Thursday, 27 August 2015

Theatre review: Our Country's Good

Whenever I review a Shakespeare play, I make a note in the subject line of the company or venue, as there's so many productions of his plays I think it's best to be clear which one I'm talking about. I almost feel like I should do the same for Our Country's Good, because despite only first seeing it in 2012, this is now my third production. Timberlake Wertenbaker's play is an undisputed modern classic (though not one of the 101 best play ever according to Michael Billington but it's fine - he asked an imaginary woman what she thought and she agreed with him.) Based on true events, it follows one of the first shipments of convicts to be transported to Australia in 1788, to the area that would become Sydney. For the duration of their sentences they will remain prisoners, watched over by the army, but when their time is done they'll be sent out to colonise the new land.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Theatre review: Lady Anna All At Sea

Anthony Trollope's Lady Anna proved a controversial novel in its story that argued against keeping the classes apart for no other reason than the accident of birth. It centres around the disputed will of the recently-deceased, apparently deeply unpleasant Earl Lovel, whose title passes to the next male heir, distant nephew Frederick (Adam Scott-Rowley.) But this honour comes without any of the usual financial advantages, because the old Earl had a secret family, and Countess Lovel (Caroline Langrishe) has spent much of her life fighting to have her title acknowledged. However the marriage is judged legal, and when she comes of age her daughter Lady Anna (Antonia Kinlay) stands to inherit all the money and lands. The lawyers can't untangle the contesting claims, but a marriage between Frederick and Lady Anna would unite title and money again to almost everyone's satisfaction.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Theatre review: Thoroughly Modern Millie

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The press night takes place later this week.

After premiering what could well be the best new musical of the year a couple of months ago, the Landor have looked to the past for a follow-up, with a 2000 musical, based on a 1967 film, set in 1922. Thoroughly Modern Millie is something of an oddity: It does feature original songs (by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan) but these are interspersed with older songs from a variety of sources, from "My Mammy" (most associated with Al Jolson,) here performed in Chinese, to a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, rewritten to become a boss dictating a letter to his stenographer. The stenographer in question is Millie (Francesca Lara Gordon,) who's moved from Kansas to New York to be a flapper and, in what she believes to be the most modern approach, marry for money. She identifies the suitably wealthy heir to an insurance company fortune, Trevor (Samuel Harris,) and takes a job as his secretary with complete certainty she'll soon be upgrading to his wife.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Theatre review: Hamlet (Barbican Theatre)

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The press haven't yet been invited to this. Not that they felt they needed an invitation as, notoriously, a few papers couldn't wait to get some of that Benadryl Cumulonimbus publicity, and printed reviews of the first preview. You know, like those evil unprofessional theatre bloggers sometimes do.

Actually I'm not even sure if this was originally meant to be a preview performance when I first booked my tickets, as I think the original press night was moved back. In any case, the ticket prices weren't discounted for previews, which is the traditional quid pro quo for an early audience seeing a show that's not been locked down yet. And a couple of weeks into the run Lyndsey Turner's production of Hamlet still doesn't feel locked down. Hamlet (Benelux Cenotaph) is the Prince of Denmark who, at the opening of the play, is dealing with a sense of general dissatisfaction that can't just be put down to his father's recent death. Instead of being crowned himself, he's had to stand back and watch his uncle Claudius (Ciarán Hinds) not only take the throne, but also marry Hamlet's mother Gertrude (Anastasia Hille.)

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Theatre review: The Playboy of the Western World

"What is it she's after sayin'?"

I guess Southwark Playhouse is the sort of theatre actors can't bear to leave - the new show in The Little features Barney McElholm, who was in the cast of the previous show Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs, while Ciaran O'Brien, who had a small role in Orson's Shadow in the main house, has moved straight next door to take the title role in JM Synge's The Playboy of the Western World. The setting is a remote part of County Mayo in the early 1900s, in the small house that serves as the only pub for miles around. It's the sort of isolated spot where the arrival of a newcomer is big news, and Christy Mahon (O'Brien) makes himself particularly popular when he arrives filthy and exhausted, announcing that he's run away from the family farm after murdering his father in the potato field.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Theatre review: Macbeth (Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio / Globe to Globe)

