Thursday, 28 February 2013

Theatre review: Trelawny of the Wells

It doesn't seem like Joe Wright is a man to do things by halves. An award-winning film director, he has no previous stage directing credits but has jumped straight in at the deep end, planning two consecutive theatre productions. First up is Arthur Wing Pinero's "love letter to the theatre," Trelawny of the Wells, opening Josie Rourke's second full year at the Donmar Warehouse. The comedy sees Rose Trelawny (Amy Morgan) as part of two different kinds of family: As Trelawny of the Wells she's a popular leading lady in a repertory company, but she's leaving the theatre to marry the well-off Arthur (Joshua Silver.) But before she's allowed to do so she must pass the test of living with his grandfather Sir William (Ron Cook) and great-aunt Trafalgar (Maggie Steed,) and her casual, actressy behaviour doesn't make fans of them.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Theatre review: Macbeth (Trafalgar Studios)

A slew of big-name productions are on their way to the West End this spring, starting with James McAvoy as Macbeth. Following the example of Michael Grandage, director Jamie Lloyd has launched his own production company with a residency at a London theatre. They're calling the season Trafalgar Transformed as designer Soutra Gilmour has turned Trafalgar Studio 1 into a traverse, with the first few rows of seating moved onto the stage, which has been raised a few feet. From my usual perspective of the (comparatively) cheap seats at the back this reconfiguration is a success - the stadium seating means sightlines have always been good, but coupled with the small stage make the view from the gods feel very disconnected. Bringing the stage a bit closer and surrounding it with audience gives a bit more of a sense of intimacy to a sometimes soulless space.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Theatre review: Bottleneck

Songs from the jauntier end of 1980s pop as a teenager chalks graffiti onto the back wall heralds what will actually turn out to be rather a dark show in Luke Barnes' Bottleneck, directed by Steven Atkinson. Greg (James Cooney) is 14, and a huge Liverpool fan. It's 1989 and Greg is going through the usual teenage problems, trying to figure out how to deal with girls, scrape some money together for football tickets, and getting grounded by his dad, an outspoken trade union leader. His slightly fey best friend Tom is an Everton fan but it doesn't get in the way of their shared rebellious streak. When Tom surprises him with football tickets, Greg's 15th birthday goes from the best day of his life to the worst as they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Theatre review: Bitch Boxer

A couple of sports-themed monologues are sharing the Upstairs space at Soho Theatre at the moment. The first slot goes to writer-performer Charlotte Josephine, whose Bitch Boxer follows Chloe, a female boxer from Leytonstone, in the run-up to London 2012, the first Olympics to include women's boxing. Chloe's attempts to qualify are complicated by two major events in her personal life - the death of her father follows close on the heels of her falling in love with a boy he didn't approve of.

Josephine makes for a likeable performer whose comic (if a bit hackneyed) opening story of getting locked out of the house in her underwear gives way to some darker emotions and complicated life choices that have to be made.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Theatre review: If You Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep

Anders Lustgarten is a full-time activist whose last play saw the BNP field an Asian candidate at the Finborough in time for the last election. Now that we know what actually happened in that election, he turns his attention to the politics of austerity. And the Royal Court Downstairs stage goes austere as well, with a production without décor for If You Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep. The short play opens with a cabal of politicians, bankers and business leaders proposing the monetisation of society's downfall: Private companies will be responsible for crime prevention, and if the figures drop their bonds will pay out. But market forces have their own rules, and soon those who control the jails, hospitals and energy suppliers are betting short: The worse things get, the bigger their profits.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Theatre review: Chess

Musicals don't get much more '80s than Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus' Chess, which uses the rivalry between Russian and American Grand Masters as a metaphor for the Cold War. With music from the songwriters behind ABBA there's a lot of catchy tunes; the story is a bit more of a muddled affair, and Rice has regularly tinkered with the book over the years. His latest version premiered as a concert performance but Christopher Howell and Steven Harris' revival at the Union is the first time this "definitive" version has been fully staged. Ryan Dawson Laight's design configures the space into a thrust with a high platform upstage; you'll probably want to make sure you don't get stuck behind one of the pillars as the platform will probably be badly obscured from there but from our seats, at the corner of the stage, we could see fine.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Theatre review: A Chorus Line

My sister finally gets her Christmas present from me, in February. No, I'm not terribly neglectful (well I am but it's not relevant here,) she just wanted to wait until A Chorus Line opened, and I'm pretty sure she thought it was worth the wait. The (notorious flop) movie version was one of her favourite films growing up, and now the original musical returns to the West End, setting up shop at the Palladium. Marvin Hamlisch, Edward Kleban, James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante's shows takes us behind the scenes of a big Broadway production, reminding us that behind the big-name stars there's a chorus, often having to blend into the background but each a person with their own story to tell.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Theatre review: Glasgow Girls

