Monday, 22 May 2017

Review: BLUSH, Soho

"Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.

Charlotte Josephine's BLUSH makes its way to the Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and ahead of a tour across the South of England (and Birmingham). And it's a play that manages to hit two of my bugbear phrases in theatre writing, in that it is both 'darkly comic' and 'extremely timely'. But though reviewers and publicists may desperately overuse both terms, it doesn't make it any less true here.

BLUSH is concerned with revenge porn, weaving together five stories of people who have found themselves swept up in this most modern of afflictions. An older sister looks on helplessly as her 18 year old sibling has intimate photos published online by a boyfriend, a father struggles with his porn addiction, a jilted lover is surprised at the reaction she gets when she posts her ex's nudes, Josephine and her co-performer Daniel Foxsmith show us the many ways in which the issue can impact our lives.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Hope

"There is no God
There are no miracles"

Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle marks its 40th anniversary this year and so it's as good a time as any to revive this dark drama that was so controversial on its release that the BBC banned it from its original Play For Today slot. It eventually played at Sheffield Crucible a year later and though it received a powerfully acted production (Tessa Peake-Jones, Rupert Friend) at the Arcola in 2012, Matthew Parker's revival for his Hope Theatre feels perfectly poised to capitalise on its relevance to our fractured society.

Though written and set in the late 70s, Potter's depiction of far-right politics, racism and homophobia, religious intolerance feels horribly recognisable. The way in which one character rationalises his decision to join the National Front has chilling new currency in this post-Brexit world and the supercilious smile that another character occasionally bares to the audience reflects nothing so much as the arrogance of Nigel Farage. Potter's dramatic form of evil is naturally much more timeless but you can't help but draw the parallels here. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo

"I hate her being the mistress of a rich, old voluptuary"

I wasn't intending to revisit Love In Idleness, newly transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a limited 50 performance run, as first time round, I wasn't the biggest fan of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I got a little caught up in the strange genesis of the show and the fact that I was half-remembering the plot of Less Than Kind in real time, which proved to be rather distracting. But there's no denying the sheer star quality of Eve Best and who am I to turn down any chance to see her.

And I'm glad I returned as I found myself enjoying the play a lot more second time round. Taking it for what it is, which is a Rattigan curiosity rather than a revelatory (re)discovery, this light-hearted comedy is actually an interesting addition to the West End's early summer. Its main joy remains the relaxed but realistically palpable chemistry between Best and Anthony Head, as widow Olivia and government minister Sir John Fletcher whose relationship comes under strain when her son Michael returns from four years evacuated to Canada.

Film Review: Their Finest

"He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won't remember you"

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God's sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it's a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Comedy Review: Adam Kay - Fingering A Minor On The Piano, Soho

"I'm like a medical Anne Frank"

The title of Fingering A Minor On The Piano apparently stems from former doctor turned comic Adam Kay trying to ensure that none of Nicholas Parsons' audience stayed on to watch the show when the two were programmed back-to-back at Edinburgh last year. It gives nothing away about what the show actually is, a fast-paced hour of journal readings from Kay's hospital diary interspersed with musical punchlines, building to a gut-punch of a climax that flies the flag for our beleaguered NHS.

It's a strong combination - there's endless dark humour in the snippets of life as a medical professional, climbing the ranks from inexperienced house officer to registrar in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, as he deals with any number of complaints from eye-wincing penis injuries to spots on the tongue (taste buds!) whilst acknowledging the strains it puts on trainee doctors with their 16 hour days and the struggles it imposes on trying to maintain a normal life and relationship at the same time.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Review: The Addams Family, New Wimbledon

"Hold your decaying
Hear what we're saying"

Sad to say, what I'm saying is that I was not a fan of The Addams Family at all. After a cracking opening number which promises oh so much, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's book grinds to a juddering halt in a first half which does nothing but interminably set the scene. And Andrew Lippa's score offers little respite as it fails to really nail any definitive sense of identity and ends up really rather forgettable. Things do pick up a tad post-interval but it's too little too late by then.

