Monday, 24 April 2017

Non-review: The Philanthropist

If the odds of me coming back after the interval are anything to go by, West End comedy plays are in dire straits this year. I made an early escape from The Miser, and now another play with a Molière connection, Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist, had me rushing for the exit as well. Cast entirely through watching Channel 4 catch-up, plus that episode of Doctor Who where Lily Cole played a fish, Simon Callow's production offers little justification for why it should be revived. In roles they're patently too young for, Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal play stuffy university English lecturers who witness a (probably accidental) suicide in the opening scene. Perhaps out of empathy, the play also proceeds to die a death as Bird's Philip and his fiancée Celia (Charlotte Ritchie) host an evening of drinks for a few colleagues and a successful author.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Theatre review: Whisper House

The venue formerly known as the St James Theatre has been bought by Dr Baron Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Lord Webber BA (Hons) MEng, QC, MD to stage new musicals and, presumably on the basis that it being hidden in a back street wasn't obstacle enough to audiences finding it, has been renamed The Other Palace. A nod, I guess, to it being between the Victoria Palace and Buckingham Palace, but with there actually being two Palace Theatres in London already, one of them down the road, that technically makes this The Other, Other, Other Palace. In any case, everyone seems to read it as The Other Place, which is yet another theatre entirely, so basically what I'm saying is good luck with the #brand recognition, guys. Anyway, my first trip there since the name change is to a musical from Spring Awakening and American Psycho songwriter Duncan Sheik, but Whisper House is a much less explosive affair than either of those two.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Theatre review: Guards at the Taj

The Bush has just reopened after a major rebuild of its new building, that comes with reserved seating and new separate entrances for the box office, auditorium and toilets, which should hopefully all add up to a less nightmarish time in the bar area. It looks nice enough, although let's hope Madani Younis doesn't have any ideas about it being the most beautiful theatre there ever was or ever will be - if Guards at the Taj is anything to go by I'd hate to think what he might do to the builders. Rajiv Joseph's play takes its theme from a popular myth about the building of the Taj Mahal: Over the 16 years of its construction it was hidden behind temporary walls, and only its architect and the men building it were allowed to see it before it was finished, on pain of death to anyone who snuck a look. Joseph sets his play on the night before the unveiling, with Taj Mahal out of bounds for a few more hours.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Theatre review: The Hypocrite

2017 is the year of Hull as UK city of culture, and although they're based in Warwickshire the RSC have got in on the act, co-producing a new commission with Hull Truck Theatre. The city is at the heart of The Hypocrite, which although being written in the style of a Restoration comedy takes its story from true events from well before the Restoration, indeed before there was any need for a Restoration, as the titular character, Sir John Hotham (Mark Addy,) was the Governor of Hull in 1642, just as the Civil War was about to break out. His story was a scandal that put the city at the centre of the action, so it's natural that Hull's best and funniest living playwright should be chosen to tell it. But he must have been busy so they just got Richard Bean in to recycle some of the more successful bits from One Man, Two Guvnors.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Theatre review: The Winter's Tale (Cheek by Jowl)

After a couple of years away Cheek by Jowl finally return to London, and with their English-speaking company, with a rather odd production of a Shakespeare play I rarely like. Director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod go pretty basic for The Winter's Tale, on an almost-bare stage, with music only playing occasionally, and a monochrome Sicilia where King Leontes' (Orlando James) story opens with a dumbshow that gives us an idea of his relationship with the three most important people in his life, his lifelong best friend Polixenes (Edward Sayer,) King of Bohemia, wife Hermione (Natalie Radmall-Quirke,) and their son Mamillius (Tom Cawte.) The happy tableaux of the opening belie the fact that Leontes will soon lose all three of them due to a violent fit of jealousy that's completely unprovoked and makes little sense.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Theatre review: 46 Beacon

