Saturday, 30 September 2017

Review: After The Rehearsal / Persona, Barbican

"Als ik, heel even maar desnoods, mijn masker zou afzetten en zou zeggen wat ik voelde of dacht, zouden jullie je razernij tegen mij keren"

Toneelgroep Amsterdam have made the Barbican their base pretty much every time they've visited London, so it was little surprise that is where their 2017 residency was announced. We say residency, the peripatetic nature and ferocious workrate of this Dutch company meaning that it contained three shows spread over six months (Roman Tragedies, Obsession, and this Ingmar Bergman double bill) all of which have managed to provoke strong opinions.

I'd be fascinated to know the reason behind choosing After The Rehearsal / Persona out of all of the shows in their considerable repertory (it also tours to Santiago, Chile and Washington DC). Created in 2012, it brings together two pieces written for the screen by the Swede into a long haul of an evening, close to three hours of occasionally impenetrable Swedish existential angst. It contains some of the directorial flourish that has made van Hove's name, plus it stars the remarkable Marieke Heebink but there's no denying I found it a challenge. 

Re-review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge

"When I grow up,
I will be smart enough to answer all
The questions that you need to know
The answers to before you're grown up"

As Matilda the Musical approaches its seventh year in the West End, and a new adult cast has had a couple of weeks to bed in, I was delighted to get the chance to revisit the show. Since its premiere in Stratford back in 2010/11, it has been a musical to fall in love with over and over again. I can - and do - listen to the Original Cast Recording all the time, and it is always on top of the list of things I recommend when I'm ever asked 'what should I see'. Take a read of my 5 star review for Official Theatre here, as I try not to use up all my words in praise of Gina Beck.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 27th May 2018, for the moment
David Shannon, Gina Beck, Tom Edden and Marianne Benedict



Review: Lucky Stiff, Union

"A hero on the run
And a woman with a gun
And an ending with a twist
And a brother who is pissed"

What would you do for six million dollars? That's the question underlying Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty's (music) 1988 musical farce Lucky Stiff, based on the 1983 novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth. And being a farce, it's not a story to examine too closely as a Home Counties shoe salesman, a Brooklyn dog home employee and an Atlantic City optometrist and his legally blind sister converge on the South of France in pursuit of the money.

Shoeshop Harry is the one with his nose in front - it is a bequest to him from his late uncle that kicks off all the shenanigans. A sizeable inheritance with an all-expenses-paid trip to the French Riviera to boot, with just the one catch - Harry has to take his uncle's body with him on every step of the holiday. As several other interested parties get wind of the news, the scene is set for all sorts of supremely silly capers and your enjoyment of the show may well depend on your tolerance of daftness.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Review: Turkey, Hope

"If that's how much it costs to have a baby...?"

It's a bold move to put a character as flawed as Madeline front and centre in your debut play; still more to not give her the kind of redemption arc that conventional wisdom suggests we crave in our drama. So Frankie Meredith's Turkey reveals itself as a nifty piece of writing, developed from a true family story in a Soho Young Writers Lab exercise in 2015 and now premiering at the ever-welcoming Hope Theatre.

At first it doesn't seem that way. We meet Madeline in the afterglow of a passionate vodka-fuelled night with Toni, adamant she's not a lesbian - she has a boyfriend she's cheating on after all - but soon entwined in a full-blown relationship. Fast-forward to moving in together and squabbling over which organic vegetables to buy, the focus of the play soon emerges as Madeline's unstoppable desire to have a baby becomes the dominant force in their lives.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Review: Frankenstein, Brockley Jack

"Beginnings...are difficult"

You may think you know the story of Frankenstein - in the 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote the novel for which she is most famed, it has received countless adaptations and sunk deep into the collective consciousness. But chances are that Arrows & Traps' version will disarm you and make you consider it anew as it introduces a new, crucial character into the narrative - Mary Shelley herself.

Writer/director Ross McGregor's reinterpretation of this tale is masterfully done. Framed as something of a fever dream, a hallucination by the older Shelley who suffered from a brain tumour for more than a decade before her death, the story here is split in three. We follow the story of the Creature and, separately, of Victor Frankenstein; but we also explore Shelley's life too, the experiences that led up to her creation of such an epic piece of literature while still a teenager, the curious darkness that stalked her thereafter.

Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester

"Smile a rented smile, fill someone's glass
Kiss someone's wife, kiss someone's ass"

Ria Jones’ extraordinary history with Sunset Boulevard might well be entitled The Norma Conquests – from originally workshopping the role of Norma Desmond for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) in 1991 to her headline-grabbing stint as Glenn Close’s understudy in last year’s ENO staged concert version of the show to finally getting to play the leading role in her own right on this UK tour, premiering at Leicester’s Curve, some 26 years later.

And was it worth the wait? Jones certainly is making the most of her well-deserved moment, offering a different skillset for her markedly different interpretation. Jones is undoubtedly the better singer, the lushness of her voice soaring effortlessly to the impassioned heights of the score. And she’s a different kind of actress, offering a brasher, more manic kind of energy to this former movie star caught up in a fantasy world when a young screenwriter (Danny Mac) accidentally offers hope to her faded career. 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Review: Mosquitoes, National Theatre

"I can be anything I want. 
I can be a Hufflepuff if I want."

Just a quickie for this as it closes this week (I had the unfortunate accident of being in Vienna for its press night). Lucy Kirkwood's Mosquitoes has been a sell-out success for the National, packing out the Dorfman perhaps initially for its deluxe casting of two Olivias - Colman and Williams - but latterly due to some superb word of mouth as well. And given that this is largely a play about two sisters who can't help but bicker all their lives, it is brilliantly well cast.

Williams is Alice, a scientist working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and Colman is Jenny, a medical sales rep living in Luton. Nominally, the former is a success, the latter a fuckup, an idea reinforced by Jenny arriving in Geneva to recuperate from a devastating personal loss. But Kirkwood's writing is far too nuanced to let that be all, she thoroughly interrogates our preconceptions as she whirls through a universe-ful of ideas including anti-vaxxers, revenge porn, society's inherent misogyny, science and religion and much more besides.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Review: The Band, Manchester Opera House

"Do the boys have a song for a moment like this?"

Having a bit of fun with this one - there was actually 8 of us in attendance at new Take That musical The Band (with a boisterous Saturday evening crowd), for the occasion of celebrating my niece's 13th birthday. And from ages 10 to (almost) 70, we all really enjoyed ourselves, so I put everyone to work to chip in with their favourite bits about the show, a la Smash Hits. Written by Tim Firth, what I found particularly pleasing was that The Band actually proves an engaging and entertaining piece of theatre, one that has clearly thought about the jukebox form and how it might be played with.

1,
We open in 16-year-old Rachel's bedroom in 1993, a time of Ceefax and Top of the Pops, of teenage dreams and life's potential. But her parents are on the brink of divorce and so she retreats under the covers to listen to 'the boys', her favourite band who she is able to conjure up at a moment's notice. It's a nifty conceit, this internalised band, as it plays both into the fantasy element of being a devoted fan and provides a conduit for the bursting-into-song required of a musical, whether Rachel is using the music to drown out the harshness of the real world or lose herself in a reverie of hunky gladiators.

Cast of The Band continued

Production shots of The Band

Production shots of The Band (they're getting their own post as we're doing something a little different for the main review...

All photos courtesy of Matt Crockett



Cast of The Band continued

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Review: Mack and Mabel, Hackney Empire

"I'll pull the greatest stunt this business has seen"

I can't be doing with supermarkets who are already starting to stock mince pies but it was hard not to feel that Christmas had come early, such were the heady delights of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra's latest venture Mack and Mabel, directed by Shaun Kerrison. Ostensibly, these are concert presentations of musicals but the joy in what you actually get, the bonuses that get incorporated into the creation of genuine one-off experiences makes LMTO one of the more valuable recent additions to the London theatre ecology.

So you've got your cast of West End names (David Bedella, Natasha J Barnes, Tiffany Graves headlining), you've got your orchestra of 32 (conducted by Freddie Tapner, led by Debs White), you've got a chorus of 16 too. And of course you've got the marvellous musical, written by Michael Stewart and composed by Jerry Herman, in the atmospheric surroundings of the Hackney Empire. But not content with such riches, we also get cream pies, chorus lines, and two properly gobsmacking coups de théâtre that brought the audience to their feet.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Review: The Revlon Girl, Park

"It was all about money. The cheapest solution. No one gave a shit about us"

We often talk about state-of-the-nation plays (well, at least Billington does) but it has often felt like a somewhat dusty, ephemeral concept that has passed me by in plays I have to force myself to see, if I go at all (qv The Entertainer). But it is a notion that strikes me deeply whilst thinking about Neil Anthony Docking's extraordinary gut-wrench of a play The Revlon Girl, bracingly insightful about how we as a nation deal with disasters, an impassioned cri-de-cœur for those most directly affected. 

