Sunday, 31 January 2010

Cast of Legally Blonde continued

Cast of Legally Blonde continued

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Review: Really Old, Like Forty Five, National Theatre

"You're not that old, you just look it"

Really Old, Like Forty Five is a new play from Tamsin Oglesby which looks at the challenges that an increasing ageing population is having on society. We see a government thinktank come up with strategies to deal with them, and we also witness 3 siblings are dealing with old age and the effect it has on their extended family. This dual perspective is effectively shown by use of a split level stage: the government bods are perched on a balcony on top and we see how their decisions affect the general population in the form of the family who occupy the main lower part of the stage, with its mini-revolve allowing for quick scene changes.

I found it to be highly amusing and also highly moving: it's wittily written, with funny lines popping up all over the place, we're often laughing at our own prejudices against old people but then quickly forced to confront them as we see just how far this government is willing to go to provide a 'final solution' in witnessing the trials of Alice, Lyn and Robbie with their families. Gawn Grainger as Robbie gamely dresses up in more and more ridiculous 'street' outfits as he chases a long-gone youth and Marcia Warren has a wonderful twinkle-eyed charm as the ever chipper Alice, with a beautiful speech about the vagaries of the human memory in response to her sister's distressing decline and jumbled up recollections of their shared youth.
Elsewhere, Paul Ritter is very funny as the head of the government department dealing with the 'ageing problem', saying all the things that we've thought but would never dare say out loud in ever-plausible government-speak (including an ingenious solution to crowded pavements which I can actually see being implemented) but never becomes monstrous, we always see the man behind the suit, making his journey in the second half all the more heartbreaking. And Lucy May Barker did well with a somewhat underwritten part as a teenager adopted by Lyn as part of one of the government schemes.

But the evening belongs to Judy Parfitt as Lyn, the rapid onset of her Alzheimer's throughout the course of the play is enthralling, so difficult to watch at times, especially when watching the pain etched on the face of her daughter, but beautifully played by Parfitt. The lightning switches from flashes of genuine emotion and recollection to irascible outbursts and the comfort of the familiar rambling, however bizarre, have a weighty authenticity about them, marred only by the daughter's bizarre late request for an explanation about whether her father had had an affair: an odd thing to be concerned about I felt, given how far gone her mother was. But this was the only mis-step in Oglesby's writing for me, it was otherwise very strong.



Finally, there is a stunning performance from Michela Meazza as Mimi. Meazza is better known as a dancer, being a member of Matthew Bourne's New Adventures company, and I don't want to give too much away here, but she delivers a physical performance which literally has to be seen to be believed, I loved it.

This was much more of a black comedy than I was expecting: very funny in parts and bleak in others, indeed those who have personal experience of dealing with relatives with Alzheimers may find a painful truth in many scenes here. It is briskly directed by Anna Mackmin, and ultimately I found it very moving. That said, whilst lots of interesting questions are raised here, about how we treat our elderly population, quality of life versus its longevity, learning to age gracefully, dealing with Alzheimers in the family, few answers are actually given to us, much is left for the audience to just think about, not necessarily a bad thing...

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, with an interval (in previews)
Programme costs: £2
Note: in a pleasing affirmation that karma does indeed exist in this world, after being mugged one day, I got upgraded the next. Having booked a restricted view ticket on the side for this show, I was bumped to the centre of the pit just a few rows from the stage! Apparently, the restricted view also currently includes a considerable view of the backstage area given the small revolve and so whilst they investigate options, people are getting upgrades which should be a welcome surprise for a lucky few.

Review: Daisy Pulls It Off, Arts Theatre

"This is a dismal business, isn't it"

I rather suspect that Daisy Pulls It Off at the Arts Theatre is an old-fashioned a tale as you'll ever see, it is certainly the one of the most odd. It's a jolly old hockey sticks boarding school romp with Daisy Meredith, a poor scholarship girl, having to prove herself at Grangewood School for Young Ladies in the face of some absolutely beastly bullies who just don't like her. It helps of course that she is exceptionally intelligent, plays a mean game of hockey and writes lovely poetry.

There's some good performances here, Joanne Gale and Emma Scholes as the older girls shone for me, but some really painful ones too. There's little real connection between the characters, such limited interactions, that it is hard to get much sense of a company here, and it is just unclear what the tone of the piece really is. Is it a spoof? Is it a comedy? Is it a straight-up play? I'm not sure, and I don't think the actors were either, such was the variance in the way they played their roles. Plus my bete noire of the year so far raised its head again, with Daisy narrating random sections of the play which stilted the rhythm of the piece horribly.

This production started life at the small Baron's Court theatre and it betrays its roots rather badly: the bare staging is unforgivably exposed and looks far too amateur on the larger stage and there isn't sufficient quality of performance or humour or anything else to compensate for that. Transferring it seems an odd choice as I'm really not sure who this is aimed at, adults or school parties, it's hard to tell. And with the ticket prices they are asking (the theatre was barely a fifth full last night), it is hard to recommend it. This is one jolly jape Daisy has failed to pull off I'm afraid.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, with an interval
Programme cost: £2.50

Monday, 25 January 2010

Review: Rope, Almeida with Q+A

"People argue about the queerest things nowadays"

Perhaps an odd choice for a festive show,
Rope at Islington's Almeida Theatre is a dark tale of murder, abusive relationships and a dinner party (which I guess is what Christmas is about for some people...) Two Oxford students, Brandon and Granillo murder a third for the existential thrill of committing the 'perfect murder', they then invite people, including the dead boy's father, round for supper, which is served on the chest where the body is stashed. Only one guest begins to suspect something is amiss, Rupert Cadell, a WWI veteran now a world-weary Nietzschean and over the course of the evening, the men try to argue the case for their intellectual superiority and play the dangerous game of trying to get away with murder.

The most arresting thing about this production upon entering the theatre is that it is presented in the round. This is a first for the Almeida and it is highly effective. It gives the real sense of being in the room with the protagonists and also has the visually pleasing effect of placing the chest in the centre of the action, both physically and metaphorically. This worked beautifully in the scenes which had several of the characters on stage, but I felt that when there was just two or three of them, more could have been done to utilise this format: the final face-off scene in particular was very static and played as if on a normal stage. This worked fine for us in our central seats but people to the side would have just seen the back of one or other of the main characters for the final 20 minutes of the play.

Bertie Carvel's Rupert is a fascinating creation: a wounded creature, overflowing with sardonic wit and a razor-sharp mind, but beneath it all the sense of an aching sadness that is barely concealed. And I found it a little surprising that the play actually became about his journey: as he slowly uncovers the truth of the evening's events, he comes to realise that his world-view, coloured horribly by his wartime experiences which he viewed as murder, is perhaps skewed and that what he is witnessing is in fact what murder really is. The part is played with such care and devotion by Carvel, it really is a sight to behold. Blake Ritson is also excellent as the cunning, manipulative Brandon whose relationship with Granillo is never clearly spelt out (they've been a gay couple in previous productions) but it is clear he is the driving force behind events. Alex Waldmann as Granillo suffered a little bit with a less appealing part, already weighed down with the consequences at the outset and given to hysteric outbursts, I felt like there could have been more to him than just fluster. Elsewhere Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Phoebe Waller-Bridge provided some great comic relief as the somewhat vacuous other guests at the dinner party.

Having booked for the show with the Q+A session at the end was also highly illuminating. It was nice to see the actors talking about the processes behind their choices, Waldmann, Ritson and above all Carvel were all very impressive and whilst Lloyd-Hughes may have played it for laughs rather than contributing on an intellectual level, he was goofily charming. It was particularly interesting to hear that Brandon and Granillo are not actually described as being gay anywhere in the text or stage directions and that the ambiguity bemoaned by certain members of the press is actually the original reading of the text. And their tales of reactions to the first scene being played in the dark were genius, someone actually used an i-Phone to help them see, and they've been playing with the temperature controls to ensure people didn't drift off to sleep!

Just a couple of weeks of this run remain and it is sold out, but day seats are available for £15 in person or by phone. Rope is a much more engaging look at inter-war ennui amongst the privileged than the execrable Pains of Youth and a great chance to see how familiar theatrical spaces can be reconfigured (Measure for Measure will apparently not be in the round) but something was a bit lacking for me in the end (if not for my colleague!).

Running time: 110 minutes, with no interval
Programme cost: £3

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Review: Barbershopera II, Trafalgar Studios 2

"You must go...to Norfolk"

Barbershopera II
is written by company founders Rob Castell and Tom Sadler who perform it, alongside Lara Stubbs and Pete Sorel-Cameron in the shape of a comedy barbershop quartet. The plot, insomuch as it is important, concerns a Catalan matador Esteve who inherits a barber shop in Norfolk from his long-lost father but faces opposition from hostile locals and his hairdressing rival, Trevor Sorbet. There's then an insane amount of twists and turns which get increasingly daft and surreal. The main twist though is that it's performed in different harmony groupings throughout (though rarely as a barbershop quartet interestingly enough).

The show really caught light for me with a brilliant medley of songs during the hairdressing competition which skilfully wove in a whole raft of jokes, both visual and lyrical through five completely different styles in quick succession. Lyrically, the songs are excellent throughout, always provoking laughter, but it is sometimes hard to escape the feeling that this is one (albeit excellent) trick that is drawn out for too long.

There's no doubting the impressive vocal skills on display here and it almost seems churlish to criticise given the workrate, but hard work alone isn't enough. Production values are perilously, shabbily low, the tunes just aren't memorable enough, and there isn't enough genuine quartet singing which minimises the genuine impact that the barbershop style has to offer. With such a surreal story that doesn't engage one emotionally, there's only so long one can admire good singing and sadly one ends up feeling a bit blase, despite the technical expertise on show. Aside from the lyrics, nothing else really feels quite up to the necessary standard to elevate this from comedy festival success to genuine theatrical success, but I do think there is much potential in Castell and Sadler's writing.

Running time: 75 minutes with no interval
Programme cost: £2

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Review: Three Sisters, Lyric Hammersmith

"One day you'll be so bored that you'll read it"

According to the programme, Christopher Hampton's version of Three Sisters at the Lyric Hammersmith directed by Sean Holmes and the Filter theatre company, is here to raise "the audience's otherwise sluggard pulses in a revivifying revival": what more introduction could we possibly need?!

Three Sisters opens with Irina Prozorova's name-day celebration, in the provincial Russian town where their late military father had been stationed. Irina and her sisters Olga and Masha make half-hearted attempts to put up with life in their adopted home, but cannot stop longing for their birth town Moscow. We then follow the sisters and a group of acquaintances over a 3 year period as the sisters learn the hard lessons of life.Filter are known for their use of sound and in parts of the first half, this approach was quite effective. I loved the use of microphones dotted around the stage to allow us to eavesdrop on whispered conversations in dark corners and permitted full use of the stripped-back stage. I was less sure about the use of an amplified boiling kettle to represent a passing storm, and quite why a violin case had to be used to pop a balloon to imitate a gunshot (and unsuccessfully I might ungentlemanly add, the actor had to just slam the case in the end), I do not know. The second half had much less of this, an imbalance which ended up giving the impression that they could have gone quite a bit further with this sonic creativity to be honest.


Cast of Three Sisters continued

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Review: Silence! The Musical, Above the Stag

"I'll throw her in a well so that no-one can find her,
I'll tuck my dick between my legs and call it a vagina"
Silence! The Musical is described as 'the unauthorised parody of Silence of the Lambs' and grew from a collection of songs posted on the internet into an off-Broadway show in 2005. It had a two week run in Baron's Court last year, but this version at the Above the Stag theatre above a Victoria gay bar is billed as the European professional premiere: it has added new material getting its first airing and retains the original director from New York, Christopher Gatelli.

It does what is says on the tin, it's a relatively faithful rerun of the events of the film where trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling is pressed into interviewing notorious psychiatrist and serial killer Hannibal Lecter in prison in order to help catch another serial killer Buffalo Bill. However, it is mercilessly and hilariously parodied throughout with a book by Hunter Bell and music and lyrics by Jon & Al Kaplan and a chorus of singing and dancing lambs.

Incredibly rude in places, with some song titles I dare not mention on here, but oddly enough these weren't always the funniest parts of the show. It is the attention to detail that had me in stitches for large stretches of the show: the chalk dust signifying the arrival of the dead dad, the pictures in Lecter's cell, the mask he uses to escape, the little tango kicks in 'Quid Pro Quo', all small things but excellently executed and all adding together to great comic effect. It reminded me of the film Airplane in that respect, jam-packed of visual gags as well as clever writing, the scenes with Clarice jogging past other FBI trainees and then walking past prisoners to get to Lecter were both really funny.

