Saturday, 31 January 2015

Saturday afternoon music treats

The Jeremy Joseph clip from last week was a huge success, not least in combine so many of my favourite things, and so I couldn't help but investigate more of the numbers from Broadway loves Céline Dion.

Jeremy Joseph + Ashley Spencer - Beauty and the Beast

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo

“I sometimes think I’d rather be fancied than liked”

The Donmar Warehouse’s production of My Night With Reg opened last year under a cloud of some sadness as playwright Kevin Elyot passed away just as rehearsals were starting. As it transfers to the West End into the Apollo Theatre, it finds itself surrounded by a different kind of cloud, one of prurient controversy as TfL banned the publicity image for the show (two variations of which I have kindly provided for you here) forcing them to reissue a picture sans arsecheek. (That this Bulk Powders advert somehow passed muster seems baffling – I’d love to know the full reasoning behind both decisions.)

That it provided a sneaky bit of extra guerilla advertising can't have hurt, as when a similar thing happened to the Globe's recent production of 'Tis Pity She's A Whore, and it is a play that thoroughly deserves it. I ranked it in my top 25 of last year (out of over 380 shows) and my original review can be read here. And thanks to the lovely people at Official Theatre and Seat Plan, I was glad to have the opportunity to spend another Night With Reg and get my heart gently but surely broken all over again. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Review: The Talented Mr Ripley, New Diorama

“Do you like our new refrigerator?”

For an ensemble company that is so focused on, well, the ensemble, The Talented Mr Ripley seems a curious choice for The Faction to include in their 2015 rep season. Patricia Highsmith’s tale of homoerotic obsession, impersonation, murder and swanky new fridges features a tour-de-force performance from Christopher Hughes as Tom Ripley at its heart but in the final analysis, it doesn’t always feel like a show that really plays to the strengths and artistic potential of this group of actors and creatives. 

Part of the issue seems to flow from the literalness of Mark Leipacher’s adaptation which runs at nearly three hours with the interval coming at the first hour mark. As you can imagine it thus retains much of the integrity, and detail, of Highsmith’s novel but it also consequently lacks theatricality. So many key story points are endlessly repeated – the day trips where Ripley gets ever closer to the luminous DIckie Greenleaf, the highly symbolic luggage that he carries with him, the various policemen who chase him through Italy – to little cumulative impact.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Review: Dara, National Theatre

"I am Muslim, but my humanness is shared with anyone and everyone. If we choose to love one special person, does it mean that they are the only person worth loving? 'To you, your religion, to me, mine'. 'There is no obligation in religion' - straight from the Quran. We cannot force our religion upon others."

For all the gnashing of teeth about how ‘national’ Rufus Norris’ newly announced debut season as AD at the NT is or isn’t, there’s actually something much more significant happening right now as part of Nicholas Hytner’s finale. The press attention may be on Tom Stoppard’s return to the stage but over in the Lyttelton, the first South Asian play to run at this South Bank venue is doing that most idealised of theatrical practices – reaching out and engaging with new audiences. 

I saw a preview of Shahid Nadeem’s Dara and I was blown away at how mixed a crowd I was taking my seat with – there’s undoubtedly a more sophisticated debate to be had about people wanting to see stories they can directly connect with rather than being more adventurous but still, it felt like a significant enough matter that I wanted to make mention of. And as critics will be seeing the show with a more than likely traditional press night audience, it isn’t something they’ll necessarily pick up on.

Cast of Dara continued


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Review: Oppenheimer, Swan

"We could make a star on the surface of the Earth"

Michael Billington notes in his Guardian review that John Heffernan’s work in the title role in Tom Morton-Smith’s Oppenheimer will “elevate [him] to star-status” but to those of us in the know, he’s long been held in such lofty acclaim. From supporting roles in a wide range of interesting productions to taking the lead in Richard II and Edward II, he has steadily revealed himself as an actor of consummate skill and strength and I make no bones in asserting that he is truly the Dame Judi Dench of his generation.

