Review: Sweet Charity, Donmar Warehouse

Nowhere near enough charm in this Sweet Charity for my liking. Josie Rourke’s farewell to the Donmar Warehouse is grey rather than silver

“I’m always looking for an emotional experience”

When the light lands just right on Robert Jones’ set for Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse, it sparkles like silver; the rest of the time, it is rather grey. Sadly, that’s pretty much rather true as a whole for Josie Rourke’s production here, her farewell as Artistic Director here.

Those bright spots are dazzling. Debbie Kurup and Lizzie Connolly are superb as Charity’s pals and co-workers Helene and Nickie, dreaming their dreams with real circumspection. Martin Marquez’s velvety smoothness is charm personified as movie star Vittorio Vidal. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Home, I’m Darling, Duke of York’s Theatre

A return visit to Home, I’m Darling at the Duke of York’s Theatre just confirms how good a play this is and how exceptional Katherine Parkinson is

“You’re 38 and like cleaning behind cupboards”

I don’t think she’ll win but I reckon Katherine Parkinson deserves the Best Actress in a Play Olivier just for the way that she holds her head. The first act in particular is an absolute delight as she tells us crystal clear exactly how she is feeling just by the angle at which it is tilted – cringing at bad language, sussing out competition for her husband’s attention, listening to her mother…   

Parkinson is far from the only reason to book for Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling, maintaining the National’s track record of leveraging sell-out runs in the Dorfman into West End transfers (Beginning, Nine Night…).  Anna Fleischle’s design is a thing of wonder (and I liked getting to see it from above from the upper circle here as opposed to the Dorfman’s stalls) and every single detail is perfectly observed, right down to the milk bottle tops. Continue reading “Review: Home, I’m Darling, Duke of York’s Theatre”

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”

Review: Operation Black Antler, Southbank Centre

Daring and detailed, Operation Black Antler is a powerfully thought-provoking piece of immersive theatre booking out of the Southbank Centre

“Let’s go for a deep swim”

When a company sticks the term ‘immersive’ on its marketing copy, it can too often be a wishy-washy attempt to lure its audience in without really making them engage on any meaningful level. There’s no danger of that with Blast Theory and Hydrocracker’s Operation Black Antler though, as your undercover police mission to infiltrate a suspect protest group means you have to get right in there, really challenging yourself to see how far you can, or should, go in the name of national security.

So much of the thrill of the event comes from the unknown (is it time for more You Me Bum Bum Train yet?) so no spoilers here, but I will say that there’s something shockingly effective about the set-up, the ease with which one can slip into someone else’s shoes and adopt a voice full of abhorrent messaging, ostensibly for the greater good. You can choose how much or how little you engage with the process but let’s face it, no-one is booking an immersive show to embrace your retiring wallflower side! Continue reading “Review: Operation Black Antler, Southbank Centre”

Review: Sunday Encounters – Anne Reid interviews Derek Jacobi, Theatre Royal Haymarket

A lovely way to spend a Sunday, a Sunday Encounter with Anne Reid interviewing Derek Jacobi at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

“That’s had Russell Crowe’s bum on it”

My first trip to the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s Sunday Encounters programme saw us watching Anne Reid interview Sir Derek Jacobi for a hugely enjoyable couple of hours. Co-stars on Last Tango in Halifax, their affection for each other was palpable from the off and clearly based in a shared wry sense of humour which kept the evening from ever getting too ‘luvvie’.

But if anyone has had the kind of career that allows them to take that term and thoroughly own it, it is Jacobi. A stage and screen veteran with over 50 years experience, it’s a constant race to pick up the names he drops in passing when referring to Laurence, Maggie, Peter, Judi, Ian…such is the gobsmacking range of his collaborators from across the highest echelons of British cultural life.In many ways, it felt like a worthy sequel to There’s Nothing Like A Dame. Continue reading “Review: Sunday Encounters – Anne Reid interviews Derek Jacobi, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story, Hope Theatre

A twisted but thrilling true crime two-hander – Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story is a must-see at the Hope Theatre

“If this keeps going on I’ll go crazy
I’m aroused, you’re conveniently lazy”

How far to go in the name of erotic obsession? You’d hesitate to call Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story a love story, what happens here is far too dark and twisted for that, but what you do get is a horribly fascinating study of twisting power dynamics and blurred moralities. And with sex thrown into the equation, it becomes a heady combination, enough to drive you to…well, you’ll see.

Stephen Dolginoff’s one-act musical is based on the true story of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold but rather than glorifying their crimes, including murder, it focuses on the extraordinary relationship between these two men in 1920s Chicago. Lovers, abusers, conspirators, victims, they slip and slide from pillar to post as we try to make sense of who they are and what they do to each other.
Continue reading “Review: Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story, Hope Theatre”

Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”