is a businessman whose factory was responsible for sending faulty aircraft parts to the American forces, resulting in the deaths of several servicemen in the Second World War. He escaped prison, but his business partner did not, and with his wife Kate and son Chris, has continued to be a successful man, the American Dream personified. However, when the business partner’s daughter Ann arrives for a visit, it becomes apparent that this dream is perilously close to being shattered. It turns out Anne was engaged to the Kellers’ other son Larry who disappeared in combat a few years ago but now has a budding romance with Chris. Kate is dead set against this as she is adamant that Larry is still alive, a delusion tolerated by the other men in the house, but it is the pursuit of the truth behind the force of her denial that finally unlocks the Pandora’s box of terrible secrets.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare's Globe

"You that thus far have come to pity me, hear what I say, and then go home and lose me"

Not having seen Henry VIII before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the second play in the Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe (this was the second preview) and as delightfully coloured cod-pieces and a mightily impressive heaving bosom (bosoms?) emerged in the course of the first act, I suspected we could be in for a right rollicking good time. This play takes place in the middle of Henry’s reign and follows the rise and fall of four important people in his life, the Duke of Buckingham, his first wife Katherine of Aragon, the Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer. It mixes up elements of history, tragedy and romance and wraps it all up in the opulent pageantry of the era but it also allows us to see behind the scenes, the gossiping, the politicking and those moments when the mask slips and we see glimpses of the real people behind the public personae.

It is full of stately pomp and circumstance and the set-pieces are visually stunning: Anne Bullen’s procession through the theatre at her coronation, Princess Elizabeth’s christening, even Katherine of Aragon’s trial, all are sumptuously mounted and there are some truly moving moments, especially at the moment of downfall of each of the above-mentioned players. But in truth Henry VIII plays as a series of episodes rather than a long play and there’s surprisingly little interaction between many of the key characters. This could be to do with the much-debated true authorship of the play, it has been suggested that it was a collaboration between Shakespeare and another playwright John Fletcher, though my knowledge on this is limited to reading the programme notes so I couldn’t possibly come down on one side or the other. Either way, there is much unevenness in this play and as a result it is only fitfully engaging.

Cast of Henry VIII continued

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Review: Madagascar, Theatre 503

“If someone chooses to disappear, then they need to stay gone”

The European premiere of JT Rogers’ Madagascar arrives at the Theatre 503 in Battersea for a run until 5th June presented here by a co-ordinated effort between Primavera and Le Nez Productions. After Anyone Can Whistle and The Rivals already this year, Primavera are turning into a bit of a must-see producing house for me and when I heard my favourite of the Cusack sisters had been cast in this play, I knew that I would be trekking south of the river for this.

Madagascar takes place in a hotel room opposite the Spanish Steps in Rome and is narrated by three different characters, all affected by the disappearance of a young man. His mother Lilian appears five years ago at the point of the incident, his sister June relates the tale from a few days ago and Nathan, Lilian’s adulterous lover, is there in the present. Although they occupy the same space, they are each there alone, as they tell their stories and the monologues weave around each other, dealing with the pain of loving others, whether that’s filial, parental or conjugal love and how these relationships can horribly wrong.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Review: Peter Pan, Barbican

“Second star to the right and straight on till morning” 

There’s something about revisiting childhood favourites as an adult, a huge pleasure in discovering the deeper levels and meanings that escaped one’s more youthful self: I remember vividly discovering just how dark and vicious Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka gets with the truly revolting children in his factory after years of revelling in all the sweets, the excitement of the golden tickets and the Oompah Loompahs. Similarly here, my memories of Peter Pan were limited to the Disney film and the remake Hook, so in a nutshell, lots of fun as a Lost Boy and Julia Roberts being brought back to life. What I was not prepared for was the discovery of a huge well of aching sadness at the heart of this play.