And as ‘Oppie’, the leader of the Manhattan Project and as such the father of the atomic bomb, he really does live up to the billing. There’s such an easy personability about him that is a perfect introduction to a man who is a brilliant physicist, irresistible to women and surrounded by friends as they rail against 1930s fascism in Spain. But where the dexterity comes is in showing us how the weight of such increasingly terrible responsibility haunted and conflicted him in different ways – professionally, personally, philosophically, psychologically. 

Cast of Oppenheimer continued



Saturday, 24 January 2015

Saturday afternoon music treats

Anna Kendrick - Life Upon The Wicked Stage
With The Last Five Years still not having a release date for UK cinemas, I thought I'd treat us all to a little Kendrick and Jordan action to tide us over. This inspired Showboat/Cabaret mash-up sees a 12 year old Kendrick showing off her already considerable MT chops.


Jeremy Jordan - It's All Coming Back To Me Now
LOVE. HIM!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Some initial points of interest* about The Hard Problem at National Theatre

  • Damien Molony looking cute in a cardigan
  • The line “she was milking the family buffalo at 8” is mentioned. It is a winner.
  • Damien Molony looking strangely alluring in a lady’s shorty robe
  • Olivia Vinall looks to be the new Hattie Morahan, and delivers the leading role here with a delightful mixture of charm and confidence – nice to see her outwith Shakespearean damsel mode for once
  • Damien Molony’s thighs in said robe. *swoons*
  • Stoppard hasn’t reined in his tendency to lay his research bare. Not sure what a hedge fund is? A character conveniently asks the question to allow an explanation… Nor is there a huge deal of sophistication in his plotting, the twists that come seem rather obvious (though this could possibly have been his intention)
  • Damien Molony in his boxers
  • The play does have some meaty, fascinating aspects to it though, pairing up thoughtful forays into God versus science and the mind versus the brain, whilst also delving into the financial markets, research ethics and the vagaries of human behaviour, especially under pressure. Heaven only knows what those who've done their homework will make of it, for me it could do with exploiting the emotional angle more fully.
  • For all his hotness, Damien Molony could really do with enunciating and projecting a little better.
  • And plus ça change at the Dorfman/Cottesloe as in its end-on configuration, Row S clearly stands for severely restricted view - the cheap seats in the gallery on the right hand side (looking at the stage) cut off an area where Hytner frustratingly places actors on a regular basis. Even leaning didn’t really help. And with all the recent renovation work, it’s surprising the NT hasn’t managed to put signs up to Door C or Row S (or indeed placed ushers on that level to help out customers).
  • I continue to love Lucy Robinson, my first ever Lady Macbeth, even when she's forced to swear like she's in a Richard Curtis film.
  • Some gorgeous brainwave and synapse-inspired design work by Bob Crowley and lighting designer Mark Henderson make it visually arresting, though the reliance on the piano soundtrack felt a little clichéd and uninspired. Press go in on Wednesday though it is hard to imagine, that with this being Hytner's directorial swansong as Artistic Director and Stoppard's first new play in nine years, that a certain air of benevolence won't characterise a goodly portion of the critical responses. If you've been already, let me know what you thought of it. 
*Yes, shallowness abounds but hey, it's Friday night.
Show information can be found here
Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 16th April (though new dates to be released in next booking period and returns often pop up)



Review: King Lear, Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

“Hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowl”

In something of a coup, Guildford Shakespeare Company’s leading man for their production of King Lear is none other than Brian Blessed. And with his daughter Rosalind playing Goneril too. The play’s opening this week was a little overshadowed by the actor’s collapse during the final preview performance, but with the redoubtable resilience we have come to expect from this totemic figure (and perhaps unfairly so, he is 78 after all), he continued with the show after a 20 minute break. So three days later, it was with a little trepidation that we took our seats in the Holy Trinity Church in Guildford (cushion recommended!).