Key to the success of fringe shows, musicals in particular, is the enthusiasm of the cast, and here there's no problem whatsoever. Everyone pitches in with a maximum of effort and I loved that everyone appeared as part of the lamb chorus at some point, even the Lecter-playing Miles Western, as creepy a lamb as you will ever see. As the Chianti-supping Doctor, Western is brilliant, suggesting a world of insanity with his eyes and a good clear singing voice, always vital when singing unfamiliar songs. Fabian Hartwell's Buffalo Bill was also good, even if I wish he hadn't telegraphed his grand 'reveal' quite so much.

Tory Ross as Clarice is rightly the star of the show though. Clearly having a ball onstage, she got laughs with practically every line and gesture in a marvellously assured performance, and a great sense of comic timing. It's hard to pick a favourite moment of hers, but the fat girl joke sequence really was superb.

Being a first preview, I'm sure the choreographing of the moving panels will become a lot smoother, but I would recommend a little more incidental music or different flooring as they were often excessively noisy when being repositioned. And a couple of the performers need to adjust their pitching, their voices were too quiet even for this intimate venue. But with six weeks to run, I'm sure everything will settle nicely and this ought to become a good success, it really is as funny as anything in the West End.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, with one interval
Programme cost: £1
Note: male nudity (of sorts...if you've seen the film, you know what I mean!) and extreme bad language throughout

Monday, 18 January 2010

Review: The Little Dog Laughed, Garrick

"You're like Huckleberry Finn on a raft of rent boys"

I'm not sure at what point something moves from just being popular to becoming a trend, but containing either onstage narration and/or male nudity seems to be recurring with alarming regularity in plays this year. The Little Dog Laughed contains both, but more on those later!

It's a tale of a up and coming Hollywood actor, Mitchell Green, who just happens to be a closeted homosexual but using the cover of a relationship with his lesbionic agent, Diane in order to maintain the facade. He's then thrown when he meets and falls for a rent boy, Alex who has a girlfriend Ellen, and decides that he wants to pursue this relationship and come out to the public. This is played against a sub-plot of Diane trying to get a 'gay play' made into a movie as a star vehicle for Mitchell, but needing it to be 'de-gayed' in order for it to be made and to maintain Mitch's straight front.

It's funny, not hysterical, but funny all the same. There's some great one-liners, and Douglas Carter Beane has managed the admirable feat of creating some really likeable characters. The story is rings true enough, the lengths to which stars will go to hide their sexuality and the pressures they face in doing so, and the comedic elements were well played. It was less successful though in the more serious scenes when it tried to mine depth through some rather crude name-dropping and lost much of its energy.

As the two amorous boys, Harry Lloyd and Rupert Friend do well, Friend's initial nervous gaucheness is really quite funny, and Lloyd's cocky rent boy swagger is nicely believable. And they do develop a really nice relationship together, Mitchell's slow awakening to his true sexuality and the possibilities therein is nicely countered with the confusion in Alex's world as to what or who he wants and one really doesn't know how it is going to play out. My only criticism would be the coyness of their love scenes, there's some arse-flashing and plenty of parading around in their underwear, but when it actually came down to it, there was little substance to the physicality of their relationship.
Gemma Arterton does extremely well with the barest of material, in what is an underwritten part as Alex's significant other, wringing some genuine emotion from her short scenes and I look forward to more opportunities to see her on the stage in the future. But it is Tamsin Greig's show: she's the one who narrates the play as such, and although I haven't largely been a fan of narration when it has appeared elsewhere this year, Greig does it with such wit and warmth that it is impossible to resist. She really works the audience, seemingly improvising to the audience responses and laughter (I got a comment in her opening monologue and a wink at the curtain call, I felt very special!) and she fits right in to Jamie Lloyd's staging which allows her to step out of the action and narrate quite effectively.

All in all, it was good fun, and I'd recommend trying to get good front of stalls seats to get the full impact of Greig's great performance here. And just finally, it was lovely to finally be able to answer the question 'can one look a
Whinger directly in the eye and survive?', their pap shots had led to me to suspect some kind of Medusa-like powers!

Running time: a sprightly 2 hours 10 minutes, with one interval
Programme cost: £3.50Note: Male rear nudity, and parading around in underwear

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Review: Greta Garbo Came To Donegal, Tricycle

"'So you approve of loneliness?'
I've made a career out if it, haven't you heard"

Who knew penises were like buses? Having not seen one onstage all year in 2009, a couple popped up in Six Degrees... on Thursday, and a third came along today in Greta Garbo Came To Donegal at the Tricycle theatre in Kilburn. Frank McGuinnes has taken a fact, Greta Garbo did in fact use a friend's castle in Ireland as a retreat, and spun a fictional tale set in 1967's Donegal where cultural and sexual change is threatening the established order, epitomised by the arrival of the Swedish filmstar.

Garbo (Caroline Lagerfelt) arrives at the house of an aristocratic painter friend, Matthew Dover (Daniel Geroll) with a view to maybe purchasing this property, but it is soon clear that they are both weighted down with the pressures of dealing with homosexual attractions, Dover with his wideboy South London bodyguard, Garbo with the housekeeper Paulie (Michelle Fairley), whose family in a cruel twist of fate used to own the house where she is now forced to serve. Garbo's presence also awakes other frustrations elsewhere in the house with a young niece straining to escape the yoke of familial obligation and pursue her own dreams.

Lagerfeld wisely underplays her Garbo, giving her a real authenticity as a character and her whip-sharp comments and venom-laden putdowns are often a sight to behold. Michelle Fairley is also excellent as the put-down Paulie who demonstrates a lifetime of frustration and hinted-at abuse with superb grace, and the way in which the friendship between the two slowly develops is the one main pleasure of the play. The rest of the characters are acted well but crucially given precious little to do and I have to admit to checking my watch more than once.

There are easy comparisons to be made with Dancing at Lughnasa, assisted by Michelle Fairley appearing them both, but this is a more saccharine view of Ireland, tinged with a nostalgia which at times does feel a little cloying. This isn't a bad play by any means, and there's two cracking female performances to be found here, but in all honesty not enough happens to justify the bloated running time, and I'd struggle to recommend it.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes, with 1 interval
Programme cost: £2
Note: Male full-frontal nudity

Friday, 15 January 2010

Review: Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic

"Every person is a new door, opening up into new worlds"

John Guare's
Six Degrees of Separation receives its first revival in 18 years with this David Grindley directed production at the Old Vic. Based on a true story of a conman finagling his way into the lives of wealthy Manhattan socialites by pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier, we see the lives of two New York art dealers, Ouisa and Fran Kittredge turned upside down after they take an injured Paul into their home and he wreaks havoc on their lives and those of them around them as he challenges their comfortable existences. It is kept in its original 1980s setting, presumably as the issues around financial greed are as pertinent today, even if those around race and homosexuality are less so.