This partly due to the new version created by David Greig for the National Theatre of Scotland, of J.M. Barrie’s classic, which relocates the action to Victorian Edinburgh and in particular the time of the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge, the instant parallels being drawn between the Lost Boys or Neverland and the gangs of young boys used to pass the molten hot rivets to the ironworkers on the bridge. There’s little fun to be had here, but there’s also less fun to be had in Neverland which is reconceived as a darker, more anarchic and dangerous place, populated by boys in need of motherly love, a hunger which drives this whole play and it is one which affected me greatly, as my companion for the evening will attest, tears rolled down my cheeks solidly for the last 30 minutes!

Cast of Peter Pan continued

Friday, 14 May 2010

Review: Ditch, Old Vic Tunnels

“I’ve listened to all the stories of my generation, then watched ’em get sick or fade away. And it wasn’t this world that killed ’em. It was the other… the memory of it.”

Wandering into the Old Vic Tunnels and being directed towards the section with the seats where the action takes place, one walks past a collection of several strikingly constructed images and montages, animal skins, a cat’s cradle of ropes and lastly a hanging, dissected tree being the most stunning, it wouldn’t look out of place in many a modern art gallery. It’s a highly effective way of setting a suitably atmospheric mood upon entering the complex to see Ditch, the collaboration between the Old Vic and HighTide, but sadly not one which is maintained.

Ditch is set in a post-apocalyptic Britain, the government has largely fallen, violence reigns but a small group of people in the North have banded together in an attempt to keep civilisation going. It’s depressingly reminiscent of Your Nation Loves You, the previous production to take up residence beneath Waterloo, and one which did not go down well in this household. Still, I was determined to give this venue another chance as I can see its potential and hoped that Ditch would be an enlightening experience for me in that respect. 

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Review: Children of Darkness, Leicester Square Theatre

“Why should I hang when the Prime Minister is spared?”

There’s no two ways about it, this is an odd little number. Written by an American in the late 1920s trying to recreate a European theatre style of the mid 1700s, Edwin Justus Mayer’s
Children of Darkness is set in the infamous Newgate Prison ostensibly in 1725, on the eve of the execution of Jonathan Wild, a notorious crime lord. In the gaoler’s domain, we see a range of prisoners from the higher level of society willing and able to purchase anything at a price, but given the dark forces of power, greed, lust and corruption are much in evidence, even within the authorities, this is a look at the less palatable way in which society can develop.

However, the plotting and characters take the backseat to Mayer’s use of overly florid and often amusing (though not always for the right reason) vocabulary. There’s an overreliance on period slang, to the extent that a glossary is provided in the programme: who knew ‘buttock and files’ meant a thieving whore or a bridle-cull was a highwayman?! One is often left chuckling at the use of language here, I’m determined to use the phrase ‘I abominate you!’ at some point this week along with ‘Harken to me madam’, but it does get distracting especially as the development of this language has been done at the expense of any careful plotting or character progression.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Review: Witness for the Prosecution, Richmond Theatre

"You want to know too much..."

It’s 1954 and a handsome young man stands in the dock, accused of the murder of a rich elderly woman whom he befriended. His wife’s testimony could save him but not all is what it seems as she becomes a Witness for the Prosecution. Playing in Richmond for a week as part of a tour which goes to Malvern, Southend and Cambridge next, Agatha Christie’s play looks at the nature of truth in the English legal system and how people are not always what they seem, even to those closest to them, and puts us the audience in the role of the jury, trying to make sense of the conflicting stories and information presented to us in order to prevent either a guilty man escaping justice or an innocent man from the gallows.

