Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Perhaps predictably, I have anything but a lovely jubbly time at Only Fools and Horses The Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You can’t whack the big pineapple”

Full disclosure – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an episode of Only Fools and Horses voluntarily. I mean I’ve seen clips and I’ve probably been in a room where other people were watching it, but it was never a show that has figured in my life. So news of Only Fools and Horses The Musical didn’t bring quite the excitement it did for so many others, ensuring that this was a commercial success long before any critics got near it.

And as such, my own reaction can only be viewed through this lens. When people say ‘you don’t have to have seen the TV show to get the jokes’. I can tell you they’re having a laugh. This musical is suffused with injokes, from the pre-show announcements onwards and in some ways, rightly so (having had a similar kind of experience with Acorn Antiques the Musical in this very theatre). Continue reading “Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Tartuffe, National Theatre

Denis O’Hare shines as Tartuffe in Blanche McIntyre’s directorial debut at the National Theatre

“We don’t have orgies here, this is Highgate”

The lure of the guru is one which has always been strong for the rich and powerful and from Rasputin to Steve Hilton, there’s always some long-haired, barefoot chancer to ready step in. This partly explains why Molière’s Tartuffe remains so popular today and also why it is so ripe for adaptation, as it done here in this new version by John Donnelly, directed by Blanche McIntyre in her National Theatre debut (and how to marvellous to see her here, I’ve been a fan since her days at the Finborough).

Relocated to a hyper-rich, modern-day Highgate – Robert Jones’ opulent design is full of the type of wonderful pieces of furniture you normally only see in shop windows on the King’s Road – Orgon’s family have become concerned at his increasing devotion to his new guru figure Tartuffe. And in Denis O’Hare’s hand, you can see why – he’s quite the charismatic chancer, he spends the pre-show roaming the auditorium giving out flowers and affirmations even though it may, at first glance, just look like someone has come in off the street. Continue reading “Review: Tartuffe, National Theatre”

Review: [title of show], Above the Stag

Four cracking performances make [title of show] a musical highlight of the month at the Above the Stag Theatre, more than holding its own with the West End

“A musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical”

In a month full of major West End musicals opening, [title of show] is a glorious example that bigger isn’t always better. In the studio at the Above the Stag Theatre, something special is on offer, perfectly suited to the intimacy of the space and highlighting some pretty serious musical theatre talent about which we should be shouting as loud as we do those with their faces on billboards on the Strand.

Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen’s (music and lyrics) meta-musical of musical theatre injokes as it depicts two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. And looking for inspiration, they decide to write a show about two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival, using their own words verbatim and bringing two friends onboard as well.  Continue reading “Review: [title of show], Above the Stag”

Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

The highly anticipated musical Come From Away leaves me dry-eyed at the Phoenix Theatre despite a very strong cast

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to see
Thank god we stopped at the duty-free”

I didn’t check the merchandise stand at Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were seeing branded tissues, such is the weight of expectation that comes with this musical, set in the days after 9/11. But rather than New York, the show is set more than 2,000 kilometres away in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks. 

There, in a Canadian town that practically doubled in population overnight, we witness the unfolding of a tragedy but more significantly, the response of a community willing and able to do anything to extend the hand of friendship. Doors are flung open, shoulders proffered, bottles opened, an unquestioned barrage of hospitality seeking to envelop traumatised passengers who had been trapped for hours on their planes (in a pre-social media age remember), only to be released to find out the terrible news. Continue reading “Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre”

Review: The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’, VAULT Festival

Some moments of musical genius in The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’ at the VAULT Festival – worth searching out where you can

“Not so much a variety act, more a mid-life crisis”

There are some moments of musical genius in The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’. A witty take on Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’, a kazoo-aided bossa nova-inflected version of Alanis Morisette’s ‘You Oughta Know’, a gorgeous uke-heavy rendition of Lily Allen’s ‘Fuck You’. And the medleys – who’d’ve thought ’99 Problems’, ‘My Name Is…’ and The Fresh Prince theme song could all be rapped at the same time and still work, same too with ‘I Predict a Riot, ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Here’s Comes the Hotstepper’. Real kudos to whoever did these arrangements.