A gentle - perhaps too gentle - coming out story parks up at the smaller Trafalgar Studio for a month, Bill Rosenfield's 46 Beacon looking back at gay life in early 1970s America through rose-tinted glasses. Or possibly rose-tinted velour. Robert (Jay Taylor) is an English actor approaching middle age, who's taken a job in a Boston theatre to take a break from problems at home. Alan (Oliver Coopersmith) is a teenager with a part-time job at the theatre, and Robert has spotted and taken an interest in him, noticing that Alan is interested too. After one performance he invites him back to his small flat where he gently seduces him. And yes, although it's made clear Alan wants to be seduced but is mostly just reticent because of nerves about his first time and admitting his sexuality to himself, there is a bit of a creepy undertone to the age gap (though Robert doesn't realise at first just how big the gap is. The age gap, not his anus.)

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Theatre review: Diminished

In one of the better Hampstead Downstairs shows in a while, actor and filmmaker Sam Hoare makes a strong playwrighting debut with Diminished, which director Tom Attenborough sets in a clinical in-the-round space provided by the space's regular designer Polly Sullivan. It's a blank canvas that evokes a mental facility where Mary (Lyndsey Marshall) is being held. Although it takes a while for it to be said out loud it's clear she's there because she killed her severely disabled baby daughter. She'll be pleading diminished responsibility on the basis that depression and exhaustion caused temporary insanity, but with only a couple of days left until her trial she's decided that's not what she wants. She says she knew exactly what she was doing and deserves to serve a full prison sentence, and tries to convince Dr Parker (Rufus Wright) that his initial diagnosis was wrong.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Theatre review: The Lottery of Love

Its programming is fairly varied but Artistic Director Paul Miller's productions of classics a couple of times a year have become a signature of the Orange Tree. He usually picks British plays from the last century or so, but this time he's ventured a bit further afield, to the 18th century French writer Marivaux and his comedy The Lottery of Love. Sylvia (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Richard (Ashley Zhangazha) have been promised to each other since childhood, and are about to meet for the first time. Their fathers have both agreed they only need to go ahead with the marriage if they like each other, and Sylvia wants to make sure she catches Richard as he really is, not just on his best behaviour. So she hatches a scheme, agreed to by her father Mr Morgan (Pip Donaghy,) to trade places with her maid Louisa (Claire Lams,) and get all the gossip from her prospective husband's servants.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Theatre review: 42nd Street

The pull-quote on the poster promises one of the most famous openings in musical theatre - no, not Elaine Paige's vagina, but the seemingly infinite rows of tap-dancing chorus girls and boys who fill the stage as the curtain goes up on 42nd Street. Harry Warren (music,) Al Dubin (lyrics,) Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble's (book - Bramble also directs) musical is based on a novel, presumably a pretty short one as this classic story of overnight stardom is the Broadway success fantasy at its simplest. Peggy (Clare Halse) is fresh off the bus in New York when she flukes her way into the chorus of a new Broadway show. During the out-of-town tryouts though, leading lady Dorothy (Sheena Easton) breaks her leg, and the only wait, Sheena Easton? I haven't heard that name in decades. OK, fair enough, Sheena Easton it is. The only way for the show to go on is to cancel all the previews, bring the Broadway opening forward, rehearse Peggy in the lead in 36 hours straight and open to the critics immediately.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Theatre review: Consent

It feels like a while since we had a new Nina Raine play so Consent is a welcome arrival at the National, and the playwright's sharp dialogue finds a natural home in a group of friends most of whom are barristers. Kitty (Anna Maxwell Martin) and Edward (Ben Chaplin) have been married for ten years and have only just had their first child; Rachel (Priyanga Burford) and Jake (Adam James) have two children but their marriage has hit a rocky patch as Rachel suspects Jake of having an affair. The sextet is rounded off when Ed sets up his colleague Tim (Pip Carter) with Kitty's actor friend Zara (Daisy Haggard,) but this has the side effect of the two men's antagonistic relationship in court spilling out into their personal lives as Tim accuses Ed of actually wanting Zara for himself.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Theatre review: Incident at Vichy