Onstage narration seems to be the flavour of the month and it is a tricky thing to get right:
Innocence fails, Midsummer gets it right, here is somewhere in the middle. There's a mixture of Ouisa and Fran, and indeed other characters, narrating the events and the action being played out, and I'm not sure the balance is wholly there: it is just so much more entertaining when the actors are engaging with each other and I was frequently left wanting to see more of that.
Anthony Head suffered the most from this structure, his rather one-note performance doesn't really have anywhere to go, and his only character progression is to rediscover a love for art, but due to him spending a fair amount of time narrating, his initial disaffection just isn't shown sufficiently. Obi Abili as the duplicitous, seductive cuckoo in the nest Paul is better though not as convincing as he should be in the one scene as his 'true' self and there's some good comedic work from the actors playing the spoiled children with their laconic sense of entitlement and ennui.

As the central Ouisa, Lesley Manville is very good, artfully playing the awakening from her complacency and the growth of the character. But, and I hate people who do this yet here I am, I couldn't escape the lingering feeling that it owed too much to Stockard Channing's original performance or perhaps that it wasn't distinct enough. Manville is far from bad, I was just hoping for more from an actress whom I love.

In the end, I left feeling disappointed. There's something that doesn't quite hang together here for me, tonally the comedy is too high in the mix to allow the darker later scenes around the suicide the necessary depth and pathos and whilst the simple staging allows for a range of locations to be suggested, I didn't like the floating blocks. Perhaps some of these things will be ironed out before opening night, but I rather suspect this just wasn't the play for me.


Running time: 90 minutes with no interval
Programme cost: £3.50 (there's different ones with each of the leads on the cover)
Note: Male full-frontal nudity alert, times 2. Kevin Kiely is making his stage debut here and one laughingly hopes that this was his choice and not the result of some novice naïveté ;-) someone should tell him not all roles are necessarily as exposing as this!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse

"If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!"

Taking up residence at the Southwark Playhouse is this new production of Richard Sheridan's The Rivals, mixing music and dance with a very high calibre cast to create a fresh new look at this well-known comedy. Set in eighteenth century Bath, it follows the efforts of the meddlesome Mrs Malaprop to marry off her niece Lydia Languish, who has romantic designs of her own, but with an array of suitors, some of whom are not all who they seem, the scene is set for a plethora of romantic capers.

I loved the opening: the cast trickle onto the stage and chat away to the audience as if we're all here for a ball, then up strikes the music and there's a wickedly subversive choice of songs for an opening dance number which set the tone for this mischievous little production. There's a real convivial atmosphere throughout, with plenty of fourth-wall-breaking going on (be warned if you're on the front row!) and the cast play up to the intimacy of the venue with a strong conversational style.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Review: Midsummer (a play with songs), Soho Theatre


"It's Midsummer, in Edinburgh, it's raining, and there's these two people having sex"

After being blown away by how good Legally Blonde was at the weekend, I was little expecting to see something that made me feel as good (and possibly even better) so soon, but Edinburgh transfer Midsummer (a play with songs) did just that last night, tucked away in Dean Street's Soho Theatre. I've seen a couple of musicals already this year and I can overwork a metaphor along with the best of them, so here a dubious extension thereof: if Priscilla was a frothy marshmallow on top of a cup of the best Viennese hot chocolate which was Legally Blonde, then Midsummer was the long weekend in Vienna that made it all possible, it is spontaneous, joyous, energetic, uplifting: something truly special.

Written by David Greig, the play is set over a whirlwind weekend in Edinburgh: Helena (Cora Bissett) a divorce lawyer and Medium Bob (Matthew Pidgeon) a small-time crook have a chance meeting in a bar which leads to a one-night-stand. They part the next morning, but events conspire to throw them back together and a crazy rollercoaster of a weekend ensues. The action is then enhanced throughout with a set of lo-fi songs by Gordon McIntyre which are performed by the pair onstage with guitars, Bissett in particular has a beautifully pleasing voice, putting me in mind of Tracey Thorn with a hint of Joni Mitchell.

And it is Bissett who is the star here, as so much more versatility is demanded of her as she frequently doubles up as a range of characters who the couple meet on their way and displaying a surprisingly effective wide range of male voices. Her mimicry is also well-served with a hysterical weather forecast scene which should crack up anyone who's ever lived in Scotland. Pidgeon is also strong though as the everyman character who one cannot help but root for and equipped with a fine voice as well. They both carry the show with aplomb, as themselves, as the supporting characters and also as narrators: Dea Loher should also take note of how to utilise the third person narrative effectively, it's extremely well done here.

But what makes Midsummer great is that underneath all of the comedy, the obvious love for Edinburgh and the gentle lilting songs, is a huge emotional depth. Swept away on the highs of the illicit thrills of the story, Greig is also unafraid to show us the struggles and the loneliness of being thirty-something and single and not necessarily happy with the decisions that one has been taking. In the end, all combines to give a touchingly authentic portrayal of two people attempting to decide what they really want from life and who finally take the philosopical advice offered by a parking meter, 'change is possible'.

This is the show for people who say they don't like musicals, (especially if they're fans of indie music) it should convince even the hardest of hearts of the glorious power of theatre to transport you and move you deeply, even if you will never look at Elmo the same way again.

Running time: 105 minutes, with no interval
Playtext cost: £3.50

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Review: Regolith, Finborough



Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews



"This we have craved. This is our nightmare. This is tomorrow."
Running in repertoire for just six performances,
Regolith is a chance to catch a world premiere of a play by the Irish Chris Lee, a former Playwright-in-Residence at the Finborough.

There’s just the two characters, Sharp and Bitter, dressed the same, and they play out a twisting and turning mother-daughter relationship over the space of an hour in a number of short scenes. The play is set in some unspecified dystopian future, “the wrecked ruined rubble of the world” as described in the programme (which is also the meaning of Regolith: rubble), and the closest point of reference it called for me was the film ‘Children of Men’.

Harriet Ryder as Sharp is marvellously assured in just her second professional production, possessed of a great stillness which really captured the attention, especially in the quieter scenes: her description of the different types of intensive care was just heartbreaking. Janine Wood as Bitter was also good, with the slightly harder job of a much more abrasive, abusive character with perhaps a shade too much ‘bitterness’ given to her by the writing. They have great chemistry together though, and the opening scene of mother/daughter rituals is beautifully and nicely echoed in the final scenes with an unexpected twist.

