Thursday, 30 April 2015

Theatre review: Bugsy Malone

Somewhere in the first act of Bugsy Malone it strikes you that, before the idea became familiar through the film, Alan Parker had not only to come up with this idea, but also pitch it: A musical version of a 1930s gangster movie, but with a cast of children, and pie fights instead of gunfights. It's ridiculous but it works, and does so very well in Sean Holmes' production, the rather unlikely choice to inaugurate the officially reopened Lyric Hammersmith. Three rotating casts of children play the main seven roles, while an ensemble of adults and older teenagers back them up. Bugsy Malone (Sasha Gray, Michael Matias or Daniel Purves) is just trying to get somewhere with Blousey Brown (Zoe Brough, Thea Lamb or Eleanor Worthington-Cox) but he gets caught up in a turf war between Fat Sam (Max Gill, James Okulaja or Jenson Steele) and Dandy Dan (Oliver Emery or Tahj Miles.)

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Theatre review: American Buffalo

I don't really get what everyone sees in Damian Lewis, whose last stage appearance irritated me greatly, but I wasn't going to miss the chance to see John Goodman on stage - especially after his turn as one of the season villains on Damages. David Mamet's 1975 classic American Buffalo is what brings Goodman to London, to play Don, owner of a chaotic junk store. A few days earlier a customer paid him $90 for a rare buffalo-head nickel, and upon discovering that the man was a coin collector Don is convinced he got a lot less than its true worth for it. He has another buyer in mind but first he needs the buffalo back, and he plans to send in Bobby (Tom Sturridge,) a junkie he has a sort of fatherly care for, to burgle it from the man's house. Bobby's been casing the joint, and has seen the target leave with bags for what looks like a weekend trip away, so all seems to be ready.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Theatre review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

Things would probably be better all round for everyone (especially me) if I could have made this a non-review, but while I was tempted, I didn't leave Light Shining in Buckinghamshire at the interval like so many people. It was probably more the fact that this is the inaugural production from the NT's new team in charge that brought me back, rather than any real faith that the second act might be better (it wasn't.) Caryl Churchill's 1976 play is a look at the English Civil War, specifically one side of it - the Levellers and the peasants who backed them up, ending up with the deposition and execution of Charles I, and the installation of Oliver Cromwell (Daniel Flynn.) Though all fighting on one side, their motivations, religious beliefs and what they ultimately expect from their rebellion vary wildly and, using in part edited transcripts of real debates, Churchill shows us, in great detail, the major and minor points on which they differed, and what they actually got in the end.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Theatre review: Ah, Wilderness!

The Young Vic website describes Ah, Wilderness! as "Eugene O'Neill's most delightful play," a field that with the best will in the world can't have that many runners in it. Elsewhere I've seen the blunter "Eugene O'Neill's only intentional comedy." It is a surprisingly sweet affair though, something of a love letter not just to a particular woman in the playwright's life, but to young love itself. It's the Fourth of July and an extended New England family gather at the home of local newspaper editor Nat Miller (Martin Marquez.) The obvious stand-in for a young O'Neill is the middle son, George MacKay's Richard, a likeably recognisable emo teenager in Natalie Abrahami's modern-dress production. Fond of reading the works of European playwrights and poets like Wilde and Shaw - much to the concern of his mother Essie (Janie Dee) - Richard has been sending overwrought love letters to a local girl. When her father catches on, he order her to break it off immediately.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Theatre review: I Wish To Die Singing

Finborough boss Neil McPherson takes a break from reading new and forgotten plays to put one of his own together, a verbatim play about events in 1915 and later. I Wish To Die Singing - Voices from the Armenian Genocide mixes the history of Turkey during the First World War (the show is part of the occasional THEGREATWAR100 series) with the accounts of those who survived a massacre that inspired the very term "genocide" to be invented and officially defined. With Turkey having sided with Germany in the war and suffering a major defeat, a scapegoat was sought. The Christian Armenians, long the business leaders in the Ottoman Empire and resented for it, made for an easy and popular target, and brutal "cleansing" was ordered. The fact that this genocide was largely forgotten or denied within a couple of decades is quoted as a reason Hitler felt encouraged to follow a similar course of action with the Jews.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Theatre review: Scarlet