But we needn’t have worried, Brian Blessed giving his King Lear was exactly how you’d imagine Brian Blessed giving his King Lear would be. For better and for worse. There’s a real thrill in seeing him throw himself so fully into the cantankerous cruelty and wild abandon that characterises Lear’s breakdown - every howl, headshake and handwring is vastly exaggerated and is so unmistakeably him. But this comes at the loss of much subtlety, if not wailing he’s whispering with inbetween, which ultimately becomes a little exhausting whilst remaining trashily enjoyable. I mean look at the poster, what you want is Brian Blessed doing exactly what Brian Blessed does. 

Cast of King Lear continued



Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Playhouse

“The car’s ok but where’s the wheels...?”

The Broadway production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was less than a stellar success so it is little surprise that it is a majorly reworked version of the show that has opened at the Playhouse Theatre four years later. But even after all the reconstruction and renovation that has been done to Jeffrey Lane’s book and David Yazbek’s score, it is hard to feel that director Bartlett Sher has really nailed it here either.

For something based on a Pedro Almodóvar film, there’s a shocking uncertainty of tone, or more accurately a lack of any real sense of tone at all. The story in set in late 80s Madrid but there’s little concession to either this particular decade or country (though there is bafflingly one incongruously Hispanic accent). One could argue that this is a wise decision but the issue lies in that no overarching conceit of any substance has replaced it.

Cast of Women on the Verge... continued



Sunday, 18 January 2015

Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Royal Exchange

“That thing went bang, kaboom. And he’s havin’ some fun now”

There are shows I love and then there are shows I LOVE and Little Shop of Horrors most definitely falls into that latter category. I fell for its undeniable charms when I was 11 or 12 I think, when my mum was involved in her school production of it, letting me wander backstage, and the MD, who was also my piano teacher, snuck out a copy of Alan Menken's most tuneful of scores to enliven my lessons for a good few weeks. Combined with the cult classic that is the movie version, I was utterly hooked and have remained so ever since. So I was most delighted to see the Royal Exchange announcing it as their festive fare and with the ever-exciting Derek Bond directing, who in recent years has delivered a bewitching As You Like It, the hugely under-rated Many Moons and Lost in Yonkers, through which I cried pretty much non-stop.

The gloriously rich vocal harmonies of Ibinabo Jack, Ellena Vincent and Joelle Moses as Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette, the girl-group Greek chorus who doo-wop their premonitions of doom, are an ever-present and magnificent hook into the action and never more so than in the stellar one-two that opens the show. ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is a stone-cold classic theme tune with its shang-a-langs and throaty comma comma commas but ‘Skid Row’ – one of my all-time favourite songs from a musical, I should add – blooms into resplendent life, benefitting from a slightly slowed tempo and some sympatico choreography to really nail the air of quiet desperation that lies at the song’s heart as we're introduced to this classic "boy-meets-girl-feeds-plant-her-boyfriend-gets-famous-kills-boss-sacrifices-girl-and-dies" story. Oh yeah, spoiler alert ;-) 

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Review: Upper Cut, Southwark Playhouse

“I have to be a politician, who ‘happens’ to be black. Not a black man who ‘happens’ to be a politician”

Within the first ten minutes, Juliet Gilkes Romero’s Upper Cut has gone through the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, race riots, and stop and search to name just a few of the hot button topics around race in this country and this is unfortunately symptomatic of a play that is underpinned by a huge amount of research yet also overladen by it. Her tale tracks the divergent careers of two black British politicians over the last 25 years – Michael rising from militant beginnings to the deputy leadership, Karen unable to reconcile her zeal with the strictures of an institutionally racist political system. 

Difficulties come from all sides though. Its structural tricksiness – the story is told in reverse - has no dramatic imperative, politicians shifting position throughout their career is hardly novel and even the contrasting directions of Karen and Michael adds little interest. And the uneven spacing of the scenes – the first five bound from November 2012 to June 1987 whilst the next five crawl through to September 1986 – has a deathly impact on the pace of the play’s later stages.

