Thursday, 17 August 2017

Theatre review: The Majority

Although the current policy at the Dorfman is not to play shows in rep, Mosquitoes gets a bit of a break as another show uses its in-the-round set to tell a different kind of story – although there’s still buzzing insects involved, as The Majority’s design (by Jemima Robinson) features a lot of bees and honeycomb motifs. It’s the latest play by Rob Drummond, aka that bloke I shot that time, who keeps an audience participation element but spreads it out equally this time: The last few years have been marked by hugely impactful votes on binary, not always well-defined choices, and this is the structure The Majority is based around. As with the recent Terror, every audience member is given a keypad which will record their vote on a number of yes/no questions posed by Drummond. Most of them will serve to give an idea of the audience’s moral position but a couple will affect where his story goes and how it’s told.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Theatre review: Dangling

Not actually the story of Mr and Mrs Gling’s son Daniel, Abigail Hood’s Dangling is inspired by missing persons stories, and particularly by the families left behind, not knowing if they’ll ever have closure on what happened to their loved one. Hood herself plays Charlotte, a prostitute hired by Greg (Jasper Jacob,) to dress up like his missing teenage daughter. He doesn’t actually want sex from her, but his actions don’t exactly help quash rumours that his daughter ran away because he abused her; nor does an accusation by some of her friends, whom he claims he was only talking to as a way of feeling close to the missing Carly. The real reason for Carly’s disappearance is never revealed, and Hood’s play leans towards Greg’s innocence, but these London-based scenes alternate with another story set in Oldham, and here the reason why a young girl might want to vanish without a trace is made all too clear.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Theatre review: Coming Clean

Right now you can bookend Kevin Elyot’s playwriting career by travelling one stop on the Victoria Line: As the run ends on his final play, Twilight Song, in Finsbury Park, over in Islington the King’s Head revives his 1982 debut, Coming Clean; and taken together they do make it look like My Night With Reg was, if not a fluke, at least an outlier. American writer and lecturer Greg (Jason Nwoga) and lazy wannabe writer Tony (Lee Knight) have been together for five years and are happy together if a bit set in their ways. These ways do include a bit of extramarital action, though – we’re in the pre-AIDS era here and they’ve got an agreement that they can sleep with other people as long as it’s confined to one-night stands. This gets complicated when they hire an unemployed actor, Robert (Tom Lambert) as a house cleaner, and Greg’s apparent impatience with him conceals an attraction.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Theatre review: Apologia

Add to the list of things I never realised I needed to see: Alicia Florrick’s mom, Martha Jones, Fit Dad and my first Malvolio, all on stage together. Plus the woman who woke Peter Hall up from his nap that time, although she’s got a bit better at the acting since then. Following The Pride a couple of years ago, Jamie Lloyd revives another Alexi Kaye Campbell play at Trafalgar 1, with Stockard Channing taking on the role of esteemed art historian and 1960s political activist Kristin in Apologia. The setup is the well-worn dinner-party-from-hell format, as Kristin hosts family and friends to celebrate both her birthday, and the publication of her latest book, also titled Apologia. This one’s marketed as a memoir of her life, which makes the fact that it doesn’t even mention the existence of her two sons (both played by Joseph Millson) an omission which seems to distill their relationship.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Theatre review: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾

After an initial run in Leicester, where Sue Townsend’s much-loved series of books is set, Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary’s (music and lyrics) musical version of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ has been rewritten and now lands at the Menier Chocolate Factory with an eye on giving Matilda a run for its money. And it could well manage it as Cleary, Brunger and director Luke Sheppard have pitched the show between nostalgia for the adults and silliness to keep kids occupied, in a production that kept an audience of both captivated this afternoon. On January 1st 1981 Adrian (Benjamin Lewis, alternating with Ilan Galkoff and Samuel Menhinick) decides to start the titular diary for what will turn out to be an eventful year, as his parents Pauline (Kelly Price) and George (Dean Chisnall) separate after Pauline has an affair with the next-door neighbour.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Theatre review: Girl From The North Country