I saw an earlier incarnation of The Revlon Girl a couple of years ago and I was deeply impressed then and deeply moved. But now, in these post Grenfell times, its relevance stings. Docking's prescience has intensified and sharpened the experience of watching the play, almost unbearably so as we watch corporate malfeasance, government disinterest, invasive media practices and the dismissal of community concern in a play set over 50 years ago, events that were repeated almost play-by-play in West London not three months ago. 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

So much news, about so many exciting women, that I had to put together a second bulletin for this week...
Chief among them is the confirmation of Marianne Elliott's reworking of Company, featuring the return of the glorious Patti LuPone to the London stage, playing Joanne to Rosalie Craig's gender-swapped Bobbi. Initial reports suggest less of an interesting queering of the material and more of a straight gender-flip but it still seems set to be a highlight of next autumn.
(c) Dan Kennedy

Review: 35mm - A Musical Exhibition, The Other Palace Studio

"Why must we justify? 
Let's defy their forms and fixtures..."

There's something about choosing a song cycle as your form that automatically feels like a declaration that the entertainment that lies ahead is going to be a mixed bag, some hits and the possibility of some misses in a willfully diverse collection, loosely connected by an overarching theme. And so it proves with Ryan Scott Oliver's 35mm: A Musical Exhibition, currently getting a short run in The Other Palace's studio space.

The hook here is that the 15 songs are each inspired by a photograph taken by Broadway photographer Matthew Murphy, allowing for the exploration of any (and all) aspect of human nature and the adoption of any musical style he wishes. An exponent of new musical theatre writing, Scott Oliver calls to mind something of the complexity of Michael John LaChiusa's compositions and equally brings the same kind of challenges. 

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

© Trevor Leighton
Given how she's doing such amazing work in Follies at the minute, it's kinda gobsmacking to discover that Janie Dee has not one but two cabaret shows lined up for the beginning of October. Returning to Live at Zédel, fans have the pick of Janie Dee at the BBC - album launch or Janie Dee - Off the Record... or you can do both on the same night for a couple of dates if you're that way inclined! I'm seriously tempted!


One of the highlights of Bat out of Hell was Sharon Sexton's pneumatic performance so I'm gutted that I can't make Sucked, which is trailed as a sitcom-style musical comedy and features Sexton with Riona O'Connor. Move quickly though, one of their two shows has already sold out.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre


"Darling, shall we dance?"

Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn't cover last time, suffice to say it's just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton's icy bitterness in 'Losing My Mind'! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

Cast of Follies continued

Cast of Follies continued

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Review: Mouldy Grapes, White Bear

“I’ve been dipping my spoon in both the chocolate and the vanilla ice-cream”

The thing with open relationships is that everyone needs to be on the same page. The eccentric Roo has a fear of going outside as well as wearing trousers so the agreement has been made that his boyfriend Liam can sleep with other men. But when the person he brings home one particular night turns out to be a woman, the gobby Jess, that openness flicks over into much more complex terrain.

Such is the world of Mouldy Grapes, the assured debut production from new company Break The ‘Verse, a group of recent East 15 graduates. Directed by Dom Riley and written by Monty Jones and Ellie Sparrow and “enhanced through devising”, what surprises most about the play is the way in which it manages to combine its smart study of the fluidity of sexual identities with a classic comedy model, and pull both off successfully.

Review: The Test, White Bear

"How do you define consciousness?"

The
 world of artificial intelligence may feel like the realm of sci-fi but in reality is closer than we think, the next frontier in the progression of scientific knowledge. And Ian Dixon Potter's new play The Test shows the human race right at the point of breaching it, as ambitious scientist Dora and eager hacker Josh combine forces to harness the global computing power of the web in order to create 'Mother', the first truly conscious AI. What could possibly go wrong...?!

