Thursday, 29 August 2013

Theatre review: [title of show]

A musical so self-referential it occasionally threatens to swallow itself, [title of show] chronicles its own creation. Songwriter Jeff Bowen (Simon Bailey) and book writer Hunter Bell (Scott Garnham) get wind of a musical theatre festival with only three weeks before the deadline. Without a story to hang a whole new musical onto, they decide to write about the process of writing, turning their frustrated conversations and workshops into the script and songs. Bringing in actresses Heidi (Sophia Ragavelas) and Susan (Sarah Galbraith) they end up with a quirky show that's a hit at the festival and gets a much-loved off-Broadway transfer. But this level of success leads Hunter to set his sights on a Broadway run, and the long process of trying to get the show ready for a wider audience puts a strain on the quartet's friendships.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Theatre review: The Pride

Unlike the Michael Grandage season it emulates in some ways, Jamie Lloyd's project at Trafalgar Studios didn't announce its full programme in advance. One reason given is that it enables Lloyd to decide closer to the time what to stage, and thus respond to the times. The topicality of his revival of The Pride is obvious at the curtain call, where the actors bring on "To Russia With Love" placards protesting at the recent homophobic, discriminatory laws there. Alexi Kaye Campbell's breakthrough play charts the gay experience closer to home, but its ambition lies in its scope, attempting to chronicle both the colossal changes in law and attitude towards homosexuality over the course of 50 years, but also how the ghosts of past shame can still hang over modern-day pride.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Theatre review: Thark

Last year the two most famous deconstructions of farce, Noises Off and What The Butler Saw were revived in London, but now for the unreconstructed thing itself: Ben Travers' Thark was one of the most successful of the Aldwych farces that ruled the West End in the 1920s. Whether it could fill that size of venue these days is questionable, and instead it's found its way to the main stage of the Park Theatre, in a production directed by Eleanor Rhode and designed, all staircases and sharp angles, by Cherry Truluck. Sir Hector Benbow (Clive Francis, who's also done some re-writing of the script) has invited young Cherry Buck (Lucy May Barker) for dinner in his wife's absence. But an argument over the sale of their country house, Thark, brings Lady Benbow (Mary Keegan) back to London unexpectedly so Hector asks his nephew Ronny (James Dutton) to pretend Cherry is his guest - a story that won't impress his fiancée. Add to this the arrival of Thark's new owner Mrs Frush (Joanna Wake) and the stage is set for a lot of running around and people posing as each other.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Theatre review: The True Tragedy of the Duke of York (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

One of my unwritten theatre reviewing rules is to provide a summary of the play for people who might be unfamiliar with it. Sometimes that's easier than others, and when it comes to The True Tragedy of the Duke of York things could get very tangled up. Suffice it to say that as we get to the last of the Henry VI plays the Wars of the Roses are in full swing and over the next couple of hours loyalties shift, many die, enough sons lose their fathers to populate an entire season of The X Factor, and Henry himself is deposed not once but twice. The Globe have been keen to point out that the three plays can be enjoyed individually, but there's no preamble at the start of this installment as the cast dive straight into a swordfight left over from last night. Having witnessed the first battle in the War of the Roses, King Henry will try anything to avoid new bloodshed, including disinheriting his own son in favour of York's bloodline. But the rest of the Lancastrians are horrified at his capitulation, and will fight to keep him on the throne he knows himself unsuitable for.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Theatre review: The Houses of York and Lancaster (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

Nick Bagnall's revival of Shakespeare's Henry VI plays continues with The Houses of York and Lancaster (actually the original full title was The First Part of the Contention Between the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster but the Globe have clearly balanced authenticity with common sense.) Having started to stand up to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in Harry the Sixth, King Henry (Graham Butler) inadvertently opened the door for his enemies to get rid of the Lord Protector once and for all. Humphrey's young wife (Beatriz Romilly) will be his downfall, and when she's caught dabbling in black magic her husband is forced to stand down. Emboldened by his relationship with the new queen, the Duke of Suffolk goes one step too far and has Humphrey killed. Soon he too is dead, and the power vacuum around the weak king leads the Duke of York (Brendan O'Hea) to finally show his hand as a rival contender for England's throne.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Theatre review: Harry the Sixth (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

