Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Review: Machinal, Guildhall

“Tell me ma…something…somebody”

I've not had the opportunity to see Sophie Treadwell's Expressionistic classic Machinal so when a Guildhall School production appeared on my radar, I seized the chance. Seeing drama school shows also provides that elusive chance of seeing stars in the making - a production of The Last Five Years I caught here in 2010 featured the fresh young faces of Freddie Fox and Lily James. Treadwell's 1928 play though has an extraordinary power in its searing exploration of a woman's struggle against accepted notions about marriage and motherhood in a society defined by men and in Edward Dick's staging here with 18 members of the final year actors, the narrative expands to encompass women's experiences more generally.

Each taking their turn to don a distinctive red curly wig to take on the role of Young Woman in the nine scenes of the play, Amber James, Elaine Fellows, Rebecca Lee, Katrina McKeever, Emma Naomi, Marina Bye, Alice Winslow, Emily-Céline Thomson and Charlie Bate all made their own impressions in their own way on this character inspired by Ruth Snyder, a US housewife convicted and executed for the murder of her husband. Amber James' anguish at the end of the day in the stenographer's office, Alice Winslow's downtrodden wife and Emily-Céline Thomson's crumbling defendant stood out for me but what was impressive was the way in which the performances of the nine actors managed cohere into a powerful single entity whilst still differentiating themselves.

Cast of Machinal continued

Review: The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

"How do you know you are God?” 
'Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.'”

When a revival of a play is prefaced by "rarely-seen", it's hard not to assume that there's often good reason for that and so it felt with Peter Barnes' The Ruling Class. As a piece of drama, it feels dated and heavy handed, its formerly satirical edges altogether too manic and blunted. But as a piece of theatre, it has a peach of a leading role for which Jamie Lloyd has renewed his Trafalgar Transformed relationship with James McAvoy, who delivers it with an often breathtaking stage presence.

His 14th Earl of Gurney is a paranoid schizophrenic aristo called Jack who thinks he is Jesus and inherits the family pile after his father's suicide, much to the consternation of his relatives. But even as they plot with a psychiatrist to get him shut away, Jack finds his way to (relative) sanity and locates a new target for his considerable energies - the House of Lords. That it is the aristocracy bearing the brunt of much of Barnes' bite makes it clearer to see why the play has languished rather, its class-based pointedness showing its age.

Cast of The Ruling Class continued

Review: Vernon God Little, The Space

“The truth is a corrosive thing"

You can head over to Official Theatre to read my 3 star review of Burn Bright Theatre's "bold but slightly flawed" Vernon God Little at The Space Theatre over on the Isle of Dogs. More show information can also be found here.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 11th April

Monday, 30 March 2015

TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4

"No Lib Dem leader has ever had this kind of exposure and opportunity"

James Graham definitely seems to be having a moment – the noted playwright has been branching out into film and TV and with some serendipitous timing, is showcasing his talent in all three avenues. The Vote will soon be hitting the Donmar, X&Y is in cinemas as we speak, and his television film Coalition aired on Channel 4 last night. I’ve yet to catch X&Y but if Coalition is anything to go by, then there’s absolutely no fear that he is overstretching himself as it was a cracking bit of telly.

One of the reasons it worked so well for me was its basis in more-or-less contemporary events. His play This House was a sterling piece of political theatre but for someone who had no knowledge of the 1970s politicking it portrayed, there was always a sense of catch-up whereas the more august members of the audience could enjoy the nuances of Graham’s skilful writing and observations without the niggle of also trying to work out just what was going on. 

Cast of Coalition continued

Sunday, 29 March 2015

CD Review: Into the Woods soundtrack

“Let the moment go, don’t forget it for a moment though”

The big screen version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods has now become a huge box office success, apparently heralding a new golden age of movie musicals, and as a musical it comes complete with a soundtrack which you can get in either single-disc or deluxe-double-disc edition.

The main reason to get this soundtrack would be to get Emily Blunt’s gorgeous renditions of her songs. Her voice was an absolute revelation in the film and she brings such character to The Baker’s Wife that is just irresistible – she nails all the emotional colour of ‘Moments in the Woods’ and blows James Corden off the turntable with her wondrous delight in ‘It Takes Two’. I remain a fan of Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella and Meryl Streep’s Witch is also good, solid rather than spectacular if we’re being picky, in her solo moments.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange

“Love is just a better way to hurt each other”

Ellen McDougall’s debut production for the Royal Exchange is actually a trans-Pennine affair as once Anna Karenina wraps up in Manchester, the show will be heading over the hills (stopping at a Betty’s Tea Room en route as must surely be done) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, along with Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone with which it plays in rep. It is always pleasing to see this kind of regional collaboration actually coming to fruition as it does provide reassurances that the arts are finding the best ways to work through these financially straitened times.

It helps of course when the work is of this quality. Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s famed novel is very much unafraid to cut and reconfigure the story into something overtly theatrical as characters break out of the narrative to introduce themselves and provide short cuts through the author’s tangled web of nineteenth century Russian aristocracy. Clifford, and McDougall, also pull in the focus so that the counterpoint of Anna’s fast-burning passion with the dashing Vronsky and Levin’s hard-fought love for Katy becomes the beating heart of the matter.

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Liverpool Everyman

“We will make amends ere long”

After The Faction’s Romeo and Juliet that stretched out beyond the three hour mark, here’s a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is similarly lengthy – I’m really hoping this isn’t the emergence of a trend because it does no good to anyone in all honesty. Notions of textual fidelity are all well and good but they can also lack dramatic focus – the ever-evolving mutability of Shakespeare’s text is one of its key strengths and it is a mark of directorial nous to be able to harness that potential and deliver it onstage (and if it is going to be long, then it needs not to feel long).

But here, for every innovation that Nick Bagnall comes up with for his production at the Everyman in Liverpool – and there are many of them – there’s an overcooked scene that drags unbearably. It makes for an occasionally difficult piece of theatre but one that also has imaginatively exciting moments too. Ashley Martin-Davis’ design also embodies this conflict in its amorphous undefinability, no particular time or place evoked but rather a vaguely futuristic, dark carnival-esque atmosphere for an unfamiliar Athens and a strange forest of scattered white paper that is a great idea but not quite pulled off.

Friday, 27 March 2015

#ThankyouNick - my top 10 (and then some) National Theatre productions of the Hytner era

"Pass it on, boys. That's the game I want you to learn. Pass it on"

Ever one to jump on a bandwagon, here’s my contribution to the #ThankyouNick love-in, as Nick Hytner bids farewell to the National Theatre. Narrowing down my favourite productions at the South Bank venue was hugely difficult given the number of shows I’ve seen there since moving to London just over 10 years ago and also in considering other memorable moments - like the joy of getting to see the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Juliette Binoche onstage for the first time, the jaw-dropping design feats like Bunny Christie’s tenement block for Men Should Weep and Mark Tildesley’s clanging bell in Frankenstein, the revelatory Shakespearean moments like Clare Higgins’ awesome Gertrude and the extraordinary emotion of the final scene of Dominic Cooke's The Comedy of Errors...

Anyhoo, here’s my top 10 (plus five honourable mentions) in roughly chronological order.

Back in the day when taking a day off work to see two shows was something I’d never thought of, seeing this adaptation of one of my favourite works of literature proved to be a life-changingly amazing experience and hugely moving too, at the end I sobbed in my seat until the Olivier emptied.

Likewise, seeing Rupert Goold direct for the first time without any of the advance knowledge or expectation was just breath-taking - I would love to see those scene changes again. 

One of the most haunting things I have ever seen, even to this day.

That scene change!

Nancy Carroll's back being better than most other actors!

A truly paradigm-shifting musical

So good I gave it a standing ovation without even realising what I was doing.

So good I went back four more times.

If only more shows in the newly refurbished Dorfman were this adventurous, not least in its casting choices.

Honourable mentions

Not a bad haul at all then, and a great trip down memory lane, thinking about plays that had long slipped from my mind for no reason other than my own forgetfulness. There are undoubtedly shows I wish I'd seen - Much Ado About Nothing, Jerry Springer, even The History Boys - all victims of being on at a time when I didn't feel the need to see everything!

So let me know what you think and what would you have on your list. 

Review: Game, Almeida

“They’re adults, they’re not stupid, they knew what this was”

There’s not too much more that can be added to the debate about Mike Bartlett’s Game that hasn’t been said elsewhere, aside from to note that I really rather liked it. Lowered expectations probably helped with this but also there’s also an appreciation for the way in which Bartlett seems to like to work. His concepts tend to either get developed into large-scale epic plays such 13 and Earthquakes in London or crystallised on the micro-level, producing works in miniature like Cock, Bull and Contractions

Game very much falls into this latter category, coming in at under an hour, and on the face of it – as pointed out by many – lacking a huge amount of dramatic heft. Fitting into one of 2015’s earliest theatrical trends, Carly and Ashley have made a deal with the devil in order to secure decent housing for themselves – in return for accommodation and income, they’re targets in a live-action video game as punters pay for the opportunity to fire tranquilising darts at them as they go about their daily business.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Review: The Three Lions, St James

“What’s the difference between a bribe and an incentive?”

With the fallout of FIFA’s decisions of where to have the 2018 and 2022 World Cups still percolating around footballing bureaucrats even now, one could probably find more than enough material for a verbatim play full of high drama – alleged bribery and corruption, the tragedy of migrant working conditions, war-mongering presidents, seismic calendar shifts from summer to winter. William Gaminara’s The Three Lions wisely sidesteps that potential controversy though, by imagining a behind-the-scenes farce involving the trio spearheading the English bid to host the 2018 competition – three blokes by the name of David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William.

In representing three such well-known figures, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Séan Browne and Tom Davey have to tread a fine line between impersonation and inhabiting their characters more fully and Gaminara’s script doesn’t always allow for this. Davey’s lanky Prince William becomes an improbable japester as he desperately tries to shake off his inbred stiffness and grammatical pedantry and be one of the lads. And Bruce-Lockhart gets the PM’s blustering and patronising tone just right, matching it with the overcompensatory physical language that belies innate insecurity. But they both get overshadowed by a work of comic genius in Browne’s footballer.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Review: Rules for Living, National Theatre

“Let the bedlam begin”

The final play to premiere in Nicholas Hytner’s final season in charge of the National Theatre is Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living, directed by Marianne Elliott in the Dorfman. Was it a pointed decision to end his reign with a show both written and helmed by a woman, who knows? Either way, it’s always good to see this venue providing such high profile opportunities for the writers it nurtures. Holcroft’s short(ish) Edgar and Annabel played as part of the Double Feature season in 2011 and she was a writer-in-residence here at the NT in 2013, from whence this rather cracking new comedy has emerged. 

And boy is it funny, I don’t think I have laughed this thoroughly and consistently at a play in ages. As someone for whom farcical goings-on too often fall flat, I’m often left bemoaning the fact I’m sitting stony-faced in a sea of hilarity (cf. One Man Two Guvnors et al) but for once I was right with them. Holcroft’s set-up has an extended family coming together for Christmas lunch, an event for which Edith has been preparing since January. She’s looking forward to seeing both her sons, Matthew and Adam, and their partners, and they in turn are keen to see their father who has been in the wars recently. 

Review: Return to the Forbidden Planet, New Wimbledon

“Two beeps or not two beeps”

Early 2015 is turning out to be something of a nostalgia-fest for me as following the Royal Exchange’s superb revival of Little Shop of Horrors is another of the first shows that I came to love as a child – Return to the Forbidden Planet. I can’t recall exactly how many time my sisters, Aunty Jean and I must have seen this show but every time its tour came near us we were there, reversing polarity and loving it every time. Consequently, I have huge affection for the show, even though it is many years since I last saw it, and so naturally the notion of a 25th anniversary tour was one I could not resist as it came into my orbit at the New Wimbledon.

For those without such prior knowledge, Return to the Forbidden Planet is a schlocky sci-fi B-movie version of The Tempest, complete with a rock’n’roll jukebox soundtrack. Not only that, there’s video narration by Brian May. cod-Shakespearean dialogue and any number of quotations lifted from other plays by the Bard and repurposed to intergalactic effect. So a routine space mission led by Captain Tempest gets diverted to a mysterious rock called D’Illyria (“what planet, friends, is this…”) after getting caught in a meteor storm (“goodness, gracious, great balls of fire…”) where they meet the mad Doctor Prospero, his robot servant Ariel and his innocent daughter Miranda.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

“I want to do it Ollie. I want more things. Better things.”

The struggles of home ownership seem to be emerging as one of the most popular themes of new plays for early 2015 (Game at the Almeida, Deposit at the Hampstead downstairs) but top of the pile is Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin, a highly hilarious and hugely successful sidestep towards the mainstream but one which sacrifices nothing of the unique worldview that marks him as one of our most thought-provoking playwrights. Almost custom-designed to fit into that much abused term ‘darkly comic’, the play probes mercilessly into the depths of human nature in asking how far would we go in order to get our dream home. 

As it turns out, Jill and Ollie – energetic, enthusiastic, expecting - will go to some lengths indeed, making a deal not quite with the devil but with the fairy godmother-like Miss Dee instead, to accept a free home in a scuzzy area with the hope of renovating it, tipping the locale over into up-and-coming status and spearheading a property boom. So far so Saturday Night Takeaway but as with Ant and Dec, there’s a catch (and it is not just their personalities). The young couple quickly find out that that the speediest way to do up their new house is to harness the “radiance” that comes from killing the vermin around them, namely the homeless people from the neighbouring wasteground. 

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Review: Trainspotting, King’s Head

“Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?”

There’s something hugely exciting about In Your Face Theatre’s immersive take on Trainspotting which makes it clear why it was a hit on the Edinburgh Fringe last year but what it is equally thrilling is the change they have wrought upon the King Head’s theatre. The majority of the seats have gone, what set there is seems to sprawl across the entire space and as you enter the auditorium, you find yourself in the middle of a full-on 90s rave, glowsticks and all.

And this near-anarchic energy is a perfect match for Irvine Welsh’s modern classic, celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, its drug-fuelled hedonism and horror presented here with an uncompromising candour and imaginative directness that is most definitely, well, in your face. Directors Greg Esplin and Adam Spreadbury-Maher pull no punches in immersing folk in any number of bodily fluids with glorious disregard for your standard actor/audience relationship, making for an exhilarating hour.

Review: Harajuku Girls, Finborough

“I don’t know a girl who hasn’t been groped on a train. There’s always someone trying to cop a feel. Might as well get paid for it.”

With quite a few shows closing this weekend, I opted to pay a trip to the penultimate show of Harajuku Girls at the Finborough. Francis Turnly’s play sets up an intriguing premise in the exploration of the world of Japanese cosplay and its role in modern Tokyo society and creatively, it brings the director of last year’s extraordinary I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole back to the stage in Jude Christian. 

After graduating high school, Mari, Keiko and Yumi find themselves cut adrift in the harsh realities of the depressed economy of the real world. Parental and societal expectation is as high as it has ever been but jobs are increasingly hard to come by, tuition fees for further education are sky-high and so dressing up in cosplay outfits offers an escapist route. In the seedier areas of town, it also offers financial opportunity but it’s a struggle to ensure they’re the ones who exploit and are not exploited.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Review: The Red Chair, Canada Water Culture Space

“Once upon a dark time, someplace in the glum north o’ the warld…” 

Grimmer than Grimm, brusquer than Burns, as challenging as Chaucer, there’s something quite extraordinary about Sarah Cameron’s utter possession of the language of The Red Chair, the Clod Ensemble show she has written and co-adapted. Dancing from her mouth in ribbons of musically-inflected Scots brogue, words are imbued with a near-mystic energy that flows through the room and wraps an indescribable feeling around the listeners who have gathered to hear her on this tour which stretches from Brighton to Newcastle. 

As a reviewer, I’m probably not meant to use words like ‘indescribable’ but in all honesty, there’s magic going on here that defies clear rationalisation. A seemingly everyday list of foodstuffs becomes something extraordinary, full of texture, feeling and even taste as Cameron offers such delights as “fridgecake mud cake fudge cake fishcake” with a gently insistent rhythmical pull that is probably akin to hynoptism, but also conveying a deeply held conviction that ensures we never mistake this for randomly selected wordplay. 

Review: Boy in Darkness, Blue Elephant

“Tinged with sweetness and menace..."

Tucked away in the black box of the Blue Elephant, itself tucked away in the Oval/Camberwell borders is the nightmarish fantastical world of Boy in Darkness. Conjured from the solo storytelling prowess of Gareth Murphy, who also adapted the piece from Mervyn Peake’s novella, it’s an alluringly spellbinding piece of physical theatre that receives a thoughtful production here from John Walton and one which ought to fire even the most jaded of imaginations. It is worth noting too the special relationship between this venue and Peake’s work, this being the third that they have staged in recent years.

Boy in Darkness’ protagonist is a 14 year old teenager straining against the boundaries of his life but once he escapes them, he finds himself tumbling into a surreal and strange new world populated with mysterious characters that demands huge resourcefulness. Not just from Boy, but from Murphy too as he creates and distinguishes each new persona with real skill – the chilling bleating and obsequious attention of the Goat and the preening arrogance of the Hyena really stood out for me – the elegance and economy of movement almost hypnotic to watch. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Review: Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ The Musical, Curve

Reviewed by Ian Foster Aged 35 ¾ 

“I’m a Mole and not a mouse”

Just seen the director Luke Sheppard, urgh he’s way too much younger than me.

Just seen the writers Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger, they’re practically children too. Apparently they all met at uni - they may be winning now but I reckon I did more pub crawls than them though.

I LOVE that the programme is attached to the book itself so for just £5, you get both. You get the feeling Sue Townsend would definitely have approved. (And she did approve of the show, being an active part of the creative process until the sad news of her death last year.) 

There's four kids sharing the role of Adrian, and three for the other three major kids' roles. Tonight we've got
Adrian - Joel Fossard-Jones 
Barry - Harrison Slater 
Nigel - Samuel Small 
Pandora - Imogen Gurney 
I bet they're ridiculously talented. I hate young people. Why didn't my parents put me on the stage as a child, I could have been Wigan's answer to Bonnie Langford.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Review: Fireworks (Al'Ab Nariya), Royal Court

"Whoever gets back to the front door first without getting shot, wins"
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 14th March

In a nameless and besieged Palestinian town Lubna and Khalil, 11 and 12 respectively, live with the consequences of growing up in the middle of a war. Khalil loves the Ninja Turtles, oscillates between violence and sensitivity, teeters on the brink of adolescence and perplexes his parents — played with conviction by Nabil Elouahabi and Shereen Martin.
For her part Lubna feasts on the fireworks that illuminate the night sky. Except, of course, they’re not fireworks but bombs. She must also deal with her first period and realising she doesn’t have any proper friends, while her parents (Sirine Saba and Saleh Bakri) struggle to make sense of the death of their son. The children are in effect housebound. Everyone around them fears for their safety, and their psychological wounds fester. By concentrating on their experience, Dalia Taha’s play offers a refreshingly oblique perspective on the conflict in Gaza.
Director Richard Twyman elicits poised and tender performances from the younger cast members (on press night Yusuf Hofri as Khalil and Shakira Riddell-Morales as Lubna). The result is a painful, unsettling vision of precarious lives.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Review: How I Learned To Drive, Southwark Playhouse

“I lay on my back in the dark and thought about you, Uncle Peck…”

I’ve always liked Olivia Poulet as an actor but after seeing her starring turn as Li’l Bit in Paula Vogel’s How I Learned To Drive, I’m really rating her now as one not to ignore. It helps that Vogel’s play is supremely well-written, skilfully questioning preconceptions about sexually abusive relationships and their ghastly dynamic through a playful format which manages to layer in humour and pathos to prevent it from being a truly dark night of the soul.

It doesn’t mean that this is by any means an easy watch. We see Poulet’s 40-year-old Li’l Bit narrate the experiences of her childhood both as a young girl and as a teenager in a backwoods Maryland town with a great sense of a natural-born raconteur. It’s hard not to be seduced by the stories that roll from her tongue but we soon come to taste the sour beneath the whiskey-heavy breath as the complexity of her relationship with her Uncle Peck slowly comes to light.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Review: Lardo, Old Red Lion

“You’ll need a better leotard, that’s for sure”

something genius about the way Finn Caldwell’s production of Lardo co-opts its audience into becoming willing and whooping wrestling spectators. Whether Haystacks is something Giant to you or something to find a needle in, there’s such a compelling warmth to the way in which we’re swept up into the atmosphere that you’ll find it impossible not to be chanting LAR-DO, LAR-DO, LAR-DO… Mike Stone’s play takes us into the realm of ‘Tartan Wrestling Madness’ where the likes of Wee Man and Whiplash Mary entertain Glasgow audiences hungry for a ruckus, and whose ranks aspiring wrestler Lardo is desperate to join.

Daniel Buckley’s inspired Lardo lacks in trimness, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm and unsurprisingly it isn’t long before he seizes his opportunity to get the celebrity he’s long dreamed of. But girlfriend Kelly (a gently persuasive Laura Darrall) has just found out she’s pregnant, rugged boss Stairs – a former wrestler himself – has dreams of upping the ante where the violence is concerned (Nick Karimi giving an outrageously charismatic performance), even whilst dogged health and safety officer Cassie (Rebecca Pownall) is determined to make him follow the rules. Stone has each of his characters test their limits and astutely asks us how far is too far in the name of entertainment. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Review: The Producers, Churchill Bromley

“Look at these reviews…”

There’s little point denying the economic realities of mounting a major tour of a big musical – famous faces sell tickets. That two of the faces on the poster for The Producers belong to Phill Jupitus and Ross Noble feels something of a stretch though, given that they’re playing the same role (the latter taking over from the former mid-May) something of a promotional sleight of hand there that perhaps betrays a lack of confidence in the production.

And you can’t help but understand why whilst watching it, and reckoning it is going to be a long four months of a tour. In all honesty, this felt like a misconceived, mis-cast and misunderstood mishap of a mess. Splashing the likes of Jason Manford, Louie Spence and the aforementioned Jupitus against this hugely well-received Mel Brooks musical ought to have been more effective but the Matthew White’s production misses the mark on so many counts.

Cast of The Producers continued

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

New trailer for A Mad World My Masters

Want to see a trailer for The RSC and ETT's A Mad World My Masters? Why sure you do.

Sean Foley and Phil Porter's version of the Thomas Middleton play was a big hit for the RSC in Stratford in 2013 so English Touring Theatre saw it as a good fit to revive and tour around the country. The show is in Brighton this week and goes onto Malvern, Truro, Bath, Darlington, Cambridge and then the Barbican in London from 29th April to 9th May.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Nominations for 2015 Oliviers - Best Supporting Actor/Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical 

Rolan Bell in Memphis – ShaftesburyGeorge Maguire in Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter
Ian McIntosh in Beautiful – Aldwych
Jason Pennycooke in Memphis – Shaftesbury
Nice to see Memphis getting much love here, I suspect Kinks fans are better represented in the panel though to sneak the day for Sunny Afternoon.

Should win: Jason Pennycooke

Will win: George Maguire

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical

Samantha Bond in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Savoy
Haydn Gwynne in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Playhouse
Nicole Scherzinger in Cats – London Palladium
Lorna Want in Beautiful – Aldwych

You're kidding me right? Scherzinger??!! I've a horrible feeling she might walk off with it too. Want is excellent and Bond and Gwynne both give sterling accounts of older women roles that might otherwise have seemed flimsy but we all know what gets headlines...
Should win: Samantha Bond

Will win: Nicole Scherzinger

Nominations for 2015 Oliviers - Best Actor/Best Actress in a Musical

Best Actor in a Musical

Jon Jon Briones in Miss Saigon – Prince Edward
John Dagleish in Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter
Brandon Victor Dixon in The Scottsboro Boys – Garrick
Killian Donnelly in Memphis – Shaftesbury

An odd selection as I don't much like Miss Saigon or care for the Kinks so it's hard to be objective - the power of The Scottsboro Boys wins out for me but Saigon's history might well carry the day

Should win: Brandon Victor Dixon
Will win: Jon Jon Briones

Best Actress in a Musical

Gemma Arterton in Made in Dagenham – Aldelphi
Katie Brayben in Beautiful – Aldwych
Tamsin Greig in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Playhouse
Beverley Knight in Memphis – Shaftesbury

Whereas this group I'm fully onboard with. I'd put Greig at a slightly lower level due to the weakness of the show but I'd happily see any of the others win

Should win: Gemma Arterton, or Katie Brayben, or Beverley Knight!
Will win: Gemma Arterton

Nominations for 2015 Oliviers - Best Supporting Actor/Best Supporting Actress

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

David Calder in The Nether – Duke of York's
Richard Goulding in King Charles III – Almeida / Wyndham's
John Light in Taken at Midnight – Theatre Royal Haymarket
Nathaniel Parker in Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies – Aldwych

A difficult one to call as tbqh, none of these were truly stand-out moments for me.

Should win: Richard Goulding
Will win: David Calder

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Jaime Adler, Zoe Brough, Perdita Hibbins and Isabella Pappas in The Nether – Duke of York's
Phoebe Fox in A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham's
Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit – Gielgud
Lydia Wilson in King Charles III – Almeida / Wyndham's

By rights, this should be a two-horse race between Fox and Wilson but I can't see them not giving this to Lansbury, mainly for still being alive...

Should win: Phoebe Fox
Will win: Angela Lansbury

Nominations for 2015 Oliviers - Best Actor/Best Actress

Best Actor

Richard Armitage in The Crucible – Old Vic
James McAvoy in The Ruling Class – Trafalgar Studio 1
Tim Pigott-Smith in King Charles III – Almeida / Wyndham's
Mark Strong in A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham's

A strong category surely with a Strong winner (badumtish).

Should win: Mark Strong
Will win: Mark Strong

Best Actress

Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic
Kristin Scott Thomas in Electra – Old Vic
Imelda Staunton in Good People – Hampstead / Noël Coward
Penelope Wilton in Taken at Midnight – Theatre Royal Haymarket

I missed Wilton's performance but of the others, I think Anderson was my favourite. I'd happily see either of the others win though, Staunton particularly strong this year, as she is every year!

Should win: Gillian Anderson
Will win: Imelda Staunton

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Women in Theatre - 2014 in review

A bit belated but I'm pretending that it was always my intention to coincide with International Women's Day... Back in January of last year, I decided that I would conduct a year-long gender audit on my theatre-going - recording the number of women both working in and on the shows that I saw. As a statistical exercise, there's no pretending that this is a representative sample of anything in particular - it is simply the 383 productions that I saw in 2014 in London, elsewhere in the UK and beyond (but not Broadway) - repeat viewings of shows and all. Initially, I started off just booking everything as I would have done normally but I do have to note that as the year progressed, and these statistics mounted up in the monthly tallies (which you can read here), I did find myself consciously avoiding shows that had all-male casts.

But with a total of nearly 400 pieces of theatre included here, I think it is interesting to see what numbers the data threw up. In lieu of the the Bechdel Test, I recorded how many shows had 50% or more women in their cast, with a grand total of 164 out of 383 or 43% reaching that marker but of course, this doesn't indicate the quality of the female roles at hand. What is interesting - and this will be something of a recurring theme - is the range sits within the 30%-52% bracket, suggesting something of a tendency here.  

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Review: Romeo + Juliet, Rose Kingston

“Were thou as young as I”

In Joseph Drake and Audrey Brisson, Sally Cookson’s Romeo + Juliet has a perfectly matched pair of pint-sized lovers to take to the stage at the Rose Kingston. And in creating a non-specifically modern Verona (as hinted by the format of the title which borrows from Luhrmann), Cookson creates the ideal setting in which to let her vivid imagination run riot over Shakespeare’s much-performed classic. Her bold vision may not be to everyone’s tastes but it delivers a unique pleasure. 

Katie Sykes’ multi-platformed urban playground of a set suggests an underbelly of a city akin to the undercroft of the Southbank Centre, recently saved for its skateboarders and under the tumble of fluorescent tubes that makes up Aideen Malone’s lighting design, there’s a highly charged sense of energy ready to explode. Benji Bower’s score carries much of the weight of the atmosphere though, an insistent presence throughout the production for better and for worse.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Review: The Armour, Langham Hotel

“The most powerful people in the world have sex in hotels. In fact, having sex in the best hotels makes you powerful. It doesn’t matter how good the sex is, only how good the hotel is.”

Last year saw Defibrillator Theatre take over three rooms in The Langham Hotel, down the posh end of Regent Street, to present the short Tennessee Williams plays that made up The Hotel Plays and given its resounding success, they’ve gone back there again this year to occupy three more spaces. With 380 rooms in this self-titled “first Grand Hotel in Europe”, it will only take another 125 years to work through all of them at this rate… This year though, Defibrillator have come armed with an original piece – The Armour – written by Ben Ellis and especially commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Langham itself.

Stretching from the late nineteenth century to the present day, the three duologues each take place at a key moment in the building’s history and make for a beguiling combination. First off is a nod to the hotel’s revitalised presence as a luxury venue as Hannah Spearritt’s pop star Jade suffers a minor meltdown in the middle of a crucial comeback concert tour. Trying to calm her down in this basement suite is manager Franky, a nicely lived-in Thomas Craig, who tolerantly indulges her complaints about the trappings of fame but also can’t disguise the note of genuine fatherly concern for a young woman whose life has long not been her own to control. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Review: Antigone, Barbican

“I heard a voice, like the sound of sorrow

fter the huge success of A View From The Bridge (now successfully transferred into the West End), there’s no doubting that Belgian director Ivo van Hove has been sucked into the mainstream consciousness of British theatregoers, hence this sold out run of Antigone at the Barbican. The presence of Oscar winner Juliette Binoche probably helped in that regard but there’s clearly no dimming in the sense of ambition here as this pan-European work, produced by…(deep breath)…the Barbican and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, in association with Toneelgroep Amsterdam, and co-produced by Théâtre de la Ville-Paris, Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen and Edinburgh International Festival, launches an eight month tour across Europe and the USA.

So it’s now the turn of Greek tragedy to get the van Hove treatment, Sophokles’ play has received a new translation here by Canadian poet and classicist Anne Carson which instantly elevates the work into a realm of heightened theatricality as the coils of its language wind elegantly around the ongoing troubles of this royal family. In the aftermath of a civil war in which the sons of Oidipous, Eteokles and Polyneikes, have killed each other fighting over the right to rule Thebes, it is Kreon - the brother of his wife (and mother) Jocasta – who takes the throne. Grieving for the loss of his own son, Kreon institutes a newly authoritarian rule, one which declares Polyneikes a traitor and thus unable to receive burial rites and this incenses Oidipous’ daughter Antigone and the pursuit of honouring her brother puts them in direct conflict.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Review: The 39 Steps, Criterion


This is actually the first time I've seen The 39 Steps despite its perennial fixture on the theatrical listings, or perhaps it is actually because of it. Like tourist attractions like The London Eye or the Aquarium, it's something I've walked past a hundred times without ever really thinking about it, assuming that I'd go along one day but never quite mustering the enthusiasm to do so until someone else gives you a kick up the bum.

Such kick duly administered, we delved our way into the depths of the Criterion Theatre and settled down for a couple of hours of top-notch entertainment. I'd say it is under-rated but that's not really true as audiences have been flocking to Patrick Barlow's adaptation of Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon's original show since 2006 and it isn't hard to see why. The concept of 4 actors taking on 139 characters with a bare minimum of props is simplicity itself but an absolute treasure to behold.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Review: Songs of Lear, Battersea Arts Centre

“Is my heart too large for you?"

It's Shakespeare but not as you know it... It's been over four years since I saw Polish company Song of the Goat but their haunting interpretation of Macbeth is still etched on my mind and so when they announced a return of their 2012 hit Songs of Lear I was keen to make a date during their short visit to Battersea Arts Centre. Not even a severe case of manflu could keep me away but I should probably apologise for passing on my germs to anyone who ended up with them! 

There's no easy way to describe the work of Song of the Goat that really does them sufficient justice. I could talk about the expressionistic Kandinsky-inspired sketches that King Lear is condensed to create the 10 songs of the show but their enigmatic beauty is so much more than a simple reduction. Likewise, the words 'Corsican polyphonic singing' can't convey the soul-wrenching beauty of what we hear (the merest snippet of which can be heard in the clip below),