It is a formidable concept to explore in an hour of fringe theatre and to set up this world of advanced science and technology, Dixon Potter is caught between two stools, particularly in the opening scenes. Either characters rattle off complex ideas which threaten to fly over our heads, or they dumb down too much - the dictionary definition of the Turing Test is a case in point, or lines like 'I need you to hijack the internet' which recall nothing so much as this brilliant bit of comedy.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Review: Oslo, National Theatre

"The Americans cannot stand it when others take the lead"

What does it take to get peace in the Middle East? Some determined Norwegians and a plate or two of tasty waffles apparently... At a leisurely three hours in length and set around the Oslo Peace Accords, JT Rogers' Oslo might not on the face of it seem like theatrical gold but it won a Tony on Broadway and such was the confidence in this production that a West End run was booked in to follow its short engagement at the National before a ticket had even been sold.

And it is a confidence that has paid off handsomely. Bartlett Sher's direction has an epic sweep to its depiction of world affairs but Rogers' writing shines through its focus on the intimate detail, on the personal struggle, sacrifice and success of the individuals who managed to break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and work towards the unimaginable - a lasting peace. History has shown us the reality of that, something acknowledged in a coda here, but it is still thrilling to watch,

Cast of Oslo continued

Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud

"The years roll by and nothing changes"

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say 'well it isn't that good, see'. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five - here's my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

Cast of The Ferryman continued

Cast of The Ferryman continued

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


South London based site-specific theatre company Baseless Fabric are presenting David Mamet’s rarely performed short plays Reunion and Dark Pony in libraries across South London as part of National Libraries Week 2017. The plays are two of David Mamet’s earliest work, first produced in the US in 1976 and 1977 respectively and both feature David Schaal and Siu-see Hung in their casts.

Both of the plays explore father and daughter relationships and the audience will be immersed in the worlds of these plays in the unique and atmospheric library environments during National Libraries Week 2017 to raise awareness of exciting events happening in local libraries and bring theatre to people in their local library space. Artistic Director Joanna Turner directs with Set & Costume Designer Bex Kemp, creating a site-responsive design in each library space.

Performance Locations:
Mon 9th Oct 7.30pm - Durning Library, SE11 4HF (nearest station: Kennington)
Tue 10th Oct 7.30pm - John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Wed 11th Oct 7.30pm - John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Thu 12th Oct 7.30pm - Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Fri 13th Oct 7.30pm - Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Sat 14th Oct 3pm - Earlsfield Library, SW18 3NY (nearest station: Earlsfield)
Sat 14th Oct 7.30pm - Battersea Library, SW11 1JB (nearest station: Clapham Junction)
Sun 15th Oct 6pm - Clapham Library, SW4 7DB (nearest station: Clapham Common)
Tickets: £9/£7



Testing my all-too-fragile resolve to protest the Hampstead's predilection for the XY, the cast has been announced for the world premiere of Nicholas Wright's adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Review: Footloose, Peacock

"Been working so hard
I'm punching my card
Two hours for what?"

Jeez Louise, it gives me no pleasure to report this production of Footloose is among the worst things I've seen this year. Jukebox musicals are fine in their place, movie adaptations likewise are ever increasingly the norm but they need love and inspiration to elevate them, rather than the workaday effort and dead-eyed calculation they get here.

Perhaps its the result of coming at the tail end of over a year's touring, perhaps it was a crowd not quite as enthused as the audience of a feel-good show need to be to give it that lift, perhaps it's just not very good. There's a real sense of mechanical action about the production, everything moves in the correct way but there's zero spontaneity here, little sense of the precious 'liveness' of great theatre.

Cast of Footloose continued

Friday, 15 September 2017

Review: Deathtrap, Theatre Royal Brighton

"Always when moon is full, I am in top form"

The floorboards in Sidney Bruhl's isolated barn conversion may squeak underfoot, but there's nothing creaky about Adam Penford's smart revival of Ira Levin's 1978 play Deathtrap, first seen at Salisbury Playhouse last year and now touring the UK. A play full of twists and turns, with a play-within-in-a-play and added cinematic meta-commentary thrown in for good measure, this production proves there's still a place for classic crime thrillers in this post-Scandi-noir world.

Bruhl is a playwright struggling to accept that he is past his prime but when Clifford Anderson, a talented young playwright sends him one of only two copies of his brilliant new whodunnit, he spies an opportunity to ape the thrillers on which he built his now-flagging reputation and steal the newcomer's success for himself, despite his wife's reservations. But Anderson is as much a student of the genre as Bruhl and so the stage is set for, well, the unexpected.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Review:The State of Things, Brockley Jack

"If only I could start to realise I'm not the only one who feels like they've been left behind"

Austerity bites. And it seems like it often bites hardest on the arts, government thinking considering them a luxury rather than a necessity as libraries and those relying on arts funding have been finding out to their cost. And in Thomas Attwood and Elliot Clay's new musical The State of Things, it is a group of seven Sutton Coldfield teenagers, preparing for their music GCSE performance, who find that the A-Level music course onto which they all want to progress is being cut from the timetable in a cost-cutting measure.