It all could have been so much better. The Addams Family are an iconic set of characters, previously immortalised on cartoon strip, on television and on film, a legacy which goes some way to explaining the commercial success of the show on Broadway in the face of a scathing critical reception. But classic characters need classic storytelling and here, they're marooned in a schmaltzy neverland which captures nothing of the golden age, nor has anything to say to audiences today.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

"When that I was a little boy"

Even with the best of intentions, it can be a little too easy to forget that there's more to LGBT+ than just the G. Representations of gay men are increasingly common in our theatres but pickings are slim if we look towards the lesbian, bi, and transgender characters and stories. So it's interesting to see directors turning to Shakespeare, and specifically Twelfth Night, to address that in a couple of high profile productions this year. Simon Godwin shifted the nature of Malvolio's illicit passion by casting Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, and now Jo Davies has moved along the acronym by casting transgender performer, writer and activist Kate O'Donnell as Feste at the Royal Exchange.

And far from any suggestion of a gimmick, it's a deeply sensitive, nuanced take on the role that breathes a real sense of contemporary life into the show. Her experience on the cabaret circuit shows in the ease with which she entertains her audience, whether onstage with the text or bantering off-book with the stalls crowd in the interval, but as funny as she is, there's a depth to her stage presence too. An extra-textual moment where she clocks the cross-dressed Viola in the dark with a hint of recognition, the gorgeous melancholy with which the resonance of her final song grabs you - "when I came to man's estate...", this is the verse sprung to life anew.

Review: Winter Hill, Octagon

"Heroism is danger and risk, and frankly, until now, it’s been male"

Plays set in places I knew well as a child unexpectedly looks like it might be one of the theatrical memes of the year - Years of Sunlight explored the history of the neighbouring town where I learned to swim and now we have Timberlake Wertenbaker's new drama Winter Hill, named for the West Pennine peak that was the location of many a childhood walk. 

Wertenbaker's play is set on the Winter Hill of the near future, as opposed to the not-so-near past, where a chunk of the land has been sold to developers who are constructing a luxury skyscraper hotel there, set to completely alter the way that the hill dominates the landscape and the town of Bolton below it. As a local women's reading group sneaks onto the building site to have their meetings, hidden agendas bubble to the surface to make matters a little more serious than whether they've got enough wine to get through the evening.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review: The Philanthropist, Trafalgar Studios

"I'd much prefer to have honest criticism than your, if you don't mind me saying so, negative remarks"

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays has proven quite an interesting one to keep to hand as it has often made me choose to see things I wouldn't necessarily normally have gone to (with both good and bad results). The result of consultation with 800 playwrights, actors, directors, theatre professionals and arts journalists, the list purports to give us the 100 most significant plays of the 20th century, a subjective exercise at the best of times and one which throws up some real curveballs, like this play.

Written by Christopher Hampton in 1970, The Philanthropist was conceived as a response to Molière's The Misanthrope, it's the lead character's unflappable amiability that causes havoc around him here. But for all the intertextuality, it feels a horrendously dated piece of writing that you can scarcely believe has had revivals in 2005 at the Donmar and 2009 on Broadway. With the likes of Simon Russell Beale and Matthew Broderick at their helm, they may have been better acted but in its gender politics, in its treatment of sexual abuse and suicide, how this play has got the reputation it has is beyond me.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

"Household rules and small decrees
unsuspecting bring us these
secret little tragedies"

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre's longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is...). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst's direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven't quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she's a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it's a difficult one to resist despite - or maybe because of - all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Over in Canary Wharf, The Space Theatre might not necessarily be one that is on the radar of many London theatregoers but the announcement of their summer season ought to tempt the theatrically curious out East as it is full of goodies, not least a revival of Mike Bartlett's excellent Contractions.

