Review: The Story / Hela, Theatre503

The Other Room’s The Story and Hela make a delightful and daring double bill of Welsh drama at Theatre503

Do’s dim hawl ’da ti adael,
You don’t get to leave,
Do’s dim hawl ’da ti anghofio pwy wyt ti
You don’t get to forget who you really are”

A brilliant idea this – Cardiff’s OG pub theatre The Other Room has gathered up the three plays that made up their recent The Violence Series and sent them out on tour. They’re mainly visiting Welsh venues but there’s also a stop at Theatre503, allowing London audiences a highly tempting taster of the quality of work available at the other end of the M4.

I caught two of the three – The Story and Hela being presented in a double bill, Matthew Bulgo’s American Nightmare making up the set of dystopian dramas. That said, you have to wonder at what point we stop calling it dystopia and simply call it tomorrow, a pressing sense of disturbing resonance and relevance that is particularly brought out in Tess Berry-Hart’s The Story. Continue reading “Review: The Story / Hela, Theatre503”

Review: The Process, Bunker Theatre

BAZ Productions’ The Process proves bold and striking in its use of BSL and spoken English, if a little flawed too, now running at the Bunker Theatre

“Would you like me to speak for myself?”

You can’t say they didn’t warn you. Captions like “no-one will understand everything” and “no two people can have the same experience” flash up on the wall before The Process starts – “that is how it is meant to be” we’re gently but insistently told.  For this is a story told in both BSL and spoken English, with overlaps and gaps deliberately built in, probing at our need to understand everything, exemplifying that for some, that is an unimaginable luxury.

Sarah Bedi’s play posits a near-dystopia (ie sometime soon after 31st January…!) where notions of personal economic cost have become a major driver in a political system where the power of the state is becoming monolithic. Jo Kay, a Deaf entrepreneur, has developed the app which is being used to measure people’s contributions and costs to society but though she is ostensibly being celebrated as part of the establishment, she soon sees her tool weaponised against her. Continue reading “Review: The Process, Bunker Theatre”

Review: Tom Brown’s School Days, Union Theatre

A musical adaptation of Tom Brown’s School Days at the Union Theatre has some moments, and performances, to treasure

“Just don’t get caught”

It is now the fifth year that the Phil Willmott Company’s themed series of Essential Classics has taken over the Union Theatre and this year’s season takes on the mantle of V.E. Day, 75 Years On, looking at Britain and WWII through the lens of Noël Coward, musical theatre and this opening production of Tom Brown’s School Days.

Full disclosure, I have to admit to knowing basically nothing about Tom Brown…, Thomas Hughes’ novels and its subsequent adaptations never having figured in my childhood. So the fact that Willmott’s new version moves the action from the 1830s to the 1940s has no impact on my expectations, though it has raised an eyebrow or three from those to whom I’ve mentioned it. Continue reading “Review: Tom Brown’s School Days, Union Theatre”

Review: Antigone, New Diorama

Holy What’s Antigone at the New Diorama shifts the focus of Sophocles’ play onto two young sisters to powerful effect

“Do you think they’ll come back from the war…both of them?”

There’s a pleasing trend toward giving voice to the under-represented through revisiting familiar narratives (cf Six, & Juliet; Teenage Dick) and Holy What’s new production of Antigone makes for a fine addition to that canon. Lulu Raczka’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek classic resites the story as an ongoing  interaction between the two sisters Antigone and Ismene and proves all the more compelling for it.

The result is a restless psychological study that forefronts sisterhood, teenage emotion and the impact that trauma has on those left behind. Set in the elegant but eerie space of Lizzie Leech’s metatheatrical design, Tig and Issy play a series of games to try and distract themselves from the fact that their Uncle Creon has locked them in while their brothers Eteocles and Polynices wage civil war against each other. But games only go so far… Continue reading “Review: Antigone, New Diorama”

Review: Six the Musical, Lowry

A belated report on a family trip to the Lowry to see the touring version of the ever-exciting Six the Musical

“It’s the end of the show of the historemix
We switched up the flow and we changed the prefix”

It’s not too often that I get to go to the theatre with my whole family, so a festive trip to the Lowry to see Six the Musical was a definite treat over Christmas. And to see it from the front row too…quite the experience. I’ve seen the show one and a bit times before so I knew what to expect, but the thrill of being that close really did make a difference (even if I was convinced that Katherine Howard was going to kick me in the face at some point or other!).