Arthur Miller remains popular and respected enough that rediscoveries of his obscure work always do well - the Finborough's latest has already sold out its run and added a couple of extra matinees. But unlike No Villain audiences won't find something that echoes his more famous work too closely, as director Phil Willmott's contention is that Incident at Vichy is the closest Miller came to absurdism. The setting is a concrete and frightening enough one though: In the early days of the Nazi occupation of France, several men are taken off the streets of Vichy; some have their papers checked, some have their noses measured. They're left in a waiting room and called in one by one to be seen by a German scientist (Timothy Harker.) Most are Jewish, although given the rumours they've heard they don't mention that at first, only using the euphemism "Peruvian."

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Theatre review: Love in Idleness

It's hard to review any show with Eve Best in it and know for sure how good the play itself is. I suspect Love in Idleness is a pretty mediocre play by Terence Rattigan's standards - which still puts it above most, admittedly - but Best's presence elevates it to a thing of pure joy. She plays Olivia, a poor widow whose son was evacuated during World War II and has been living in Canada for the last four years. The War is nearing its end and Michael (Edward Bluemel,) now nearly 18, is returning to London, meaning his mother has to find a way to tell him something she's been putting off: She's been living with a wealthy Canadian industrialist who's also serving as Churchill's cabinet minister for tanks. Sir John Fletcher (Anthony Head) is still married but has separated from his wife and is only holding off on a divorce to spare the Government a scandal; he's promised to marry Olivia once the war is over.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Theatre review: Adam and Eve and Steve

Taking what's usually a homophobic cliché and turning it into a decidedly gay-friendly musical is Wayne Moore (music) and Chandler Warren's (book and lyrics) Adam and Eve and Steve. God (Michael Christopher) has created Adam (Joseph Robinson) and is preparing to create a mate for him when Beelzebub (Stephen McGlynn) intervenes and creates Steve (Dale Adams) instead. By the time Eve (Hayley Hampson) turns up Adam's already besotted with his new male friend. In fact he likes both of them equally but the fact that everyone's telling him he should be with Eve exclusively only puts him off her. Warren and Moore's show promises a bit of silly fun and absolutely delivers - the songs aren't going to win any awards for originality but they're lively and daft, and the cast have a lot of fun singing them that transfers to the audience.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Theatre review: The Life

I would consider Sharon D. Clarke to be a fairly big name, certainly in London theatre circles, so it's a bit of a coup for Southwark Playhouse that she's starring in their latest musical. But then Clarke seems like the kind of actor who'll choose roles based on how much she likes them rather than how starry they are, whether it's panto or an ageing hooker in an ensemble piece like The Life. If Guys and Dolls is the classic musical about Broadway's past as one of New York's seediest streets, then Cy Coleman (music) Ira Gasman and David Newman's (book and lyrics) musical catches up with it a little while before it gets cleaned up and tourist-friendly, and finds it more dangerous than ever. It's 1978* and almost every character we meet is either a prostitute or a pimp; Vietnam vet Fleetwood (David Albury) currently only pimps out his own girlfriend Queen (T'Shan Williams) as they save up to get away from New York and make a new start.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Theatre review: Don Juan in Soho

Having heard there was a stage left in London without one of his shows on it, Patrick Marber directs a revival of his Don Juan in Soho at Wyndham's. A modern relocation of Molière's Don Juan, it does stick to blank verse and a sometimes stylised turn of phrase in among the text speak and swearing. David Tennant plays DJ, heir to an earldom who, with no real demands on his time, chooses to spend all of it chasing after sex. Although he's happy enough to pay for it, he takes particular pleasure in pursuit and corruption, and in the opening scene has just returned from honeymoon: Having pursued the virginal Elvira (Danielle Vitalis) for two years and married her just to get her into bed, he's now got what he wanted and has cheerfully broken her heart, telling her he wants a divorce after a fortnight.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Theatre review: The Wipers Times

