Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange

Aletta Collins’ new choreography is just one of the highlights of a most successful West Side Story at the Royal Exchange

“Sleep well and when you dream
Dream of me”

For an undoubted classic of the musical theatre, West Side Story really isn’t revived all that often but 2019 seems determined to rectify that. The Curve have announced it as their Christmas show, Ivo van Hove is reimagining it on Broadway, and Steven Spielberg is remaking the film for good measure. But getting the (beautifully balletic) jump on all of them is Manchester’s Royal Exchange, whose revival is the first to be performed with new choreography replacing the iconic moves of original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

And only naturally, Sarah Frankcom’s production soars when it puts Aletta Collins’ new moves front and centre. They are certainly recognisably inspired by Robbins but there’s an unmistakeable freshness that is just beautiful to watch and there’s something great about the fact they’re all doing it in Converse. The repeated ronds de jambe are iconic in their own way, an emotional grace is suffused throughout, and hints of contemporary nod to the physicality of two warring gangs, coiled bodies poised on Anna Fleischle’s climbing frame design. Fleischle has also maximised the floor space of the Exchange to great effect, the aesthetic is pure dance and it works. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Royal Exchange”

Review: Abigail’s Party, Opera House Manchester

This touring production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party opts for comedy rather than tragicomedy at the Opera House Manchester, losing a little depth in order to find more laughs

“Let’s get pissed”

I spotted at least two people dressed up as Beverly at this matinée of Abigail’s Party at Manchester’s Opera House, a sure sign of cult status for any play. But it also means that their particular version of it can be stuck in aspic, making it difficult for any new interpretation to break through one’s own pre-programmed laugh track, to offer up a new reading of an oh-so-familiar text.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone – for me, ‘Demis Roussos’ is up there with ‘a handbag’ in terms of iconic lines – but Mike Leigh’s play has always struck me as a desperately sad one rather than an out and out comedy. Last year’s production at Hornchurch and the Menier’s 2012 production brought those sour notes but interestingly, Sarah Esdaile’s touring production opts for out and out farce. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party, Opera House Manchester”

Review: Hair, Palace Theatre Manchester

This 50th anniversary tour of Hair the Musical does more than any to make me like the show, at the Palace Theatre Manchester

“Grab your blankets, and something to suck”

True story, I’m no real big fan of Hair. I’ve seen it a couple of times now and it just doesn’t grab me in the way that so many other classic musicals do. But when looking for a Wednesday matinée to complete my trip to Manchester, it was the only show in town. And given that this Aria Entertainment, Senbla and Hope Mill Theatre production was born here in Manchester, it seemed only right to give it another shot.

And I have to say, in its 50th anniversary year, it is beginning to win me over. The music (by Galt MacDermot) may not occupy a special place in my soul and the book (by Gerome Ragni and James Rado) remains chronically weak but there’s something so persuasive about Jonathan O’Boyle’s production that is entirely seductive, and feels even more so in the grander theatres in which it is now touring, as opposed to the more intimate spaces it has previously occupied. Continue reading “Review: Hair, Palace Theatre Manchester”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse

I like almost everything about The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre apart from the main performance…

“I am not going out of my mind, my mind is going out of me”

Mark Gatiss has been getting rave reviews for his performance in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse but for me, there was just a little bit too much of
for my liking. There’s lots to love in Adam Penfold’s production, particularly in key supporting roles like Adrian Scarborough’s Dr Willis and Debra Gillett’s Queen Charlotte, and some of the smaller parts like Nadia Albina’s Fitzroy and Jack Holden’s Greville.