And it was great to see all 10 of us really enjoy ourselves, grandparents to grandkids (and me the middle child, what else?!). Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ anarchic history – sorry, herstory! –  lesson has lost none of its effervescence or energy in this touring version. It helps of course that it is a relatively lo-tech show to run but it has clearly settled well in Salford for this Christmas sojourn as it was packed out and an extra week has been added to the schedule too. Continue reading “Review: Six the Musical, Lowry”

The finalists of The Offies 2020

The finalists for the 2020 Offies (for performances in 2019) have been announced and congratulations to all 89 mentioned below. A tip of the hat too to the 400+ nominees who you can find here.

DESIGN

Design: Costume
Adrian Gee, Amour, Charing Cross Theatre
Emily Bestow, 42nd Street, Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Hannah Wolfe , Great Expectations, National Youth
Theatre, Southwark Playhouse

Design: Set
Diego Pitarch, Night of the Living Dead – Live!,
Pleasance
Justin Williams, Whistle Down the Wind, Union
Theatre
Lee Newby, The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre
Rachael Ryan, Thrill Me, Hope Theatre

Design: Sound
Benjamin Grant, The War of the Worlds, New Diorama
Lex Kosanke, Hunger, Arcola
Matt Eaton, All’s Well That Ends Well, Guildford Bard,
Jermyn Street Theatre
Xana, Blood Knot, Orange Tree

Design: Lighting
Christopher Nairne, Preludes, Southwark Playhouse
Clancy Flynn, An Act of God, Vaults
Jessica Hung Han Yun, Equus, English Touring Theatre,
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Nic Farman, Night of the Living Dead – Live!, Pleasance

Design: Video
Andrzej Goulding, The Unreturning, Theatre Royal
Stratford East
Ben Bull, Baby Reindeer, Bush Theatre
Douglas Baker, Moby Dick, Jack Studio Theatre Continue reading “The finalists of The Offies 2020”

Broadway Album Reviews: The New Yorkers / Kiss Me, Kate! / Beetlejuice

I tackle a trio of  Broadway cast recordings in the shape of Cole Porter’s The New Yorkers, Kiss Me, Kate! and Beetlejuice 

“Most gentlemen can’t be profound”

As it only played a handful of performances, the release of Cole Porter’s The New Yorkers (2017 Encores! Cast Recording) is a welcome chance to revisit this rarely seen musical. The recording is certainly aided by the presence of such musical theatre stalwarts as Scarlett Strallen and Tam Mutu (scintillating together on ‘Where Have You Been?’), the revelation for me is jazz singer Cyrille Aimée, who delivers a slinkily devastating rendition of ‘Love for Sale’ that makes it feel like the song was written for her.

Photo © Caitlin Ochs

Aside from the songs written by Jimmy Durante (his comic stylings at their best on Act 1 closer ‘Wood’ delivered with panache by Kevin Chamberlin), the prevailing aesthetic is one of classic Cole Porter elegance, Rob Berman’s musical direction finding just the right level of sparkling verve to blow off any lingering cobwebs and infuse real life into the material. Ruth Williamson’s witty ‘The Physician’, Mylinda Hull’s just-as-funny ‘The Great Indoors’, Strallen leading the ecstatic finale ‘I Happen to Like New York’…the pleasures here abound.

Sticking with the glorious Cole Porter, and who wouldn’t!, this year has also seen the release of Kiss Me, Kate! (2019 Broadway Cast Recording). It’s a show that I have a little difficulty with, never having seen a production that managed to sufficiently square its period gender dynamics with (my) contemporary sensibilities. But there’s no denying a songbook that contains the likes of ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘So In Love and ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’.

