Review: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre

Katharine Parkinson is simply superb in Laura Wade’s excellent new play Home, I’m Darling at the National Theatre

“That’s what a feminist looks like?”

What price a domestic goddess? When the chance of voluntary redundancy came up, finance worker Judy took it and with her husband Johnny, chose to indulge their mutual passion for all things 1950s by becoming a period-perfect housewife. She’s soon whipping up devilled eggs and chocolate chiffon cakes to have dinner on the table when he gets in, running his baths, pouring his drinks, getting his slippers, an idyllic picture of what marriage used to be like.

But pictures can conceal the truth and as Judy decants supermarket-bought milk into glass bottles, shoves letters into the cupboard under the sink and fixes a rictus grin on her face, it isn’t clear that picture-perfect doesn’t exist. Such is the world of Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling, a co-production between Theatr Clywd and the National Theatre, which probes incisively away at domestic politics, female choice and the wisdom of gin and lime. Continue reading “Review: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre”

Review: The Cluedo Club Killings, King’s Head

A queered-up take on the murder mystery, The Cluedo Club Killings makes the most of a brief new run at the King’s Head Theatre

“I know whodunnit”

The King’s Head Theatre’s six-week Queer Season has allowed for all sorts of LGBTQI+ stories to be told but one of its more pleasing aspects has been the flexibility in the programming, offering opportunities for smaller productions to emerge once again. Guy: a new musical will be popping back to London and after a well-received run at the Arcola earlier this year, Robert Holtom’s The Cluedo Club Killings similarly took the chance to spread its wings once again.

A queered-up take on the murder mystery designed to take on “the cis-het sausage fest” of Morse, Poirot et al, Nat Kennedy’s production is an enjoyably daft thing and is at its best when it fully embraces the glitter-soaked camp and ridiculous OTT-ness at its heart. Stabs of dun-dun-duh music, a shattered fourth wall, lesbian wannabe detective leads, scorchingly funny TV reporters, and a post-modern take on not just detective stories but horror film too – what more could you want.  Continue reading “Review: The Cluedo Club Killings, King’s Head”

Casting news aplenty!

I round up some of the recent casting news, including Queen Margaret at the Royal Exchange, Wasted at the Southwark Playhouse, Measure for Measure at the Donmar and The Woods at the Royal Court.

Shakespeare wrote more lines for Queen Margaret than he did for King Lear yet we know very little of her. Jeanie O’Hare re-acquaints us with one of Shakespeare’s major but rarely performed characters in her new play Queen Margaret. In a production that draws on original language from Shakespeare, director Elizabeth Freestone and Jade Anouka as Margaret, retell an iconic moment in British History through the eyes of the extraordinary Margaret of Anjou. This captivating exploration of The Wars of the Roses seen through the eyes of this astonishing, dangerous and thrilling woman opens the Royal Exchange’s Autumn Winter 2018/19 Season.

Anouka is joined by Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward/Rutland), Lorraine Bruce (York), Samuel Edward-Cook (Suffolk/Clifford), Dexter Flanders (Edward IV), Helena Lymbery (Hume), Lucy Mangan (Joan of Arc), Roger Morlidge (Gloucester), Kwami Odoom (Somerset/Richard), Bridgitta Roy (Warwick) and Max Runham (Henry VI). Continue reading “Casting news aplenty!”

Review: Sweet Charity, Watermill

Fun, laughs and yes, a good time. You’ll sure get a tingle in your feet for this Sweet Charity at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury

“I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see”

You can never have too much charity it would seem, and as Rebecca Trehearn prepares to take on the role of Charity Hope Valentine in Nottingham next month, Gemma Sutton tackles it here at the beautiful Watermill Theatre in Newbury. Sweet Charity, the 1966 musical by Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields and Neil Simon is a curious choice for the constant revival it receives. Its sexual politics are askew, its dialogue cheesily dated, and these are issues that Paul Hart’s modernised take has to occasionally battle to address.

Setting it in contemporary New York has its pros and cons. Notions of metropolitan isolation and the trials of working in a gig economy are more resonant than ever. But without lyrical updating, ideas of female aspiration remain rooted in the last century – you win some, you lose some. The casting of Sutton (so very good recently in The Rink) is a definite win though, a bright splash of colour in a mostly monochrome world and it is nigh on impossible not to be enchanted by her determination to find love in a cruel world. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Watermill”

Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Bury the Hatchet, Hope Theatre

A fearsomely talented company light up the stage of the Hope Theatre in Lizzie Borden meta-musical Bury the Hatchet 

“Your mama’s gone away and your daddy’s gone astray”

The story of Lizzie Borden is one that has proved endlessly fascinating for many people and has inspired many a work of art, with rock musicals, TV series and Hollywood films appearing this decade alone. Out of the Forest Theatre’s contribution to the genre comes in the form of Bury the Hatchet, self-described as a “true crime podcast meets bluegrass musical” and all sorts of fun with it.

