Monday, 24 April 2017

Review: Radieuse Vermine, Leicester Square

"C'est la réponse à nos prières"

Philip Ridley's 2015 play Radiant Vermin was a vibrant and vivid response to the housing crisis that resonated strongly in both the UK (at the Soho Theatre) and the US (in its transfer to 59E59 Theaters), perhaps tapping into something of the societal dissatisfaction that has led to such political turbulence. So it is rather appropriate then that as l'élection présidentielle looks set to shake up French politics, its next move has been to be translated into French (by Louis Bernard) as Radieuse Vermine. 

Directed once again by David Mercatali, assisted here by Flore Vialet, the play is currently previewing at the Leicester Square Theatre in their lounge space, ahead of playing the French Fringe Festival in Avignon in the summer. And these previews offer a striking opportunity - not just for the Francophone population in London, but for any fans of Philip Ridley (albeit with a certain proficiency in French, there aren't any surtitles here) to revisit this play in a same but different way. 

Review: Carousel, London Coliseum

"The crowd of doubtin' Thomases
Was predictin' that the summer'd never come"

The English National Opera have had great success with their move into semi-staged revivals of classic pieces of musical theatre. Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson lit up the Coliseum with Sweeney Todd in 2005, Glenn Close received an Olivier Award nomination for last year’s Sunset Boulevard, and so this year, we’re being treated to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1945 classic Carousel. I say treated...but with singers Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins cast as the show’s ill-fated lovers, this production is a bit of a challenge for musical theatre lovers. Read my three star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th May

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Review: Escape the Room, Namco Funscape


Escape-the-room games can become addictive, as one particular circle of my friends have found out to our cost, and every time a new one comes to our attention, off we trot. Even when one is to be found in the raucous surroundings of Namco Funscape, the amusement arcade/entertainment centre in County Hall which is filled with the likes of slush puppies, techno bowling and even a set of dodgems.

Here, the escape-the-room concept has been tailored down to a trim 765 second, just under 13 minutes in which you and your team of up to six need to hunt down clues, figure out a set of puzzles, and save the day if you can. There's a code of silence as with all these games which means I can't say too much because - spoilers! but I don't think it is too much to reveal that you take on the role of policemen.

What I can say is that this actually works as a good introduction to the genre. If you haven't done one of these before, it is short and sweet (and crucially not too expensive) and captures much of what works about these games. The lateral thinking that is needed, the inventive challenges it poses, the sense of fun that comes as your team works together effectively (or not!). Definitely worth a try.

Round-up of (international) news and treats and other interesting things


Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller, Tony nominee Joshua Henry, and Grammy-winning opera star Renée Fleming will headline a Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The production, helmed by Tony winner and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory director Jack O’Brien, is scheduled to begin performances Friday, March 23, 2018 at a theatre to be announced.


Mueller, a Tony winner for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and recent star of Waitress, will take on the role of Julie Jordan, with Henry—currently playing Aaron Burr in the touring company of Hamilton—as Billy Bigelow. Fleming will play Nettie Fowler; the Grammy-winning soprano can be seen on the Metropolitan Opera stage this season in Der Rosenkavalier—a production that is said to mark her retirement from her traditional operatic repertoire.

The revival, produced by Scott Rudin and Roy Furman, will feature Amar Ramasar and Brittany Pollack—both of the New York City Ballet—as Jigger and Louise, respectively. New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck will choreograph the new staging on the 1945 musical. The resident choreographer promises “an even more dance-and-movement-focused production.”




The Lyric Hammersmith has announce the full casting for the UK premiere of Ferdinand von Schirach’s thrilling courtroom drama Terror, directed by Artistic Director Sean Holmes and designed by Olivier Award-winner Anna Fleischle. Emma Fielding plays Prosecuting Counsel Nelson, John Lightbody plays Christian Lauterbach, Forbes Masson plays Defence Counsel Biegler, Tanya Moodie plays the Presiding Judge, Shanaya Rafaat playsFranziska Meiser and Ashley Zhangazha plays the pilot on trial, Lars Koch.


Guilty. Not Guilty. You Decide.