Sam H. Freeman's Scarlet could be called a monologue for four actors: Lucy Kilpatrick, Jade Ogugua, Heida Reed and Asha Reid all play Scarlet, a girl who's always enjoyed sex and a couple of years into her university course has already chalked up lovers in double figures. The four women's costumes and attitudes suggest slightly different aspects to her personality - Reed's Scarlet is slightly prim and proper, in a 1940s-inspired outfit, Reid's a no-nonsense punky one, and the other two very much 21st century girls in more revealing outfits - but they are all pretty much in sync with each other, presenting Scarlet as a confident and fun woman with a united front. Things get a lot more out of her control though after a fellow student lies about sleeping with her, and she calls him out on it, inadvertently making him a laughing stock.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Theatre review: Carmen Disruption

The Almeida's "gold" season looking, directly or tangentially, at money, comes to a close with the UK debut of a Simon Stephens play originally commissioned and performed in Germany, where he's a big name. The audience in the stalls enters Carmen Disruption through the backstage area, the better to see Sharon Small in her dressing room as The Singer, an opera star who's travelled the world for years, singing the title role in Bizet's Carmen in different productions, in different opera houses. It's been her life for so long that her own identity has started to blur into the character, and when she arrives in the latest, unnamed European city, she starts to pick out archetypes from the story in the people she passes in the street: Carmen (Jack Farthing) becomes a beautiful, damaged rent boy, whose good looks are irresistible to all (at least they are in his own head.)

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Theatre review: Who Cares

Continuing the theme since Vicky Featherstone took over the Royal Court of having shows explode out of the usual boundaries of its auditoria, Michael Wynne's verbatim play Who Cares technically takes place in the Upstairs Theatre. But before it gets there Debbie Hannan, Lucy Morrison and Hamish Pirie's promenade production takes the audience from the rehearsal rooms and offices behind Sloane Square station, to the staircases and corridors backstage, and the area that's usually the lighting booth of the Upstairs Theatre. This is all in service of us hearing the stories of, for the most part, workers in the National Health Service, building up a picture both of the emotional connection that this country has to the NHS, and exactly how it's being changed by successive governments - particularly the "stealth privatisation" brought in by the current coalition.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Theatre review: The Glass Protégé

Matthew Gould's production of The Glass Protégé opens with the full three-minute trailer for the 1947 film The Bishop's Wife, in which Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young exchange scripted banter about how the film's so full of surprises, they're not going to show any clips in the trailer so as not to spoil the audience's experience watching it. It's not got anything to do with the rest of the show, but it's still the best thing about it. In 1949, some cheekbones called Patrick Glass (David R. Butler) are discovered in local rep in Oxford, and taken to Hollywood by their agent/producer (Roger Parkins.) When one of the leads in his first picture is sacked for inappropriate behaviour, Patrick is promoted to second lead opposite established heart-throb Jackson (Alexander Hulme,) whose legions of female fans are kept in the dark about his sexuality. Patrick quickly falls for Jackson and they're soon sleeping together.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Theatre review: The Twits

With two Roald Dahl adaptations still doing good business in the West End, the Royal Court might look like it's piggybacking its way to a family hit, but The Twits isn't quite like Matilda, and certainly not like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Like those shows, it has a somewhat surprising choice of playwright for the adaptation - Enda Walsh this time - but unlike those it can't rely on the audience's familiarity with the plot: The Twits is closer to a short story than a novella, so Dahl's original story is used up in about 15 minutes at the start and end of the stage version. In between, Walsh and director John Tiffany are free to make up their own new version of the story - perhaps that's why it's being promoted as a "mischievous adaptation" - which to me at least felt very much in the spirit of Dahl. Mr and Mrs Twit (Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan) are a horrible couple who hate bathing, children, other people in general, and most of all each other.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Theatre review: Clarion

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The professional critics haven't been invited to review this yet.