Find a selection of some of productions that have caught my eye below

  • The UK premiere of MAD MAN SAD WOMAN by award-winning Chilean playwright Juan Radrigán is a haunting piece giving voice to the voiceless; finding beauty, laughter, and dignity in lives amongst the rubble.
  • Employing elements of visual and physical theatre, live folk music, and a design inspired by the Scandinavian landscapes, UK/Swedish company Romantika explore men’s reluctance to express their emotions in WHAT LIES BENEATH. Tormented by grief, a man flees to the mountains. Suffering from hypothermia, he descends into a hallucinogenic state.
  • Hippana Theatre’s frantic and twisted version of Molière’s THE MISER is a multi-lingual production explodes with acrobatics, slapstick, mask and mime to show the descent of a family provoked by the tyranny of a greedy father.
  • A Summer double bill sees Liver & Lung Productions present contemporary, topical new work. SARAH, SKY AND 7 OTHER GUYS is a raw exploration of love, life and libidos in which Sarah and her Indian gay best friend Sky embark on a journey of sordid sexual encounters and hilariously painful events. SUBMISSION is a new play about identity, sexuality and ideology as Sameer, a young British Pakistani, struggles to reconcile his sexual desires with his Islamic roots and values.
  • Caroline Buckley’s bold and sassy musical, GRAB ‘EM BY THE PUSSY, is set in a world where women are objectified daily. Join outcast Maisy on her quest to be fondled, with plenty of unusual musical numbers along the way...
  • False accusations also feature in THE WITCH’S MARK, winner of the Festival Spirit Award at the 2017 VAULT Festival. Agnes Sampson is accused of witchcraft, tortured, beaten and forced to confess her guilt. But Agnes has powers she was not aware of. Timothy N Evers’ play is a graphic, haunting tale of one woman’s resistance against the forces determined to destroy her.
  • Formed at the National Youth Theatre, all-female company the Wonderbox Collective make their Space debut with A WOMB OF ONE’S OWN. 18 yearold Babygirl struggles with unsympathetic hospital receptionists, newfound independence, uncertain religious beliefs, and the hidden grief that comes with making a difficult choice. This ambitious new production uses humour and sensitivity to shine a light on the still-taboo theme of unwanted pregnancy.
  • Filthy COW Theatre present ECLIPSED - first staged in 1992, Patricia Burke Brogan’s debut play was one of the first dramas to show the real life plight of the women incarcerated inside Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries.
  • And all new female collective VOLTA take a darkly comic look at the employee/employer relationship in Mike Bartlett’s critically acclaimed play CONTRACTIONS. First staged at the Royal Court, the play arrives at the Space for a well-deserved Off West End revival.

Album Review: Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording (2017)

"The time has come for my dreams to be heard"

That it took so long for the UK premiere of Dreamgirls to arrive (35 years after its original Broadway opening), it is little surprise to see that it has taken a mere few months for the Original London Cast Recording to appear, released by Sony Masterworks Broadway today (Friday 12th May). Capitalising on the show's extraordinary success at the Savoy (read my review here) and the two Olivier Awards wins for Amber Riley (Best Actress in a Musical) and Adam J. Bernard (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), this double-album was recorded live in the theatre over four performances in February 2017 with no additional studio re-recordings or musical overdubs.

The choice to go for a live recording is an interesting one. There's an undoubted raw energy that comes from the material not just being sung but being performed that makes certain numbers really pop. And then there's the double-edged sword that is the audience reception - on the one hand it can be spine-tingling effective to hear how enthusiastically the work is being received but on the other, it doesn't always translate without the accompanying visual and let's be honest, the recording doesn't gain anything from having Amber Riley's entrance applause so volubly present.

Album Review: Lea Salonga - Blurred Lines

“I'm on your magical mystery ride"

Recorded during her Feinstein’s/54 Below residency last year, Lea Salonga’s live album Blurred Lines is a sometimes surprising but always classy affair indeed. Effortlessly mixing standards with contemporary pop songs, devising interesting new song pairings and encapsulating her varied stage career in medleys, this was clearly a very well put-together show and thankfully, much of its magic has translated onto disc. 

Accompanied by Jack Cavari on guitar and musical director Lawrence Yurman on piano, there’s a real beauty in just luxuriating in Salonga’s interpretation of her material. She’s a singer in full control of every aspect and colour of her voice and that comes across in the gorgeous restraint and considered intelligence of her readings. She can riff like the bolshiest of Broadway divas but knows full well that she doesn’t need to.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Production shots for Ibsen Huis

"Moeten we hier als op de Wallen in lingerie gaan zitten?"

Time pressures (and priorities) being what they are, when one is on holiday celebrating one's birthday, my review of Simon Stone's Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam won't be ready for a couple of days. So in the meantime, follow the lovely Hans Kesting's gaze past the break and feast your eyes on some of the production photos from Jan Versweyveld.

