Review: Testament, Hope Theatre

Bold as you like, Chalk Line’s Testament is a breath of bracingly fresh air into the Hope Theatre

“I’m the mess…hiya”

Bold as you like, Chalk Line’s Testament is a breath of bracingly fresh air into the Hope Theatre with its blend of physical theatre, metaphysical narrative and contemporary issue-baiting. Plays about mental health, especially in young men, are hot currency at the moment as people try and do something, anything, to help tackle the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. And Sam Edmunds’ drama feels like a powerful addition to that effort.

Max wakes up in his hospital bed in a bit of a fug. Having survived a car crash that killed his girlfriend a while back, he’s just tried to take his own life and though he has failed, he’s suffering from brain trauma. The upshot to that is that he’s forgotten what’s happened, he still believes his girl Tess is alive; the downside is that his medical condition is dire and his brother has to convince him to undergo a procedure that will make him lose her all over again. Continue reading “Review: Testament, Hope Theatre”

Review: Summer Street, Waterloo East Theatre

Aussie soap opera musical Summer Street proves an amiable if unchallenging watch at the Waterloo East Theatre

“It’s not exactly Shakespeare…”

There’s a good deal of heart at the core of Summer Street, which carries it much of the way where it intends to go. Subtitled “the hilarious Aussie soap opera musical’, it riffs on those all-conquering teatime TV imports and the nostalgia they now provoke, mixes in a dash of Acorn Antiques’ meta-narrative and underscores the whole thing with the gimlet eye of reality TV. The result is ambitious and sometimes, it pays off. 

For me, Summer Street is at its best when it is at its silliest. Shaking its sunbleached hair free, throwing another shrimp on the barbie, and camping it up with the best of them. And there’s ample opportunity for this to happen, as four washed-up soap actors dive on the chance to reunite for a one-off special of their former show. We’re witness to much of their backstage shenanigans and rehearsals and it is here where the spirit of Manchesterford is strongest, sometime hilariously so. Continue reading “Review: Summer Street, Waterloo East Theatre”

Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending may not be his greatest play but Tamara Harvey’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory proves most affecting in the end

“What on earth can you do on this earth but catch at whatever comes near you, with both your fingers, until your fingers are broken?”

Any project that tempts Hattie Morahan back onto the stage has to be worth checking out (qv Anatomy of a Suicide, A Doll’s House, but maybe let’s not mention The Dark Earth and the Light Sky). Orpheus Descending, a Menier Chocolate Factory & Theatr Clwyd co-production directed by Tamara Harvey, proves no exception, bolstered by the presence of the ever-excellent Jemima Rooper in the cast, plus a brooding Seth Numrich.

Orpheus… is something of a minor Tennessee Williams work (one I didn’t much enjoy when I saw it at the Royal Exchange a few years ago) but one which feels stronger here. Navigating the stifling heat and social strictures of smalltown Deep South in the 1950s, Lady seeks escape from her loveless marriage and small-minded neighbours. And in the arrival of handsome drifter Val Xavier, it seems she might have found it – doesn’t it? Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre

Neil Austin’s lighting design in Rosmersholm at the Duke of York’s Theatre is a thing of beauty and Hayley Atwell is excellent but Ibsen is still Ibsen…

“You see, this is what happens when the general public becomes engaged in politics — they get duped into voting against their own interests”

Chances are if Helen McCrory can’t make me like a play, then few others will be able too either. I first saw Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm with Anthony Page’s production for the Almeida which was…eek…more than 10 years ago now. It didn’t click with me then and in the assured hands of Ian Rickson here, it still leaves me cold. 

You do have to admire the bravado of producer Sonia Friedman, opening a play like this cold into the West End without resorting to any hint of stunt casting.And creatively, this is a triumph. Neil Austin’s hauntingly perfect lighting of Rae Smith’s austerely grand designs is a thing of pure beauty as it evolves throughout the show. Continue reading “Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre”

Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Southwark Playhouse

I gif my way through the good times of Fats Waller tribute show Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the Southwark Playhouse

“Give em what they want, and when they want it, without a single word to say”

Ain’t Misbehavin’ sees the directorial debut of Tyrone Huntley


And the theatrical choreography debut of Strictly queen-in-the-making Oti Mabuse.