Although maybe it would be best if the newspaper reviewers' invitations got mysteriously lost in the post, as some of them might find Clarion a bit close to home. The Daily Clarion is a right-wing newspaper which has led with scare-stories about immigrants for a solid year, and is generally considered to be somewhere between a national joke and a genuine incitement to hatred. (I couldn't possibly say if there's a real paper it might bear some resemblance to, but writer Mark Jagasia used to work at the Express.) Its only link to journalistic respectability is Verity (Clare Higgins,) a celebrated war correspondent who after a downturn in fortunes has been reduced to the Clarion's regular opinion columnist. The actual editorial policy is determined by a much-feared, unseen proprietor who made his fortune in topless burger bars, but the day-to-day agenda is set by the explosive, demented editor Morris (Greg Hicks.)

Friday, 17 April 2015

Theatre review: Measure for Measure (Cheek by Jowl)

It's a couple of years since Cheek by Jowl brought a new production to London, and four since their Russian company - whose Tempest made my Top 10 shows of 2011 and remains memorable - were here. This time they're showing the first of this year's competing Measure for Measures, and it's one that the upcoming productions will surely find it hard to beat. Vienna is governed by strict morality laws, but having allowed them to lapse during two decades in charge, the Duke (Alexander Arsentyev) doesn't think he can enforce them himself, so pretends to leave the city, actually disguising himself as a friar. He leaves the running of the city to Angelo (Andrei Kuzichev,) who does indeed crack down immediately on vice. But in his very first high-profile case Angelo's moral highground is compromised.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Theatre review: Dido, Queen of Carthage

The Swanamaker continues to troll Shakespeare's ghost by creating its own version of the Boy Players he disliked. For their second annual production The Globe Young Players take on Christopher Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage, with a lot of familiar faces returning from last year's The Malcontent (although some of the faces are slightly higher up, having grown a bit. Teenagers will do that if you're not careful.) Aeneas (Guy Amos) leads a fleet of Trojan soldiers who've managed to escape the wreckage of Troy, with a mission to resettle in Italy, only to be shipwrecked off the coast of Libya. The Carthaginians were sympathetic to the Trojan cause so they meet with a warm reception, but Aeneas' mother is the goddess Venus (Tamla Tutankhamun,) so just to be sure she gets Cupid (Benjamin Clarke) to make Queen Dido (Jasmine Jones) fall madly in love with her son.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Theatre review: Plastic Figurines

Walking in to the sound of Sad Piano MusicTM isn't the most auspicious of starts but it all gets better from there in Ella Carmen Greenhill's simple but striking Plastic Figurines. Rose (Remmie Milner) had moved to Edinburgh to start a new life for herself, but when their mother died of leukaemia, she had to return to Manchester to look after her autistic brother Mikey (Jamie Samuel.) The play opens on his 18th birthday but is told out of order, flashing back to their visits to their mother in hospital, the hopes for her recovery and eventually her funeral, and forward to a time when Mikey himself is in hospital for reasons that aren't initially made clear. Other than that this isn't an eventful play but more of a character study of both Mikey and his autism, and his relationship with the sister who's given up a lot for him - but genuinely doesn't appear to feel she's a martyr for it.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Theatre review: Pioneer

Last year The Kindness of Strangers garnered less praise from me than it did from most people - although that's not because I disliked it as such, but because it gave me motion sickness. With Shoreditch Town Hall seeming more likely to stay still for 80 minutes than the back of an ambulance, I decided to give Curious Directive another go, with a (hopefully less queasy) trip to their 2014 Fringe First winner, Pioneer. It's 2029*, eight years after an initial mission to send astronauts to Mars ended in disaster, and now a new crew is being sent up amid much publicity. What the public doesn't know is that in the intervening years a top-secret mission has sent a Dutch couple to the planet, and their successful survival has made NASA confident enough to go public with the latest attempt. As they await the new arrivals though, one of the astronauts disappears while carrying out routine repairs. Left alone with just her fears and the ship's computer, his partner Imke (Flora Denman) starts to crack.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Theatre review: After Electra