Cora Bissett, who starred in David Greig's Midsummer, is wearing her director's hat for her latest collaboration with Greig, which approaches political theatre in a way that's seldom seen. Glasgow Girls is a lively musical based on the true - and ongoing - story of a campaign against the deportation of asylum seekers' children. In 1999, empty flats in Glasgow were deemed a suitable place to house asylum seekers from Kosovo, Iraq, the Congo and elsewhere. Over the years the families settled into their new home and, despite the inevitable "they come here, steal our jobs" minority, were mostly accepted into the community. When the Home Office starts forcibly deporting families whose status has, almost arbitrarily, been changed to "safe," six teenage girls spearhead a campaign to protect the children, many of whom know no other home.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Theatre review: Gay's the Word

Occasionally the Finborough Theatre's Sunday-Tuesday shows get a further life, and so it is with Stewart Nicholls' production of Gay's the Word, now taking up residence at the Jermyn Street Theatre (which has replaced the ratty seating with something a bit comfier - although you still have to cross the stage to go to the loo.) Ivor Novello's final show attempts to blend his traditional operetta style with that of the American musicals that were pushing them out of theatres in the 1940s and '50s. And this theme feeds into the storyline, as the fading popularity of old-fashioned musical theatre spells trouble for Gay Daventry (Sophie-Louise Dann,) a stage star for the last 30 years, but now in dire financial straits after investing everything in a massive flop. Her co-star suggests she open her own drama school, but within months that too is struggling to make ends meet, and they may have to rely on some dodgy characters to bail them out.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Theatre review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

A travelling fair makes its annual trip to a small German town, with a new star attraction: The Somnambulist, in which Dr. Caligari (Oliver Birch) exhibits the seriously ill man he's been "looking after," Cesare (Christopher Doyle,) who suffers from a sleeping sickness but can perform any number of feats in his sleep - including predicting the future. The arrival of the fair coincides with an outburst of strangling, and suspicion falls on jittery Town Hall employee Franzis (Joseph Kloska,) who knew and disliked both victims. Franzis denies committing the murders - or at least, he has no memory of doing so, but increasingly distrusts what is real and what a dream. Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton of Poor Theatre company simple8 adapt and direct the classic German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as part of a residency at the Arcola (next month they present Moby-Dick, and there's reduced-price tickets for booking both shows together.)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Theatre review: Twelfth Night (Custom/Practice / Lion & Unicorn)

You're never more than ten feet away from a production of Twelfth Night, so another one is rarely the most exciting prospect. On the other hand, what's the point of discovering companies that show promise if you don't follow up on it? I pretty much stumbled upon Rae McKen's company Custom/Practice with their Dream last summer, and now they turn to Shakespeare's story of boy/girl identical twins washed ashore in a foreign land after a shipwreck, each unaware that the other has survived, and getting caught up in the escapades of lovestruck Orsino, grieving Olivia, and the latter's household of drunks and fools. McKen's production is modern-dress, and she hasn't quite found an alternative setting that works for the story; much more successful though is the way the characters are adapted around having a particularly young cast (two are still at Italia Conti.)

Friday, 15 February 2013

Theatre review: Hemingway's Fiesta

There's a lot of transatlantic passion trying to fit onto the small Trafalgar 2 stage for Hemingway's Fiesta (The Sun Also Rises), Alex Helfrecht's new stage adaptation of the novel. Jake Barnes (Gideon Turner) is an American journalist in 1920s Paris, wounded in the First World War and now pretty spectacularly drunk most nights. He's shaken up by the reappearance of Brett (Josie Taylor,) the English woman he'd once loved and lost, and who's now got divorced and sought him out. But there are still obstacles, both physical and psychological, to their getting back together, and in her frustration Brett seduces his friend Robert (Jye Frasca.) When she follows Jake to Spain where he's reporting on a promising young bullfighter (Jack Holden,) Mediterranean passions sweep them up.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Theatre review: 9 to 5

I don't know how many times I watched 9 to 5, the Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton movie about disgruntled office workers when I was a kid, but it must have been a lot, I have very fond memories of it. Parton's stage musical version with a book by Patricia Resnick had a brief run on Broadway and now debuts in the UK in a touring production, which this week turns up in Richmond. A huge clock dominates Kenneth Foy's set, and a video projection of Parton herself appears in the clock face intermittently to act as narrator, looking a bit like the Teletubbies face in the Sun if it had a couple of moons orbiting it. She introduces Violet (Jackie Clune,) Doralee (Amy Lennox) and newcomer Judy (very good understudy Gemma McLean,) whose working lives are made a nightmare by sexist, embezzling CEO Franklyn Hart (Mark Moraghan.)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Theatre review: The Captain of Köpenick

I'm not sure what's going on at the National lately - the better the quality of work at the now-defunct Cottesloe, the more questionable the choices in the two bigger houses seem to get. After last year's unmemorable Travelling Light in the Lyttelton, Antony Sher moves to the Olivier for Carl Zuckmayer's farcical satire on bureaucracy and the blind following of orders, The Captain of Köpenick.