Being teenagers means that they quickly get up in arms to protest the decision to their headteacher (known as Maggie - the school is an academy...) but being teenagers, they're also horny af and wrestling with the weight of the world on their shoulders, sometimes all at the same time. Thus the political mixes with the personal (affectingly so in the case of Hana, who faces huge responsibilities at home due to her mother's health issues), inconsequential daily drama with sincerely felt fear for the future.

Cast of Mike Bartlett's new TV show Press announced


An ensemble cast of some of Britain’s hottest talent will portray the determined and passionate characters behind the daily news at two fictional, competing newspapers in Mike Bartlett's (Doctor Foster, King Charles III) drama series, Press, on BBC One.

Charlotte Riley (King Charles III, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) will play the News Editor of fictional broadsheet, The Herald and Ben Chaplin (Apple Tree Yard, The Thin Red Line) will play the Editor of fictional tabloid newspaper, The Post, while Priyanga Burford (London Spy, King Charles III) will play The Herald’s Editor. Paapa Essiedu (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, RSC’s Hamlet) will play The Post’s newest reporter and Shane Zaza (Happy Valley, The Da Vinci Code) its News Editor; while Ellie Kendrick (Game Of Thrones, The Diary Of Anne Frank) will be a junior reporter; Al Weaver (Grantchester, The Hollow Crown) an investigative journalist and Brendan Cowell (Young Vic’s Yerma, Game Of Thrones) the Deputy Editor at The Herald.

They will be joined by David Suchet (Poirot) who will play the Chairman & CEO of Worldwide News, owner of The Post.

Nominations for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have just announced the nominations for the 2017 awards, the results of which will be revealed at a ceremony on Sunday 15th October. 


How many of these did you see, and who do you think should win?

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Sir Peter Hall: 1930-2017 - a photo retrospective

In sad news, the death of Sir Peter Hall, one of the great names in British theatre, has been announced today. Sir Peter died on 11 September at University College Hospital, at the age of 86, surrounded by his family.

As the below statement from the National Theatre reminds us, his achievements were unparalleled, his devotion to the arts undoubtable. And in this selection of photos from some of his productions for the NT, his was a rare artistic vision indeed.

Peter Hall was an internationally celebrated stage director and theatre impresario, whose influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled. His extraordinary career spanned more than half a century: in his mid-20s he staged the English language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In 1960, aged 29, Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company which he led until 1968. The RSC realised his pioneering vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both classic and modern texts with a clear house style in both Stratford and London.
Appointed Director of the National Theatre in 1973, Peter Hall was responsible for the move from the Old Vic to the purpose-built complex on the South Bank. He successfully established the company in its new home in spite of union unrest and widespread scepticism. After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company (1988 – 2011) and in 2003 became the founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston. Throughout his career, Sir Peter was a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

Peter Hall’s prolific work as a theatre director included the world premieres of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965), No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978), Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979), John Barton’s nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000); and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1977). Other landmark productions included Hamlet (1965, with David Warner), The Wars of the Roses (1963), The Oresteia (1981), Animal Farm (1984), Antony and Cleopatra (1987, with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins), The Merchant of Venice (1989, with Dustin Hoffman), As You Like It (2003, with his daughter Rebecca Hall) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010, with Judi Dench). Peter’s last production at the National Theatre was Twelfth Night in 2011.

Sir Peter was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. He is survived by his wife, Nicki, and children Christopher, Jennifer, Edward, Lucy, Rebecca and Emma and nine grandchildren. His former wives, Leslie Caron, Jacqueline Taylor and Maria Ewing also survive him.

Review: Doubt - a Parable, Southwark Playhouse

"What do you do when you’re not sure?"


John Patrick Shanley's play Doubt, a Parable comes lauded with garlands - Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Hollywood adaptation with none other than Meryl Streep - so it must be a modern classic right? But, written in 2004, with all of the hindsight of how cases of historical sexual abuse in the Catholic church have been (mis-)handled, I find its dramatic ambivalence hard to stomach.