Enter the courtroom. Hear the evidence. Make your judgement. A hijacked plane is heading towards a packed football stadium. Ignoring orders to the contrary a fighter pilot shoots the plane down killing 164 people to save 70,000. Put on trial and charged with murder, the fate of the pilot is in the audience’s hands.




The story has been told before, but never like this.

An occupied desert nation. A radical from the wilderness on hunger strike. A girl whose mysterious dance will change the course of the world. This charged retelling turns the infamous biblical tale on its head, placing the girl we callSalomé at the centre of a revolution.

Internationally acclaimed director Yaël Farber (Les Blancs) draws on multiple accounts to create her urgent, hypnotic production of Salomé on the Olivier stage.


Salomé is designed by Susan Hilferty with lighting design by Tim Lutkin, music and sound by Adam Cork, movement direction by Ami Shulman, fight direction by Kate Waters and dramaturgy by Drew Lichtenberg. Cast includes Philip Arditti, Paul Chahidi, Ramzi Choukair, Uriel Emil, Olwen Fouéré, Roseanna Frascona, Lloyd Hutchinson, Shahar Isaac, Aidan Kelly, Yasmin Levy, Andrew Lewis, Anna Lindup, Theo T J Lowe, Isabella Niloufar, Lubana al Quntar, and Raad Rawi

Hundreds of Travelex tickets at £15 available per performance.




And last but not least, Broadway bares for Broadway Cares!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Review: Guards at the Taj, Bush

"Was it fucked up? Yes, it was. But I don’t have to feel terrible about it"


Opening up the newly-refurbished Bush Theatre is Rajiv Joseph's 2015 play Guards at the Taj. Allocated seating and dynamic pricing have been introduced, accessibility addressed and terraces built, we've come a long way from the intimate room above a pub that was its original home. And it's a fascinating piece of writing to go with, an unexpected move perhaps but enjoyable nonetheless.

Inspired by the legend, for which there is no factual basis, that seventeenth century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ordered that the hands of all the craftsmen who were involved in the construction of the Taj Mahal should be cut off. He commissioned the mausoleum for his favourite wife and the mythos behind the story is that he wanted to ensure that they could never build anything of equal beauty.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Re-review: Kinky Boots, Adelphi

"I am freedom, I'm constriction
A potpourri of contradiction"

A cheeky trip back to Kinky Boots (my third time) - here's my review from last time. I'll just say Matt Henry continues to be fiercely amazing, the wholesome David Hunter is perfectly (re)cast as ol' Charlie boy, and Elena Skye manages the not-inconsiderable feat of stepping into Amy Lennox's shoes as the hilarious Lauren. It's still a lovely, lovely show and I'm really pleased that it appears to still be doing really well. Now put the nose on the Charlie!



Bridge Theatre new season - excited by new writing or disappointed by lack of diversity?

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr have announced the opening programme for their The Bridge Theatre venture – the 900-seat commercial venue near to Tower Bridge which marks their re-entry into the London theatre landscape. The first three productions, all booking now, are:
  • Young Marx - Richard Bean and Clive Coleman's new play about German philosopher Karl Heinrich Marx which will star Rory Kinnear in the title role alongside Oliver Chris as Engels. Directed by Nicholas Hytner it will have designs by Mark Thompson and music by Grant Olding;
  • This will be followed by Julius Caesar directed by Hytner in promenade, starring
    Ben Whishaw (Bakkhai, Skyfall) as Brutus, David Calder as Caesar, Michelle Fairley as Cassius and David Morrissey as Mark Antony;
  • a new play from Barney Norris called Nightfall, directed by Laurie Sansom.

Further ahead from Summer '18, we can expect:
  • a new play by Lucinda Coxon based on the novel Alys, Always by Harriet Lane;
  • a new play by Nina Raine about JS Bach, played by Simon Russell Beale; 
  • flatpack, a new play by John Hodge; 
  • The Black Cloud, a new play by Sam Holcroft from the novel by Fred Hoyle; 
  • Carmen Havana, a version of Bizet's opera by Lucy Prebble with choreography by Miguel Altunaga and directed by Nicholas Hytner.

