Thursday, 28 July 2016

Theatre review: The Plough and the Stars

Following the Globe giving The Taming of the Shrew a new setting, the National Theatre has its own production to mark the centenary of Ireland's Easter Rising, with The Plough and the Stars. Sean O’Casey's play, long controversial for being seen as pro-IRA, looks at a group of characters in a Dublin tenement in scenes six months apart: The first two acts take place in November 1915, with them going about their daily lives: Nora (Judith Roddy) is trying to get her new husband Jack (Fionn Walton) away from the Irish Citizen Army, her uncle Peter (Lloyd Hutchinson) is constantly arguing with his Communist nephew The Young Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor,) and Mrs Gogan (Josie Walker,) recently widowed and whose daughter has Period Drama Cough, doesn't get on with her Protestant neighbour Bessie (Justine Mitchell,) whose son is fighting in World War I, and who likes to lean out of her windows shouting into the street like Trekkie Monster.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar

We're going way back through the mists of time for this one, back to a time when Dr Baron Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Lord Webber BA (Hons) actually came up with more than two tunes per show, and Jesus Christ Superstar is all the better for it. Originally a concept album, it means that although it's staged fairly frequently, it's usually as a concert, so Timothy Sheader's full staging in Regent's Park is something of a rarity. Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice created a musical passion play with a sympathetic slant on the reviled figure of Judas (Tyrone Huntley.) Jesus Hector Christ (Declan Bennett) has been building a following for the last three years, and although Judas still believes in his teachings, he has three main concerns: That Jesus Horatio Christ doesn't quite practice what he preaches, especially in the case of Anoushka Lucas' (strong-voiced but not all that impactful) Mary Magdalene; that they're not helping the poor directly any more; and the refusal to deny rumours of being the actual son of God.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Theatre review: Into the Woods

The Menier Chocolate Factory's mission is usually to colonise as much of the West End and Broadway with its own shows as possible, so importing a show from the US is an unusual move for them, especially when it's an actor-musician production, a style that's been popular with, and successful for, various homegrown companies in recent years. Directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld (who both also appear in the cast) have chosen one of Stephen Sondheim's most popular works though, and one with a high profile after being made into a recent film. Into The Woods throws together Cinderella (Claire Karpen) and her Prince (Brody,) Rapunzel (Emily Young) and her Prince (Andy Grotelueschen,) the beanstalk-climbing, giant-killing Jack (Patrick Mulryan) and a bloodthirsty Little Red Riding Hood (Young,) all their stories taking place as a result of a Baker (Steinfeld) and his Wife (Jessie Austrian) desperately wanting a child, and needing to lift the curse that's keeping them childless.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Theatre review: Growth

I'm pretty sure Paines Plough hate London audiences and don't want them to see their shows - I can't see any other reason for setting up the only London dates of their new Roundabout tour in a well-hidden corner of Hackney 20 minutes' walk from the nearest tube station. Indeed, they succeeded in keeping people away from the final London performance of Growth, which is a shame as Luke Norris' new play works well even with a small turnout, but I think could have really captured the attention of a full house. Norris' first play looked at the health issues of an older man, but now he looks at those of someone a lot closer to his own age. Andy Rush plays Tobes, who loses his job, his girlfriend and his flat in the course of a few weeks. But all his frustrations end up focusing on something else he's about to lose.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Theatre review: Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe)

Emma Rice's first season at the Globe is called "Wonder," as in "I wonder where all the shows have gone?" I feel like I've barely set foot in there this summer yet, but in fact I'm nearing the end of the main season. The last of the three shows that make up the majority of the summer schedule is Iqbal Khan's take on Macbeth. Like Rice herself and Caroline Byrne he's been given free rein to break out of the venue's old house style, and like them he gets mixed results. When the Scottish king Duncan (Sam Cox) rewards his best general Macbeth (Ray Fearon,) he little imagines he will take these new honours and seek out much greater ones: A supernatural apparition has foretold to Macbeth that he will be the next king, and his wife is keen for him to speed up the process with a spot of regicide.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Theatre review: Some Girl(s)