The play usually referred to as Henry VI Part 1 was written long before Shakespeare's more famous Henry V, but that play's ending haunts Harry the Sixth, the first in the trilogy which Shakespeare's Globe is staging under the plays' original titles. The Chorus of Henry V ends the play by reminding us how the warrior king's famous gains in France were quickly lost under his son's reign. And so as Harry the Sixth opens with the funeral of Henry V, his coffin remains on stage for the first half of Nick Bagnall's production, opening to reveal swords as the battles continue. The late king's successor as scourge of the French is the heroic Lord Talbot (Andrew Sheridan.) The Dauphin (Simon Harrison) and his cronies continue to be incompetents who spend most of their time bragging then running away, but this time they have a secret weapon: The teenage Joan of Arc (Beatriz Romilly) will prove Talbot's nemesis.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Theatre review: Armstrong's War

There's not much need to adapt the hospital set from As Is for the Finborough's alternate show this month, as Colleen Murphy's Armstrong's War also features someone ill - although this time there's more chance of recovery, physically at least. Michael (Mark Quartley) is a Canadian soldier recovering from a bomb injury. Between physiotherapy sessions he's pretty much left forgotten in his room, so he's agreed to let a girl guide read to him once a week so she can earn a merit badge. It's a decision he quickly regrets when wheelchair-bound 12-year-old Halley (Jessica Barden) wheels into his room, an onslaught of perkiness reading from her favourite "girl detective" novel to a man who's happiest hiding under the bed, and who occasionally stops to have a chat into thin air with an old army buddy he lost in Afghanistan.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Theatre review: All's Well That Ends Well (RSC / RST & TR Newcastle)

The final play in the RSC's main house season this summer is a bona fide Problem Play - although just how problematic can vary from production to production of All's Well That Ends Well. Helena (Joanna Horton) is the daughter of a famous doctor, and when the King of France has an apparently incurable fistula she uses her late father's techniques to cure him. In return the King (Greg Hicks) promises her the hand of whichever man she wants. She chooses the man she's loved since childhood, the Count Bertram (Alex Waldmann.) But not only does the object of her affection see her as his social inferior, he doesn't even remotely find her attractive. Forced into a marriage, he refuses to consummate it and runs away to war, telling her he'll only consider them truly married if she can get from him the ring he never removes, and bear his child despite his refusal to have sex with her. Not the kind of girl to take a hint the size of an anvil, Helena interprets this as a challenge, and hatches a new plan that'll see her follow him to the battlefield.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Theatre review: Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens

I wouldn't have thought Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens needed a support act but it gets one anyway in Stuart Saint's revival in the bowels of Leicester Square Theatre. A three-piece ukulele-wielding cabaret act entertained us for the first half-hour tonight (I don't know if this part of the show changes nightly.) What should stay the same is the main event, Charlotte Mann, Michael Fidler, Jonathan Croose and Robin Forrest's musical of cosmic camp, a space opera set on the planet Frottage 3. Saucy Jack (Ralph Bogard) runs the eponymous seedy bar and cabaret, although the latter has fewer acts every night: The mysterious Slingback Killer is murdering them one by one, stabbing them with a sequinned high heel. Enter the Space Vixens, an all-female interplanetary police force dedicated to righting wrongs and teaching people the correct path (to the clitoris.) They also seem to have very strong feelings about man-made fibres, although I could never quite figure out if they're for them or against them.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Theatre review: As Is

Another revival from the 1980s at the Finborough, and it's what they're billing as the first-ever AIDS play, William M. Hoffman's As Is. The play opens with a pair of exes arguing over who gets which of their shared possessions. But Rich (Tom Colley) is using the squabble as a delaying tactic for what he really needs to tell Saul (David Poynor,) namely that he's tested HIV positive. The following 80 minutes flash both back to their relationship and its end, and forward to Rich's deteriorating health - and the ex-boyfriend who still loves him remaining at his side as a constant support. As well as this personal story that carries the heart of the narrative through, Hoffman also spreads his focus out to the New York gay community at large - the liberated, promiscuous subculture of the 1970s that was so vulnerable to an unknown killer disease - and the support networks that they created in its wake.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Theatre review: Home

Director Nadia Fall has put together a verbatim play for The Shed, in one of the temporary venue's most successful productions so far. Home is set at Target East, an East London hostel for young people with a pretty bad reputation locally. Through interviews with the people who live and work in a real hostel, Fall attempts not only to highlight it as a place that does important, undervalued work, but also to expose its residents, no matter what their backgrounds, as more than just the uniform mass of feral youth the media portrayed them as around the time of the 2011 riots. Most of the people living in the hostel had been homeless prior to getting their place there; many had fled abusive homes, or been disowned and thrown out by their families, or had brushes with the law, even spent time in prison.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Theatre review: Liolà