Tried but acquitted of the murder of her father and stepmother in rural Massachusetts in 1892, Lizzie’s destiny of apparently immortal infamy was set. And over the hour or so here, it is as much this that writer Sasha Wilson focuses on than the details of the case itself. So we re-examine the evidence that remains and speculate about possible motives, but we also probe into society’s fascination with uplifting notorious (alleged) criminals and with the genre of crime itself.   Continue reading “Review: Bury the Hatchet, Hope Theatre”

Review: Exit the King, National Theatre

Undeniably challenging but ultimately thought-provoking and impeccably designed, Exit the King plays at the National Theatre this summer

“You are going to die at the end of the play”

There’s something intriguing about the fact that Eugène Ionesco has never been programmed at the National Theatre before, perhaps a long-present euroscepticism guarding against a writer at the vanguard of the French avant garde scene (give how much Beckett gets staged, it’s clearly not anti-absurdism). But Rufus Norris has looked to rectify this by commissioning a new version of Le Roi se meurt from Patrick Marber, who also directs here.

And as an absurdist drama, Exit the King suggests a bit of different thinking. On the face of it, it’s a simple enough tale – a man is told he only has a day left to live and struggles to deal with it. But that man is a king – King Bérenger – and he’s over 400 years old. And his kingdom is dying around him, with him, stone walls cracking and crumbling away, its people disappearing into the ether, the darkness swallowing everything up whole.   Continue reading “Review: Exit the King, National Theatre”

Re-review: All change on the Strand for Dreamgirls and Kinky Boots

All change on the Strand for Dreamgirls and Kinky Boots post closing notices at the Savoy Theatre and Adelphi Theatre respectively, and I revisit both.

“Never let ‘em tell you who you ought to be
Just be”

Come mid-January, the Strand will look a fair bit different for theatregoers as both Kinky Boots and Dreamgirls have posted advance closing notices, leaving the Adelphi and the Savoy respectively on the same date, Saturday 12th January.  As sad as it is to see any show close though, both of these musicals have had a fairly decent run (Kinky Boots opened in August 2015, making it nearly 3 and a half years; Dreamgirls in November 2016, reaching two) and given how merciless the commercial market can be, I think both productions can hold their head up high with their West End runs.

And getting ahead of the game with those closing notices means that people still have many the opportunity to catch either or both of these shows before the final curtain. (I should add too, that both shows have announced that they will be touring the UK going into 2019.) I’ve paid both a revisit relatively recently and am happy to report that they both remain well worth seeing, due to some mighty fine performance. Oliver Tompsett has only just stepped into the role of Charlie Price but he is nigh-on perfect casting and his majestic voice suits Cyndi Lauper’s score down to a T and he’s clearly getting on well with Simon-Anthony Rhoden’s impressive Lola. Continue reading “Re-review: All change on the Strand for Dreamgirls and Kinky Boots”

Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

On the two viewings I’ve managed so far, I’m pretty sure Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the epoch-defining film that we don’t deserve but which we sorely need

“When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?”

I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week and I thought it was fricking fantastic. But as the occasion fuelled by an afternoon tea that was heavy on the bubbles and the raucous atmosphere of a stagey audience and not quite bold enough to stick by the courage of my convictions, I opted to wait until seeing the film a second time before officially declaring my opinion.

And I have to say I really do think this is a superb film. The sequel that no-one really knew they wanted, whipped together in under 12 months once the green light had been given, that somehow manages to do everything you expect it to, and but better, and infinitely more moving than it has any right to be. I knew I’d shed a tear or three of joy but there was more than one moment where I was just sobbing, so rich is the emotion here. And that’s only fitting considering the bittersweet melancholy that is ABBA’s true calling card, rather than the cheesiness they are famed for. Continue reading “Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)”

Review: For King and Country, Southwark Playhouse

For King and Country at the Southwark Playhouse proves an ineffective revival in this centenary year of  WWI’s end

“It’s a bit amateur to plead for justice”

Belatedly, I found out that this play hasn’t been performed in London for 30-odd years and in this case, it is tempting to say you can see why. The intent behind John Wilson’s 1963 play For King and Country is certainly honorable, a courtroom drama about a WWI soldier who deserted his post. And Dilated Theatre’s production at the Southwark Playhouse has merit, the idea that it might serve as an investigation into the issues that we now label as PTSD.

But a contemporary lens reflects harshly on the play, particularly through the prism of the writer’s decade. Watching his interpretation of what happened with our current knowledge of war’s psychological impact doesn’t feel like the most effective tribute to our armed forces as we commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War. My mind constantly wondered why we weren’t hearing either a) a fresh new piece of writing or b) something more historically direct. Continue reading “Review: For King and Country, Southwark Playhouse”