After Richard III, the second and final Globe to Globe of the 2015 season is also from China, although this time the language is Cantonese. The Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio company from Hong Kong have created a stylised version of Macbeth, the story of a Scottish lord who learns from a supernatural source that he's destined to become king. Egged on by his wife, he decides to speed the process up by murdering King Duncan and, when the immediate heirs flee the country, is indeed crowned himself. Although it's one of the Shakespeare plys I'm most familiar with, I do like to be sitting where I can easily see the captions, because international adaptations don't always follow the plot that strictly. There might have been an exchange programme with Richard III (Macbeth's witches somehow ended up in that play earlier this summer) or an incident from a completely different Shakespeare play turning up in Dunsinane.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Theatre review: Fucking Men

The King's Head revives their biggest hit of recent years, Fucking Men, in a new production by Geoffrey Hyland. Of course if the sweary title - evidently a theme this year - isn't enough to draw the crowds in, maybe writer Joe DiPietro's higher profile, with Memphis still a hit, can only help. The inspiration is Arthur Schnitzler's much-adapted La Ronde, which follows men and women in a series of sexual encounters that eventually form a circle. DiPietro's is an all-gay millennial take on the story, each scene taking place before and after a sexual encounter between two men, one of whom will move on to the next one. So we open with the Soldier (Harper James,) who's heard of a rent-boy who hangs out by the barracks. Protesting his heterosexuality and masculinity all the time, he pays for his first blow job from a man.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Theatre review: Penetrator

An early Anthony Neilson play gets revived by recent Mountview graduates at the Hope Theatre. He's a writer whose style you can never second-guess and, first seen in 1994, Penetrator was called part of the "in-yer-face" movement - a term nobody involved in it actually seems to like. Well, probably Ravenhill. Neilson's play features the strong language and constant threat of violence associated with the movement, although while elliptical in nature it's not wilfully obscure, clearly identifying a crisis in masculinity, insecurity and an attitude to sex heavily influenced by pornography. Slackers Max (Alexander Pardey) and Alan (Jolyon Price) share a small flat, spending much of their time getting stoned. Recently dumped by his girlfriend, Max is the slob of the pair, pretending his ex never existed while wanking to porn any chance he gets.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Re-review: Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

Having become a bit of a Globe completist in recent years, I've tended to return to its small-scale touring productions anyway, but it was especially inevitable I'd want to see Max Webster's fresh take on Much Ado About Nothing again, which made it into my Top Ten shows of 2014, and was my joint favourite Shakespeare of the year. You can read my original review here; for the 2015 tour three of the original cast of eight have returned: Robert Pickavance's Leonato, Jim Kitson's Don Pedro, and the stalwart of these touring comedies, Emma Pallant's superbly acidic Beatrice. Sadly the original #SexyBenedick Simon Bubb hasn't returned, but Christopher Harper gives Benedick a geeky edge that contrasts well with Pallant's po-faced deliveries. In any case, the addition of Aaron Anthony as Claudio (tonight dealing well with an epaulette-based mishap) means the show's not short on eye-candy.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Theatre review: Bears in Space

Bears in Space has been doing good business at Soho Theatre thanks to strong word of mouth. LOL no, not really, it's because the cast includes Jack Gleeson, who's been quoted as saying he might give up acting, so for any Game of Thrones fans trying to see as many cast members as possible on stage, this might be the only opportunity to collect Joffrey. It has, though, been getting all that positive word of mouth, and it's not surprising as fans of all things silly will find a lot to love here. Gleeson stars alongside Aaron Heffernan, Cameron Macauley and Eoghan Quinn* in a story about two elderly cosmonaut bears in the distant future, left to fend for themselves when their captain is quarantined in stasis. A Russian polar bear (Quinn) assumes the captain's role of investigating a mysterious nearby planet.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Theatre review: A Naughty Night with Noël Coward

I'm starting to think it's just as well that Noël Coward was gay, because from the last few plays of his I've seen he seems to have found the idea of men smacking women around pretty hilarious. That particular ugly little meme raises its head in the second of a pair of one-acters grouped together under the theme of marital infidelity at the Old Red Lion, as A Naughty Night with Noël Coward. Jimmy Walters directs an hour of snappy witticisms that starts with We Were Dancing, set at a country club somewhere in Indonesia. Louise (Lianne Harvey) and Karl (James Sindall) have danced together and decided they're instantly in love. This doesn't go down too well with Louise's husband Hubert (John MacCormick) though. This is followed by the rediscovery The Better Half, which takes us to the boudoir of Alice (Tracey Pickup,) who's preparing for a dinner party with her friend Marion (Beth Eyre.) They're discussing a society divorce that's been the talk of the gossip pages.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Theatre review: We Know Where You Live