(c) Henri Verhoef

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

TV Review: King Charles III, BBC2

"I ask no less than power to achieve my will in fair exchange for total service to the state"

Uneasy lies the head that waits for the crown. Mike Barlett's King Charles III was a deserved award-winning success when it took the Almeida by storm in 2014, transferring into the West End and then Broadway, later touring the UK and Australia too. Its success lay in the conception of a Shakespearean future history play, written in verse but set in a world recognisably our own, where Prince George is nonchalanting eating croissants, Queen Elizabeth II has just passed and before he has even been crowned, Charles finds himself in a constitutional crisis of his own making. A bold but welcome move from the BBC to commission a version then.

Directed as it was onstage by Rupert Goold and adapted by Bartlett (the narrative has been telescoped down by over an hour), it re-emerges as a powerful, pacy drama, a fascinating look into how the relationship between monarchy and government could so easily shift at a time of transition, anchored by an achingly nuanced performance from Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role. The ache is of course deepened by the actor's death last month but that sadness shouldn't overshadow the quality of his work here, masterful in his command of the verse, mesmerising as a man trapped by history.

Review: Escape the Theatre, Millbank Tower

There's something inevitable about ending up at something called Escape the Theatre but that analysis aside, a half-price offer with Time Out led our regular team of intrepid escape-the-roomers to Millbank Tower, fortified by a Bloody Mary or two. There, you can find an interesting twist on the locked room genre in that this challenge is a large team-based one - you could be one of up to 15 trying to solve the puzzles, competing against another team against the clock.

The premise of Escape the Theatre is that you've been invited to a swanky film premiere and as we enter the auditorium for an exclusive pre-film event, the lights go off, the doors are locked and a decades-long mystery is unveiled. There's a lot to get to grips with and just 45 minutes in which to do so in order to, dun dun duuuuh, escape the theatre.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Review: A Lie of the Mind, Southwark Playhouse

“Love… its a disease that makes ya’ feel good. While it lasts. Then, when it’s gone, yer worse off than before you caught it”

Despite being blown away by True West, something about Sam Shepard makes me a little wary. I liked rather than loved Fool For Love and ultimately steered clear of the recent Buried Child and it was with a little trepidation that I allowed myself to make my way into A Lie of the Mind, produced here at the Southwark Playhouse by the folks at Defibrillator Theatre. Part of the problem I think lies in my antipathy towards the American dream as a narrative driver, in all honesty I often find I could care less about characters who are constructed around it. So a production has to do a lot to create the kind of context that makes me care and I'd say that director James Hillier just about manages it here, albeit with a couple of reservations.

In rural Montana, a part of the declining American West, the fallout from a particularly vicious episode of the brutally abusive marriage between Jake and Beth plays out. He's retreated back to his childhood bedroom and she is recovering from her substantial injuries at her family's cabin and in parallel, we track - through the most abstracted of ways - the dysfunctional family bonds, their violent legacies and the crucially unexpressed love, that have led them to this point and which appear to offer little alternative beyond.

Figures of Speech, a major new digital project by the Almeida

Ever pioneers in pushing the boundaries of theatrical enterprise (to wit, the durational readings of The Iliad and The Odyssey), the Almeida Theatre has launched Figures of Speech, a major new digital film project interrogating the vitality of speech, rhetoric, and what visionary leadership sounds like. Conceived by Rupert Goold and directed by Anthony Almeida, Figures of Speech will, deep breath, "place history’s greatest speeches centre stage through a series of films read by a network of actors and young leaders released online, building a tapestry of dynamic voices and ideas from across the world as a dramatic response to social crisis". 

The first suite of films, being released on a day-by-day basis from today, features speeches delivered by American politician Harvey Milk spoken by Ian McKellen; Nelson Mandela spoken by Lucian Msamati; Virginia Woolf spoken by Fiona Shaw; AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser spoken by Nicola Walker; and Labour Party Politician Neil Kinnock spoken by Ashley Walters. And throughout the year, the Almeida will release more of these films, accompanied by additional material exploring the speeches, the context within which they were first delivered and the choice to revive them in 2017. 

The site will feature guest-authored articles and filmed reactions from each speech’s performer alongside an audience made up of people from local communities that have direct connections to the themes explored. To complement each speech, inspiring young leaders aged 15 - 25 from across London have been invited to respond to Figures of Speech and deliver a speech of their own, crafted through an Almeida Participation programme, inviting previously unheard voices to share the platform. 

Which I'm sure you'll agree sounds rather quite exciting indeed, a fresh way at looking at politics and leadership in these tumultuous times, and exploring something of the changing nature of what it means to be an orator in the 21st century. And as a treat for you - yes, you! - you can find snippets of some of the forthcoming films below. 

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Review: Paper Hearts, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

"What would Barbara Cartland do?"

After a successful run in Edinburgh last summer and ahead of a tour in Germany this coming summer, new British musical Paper Hearts arrives in Highgate at the always charming Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre. Written and composed by Liam O'Rafferty, it is a boldly conceived piece for a debut musical and one which takes an ambitiously fresh spin on the rom-com genre.

Set in The Final Chapter, an independent bookshop with a devoted local clientele, Atticus Smith splits his time between working in the shop and being a frustrated writer. But when an online retail giant threatens to swallow the business whole, he is finally spurred into action, not least by the fact that his estranged father is behind the takeover, but also by the arrival of attractive management consultant Lilly Sprockett.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Review: Pete 'n' Keely, Tristan Bates

"It's us again"

Emily Bestow's technicolor set design for Pete 'n' Keely is one of those which fully exploits the transformative possibilities of the Tristan Bates' black box, converting the space into a convincing evocation of a swingin' Sixties television studio. That studio is currently home to pop duo Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens who soared up the charts with their winning charm and captured the hearts of a nation when they got married. Five years down the line though, fame has cooled, they're divorced and the first time they've met up since, they're filming a live reunion special on TV.

Thus we get a variety show format that allows the pair to fill us in anecdotally on their shared past through the medium of popular song, at least when their barely concealed present animosity doesn't interfere. For there's a multitude of unresolved issues that need to be dealt with if they're to make it to the end of the programme, never mind consider the future beyond it. Appropriately enough for the era, Pete 'n' Keely is a rather gentle show and Matthew Gould's production here possesses a warmly nostalgic glow that is well essayed by performers David Bardsley and Katie Kerr.

Review: Birds of Paradise, Drayton Arms

"Penguins must sing"

Birds of Paradise is a show that had an ignominiously brief off-Broadway run in 1987 and might well have faded into obscurity were it not for its lyricist and co-book-writer Winnie Holzman going on to have a small measure of success in later writing the book for a show called Wicked... So MKEC Productions have opted to revive the show and give it its belated UK premiere at the Drayton Arms in South Kensington. 

And as with a fair few shows that suffer from terrible reputations due to their performance in the harsh commercial reality of musical theatre, it isn't as bad as all that at all. Set in the world of amateur dramatics, the Harbour Island Players are excited about their new project, a musical version of Chekhov's The Seagull, and over-excited about the news that a Broadway star (and former local) is coming to watch them rehearse.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Review: Angels in America, National Theatre

"It isn't easy, it doesn't count if it's easy, it's the hardest thing. Forgiveness. Which is maybe where love and justice finally meet"

In the many aspects of Angels in America that there are to enjoy and appreciate, the richness of Tony Kushner's writing was not one that I was particularly expecting. But at several points throughout the many, many hours of the two-show press day, it felt like Kushner was almost writing in pull-quotes, such was the vividness of the language that was resonating from the stage of the Lyttelton. So to reflect that, I'm structuring this post a little differently to a traditional review, using some of those quotes to trigger and collect some of my thoughts. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

"This family can take care of its own"

The hype around Jez Butterworth's new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut - it's almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play's the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell's farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that's before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it's the guests you're not expecting that you have to watch out for.

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Union

“I am in love with a man”

Productions of Romeo and Juliet are not uncommon in the SE1 postcode, especially ones full of direct address to the audience and scored with live music. But what is surprising that there's a considerably more moving and engaging production of Shakespeare's tragedy to be found at the Union Theatre than the current one in residence up the road at the Globe. It's no less radical a reinterpretation - the two lovers are reconceived as gay footballers here - but where Andy Bewley's production really succeeds is in capturing the exultant highs of heady teen romance and the troubling lows of battling a world that doesn't accept you.

