Review: Sweet Nothings, Young Vic

“Stop moping, stop brooding…”

Sweet Nothings is David Harrower’s take on Arthur Schnitzler’s Liebelei (Tom Stoppard previously created a version called Dalliance in 1986) and is described as a sex tragedy on the Young Vic’s website. Well, there’s no sex but plenty of tragedy, though perhaps not in the way they intended.

Rather predictably, there’s pandemonium with the seating arrangements. They’re still unreserved as usual with the Young Vic, but it is set up in a horseshoe with benches that are reminiscent of a lecture theatre, but they’re extremely narrow so it is hard to pass people once they’ve sat down. And human nature being what it is, means people always fill these rows from the aisle inwards, meaning that it is a very arduous task to get everyone seated and there’s much huffing and puffing as people are asked to move along to allow everyone in the theatre. I know it is a thankless job, but the ushers need to much firmer with people from the outset, otherwise every evening will suffer a delayed start and much grumpiness. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Nothings, Young Vic”

Review: A Life in Three Acts, Soho Theatre

“You need to see the jewel in its setting”

A Life in Three Acts with Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill has returned to the Soho Theatre, but in a significantly different format to before, evidently in advance of taking the show over to New York. The three acts, previously performed separately, have now been condensed into one two hour show, where legendary drag queen Bourne recounts a series of stories and anecdotes from his highly eventful life.

And what a life he has led: we skim through his childhood in Hackney with an abusive father, his development as an actor, most notably at the Old Vic where he starred with Ian McKellen in Edward II, to the forefront of the fight for gay rights. It was here at the gay liberation meetings that he found himself, or rather found his new persona Bette, which was to shape the rest of his life both with a substitute family in a drag commune in Notting Hill commune and then onto his groundbreaking Bloolips cabaret company that took London and New York by storm. Continue reading “Review: A Life in Three Acts, Soho Theatre”

Review: A Man of No Importance, Arts Theatre

“We had a grand time believing we were bloody wonderful”

After a well-received run at the Union Theatre in Southwark, A Man of No Importance has transferred to the West End to the Arts Theatre with a limited run of just 3 weeks. Based on a film from 1995 starring Albert Finney, a cast of 17 and a band of 6 create an utterly charming, warm-hearted piece of musical theatre that will transport you right away from the freezing outside to a very happy place.

We’re taken to the world of Alfie Byrne, a bus conductor in 1960s Dublin who lives with his sister, has a passion for amateur dramatics, in particular the works of Oscar Wilde, and is hiding a burning desire for his work colleague, Robbie the driver on his bus. His decision to put on a performance of the controversial ‘Salome’ causes ripples in this Catholic, working-class community that multiply and force Alfie onto a journey of discovery, both of the self and of his relationship to those around him. Continue reading “Review: A Man of No Importance, Arts Theatre”

Review: Rope, Almeida with Q+A

“People argue about the queerest things nowadays”

Perhaps an odd choice for a festive show, Rope at the Almeida Theatre is a dark tale of murder, abusive relationships and a dinner party (which I guess is what Christmas is about for some people…) Two Oxford students, Brandon and Granillo murder a third for the existential thrill of committing the ‘perfect murder’, they then invite people, including the dead boy’s father, round for supper, which is served on the chest where the body is stashed. Only one guest begins to suspect something is amiss, Rupert Cadell, a WWI veteran now a world-weary Nietzschean and over the course of the evening, the men try to argue the case for their intellectual superiority and play the dangerous game of trying to get away with murder.

The most arresting thing about this production upon entering the theatre is that it is presented in the round. This is a first for the Almeida and it is highly effective. It gives the real sense of being in the room with the protagonists and also has the visually pleasing effect of placing the chest in the centre of the action, both physically and metaphorically. This worked beautifully in the scenes which had several of the characters on stage, but I felt that when there was just two or three of them, more could have been done to utilise this format: the final face-off scene in particular was very static and played as if on a normal stage. This worked fine for us in our central seats but people to the side would have just seen the back of one or other of the main characters for the final 20 minutes of the play.

Continue reading “Review: Rope, Almeida with Q+A”

Review: Silence! The Musical, Above the Stag

“I’ll throw her in a well so that no-one can find her,
I’ll tuck my dick between my legs and call it a vagina”

Silence! The Musical is described as ‘the unauthorised parody of The Silence of the Lambs‘ and grew from a collection of songs posted on the internet into an off-Broadway show in 2005. It had a two week run in Baron’s Court last year, but this version at the Above the Stag theatre above a Victoria gay bar is billed as the European professional premiere: it has added new material getting its first airing and retains the original director from New York, Christopher Gatelli.