Saturday afternoon music treats

Cassidy Janson + Sam Hallion – Safe (from Cheri the Musical)
A couple more tracks from the intriguing sounding Cheri the Musical blessed by some top notch performers.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Review: Othello, Lyric Hammersmith

“What, man! 'tis a night of revels"

At the hint of something daring and innovative in a production of one of Shakespeare’s plays, it is all too easy to fall back on the truism that it probably isn’t for purists – heaven knows I was guilty of it just last week. But whereas not all adaptations necessarily work that well, Frantic Assembly’s brutal and breathless reimagining of Othello – arriving at the Lyric Hammersmith after a UK tour - is exactly the type of thing that purists should be made to see as a thrilling example of how powerful and effective an interpretation can be. 

And that is what this Othello is in the end. To start counting the characters who’ve been excised, noting which speeches are spoken by someone else or which plot details have been omitted is to utterly miss the point. Adaptors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett have brilliantly managed to take the play apart, capture its essence but then reconstruct it into something familiar but new. Full-length traditional productions (of variable quality) are two-a-penny but oh so rarely is Shakespeare this pulsating and compelling and visceral and modern. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Review: Bat Boy The Musical, Southwark Playhouse

“Don’t talk like a slut, dear”

It seems scarcely credible that Bat Boy The Musical ever opened in a West End house – its scuzzy, B-movie schtick seems custom-designed for the fringe world and it is decently served by Luke Fredericks’ production here, for Morphic Graffiti at the Southwark Playhouse. Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming’s book was inspired by a spoof story in an American tabloid which spoke of a creature that was half-boy and half-bat, and imagines what happens when a local family takes him in under their wing in the insular town of Hope Falls, West Virginia.

Rob Compton’s Bat Boy is first found in the depths of a cave by some trouble-making teenagers who capture him after a brief struggle in which one of their number is injured. Bat Boy has been down there for years – with some pretty nifty gym equipment judging by his abs – but once placed in the care of Sheriff Reynolds and his family, finds himself longing to join society. With the help of the motherly Meredith and moody daughter Shelley, he learns to speak and to modify his blood-thirsty behaviour, but soon finds that not even the most cut-glass BBC accent can defeat small-mindedness at its very worst.

Review: Singin’ in the Rain, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“I’ve a smile on my face”

As unlikely as it may seem, you could easily make the case that some of the best musical theatre happening in London right now is taking place above a pub in Highgate. John and Katie Plews’ Ovation Productions have a sterling record in small-scale smash-hit musicals at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre and their festive shows are usually the pick of the bunch. This winter sees them take on the perennial classic Singin’ in the Rain and naturally, it is a gloriously resounding success. And yes, of course there is rain – you gotta go to see how they do it though.

The key to the Plews’ triumph lies in the uncanny ability to both distil and reimagine Broadway classics perfectly for this 120-or-so seat space and often in traverse. That means choreography (from Chris Whittaker) so audacious that audiences applaud mid-song, that means design (by Sarah June Mills) that hits all the key notes – a lamppost to lean on, steps to hop up and down on, seats to tip back – without cluttering the stage, that means musical direction (from Matt Ramplin, leading a band of six) unafraid to just exude Broadway pizzazz as it delivers the superbly evergreen score. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Review: Pig Girl, Finborough

“Turn your head and you’ll see me”

Colleen Murphy’s Armstrong’s War remains one of the best new plays I’ve seen in recent years and that it hasn’t returned to these shores since its initial Sunday/Monday run at the Finborough in 2013 is an absolute travesty. In the meantime, we do now have the opportunity to see another of Murphy’s plays – 2012’s Pig Girl – which comes freighted with a different sense of expectation, as its premiere in Edmonton, Alberta was mired in controversy and sparked fervent protests at its perceived cultural appropriation. (An excellent précis can be read here.)