The move to the football field is lightly done as far as the text in concerned - a city divided by its football loyalties makes sense. The Capulets' team are the red shirts of AC Verona whilst in the blue are the Montagues of Verona FC with Juliet and Romeo as the stars of their respective youth academy teams. And Joe M Mackenzie's adaptation pays dividends in many respects - Romeo's flirtation with Rosaline manifests itself as homoerotic touching so often seen on the football field, taunts - homophobic or otherwise - spark real anger across the terraces, gender-swapping Paris as a would-be WAG positions her perfectly as the beard Lady Capulet needs her to be.

Cast of The Ferryman continued

National Theatre unveils Queer Theatre event series

Not content with reviving the landmark drama Angels in America, the National Theatre will mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales by staging its first Queer Theatre event series from 6th – 10th July 2017.

A group of world class actors and directors will look at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings and post-show discussions in the Lyttelton Theatre. And looking at the list of readings announced below, it's good to see a diversity of sexualities being represented and I hope that the rest of the programme continues to explore LBT+ lives as well as the G.

Launching the initiative, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney said of directing a rehearsed reading of his play Wig Out!:
“I feel grateful to be returning to the UK and reading this piece. As we continue better to understand ourselves and how we perform in the world I hope this investigation back into the 'ball scene' will be as exciting as it is important. #Alllove&Allpride.”
Director Stephen Daldry said: 
"As a teenager Bent was the first play I ever saw on the London stage. Amazingly at a theatre I went on to be the director of. It was a devastating experience for a young gay man from a small market town in Somerset. I can honestly say the experience changed my life. The play went on to take London by storm. I am thrilled and honoured to direct a rehearsed reading of Martin Sherman's explosive play to mark this important anniversary."

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Review: Late Company, FInborough

"When you wake up in a cold sweat at night and you think someone is watching you, well it’s me. I’m watching you"

Guess who's coming to dinner, Toronto-style. The table has been set at Debora and Michael's oh-so-tasteful upper class home but the atmosphere is thick with tension as their guests are Curtis, the schoolboy who bullied their son Joel - who committed suicide a year ago - and his parents. The meeting has been arranged in order to try and achieve some kind of emotional closure but as it is revealed just how raw the wounds still are, there's so much more to dig into than a bowl of seafood pasta.

The Finborough has long had a record of supporting Canadian writers and Jordan Tannahill certainly seems like one to watch. Directed with an unhurried and unfussy clarity by Michael Yale, Late Company blisters through its hot-button topics of cyber-bullying and teen suicide with real skill, presenting an even-handed look at the issues but what really impresses, is the way in which he drips revelation after revelation into his narrative to keep us constantly on the edge of our seats.

Review: Everything Between Us, Finborough

"He was like a real-life Morgan Freeman"

Though it might not necessarily seem like it, I do sometimes miss plays - David Ireland's Cyprus Avenue being one such example from last year, a rare moment of me deciding that I didn't want to see it (only partly because I'd pretty much had the shock aspect of it ruined). Ireland is now being acclaimed as "Northern Ireland's boldest contemporary writer" though and so the Finborough have opted to revive his earlier play Everything Between Us in their Sunday/Monday/Tuesday slot.

After decades of conflict, both politically in terms of Ulster as a nation and personally for sisters Sandra and Teeni Richardson who haven't spoken in a good few years, the notion of truth and reconciliation seems a noble if unlikely one. But as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Northern Ireland sets up shop in Stormont with politician Sandra representing her Protestant brethren, Teeni comes crashing back in her sister's life to force negotiations on that level too.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy - Songs by Alexander S Bermange

"If only I were famous from the telly"

Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there's an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange's latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I've seen - The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days - were both part of festivals).

That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here - Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here.