Performed as it is on the set of
Generous, the staging is minimal, just a swathe of black curtain and 3 chairs and the occasional prop. This really serves to focus on the language being spoken, which at times is darkly poetical and beautiful and highly revealing of the power that words can have over those we love and the way in which they can be used to manipulate people.

Enhanced by a subtle musical score and directed with a light touch by Ken McClymont, Regolith is an intriguing piece of work. I cannot honestly say that I understood it all, there are times when the attention wavered slightly, but it does not outstay its welcome and is very well acted.

Running time: 60 minutes with no interval
Programme cost: 50p

Monday, 11 January 2010

Review: Legally Blonde The Musical

“You can’t come in here with all your singing, dancing and...ethnic movements”

If
Priscilla Queen of the Desert was the marshmallow on top of the whipped cream on top of your cocoa, then Legally Blonde is the full mug of the best Viennese hot chocolate you can imagine. Sticking closely to the story of the film, with just a little streamlining, we follow Elle Woods, a Malibu princess and sorority queen whose world is rocked when her boyfriend leaves her for Harvard Law School and the pursuit of someone more ‘serious’. Elle then follows him but ends up finding out a lot more about herself than she anticipated. The book is completely original and I found it surprisingly good, the opening numbers of ‘Ohmigod you guys’ and ‘What you want’ were both great tunes, ‘Ohmigod’ in particular will not leave your head for hours! There are of course some weaker numbers in there, but never any boring ones which is achievement enough.

This show should be the making of Sheridan Smith as a real star. Channelling less Reese Witherspoon and more Anna Faris (of Scary Movie etc), her Elle sounds great, captures the heart and plays with it effortlessly. Interestingly, she’s quite goofy as well and I liked this almost screwball feel. Ms Smith should be commended for an excellent turn here, but also for her generosity of performance as well, she’s often to be found doing back-up dancing and singing during her colleagues’ numbers: a rare sight from a lead in a musical and a very welcome one.

One of its main strengths is that it is cast almost perfectly, not just with the leads but amongst the supporting roles as well. Aoife Mulholland (who appears to be pure muscle) made a great impact as the accused Brooke, singing effortlessly whilst skipping which can’t be easy; Alex Gaumond's scruffy love interest is perfectly charming; Susan MacFadden brought great warmth to Elle’s cheerleading buddy; Jill Halfpenny’s lovelorn Paulette is funny and gets a brief hilarious opportunity to show off her dancing skills; Peter Davison as the sleazy legal profesor; Caroline Keiff’s icy Vivienne is nicely played too, I could go on! In fact the only real mis-step for me is Duncan James, he’s not bad, but his singing is so pop that it really does stand out and I do wonder what level of heartthrobness he actually brings to the show.

This care for the casting has also been extended to the rest of the company, even the swings, with a diversity of look which really works as it means that a different and authentic feel can be achieved in all of the scenes. One of Priscilla’s weaknesses was that the highly tanned, very muscular look that seemed to be the prerequisite and which looked fantastic in the outlandish costumes struggled to convince when trying to play the very essence of Australian heterosexual blokehood.

In the end, it is just really good fun: funny throughout with good original songs, but it is also tethered to an engaging story and the message of not judging people on first appearance and of the potential of self-discovery cheesy as it sounds, elevates this above the crowd of jukebox musicals. The fact that I am still beaming thinking about this show, more than 24 hours after I saw it, is testament enough for me that this is a winner. Omigod you guys, snaps for everyone, gays and Europeans!
Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes, with one interval
Programme: £6(!) and there’s cocktails in flashing glasses for £8 but resist them, I have flashing ice cubes and flashing shot glasses from previous Christmasses languishing in a drawer...you will never use it again!
NB: There's a lottery held before each show to get top price tickets for a tenner until the 13th January and for £25 thereafter, just turn up two hours before the show starts, pick up a ticket and then cross your fingers!

Cast of Legally Blonde continued

Cast of Legally Blonde continued

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Review: Generous, Finborough


"What do you think politics is? It's 'a little bit here' and 'a little bit there', it's all short-term measures."
Generous, by Michael Healey, won the Best New Play award in its native Canada in 2007 but has been somewhat neglected here in the UK, so the Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court with its long tradition of supporting Canadian playwrights has given it its first full run.
Structurally, it is described as 2 four-act plays which is just a fancy way of saying there’s four stories on show here. It’s an examination of altruism, the desire to help people and the motivations behind this. The first act of each story makes up the first half and then after we return from the interval, we see the concluding parts, some of which take place 15 years later, and suddenly we see that these disparate stories actually have some connections.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Review: Red, Donmar Warehouse

"One day the black will swallow the red"

Red, at the Donmar Warehouse, is a new play by John Logan about abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) and his fictional new apprentice (Eddie Redmayne) and is spread over a couple of years so that we get a chance to see how their relationship progresses from that of master and pupil to something more as we come a crucial point in Rothko's career: his acceptance of a massive commercial commission for the Four Seasons restaurant.

Alfred Molina is mesmerising as the darkly intense painter, his unpredictable eruptions are convincingly protrayed, his flawed confidence in himself unshakeable and he is evenly matched by Eddie Redmayne whose portrayal of the intimidated apprentice with his own personal demons. We see him growing into someone unafraid to challenge his master, unwilling to let Rothko off the hook and hence matches Molina's energy with a wiry burgeoning intellect. Swiftly directed, it's over in just over an hour and a half and I never once got bored, the lighting is also an excellent contributing factor to this, helping the canvases to pulsate as Rothko desired and constantly drawing the eye in, shedding a whole new light (pardon the pun) on his work for me.


Thursday, 7 January 2010

Review: Innocence, Arcola

"I, confused by this white dialectic..."

Opening a season of German plays at the Arcola Theatre is Dea Loher's Innocence and I attended the first preview last night. Translated by David Tushingham, it is a series of vignettes about people struggling along on the edge of society, separate stories that slowly being to intertwine to form a portrait of a dark and depressed urban existence.