Not actually a Rachel Stevens jukebox musical, Some Girl(s) is a Neil LaBute play whose London premiere starred David Schwimmer - a fact that seems to have been kept in mind when casting Gary Condes' revival at the Park, as a vague resemblance is the only reason I could think of for a crucial piece of miscasting. Guy (Charles Dorfman) is about to get married to a much younger woman, but we never actually meet his fiancée: Instead we follow him around the USA as he visits four ex-girlfriends he feels he has unfinished business with. First up he returns to Seattle where he grew up, to see how his high school girlfriend is getting on - and perhaps to gloat a bit, as he's now a university lecturer starting to make a name for himself as a writer, while Sam (Elly Condron) has married the manager of a supermarket.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Theatre review: Stalking the Bogeyman

My theatrical choices have been packed with irony this heatwave, as baking hot fringe theatres are having to pass for some cold locations - last night the Himalayas, tonight Alaska, where journalist David Holthouse's family moved in the late 1970s. Although they didn't know anyone in Anchorage to start with, Nancy (Glynis Barber) and Robert (Geoffrey Towers) quickly made friends with a local couple, whose teenage son was happy to babysit the younger David while their parents held dinner parties. In fact when he was seven, David (Gerard McCarthy) was raped by the then 17-year-old son, whose name he refuses to use, only calling him the Bogeyman (Mike Evans.) Written by Holthouse along with the show's director Markus Potter, Stalking the Bogeyman is a documentary play that does relive this childhood trauma, but centres more on the adult David's desire for revenge.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Theatre review: Shangri-La

Amy Ng's debut play is named Shangri-La after an imaginary place - or at least one that used to be imaginary, until an area of Tibet was renamed after the Capra film Lost Horizon's setting, in a canny grab for tourist dollars. In a play that jumps between two periods in the life of Bunny (Julia Sandiford,) the real Shangri-La is where she lives in 2001, the 14-year-old daughter of a shaman who runs a failing guest house. An encounter with an Irish photographer gives Bunny the seeds of a love of photography that'll endure into adulthood; but it also leads to an event that'll make her loath to return to the Himalayas when we meet her as an adult in 2014, working as a guide for an ethical travel company in Beijing.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Re-review: French Without Tears

French Without Tears made number 6 in my favourite plays of last year (you can read my original review here,) so it wasn't a hard choice to make another trip to Rattigan's early comedy of young men learning French in hopes of entering "The Diplomatic." Paul Miller's production has returned to the Orange Tree for a month prior to a national tour. Only two of the original cast members have returned - Joe Eyre as the smitten Kit and David Whitworth as the quietly grumpy teacher Monsieur Maingot - and the new actors bring slightly different characterisations to their roles, but the light feel and well-executed comedy are unaffected. Florence Roberts, for example, is a somewhat crueller Diana than Genevieve Gaunt was, taking obvious pleasure in breaking the hearts of the young boys while plotting to find the most suitable husband material among them.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Theatre review: Breakfast at Tiffany's

This Christmas the RSC will be using a CGI projection to play Ariel in The Tempest, but if you can't wait that long to see a barely-humanoid homunculus on stage there's always Pixie Lott's performance as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. In a weird coincidence, Nikolai Foster's touring production sets down in London for a few weeks at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, the same venue where a completely different adaptation of Truman Capote's novella (starring Anna Friel, like I just got home, Anna Friel) played only seven years ago. Without looking it up, I remember that as being a decent commercial if not particularly critical success, so I was a bit surprised to see it given another go with an untested "name" in the lead (there seems to be quite the rotating cast of actresses sharing the role for the regional dates, but just Lott for London.) An unnamed narrator whom Holly nicknames "Fred" (Matt Barber) tells the story of how, while much of America was focused on Europe and the Second World War, he moved to New York for the first time to try and make it as a writer.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Theatre review: The Stripper

Theatrical memes seem to take turns - the spoon-playing looks to have pretty much passed the baton to the elaborate coup de théâtre meme now - so it's an unexpected and unwelcome return for one from the first few months of 2016, as the St James Theatre sticks strictly to the 8pm start time for shows in its basement Studio, despite the fact that The Stripper has a two-and-a-half hour running time. Pulp novelist Carter Brown adapted one of his own stories for the book of this 1982 musical with music by Richard Hartley and lyrics by Richard O'Brien - and there are moments when The Rocky Horror Show does indeed come to mind in the songs, even though the overall style has quite a different feel, going for a jazzy influence that reflects the seedy 1960s LA club where much of the action takes place.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Theatre review: Through the Mill