The focus on new writing is something exciting, all but one of these are new works. And if we count them altogether, there's pleasing gender parity in their number. And that's good enough to get luminaries like Sarah Crompton and Michael Billington fawning over the season ahead.

But looking at all those playwrights, there’s not a person of colour among them. And delving into the cast and creatives of the opening three shows, all of them are being directed by white men. Furthermore, of the headline casting announced, six out of seven of them are white men. We can cling to Michelle Fairley’s cross-casting as Cassius as a sole beacon of hope but let’s not forget that Robert Hastie is already doing this much better and bolder in Sheffield.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Octagon

"I often cry when I am happy, and smile when I am sad"

Anne Brontë might not be the most heralded of her sisters but that is to underestimate the different way in which she expressed herself. The striking feminism of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall remains as powerful as ever and in Deborah McAndrew's adaptation, directed by Elizabeth Newman for the Octagon Theatre in Bolton of which she is the artistic director, it couldn't find a better place to reassert those feminist credentials.

Even in these allegedly more enlightened times, the idea that a woman might stay in an abusive relationship is one that many people struggle with. And so as the story of Helen Graham unfolds, as the events of her past inform what happens in her present, McAndrew's contemporary dialogue keeps a real modern urgency to the action. Alcoholism and abuse in marriage, gender equality and duty, the struggle for independence - this is timeless stuff.

Casting announced for All The President's Men?

Photo: Gage Skidmore
All The President's Men? is a singular theatrical experience for the politically engaged on 24 April, 7.30pm at the Vaudeville Theatre. 

A staged reading edited and directed by Nicolas Kent and presented by the National Theatre, London and The Public Theater, New York, it features scenes from the U.S. Senate's Confirmation Hearings

In January, one week before the president’s inauguration a fierce fight erupted in the Senate between Republicans and Democrats over the confirmation of the key figures for President Trump’s cabinet. These four powerful men lead the Trump administration’s policy on Russia, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, on human rights worldwide, on the Paris Climate control agreement, as well as on the civil rights and the health of millions of Americans.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs

"I'm not trying to justify it...that's the fucking point"

The next couple of shows programmed at the Hampstead Downstairs are two shows that have previously done well - Deposit and Alligators, which interestingly have press nights scheduled, contrary to the usual practice there. For the moment though, it is the thought-provoking and morally complex Diminished - Sam Hoare's debut play - that is occupying the experimental space.

In Polly Sullivan's starkly uncompromising arena, designed in the round and directed by Tom Attenborough, we first witness a psychiatric session between the high-functioning Mary and her clearly intrigued doctor. They banter almost flirtatiously, dancing around diagnoses and discussions, as we edge closer to the revelation that she's being held in a secure facility after the death of her severely disabled young daughter.

Album Review: Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers

"I have dreamed what a joy you'll be"

Who knew that exploring the soul of Richard Rodgers would reveal a Lauryn Hill sample and a guest rap from upcoming Bronx rapper Zaire Park? And that's just on 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' alone. But that's exactly what you find on Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers, a project co-produced and co-curated by Billy Porter, the Tony Award-winning Broadway actor and musician.

With lyricists Oscar Hammerstein II and Lorenz Hart, legendary composer Richard Rodgers redefined the American musical theatre with now-classic musicals like Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and The King and I. And now Porter pays tribute to his legacy by reinterpreting his songbook with an entirely more contemporary soulful bent. In his own words, “I like to think of this as the Richard Rodgers version of the Hamilton Mixtapes.” 

Full casting for Robert Hastie's Julius Caesar


Full casting has been announced for Robert Hastie's upcoming production of Julius Caesar at Sheffield Crucible, his first at the helm, and it looks like an absolute doozie. Not only has he brought back former artistic director Samuel West and tempted definitive-fave-of-this-blog Elliot Cowan back to the stage, Hastie is continuing his commitment to gender parity by recruiting a company of eight men and eight women and sharing out the roles how he damn well wants. 