Cast of Wit and Whimsy continued

The complete 2017 Tony nominations

Best play
A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Indecent by Paula Vogel
Oslo by JT Rogers
Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Best musical
Come from Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Groundhog Day the Musical
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Review: The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse

"A poet's art is to lead on your thoughts through subtle paths and workings of a plot. I will say nothing positive; you may think what you please..."

 not too often that I open a review with mention of the sound design but Max Pappenheim's work in The Little at the Southwark Playhouse is undoubtedly worthy of the accolade. In this intimate auditorium on the architecturally clean lines of Anna Reid's set, there's an extraordinary sense of being in vaulted palace chambers and cathedrals as echoes and reverberations amplify our imaginations perfectly.

It's the kind of creative invention that those familiar with director Justin Audibert have come to expect and it is thrilling to see it maintained whether working in the vast Royal Shakespeare Theatre where his recent Snow in Midsummer was excellent, or on this much smaller scale where it is a real delight to see someone really understanding how to play to all sides of a thrust stage. There's also a fascinating choice of material here in this revival of James Shirley's The Cardinal, a 1641 play whose claim to fame is being one of the last to be performed before Oliver Cromwell pulled the plug on show-business.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Cate Blanchett. 

Ivo van Hove. 

All About Eve. 

West End 2018.

That is all.

Bullshit London are proud to announce the return of their hugely popular factually inaccurate walking tours which will run from now until the end of October. The premise is simple – tourists and locals alike are invited to take a step down false-memory lane to be guided on an astonishingly silly and very fun walking tour of London's major landmarks. 
The landmarks are real but the facts are genuine bullshit.
  • See where Queen Victoria exploded! 
  • Smell the Thames mermaid! 
  • Discover the sinister truth about the Barbican!
Bullshit London provide guided tours of ... well of Bullshit. Reimagining the purpose of existing landmarks, cracking jokes about real ones and exploring some of the Bullshit we all carry around in our heads. 

This year the company will be offering two London tours which run every week from April – October:

The Southbank Tour ‘Tourist Trap’
The original Bullshit offering and the most popular, the South Bank 'Tourist Trap' Tour runs every Thursday evening from April - October, leaving at 7pm from the steps of St Paul's (behind the statue of Queen Anne), and usually ending at Trafalgar square via the south bank.

The City Tour ‘Standing On The Shoulders of Giants’
Taking you off the beaten trail in more ways than one, this (de) tour eschews the better known tourist hotspots and joyfully explores some of more the unusual and contradictory architecture of the financial district. Departing at 2pm every Sunday from Moorgate Tube Station (from 16th April), It's a voyage of discovery in more ways than one as you will also *learn* things you didn't know before about how the financial system works and be exposed to shocking new truths which will (probably) BLOW YOUR MINDS!!! The tour finishes at Bank Station.

TOUR: The Southbank Tour ‘Tourist Trap’
DEPARTURE LOCATION: The steps of St Pauls (behind the statue of Queen Anne)
DATE: Every Thursday evening from 13th April – 8th October 2017
TIME: 7pm (9pm)
PRICE: £10 (Standard), £8 (Concession)

TOUR: The City Tour ‘Standing On The Shoulders of Giants’
DATE: Every Sunday afternoon from 16th April – 15th October 
TIME: 2pm (3:15pm)
PRICE: £10 (Standard), £8 (Concession)

I have to admit that I wasn't much enamoured by the prospect of a Bob Dylan musical but when I stopped to think about it, I don't know why I was worried because I've long been of the opinion that Dylan's songs are best sung by other people. And with the annoucement of the cast, Girl From The North Country does sound like an intriguing proposition at the Old Vic.

The cast includes Sheila Atim (Marianne Laine), Ron Cook (Doctor Walker), Bronagh Gallagher (Mrs Burke), Shirley Henderson (Elizabeth Laine), Ciaran Hinds (Nick Laine), Claudia Jolly (Katherine Draper), Arinzé Kene (Joe Scott), Debbie Kurup (Mrs Neilsen), Kirsty Malpass (Ensemble), Jim Norton (Mr Perry), Tom Peters (Ensemble), Karl Queensborough (Ensemble), Sam Reid (Gene Laine), Michael Shaeffer (Reverend Marlowe), Jack Shalloo (Elias Burke), and Stanley Townsend (Mr Burke).