And I enjoyed that Penfold cast several of the ostensibly male parts with women, allowing the likes of Louise Jameson and Stephanie Jacob. Throw in a lusciously opulent design from Robert Jones and strikingly dramatic lighting from Richard Howell, and it’s a real theatrical treat, a real statement of intent from this nicely ambitious artistic director.  Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: Heart of Darkness, Birmingham REP

A hugely thought-provoking, contemporary retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness from innovative theatre company imitating the dog

The story is impossible to tell, but it must be told”

Are some stories just too problematically complex to tell in today’s society? Or is there value in trying to pick them apart, to get to the heart of them in an attempt to understand? imitating the dog clearly cleave to the latter point of view as they forensically dissect Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (“it’s of its time, and that time is racist”) in this hugely thought-provoking production which creates a film noir-inspired adaptation in front of us.

Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks’ reworking is breath-taking in the formal invention of its scope, exploring the intersection of theatre and technology as well as thoroughly interrogating the text. So discussions about the inherent problems of the story smash up against striking effect-laden work on a green screen, spoken stage directions nestle next to a lip-synced Francis Ford Coppola. It’s a sensory overload. Continue reading “Review: Heart of Darkness, Birmingham REP”

Full list of 2018 UK Theatre Awards winners

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have just announced the winners for the 2018 awards, which include a well-deserved Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre for Maxine Peake – take a look at her acceptance speech here. 

Continue reading “Full list of 2018 UK Theatre Awards winners”

Friday feeling – news aplenty

All hail the return of Nicola Walker to the stage! Get your tickets for Camelot! Discover the Heart of Darkness! Get your exam in musical theatre singing with ABRSM!


London Musical Theatre Orchestra has announced casting for Saturday’s concert version of Camelot at the London Palladium and there’s still a few tickets going. Packed with some of musical theatre’s best songs, LMTO’s concert version with full orchestra will celebrate the centenary of Alan Jay Lerner’s birth.

The role of Arthur will be played by Olivier Award-winner David Thaxton (Passion / Les Misérables / Jesus Christ Superstar), Guenevere will be played by Savannah Stevenson (Wicked / Aspects of Love / Follies), and Lancelot will be played by internationally renowned opera star Charles Rice (Mozart’s Requiem The Barber of Seville / Candide). Continue reading “Friday feeling – news aplenty”

Review: Cock, Minerva

Mike Bartlett’s Cock receives a stirring revival from director Kate Hewitt at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre 

“I suppose I like both, but that’s okay isn’t it, that’s okay?”

Sometimes you look back at a cast you’ve seen and think wow, I’m glad I booked for that. The original Royal Court production of Mike Bartlett’s Cock – revived here at Chichester’s Minerva – had a cast that included no less than Katherine Parkinson, Andrew Scott and Ben Whishaw enclosed in the claustrophobic intimacy of Miriam Buether’s brilliant design. So no pressure for director Kate Hewitt to live up to, honest…

And it is pressure that she lives up to, mainly because Bartlett’s play remains as fresh as a daisy (chain) nearly 10 years after it was written. Its exploration of fluid sexuality feels ripped out of the frothing mouth of clickbait-muffin Piers Morgan, its rejection of conventional sexual identity labels still a key issue for many, the complication of the dating world in the 21st century as sharply pertinent as ever.
Continue reading “Review: Cock, Minerva”

Review: Sweet Charity, Nottingham Playhouse

A sparkling lead turn from Rebecca Trehearn, and brilliant choreography from Alistair David, enliven this Sweet Charity at Nottingham Playhouse

“Your game makes very good sense”

So pleased to have managed to squeak into Nottingham Playhouse’s Sweet Charity before it finished, this is what everyone uses their annual leave for, right…?! The second major production of the show in recent months following the Watermill’s strong actor-muso interpretation this summer, it is one which makes a bold move in introducing Alistair David’s choreography to give this 1966 musical a fresh lick of paint.

It’s the only real sense of updating that Bill Buckhurst’s production provides but it is an impactful one, David reimagining almost wholesale and invigorating the almost-too-familiar sounds of Cy Coleman’s classic score. In takis’ podium-based design, it looks a dream and more than justifies new AD Adam Lenson’s decision to reintroduce musicals to the programme here after an absence of more than a decade. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Nottingham Playhouse”