If a Meat Loaf jukebox musical at the ENO seemed like the summer’s most eccentric bit of programming, how about a Bob Dylan jukebox musical at the Old Vic? Conor McPherson writes and directs Girl from the North Country, which I hadn’t initially planned to see but some very interesting casting convinced me otherwise. Cast mostly with actors-who-can-sing rather than predominantly musical theatre actors, I already knew the likes of Sheila Atim, Bronagh Gallagher, Jack Shalloo, Debbie Kurup, Michael Shaeffer and Karl Queensborough could sing, but there’s also a number of pleasant surprises in a show that, music aside, I didn’t quite know what to make of. Set in Depression-era Duluth, the story centres on a guest house run by Nick Laine (Ciarán Hinds,) whose wife Elizabeth (Shirley Henderson) has early-onset dementia, and whose main relief from the financial and personal pressures he faces is an affair with one of his guests, Mrs Neilsen (Kurup.)

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Theatre review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

In a Young Vic production that, for the first time, skips the Young Vic entirely and goes straight to the West End (and its prices,) the theatre follows up Benedict Andrews’ revolving Streetcar Named Desire with another of the most famous Tennessee Williams plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. We’re still in a sweltering part of the American South (Tennessee itself, this time,) but unlike most Williams characters nobody here is strapped for cash: Big Daddy (Colm Meaney) owns the largest plantation in the state, and his whole family have gathered to celebrate his 65th birthday. What most of the family knows but he doesn’t is that this is his last birthday: The tests he was told came back negative actually revealed he has terminal cancer and very little time left. We see the action from the perspective of alcoholic younger son Brick (Jack O’Connell) and his wife Maggie (Sienna Miller.)

Monday, 31 July 2017

Theatre review: Road

In a rare instance of the Royal Court revisiting a past work, John Tiffany directs a 30th anniversary production of Road, Jim Cartwright’s slice of life in an unnamed Lancashire town. It seems a rather pointed revival of a play which comes down hard on Thatcher’s Britain, as despite the – nostalgic and funny by turns – period trappings it still feels relevant, its characters going out to get drunk and try to pull, covering up their desperation at the dead end their lives are in. Some have been led to unusual extremes, like Mike Noble’s Skin-Lad, a Buddhist skinhead, or Joey (Shane Zaza) and Clare (Faye Marsay,) dying in bed on hunger strike over something they can’t quite articulate. Most have more familiar stories of trying to cope though, and unemployed ex-sailor Scullery (Lemn Sissay) offers to be the audience’s tour guide over one typical Saturday night from dusk to dawn.

Theatre review: Queers Part 2

A companion piece to Friday's one-off performance at the Old Vic, Max Webster joins Mark Gatiss on directing duties for the concluding four monologues from BBC4's Queers series. Once again the stories take us through the decades before and after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, beginning during the Blitz with Keith Jarrett's The Safest Spot in Town. Kadiff Kirwan plays a dapper West Indian who immigrated to London a few years earlier, finding a more insidious, two-faced form of racism than he'd expected. The arrival of German bombers has created, for a while at least, a more inclusive atmosphere as everyone's up against a common enemy. But, in what is probably the slightest of the eight short plays, he finds it hard to forget being turned away from the places that now want his custom, and goes cottaging instead - a life-changing decision.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Theatre review: Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare's Globe)

Lots of hey! but no nonnny nonny in the Globe's latest Much Ado About Nothing, as Matthew Dunster takes the play's opening, with soldiers returning triumphant from a battle, as his cue to set the action during the Mexican Revolution in 1914. A group of fighters take a break at the home of Leonato (Martin Marquez,) where young soldier Claudio (Marcello Cruz - Hispanic Daniel Radcliffe, amirite?) falls for Leonato's daughter Hero (Anya Chalotra.) As the soldiers wait for the wedding to be hastily arranged, they amuse themselves by tricking the battling exes Benedick (Matthew Needham) and Beatrice (Beatriz Romilly) into getting back together, by convincing each that the other is desperately in love with them.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Theatre review: Queers Part 1

