Monday, 22 January 2018

2018 Vault Festival - what to see

On the one hand, that the Vault Festival has expanded to over 300 shows running over 8 weeks is fantastic news for the emerging theatremakers that it supports. On the other, it means making the choice about what to see, even tackling the catalogue alone can feel somewhat daunting. It has taken me a wee while to get round to delving into it myself, but as the festival is set to open this week, here's some of my top tips for each week.

Week 1

Tomorrow Creeps - repurposed Shakespeare via the medium of Kate Bush? Hell, yes.
Tumulus - it's not a festival unless there's a chemsex show
Great Again - likewise a Trump-bashing musical 

Week 2

Double Infemnity - gender-flipping noir crime antics in a one-woman show? Whyever the hell not!
Gypsy Queen - gays and boxing, sometimes I'm an easy sell...
Gun - I'll be trying to catch more comedy than I usually do this year, and this western-inspired show very much seems as good a place to start as any

Week 3

Think of England - love, lust and swing dancing in wartime Waterloo - TICK!
Be Prepared - I'm a fan of writer/performer Ian Bonar so definitely looking forward to this one
Douze - Eurovision pop comedy musical fun, nuff said


Week 4

YOU - a thought-provoking look at adoption, drawing on some deeply personal narratives
STUD - gays and football, a combination that usually works wonders for me!
Elsa - a chirpy sounding piece of reflective musical comedy

Week 5

Sparks - Jessica Butcher is a name that people in the know rave about, Anoushka Lucas is a name I have raved about, together they ought to come up with something special
Conquest - a debut show from PearShaped and one which promises to tackle contemporary feminism with real fearlessness
Still We Dream... - I don't see much dance but something about this piques my attention, animalistic movement in non-traditional spaces

Week 6

TESTOSTERONE - experimental work pushing the trans narrative forward, one for the Daily Mail-reading person in your life...
Das Fest - in many ways what the Vault Festival is for, for me, to see the type of thing I would never normally book for (as in Philipp Oberlohr's show last year Das Spiel) and be delighted and not a little freaked out!
The Strongbox - Stephanie Jacob is having a low-key moment, her play Again opens at Trafalgar Studios 2 next month and its final week will overlap with another piece of new writing from her, I suspect they'll both be worth catching

Week 7

Fuck Marry Kill - a work-in-progress from Vera Chok and Amy Mason which uses the game show format to challenge the patriarchy
Bury the Hatchet - the tale of Lizzie Borden is one of enduring fascination and Out of the Forest are no exception here, using bluegrass, nursery rhyme and horror to retell and reexamine this story
Unburied - a folk horror mystery that just seems most intriguing

Week 8

THINGS THAT DO NOT C(O)UNT - I loved No Offence's torn apart at the Hope last year, so I'm much intrigued by this new work
The Dirty Thirty - an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 shows in 1 hour - I'm sold!
Tom and Bunny Save The World - another company I'm a big fan of, Fat Rascal, present a zombie comedy musical that is sure to shake up gender lines as much as apocalyptic survival methods



Sunday, 21 January 2018

Review: Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street

"Modern art is never an answer, it is a question"

Woman Before A Glass may be a one-woman show but what a woman it reveals to us. Peggy Guggenheim was born into one of the wealthiest New York socialite families at the dawn of the twentieth century and during a most unconventional lifetime, became a mainstay of the modern art scene. The art, and artists, that she collected made her Venetian palazzo one of the hottest spots to be seen and it is there that we visit her for the three key scenes of this play by Lanie Robertson.

The first is introduced with a wonderfully clever conceit - searching for an outfit to wear for an interview, she sifts through a pile of couture gowns, reminiscing about them all and thus giving us an instant insight into her existence - a strained relationship with her family both immediate and extended, an apparently insatiable sexual appetite, and a genuine love for the collection, protection and encouragement of the modern artists that she gathered around her. Plus she has a nifty way with a cocktail shaker.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Re-review: Amadeus, National

"We were both ordinary men, he and I."

Though Rufus Norris' tenure hasn't managed to nail a new writing hit in the Olivier, it has had considerable success in finding revivals to fill this voluminous space. Follies was a standout from last year, particularly in how Vicki Mortimer's design swelled to magnificent heights and late in 2016, it was a glorious production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus that rose to the occasion. So it is no real surprise to see that show return to the schedule, indeed the surprise was that it might even have gotten better.

That this is Michael Longhurst's debut in this theatre makes it all the more impressive and I wouldn't be surprised if his name doesn't soon become one of the ones bandied around the round of musical chairs that is London artistic directorships. And his decisions here remain as pinpoint accurate in nailing the psychological torment at the heart of this drama, from the toxicity of Salieri's jealousy, Mozart's own struggles in dealing with his genius, and how society also has its difficulties in its treatment of those it elevates.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Review: East, King's Head

"Tell how it chanced that we sworn mates were once the deadly poison of each other’s eye..."

On the one hand, Jessica Lazar's production of Steven Berkoff's East - returning to the very King's Head theatre where it made its debut back in 1975 - is a ferociously charismatic whirlwind of stylised beauty and linguistic gymnastics that is an undoubted visceral thrill to watch and listen to. On the other though, there's a definite sense of style over substance over the length of its two hours, and a problematic niggle about the play's relationship to violence.

Set in the East End of yore, Berkoff uses his bastardised Shakespeare'n'slang prose style to depict the lives there with an extraordinary vigour. Nabbing a cigarette off a pal and violence, sex and violence, racism and violence, day trips to Southend and violence, bus rides on the number 38 and violence, beans on toast and violence - you get the picture. East in unapologetic in the bleakness of its vision for this substrata of society and in some ways, feel eerily prescient in that.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Review: Tiny Dynamite, Old Red Lion

"I know what fucking surf and turf is"

It is always fascinating to revisit the early work of writers who have gone on to bigger things and Tiny Dynamite offers that chance with Abi Morgan, screenwriter of such hits as Shame, The Iron Lady and Suffragette. This play, revived by David Loumgair for Time Productions, is somewhat of a challenge in the forthrightly enigmatic way in which it has been written and a set of creative decisions that show a pleasing affinity for taking risk.

As ever, not all of though decisions pay off. But when they do, Tiny Dynamite is full of small surprises. Anna Reid's design introduces water onto the small stage of the Old Red Lion to powerful effect, especially when combined with the electric effect of Zoe Spurr's lighting. And the gender-swapping of one of the three characters demonstrates the kind of active commitment to redressing gender inequality that remains all too rare in the theatre industry.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

My 10 favourite shows of 2017

Well we made it, just. 2017 passed by with just the 346 visits to the theatre, I don't really know why I do it to myself! Out of those, 33 were return visits to shows I'd already seen and I got out of London for 32 shows, not too bad considering I don't do Edinburgh and no-one is covering my travel expenses!

For the round-up, I've not included Roman Tragedies (which would have been very high indeed) as I'd seen it before and ranked it #1 that year. (Conversely, I didn't include Hamilton when I saw that last year, which is why it is on this year's list - my blog, my inconsistent rules!). And changing things up a little in reflection of what I want to the site to be, I'm not going to be doing a least-favourite list, nor a Leading Man feature - make of that what you will.
  1. The Revlon Girl, Park

    Getting to revisit this show after attending a reading a couple of years ago was an enormous privilege. And knowing in advance what it was going to do made it all the more achingly poignant in its study of life after Aberfan, I didn't cry like that in another theatre all year long, I didn't ovate like that either. One to watch out for should it ever return.

  2. A Little Night Music, Watermill

    Maybe I'm biased - this is where the blog gets its name from after all - but Paul Foster's production at the gorgeous Watermill Theatre was masterly. Actor-musicianship at its best, Josefina Gabrielle elevating 'Send in the Clowns' to the gods, a sexy man in uniform...what more do you want from your Sondheim?!

  3. Barber Shop Chronicles, National

    A show that utterly transformed what it felt like to sit in the Dorfman. I could watched two hours of the pre-show entertainment in all honesty, it was so entertaining, but Inua Ellams' study of black masculinity was a vital piece of writing  

  4. Hamilton, Victoria Palace

    If I hadn't seen it on Broadway this would probably have been #1. As it is, the gap between this top 4 was infinitesimal and there's no doubting that Hamilton is an extraordinary success that will hopefully live long at the newly refurbished Victoria Palace.

  5. Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Crucible/Apollo

    Whilst I'm delighted it is doing so well in London, it felt important to see this show in Sheffield, its spiritual home as well as its literal setting, new musical theatre writing that is forward-thinking in so many ways, not least its presentation of diversity.

  6. An Octoroon, Orange Tree

    And speaking of diversity, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins made us all think a lot harder than we're used to about race and how it is presented on our stages. A triumph for the Orange Tree and the deserved recipient of a NT transfer in the summer.

  7. Follies, National Theatre

    The head-dresses! The costumes! Every aspect of the design! 
    The Dee! The Quast! The Staunton!
    This may not be a perfect show but this was the perfect production of it.

  8. Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

    Emma Rice bade farewell to the Globe in the most Emma Rice-ish way possible, with a glorious new musical that brought sound, light and chocolate-making into the Sam Wanamaker like never before (and probably never again!).

  9. Hamlet, Almeida

    A thought-provoking, modern interpretation that showed Robert Icke (after last year's Mary Stuart) really establishing his place as one of our most exciting, innovative directors. Andrew Scott wasn't bad either...

  10. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory

    I really thought this warm-hearted British musical would have given the Menier another West End transfer but apparently it wasn't to be. A real shame as it was really rather good.

    Shows 11-25 below the cut

Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon
It is great news indeed that this Orange Tree production will be gaining further life in 2018 with a transfer to the National Theatre in the summer. I really hope that as much of the original cast comes with it, especially Nwosu who anchored the complex ideas of the show with confidence and clear-sighted integrity. 

Honourable mention: Andrew Scott, Hamlet

In the parlance de nos jours, Scott managed that most difficult of things to really make this most-well-known of roles his own, his collaboration with Rob Icke breathing a conversationally, contemporary life into the part that was utterly mesmerising.

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Gary Lilburn, Trestle
Ian McKellen, King Lear
Cyril Nri, Barber Shop Chronicles
Sam Troughton, Beginning
8-10
Bryan Cranston, Network; Conleth Hill, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; James McArdle, Angels in America


Best Actor in a Musical

Giles Terera, Hamilton
In the midst of all the hype and expectation that was the first preview, and in a production that had no right to be that polished and on-point, there was no doubt in my mind about who the star of the evening was. Terera's Burr feels very much his own creation and delivers a well-deserved push into the limelight for this most charismatic of performers - I suspect this won't be his first award.

Honourable mention: Scott Hunter/Andy Coxon, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Hitting the right time and place, I first saw Yank! in the afternoon of London Pride and a happier, gayer Clowns I could not have been. And at its heart is the epic, tragic romance of Stu and Mitch, brought to beautiful life by Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon respectively.

John McCrea, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Philip Quast, Follies
Michael Rouse, Superhero
Jamael Westman, Hamilton
8-10
Alastair Brookshaw, A Little Night Music; Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris; Dominic Marsh, Romantics Anonymous



Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Hattie Morahan/Kate O'Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide
How to split these three? Why would you even want to. Their effortless grace, their ferociously detailed complexity, their heart-breaking connectivity, all three will live long in my mind.

Honourable mention: Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Not far behind in the fierceness stakes was this epic role of near-Chekhovian proportions, tailored by Mike Bartlett for one of his frequent collaborators. Quite why this hasn't followed Ink into the West End I'm not sure.

Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle
8-10
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman; Imelda Staunton, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; Rosie Wyatt, In Event of Moone Disaster


Best Actress in a Musical
Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
A second three-way tie? Hey, it's my blog and my rules! From Dee thoroughly owning the Olivier through song and dance, to Gabrielle making me feel like I was hearing 'Send in the Clowns' for the first time, to the sheer beauty of Walker's uncompromising love for her son, this was only way I could reward a banner year for leading female musical performances.

Honourable mention: Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women
Sadly ineligible to win since her name doesn't begin with J..., Giselle-Ward nevertheless blew me away at the heart of this gorgeous musical which, if there's any justice, should continue the Hope Mill's admirable record of London transfers.

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T'Shan Williams, The Life

8-10

Carly Bawden, Romantics Anonymous; Sandra Marvin, Committee; Marisha Wallace, Dreamgirls;

Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play


Fisayo Akinade, Barber Shop Chronicles
To pick someone out of this prodigiously talented ensemble almost feels unfair, but Ellams' narrative did repeatedly land on Peckham and the contested ownership of that salon was given blistering power by Akinade's Samuel, bristling under the control of pseudo-father figure Emmanuel.

Honourable mention: Brian J Smith, The Glass Menagerie
To borrow from a different Tennessee Williams play, Smith was every inch the gentleman caller we all have been fantasising about since high school.

Philip Arditti, Oslo
Gershwn Eustache Jnr, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Fra Fee, The Ferryman
Patrice Naiambana, Barber Shop Chronicles
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Angels in America


8-10

John Hodgkinson, The Ferryman; Peter Polycarpou, Oslo; Sam Reid, Girl From the North Country


Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Jason Pennycooke, Hamilton
Getting to play both Jefferson and Lafayette means Pennycooke has twice the opportunity to make an impact and he does so, on both accounts, with real flair. I've long been a fan of his and this show is a brilliant showcase for his talents.

Honourable mention: Mark Anderson, The Grinning Man
New to the cast from Bristol, Anderson's take on Dirry-Moir was inspired in its quirky warmth and the moment where I thought he was going to sit down next to me was a mildly hilarious highlight in a great show.

Fred Haig, Follies
Cornell S John, The Life
Chris Kiely, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Gareth Snook, Romantics Anonymous
Obioma Ugoala, Hamilton

8-10

Rob Fowler, Bat Out of Hell; John Hopkins, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾; Tom Norman, Salad Days

Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Thinking about this most well-received of plays, it is the role of Aunt Maggie Faraway who lingers most in my mind, the elegiac beauty of her speeches an elegant way of folding in traditions of Irish storytelling and emphasising the deep bonds of family. Breathtaking work from Brennan.

Honourable mention: Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange)
When done well, Olivia is one of my favourite Shakespearean roles and the statuesque Kennedy didn't disappoint with a highly-sexed take on the character which embraced all the physical potential of her height.

Sheila Atim, Girl From the North Country
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Lashana Lynch, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Kate O'Flynn, The Glass Menagerie

8-10
Susan Brown, Angels in America; Jessica Brown Findlay, Hamlet; Denise Gough, Angels in America


Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Tracie Bennett, Follies

All I have to say is 'I'm Still Here'. I'M STILL HERE!

Honourable mention: Rachel John, Hamilton
Only the tiniest of margins separated these two and it's only really the fact that she's not Renée Elise Goldsberry that held John back from the title.

Christine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody's Talking About Jamie


8-10
Nicola Hughes, Caroline or Change ; Cathy Read, Little Women; Sharon Sexton, Bat Out of Hell

Monday, 1 January 2018

The 2017 fosterIAN nominations

Behold the 2017 fosterIAN award nominations, recognising the acting performances that stood out for me, the ones that made me sit up, and sometimes stand up. As ever, I have used the label 'best', the categories should really be considered 'favourite' as that is what the fosterIANs (fos-tîr'ē-ən) are - my favourites. 


Friday, 29 December 2017

11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017

As ever, the wait for the end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances has to continue until I've actually stopped seeing theatre in 2017. But in the meantime, here's a list of 11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017, the things that first pop into my mind when someone says 'what did you enjoy this year'. For reference, here's my 2016 list, 2015 list and 2014 list.