Things get off to a very sticky start with a horribly awkward scene where two characters consistently refer to themselves and their actions in the third person, whilst the other character delivers her lines in a regular manner. The cumulative effect of this is disorientating and really quite annoying, I was most definitely not a fan of this style, fortunately the rest of the first half was free from this strange device. It does recur for one scene in Act 2 but the rest is mercifully delivered straight. One would imagine things will be tightened up before opening night, the current running time is 2 hours 45 minutes which could be shaved down with a much needed injection of pace into the second half, bhe main problem though for me was the lack of a dramatic hook to bring the piece together. The different strands amble slowly throughout the play, some of them connecting, some remaining discrete, but it lacks a defining moment to bring it all together and make it genuinely coherent and as it currently is, there's not enough energy driving the stories along.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Review: Rise and Fall of Little Voice

"You have to speak up, Little Voice"
The last time I saw Diana Vickers was in the less than salubrious surroundings of the delightful Nightingales nightclub in Birmingham and I was less than sober. Having just been evicted from the X-Factor semifinals, one might have expected the predictable slide into obscurity but she surprised many when announced as the titular character in this revival of
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.

The story is of the painfully shy LV who lives a hermit-like existence at home with her horrendous mother, Mari, and her only release is singing along to the vinyl records of female singers left to her by her deceas
ed father. She has a prodigious talent for this which is only recognised by one of her mother's latest pickups who then sees this as an opportunity to be exploited for his own personal gain. Despite the name of the play, this is Mari's show. Sharp opens with a 20 minute blast of self-absorbed narcissism which exposes the full heartlessness of her character and she only becomes more vindictive as we and LV progress. It is stunning to watch, but sadly becomes a little repetitive, a fault of the play rather than Sharp though.

Vickers is actually really good: sufficiently frail and sparrow-like in her shapeless clothes to genuinely surprise when such a big voice emerges from within, and her opening Judy Garland number made the hairs on my arms stand on end. Indeed most of her mimicking is excellent, only Piaf was (quite some considerable way) beyond her. Elsewhere I really enjoyed Marc Warren's hustler on the make, sleazy and manipulative in some lovely cowboy boots, but
the hidden star of the show for me was Rachel Lumberg's Sadie. Friend to Mari, she stole practically every scene she was in with a bare minimum of lines and a great gift of doing the splits. Her drunken acting scene in particular was genius and had me focused entirely on her throughout, despite all the action and lines taking place elsewhere on the stage!


I did enjoy this, but somehow it didn't quite add up to the full sum of its parts for me. It's too long which wears the patience due to the abrasive nature of much of it, and having the antagonists of Mari and Ray as the main protagonists just doesn't work, even when the performance is as strong as the one Sharp gives here. Still, it was an entertaining diversion, the revolving house set does look really good, but I think I'd recommend renting the dvd instead.

Review: The Waste Land, Wilton's Music Hall

"Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow"
Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner first performed T.S. Eliot's 1922 poem
The Waste Land here at Wilton's Music Hall back in 1997 and have returned to these special surroundings as part of the fundraising initiatives trying to keep this interesting venue open and in a usable state of repair. It is presented simply in the crumbling main hall and given a great sense of atmosphere by Jean Kalman's beautiful and effective lighting, the shapes and shadows thrown behind Shaw are endlessly interesting.

But this is Shaw's show and it is a magisterial performance, it's 40 minutes of intense showmanship giving her the opportunity to stretch her vocal muscles as she inhabits all of the different images, ghosts and characters of this work. Shaw effortlessly evokes the multitude of locations contained within Eliot's work, taking us on a quite a journey in a way I never imagined a poetry recital could: a personal favourite was the scene where she brought to life the entire populace of a noisy London pub, quite spellbinding.

Not being familiar with the poem, it did feel a little overwhelming at times. I could have done with proper pauses between each of the five sections to fully absorb it all and luxuriate in what had just been seen, but as it is, there's just so much thrown at you in a short space of time, I'm sure there's bits I've already forgotten! Still, this was a magical experience and once again, a great use of this venue.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

"Everyone likes to dress up, wear some sequins, get in touch with their feminine side...apart from lesbians that is"

When I found out a great Canadian friend who just happens to be a huge musicals fan was stopping in town briefly in the festive season, I had little doubt of what would be the best thing for us to see:
Priscilla Queen of the Desert. For this is not a show about about subtlety: using a carefully judged collection of familiar pop songs, some amazing costumes and a production design team whose maxim was clearly 'more more more', this is a fun-packed, crowd-pleasing spectacular that was the perfect anecdote to the horrible weather.

It's based on the film of the same name, where three ill-matched drag performers take a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs to meet up with the estranged wife and son of one of them, and little has been changed. Of the three leads, Tony Sheldon is superb as the transexual Bernadette, armed with a lifetime's collection of quick one-liners, a steady grace and an unerring conviction in who she is. The trumpet anecdote is one of the funniest things you will hear all year and Sheldon's performance holds the show together, elevating it beyond a series of drag turns. He is matched by Oliver Thornton as the overtly flamboyant Felicia who sweeps onto the stage in a spectacular opening number and almost steals the show again with the culmination of his particular journey. His performance practically reinvents the word camp but crucially he reminds us of the boy beneath the make-up throughout, and the relationship between Felicia and Bernadette is nicely portrayed with their acidic barbs finally making way for a grudging respect. By comparison, I found Jason Donovan underpowered and horribly affected, his campisms were way OTT, it looked like he thought he was in a pantomime.

There's no attempt to really mine any emotional depth here, many of the key issues raised are skated over smoothly and that is probably right, given the atmosphere of this show. It is a party, and it all lends the one genuinely moving moment, Tick reuniting with his son over a tenderly sung duet, all the more emotional wallop. My only real bugbear, Jason Donovan's mannerisms aside, was the lingering doubt of how much real singing we were hearing in the theatre. It may just have been the sound design but hardly any of it sounded live, not to say that it wasn't but rather that I prefer my live singing to be a bit more obvious.

I've kept the specifics of this review a little vague as if you haven't seen it already, there's tons of pleasure in discovering the next tune you hear or the next outrageous costume to appear, even the arrival of the amazing singing divas, and I want people to experience that as I did. If you're suffering from the January blues, then you could do a lot worse than grabbing a few friends and making a trip on Priscilla yourselves.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The first fosterIAN awards: a summary

So here we have it, the results of the first fosterIAN™ awards, themselves the fruit of a great year of theatre-going in which I rather suspect the fine line between passion and obsession has become somewhat blurred! Hey-ho, there's 12 plays booked so far for January so I think I know which side is winning! Happy new year.