Steven Hevey's We Know Where You Live first turned up at the Finborough as one of the rehearsed readings in 2013's Vibrant season, but its return for a full staging couldn't have been better timed, as the hipsters of East London fret that a new Pret A Manger might destroy a local history that stretches back as far as four whole years into the distant past. The play's central character, Ben (Matt Whitchurch) isn't quite as irony-deficient as that, but he still finds himself at odds with seemingly everyone about how important the history of his little corner of London is. Because in another of this year's plays looking at the spiraling cost of housing, this one focuses particularly on gentrification: Architect Ben and his fabric designer girlfriend Asma (Ritu Arya) can't find anywhere they can afford, until a ground-floor flat in an unnamed Hackney neighbourhood becomes available - and even then Asma's wealthy father needs to chip in with the rent.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Theatre review: Splendour

Last year Robert Hastie revived My Night With Reg to give the Donmar Warehouse a summer hit with an all-male cast; this year he's back with an all-female cast and a less obviously crowd-pleasing play. An early work by Abi Morgan, now better-known as a TV writer, gets its belated London preview as four women meet in a room whose Splendour may soon be gone. We're in an unnamed country, in the palace of a dictatorial president who's commissioned a new photo-portrait from foreign photojournalist Kathryn (Genevieve O'Reilly.) He, however, has not shown up so the first lady, Micheleine (Sinéad Cusack) is playing hostess. Although the whole play is spoken in English, the conceit is that Kathryn doesn't speak the local language, so also present is Zawe Ashton as interpreter Gilma, who may be pretty bad at her job, or may understand a lot more of what both women are saying than she's willing to let on.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Theatre review: Grand Hotel

After a number of big musical hits there, director Thom Southerland returns to Southwark Playhouse with another musically complex ensemble drama, though I liked this one a lot better than 2013's Titanic: Based on Vicki Baum's book Menschen Im Hotel, Grand Hotel has a book by Luther Davis, music and lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright, and additional songs by Maury Yeston. The setting is 1928 Berlin, a time of a huge gap between rich and poor, as the deferential staff of the hotel harbour a lot of angry resentment towards their wealthy guests. But if the guests we meet over the two hours are anything to go by, they actually have a lot more front than they do money. At the centre of the cast of characters is Baron von Gaigern (Scott Garnham,) who coasts by on charm and everyone's assumption that with titles come money and power, but is in fact broke.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Theatre review: The Heresy of Love

In addition to its classics and new commissions, Shakespeare's Globe now revives a more recent play with Helen Edmundson's verse drama The Heresy of Love, which makes for a good fit with the theatre's current "Justice & Mercy" season: Its story of a strict regime reinforcing lapsed rules and clashing with a nun resonates with Measure for Measure, while the Catholic Church using the threat of damnation to pull rank on secular powers has echoes in King John. The cast, meanwhile, is largely that of the current As You Like It, although they've gone to one of the Globe's past Rosalinds for the lead: Edmundson's play is inspired by the true story of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Naomi Frederick,) a 17th Century Mexican nun, also a much-loved poet and playwright, who became a close friend of the Spanish Viceroy's wife (Ellie Piercy,) and was commissioned to write plays for court occasions.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Theatre review: Dear Lupin

This year's meme of real-life families playing their onstage counterparts continues with another father/son pairing, although their characters' relationship is nowhere near as twisted as the one the Shrapnels got to play last month. Billie Piper's in-laws, as they're basically being marketed, play the authors of the book Dear Lupin, adapted for the stage by Michael Simkins: Roger Mortimer (James Fox) was a popular racing journalist and commentator, raised in a family with a butler, and though not quite retaining that level of wealth he maintained an upper-middle class respectability all his life. Not so his youngest son Charles (Jack Fox,) nicknamed Lupin - not after a flower or a werewolf but after the similarly wayward son in The Diary of a Nobody. Expelled from Eton, Lupin travels the world, unfortunately not so much picking up culture as he does addictions and a criminal record.