Shanley sidestepped the issue by setting his play in 1964 where a scandal is brewing at the St Nicholas Church School in the Bronx. Or is it? Ferociously strict principal Sister Aloysius is convinced that there is inappropriateness occurring between parish priest Father Flynn and the school's first black pupil, but her views are coloured by her loathing of Flynn's modernising ways.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Review: Mrs Orwell, Southwark Playhouse

"So what you want, in a nutshell, George, is a mistress, housekeeper, nurse, literary executor and mother for Richard?"

Tony Cox's play Mrs Orwell did sufficiently good business in its run at the Old Red Lion last month that it has quickly transferred south of the river, to the Southwark Playhouse for an additional few weeks. Based on actual events but with a fair measure of artistic license thrown in, as with all the best stories, it sheds light on the final weeks of George Orwell's life, as tuberculosis ravaged his lungs.

Coming from near Wigan as I do, I had heard of Orwell long before I really knew who he was, as much for the pub named after him as his famous book. So Cox provides an interesting biographical slant on the writer, looking at him through the eyes of assistant magazine editor Sonia Brownell, who became a constant visitor to his University College hospital bed and eventually received the most platonic of proposals.

Review: Son of a Preacher Man, Churchill Bromley

"Saying so much more than
Just words could ever say"

No-one could accuse Craig Revel-Horwood of resting on his laurels. He's about to reprise his Miss Hannigan, stepping into Miranda Hart's sensible shoes, in the West End revival of Annie; the new series of Strictly Come Dancing is looming just around the corner; and inbetween all that, he's found the time to direct and choreograph a new Dusty Springfield jukebox musical that is scheduled to tour the country through to July 2018.

There's a slight sense though that he might have overstretched himself with Son of a Preacher Man as I found its opening engagement at the Churchill Bromley really rather underwhelming. From Warner Brown's insubstantial and weirdly paced book with its eye-openingly poor dialogue, to the incomprehensible decision to expose one of the weaker dancers front and centre at the very start, much of the decision-making feels questionable at best.

Cast of Son of a Preacher Man continued

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Review: Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, Bunker

"Don't you ever say you're a terrible son"

The latest copy of the Beano, an illicit jar of Marmite and a day trip to Brighton - the stuff of the best kind of childhood memories. So even though they're bunking off school, now-teenage best pals Seb and Aaron are onto something in trying to recreate the magic. But something's not quite right, something's not quite the same, and given that the play starts with Aaron being questioned by a police officer, something's most definitely up.

Alex Gwyther's Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is beautifully put together in the way that it reveals just what that is - exploring the intersection of past trauma on present behaviour, questioning the durability of the human spirit and the lengths it will go to try to survive. Tightly constructed by Gwyther and directed with real suspense by Derek Anderson, its a powerful addition to the programme at the Bunker Theatre as its first birthday fast approaches.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Review: Hairspray, Orchard Dartford

"You can try to stop my dancin' feet"

This mahoosive new tour of Hairspray started in the middle of last month and stretches right through to June 2018 and it certainly feels like it has the potential to be a great success. There are some cracking performances which really elevate Paul Kerryson's production of this most effective of shows (music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan) and choreography from hot-shot of the moment Drew McOnie.

And given how dance heavy Hairspray is, it is an astute move from Kerryson as McOnie's inventive use of movement establishes and reinforces so much of the febrile mood of simmering racial tension and potential societal change. In the hands of the likes of Layton Williams' Seaweed and an effervescent ensemble, it's hard to keep a smile from your face as the sheer toe-tapping enthusiasm of it all as fabulous group numbers shake and shimmy their way across the stage.

Cast of Hairspray continued

Cast of Hairspray continued

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Review: Mamma Mia, Novello

"It's all very Greek"

18 years since it opened, Mamma Mia continues to tempt people to the island as it now ranks as the seventh-longest running show in the West End. It recently welcomed a new cast into the Novello and I got the opportunity to revisit this stalwart this week (only for the second time actually, here's my review from 2014). I'll post a link to my three star review once it gets published.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd March 2018, at the moment

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

The announcement of the new cast for Broadway's hugely lauded Hello, Dolly! has been a most strange affair - names trickling out one by one, rather than one big splash. However, it is Bernadette Peters (from 20th January) who has the unenviable task of following in Bette Midler's shoes and trying to maintain the hefty box office that she's managed to garner, and maintain. Victor Garber and our very own Charlie Stemp (making his Broadway debut) have also been revealed and doubtless by the time you read this, more will be have been announced too, one by one.