Best Play
The Roman Tragedies, Barbican

Best Fringe Play
Public Property, Trafalgar Studios 2

Best Actor in a Play
Hans Kesting, The Roman Tragedies

Best Actress in a Play
Rachel Weisz, A Streetcar Named Desire
Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Andrew Scott, Cock

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Rebecca Hall, The Winter's Tale
Best Musical
Hello, Dolly!

Best Actor in a Musical
Simon Burke, La Cage aux Folles

 Best Actress in a Musical
Samantha Spiro, Hello, Dolly!

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Oliver Thornton, Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Josefina Gabrielle, Hello, Dolly!

Most versatile actor
Tie: Nancy Carroll, Arcadia + Twelfth Night and Simon Burke, When the Rain Stops Falling + La Cage aux Folles

Best success in the face of adversity
Helen Dallimore, Too Close To The Sun

Closest move to Damehood
Imelda Staunton

Leading man of the year
Elliot Cowan

Best Play/Best Musical

Best Play

The Roman Tragedies, Barbican
On paper, it shouldn’t have worked: 6 hours of 3 Shakespeare plays back-to-back performed in Dutch, but this was one of the most exhilarating theatrical experiences one could have imagined. Genuinely innovative: using live-video footage effectively and creatively, inviting the audience onto the stage to watch from sofas there, but supplemented with acting of a first-rate degree, often so good you didn’t even need the surtitles to understand what was being said. On top of that, it made three of Shakespeare's longest plays feel fresh, new and directly relevant to issues of the nature of democracy in our world today: it must come back!

Honourable mention
Our Class, National Theatre
One of the most important new plays written in recent years: a painful, brutal account of the horrors perpetrated in wartime but also of how those actions continue to reverberate through the years and most importantly a reminder of what humans are capable of when caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Beautifully staged, hauntingly acted, this is a play that will remain with me for a long time.

Arcadia, Duke of York’s
Cock, Royal Court
A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar Warehouse
When the Rain Stops Falling, Almeida
Best Fringe* Play

Public Property, Trafalgar Studios 2
Sam Peter Jackson's dark comedy managed the rare feat of being exactly that: both dark and comic in the right measure and in plentiful supply. In the intimate space of the Trafalgar Studios basement, the rapid-fire quips left me constantly in stitches whilst the manipulative, duplicitous plot raised questions about the celebrity-hungry world in which we now live, a play which has improved in my estimation since seeing it.

Honourable mention
The Spanish Tragedy, Arcola
It is well-established that fringe theatre is generally more daring and able to take creative risks than the West End, but rarely is it done with such elan and style as by this Mitchell Moreno-directed version of The Spanish Tragedy. Utilising elements of Japanese puppet theatre and video sparingly enhanced this sparse production to a new level, and a range of inventive ways to suggest the extreme levels of gore found a strange beauty amongst all the horrific death.

Frank's Closet, Hoxton Hall
The Last Five Years, Duchess
The Pietà, St John’s Piccadilly
Edmond, Wilton’s Music Hall
Best Musical

Hello, Dolly!, Regents Park Open Air Theatre
As happy and delightful as musicals can get. Completely old-school and refreshingly free of any postmodern ironic touches, I saw this outdoors on a unseasonably cold, rainy late August night and it filled me with such warmth and joy I could have sat right through it again (though perhaps with a blanket!)

Honourable mention
La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse Theatre
Run a close second with Priscilla, but any musical that can tempt me back time after time (3 trips for me this year) has to be acknowledged. With some canny casting decisions that kept audiences coming back and regular changes to arrest any flagging numbers, this musical remained a delight for me. A happy, proud show but with as sweet a love story at the centre of it as ever you will see. Such a shame that it is now closed but I hope it does well on Broadway.

The Last Five Years
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Sister Act
Sweet Charity

Best success in the face of adversity, and Damehood

Best success in the face of adversity

Helen Dallimore, Too Close To The Sun
Cynics might think I created this category specifically so that Too Close To The Sun could win something, and they might be right. The particular performance that I witnessed involved what can only be described as "tablegate", so not only did they have to put up with delivering one of the worst musicals ever created, the cast in particular Helen Dallimore, had to contend with a collapsing wicker chest and the funniest case of ongoing corpsing I've ever seen. It made what would have been a tragedy into an 'event' and one which I feel privileged to have been part of!

Honourable mention
The cast of Madame de Sade
Miranda Richardson, Grasses of a Thousand Colours
When the Donmar West End season was announced, my eyes were immediately drawn to the third play, the only one to feature an all-female cast and one of such calibre that Iwas eagerly anticipating Madame de Sade. What a shame that this was the only mis-step in a excellent season: a turgid, laborious piece that not even a Dame could rescue.
And there needs to be some recognition of the indignities suffered upon Ms Richardson, cast as a lover of Wallace Shawn in a play written by the self-same Wallace Shawn, he had her pretending to be a cat and licking his bald head.

Closest move to damehood

Imelda Staunton
Parading all her wares us to laugh at in Entertaining Mr Sloane, Imelda Staunton showed great fortitude and continued a legacy of fine fine performances on the stage (which, combined with her efforts in Cranford) means that a place on the Queen's list must surely be hers soon.

Celia Imrie
Fiona Shaw
Juliet Stevenson

Best Actor in a Play/in a Musical


Best Actor in a Play

Hans Kesting, The Roman Tragedies
As Mark Antony in The Roman Tragedies, Hans Kesting was an intense revelation, a commanding leading man: passionate, rousing and above all virile, his explosive sexual chemistry with Cleopatra genuinely palpable. That he did all of this in Dutch with a newly broken leg, either from a wheelchair or with a crutch, just added to the frisson of excitement. To witness an actor throwing so much of himself into a role and committing so thoroughly was an absolute privilege and one that I truly hope to witness again, in Dutch, English or whatever language he chooses to speak!
Honourable mention
Jude Law, Hamlet
One's first Hamlet should always be a special one, and I was lucky enough to have had the Talented Mr Law as mine. Having avoided ever seeing it before, I was finally tempted by the Donmar West End's production. Roundly denounced as a piece of stunt casting long before the first performance and following on from David Tennant's largely praised run earlier in the year, Jude Law proved his critics seriously wrong with a beautifully impassioned performance, incredibly dark, intense and even morbid at times, I finally understood why it is considered one of 'the' roles for an actor to play.