It hasn't been marked quite as ubiquitously on stage as the centenary of the First World War, the 4th centenary of Shakespeare's death or even the King James Bible were, but theatres are now starting to step up the events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. The Old Vic has paired up with the BBC, whose Queer Britain season includes the upcoming Queers on BBC4, eight monologues curated by Mark Gatiss giving snapshots of gay life before and after decriminalisation, to give each one of the short plays a one-off live performance. About half of the performers from the TV version have been able to reprise their roles, with the rest recast, and Gatiss shares directing duties with Joe Murphy on Part 1 as well as writing the first of the four stories in this first collection.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Theatre review: Nassim

Currently previewing at the Bush Studio before officially opening in Edinburgh, Nassim features a format I’m seeing more and more of: A performer who knows as little about the piece going in as the audience does. Nassim Soleimanpour’s play, directed by Omar Elerian and designed by Rhys Jarman, features a new performer every night, and like the Royal Court did with Manwatching, the Bush are releasing a list of the performers in advance, but not revealing who will appear at which performance until it actually begins. The performer - Khalid Abdalla tonight - is confronted with a screen on which flash cards are projected, with the script for him to read out, and instructions for him – and occasionally the audience – to carry out. Soleimanpour himself is turning the pages backstage, and about halfway through the play the playwright joins the performer onstage.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Theatre review: Mosquitoes

After the success of Chimerica, Lucy Kirkwood’s latest play Mosquitoes gets its premiere at the National Theatre, with Rufus Norris directing, a Katrina Lindsay set full of bells and whistles and spectacular projections, and most of all the central roles filled by two Future Dame Olivias: Williams plays Alice, a particle physicist working at CERN in the buildup to the Large Hadron Collider being switched on for the first time. Colman is her sister Jenny, the black sheep in a family full of scientists, as she’s superstitious and much more likely to believe any unfounded rumour she reads online than empirically proven facts. In particular, she believed the scare stories about the MMR vaccine causing autism and refused to vaccinate her baby daughter, with tragic results that kick off the story: In need of some support Jenny is visiting her sister in Switzerland, along with their mother Karen (Amanda Boxer.)

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Theatre review: Nina - a story about me and Nina Simone

Josette Bushell-Mingo and Dritëro Kasapi’s extraordinarily angry piece Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone is closer to performance art than theatre: Bushell-Mingo starts the show in an afro wig, describing the jubilant atmosphere leading up to a Nina Simone concert in 1969, and the suggestion is that she’s going to impersonate Simone and perform some of the songs from that set. But this is more about Nina Simone the activist than the performer, and having barely started the first song Bushell-Mingo finds she can’t carry on, because the inequality Simone was fighting against back then is still present today – Simone wrote a song called "Mississippi Goddam" and Bushell-Mingo is all too aware that with anti-black violence continuing to be disproportionate to this day, the song could just as easily be renamed “Ferguson Goddam.”

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Theatre review: Disco Pigs

I almost skipped the 20th anniversary production of Disco Pigs because I felt like I’d seen a version at the Young Vic quite recently; as it turns out that production was actually six years ago and besides, casting a Harry Potter actor I hadn’t “collected” on stage before is always a good way of making me stump up for a ticket. Enda Walsh’s two-hander uses a mixture of strong Cork accents and dialect with a convoluted, poetic style of speech that channels Joyce, Beckett and A Clockwork Orange to tell a story of two teenagers, Darren aka Pig (Colin Campbell) and Sinead aka Runt (Evanna Lynch,) who were born a second apart in the same hospital. Ever since being placed on adjacent tables they’ve been closer than real siblings, to the point in fact of isolating themselves from their families, speaking in their own language and dealing with the outside world mainly with violence.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Theatre review: Twilight Song