The play was inspired by a horrifically true story of a Canadian pig farmer and serial killer who was convicted of six murders but implicated in dozens more – his preferred victim being sex workers of aboriginal descent, a section of society too easily ignored and neglected, allowing him to literally get away with murder. Murphy depersonalises her story though, elevating it to near-mythical status in order to give a voice to the thousands of women, so many of them nameless, whose lives have been impacted by senseless violence.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I'm just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard's case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I've cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I'm recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Productions I’ve already seen elsewhere and highly recommend




Musicals to make the heart beat faster


  • Sheffield Theatre's Christmas show Anything Goes kicks off a massive UK tour in Wimbledon
  • The first professional production of Bugsy Malone in a decade will enliven the Lyric Hammersmith
  • One of the fondest remembered shows of my childhood, Return to the Forbidden Planet also tours extensively
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole continues Leicester's Curve's sterling commitment to new British musical theatre
  • And opening now at the Southwark Playhouse is the hugely promising Bat Boy The Musical, featuring the return of the glorious Lauren Ward to our shores 


Plays I know and love receiving new productions


  • Ivo van Hove directing Juliette Binoche in Antigone at the Barbican. Enough said.
  • It's won't, can't, live up to Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson (can it?!) but in great news, Nick Payne's Constellations will tour the UK in 2015. The only date I've found thus far is Liverpool in May but more info will soon be coming
  • After an underwhelming cinematic adaptation, Laura Wade's Posh also receives its regional premiere in a co-production from Nottingham Playhouse and Salisbury Playhouse
  • Educating Rita returns to Willy Russell's native Liverpool with Gemma Bodinetz directing the ever-exciting Leanne Best 
  • Sheffield's Sarah Kane Season sees productions of Blasted, Crave and 4.48 Psychosis as part of a wide-ranging career retrospective.


Writers I’m excited to see new work from


  • After invigorating a hitherto unseen slice of Scottish history in The James Plays, Rona Munro now turns to the gang history of Manchester in Scuttlers which appears at the Royal Exchange in February. 
  • I would argue that Mike Bartlett has a strong claim to being one of , if not the, best playwrights in the UK, switching effortlessly from the epic to the intimate and rewarding us with near-Simon Stephens levels of prolificness. Next up is Game which plays at a radically reconfigured Almeida.
  • Between Charlie and Matilda, Roald Dahl is well represented in the West End at the moment and now the Royal Court is getting in on the act with The Twits. That it is Enda Walsh who is responsible for the "mischievous adaptation" only makes it more exciting. 
  • Robin Soans may be better known as an actor but he's also a renowned playwright as well and Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage sees him take on sport and sexuality and the outing of Gareth Thomas. Touring Wales and then England before playing a month at the Arcola.
  • From an extraordinary debut in Many Moons and last year's splendid Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, Alice Birch is carving out quite the interesting niche for herself, so I'm looking forward to heading over to Richmond's Orange Tree for Little Lies


Directors to look forward to


  • Blanche McIntyre takes on Stoppard's Arcadia for ETT 
  • David Mercatali reunites with Philip Ridley and Gemma Whelan (from Dark Vanilla Jungle) for Radiant Vermin at the Soho Theatre 
  • Ellen McDougall launches what looks to be a fascinating cross-cast double bill in Anna Karenina and The Rolling Stone in Manchester and Leeds 
  • Jude Christian put two pigs on the stage of the Gate last year so who knows what will be in store for Harajuku Girls at the Finborough
  • Rebecca Atkinson-Lord's Cuddles enchanted me at the Oval House in 2013 so will be well worth the trip