Dominic Rowan, The Spanish Tragedy
David Troughton, Inherit the Wind
Dan Stevens, Arcadia
Henry Goodman, Duet For One
Best Actor in a Musical
Simon Burke, La Cage aux Folles
Playing against John Barrowman in anything might seem like an unenviable task, not least in this pinkest of shows, but Simon Burke was more than equal to the job in matching La Barrowman's excesses and constantly reminding us of the warm heart beating beneath the feathers and the spangles of this show. Redefining the central relationship was a necessity due to the younger ages of this iteration of the cast and it was interesting to see the sexual dynamic between the two played up, there was no question who wore the trousers on top of this relationship though, Burke's Georges was wickedly comic and flirtatious and ultimately highly watchable.

Honourable mention
Carl Mullaney, Frank's Closet
Switching effortlessly between a fine selection of divas and belting out their classics may seem like a regular gig for many a drag act or gay karaoke night, but nowhere was it done with more panache than at the delightful Hoxton Hall in Frank's Closet by Carl Mullaney. Lightning quick changes, a strong mellifluous voice, this was also an incredible demonstration of physical theatre in how he captured the different mannerisms and movements of each of the divas.

Roger Allam, La Cage aux Folles
Mark Umbers, Sweet Charity
Aneurin Barnard, Spring Awakening
Tony Sheldon, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Best Actress in a Play/in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Rachel Weisz, A Streetcar Named Desire
In a year full of strong female performances, not least just at the Donmar Warehouse, Rachel Weisz's Blanche Dubois took this well-established character and gave it a whole new spin, but one which worked perfectly. Using Weisz's (allegedly fading) looks to the full, this was a Blanche whose lonely desperation was heartbreaking to watch, yet to the end full of a grace that couldn't be dimmed.

Honourable mentions

Phoebe Nicholls/Lisa Dillon, When The Rain Stops Falling
Chris Nietvelt,
The Roman Tragedies
I'm cheating here as I found this my hardest category to decide. Nicholls and Dillon were superb playing older/younger versions of the same character, with beautifully nuanced performances which reflected each other subtly and were incredibly moving.
And I had to include Chris Nietvelt as her Cleopatra (and indeed her hysterical cameo as the newsreader in Coriolanus) was a tour de force in intense acting, transcending linguistic barriers and revealing the beating heart of the Egyptian queen.

Imelda Staunton, Entertaining Mr Sloane
Juliet Stevenson, Duet For One
Anna Chancellor, The Observer


Best Actress in a Musical


Samantha Spiro, Hello, Dolly!Bursting with an infectious vitality and as cheery a disposition you'll find this side of the rainbow, Samantha Spiro's titular Dolly shone with such brilliance that I didn't mind the cold and wet at the Open Air Theatre and would happily have sat through it all again no matter how unseasonably chilly it was.


Honourable mentionJulie Atherton, The Last Five YearsEchoing the Ginger Rogers quote about how she did everything Fred did but backwards and in heels, Julie Atherton had the harder job in two-hander The Last Five Years, having to tell the story of the troubled relationship in reverse, but she is such a skilled performer she had the audience in tears and caring deeply for her pain within 5 minutes. I look forward to the day when she gets the huge recognition she deserves, she really is one of the most accomplished actresses in Britain at the moment.

Melanie Chisholm, Blood Brothers
Donna King, Frank's Closet
Patina Miller, Sister Act
Tamzin Outhwaite, Sweet Charity

Best Supporting Actor in a Play/in a Musical


Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Andrew Scott, Cock

In a late challenge for this award, Andrew Scott's performance in Cock was truly astounding for me: I've rarely seen an actor so fully at ease with his lines that it feels genuinely like he's not even acting. In the strange cock-fighting-inspired pit, there was nowhere to hide, for actor nor audience, meaning we could bear witness to the considerable intensity of this performance down to the last tear on his cheek.

Honourable mention
Simon Paisley-Day, Entertaining Mr Sloane
The sight of the closetted Ed salivating over the leather-trouser clad Mr Sloane was a highlight of the year even back in February and Paisley-Day's chemistry with Dame-to-be Imelda Staunton made this play crackle with more twisted hilarity than even Joe Orton migth have dreamed of.

Mark Dexter, Inherit the Wind
Tom Goodman-Hill, Enron
Ethan Hawke, The Winter's Tale
Barnaby Kay, A Streetcar Named Desire
Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Oliver Thornton, Priscilla Queen of the DesertThreatening to steal the show with his every number, Thornton's camptastic Felicia is a sheer riot to watch. Perfectly toned, shockingly limber, obsessed with Kylie and armed with the most vicious of tongues, we also never lose sight of the boy beneath the make-up and his growing chemistry with Tony Sheldon's Bernadette is a thing of beauty to watch through its ups and downs.
Honourable mention

Daniel Crossley, Hello, Dolly!As is probably apparent by now, I loved practically everything about Hello, Dolly! And as Cornelius Hackl, Daniel Crossley was a delight. His learning to dance scenes were hysterical and Put On Your Sunday Clothes with its choreography is close to being one of the happiest thing I've ever seen.

Rowan Atkinson, Oliver!
Clive Carter, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
John Marquez, Annie Get Your Gun
Jason Pennycooke, La Cage aux Folles

Most versatile actor of the year

This late addition of a category came out of a couple of things: one a conversation over Christmas mainly about how many of the actors in Cranford I had seen onstage this year but in non-bonnety roles and the realisation whilst watching Twelfth Night that I had seen onstage more than once this year. Hence this award: it's necessarily limited by the number of plays I've seen this year but is still a bit of fun.

Most versatile actor
Nancy Carroll,
Arcadia & Twelfth Night / Simon Burke, When The Rain Stops Falling & La Cage aux Folles

From the aristocratic Lady Croom in Arcadia to the convincingly boyish Viola in Twelfth Night, Nancy Carroll impressed me immensely with her range this year, playing flirtatious, upper-class hauteur with as much dexterity as Shakespeare's ambiguous, lovelorn twin.
And in equal first, demonstrating just as much versatility is Simon Burke: the very essence of Australian heterosexual blokeishness in When the Rain Stops Falling, he was barely recognisable as the same actor singing his heart out and flirting with all the boys in La Cage aux Folles


Honourable mention
Toby Jones, Every Boy Deserves Good Favour & Parlour Song
From the tormented prisoner with an orchestra in his head to a suburban husband with a cheating wife, Toby Jones displayed a full array of dramtic skills, with a particularly delicious show of comic acting in the latter, with razor-sharp timing and bags full of charisma.

Joseph Millson, Judgment Day & The Priory
James Fleet, The Observer & Twelfth Night
Elliot Cowan,
A Streetcar Named Desire & Edmond
Samantha Spiro, Twelfth Night & Hello, Dolly!