Southwark Playhouse have developed a bit of a line in musicals with a big gay following in recent years, and now this theme gets a new twist at they put three Judy Garlands on stage at the same time. Ray Rackham's Through the Mill has three periods in the star's life overlap, the common thread being that each time she's trying to launch her career, once from nothing, and then with two different comeback attempts. Young Judy (Lucy Penrose, the most uncannily like the real Garland of the three,) is discovered by junior MGM producer Roger Edens (Tom Elliot Reade,) who convinces studio boss Louis B Mayer (Dot Cotton Don Cotter) to give her a chance. Mayer can't deny the power of her voice but doesn't really warm to her, and makes sure to leave notes around the studio where she can find them, telling the catering staff not to feed her because she's too fat for movies.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Theatre review: Unreachable

As Anthony Neilson's plays are created in rehearsal, you never know what you're going to get when a new one premieres, even down to what genre it'll be - although odds are something surreal is on the cards. Unreachable has had its press night so is presumably now finalised, but it does at times feel as if the actors are still being taken by surprise. The setting is unnamed, but the character names would suggest somewhere in Eastern Europe, where indie filmmaker Maxim (Matt Smith) has just won the Palme d'Or. This recognition has led to his producer Anastasia (Amanda Drew) being able to secure a bigger budget for his next feature, a dystopian thriller he's wanted to make for the last decade. But the director seems oddly determined to sabotage his own dream project, constantly interrupting and restarting filming - as the play starts he's demanding they reshoot the last three weeks' worth of footage on film as he's gone off digital - as he seeks to capture an elusive, perfect light.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Theatre review: The Alchemist

After having a summer hit last year with Volpone, the RSC bring Ben Jonson back to the Swan with his most famous farce, The Alchemist. It was Jonson's way of helping the London of 1610 deal with its biggest horror, the annual return of the Plague, through comedy: Every summer the wealthy would escape the city for their country homes away from all the death, and so at the start of the play does Lovewit (Hywel Morgan,) leaving his servant Jeremy in charge of his townhouse. But Jeremy is actually the con-man Face, who plans to use the house as his base of operations to trick the greedy and gullible out of their cash. After he stole his scenes in her AsYou Like It last year, director Polly Findlay brings Ken Nwosu back to Stratford-upon-Avon with her to play a frenetic Face, who acts as the front-man for a con that promises to turn base metal into gold.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Theatre review: Faith Healer

Is it still a coup de théâtre if it happens before the show even starts? On a large proscenium arch stage, a curtain of rain is a dramatic but familiar special effect, but entering the Donmar Warehouse for Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, the audience is met with torrential rain on three sides of the thrust stage, falling just a foot away from the front row. The effect returns a couple of times during the evening to facilitate some quick changes to Es Devlin's set, as Friel's play is made up of three connected monologues, giving complementary and conflicting versions of the same events. First up is the titular faith healer himself, Frank (Stephen Dillane,) an understated showman - the "faith" part of his profession is never mentioned - who tours small villages in Wales and Scotland with his wife and tour manager.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Theatre review: Savage

The title of Claudio Macor's Savage surely refers to whatever sadist decided a poky room over the Arts Theatre was fit for purpose as a performance space. In my one previous visit to Above The Arts, the venue's notorious overheating problem seemed to have been mostly resolved, but tonight it was clearly back with a vengeance. Between the buckets of sweat, the acoustics that favour every other room in the building apart from the one we're in, and sightlines that, I would estimate, leave about four or five seats with an unimpeded view of the action (mine wasn't one of them,) and the sooner that long-promised remodeling of the theatre comes along, the better - especially if this unloved second space ends up getting remodeled right out of existence. In circumstances like these, any positives the actual play itself might have, if any, are pretty hard to spot.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Theatre review: Ugly Lovely

Covering some of the same ground as Iphigenia in Splott, Ffion Jones' debut play Ugly Lovely follows unemployed Swansea girl Shell (Jones,) starting with her 26th birthday, which everyone has forgotten. She has a boyfriend and a three-year-old son, but the former has disappeared, presumed to be sleeping around, while her mother has taken in the latter as she doesn't trust Shell to look after him. On top of this her grandmother, the only person who seems to have been a positive influence, has recently died, and the lonely Shell has taken to talking to the urn with her ashes. So with a lot of time on her hands, she ends up spending time with her best (only?) friend Tash (Sophie Hughes) in Swansea pubs and clubs, getting drunk as cheaply as possible. Although framed as a comedy (but without many of the jokes landing*) Ugly Lovely is mainly a pretty bleak look at a wasted life, and someone who understands all too well that she's wasting it.