Kevin Elyot’s final play is called, appropriately enough, Twilight Song, and it’s a short, distinctly odd one that left me with the suspicion he hadn’t quite finished working on it when he died. Alternating between the 1960s and the present day in the same suburban London villa, it was bought, largely thanks to a cash gift from a wealthy uncle, by Isabella (Bryony Hannah) and her meek new husband Basil (Paul Higgins.) Partly due to events that unfold in the play, the improvements they planned to make to it never happened and by the time their son Barry (also Higgins) is in his fifties, the place seems to be falling apart and he’s thinking of selling it. Estate agent Skinner (Adam Garcia) is optimistic that it can fetch a good price regardless, but he may just be buttering him up because he supplements his income with a side-line in prostitution, and he’s spotted a likely customer in the lonely and repressed Barry.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Theatre review: Dessert

Oliver Cotton’s flawed but fun, issue-based thriller Dessert is another of those plays that hinges on a major plot twist, this time coming about 20 minutes in – in fact much of the publicity has revolved around Cotton and director Trevor Nunn tying themselves up in knots trying to discuss the play without actually mentioning what it’s about. So once again I’ll try to keep things vague in the opening paragraph before getting spoilery after the text cut. Certainly the promotional image of an unevenly cut cake gives a clue that we’re in for a story about the 5% who own 95% of the world’s wealth, and Rachel Stone’s set is an opulent dining room whose walls are covered with priceless paintings. This is just another room in the house of Hugh (Michael Simkins,) a company director notorious for liquidating a struggling company causing investors to lose their savings, while he got away with a £5 million bonus. SPOILER ALERT for the rest of the review.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Theatre review: Bodies

With Future Dame Billie Piper about to reprise her Yerma at the Young Vic, over at the Royal Court we have another childless woman taking a much more pragmatically 21st century approach to the problem. She’s not yet got the profile of someone like James Graham, Lucy Kirkwood or Polly Stenham but ever since her debut with Mogadishu* Vivienne Franzmann has been delivering such consistently good work she’s as much of a must-see playwright for me as any of them. In Bodies the woman desperate for a child is Clem (Justine Mitchell,) who after five miscarriages has opted for surrogacy. Her husband Josh (Jonathan McGuinness, reading in the role after Brian Ferguson got ill,) will provide the sperm, the eggs come from an unknown woman in Russia, while actually carrying the baby will be Lakshmi (Salma Hoque) in India, where surrogates have very few rights.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Theatre review: The Mentor

I think last year’s great revival of Amadeus made the prospect of seeing the film version’s star, F Murray Abraham, on stage even more of a draw for me. So it’s a good job his performance in The Mentor lives up to expectations, because little else about Daniel Kehlmann’s play was really memorable enough to stay with me past the Vaudeville’s front doors. Kehlmann is apparently a huge name in Germany right now, and being the first to bring him to the UK are the team of translator Christopher Hampton and director Laurence Boswell, who in recent years also introduced us to Florian Zeller. And there is more of a French than German aesthetic to Polly Sullivan’s design, a country garden inside a white box, with chairs shaped like human hands as a clue that pretension is welcome here – a retreat owned by an arts charity that pairs established names with promising newcomers to develop new work.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Theatre review: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

A delayed arrival in the West End for Broadway star Audra McDonald – she was due to appear in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill a couple of years ago, but the entire run got cancelled because she was pregnant. Now she finally gets to take the stage at Wyndham’s – the same theatre she was due to play in the first place – and demonstrate why she couldn’t have been replaced. Lanie Robertson’s 1986 play recreates an evening in the titular Philadelphia bar, where Billie Holiday (McDonald) performed in 1959, a few months before her death. She has mixed feelings about playing there – she loves the bar and has friends there but Philadelphia itself is where she pled guilty to her first husband’s drug charges expecting to be let off easy, and ended up in prison for a year instead. By the time she takes to the stage she’s already a few drinks down and she’s never too far from a full glass of neat gin the whole evening, but this is far from a unique reaction to a city she doesn’t feel comfortable in.