So the show features Samuel West in the role of Brutus, alongside Jonathan Hyde as Julius Caesar. Zoe Waites will play Cassius, Elliot Cowan will play Mark Antony and Chipo Chung will star as Portia/Octavius. The cast is completed by Lisa Caruccio Came (Calpurnia), Pandora Colin (Casca), Robert Goodale (Lepidus), Alison Halstead (Metellus), Mark Holgate (Cinna), Arthur Hughes (Lucius), Robinah Kironde (Popilus, Clitus), Lily Nichol (Soothsayer), Royce Pierreson (Ligarius, Dardanius), Abigail Thaw (Trebonius) and Paul Tinto (Artemidorus, Pindarus).

In case you've forgotten, Hastie directed Michelle Terry in the title role in last year's Henry V at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, and Sheffield is clearly very lucky to have him leading one of the country's leading theatrical institutions. Julius Caesar runs at Sheffield Crucible from 23 May to 10 June, with previews from 17 May, and I'll definitely be making my way northwards for this.


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Barely-a-review: Austentatious, Leicester Square Theatre

"Your heart is pure and your brain is good"

Where else would we spend Easter Sunday evening but at Austentatious for the last of their currently scheduled dates - more have been teased but the diary is still loomingly empty. Tonight saw the far-from-promising title Dingo Barry spun into random comic gold with Aussie accents, errant fathers, bonnet-dropping servants, old crones, and an impromptu knife and sword fight on the road to London.

Once their future dates have been confirmed, be sure to book in because these guys really are a hoot.




Review: Miss Nightingale - the musical, Vaults


"You've got to get your sausage where you can"

It's fascinating to be able to revisit shows along their developmental cycle. I first saw Miss Nightingale in its initial chamber-musical incarnation at the King's Head back in 2011 and since then, it has become a fully-fledged piece which has toured the UK extensively. This residency at the Vaults marks the show's fifth production and the first time I've been able to revisit and reassess Matthew Bugg's actor-musician musical.

Set in London in 1942, it relays two parallel and interconnected narratives - the metamorphosis of nurse Maggie Brown to fresh new cabaret star Miss Nightingale, and the illicit gay love affair between her Polish-Jewish émigré songwriter and the upper-class war hero-turned-nightclub-impresario who is behind their rise. As bombs continue to fall on London, contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality threaten to cause no less potent explosions.

Review: Threads, Hope

“This isn’t Groundhog Day...”

We talk about broken hearts at the end of relationships oh so easily, but what if it was actually true, what if a break-up manifested physically on the person left behind. That’s one of the key questions that David Lane’s Threads poses in its exploration of the aftermath of a decoupling. It’s been five years since Vic left Charlie – she’s moved on, apparently onwards and upwards, but he remains in their old flat, in stasis and now calling out for help.

Against her better judgement, Vic responds to the plea by returning to their old flat where she’s unnerved by what she finds. Not just in the overt physical decline of her ex-lover whose heart has somehow stopped pumping blood, but also in an apartment that literally doesn’t want to let her go, shifting around her, locking her in. It’s an unexpected twist in what looks to be a conventional relationship drama, complete with squabbles over cups of tea, making it a real curiosity.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

A tempting looking trailer has been released for Late Company, the Finborough's forthcoming drama







Octagon Theatre Bolton have announced full casting for their forthcoming world premiere production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play Winter Hill.


The production’s all-female cast will feature Cathy Tyson (BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated Mona Lisa; Band of Gold, ITV and most recently onstage in Nikolai Forster’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, Birmingham Rep) as Irene; Denise Black (Denise Osbourne in Coronation Street and Joanie Wright in Emmerdale, Both ITV; Cucumber and Queer as Folk , Channel 4 and onstage in Pack at the Finborough Theatre and as Mother Superior in the UK tour of Sister Act) as Dolly; Louise Jameson (Doc Martin, ITV; Doctor Who, EastEnders and Bergerac, BBC) as Beth; Fiona Hampton (Of Mice and Men, The Glass Menagerie and Private Lives, Octagon Theatre Bolton) as Emma and Janet Henfrey (Wolf Hall, The Singing Detective and as Mrs Bale in As Time Goes By (all BBC) as Felicity

Joining them will be Souad Faress (Linda in Brief Encounters, ITV and Bridget Jones Diary, Bhaji on the Beach and My Beautiful Laundrette) as Vivian, Eva-Jane Willis (Magnificence, Finborough Theatre And We Really Should Do Something, Bush Theatre) as Alex and Susan Twist (Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Octagon Theatre Bolton) as The Fury.