The repertoire belongs to cabaret act The Martini Encounter who have been disbanded for years. The promise of cold hard cash tempts them out of retirement for one last performance at the Carol Vorderman Playhouse in Little Rimming on Sea, but history weighs heavy on this trio and recriminations spill forth at every opportunity. As they recount the odd tale of their glory days and the many tales of their downfall, you feel the wheels might fall off this bandwagon at any moment. Continue reading “Review: The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’, VAULT Festival”

Review: Call Me Fury, VAULT Festival

Out of the Forest’s Call Me Fury, looks like it might become another hit show for this award-winning company

“Forget everything you know”

Fresh from their Offie-award winning success and more significantly, being named in my top 10 shows of last year, Out of the Forest Theatre return swiftly with their new play Call Me Fury, presented here as a work-in-progress by writer Sasha Wilson. And once again, she urges us to reconsider what we think of as history, whilst constructing a new narrative that seeks to redress some of that patriarchal imbalance.

This time it is the Salem Witch Trials that are the primary target, though Wilson’s forensic eye layers in so much more besides. Notions of women not being believed in courtrooms, men abusing positions of power, lies gaining a terrible currency through all levels of society – there’s a terrible timelessness to so much of the way that women have been and still are treated, history needs to teach us better but it has to be the right history. Continue reading “Review: Call Me Fury, VAULT Festival”

Review: I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t, VAULT Festival

A gameshow gone hilariously, tragically wrong – I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t is full of promise at the VAULT Festival

“Which is better or worse…?”

David Attenborough or Michelle Obama? Magic or science? Going along with the majority or sticking to your own guns? The interactive element of I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t requires some fun decision-making but also offers up something interesting about the psychology of audiences when confronted with even the most harmless of choices.

Dirty Rascals’ I Want You To… takes the form of your archetypal TV game show from an era gone by, as three contestants compete for the accolade of Most Admirable Person. But the contest proves far from benign as the desire to win corrodes into a desperation to be approved, laying bare the ultimate hollowness of seeking such approval from others.  Continue reading “Review: I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t, VAULT Festival”

Review: Marmite, VAULT Festival

My second open relationships in gay couples play at this year’s VAULT Festival, Marmite reveals a writing team with something to say about modern life

“Do you have a condom?
‘I have a Twix wrapper'”

After a meet-cute at the bar in a Bristol Wetherspoons, which sees them both dump the people they’re actually there on dates with, the future for Dylan and Eddie looks peachy. Both in their early 20s with chemistry rocketing off the chart, they’re soon living together and discussing how they’re going to get through Eddie’s sister’s hen do. But life’s never quite as simple as that, and an innocuous question about exclusivity reveals a fundamental difference in their approach to sex and love.

Hallam Breen & Phoebe Simmonds’ Marmite follows Open as another exploration of open relationships in gay couples at the VAULT Festival but ultimately, its strengths are most evident in depicting the minutiae of modern gay life. Theo Walker and Ned Costello both have an easy charm about them and as they navigate the ‘getting to know you’ stage, there’s something quite touching in their innate fondness for each other, deepened by their varying revelations about coming out to family (or not), and their contrasting views on Cher. Continue reading “Review: Marmite, VAULT Festival”

Review: Leia and the Roman, VAULT Festival

The form of the rom-com gets mixed up in Leia and the Roman at the VAULT Festival

“We can’t break up over a Star Wars film”

Is the point at which you introduce roleplay into a relationship a healthy expression of developing desire or a sticking plaster over things going wrong. At first, it seems like it’s the former for Ed and Kate (and when your man looks as good as this centurion, we’re all winners!), but it’s soon apparent that all is not well here. It’s not just that Kate has dressed up as Princess Leia from The Last Jedi rather than Return of the Jedi, but neither really seems to be sure what the costumes are actually for.

Sally O’Leary and James Saville’s play Leia and the Roman tackles the world of modern )straight) dating with something of a coolly  unsentimental eye. Kate and Ed find themselves in a rut even after just a couple of years, unable to even decide on what takeaway to get without squabbling. And as is so often the case, it takes an innocuous argument that snowballs into something worse to force them to dig deep into the truth about where they both are emotionally. O’Leary and Sam Jenkins-Shaw are both really good here, even making us believe the script’s lies about ham and pineapple pizza. Continue reading “Review: Leia and the Roman, VAULT Festival”