Wilhelm Voigt (Sher) is a lifelong small-time crook. Released from prison for the umpteenth time, he finds life on the outside even more of a challenge as he can't do anything without presenting his official papers - documents he's never actually had. As Voigt's very existence is questioned by the authorities, the Mayor of Köpenick (Anthony O'Donnell) is having a new military uniform made - a plot that will (eventually) cross paths with Voigt's.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Theatre review: LIFT

Craig Adams & Ian Watson's new musical LIFT assembles a pretty great cast to tell what isn't quite a story, but a series of scenes and songs that include a lot of good moments. A Busker (George Maguire) is at Covent Garden tube station, reading the letter his ex-girlfriend dumped him with and wondering if he should talk to the girl he sees on the same carriage every morning. The lift takes 54 seconds to get to the surface, and as he travels the Busker imagines the lives of the other people in there with him, and the various ways in which they might interact. A lesbian French Teacher (Julie Atherton) has been bought a lap dance as an ill-judged gift, and ends up treating the Lap Dancer (Cynthia Erivo) more like a counselor. The Lap Dancer herself is at ballet school by day, where she has a complicated relationship with her gay best friend, the Ballet Dancer (Jonny Fines.)

Monday, 11 February 2013

Theatre review: MONEY the Game Show

There's been no shortage of plays about the financial crisis in the last five years but Clare Duffy manages to find both a new angle, and a particularly apt one to depict the cavalier attitude of bankers gambling billions of dollars of other people's money every day. Queenie (Lucy Ellinson) and Casino (Brian Ferguson) used to be hedge fund managers, but tonight they're putting on a show that reflects how their high-risk day job worked. The show starts in the Bush's bar area, where the audience are divided in half according to ticket number, and allocated to either Casino or Queenie's side of the auditorium. We're now on a team that's going to play MONEY the Game Show. At stake is £10,000 - in real £1 coins (I can confirm this - my own comparatively gentle bit of audience participation was to check that the coins were real on behalf of Queenie's team.)

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Theatre review: Saer Doliau

It's unusual to see a play in London performed entirely in Welsh but not, as it turns out, quite as unusual as the play itself. Gwenlyn Parry's 1966 play Saer Doliau (Doll Mender) plays the Sunday-Tuesday slot at the Finborough, and Alex Marker's 1930s office set for London Wall changes convincingly into an isolated workshop by replacing the legal documents on the shelves with broken dolls and tools, and covering the floor with wood shavings. Here Ifans (Seiriol Tomos) works mending broken dolls, all of which he's named. The workshop doesn't have electricity, but it does have a phone from which Ifans often calls his boss to complain about his working conditions. There's also a mysterious "Him" in the basement, whom Ifans suspects of invisibly walking through walls at night and stealing things. The only time the basement door is unlocked is if a black doll arrives - refusing to mend them, he throws them down to Him.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Theatre review: A Life of Galileo

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The RSC isn't inviting the Press to this until Tuesday.

To round off the RSC's "A World Elsewhere" season, looking at what else was going on in the world during Shakespeare's lifetime, we have a 20th century classic that deals with one of Shakespeare's exact contemporaries, Brecht's A Life of Galileo. Always strapped for cash, Galileo Galilei passes off the Dutch invention, the telescope, as one of his own. He gets found out but not before the new tool gives him a new look at the heavens, and he realises he's found proof of Copernicus' theory that the Earth rotates around the Sun. The fact that the theory is considered heretical by the Catholic Church doesn't dim his enthusiasm or deter him from sharing his knowledge with the people. But the Church won't let mere evidence get in the way of centuries of teaching, and soon the Inquisition has taken an interest, demanding that Galileo betray his science and abjure his theory.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Theatre review: London Wall

John Van Druten's London Wall is an ensemble comedy-drama set in a solicitor's office, casting a particular eye on what working life was like for women in the 1930s. Office manager Mr Brewer (Alex Robertson) has tried his luck with most of the typists - currently he's got his eye on newcomer Pat (Maia Alexander,) who doesn't heed the warnings of Miss Janus (Alix Dunmore.) 35 and engaged for 7 years to a foreign diplomat who seems to have lost interest, Miss Janus herself is afraid of becoming an old maid and being stuck in this low-paying job all her life. Meanwhile Miss Hooper (Emily Bowker) is seeing a man who swears he'll leave his wife for her, and Miss Bufton (Cara Theobold) doesn't mind being seen on a different man's arm every night. The personal crises that intrude on office life give a picture of women who may be more independent that the generation before them, but still have to rely on the hope of marriage as an escape from poverty.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Theatre review: Quartermaine's Terms