Directed by Octagon Theatre’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play explores how a group of seemingly ordinary women endeavour to protect their local community, no matter the cost and questioning the lengths people go to for a cause they believe in and at what point does the fight for freedom become terrorism?


Winter Hill will be playing at the Octagon Theatre Bolton between Thu 11 May – Sat 3 June





Also in casting news, the Old Vic announced that Jade Anouka will star alongside Charlie Fink in Cover My Tracks, their next late-night show interweaving live music and theatre.  Telling the story of an idealistic young songwriter who sets out to write a pop masterpiece and vanishes without a trace, this show plays the late slot from 5-17 Jun. Tickets are just £12-£17.50.


As a teaser, they've shared Charlie Fink performing ‘Firecracker’, the first track from his newly announced album, on stage at The Old Vic. Cover My Tracks will give the exclusive chance to see Charlie perform songs from his new solo album of the same title, his first since Noah and the Whale.






Thinking outside the box as ever, the Royal Court have announced a new  temporary theatre space The Site curated by Royal Court Associate Designer Chloe Lamford.

The Site is a workshop and rehearsal space situated next door to the Royal Court and rented from Transport for London. Chloe is transforming the space and is offering audiences an invitation; an experiment in design, collaboration and process. She has designed a space where language, form, the body and instructions are the materials and where both artists and audiences are invited to rethink how we create, present, and watch plays.

This series of works is an experiment, exploring performance through language, physicality and the power of the imagination, created by five playwrights in response to Chloe Lamford’s provocation.

The programme includes new work from writers EV Crowe, Stacey Gregg, Theresa Ikoko, Nathaniel Martello-White and Deborah Pearson. With Creative Direction by both Chloe Lamford and Royal Court Associate Director Lucy Morrison.

As well as being a leading theatre designer of her generation Chloe is now well known for her extraordinary collaborations with leading European artists such as Lies Pauwels, Katie Mitchell and most recently Wanda on a pop gig. She has collaborated with the Tate Modern and as Associate Designer at the Royal Court is in a constant conversation with the writers to help them challenge form and question the image-based and visual dramaturgy of their work. It is in this spirit that she is leading this project.


The work:

LIGHTS OUT by Stacey Gregg
In 2017 Gregg began to examine strategies used to bridge the gap between socio-economic backgrounds.
The project takes place in the context of Lights-Out manufacturing, which refers to factories that are fully automated and require no human workers, thus no need for light.

It's All Made Up by Deborah Pearson
Deborah Pearson isn't very comfortable writing fiction. To her, it feels like lying. As a result, she's made her career in theatre by telling real stories about her life or her performers' lives. Chloe has challenged Deborah not to do that. Deborah has been asked to write a made-up story that takes place in a real life place - The Site.
Deborah will only start making up the story as soon as she first walks into the Site, always writing from and in The Site. She hopes that what ends up being performed is a string of pathological lies and made-up magic.

A new work by Nathaniel Martello-White
A provocation
What happened.
Did we see what we think we saw?
What are the facts?
Is a square really a square? Or a triangle posing as one?
Or has our capacity to discern a square perished
Truth is in the eye of the beholder
So it's beauty
So is murder
Or maybe it isn't
Did we just have that conversation?
In this new unknown space, Nathaniel Martello-White explores the post-truth era where facts have become irrelevant and we are forced to question the ‘reality’ that surrounds us.

The Unknown by EV Crowe
There are four basic principles:
1) They are not willed by the individual self
2) They reflect social reality
3) They are public rhetoric
4) They are collectively interpretable
EV Crowe's real life dreams will be shared as a play and interpreted by an audience.
Quote source: Nocturnal Omissions: Steps Toward a Sociology of Dreams (pages 95–104). Gary Alan Fine and Laura Fischer Leighton

A new work by Theresa Ikoko
“From creators Chloe Lamford and Theresa Ikoko comes The Site, the brand new, state-of-the art venue of The Space Between.
Welcome, the 107,683,902,202nd contestant will join us shortly.
I will be your host. Life points are under your seat. Feel free to use them today. Or save them for your turn. Maybe soon...
---
The final level.
What's next?”

Saturday, 15 April 2017

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 1 – The Pilot

"Do you know any sci-fi?"

So here we are, the moment that the epic rewatch has been building up to - the start of Doctor Who's tenth series, notable for being the final one for both Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor and showrunner Steven Moffat. And perhaps predictably, Episode One - The Pilot is a cracking piece of TV, a real return to form that hopefully will last across the entire series (I'm not holding my breath...) or at least the majority of it (that I feel more confident about).

Key to this is the arrival of Pearl Mackie's new companion Bill, a welcome breath of real fresh air into the standard trope but more importantly, a distinct separation from what came just before. No offence to Jenna Coleman's Clara but the character's knowingness made it hard to ever warm to her and though on paper, the idea of her being more of an equal to the Doctor has legs, in reality it just became rather self-satisfyingly wearying.

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9


"Time will tell, it always does"

Phew, the rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn't seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).


Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara's departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences...it is often excellent stuff. It's also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone)


Cast of Doctor Who Series 9 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 9 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 9 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 9 continued

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8


"You are the chief executive officer of the human race"

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8, one which I hadn't revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained - Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! - there was also much to enjoy that I'd forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I'm still in two minds about Peter Capaldi's Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman's Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she's still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there's Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently!


Cast of Doctor Who Series 8 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 8 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 8 continued

Friday, 14 April 2017

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

"It is known that the Doctor requires companions"


Right - the first season that I haven't rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith's tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory's dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn't feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman's confident take on Clara, she's a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The 'Impossible Girl' arc didn't really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt's writing for the finale of The Name of..., The Day of... and The Time of the Doctor doesn't really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time. 

Cast of Doctor Who Series 7 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 7 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 7 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 7 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 7 continued

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Review: Limehouse, Donmar

"The Labour Party is fucked"

I know a bit about a few things but for some reason, UK politics has never figured that highly on the list. So whilst Steve Waters' new play Limehouse might well be familiar territory for the vast majority of the matinee audience I saw this with, for me it was a bit of a history lesson. It was also a bit of a challenge as I'd skipped lunch and the smell of the pasta bake being made onstage left me near-ravenous!

Limehouse follows a small group of Labour politicians as they despair at the militant leftwing direction their party is taking and try to decide what, if anything, they can do about it. Perhaps not accidentally, parallels can be drawn with the situation at the moment but this drama is set in 1981 and the quartet are Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen - the Gang of Four who went on to form the SDP.

Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Wilton's Music Hall

"If they choose to, the company may dump any man"

The historic walls of Wilton's Music Hall - the last surviving grand music hall in the world - may be old but they are far from old-fashioned. After their major refurb, the shift into becoming a producing venue has seen them adopt a varied multi-disciplinary programme of comedy and music as well as theatre (look out for the Tobacco Factory's highly-rated Othello coming soon).

Sadly, their current revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - the first major one in this country since its 1963 premiere - falls on the side of the fatally old-fashioned. Director Benji Sperring's sure touch has seen him work wonders with shows like The Toxic Avenger but here, an inconsistency of tone and performance level means that it sits awkwardly on this august stage.

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

"Demons run when a good man goes to war"

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven't ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith's Eleven immensely but the writing across this season - which was split into two for transmission - was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor's Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place - (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn't necessarily aimed at me...?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would "fall so much further" than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill...). That said, the high points of the series are so very good - the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent.