In her 2011/12 hit Jumpy, April De Angelis put a woman turning fifty at the heart of the action. For her new play - commissioned specifically to provide the sort of roles for older actresses that are in notoriously short supply - she puts a woman in her eighties centre-stage. Virgie (Marty Cruickshank) has been a moderately successful abstract artist, an inspiration to some but a black sheep in her own family. A hippie free spirit, when her marriage was failing she left her family, leading to her children being taken into care. Haydn (Veronica Roberts,) now a therapist with a tendency to analyse herself and everyone around her in Freudian terms at all times, and Orin (James Wallace,) with a disastrous marriage of his own under his belt, have reconciled with their mother after a fashion, but the youngest daughter was never returned to her, and who she might now be remains a mystery that haunts the whole family.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Theatre review: Gypsy

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: This Chichester transfer hasn't opened to London critics yet.

Something of an origin story for Gypsy Rose Lee, the world's most famous striptease artist, Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's Gypsy is one of those perennial Broadway classics that doesn't get revived quite as often in the West End. Lara Pulver plays Louise Hovick, who would grow up to become the infamous title character, but the undoubted focus of the show is the pushiest of all pushy stage mothers, Momma Rose (Future Dame Imelda Staunton.) Rose tours around the US with a vaudeville show led by youngest daughter June (Gemma Sutton,) trading on a cutesy child act well into her teens. With the movies making vaudeville a thing of the past, June becomes disillusioned as the audiences dry up and elopes with one of her backing singers, Tulsa (Dan Burton.) The show can't possibly go on - unless you're Momma Rose and unwilling to admit defeat.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Theatre review: Spend, Spend, Spend

The second in an unintentional double bill of shows with the same word three times in the title, after Love, Love, Love it's Spend, Spend, Spend at the Union. That was the famous quote from pools-winner Viv Nicholson when asked what she'd do with all the money, and it proved all too true - she spent it all and when we first meet her in Steve Brown and Justin Greene's musical she's working in a beauty salon, having lost everything. The older Viv (Julie Armstrong) narrates her life story as her younger self (Katy Dean) grows up in a Leeds mining community with an abusive, alcoholic father (David Haydn.) First married at 16, it's her second husband Keith (James Lyne) who wins £152,319 on the football pools in 1961, and with rationing still in their memories they go all-out for a life of luxury. It doesn't go down well with their old community in Castleford, but when they move to a wealthier suburb their nouveaux-riche status is greeted with snobbery.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Theatre review: Love, Love, Love

MY STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Although I don't review actual amateur dramatics, I hope that drama school productions would appreciate a genuine outside view, and try to review accordingly.

To continue a bit of a Mike Bartlett theme to the year so far, a LAMDA production of his play following the lives of the Baby Boomers, and challenging their mantra that all you need is Love, Love, Love. The first act takes place in 1967, when Kenneth (Joseph Quinn) meets Sandra (Ellie Morris) while she's dating his brother Henry (Nathan Hamilton,) whom she promptly ditches for him. They end up married, apparently happily, but on the night in 1990 when their daughter Rose (Joanna Nicks) turns 16, tensions in their marriage erupt and, in front of the kids, it breaks down quickly and spectacularly. The final act takes us to the consequences in 2011 as Rose, raised on idealistic promises that everything will be all right if she follows her dreams, finally accepts that this was never true. Adulthood has so far defeated their son Jamie (Max Harrison,) meanwhile, that he's withdrawn into a pot-dazed, permanent childhood.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Theatre review: Our American Cousin

Not all of the Finborough's lost classics were always unappreciated: Occasionally they revive a play that enjoyed lengthy international success before disappearing into obscurity. They were often victims of their own success - Outward Bound's signature twist became a cliché, while the chocolates named after Quality Street's much-loved characters ended up upstaging them entirely. But the hit run of Tom Taylor's Our American Cousin ended in darker fashion when, 150 years ago this month, it went down in history as the play Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated. It's that notoriety that now sees it revived to commemorate the anniversary. Sir Edward (Andrew McDonald) has lost all his money, as unbeknownst to him his steward Coyle (Daniel York) has been ripping him off for years. But there's still someone in the family with money - the titular distant cousin Asa (Solomon Mousley,) who's about to visit England for the first time.