Continue reading “Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Little Death Club, Underbelly Southbank Festival

Life is more than a Kabarett at the hugely enjoyable Little Death Club now at the Underbelly Southbank Festival

“Es is nicht sadistich
Nur ein bisschen voyeuristisch
Ich mache wass ich will mit dir”

On the one hand, you might consider Little Death Club as just another late night cabaret show (albeit one spelled kabarett, the Weimar way). But on experiencing this extraordinary hour, currently residing in the South Bank’s Spiegeltent, you see that it really is more than that, something ferociously committed to the spirit of defiance in which this form was birthed.

The evening is compered by the incomparable Bernie Dieter (feathered shoulderpieces to die for, co-creator too along with Tom Velvick) but more significantly, she’s an integral part of the entire show. There’s no sense of her just clocking in to just introduce these performers, she’s fully invested in them, in their stories and even in the shortest of interludes, is able to convey something of this connection. Continue reading “Review: Little Death Club, Underbelly Southbank Festival”

Review: Avalanche – A Love Story, Barbican

Maxine Peake is magisterial at the Barbican in this heart-breaking monologue Avalanche – A Love Story

“Is any of this connecting with you?”

I could listen to Maxine Peake read the phone book. A voice so full of warmth and character and unexpected texture, it somehow allows you to both sink into its soothing depths yet retain the capacity to catch you off-guard at any given moment.

That dual capacity is powerfully deployed in Avalanche – A Love Story, Julia Leigh’s adaptation of her own memoir about her experiences in going through IVF. Over a 90 minute running time that simply flies by, Peake fills the stage of the Barbican magnificently.  Continue reading “Review: Avalanche – A Love Story, Barbican”

Review: Eggs / Grip, Tristan Bates Theatre

A contrasting pair of one-hour shows offer different experiences at the Tristan Bates Theatre, with ebullient two-hander Eggs and the striking ensemble-led Grip

“I’m not talking scientifically
I’m talking emotionally”

There’s all manner of different eggs in Florence Keith Roach’s Eggs, including some you wouldn’t necessarily talk to your mum about. Which is fine, since this is a play about female friendship and how it responds to crisis points. Girl 1 and Girl 2 were pals at uni but as they approach the end of their twenties on wildly divergent career paths, their friendship seems more a thing of a habit than something offering genuine comfort in times of need. Continue reading “Review: Eggs / Grip, Tristan Bates Theatre”

Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre

Don’t you love farce? Well turns out I rather did like Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac at the Richmond Theatre

“But will the audience come?”

I do love a comedy that unexpectedly makes me laugh a lot. It is a genre, particularly when it leans towards farce, that can be a tricky one to get right and there’s nothing worse than being the only one stony-faced in a theatre full of people roaring their heads off (qv me at One Man Two Guvnors, or most Feydeau plays). But sometimes it works, sometimes there’s a Noises Off in there, and treading a similar-ish path is Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac as it tracks the on- and off-stage shenanigans of a theatre company whilst playwright Edmond Rostand struggles to write Cyrano de Bergerac for them.

And I have to say that I chortled merrily through Roxana Silbert’s production, which has popped around the country after a run at Birmingham Rep. It is thoroughly silly, doesn’t take itself seriously for a single moment, and is consequently most enjoyable if just a touch overlong. Freddie Fox’s Rostand is a struggling writer whose last show was a flop and with the bills mounting, is blocked. His artistic juices are only stimulated when his pal Léo commissions him to write a suite of love letters to seduce a new would-be paramour on his behalf and the spark of a new play ignites as life imitates art imitates life and opening night fast approaches. Continue reading “Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”