Cast of Doctor Who Series 6 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 6 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 6 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 6 continued

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5

"I've seen many things, my friend. But you're right. Nothing's quite as wonderful as the things you see"

So as David Tennant's Ten regenerates into Matt Smith's Eleven, Doctor Who also changed showrunner/lead writer/executive producer/oddjob man as Steven Moffat took over the reins from Russell T Davies. The pressure was on both to deliver - the relatively unknown Smith had low expectations, Moffat had sky-high ones due to his much-garlanded writing - and I don't think you can argue that they didn't. Smith revealed an impossibly ancient soul to his youthful frame with a Doctor unafraid to be as angrily dark as hyper-actively quirky. And Moffat constructed a complex series, introducing the depths of new companion Amy Pond slowly, and building to a multi-stranded timey-wimey finale that makes the head hurt just to think about it.

Elsewhere, the overused Daleks returned in multicoloured format, the Weeping Angels were much more successfully reprised in a stonking double-header, the Silurians also came back, and Arthur Darvill's Rory grew in stature to become an effective second companion as opposed to a third wheel. Oh, and Helen McCrory stole the show, but then you knew I'd say that didn't you ;-)

Cast of Doctor Who Series 5 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 5 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 5 continued

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep

"Let's get together and feel all right"

There's much to enjoy in One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, not least the joyous celebration of some of the most enduringly famous music in the world. And writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah does a decent job at balancing the populist demands of a jukebox musical with something more dramatically satisfying. The result has been a sell-out success for the Birmingham Rep and I only just managed to squeak this into the schedule before it closes at the weekend,


Using 20 or so of Marley's songs, Kwei-Armah takes us through an eventful few years in the singer's life as the success of his artistry launches him from an accomplished reggae musician to international icon, pushing his concerns from simply getting records out to matters of national diplomacy as he finds himself intertwined in Jamaican politics. He also has internal conflicts with his band and a turbulent personal life to deal with, as well as converting to Rastafarianism.

Cast of One Love: The Bob Marley Musical continued

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010

"Because your song is ending, sir...It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor? Oh, but then... He will knock four times."

Cos he's special, David Tennant got to spread his farewell over 4 specials from Christmas 2008 to New Year 2010, and as this also marked Russell T Davies' departure from the show, the stories start off grand and rise to operatic scales of drama by the time we hit the megalithic The End of Time. That finale works well in its quieter moments but does suffer a little from an overabundance of plot and whatnot. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are good value for money romps but it is The Waters of Mars and all its attendant darkness that stands out most, teasing all the complex arrogance of a God-figure gone wrong.

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Cast of Doctor Who Specials continued

Cast of Doctor Who Specials continued

Cast of Doctor Who Specials continued

Monday, 10 April 2017

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

"Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved"

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series' success is Catherine Tate's Donna Noble - gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end. 

It's also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There's also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper's work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Cast of Doctor Who Series 4 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 4 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 4 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 4 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 4 continued

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Winners of the 2017 Olivier Awards

Here are the winners for the 2017 Olivier Awards - it will come as little surprise that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child carried the night, sweeping a record 9 trophies from its record 11 nominations. And on the musical side of things, there was a pleasing spread of awards (although fans of Half A Sixpence will undoubtedly be miffed). There's a temptation to be slightly cynical (who doesn't love a bit of a snark...)  in that Cursed Child winning so many was an easy way to grab headlines - spreading the love better reflects the diversity of the industry, insofar as these awards reflect it at all. And  Groundhog Day winning Best New Musical just before it opens in New York and rumoured to return to London in the coming months feels a tad convenient but hey ho, whatcha gonna do.

I didn't do too badly with my predictions -  I got 6 out of 8 winners right in the acting categories. Full list under the cut.

Review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star”

In the rush to dole out the five star reviews that seem de rigueur for any big musical these days (22 for An American in Paris so their new poster shouts proudly), there appears to be a willingness to overlook storytelling for spectacle. As at the Dominion, the newly opened 42nd Street is a massive dance show which is undoubtedly hugely, well, spectacular. And it also suffers from not being particularly dramatically interesting, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble's book contains hardly any dramatic tension at all - will the show-within-the-show be alright on the night? What do you think?!

I start with this line of thought because as much as I was impressed by 42nd Street, it rarely moved me in the way that Golden Age musical theatre (my favourite genre of all, surprising no-one) at its best does. Based on a novel from the 1930s, the book here - as directed by Bramble - sacrifices any hint of suspense or meaningful character development for the headlong rush from production number to production number. And it just about gets away with it due to the sheer scale of what is being mounted here. 40+ bodies tap-dancing in unison in bucket-loads of sequins - bawdy and gaudy indeed.