Pirandello's Sicilian tragicomedy Liolà is a bit of an oddity, especially coming from the author of Six Characters in Search of an Author: A music-soaked whirl through a small community, it comes in Richard Eyre's production with an all-Irish cast, perhaps to reflect the fact that the original is written in a local dialect. We may also be meant to infer a Catholic link, although the characters' Catholicism is here largely present so we can see them cheerfully ignore it. Simone Palumbo (James Hayes) is the wealthy landowner in a small village where pretty much everyone seems to be related. With nobody to leave his inheritance to he chose a much younger wife, but five years on Simone is 65 and Mita (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) still isn't pregnant. Enter Tuzza (Jessica Regan,) who's been knocked up by the local lothario, Liolà. She's willing to pretend the child is Simone's so it can inherit his money, and the old man's so desperate for an heir he might even start telling himself it's true.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Theatre review: The Same Deep Water As Me

Fast becoming a big-name playwright on both sides of the Atlantic, Nick Payne can't really be accused of sticking to a formula. Following his biggest success with the multiverse-spanning Constellations last year, his latest comedy-drama The Same Deep Water As Me goes for a less lyrical, starker subject matter in the world of "no win, no fee" ambulance-chasing lawyers. But in John Crowley's premiere production at the Donmar it winds up being a rather flat affair. His escape to London having ended in ignominy, Andrew (Daniel Mays) has returned to his home town of Luton where he's joined Barry (Nigel Lindsay) in his injury-law firm. Despite the increasing popularity of this kind of lawsuit, their firm doesn't seem to be reaping the benefits, and they're desperately scrabbling for clients. So Andrew is vulnerable to getting sucked into a plan to defraud big corporations by staging repeated car accidents and suing for imaginary injuries, in the knowledge that deep-pocketed companies would rather settle than go to court.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Theatre review: The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo

This year's recurring meme of hefty play titles makes its next appearance at the Tricycle, where Lucian Msamati directs a new play by Denton Chikura, The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo. The setting is Zimbabwe, where a fable for the ages is waiting to be told and the narrator, bad guy and romantic interest are present and correct. Unfortunately the story is stalled because it lacks a protagonist and, egged on by mysterious and somewhat threatening voices, the Narrator (Don Gilet) is desperate to find one. When the goatherd Nhamo (Ery Nzaramba) wanders out of the bush looking for an escaped goat, he's pressed into service but is found severely lacking, and the tale by necessity becomes an origin story, to turn him from zero to hero - all in the silliest way possible.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Theatre review: The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable

Immersive theatre company Punchdrunk have acquired an enthusiastic following, so their return to London after an absence of some years was big news. The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable was my first experience of them, and it was meant to come some time ago but the preview performance I'd booked for back in June got cancelled due to technical problems. On the plus side this meant I could transfer my ticket to a date further into the run when the company had settled into the complex performance - a real bonus, apparently, as disgruntled voices from the show's previews suggest it took a long time to find its feet. But now that it has it's certainly something hard to forget, a promenade piece that's taken over a huge building near Paddington Station and transformed it into a 1950s Hollywood movie studio and its surroundings.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Theatre review: Skin Tight

The new Park Theatre has two houses named, in the spirit of endless invention and theatrical wonder, after the amount of people they can seat. So the smaller studio is called Park90 and currently houses a two-hander from New Zealand playwright Gary Henderson, Skin Tight. Angela Bull and John Schumacher play Elizabeth and Tom, characters who seem to be several decades older than the actors playing them, but have presumably been cast as the age they feel, not the age they are. Elizabeth's life is drawing to a close and the couple face the end by reliving the earliest days of their relationship, from the first time they had sex, to Tom's conscription to a war, their financial successes and failures on their farm and their respective relationships with their daughter. It's also the final opportunity for them to share the last remaining secrets they've managed to keep from each other.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Theatre review: The Color (sic) Purple

Another Broadway musical that shares a title and subject matter with a famous film, except this time the two actually do come from the same source, Alice Walker's novel The Color (sic) Purple. Spanning several decades of the 20th century it first introduces its heroine Celie (Cynthia Erivo) in 1914 at the age of 14, already pregnant for the second time as a result of being raped by her stepfather, both children taken away to mysterious ends. She's soon married off to the tyrannical widower Mister (Christopher Colquhoun,) mainly to raise his kids. Celie is a mousy creature whose only experience of how women should behave to men is cowering obedience, so behaves accordingly to the fearsome Mister, who soon bans her from ever again contacting her beloved sister Nettie (Abiona Omonua.) But over the years she meets other women with a much more independent attitude, and over the years she blossoms.