It does what is says on the tin, it’s a relatively faithful rerun of the events of the film where trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling is pressed into interviewing notorious psychiatrist and serial killer Hannibal Lecter in prison in order to help catch another serial killer Buffalo Bill. However, it is mercilessly and hilariously parodied throughout with a book by Hunter Bell and music and lyrics by Jon & Al Kaplan and a chorus of singing and dancing lambs. Continue reading “Review: Silence! The Musical, Above the Stag”

Review: The Little Dog Laughed, Garrick

“You’re like Huckleberry Finn on a raft of rent boys”

I’m not sure at what point something moves from just being popular to becoming a trend, but containing either onstage narration and/or male nudity seems to be recurring with alarming regularity in plays this year. The Little Dog Laughed contains both, but more on those later!

It’s a tale of a up and coming Hollywood actor, Mitchell Green, who just happens to be a closeted homosexual but using the cover of a relationship with his lesbionic agent, Diane in order to maintain the facade. He’s then thrown when he meets and falls for a rent boy, Alex who has a girlfriend Ellen, and decides that he wants to pursue this relationship and come out to the public. This is played against a sub-plot of Diane trying to get a ‘gay play’ made into a movie as a star vehicle for Mitchell, but needing it to be ‘de-gayed’ in order for it to be made and to maintain Mitch’s straight front. Continue reading “Review: The Little Dog Laughed, Garrick”

Review: Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic

“Every person is a new door, opening up into new worlds”

John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation receives its first revival in 18 years with this David Grindley directed production at the Old Vic. Based on a true story of a conman finagling his way into the lives of wealthy Manhattan socialites by pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier, we see the lives of two New York art dealers, Ouisa and Fran Kittredge turned upside down after they take an injured Paul into their home and he wreaks havoc on their lives and those of them around them as he challenges their comfortable existences. It is kept in its original 1980s setting, presumably as the issues around financial greed are as pertinent today, even if those around race and homosexuality are less so.

Onstage narration seems to be the flavour of the month and it is a tricky thing to get right: Innocence fails, Midsummer gets it right, here is somewhere in the middle. There’s a mixture of Ouisa and Fran, and indeed other characters, narrating the events and the action being played out, and I’m not sure the balance is wholly there: it is just so much more entertaining when the actors are engaging with each other and I was frequently left wanting to see more of that. Continue reading “Review: Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic”

Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, Savoy

“You can’t come in here with all your singing, dancing and…ethnic movements”

If Priscilla Queen of the Desert was the marshmallow on top of the whipped cream on top of your cocoa, then Legally Blonde is the full mug of the best Viennese hot chocolate you can imagine. Sticking closely to the story of the film, with just a little streamlining, we follow Elle Woods, a Malibu princess and sorority queen whose world is rocked when her boyfriend leaves her for Harvard Law School and the pursuit of someone more ‘serious’. Elle then follows him but ends up finding out a lot more about herself than she anticipated. The book is completely original and I found it surprisingly good, the opening numbers of ‘Ohmigod you guys’ and ‘What you want’ were both great tunes, ‘Ohmigod’ in particular will not leave your head for hours! There are of course some weaker numbers in there, but never any boring ones which is achievement enough. Continue reading “Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, Savoy”

Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Palace

“Everyone likes to dress up, wear some sequins, get in touch with their feminine side…apart from lesbians that is”

When I found out a great Canadian friend who just happens to be a huge musicals fan was stopping in town briefly in the festive season, I had little doubt of what would be the best thing for us to see: Priscilla Queen of the Desert. For this is not a show about about subtlety: using a carefully judged collection of familiar pop songs, some amazing costumes and a production design team whose maxim was clearly ‘more more more’, this is a fun-packed, crowd-pleasing spectacular that was the perfect anecdote to the horrible weather.

It’s based on the film of the same name, where three ill-matched drag performers take a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs to meet up with the estranged wife and son of one of them, and little has been changed. Of the three leads, Tony Sheldon is superb as the transexual Bernadette, armed with a lifetime’s collection of quick one-liners, a steady grace and an unerring conviction in who she is. The trumpet anecdote is one of the funniest things you will hear all year and Sheldon’s performance holds the show together, elevating it beyond a series of drag turns. Continue reading “Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Palace”

Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Novello

Seeing a deal on lastminute for restricted view tickets for a tenner, I thought I’d squeeze this revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in for a Saturday matinee, but was almost jeopardised by the seats we were allocated: seats AA1&2 in the Grand Circle don’t actually have a restricted view of the stage, because you are actually facing the audience! The seats are about 120 degrees to the stage so you’re basically facing most of the Grand Circle, a great opportunity to fulfil my Glenn Close in Dangerou Liaisons  fantasy, but not the best for playwatching. To see the stage, you need to twist round and then lean quite far forward, which then forces everyone else in the row to lean too. Fortunately, with a house that was only 75% full, we were able to relocate at the end of the first act, but it is truly outrageous that these seats are up for sale at all.

As for the play itself, it is an updated version relocated into the 1980s according to the show literature, although there were curiously few references to this and I don’t think I would have worked it out had I not been informed of it. It’s a tale of a wealthy landowning family who are struggling to conceal the cracks caused by repressed homosexuality, inheritance struggles, alcoholism and the shadow of terminal illness, and I suppose the one benefit of shifting the timing of the play enables the fact that the cast are all black to be not considered an issue. Continue reading “Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Novello”