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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Review: Follies, National Theatre

"All things beautiful must die"

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer's set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley's musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a 'huh?' from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).

Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman's (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke's production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review: 9 to 5, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

"I might just make it work"

As frothy as 9 to 5 the Musical may seem, it shouldn't be underestimated as a piece of theatre that puts three women front and centre in its narrative - it can feel like these sadly remain as few and far between in the 1980 of the original film as it does in the 2017 of the UK fringe premiere of its musical adaptation. And reflecting that, director Joseph Hodges and casting director Harry Blumenau have really done the business in selecting a terrific trio to lead their show.

Pippa Winslow's Violet leads from the front with a wonderfully wry wit and poised determination, Amanda Coutts' Judy blossoms in self-confidence throughout to nail her 11 o'clock number, and Louise Olley's Doralee is an utterly radiant stage presence, delivering the kind of direct eye contact that could leave a boy questioning his sexual preferences. And together, these three secretaries at Consolidated Industries tackle workplace misogyny in their own inimitable way.

Review: Talk Radio, Old Red Lion

"I want you to start telling the truth"

Does Katie Hopkins possess a single ounce of remorse? How does Ann Coulter really feel about the audiences she continually bates? Does Piers Morgan have any self-awareness? Eric Bogosian’s play Talk Radio may date from 1987 but in its dissection of shock jocks and their role in manipulating media and fomenting the rise of the kind of right-wing ideology that has taken hold either side of the Atlantic, it can't help but ring with resonance today.

The talking head of the day in Sean Turner's excellent production is the jaded Barry Champlain, a no-holds-barred late-night talk show host who is coming to both revel in the prejudiced depths that his callers sink to and be repulsed by them. An offer to syndicate his Cleveland-area show nationally sets off a long dark night of the soul, where not even the glass walls of his radio booth seem to offer the same sort of protection that they once did. 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Not-a-re-review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

Hadn't planned to revisit Jesus Christ Superstar but stepped at the last minute for an ailing friend...
And whilst it remains impressive, it also remains elusive, caught between gig and theatre...

 Meaning there wasn't much to discover anew on second viewing (my review from last year).
Still worth a shot if you've not seen it though. All photos © Johan Persson

Friday, 1 September 2017

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


Drip by drip, the National is teasing us with the cast reveals for Network.

Latest to be announced is Douglas Henshall who is to play Max Schumacher in this world-premiere of Lee Hall’s new adaptation of the Oscar-winning film by Paddy Chayefsky.

Directed by Ivo van Hove, the cast also includes Tony award winner Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale, and Michelle Dockery as Diana Christenson.



War Horse puppeteers unveil The Hartlepool Monkey

The original puppeteers who helped bring War Horse to life, and went on to collaborate on Running Wild and The Lorax, are behind a new family-friendly play based on a 200-year-old legend.

New cast for The Ferryman announced


Producers Sonia Friedman Productions and Neal Street Productions have today announced new cast members for Jez Butterworth's hugely successful The Ferryman. (Take a look at my review from the Royal Court here).

Maureen Beattie, Charles Dale, Laurie Davidson , Sarah Greene (replacing Laura Donnelly), William Houston (replacing Paddy Considine), Ivan Kaye, Mark Lambert, Catherine McCormack, Fergal McElherron and Glenn Speers will join the company from October 9th 2017 and the show is currently booking to January 6th 2018.

The original company will give its final performance on October 7th 2017, following which the cast will be comprised of: