Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Review: Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket

"It’s a serious novel. It’s a central text of world literature.
'Basically it’s S&M porn'"

What a charged moment for Venus in Fur to open into. As the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein revelations continues to reverberate around social media and perhaps even society at large, a play about the sexual dynamic between an actress and and a director and the erotic power play that emerges out of her audition feels...challenging. Intriguingly written, thought-provokingly staged and superbly acted, it nevertheless left something niggling at me.

David Ives' play was extremely well received off- and on-Broadway at the beginning of this decade and it has a tricksy cleverness to its meta-textual construction and surfeit of theatrical in-jokes. A brash young playwright has spent a long day auditioning for his adaptation of Venus in Furs, an 1869 novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who literally put the masochism in S&M. Arriving late and swearing like a trooper, Vanda pleads for the chance to be heard but as an eventual audition becomes a read-through, little is as it seems.

Thoughts on a visit to the Bridge Theatre


Good things come to those who wait! I hadn't booked for Young Marx at the brand new Bridge Theatre for a couple of reasons. I was still hoping that I might get a response to my email to the PR and despite a cast that includes the splendid Nancy Carroll and the delicious Oliver Chris alongside lead Rory Kinnear, Richard Bean just really isn't my cup of tea. 'Don't you love farce?' Not much my dear...
  
So when an email popped into my inbox offering a sneak preview of the show and an opportunity to be the first ever audience in the theatre for a pre-preview test run of the new venue and its facilities, then I knew it was meant to be. Turns out I do love a farce, at £7.50 a ticket.

Cast for the Royal Exchange's Guys and Dolls announced

The Royal Exchange in Manchester have really been upping the ante as far as their Christmas musicals are concerned. Last year's Sweet Charity was a stonker, their Into the Woods was something special, and 2014/15's Little Shop of Horrors was basically perfection. This year see them tackle Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in a co-production with Talawa Theatre Company and by the crin (as my Aunty Mary would say - a bit of Wigan dialect for you there...) just take a look at this bushel and a peck's worth of beauties! 

Cast for the Almeida's Twilight Zone announced


The Almeida have revealed the cast for their forthcoming Christmas show The Twilight Zone which promises a different take on seasonal fare! Directed by Richard Jones and adapted by Anne Washburn, responsible for the brilliant mindfuck that was Mr Burns, I reckon this will be one to look out for.

Cast includes: Oliver Alvin-Wilson, Franc Ashman, Adrianna Bertola, Lizzy Connolly, Amy Griffiths, Neil Haigh, Cosmo Jarvis, John Marquez, Matthew Needham, and Sam Swainsbury,

Monday, 16 October 2017

Album Review: Janie Dee at the BBC

"Je veux changer d'atmosphère"

30 years or so into a career that has seen her win two Olivier awards (so far - I'd watch out for her to be at least nominated for Follies, if not more), it seems remarkable that Janie Dee at the BBC is actually Dee's debut album. But though there may not be recorded evidence, she is a highly accomplished and experienced cabaret performer among her many skills, and it is from these shows that the material has been drawn for this record.

Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios with Auburn Jam Records, the track-listing thus embraces a broad array of songs and styles, all connected by the smooth consummate skill of one of our more under-rated Dames-in-the-making. From Kander and Ebb to Bacharach and David, Stevie Wonder to Spike Milligan, Dee takes us on a journey of hugely sophisticated charm that proves mightily hard to resist, marshalled by MD Steve Clark.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Full list of 2017 UK Theatre Awards winners

The full list of winners of this year's UK Theatre Awards have been announced and you can find them below:

Best Presentation Of Touring Theatre

Nuffield Southampton Theatres for the world premiere touring musical production of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox

Best Show for Children and Young People

The Snow Queen, New Vic Theatre

Best Director

Gemma Bodinetz, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse new repertory season

Review: The Lie, Menier Chocolate Factory

"People don’t really want to be told the truth"

Just as The Father comes along with The Mother, The Truth is followed by The Lie. British theatre's amour fou for Florian Zeller continues apace with another of his comedies making it over to London but are we approaching diminishing returns as we delve deeper into his back catalogue? Director Lindsay Posner and translator Christopher Hampton clearly don't think so as they return to the Menier Chocolate with The Lie but I'm not so convinced.

The production got off to a rocky start when James Dreyfus had to withdraw due to illness, though choosing Alexander Hanson as his replacement provides a little extratextual spice as he stars opposite his wife Samantha Bond as married couple Paul and Alice. As we meet them, they're havering over a dinner party they're hosting that is meant to start imminently - Alice wants to cancel it as she just saw Michel kissing a woman who wasn't his wife Laurence but their early arrival takes the decision out of their hands.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Gif Reviews: B + Victory Condition, Royal Court

The Royal Court continues to shake things up under Vicky Featherstone's reign, offering two shorter plays (though not for the price of one) which are running in rep. Guillermo Calderón's B and Chris Thorpe's Victory Condition are both interesting in their own ways but whether it was me being grumpy, a slightly flat atmosphere or something more, neither drama really did it for me. So we're keeping it brief!

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

How to respond to a week such as that? Defer to those more fearlessly eloquent, and listen.





Emma Rice's tenure at Shakespeare's Globe is winding to its close - the outdoor season is done but there's still a winter's worth of programming in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to get through. Musical Romantics Anonymous will be one to watch out for and now that casting has been released for Anders Lustgarten's The Secret Theatre, directed by Matthew Dunster, looks to be another fascinating entry.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Review: Beginning, National Theatre


"I feel like my life's turning on the toss of a coin"

There's something about the sweet spot as the embers of a house party start to die out - people lingering behind usually there for a reason (as in the prettiest boy I ever did kiss), conversations that delve right into the deep stuff. And so it is for Laura and Danny in David Eldridge's new play Beginning - it's 2.40am and he's the last one left at the housewarming do at her new pad in Crouch End.

But it's not quite as simple as that (it never is - that boy moved to LA). Both firmly middle-aged, the weight of Laura and Danny's potential encounter is revealed to be ever more significant as they edge towards a truth that there might be more than just a quickie on the cards, that the spark of a connection they both might be feeling could be the beginning of something more and not just a reaction to the intense loneliness they're both feeling in this modern world. They've just got to get to that point.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Review: Young Frankenstein, Garrick

"Though your genitalia
Has been known to fail ya
You can bet your ass on the brain"

It's alive...barely. Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein staggers into the West End after some more time on the operating table since its 2007 Broadway opening (2 new songs are among the changes made) and a short run in Newcastle to tighten the bolts. But for a piece of new musical theatre, it is so desperately old-fashioned that you half expect Russ Abbot and Bella Emberg to pop up and do a turn.

Given that Brooks is now over 90 and that the film on which it is based dates from 1974, it is perhaps little surprise that it feels dated. But also given director/choreographer Susan Stroman's close collaborative relationship with him, the opportunity to be necessarily brutal about what works and what doesn't feels to have been lost, lightning really hasn't struck twice for the creators of The Producers. 

Album Review: Jason Manford - A Different Stage

"I'll gather up my past, and make some sense at last"

Unless you've caught him in tours of The Producers or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or in occasional TV performances, you might not know that comedian Jason Manford can sing. He's even tackled Sondheim, stepping into the role of Pirelli in the Staunton/Ball Sweeney Todd for a while back in 2011, and so it is little surprise that his debut album A Different Stage should turn out be one of showtunes and standards.

Manford's voice emerges as a solid and mannered instrument and clear as a bell, his singing veers towards the precise. This is most effective on the likes of Chitty's 'Hushabye Mountain', sung sweetly with former co-star Rosanna Bates and And much of the material tends towards the booming inspirational anthems beloved of his friend Alfie Boe - 'This Is My Life', 'This Is The Moment', 'The Impossible Dream', all effective if a little similar.

Review: Graeme of Thrones, Charing Cross

"It's going to be Hodorable..."

If you haven't seen an episode of Game of Thrones, I'm not entirely why you would want to come and see a show that spoofs it lovingly if relentlessly. The blurb for Graeme of Thrones mentions it could be seen as "an introduction for the unenlightened" but let's be frank, to expect a rapid-fire comedy show to catch you up on seven seasons of intricately plotted fantasy drama and enable you to get such puns as the one above is to make you as naive as, well, Ned Stark.

But for the initiated, there's lots to enjoy in this madcap which rattle through an inordinate amount of material in its 90 minutes and still barely scratches the surface of the Seven Kingdoms. From its hilarious re-enactment of the opening credits to the arrival of actual dragons*, John-Luke Roberts, Nicola Lamont and Ross Spaine work overtime to take us from Westeros to Essos and back and cover as much of the plot as they can shoehorn in, along with jokes at many of the tropes it fully embraces.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Review: In Event of Moone Disaster, Theatre503

"If an alien came and said they'd whisk you away a thousand billion miles, to a different planet, but you'd never come back, would you go?"

There's something rather delicious about the winner of the Theatre503's International Playwriting Award hailing from Sunderland but a Mackem Andrew Thompson is, and what a winner In Event of Moone Disaster proves to be. The title derives from the interesting tidbit that speechwriters at the time had to prepare for the Moon landing going wrong and though the play uses space travel as a springboard to examine three generations of a family whose destiny seems somehow tied up there in the stars.

So we encounter Sylvia on the night of the Moon landing, in awe of the possibilities it heralds; we meet Neil and Julie in the present day trying to conceive; and in 2055, Sylvia's granddaughter is preparing to become the first person to walk on Mars. And as we see how past actions influence future possibilities, a more pressing journey of gender equality emerges as the main theme in this feminist sci-fi epic (with heart). What does the freedom to 'have it all' actually look like, has what we're willing to sacrifice changed over the years, have we even progressed but at all? 

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

National treasure Matthew Kelly and West End superstar Josefina Gabrielle are to star in the brand-new stage adaptation of The Box of Delights, possibly the creepiest children's tv show ever and one which is indeliby etched on my psyche. This original production is the first time Poet Laureate John Masefield’s festive classic has been reimagined for the stage, and will be brought to life by an ensemble cast in the gloriously Christmassy surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall.

Joining Kelly and Gabrielle as part of the stellar cast will be Mark Extance, Safiyya Ingar, Tom Kanji, Samuel Simmonds, Rosalind Steele and Alistair Toovey.

Jo Brand has been announced as the headline act for a charity comedy night at Richmond Theatre. The evening of comedy will raise funds for national charity SeeAbility and features Adam Hills, host of Channel 4's The Last Leg and Live at the Apollo regular, Seann Walsh.

Richmond Theatre will host ‘Stand Up for SeeAbility' on Monday 30th October, where Jo Brand will also be joined by Sally Phillips from Bridget Jones's Diary and award-winner Mark Simmons, as well as Sarah Louise Keegan and John Moloney. It will all be introduced by former Paralympian, Lord Chris Holmes of Richmond MBE.

SeeAbility is a 200-year-old charity with strong local roots to Richmond. They provide extraordinary support for people with learning disabilities and autism across Surrey and the South of England, and champion eye care for adults and children with learning disabilities.


The critically acclaimed (not least by yours truly) production of The Grinning Man, directed by Tony award-winning Tom Morris (War Horse) and based on the classic Victor Hugo (Les Misérables) novel, The Man Who Laughs, will take over Studio 1 at Trafalgar Studios from 5 December, following a hugely successful autumn 2016 premiere at Bristol Old Vic. Tickets will go on sale on Wednesday 11 October.

This romantic gothic musical love story, set in a fantastical world with a dark heart, is brought to life by Kneehigh writer Carl Grose (Dead Dog in a Suitcase) and “powered by an outstanding score” (Sunday Times) by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler. And in great news, the cast is led once again by Louis Maskell (2016 Best Actor in a Musical fosterIAN winner), in the title role of Grinpayne, and Julian Bleach (2016 Best Supporting Actor in a Musical fosterIAN winner), who plays Barkilphedro, a vengeful clown with a heart of lead. 

Lead casting has been announced for a 2018 UK tour of Terence Rattigan’s classic family drama, The Winslow Boy - directed by Olivier Award-nominated Rachel Kavanaugh. Tessa Peake-Jones (Only Fools and Horses, Grantchester) stars as Grace Winslow wife of Arthur Winslow, played by the swoonworthy Aden Gillett (House of Eliott, Holby City), the father who embarks on an extraordinary campaign for justice for his son.

The tour opens at Chichester Festival Theatre on February 8th 2018 and sees Mark Goucher once again present a classic drama straight from seasons at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Birmingham Rep. The Winslow Boy follows acclaimed productions of The Kings Speech and Single Spies (the latter also directed by Kavanaugh). The production is set to visit other leading UK drama houses including Bath Theatre Royal, Oxford Playhouse, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Salford Lowry, Cheltenham Everyman Theatre, Brighton Theatre Royal, Belfast Grand Opera House, Richmond Theatre and Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre.

And just in case you were wondering what Harry Hadden-Paton is up to (and quite frankly, who isn't), well of course he's making his NY stage debut in the Lincoln Center revival of My Fair Lady as Henry Higgins opposite Lauren Ambrose as Eliza Doolittle, Norbert Leo Butz as Alfie Doolittle, and Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs Higgins, aka the Menier Christmas musical I would have liked to see.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Review: Medea, Written in Rage, The Place

"Maman est avec vous
Maman est avec vous 
Pour toujours…"

Nothing becomes Medea (or at least this version of her) as much as her entry into the world. Into a liminal space shrouded in smoke, summoned by a clarion call from the ether, an unknowable shape emerges. Obscured by lush swathes of fabric, movement governed by improbably high platforms, this figure casts extraordinary shadows (stunning lighting work from Chahine Yavroyan) until they arrive centre stage to finally deliver their story.

And though Euripides' enduring classic may be familiar, it's not likely one has heard it told quite like this. Medea, Written in Rage was reimagined by the Haitian-French Jean-René Lemoine and has been translated and adapted here by Neil Bartlett, to be performed by the Frenchman François Testory. A dancer and singer of some considerable renown, he submerges us into a queered-up, highly-politicised sonic experiment of a piece which is, at times, hugely arresting. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Review: The Norman Conquests, Chichester Festival Theatre


“I've learned though bitter experience that the last thing to do with Norman is take him seriously. That's exactly what he wants."

What to do with theatre vouchers? Trying to find the kind of theatrical experience that I might not normally have splashed out on isn't always the easiest, so Chichester Festival Theatre's announcement that their staging of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests would be in the round, and that onstage 'terrace' seating would be available, a plan fell into place. And so for two of the three plays, I was up onstage (in different seats) and for the third, down in the stalls.

Seeing the plays from different perspectives felt appropriate as that is the nature of Ayckbourn's trilogy written in 1973. Three times we visit the same group of six characters over the same weekend but based in a different part of the house. So (in the order I saw them on this trilogy day, a couple of days before press night I should add), Table Manners is set in the dining room, Living Together in the living room, and Round and Round the Garden is in the attic*.

Gif Review: Round and Round the Garden - The Norman Conquests, Chichester Festival Theatre


Gif Review: Living Together - The Norman Conquests, Chichester Festival Theatre


Gif Review: Table Manners - The Norman Conquests, Chichester Festival Theatre



National Theatre 2018 and beyond

Headlines from the National's Autumn press conference:
  • not great news if you were hoping for better female writing and directing representation
  • amazing news in terms of advances with the D/deaf community, both as actors and audiences 
  • equally admirable new efforts to reach out into local communities
  • and Indira Varma, Cecilia Noble and Katharine Parkinson 



Olivier Theatre



Ian Rickson directs Brian Friel's Translations, a powerful account of language and nationhood. Set in rural Donegal, the turbulent relationship between England and Ireland plays out in one quiet community. Cast includes Colin Morgan with designs by Rae Smith, lighting by Neil Austin and music by Stephen WarbeckTranslations is a Travelex show with hundreds of tickets available at £15 for every performance, opening in May 2018.

Patrick Marber adapts and directs Ionesco's glorious dark comedy Exit the King. Surrounded by his court, an unpredictable, belligerent and magnetic king – once all powerful – rages against the inevitability of his own decline. Designed by Anthony Ward, lighting Hugh Vanstone and music and sound Adam Cork. Cast includes Rhys Ifans as the King and Indira Varma as his Queen. Exit the King is a Travelex show with hundreds of tickets available at £15 for every performance, opening in July 2018.

Simon Godwin directs Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo as the iconic lovers in a new production of Antony and Cleopatra opening in September 2018. Set design by Hildegard Bechtler, costume design by Wojciech Dziedzic, lighting by Tim Lutkin, music by Michael Bruce and sound by Christopher Shutt. The production will be broadcast worldwide as part of the NT Live season. 


Monday, 2 October 2017

Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic

"There's something I've got to do tonight"

I'm going to call it taking one for the team. Faced with the prospect of Girl From The North Country disappearing into the ether (albeit having left an excellent cast recording behind), I took the plunge and booked myself back into the Old Vic in the show's final week. So of course, a West End transfer has now been announced, which is great news for something which (spoilers) is likely to figure highly in my end-of-year round-up. It will open at the Noël Coward Theatre in December (casting news still to be announced though) and will be well worth the trip.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th October

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

After over 178 productions and over 28,000 audience members through the door since moving to the Bedford in 2015, Theatre N16 is looking for a new home from December 2017. Whilst they search, you can support the folks there by donating here.

Theatre N16 was set up in 2015 to be a stomping ground for new companies and a place to try out new work, offering affordable deals on rehearsal and performance space. It has offered a ground-breaking, risk-free deal to all companies, which 95% of our guests have taken, guaranteeing that creatives do not leave our space owing the venue money. This is all under the auspices of an Equity Fringe Agreement, with Theatre N16 one of the few London venues to have signed up to the deal to guarantee pay to all creatives working for the venue.



Live at Zédel have launched their Autumn/Winter season at The Crazy Coqs and it’s heaving, once again, with incredible new talent and established acts from across a whole host of disciplines including live music, musical theatre, cabaret, comedy and spoken word. John Owen-Jones, Tiffany Graves, Clive Rowe, Anne Reid and Dillie Keane are just some of the names on offer.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Review: Boudica, Shakespeare's Globe

"I’d rather walk in blood than walk a slave for he thy Emperor!"

For every Blue Stockings, there's been a Pitcairn, with a Bedlam inbetween. No matter the AD, the commitment to new writing in the later part of the summer season at Shakespeare's Globe has thrown a marked inconsistency. And Tristan Bernays' Boudica proves no different, given an ambitious production by Eleanor Rhode which strives a little too hard to situate the play in an Emma Rice house-style, fun as it may come across. 

So Game of Thrones-style storytelling mashes up against spirited covers of the likes of 'London Calling' and 'I Fought The Law', a great sense of energy percolating through this wooden O. But Bernays' play doesn't always fit easily with this treatment, written in blank verse that has to balance the required info-dump to flesh out this historical fiction with something more fascinatingly insightful about what might have driven the Queen of the Iceni.

Review: King Lear, Minerva

"He hath always but slightly, known himself"

As I wrote when the full cast was first announced, "the world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you're going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting". And now that the time has come to trek over to Chichester Festival Theatre to catch Ian McKellen revisiting a role he has already been most renowned for playing, you're left in awe once again at the luxuries casting director Anne McNulty has brought to bear in Jonathan Munby's modern-dress and modern-spirited production.

Chief among them is Sinéad Cusack's Kent. It's a casting decision that deserves the emphasis for Chichester has long been a venue where female representation has struggled across the board and though it is still early days yet for Daniel Evans' tenure here, any steps are welcome. Tamara Lawrance as Cordelia is another example and a powerful contrast too. Where Cusack brings all her experience to bear as a superbly nuanced Kent (whose disguising gains real resonance), Lawrance brings a freshness of spirit to her most compassionate reading of Lear's youngest daughter.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Review: After The Rehearsal / Persona, Barbican

"Als ik, heel even maar desnoods, mijn masker zou afzetten en zou zeggen wat ik voelde of dacht, zouden jullie je razernij tegen mij keren"

Toneelgroep Amsterdam have made the Barbican their base pretty much every time they've visited London, so it was little surprise that is where their 2017 residency was announced. We say residency, the peripatetic nature and ferocious workrate of this Dutch company meaning that it contained three shows spread over six months (Roman Tragedies, Obsession, and this Ingmar Bergman double bill) all of which have managed to provoke strong opinions.

I'd be fascinated to know the reason behind choosing After The Rehearsal / Persona out of all of the shows in their considerable repertory (it also tours to Santiago, Chile and Washington DC). Created in 2012, it brings together two pieces written for the screen by the Swede into a long haul of an evening, close to three hours of occasionally impenetrable Swedish existential angst. It contains some of the directorial flourish that has made van Hove's name, plus it stars the remarkable Marieke Heebink but there's no denying I found it a challenge. 

Re-review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge

"When I grow up,
I will be smart enough to answer all
The questions that you need to know
The answers to before you're grown up"

As Matilda the Musical approaches its seventh year in the West End, and a new adult cast has had a couple of weeks to bed in, I was delighted to get the chance to revisit the show. Since its premiere in Stratford back in 2010/11, it has been a musical to fall in love with over and over again. I can - and do - listen to the Original Cast Recording all the time, and it is always on top of the list of things I recommend when I'm ever asked 'what should I see'. Take a read of my 5 star review for Official Theatre here, as I try not to use up all my words in praise of Gina Beck.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 27th May 2018, for the moment
David Shannon, Gina Beck, Tom Edden and Marianne Benedict



Review: Lucky Stiff, Union

"A hero on the run
And a woman with a gun
And an ending with a twist
And a brother who is pissed"

What would you do for six million dollars? That's the question underlying Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty's (music) 1988 musical farce Lucky Stiff, based on the 1983 novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth. And being a farce, it's not a story to examine too closely as a Home Counties shoe salesman, a Brooklyn dog home employee and an Atlantic City optometrist and his legally blind sister converge on the South of France in pursuit of the money.

Shoeshop Harry is the one with his nose in front - it is a bequest to him from his late uncle that kicks off all the shenanigans. A sizeable inheritance with an all-expenses-paid trip to the French Riviera to boot, with just the one catch - Harry has to take his uncle's body with him on every step of the holiday. As several other interested parties get wind of the news, the scene is set for all sorts of supremely silly capers and your enjoyment of the show may well depend on your tolerance of daftness.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Review: Turkey, Hope

"If that's how much it costs to have a baby...?"

It's a bold move to put a character as flawed as Madeline front and centre in your debut play; still more to not give her the kind of redemption arc that conventional wisdom suggests we crave in our drama. So Frankie Meredith's Turkey reveals itself as a nifty piece of writing, developed from a true family story in a Soho Young Writers Lab exercise in 2015 and now premiering at the ever-welcoming Hope Theatre.

At first it doesn't seem that way. We meet Madeline in the afterglow of a passionate vodka-fuelled night with Toni, adamant she's not a lesbian - she has a boyfriend she's cheating on after all - but soon entwined in a full-blown relationship. Fast-forward to moving in together and squabbling over which organic vegetables to buy, the focus of the play soon emerges as Madeline's unstoppable desire to have a baby becomes the dominant force in their lives.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Review: Frankenstein, Brockley Jack

"Beginnings...are difficult"

You may think you know the story of Frankenstein - in the 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote the novel for which she is most famed, it has received countless adaptations and sunk deep into the collective consciousness. But chances are that Arrows & Traps' version will disarm you and make you consider it anew as it introduces a new, crucial character into the narrative - Mary Shelley herself.

Writer/director Ross McGregor's reinterpretation of this tale is masterfully done. Framed as something of a fever dream, a hallucination by the older Shelley who suffered from a brain tumour for more than a decade before her death, the story here is split in three. We follow the story of the Creature and, separately, of Victor Frankenstein; but we also explore Shelley's life too, the experiences that led up to her creation of such an epic piece of literature while still a teenager, the curious darkness that stalked her thereafter.

Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester

"Smile a rented smile, fill someone's glass
Kiss someone's wife, kiss someone's ass"

Ria Jones’ extraordinary history with Sunset Boulevard might well be entitled The Norma Conquests – from originally workshopping the role of Norma Desmond for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) in 1991 to her headline-grabbing stint as Glenn Close’s understudy in last year’s ENO staged concert version of the show to finally getting to play the leading role in her own right on this UK tour, premiering at Leicester’s Curve, some 26 years later.

And was it worth the wait? Jones certainly is making the most of her well-deserved moment, offering a different skillset for her markedly different interpretation. Jones is undoubtedly the better singer, the lushness of her voice soaring effortlessly to the impassioned heights of the score. And she’s a different kind of actress, offering a brasher, more manic kind of energy to this former movie star caught up in a fantasy world when a young screenwriter (Danny Mac) accidentally offers hope to her faded career. 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Review: Mosquitoes, National Theatre

"I can be anything I want. 
I can be a Hufflepuff if I want."

Just a quickie for this as it closes this week (I had the unfortunate accident of being in Vienna for its press night). Lucy Kirkwood's Mosquitoes has been a sell-out success for the National, packing out the Dorfman perhaps initially for its deluxe casting of two Olivias - Colman and Williams - but latterly due to some superb word of mouth as well. And given that this is largely a play about two sisters who can't help but bicker all their lives, it is brilliantly well cast.

Williams is Alice, a scientist working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and Colman is Jenny, a medical sales rep living in Luton. Nominally, the former is a success, the latter a fuckup, an idea reinforced by Jenny arriving in Geneva to recuperate from a devastating personal loss. But Kirkwood's writing is far too nuanced to let that be all, she thoroughly interrogates our preconceptions as she whirls through a universe-ful of ideas including anti-vaxxers, revenge porn, society's inherent misogyny, science and religion and much more besides.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Review: The Band, Manchester Opera House

"Do the boys have a song for a moment like this?"

Having a bit of fun with this one - there was actually 8 of us in attendance at new Take That musical The Band (with a boisterous Saturday evening crowd), for the occasion of celebrating my niece's 13th birthday. And from ages 10 to (almost) 70, we all really enjoyed ourselves, so I put everyone to work to chip in with their favourite bits about the show, a la Smash Hits. Written by Tim Firth, what I found particularly pleasing was that The Band actually proves an engaging and entertaining piece of theatre, one that has clearly thought about the jukebox form and how it might be played with.

1,
We open in 16-year-old Rachel's bedroom in 1993, a time of Ceefax and Top of the Pops, of teenage dreams and life's potential. But her parents are on the brink of divorce and so she retreats under the covers to listen to 'the boys', her favourite band who she is able to conjure up at a moment's notice. It's a nifty conceit, this internalised band, as it plays both into the fantasy element of being a devoted fan and provides a conduit for the bursting-into-song required of a musical, whether Rachel is using the music to drown out the harshness of the real world or lose herself in a reverie of hunky gladiators.