National tours from great companies


  • The Absence of War, Headlong
    Going to Sheffield, Norwich, Watford, Bristol, Cheltenham, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Kingston-upon-Thames and Cambridge
  • All My Sons, Talawa
    Going to Ipswich, Cambridge, Salisbury, Watford, Oxford, Birmingham, Richmond, Colchester and Malvern
  • Rebecca, Kneehigh
    Going to Plymouth, Bath, Wycombe, Richmond, Cambridge, Canterbury, Salford, Eastbourne, Cheltenham, Birmingham, Malvern and Newcastle
  • Mermaid, Shared Experience
    Going to Nottingham, Leeds, Mold, Richmond, Cardiff, Southampton, Edinburgh, Watford and Oxford,
  • Macbeth, Tara Arts
    Going to Hexham, Huddersfield, Margate, Buxton, Swansea, Poole, London, Windsor, Bury St Edmunds Derby, Peterborough and Harrogate


Shows that I can’t find a category for




Sunday, 11 January 2015

Review: The Grand Tour, Finborough

“I think, I think..."

Jerry Herman’s The Grand Tour flopped on Broadway which explains a little of why it has taken 36 years for it to make its premiere in Europe. Another reason is the strange tone of Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, based on a play by SN Behrman, which plots an odd couple roadtrip and ensuing love triangle against the Nazi occupation of France in 1940. Polish compatriots Jewish intellectual SL Jacobowsky and Catholic aristocrat Colonel Stjerbinsky reluctantly join forces in Paris to make their escape, picking up the Colonel’s French lover Marianne on the way, and ending up in all sorts of jolly japes and adventures which are more Boy’s Own than Wilfred Owen. 

Director Thom Southerland has great form with musical revivals though and aspects of his work here are superb. Phil Lindley’s approach to designing this show should be studied by all aspiring designers as an inspired way of dealing with the intimacy of a space such as the Finborough. His European map-featuring set unfolds multipally like the pages of a pop-up book to take us from the front seat of a car to the heights of a high-wire, the stillness of a church and the bracing winds of a harbour amongst many other locations, and it does so with real elegance. I’d only question why Belgium appears to have been erased from the map and given how much Saint-Nazaire is referred to in the show, whether that might have been added too.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.


Cast of Great Britain continued



Video cast for Great Britain




Video cast for Great Britain continued




Video cast for Great Britain continued




Review: Play of Thrones, Union

“Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile”

Director and adaptor Phil Willmott has made something of a point of mixing things up when it comes to Shakespeare at the Union. He’s revived the rarely seen King John, unearthed the controversial Double Falsehood, cast a female Lear and there’s no exception with Play of Thrones. Taking George R R Martin’s inspiration of The Wars of the Roses as a starting point, Willmott has fashioned a free adaptation of the three Henry VI plays, using Part Three as the spine for a story of epic sweep of warring kings, bloody betrayals and fierce ambition that wouldn’t be out of place in Westeros.

So we see the Houses of Lancaster and York tussle again for England’s crown as the kingdom is fatally destabilised by the death of Henry V and the accession of his infant son, Henry VI. The rival dynasties scheme away making politically advantageous marriages, starting surreptitious strategic affairs, setting up any number of brutal murders, even invoking otherworldly spirits to ensure that they win the game. So far so Song of Ice and Fire and there is fun to be had in spotting familiar character traits – Ygritte’s warrior spirit, Cersei’s cold manipulations, Joffrey’s immature obnoxiousness, Tyrion’s tactical nous. 

Review: Elephants, Hampstead Downstairs

“I told you we should have gone to the Caribbean”

The world doesn't really need more sub-Ayckbourn middle class dramas, that's what current-day Ayckbourn is for. So I ain't going to write about how much I disliked Elephants. 

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th January


Saturday afternoon music treats

Lucie Jones + Lauren Samuels – Disney Medley

A rather adorable medley which sees this likeable pair working their way through a whole raft of Disney songs before ending up at the bar - how could you not love that?!


Friday, 9 January 2015

Review: Romeo and Juliet, New Diorama

“What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?"

The Faction return to the New Diorama for their now customary annual repertory season, having seriously shaken up their line-up for the first time - just two core ensemble members remaining along with directors Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith. What remains though is an equally serious streak of inventiveness that marks them as one of the more adventurous and exciting theatre companies out there. And it is that sense of innovation that sustains their fresh and spiky Romeo and Juliet which clocks in at a healthy three hours and fifteen minutes. 

