Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack

Arrows and Traps hit the mark once more with the deeply moving The White Rose at the Brockley Jack Theatre

Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg? Wollt ihr ihn, wenn nötig, totaler und radikaler, als wir ihn uns heute überhaupt erst vorstellen können?”* 

How do we make the choice to resist? At what point do we decide that enough is enough in the creeping erosion of our democracy? When former foreign secretaries rip up ministerial codes or chief whips ignore Commons voting conventions? When presidents attack their own FBI and defend despots? Some 250,000 bodies may have thronged the streets of London last week to register their disapproval of the US Commander in Chief but what happens when the ‘other side’ has won, when the act of peaceful protest becomes civil disobedience.

It is into such a world that The White Rose throws us. It is 1943 and having insinuated their way into every level of German society and instituted a systemic indoctrination of much of the population, the Nazis have been in power for a decade. But the tectonic shifts of World War II have finally started to fall in the Allies’ favour and finding safety in like-minded numbers, students of the University of Munich have coalesced into an underground movement, publishing anti-Nazi leaflets and distributing them across the Fatherland. Could such amazing courage go unpunished? Continue reading “Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack”

DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

All hail Mamma Mia! As we tentatively await the sequel, I revisit a film I can’t ever imagine not loving

“I won’t be muscled out by an ejaculation”

With Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just about to hit cinemas, I thought I’d revisit the original Mamma Mia! film to remind myself of its pleasures, Pierce Brosnan’s singing and all. Released in 2008, it managed that trick of defying a lukewarm critical reception to garnering huge popularity, something repeated by The Greatest Showman (it’s almost as if film critics can’t quite imagine audiences wanting to see a harmlessly fun musical…). 

And that’s what this is in the end, lots of fun and silly with it. Based on the iconic jukebox musical of the same name, it’s a whole load of ABBA songs strung together on a gossamer-light plot of romantic comedy gold. Where it succeeds, as with the musical, is in taking the job at hand most seriously, whilst never taking itself too seriously at all. Songs are in the right places, serving as motors in the narrative, and there’s an integrity to the whole thing, even when its daft as a brush.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)”

Review: Jellyfish, Bush

Almost impossibly tender and true, Ben Weatherill’s Jellyfish is a minor-key masterpiece at the Bush Theatre

“Do you think there will be people like us around for ever?”

I know a little something of what it is to be treated differently in this world. Whenever I took an exam at school, college, even university, I would be given extra time, usually an hour, because that was what disabled students got. Regardless of the fact that my only concern was being able to communicate effectively in big echoey halls – I’m deaf y’see – one category fit us all for the differently-abled… And that does something to you no matter how confident you are, to be shunted off to the special room even by the most well-meaning of souls and God knows I had some amazing teachers who provided invaluable help.

That feeling of being considered ‘different’ came flooding back to me while watching Ben Weatherill’s achingly beautiful play Jellyfish in the studio space at the Bush Theatre. It’s a feeling that dominates Kelly’s life. At 27, she’s convinced of her own independence and a burgeoning relationship with the slightly older Neil promises much. Kelly has Down’s Syndrome and lives with her mother Agnes though, a mother who has provided unerringly constant care for her daughter and can’t conceive that this could ever be a healthy relationship. She means well, so very well, but at what cost? Does the help she offers square with the needs of a young woman yearning for sexual maturity. Continue reading “Review: Jellyfish, Bush”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Roman Theatre of Verulamium St Albans

OVO Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing gets transplanted to a 50s American diner in the ruins of the Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans, and to great effect

“I saw him scurrying away in melancholy like James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause

A first trip to St Albans for me, and to the atmospheric surroundings of the Roman Theatre of Verulamium, where OVO Theatre have established quite the reputation for open-air Shakespeare alongside their more regular programming at the Maltings Theatre. And the prospect of a Much Ado About Nothing drenched in 1950s Americana was one that piqued my interest, even if the well-realised shiny set design sits a little incongruously among the Roman ruins.

Adam Nichols and Janet Podd’s bold re-envisioning of the play pays dividends in all sorts of unexpected ways – this is Messina but not as we know it. We find ourselves in 1959 at Leonata’s Bar and Grill, a fine music venue somewhere in the Midwest, where the crew of the USS Gull are to rock up after a tour in the Far East. And in a bit of extratextual business at the beginning, we see Leonata’s daughter Hero Beyoncé her way into the role of lead singer in up-and-coming band The Sonnettes. The name of the woman she replaced? Joanna. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Roman Theatre of Verulamium St Albans”

News: Full casting for Company announced – but what does this really mean for a gender-switched production

Full casting for Elliott Harper’s Company announced – but what does this really mean for a gender-switched production. I crunch some numbers…

The full castlist for Marianne Elliott’s revival of Company has now been revealed, Jonathan Bailey’s casting as Jamie a late twist in the tale in a production trading on the interest of its gender-switching. Making Amy Jamie finally has the impact of queering the show as he remains partnered to Paul; but the rest of the show looks like it merely reinforces the heteronormativity of the world in general. Continue reading “News: Full casting for Company announced – but what does this really mean for a gender-switched production”

Review: The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre

Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley are superb in new epic play The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre

“Let’s go to this magical music box called America”

At a time when Lady Liberty’s message was actually heeded, when the USA lifted the lamp to its golden door and welcomed all that immigrants could bring, three German Jewish brothers made the journey from Bavaria in the 1840s and set up shop in Montgomery, Alabama. From selling cotton cloth to brokering cotton sales to diversifying into other markets, other cities, they built up their family business into a financial services behemoth, the very embodiment of the American Dream. The name of that firm – Lehman Brothers…

Thus The Lehman Trilogy is a tale of boom to bust. Stefano Massini’s epic play, adapted here by Ben Power in a National Theatre and Neal Street Productions co-production, takes a generational viewpoint to move us through 170 years of American history and three generations of Lehman men. And in the hands of Simon Russell Beale (Henry), Ben Miles (Emanuel) and Adam Godley (Mayer), they could scarcely be better in Sam Mendes’ sleekly poised and pacey production. Not only do they play the brothers, their son and their grandsons, they cover all the other roles as they narrate their own story – it truly is an acting tour-de-force. Continue reading “Review: The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre”

Review: If We Were Older, National Theatre

Alice Schofield’s New Views-winning play If We Were Older is an absolute triumph at the National Theatre – a bright new talent is discovered

“An old woman is staring at me holding hands with a girl on the tube…”

Wowzers! I was hoping for an enjoyable afternoon catching up on some of the plays that were shortlisted for the National Theatre’s New Views teen playwriting competition, but I wasn’t expecting to be completely blown away by the one that was victorious. If We Were Older by Alice Schofield (a student of CAPA College, Wakefield) proves a more than worthy winner and absolutely, completely, worth junking your plans for late Friday afternoon so that you can catch its final performance. 

On finally getting round to watching Patrick Gale’s Man in an Orange Shirt, I was left a tad disappointed in the conventionally linear way it explored its dual timestreams. And it is tempting to think that Schofield might have felt the same way, as as her characters Maggie and Daisy have a little contretemps on the tube, the fallout in which she explores each of their personal histories is beautifully commingled, their stories intricately entwined as we discover they’re so much more alike than they could ever know. Continue reading “Review: If We Were Older, National Theatre”

Review: New Views – Rehearsed Readings

The National Theatre’s New Views playwriting competition for 14 to 19-year-olds throws up some real winners in its shortlist.

This year’s New Views programme saw the National Theatre engage with 74 schools across the UK, offering workshops with writers like Luke Barnes, Dawn King, Winsome Pinnock and Chino Odimba to help 14 to 19-year olds learn about writing plays. Over 300 plays were then submitted and 10 shortlisted. The winning play – If We Were Older – is receiving a full production and the other 9 are getting the rehearsed reading treatment, some of which I was able to catch.

I really enjoyed It’s More Than Okay Levi by Robert Lazarus (Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Hertfordshire) – crying at plays about Alzheimer’s is my jam (the kind of emotional torture I like to put myself through…) and even in the reduced circumstances of this reading, I have to say there was a tear or two prickling away. Continue reading “Review: New Views – Rehearsed Readings”

Review: One For Sorrow, Royal Court

Sadly not the Steps musical of my dreams, One For Sorrow nevertheless left me a bit disappointed at the Royal Court

You will do anything, in the end, to keep the people you love safe”

Finally, the Steps musical we’ve all been waiting for, and at no less august an institution as the Royal Court…

Sadly though, Cordelia Lynn’s One For Sorrow is a cruel attempt to lure Steps fans into theatres, leaving their hopes dashed. It’s no less than a tragedy.

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Review: Always Right There, RADA Festival

As the third headline show in the RADA Festival, Always Right There doesn’t quite hit the mark despite the best of intentions

“Had he really anything really wrong at all?”

It is always tricky to respond to a piece that doesn’t quite work for you. And when it is one that is as suffused in the #MeToo movement as Natalia Rossetti’s Always Right There is, it is even more so, I’m a cis man as well FFS. So how to step around such an issue? As sensitively as possible and acknowledging any inherent bias.

As the third of the headline shows at this year’s RADA Festival, it is clear that much work has gone into the show. Rossetti’s focus is on sexual harassment, at the level that seemingly permeates every level of society and yet is not deemed serious enough (for the most part) to be worth reporting. These are delivered in vignettes from the participants of a spin class and broken up by slices of everyday dialogue between two millenial flatmates. Continue reading “Review: Always Right There, RADA Festival”