Photo © Joan Marcus

And when you have the likes of Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase singing them, you’re in the territory of dreamily good. Whether together on the oom-pah-pah of ‘Wunderbar’ or separately on their respective renditions of ‘So in Love’, they’re both exceptionally good and utterly listenable. Also great value for money are ‘B’ couple Stephanie Styles and Corbin Bleu, pulling focus brilliantly wherever they pop up.

And last but not least, even if Mr Porter isn’t involved here, we have Beetlejuice (Original Broadway Cast Recording). From its opening minutes, (“Holy crap! A ballad already?”), it is clear that there’s a properly anarchic spirit at play here and Eddie Perfect’s score, led by a highly charismatic Alex Brightman who clearly is having a ball as he repeatedly breaks through the fourth wall (if there is one when you’re listening…?)

Photo © Matthew Murphy

‘The Whole “Being Dead” Thing is a genius opening number, prologue aside, and sets the tone for the Perfect’s pop-rock tunes, several of which feel like they have the potential to earworm their way into your brain (the refrain of ‘Fright of Their Lives is currently stuck in mine). Supported by vibrant work from Kerry Butler and Rob McClure and a cleverly sung performance from Sophia Anne Caruso as the Winona-waif Lydia, if Beetlejuice struggles to find a new home on Broadway then I’ll happily welcome it into the West End!

Broadway Album Reviews: Hadestown / Jagged Little Pill / Oklahoma!

Encouraged by their Curtain Up nominations, I take a quick look at the Broadway cast recordings for Hadestown, Jagged Little Pill and Oklahoma!

“I want you to know, that I am happy for you”

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t got around to reviewing the original Broadway cast recording of Hadestown since I listen to it at least once a week, such is the enduring strength of Anaïs Mitchell’s glorious score. I loved the show so much at the National, that I’d already booked to go and see it again before I got home that evening, and getting to dive deep into this recording is about as close as I’ll get to seeing it again (I doubt it’ll return here any time soon although the West End is crying out for its inventiveness).

Those of us who loved the show in London are blessed that the Broadway transfer retained its key cast. So the intense vitality of Amber Gray, the easy swing of André De Shields, the indie-pop sweetness of Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada and the gravelly hotness of Patrick Page remain intact. And those tunes! The plaintive cries of ‘Wait for Me’, the slinkiness of ‘When the Chips Are Down’, the incredible prescience of ‘Why We Build The Wall’, the sheer glee of ‘Way Down Hadestown’, it is a winner from start to finish for me. Continue reading “Broadway Album Reviews: Hadestown / Jagged Little Pill / Oklahoma!”

My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

TV Review: Sticks and Stones

Mike Bartlett adapts his play Bull for the TV in the form of Sticks and Stones, with mixed if enjoyable results

“Maybe it’s banter”

I had clocked that Sticks and Stones that a new TV drama written and created by Mike Bartlett, hence it appearing pretty high on my to-watch list. What I hadn’t realised was that it is an adaptation of his cracking 2013 play Bull, which I have seen a fair few times, dating back to a reading in 2010. Given that the play was less than an hour and this serial was three (ITV) hours, I was intrigued to see how an extended version of this workplace bullying drama would work and I was pleased to see Ken Nwosu leading the cast, which included an alumni of the Young Vic production in Susannah Fielding.

And in line with the way his TV writing has been skewing, the result is something far more melodramatically silly than you’d ever expect from Bartlett in a theatre. I don’t say it as a particularly negative thing, more a statement of fact. The tautness of the play’s running time meant that once teeth were bared, it was one vicious snarl through to the end, heart-racingly menacing in its cruelty. Here, there’s much more time to fill and so it is more of slow build, as nice guy Thomas is essentially gaslit by his cut-throat team of property mangers (“we’re now able to offer a bespoke office solution”). Continue reading “TV Review: Sticks and Stones”