Considering that this is a touring show and Richmond Theatre's auditorium is hardly the most flexible of spaces at first glance, the set is quite frankly amazing. The opening scene, set in chambers, is a gloomy, darkly atmospheric affair with dark panelled wood all around and a bare hint of a glow from a fireplace. But then as we move to the court case, the lights go up and a very impressively mounted, multi-level courtroom is fully revealed and it looks extremely convincing. It has been superbly designed by Simon Scullion and it’s a good job, given that we only leave the courtroom briefly once more in the entire play.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Review: Me, As A Penguin, Arcola

"We all get a bit down Stitch, that's why there's dance routines"

Me, As A Penguin is a slightly surreal but gently affectionate tale of the struggle of four twenty-somethings in the search for personal identity. Marking the professional full length debut of playwright Tom Wells in London, it takes up residence in the small Studio 2 at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre. Set in Hull, Liz is nine months pregnant and hosting Stitch, her shy gay brother who’s trying to escape life at home in a tiny village stuck working in a knitting shop, but he’s struggling a bit. He’s not connecting with Liz’s partner Mark and connecting too much with Mark’s predatory gay friend Dave. What follows is a stonkingly well-written tale of stolen penguins, experimental knitting and a whole lot of Battenberg cake.

It is fast-paced, contemporary and extremely funny, with hidden depths that ensure some real emotional investment, a most promising debut play indeed. Where it is particularly strong, and in a most pleasing way for me, is in its depiction of its two gay characters. Without resorting to employing beautiful young men to wander around shirtless, something several gay plays in London are currently guilty of, Wells has crafted 2 wildly different yet ultimately convincing and recognisable young men. Ian Bonar is simply outstanding as the ever-tongue-tied, painfully shy Stitch, struggling to make the transition to the (relatively) metropolitan gay lifestyle offered by Hull and deal with the emotions provoked by finally embracing his homosexuality. And with the penguin-suited (don’t ask!) Dave, we have as realistic and uncompromising a gay character as I’ve seen recently: arrogant, unashamedly horny, Daniel Abelson invests the right level of self-assuredness that tramples over all around him to great effect.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Review: Twelfth Night, Filter at Tricycle Theatre

“Hey, who governs here?”

This is another resuscitation of Filter’s Twelfth Night and its third residency at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Filter recently appeared in London and toured the UK with their version of Three Sisters, not one I was a fan of and the RSC’s most recent Twelfth Night which I really enjoyed, only left the Duke of York’s in February, but I had heard all sorts of good things about this, so I booked myself a ticket. 

Things started brilliantly with a random jamming session and then the eventual arrival of the shipwrecked Viola, clutching handfuls of election leaflet, uttering the words at the top of the review, “who governs here”, it was a genuinely very funny moment and set the mood perfectly. The focus is clearly on the inventiveness with which Filter approach this well-known play. Filter are known for their sonic creativity and the stage is littered with instruments and amps, the cast in modern dress, it’s clear this is no traditional Shakespearean production. So many anarchic tricks are employed that it is hard not to love the heart of this show. There’s a deal of audience participation, yours truly was pulled onstage and had balls thrown at him and his Velcro helmet, others were invited to do tequila shots, we’re also invited to sing along and complete lines, a speech is delivered from a mobile phone held up to a microphone, information is provided by radio, there’s a four way battle of sound’s a whole load of carefully organised chaos and often great fun. 

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Review: Love the Sinner, National Theatre

“It’s a bit niche isn’t it Michael...”

Love the Sinner is a world premiere of a play by Drew Pautz, slotting into the Cottesloe at the National Theatre. The play looks at a number of the key moral challenges facing the Christian church, starting off at a conference of international bishops somewhere in Africa trying to reach consensus on how Christianity has to come to deal with homosexuality in the modern world. We then see one of the volunteers at the meeting, Michael, after a brief sexual encounter with one of the African porters and follow him as he returns to his closeted lifestyle back in the UK and battles his own personal demons and the challenges that his faith poses in an evermore secular world.

Whilst Love the Sinner may look at some of these moral challenges, it doesn’t attempt to address any of them to any depth to quite frustrating effect. The opening scene concerns a sequestered group of bishops from different countries trying to come to agreement over the Church’s position on homosexuality and how to deal with same-sex relationships. The issues are bounded about for a bit with the African side defending their homophobic intolerance in the face of the pleas of the more liberal Western clerics, but then once the scene ends, the topic is dropped without resolution.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket

"We don't dance. We defend ourselves to music"

Last night’s trip to Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (with Aunty Jean, for my birthday treat!) actually marks the first time that I have seen a show that has transferred from a small venue into the West End in both of its incarnations. My original review can be read here about Charity Hope Valentine’s romantic misadventures and her continued search for her dream man in the face of constant setbacks and dastardly lotharios, and much of what I loved about it then holds true now as it is still as excellent a show.