Next year's centenary of the Armistice will probably see as many First World War plays as the centenary of its start did, but Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have got in early with their offering, and as befits editor and writer of Private Eye their angle is to look at a satirical publication. The Wipers Times takes its title from a weekly (if they could find the paper to print it that week) newspaper published from the trenches, which in turn was named after the English soldiers' mispronunciation of Ypres. That's where former printer Sergeant Tyler (Dan Tetsell) discovers a working printing press, which his Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton) and Lieutenant Pearson (George Kemp) use to create a morale-boosting collection of spoof advertisements and takedowns of the official war correspondents, whose articles make it sound as if they're in the trenches, it's just that no soldier has ever actually seen them there.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Theatre review: The Chemsex Monologues

Patrick Cash's The Chemsex Monologues has had some good buzz in the last year, but the King's Head's packed schedule (which tends to put shows I might otherwise be interested in on at 9pm on a school night,) meant there wasn't a chance for me to see it; Luke Davies' production now returns and has a couple of matinees, so I managed to fit it in. Although it deals with gay characters I can identify with the play about as much as I can with one set in a remote African village: I've never been a big clubber, my sanity's fragile enough without adding drugs to the mix, and frankly the idea that you could be having enough sex to get bored of it and need chemicals to spice it up seems like science fiction. Still, Cash manages to invoke a world that doesn't seem all that alien in the end, despite revolving around a series of club nights and the private sex parties that follow them, where everyone is on a cocktail of drugs so safe sex easily becomes an afterthought.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Theatre review: Antony and Cleopatra (RSC / RST)

The bonkers Titus Andronicus aside, the Roman plays aren't among my favourite Shakespeares, but they're hard to avoid this year: The RSC is basing its entire summer season around them, and only a week after seeing Ivo van Hove's Roman Tragedies I'm in Stratford-upon-Avon for a full take on the play that provided that epic with its climax: Antony and Cleopatra starts with Mark Antony (Antony Byrne,) who was among the victors at the end of Julius Caesar (which I'll be catching, out of order, in a few weeks' time,) as part of a Triumvirate sharing power over the Roman Empire. Lepidus (Patrick Drury) is older and a voice of reason, but the younger Octavius Caesar (Ben Allen) is more unpredictable, and could make a play for sole power if he thinks Antony's no longer up to the task of maintaining an empire.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Theatre review: The Bear / The Proposal

In response to the battle lines that have been drawn around the world's public bathrooms with regard to transgender people in recent years, the Young Vic was one of the first London theatres to put up signs making clear visitors there can use whichever loo they feel more comfortable in. So it's not too surprising to see this inclusive attitude extend to the programming, and the latest Genesis Award winner in the Clare has a cast made up of a trans man, a trans woman, and the bearded drag cabaret star better known as Le Gateau Chocolat. And it is, of all things, an Anton Chekhov double bill that director Lucy J Skilbeck uses to look at fluid gender identities. The Bear / The Proposal is a pair of one-act comedies, and in the first half things are played, no pun intended, straight.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Theatre review: Limehouse

In the last couple of years the Donald and Margot Warehouse has been increasingly staging new political plays, with the latest finding painfully topical relevance in events from 1981, when a breakaway group from Labour formed the Social Democratic Party. Steve Waters' Limehouse takes place over a long Sunday, after a party conference in which the Unions' influence overturned every centrist proposal, positioning Labour firmly at the far left. Already known as the Gang of Four for their vocal disagreement with the direction the party was taking, David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill,) Bill Rodgers (Paul Chahidi,) Shirley Williams (Debra Gillett) and Roy Jenkins (Roger Allam) see this as the final straw that will make the party permanently unelectable. They usually meet at the more central home of one of the others, but today Owen insists they come to his house in Limehouse for a change of scenery.