It can be very tempting sometimes to make "meh" the entirety of a review. Simon Gray's Quartermaine's Terms has thundered back into the West End thanks to the involvement of Rowan Atkinson, in a rare stage appearance, in the title role. With the star casting come prices to match, the cheapest ticket in the gods almost £30, and little sign of ticket deals around. The hefty payday for the producers seems a churlish way to open a review but Richard Eyre's production at Wyndham's leaves you wondering what other motivation there could be to create such a bland evening at the theatre. We're in "the 1960's" (I won't pretend that misplaced apostrophe in the opening caption didn't prejudice me a bit right from the off,) in the staff room of an English language school in Cambridge.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Theatre review: Blood Wedding

The Faction conclude their current rep season with Lorca's Blood Wedding, a play which, as the title suggests, is steeped in violence. But it turns out to be the interval that commits the bloodiest crime of the evening. The Mother (Anna-Maria Nabirye) is preparing her son, the Bridegroom (Andrew Chevalier) for his marriage, but the happy occasion is overshadowed by her feeling of dread, made worse when she discovers the Bride (Derval Mellett) has an ex-lover, Leonardo (Jonny McPherson.) It's not the suggestion of impurity in her future daughter-in-law that worries her so much as the man's identity: Although Leonardo himself was not involved, his family killed the Groom's father and brother, years ago. The marriage still goes ahead, but when Leonardo arrives at the wedding it's clear he and the Bride are still in love with each other, and tragedy inevitably follows.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Theatre review: Feast

A co-production between the Royal Court, who originally commissioned it, and the Young Vic where it now premieres, Feast aims to give a taste of the Yoruba diaspora: A culture that began in Nigeria, but largely due to the slave trade crossed the Atlantic and now exists in slightly different forms in a number of parts of the world. Rufus Norris' production has five writers (with a further five having contributed to the early stages of its development,) brought in to give an idea of what Yoruba culture means to Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil, the USA and the UK. We follow incarnations of three deities, Yemaya (Noma Dumezweni,) Oshun (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) and Oya (Michelle Asante) as they journey around the world and down the centuries, dealing with issues as small as family spats and as big as slavery; at the end we see four versions of the titular feast, as families from each country celebrate big occasions in their own distinct variations of the Yoruba tradition.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Theatre review: I Know How I Feel About Eve

After shows lasting 3 hours 10 minutes on Friday and 3 hours 15 minutes on Saturday, a play that gets its themes across, in its understated way, in just over an hour is a welcome change. Jo (Kirsty Bushell) and Alex (Christopher Harper) are a couple whose marriage is suffering in the wake of a personal tragedy. Alex, a novelist, is trying to get back to work and back to normal, but is struggling with his current book. Jo, a barrister on extended leave, spends her mornings jogging but in the rest of her life seems to have lost all energy, she's unwilling or unable to shop for food and has decided that toast and gin are all the sustenance anyone needs. The two bicker and snap at each other, Jo seems repulsed by the very idea of Alex making a sexual advance, but the two also seem determined to keep their marriage going.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Theatre review: The Winter's Tale (RSC / RST & tour)

Lucy Bailey's history at the RSC seems mainly to involve directing some of my least favourite Shakespeare plays. And Jo Stone-Fewings', for some reason, always requires him to lounge barefoot on piles of scatter cushions. Both memes are present and correct as Stone-Fewings plays Leontes in Bailey's production of The Winter's Tale. Leontes is the King of Sicilia, and has been friends with Bohemian King Polixenes since childhood. Despite years of happy marriage to Hermione, Leontes is gripped by am irrational jealousy (here strongly implied to be the result of a sudden mental illness) that his wife and best friend are having an affair, and that the baby Hermione is carrying is Polixenes'. The latter is warned in time to escape, but the Queen is subjected to a humiliating show-trial, and when Leontes' doubts are proven groundless he's punished by a series of personal disasters - which only the play's notorious lurch into magical pastoral fairytale can make better.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Theatre review: Anjin

Loosely tying in to the "A World Elsewhere" season currently in Stratford-upon-Avon, Gregory Doran has finally brought his 2009 project, the Anglo-Japanese Anjin, to the UK, where it's playing a short season at Sadler's Wells having had some success in Japan. Mike Poulton and Shoichiro Kawai adapt the true story of William Adams (Stephen Boxer,) who in 1600 was the first Englishman to go to Japan. Arriving on a Dutch ship, Adams almost falls foul of the Spanish Jesuits who have been converting the locals (and who still remember the Armada) but he's saved by the Regent, Ieyasu Tokugawa (Masachika Ichimura.) Adams' superior knowledge of cannons helps win an important battle and sees Tokugawa reward him with rank and land, the Englishman eventually becoming one of his most trusted friends.