Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

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: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre

Some of the beauty of Flowers for Mrs Harris gets lost at Chichester Festival Theatre but it remains a striking new musical

“It’s a work of art… something not real, made to make you feel”

I had much love for Flowers for Mrs Harris when it premiered in Sheffield a couple of years ago, and so I was delighted to see Daniel Evans deciding to revive it at his new abode over in Chichester. My only cavil came with the placing of this most heartfelt musical in the vast space of the Festival Theatre rather than the intimacy of the Minerva where it might perhaps have been better served.

So much of the beauty of the show (book by Rachel Wagstaff from Paul Gallico’s novel, music & lyrics by Richard Taylor) comes from the fact that it isn’t a bells and whistles epic. It is something far more subtle that truly celebrates the ordinary in extraordinary, as Clare Burt’s charlady Ada Harris dares to dream of owning a Christian Dior dress and in working to achieve that dream, illuminates the lives of those around her.

Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: The Country Wife, Minerva

A cracking cast can’t quite make sense of a modern updating of The Country Wife at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre

“What is wit in a wife good for, but to make a man a cuckold?”

How many productions does it take for a playwright to have a moment? We could be on the cusp of a Wycherley wave, with the second production of The Country Wife to arrive this year (the first being at the Southwark Playhouse in April). 

But though this Restoration writer is proving popular, directors seem unable not to tinker with his work – that production was set in the 1920s and Jonathan Munby here moves it even further to the present day, casting new light but also dimming its intent. Continue reading “Review: The Country Wife, Minerva”

Not-a-review: The Chalk Garden, Chichester Festival Theatre

The Chalk Garden fails to do it for me at Chichester Festival Theatre, despite the presence of the likes of Penelope Keith, Oliver Ford Davies  and Amanda Root

“Oh, if I could only be somewhere other than where I am”

But question The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre, insufferably dull as it turned out to be.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
The Chalk Garden is booking at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 16th June

Review: Quiz, Noël Coward

Whether you get to make your West End debut or not, James Graham’s Quiz is great fun at the Noël Coward Theatre

“It’s a 50:50 – guilty or not-guilty”

It’s taken me a little while to get around to seeing James Graham’s Quiz but it proved more than worth it as this particular matinée was undoubtedly enhanced by the West End debut of…me and my Aunty Jean! Treading the boards of the Noël Coward Theatre was an unexpected bonus to a highly enjoyable afternoon, and I look forward to the next role that Mr Graham creates for me…

But back to the matter at hand. Transferring over from Chichester, Quiz takes a cock-eyed look at the world of light entertainment, and the way in which ‘constructed reality’ has bled into the larger narrative not just of our television, but of our society. Using the ‘coughing major’ scandal of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as a jump-off point, we dive into meaty notions of truth and justice in a media-dominated age. Continue reading “Review: Quiz, Noël Coward”

Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead

With the magnificent Sharon D Clarke at the helm, Caroline, or Change transfers to the Hampstead Theatre London with all its power intact

“Dressed in white and feelin’ low,
talkin’ to the washer and the radio”

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s complex and challenging civil rights musical Caroline, or Change makes its long-awaited London return to the Hampstead theatre, more than a decade after its well-received National Theatre production took the Olivier for Best New Musical but found no further life.

Michael Longhurst’s production was first seen in Chichester last May (here’s my review) and whilst it is a shame that that original cast aren’t all present here (the glorious Nicola Hughes, Gloria Onitiri, Jennifer Saayeng all now elsewhere), it holds on to the titanic talents of Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibideaux. Continue reading “Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead”

Review: The Norman Conquests, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’ve learned though bitter experience that the last thing to do with Norman is take him seriously. That’s exactly what he wants.”

What to do with theatre vouchers? Trying to find the kind of theatrical experience that I might not normally have splashed out on isn’t always the easiest, so Chichester Festival Theatre’s announcement that their staging of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests would be in the round, and that onstage ‘terrace’ seating would be available, a plan fell into place. And so for two of the three plays, I was up onstage (in different seats) and for the third, down in the stalls.

Seeing the plays from different perspectives felt appropriate as that is the nature of Ayckbourn’s trilogy written in 1973. Three times we visit the same group of six characters over the same weekend but based in a different part of the house. So (in the order I saw them on this trilogy day, a couple of days before press night I should add), Table Manners is set in the dining room, Living Together in the living room, and Round and Round the Garden is in the attic*. Continue reading “Review: The Norman Conquests, Chichester Festival Theatre”