Theatre review: Princess Ida

I was due to see Princess Ida last week, but instead spent the afternoon on a District Line train stuck between stations. Although Gilbert and Sullivan aren't one of my biggest theatrical interests, I'd rather decide which shows to see or miss myself, not have TFL do it for me, so I gave it another go. And I'm glad I did - apart from anything else if a piece by writers this popular is being staged at the Finborough, you know it'll be one that's slipped through the cracks and doesn't get performed often. Although adaptor-director Phil Willmott hopes to change that - Princess Ida as written has apparently dated badly and is structured in a confusing way that puts people off. So he's given it a more linear telling of the story of Ida (Bridget Costello,) who has many suitors but, on the day she turns 21, her guardian Gama (Simon Butteriss) decides he'd much rather marry her himself. To keep her away from rivals he convinces her that men are beasts to be avoided, and she should establish a women-only university.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Theatre review: Death of a Salesman

Spoiler alert: The salesman dies.

Arthur Miller's centenary year hasn't, so far, resulted in a vast amount of London revivals of his work - they're probably still afraid of comparisons to last year's runaway hit. But a little further afield the First Lady of the RSC, Antony Sher, takes on the title role in Miller's most famous work, and the quintessential American tragedy. In Death of a Salesman Willy Loman (Sher) has worked all his life to pay off a mortgage that's finally about to be completed. But this doesn't coincide with financial security as, now in his sixties and succumbing to dementia, he's no longer the salesman he once was. With all his loyal contacts dead or retired, his long journeys around New England now see him return to Brooklyn empty-handed - and the company's new boss won't be willing to keep him on just for old times' sake.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Concert review: Sweeney Todd (London Coliseum)

The cruel and unusual things people do to make others' lives miserable are on display at the Coliseum; but enough about whoever designed the cloakroom, Lonny Price's New York concert staging of Sweeney Todd is being restaged by the ENO. Having been transported to Australia for a crime he didn't commit, Benjamin Barker (Bryn Terfel) escapes and returns to Fleet Street where, calling himself Sweeney Todd, he reopens his old barber shop above a pie shop. He quickly establishes himself as the best barber in London, to attract the attention of Judge Turpin (Philip Quast) and Beadle Bamford (Alex Gaumond,) the men who wronged him, with bloody revenge in mind. But the bloodshed begins long before he can get to them, when a rival barber (John Owen-Jones) tries to blackmail him. Todd now has a body to get rid of - while downstairs Mrs Lovett's (Emma Thompson) pie shop is short of fresh meat.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Theatre review: Harvey

"There's a bit of Harvey in all of us!" says the poster tagline, which is patently untrue because not everybody eats rabbit. Mary Chase's play won the Pulitzer Prize, proving that at one time you could do so with a play that wasn't about racism in suburbia - admittedly that time was 1944, and it's hard not to go into the Theatre Royal Haymarket for Harvey with a sense of trepidation. Especially since one of the press quotes chosen to sell the show essentially says Peter McKintosh's set looks quite expensive. The play has unquestionably dated, but it's hard to entirely dislike: Veta (Maureen Lipman) is hoping to marry off her daughter Myrtle May (Ingrid Oliver,) but she's worried suitors will be put off by the family eccentric, who controls all the money: Elwood (James Dreyfus) is friendly and generous, but he's also accompanied most of the time by a pooka, a Celtic mischief spirit who takes the form of a six-foot white rabbit called Harvey, whom only Elwood can see. Veta has finally had enough of her brother's delusion, and tries to get him sectioned in Dr Chumley's (David Bamber) asylum.