The Sound of Musicals presents a new programme of show–stopping music and songs from the greatest Broadway and West End musicals of all time. The concert will be performed at the Symphony Hall Birmingham on the Thursday 11 May at 7.30pm, the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on Friday 12 May and the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 13 May.

The show will include a wide range of some of the best-loved musicals: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 'Gethsemane' from Jesus Christ Superstar, 'The Perfect Year' from Sunset Boulevard and 'Another Suitcase in another Hall' from Evita to Kiss Me Kate’s 'So In Love', the show offers many favourite musical treats. Other pieces to be performed include Lionel Bart’s stirring 'As Long as He Needs Me' from Oliver! the tear jerking 'On My Own' from Les Miserables, 'I Know Him So Well' from Chess and 'Mr Cellophane' from the multi award winning Chicago - there is truly a song for everyone.

These show stopping tunes will be sung by an appealing quartet of West End stars - Louise Dearman, Hannah Waddingham,Tim Howar and Oliver Tompsett. The talented soloists are joined by the London Concert Orchestra, under the brilliant conductor of Richard Balcombe.

Following a hugely successful 2016 Australian and UK tour, Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company South Australia’s critically acclaimed Things I Know To Be True returns to delight audiences in the UK from 27 September 2017. Andrew Bovell’s new play will tour to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry in Salford, Leicester Curve, Mercury Theatre in Colchester, York Theatre Royal, Chester Storyhouse, Southampton’s Nuffield, Poole Lighthouse and London’s Lyric Hammersmith.

As beautifully touching as it is funny and bold, Things I Know To Be True tells the story of a family and marriage through the eyes of four grown siblings struggling to define themselves beyond their parents’ love and expectations.

Parents Bob and Fran have worked their fingers to the bone and with their four children grown and ready to fly the nest it might be time to relax and enjoy the roses. But the changing seasons bring home some shattering truths.

Andrew Bovell said:
"The only reason to write a play is for it to reach an audience and for it to mean something to them when it does. I'm thrilled that UK audiences will have another chance to see this wonderful production.”
Scott Graham (Artistic Director, Frantic Assembly) said:
“I am immensely proud of this collaboration. It melted hearts on its first Australian and UK tours and I am looking forward to new audiences engaging with this beautiful play.”
Geordie Brookman (Artistic Director, State Theatre Company) said:
“We are tremendously proud of the way this gem of an Australian play has connected with U.K. audiences and feel blessed that, alongside our friends at Frantic Assembly, we can take the production to an even wider audience.”
Featuring Frantic Assembly’s celebrated physicality, and co-directed by Frantic Assembly’s Tony and Olivier Award nominated Artistic Director Scott Graham and State Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Geordie Brookman, Things I Know To Be True is a complex and intense study of the mechanics of a family that is both poetic and brutally frank.

Andrew Bovell is regarded as one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, for critically acclaimed plays including When The Rain Stops Falling, Speaking In Tongues and an adaptation of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, as well as screen work including Lantana and A Most Wanted Man.

Casting for Things I Know To Be True will be announced in due course.

27 - 30 September
Oxford Playhouse
On sale from Thursday 27 April
11-12 Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2LW
01865 305 305

3 – 7 October
The Lowry (Quays Theatre)
On sale from Thursday 27 April
Pier 8, The Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ
0843 208 6000

10 – 14 October
Leicester Curve
Members on sale for members from Thursday 11 May
General on sale from Monday 15 May
60 Rutland St, Leicester LE1 1SB
0116 242 3595

17 – 21 October
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
On sale from Thursday 27 April
Colchester CO1 1PT
01206 573948

31 October – 4 November
York Theatre Royal
On sale from Thursday 27 April
St Leonard's Pl, York YO1 7HD
01904 623568

7 – 11 November
Chester Storyhouse
Tickets on sale now
Hunter St, Chester CH1 2AR
01244 409113

14 – 18 November
Nuffield Southampton
On sale from Thursday 27 April
University Rd, Southampton SO17 1TR
023 8067 1771

21 – 25 November
The Lighthouse, Poole
On sale from Thursday 27 April
21 Kingland Rd, Poole BH15 1UG
01202 280000

11 January – 3 February
Lyric Hammersmith
On sale from Thursday 27 April
Lyric Square, King Street, London, W6 0QL
020 8741 6850