Little has actually been changed about the production, everything is just a bit bigger really and the transitions a lot smoother, the only real difference was the fairground scene with Charity and Oscar and her vertigo where they make use of the more advanced facilities to sit on a suspended seat. Where the production does benefit from the transfer though is in the extra room for the choreography, 'Rich Man’s Frug' and 'I’m A Brass Band' in particular both luxuriate in the additional space offered by the Theatre Royal and Stephen Mears’ superb choreography has unfurled beautifully, maintaining the huge level of energy and vitality it pushes into the show. This is probably best exemplified in Hey, 'Big Spender', such a different number to the familiar Shirley Bassey version, the girls at the club sprawl over high stools, selling their wares half-heartedly with deliciously bored expressions, it is abundantly clear that this is no glamorous life and one can immediately see why Charity is so keen to escape. 

Cast of Sweet Charity continued

Nominations for 2010 Tonys - Best Performance by a Featured Actor/Actress in a Musical

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

Levi Kreis, Million Dollar Quartet
Kevin Chamberlin, The Addams Family
Robin de Jesús, La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime 

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Katie Finneran, Promises, Promises
Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim
Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away
Lillias White, Fela!

Nominations for 2010 Tonys - Best Performance by a Featured Actor/Actress in a Play

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

Eddie Redmayne, Red
David Alan Grier, Race
Stephen Henderson, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken, ENRON

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Scarlett Johansson, A View from the Bridge
Maria Dizzia, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Rosemary Harris, The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht, A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell, Lend Me a Tenor

Nominations for 2010 Tonys - Best Performance by a Leading Actor/Actress in a Musical

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Kelsey Grammer, La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises
Chad Kimball, Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela! 

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music
Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Montego Glover, Memphis
Christiane Noll, Ragtime
Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture

Nominations for 2010 Tonys - Best Performance by a Leading Actor/Actress in a Play

Best Performance by a Leading Actor/Actress in a Play

Denzel Washington, Fences
Jude Law, Hamlet
Alfred Molina, Red
Liev Schreiber, A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken, A Behanding in Spokane

Best Performance by a Leading Actor/Actress in a Play

Viola Davis, Fences
Valerie Harper, Looped
Linda Lavin, Collected Stories
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family

Monday, 3 May 2010

Review: Dirty White Boy, Trafalgar Studios 2

“You want to interrogate me and put me in your blog?!”

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, I’m still waiting for a response to my offer to be Phil Willmott’s new BFF and so in a completely non-stalkerish way, off I went to the basement of the Trafalgar Studios to see his latest production, Dirty White Boy.

On the barest of stages, just some plastic chairs and a set of packing boxes accompany the actors, we follow the story of Clayton Littlewood’s 3 year tenure as the proprietor of a Soho clothes shop, Dirty White Boy on the corner of Old Compton Street and Dean Street. Initially written as a myspace blog and then developing into a newspaper column and a book, Littlewood clearly has a great empathy and understanding of his Soho, and the writing is in places extremely funny, capturing the eccentricities and the history of the area and acknowledging the vast diversity of the characters that inhabit it.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Top Ten Plays of April

Crikey, 27 shows this month and a few trips out of London, no wonder I'm knackered and looking forward to the bank holiday weekend...! Here's my top 10 plays for the month, number one is a lock-in for best show of the year nomination already in case there was any doubt!

1. Holding the Man
Romeo and Juliet
3. The Pirates of Penzance, Carl Rosa
4. Antony and Cleopatra
5. Ruined
6. The Last Five Years
7. The Pirates of Penzance, Wilton's
8. Beyond the Pale
9. Pressure Drop
10. Spring Storm