Cast of 42nd Street continued

Cast of 42nd Street continued

Cast of 42nd Street continued

Cast of 42nd Street continued

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

"You 
Are 
Not 
Alone"

There's something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn't let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose's-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.

Series 3 has real highs and certain lows - the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat's genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor's most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they're in danger of over-exposure.

Cast of Doctor Who Series 3 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 3 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 3 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 3 continued

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Not-a-review: Travesties, Apollo


"It may be nonsense but at least it's not clever nonsense"

The problem with being addicted to theatre is that it can be hard to turn down things, even against your better instincts. I knew I didn't really want to see Travesties so I didn't go to the Menier but sure enough, it transferred into the West End to test my resistance further and I crumbled.
I should not have done.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 29th April

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


The news of Tim Pigott-Smith's passing at the age of 70 yesterday was a terrible shock, not least because he was still in a rich creative vein - a tour of Death of a Salesman was scheduled for next month and the long-anticipated TV adaptation of his multi-award-nominated turn in the lead role of King Charles III is due later this year.



This tribute from Mike Bartlett is beautifully done.


“One reader. One table. And me. And The Report.”

Lemn Sissay MBE is a poet, playwright, broadcaster and actor.

Lemn was brought up in care and he is taking the social services to court for stealing his life. As part of the legal proceedings Lemn has had to undergo a 5-hour psychological assessment.

When a person claims abuse by the system a report is written. The Report unveils everything.

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2


"Some things are worth getting your heart broken for"

David Tennant's opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies' vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became...). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn't really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection.

Cast of Doctor Who Series 2 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 2 continued

Cast of Doctor Who Series 2 continued

Friday, 7 April 2017

Re-review: The Glass Menagerie / Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

"Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested"

"It's an honour just to be nominated..." Come award season, these words are often heard but you do have to wonder what it feels like to be the only member of a four person ensemble that isn't up for an Olivier Award. Such is the fate for Michael Esper in The Glass Menagerie just now, as Cherry Jones, Kate O'Flynn and Brian J Smith all find themselves deservedly up for acting prizes on Sunday while he's had to put his game face on.

Truth be told, his is the light that shines the least brightly in John Tiffany's production, if only because the nominated trio are so brilliant. Here's my original review and on second viewing, the textures and timelessness of the work really shines through. In the same way, and surely likely to figure heavily in next year's Olivier nominations - if not eventual winners - are the company of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.

I also went back to the Harold Pinter this week and it is remarkable how fresh and pacey the production still feels on a second viewing, whipping through its three hours with quite the lick and absolutely no diminishing of its immense emotional power. Read my review from first time around and get yourself over to see the show (again, if appropriate) for classic theatre doesn't get much better than this.

News: A version of the London marathon for musical theatre fans

It's the London Marathon on 23rd April but a week before, The Other Palace invites you to The Musical Marathon - a one-off charity concert bringing together a variety of West End stars in aid of male cancer charity Orchid. All Tickets are £26; £26 for 26 miles, 26 songs and an unmissable night of musical talent at 7pm on Sunday 16th April.


Organised by Paul Taylor-Mills, Artistic Director of The Other Palace and producer of shows including In The Heights and The Wild Party, the show will raise vital funds for Orchid, and their fight against male cancer. The evening will be hosted by Caroline Flack and will feature performances from Louise Dearman, Tyrone Huntley, Zizi Strallen, Oliver Savile, Liam Doyle, Nathan Amzi, Kim Criswell, Liam Tamne, Christina Modesto, Emma Kingston, Lockie Chapman, Shaun McCourt and Idriss Kargbo.

Orchid is the UK’s leading charity working on behalf of anyone affected by male cancer. Established in 1996 by testicular cancer patient, Colin Osborne MBE and the oncologist who saved his life, Professor Tim Oliver, Orchid exists to save men’s lives from male cancer through a range of support services, education and awareness campaigns and a pioneering research programme.