It may seem like a strange combination – such fidelity to the fullness of the text yet such exploratory theatre-making as led by Valentine Smith – but it provides some lovely moments such as the setting of the Act II prologue to music which is sung beautifully by the full company. Keeping the majority of the company onstage at all times allows for some fascinating, and wordless, extratextual exploration of relationships – the sex and violence of Capulet and Lady Capulet’s tempestuous marriage is compelling to watch and the genuine affection, love even, between the Nurse and Peter makes perfect sense. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Film Review: Into the Woods


“Into the woods to see the King, to sell the cow, to make the potion”


After the Oscar-winning success of Chicago, it is little surprise that Rob Marshall keeps returning to the world of musical theatre for his films and it is now the turn of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods to get the full cinematic treatment. The story pulls together a whole raft of characters from various fairytales and asks the question ‘what happens after happy ever after?’. So we meet familiar characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack on their respective journeys but keep on following them deeper into the woods as they’re forced to deal with the consequences of their actions.


So Cinderella has to deal with the fact she’s married to a man she barely knows, Jack is called out for thieving so many of the Giant’s possession back down the beanstalk and so on, and the characters also crash into each other’s stories too, further muddying the waters. At the heart of the film is the Baker and his wife whose desperation for a child is a key contributing factor to the chaos that emerges and Marshall manages to keep the strands of this multi-threaded story clear and comprehensible - the staging is rarely audaciously exciting but the lack of tricksiness actually works in the film’s favour. 


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Review: Treasure Island, National Theatre

“Thanks for all the pies and adventures”

The big family-oriented show at the National Theatre this winter is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (though as it runs in rep right through to April, one hopes Spring will have sprung by then) which has been adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery. But whilst Polly Findlay’s production has some very definite plus points, not least in an inspired design by Lizzie Clachan which utilises so much of the Olivier’s potential, it doesn’t quite have the full shiver-me-timbers factor to make it an undoubted success. 

Clachan frames the theatre’s large revolving drum with a set of lowering curved ribs which suggest all kinds of mystical maritime adventures – the frame of a trusty ship, the ribcage of a giant whale, the quivering trees of a strange island. Deep in the revolve is where the real treasure is though, a warren of cabins that reflect the social hierarchy of the time and later on the maze of tunnels in which the gold can be found. Combined with the sensational starry skyscape up above, Bruno Poet’s lighting looking stunning, this is the National doing what it does so well.

Cast of Treasure Island continued



Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Women in Theatre - December 2014

The headline figures

% of women in the 18 shows seen in December

Actors: 46%
Writers: 11%
Directors: 28%
Designers: 33%
Light: 0%
Sound: 11%


Number of shows with 50% or more women in the cast - 8


Shows
With 50% or more women
%
Total Cast
Women
%
Writer
Director
Designer
Lighting
Sound
Jan
35
11
31%
327
126
39%
29%
40%
29%
23%
13%
Feb
27
12
44%
265
97
37%
50%
54%
55%
23%
5%
Mar
31
16
52%
288
134
47%
35%
23%
38%
18%
14%
April
30
14
47%
241
102
42%
17%
40%
52%
10%
17%
May
34
14
41%
310
126
41%
21%
35%
22%
10%
10%
June
36
15
42%
319
135
42%
39%
42%
49%
25%
18%
July
29
13
45%
268
114
43%
34%
31%
32%
8%
26%
Aug
24
12
50%
267
111
42%
29%
29%
29%
9%
21%
Sept
37
11
30%
312
133
43%
38%
24%
28%
16%
23%
Oct
47
20
43%
553
237
43%
26%
34%
38%
16%
16%
Nov
35
17
49%
395
198
50%
34%
34%
60%
6%
15%
Dec
18
8
44%
268
123
46%
11%
28%
33%
0%
11%