Review: I and You, Hampstead

Probably best not to read this beforehand if you’re planning to see Game of Thrones’ star Maisie Williams in her stage debut in I and You at the Hampstead Theatre…

“I don’t know, what the hell?”

I could try and write about Lauren Gunderson’s play I and You without giving away the twist, or even the fact that there is a twist, but I don’t want to. Perhaps, I won’t reveal specific details but in some ways, just knowing there’s a rug-pull on the way can significantly alter the way you experience a show (whether on stage or on screen – it will be a job and a half trying to get through GoT’s final season free from any spoileriffic noise).

But back to the Hampstead, and this slight two-hander with its substantial delusions of grandeur. Picking at overworked teen-movie tropes, Caroline and Anthony are two teenagers whose growing connection forms the bedrock of the play. She’s waiting for an organ transplant and so not going into school; he’s got her latest poetry homework assignment and though they don’t know each so well, they’re destined to get on in a heady mix of hormones and Walt Whitman. Continue reading “Review: I and You, Hampstead”

Review: The Humans, Hampstead Theatre

Better than Eclipsed??!! The Humans leave me disappointed at the Hampstead Theatre

“You can never come back”

Huh. The Humans arrived at Hampstead Theatre with the glow of its 2016 Tony Award for Best Play still shining, particularly as its original cast have come over the Atlantic with it. And while I’m hugely appreciate of the opportunity to see another member of The Good Fight cast onstage, and the cast as a whole really were excellent, the play left me somewhat cold and unconvinced of its prize-winning pedigree.

On entering, the heart sinks at the realisation that we’re relying on the much-abused trope of a family coming together around the dinner table and sure enough, beneath the façade of familial jokes and enforced holiday bonhomie (it’s Thanksgiving natch), there’s a whole world of secrets and lies waiting to burst forth. Writer Stephen Karam also layers in a trip to a whole other genre which certainly grabs the attention, but that’s not to say that it works. Continue reading “Review: The Humans, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs

I’m left unmoved by The Strange Death of John Doe, running at the newly press-covered Hampstead Downstairs

“I mean, where does a person begin and end, and when did they stop being a person?”

So it looks like the Hampstead Theatre’s policy of not having its downstairs shows ‘officially’ reviewed has been well and truly junked asThe Strange Death of John Doe is the second show to get the full press treatment after The Phlebotomist. And perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this one is directed by Edward Hall himself…

As it is, the Hampstead Downstairs’ remit as an experimental space has always been a bit of an iffy one, in reality this is more of a Royal Court Upstairs kind of theatre, and Fiona Doyle’s new play is no exception. An intriguing take on a horrific but underexplored aspect of the refugee crisis, vividly staged with movement by the late Scott Ambler. Continue reading “Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs”

Barely-a-review: The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Downstairs

An excellent Jade Anouka leads the cast of Ella Road’s debut play The Phlebotomist at the Hampstead Downstairs

“All these people are getting their dating profiles blood-verified. You know, shouldn’t we just go for the people we fancy?”

The Phlebotomist may be a little

but it’s also 

in the way that it takes a scalpel to a near-future obsession with eugenics that is less dystopian than creepily credible.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson
The Phlebotomist is running at the Hampstead Downstairs until 19th May

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 Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead

“What does one do with the pickled walnut?”

 The Hampstead’s failure to engage properly with issues of female creative representation on its main stage (out of seven shows for 2017, only one was written by a woman and none were directed by women) has meant it has dropped off my must-see list of theatres. But on reading the synopsis of Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude – adapted by Nicholas Wright, directed by Jonathan Kent, designed, lit and sounded out by men too natch – with its lead female protagonist, I was persuaded to revisit my stance.

And in some ways, I’m glad I did. For that leading character, Miss Roach, is played by the ever-marvellous Fenella Woolgar and she’s partnered by Lucy Cohu, another favourite actress, and there are moments in this gently played Second World War-set story that shimmer with effectiveness. Bombed out of her home by the Blitz, Miss Roach (“I do have a first name, but I don’t encourage people to use it”) finds herself swept up in a different type of conflict at the Henley-on-Thames boarding house where she now resides. Continue reading “Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead”

Review: Gloria, Hampstead

“She’s like an emotional terrorist”

Truth be told I hadn’t intended to see Gloria, my own little act of protest at the Hampstead’s continuing gender imbalance – six shows straight on their main stage both written and directed by men. But the delights of An Octoroon introduced me to the writing of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and he definitely feels like a playwright with a lot to say so I sucked it up and went to Swiss Cottage for a cheeky preview, ironically the location for the Women Centre Stage festival late last year.

Gloria sets out as a dark office comedy, shady and sharp as it navigates the ruthless ambition of a pool of young(ish) editorial assistants in the Manhattan offices of a national magazine. It’s a scathing satire of the journalism industry and the way it has evolved, or not as the case may be – time was that a foot on the bottom of the ladder meant you could reasonably expect to get to the top but times change, cubicle warfare has intensified, and in this uncertain modern world, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. Continue reading “Review: Gloria, Hampstead”

Review: Deposit, Hampstead Downstairs

“Friends are uniting, to help each other’s dreams come true”

Keeping it brief for Matt Hartley’s Deposit as it closes this week. The Hampstead Theatre Downstairs was conceived as “an experimental” space where plays could be put on free from critical scrutiny and whilst that hasn’t necessarily been the way things have turned out (the programming has positioned it more as a companion to the Royal Court Upstairs rather than anywhere more adventurous), it has been a reliable destination for some pretty good theatre.

And in a rare case of the incubator effect coming into fruition, two plays which have previously played here have been brought back and deemed ready for the press (which also means their £5 preview tickets disappearing). First up is Deposit, a contemporary fable directed by Lisa Spirling about the challenges of trying to buy property in London where two couples test their friendship to the limit by renting a one-bedroom flat and sharing it to help them save that all-important lump sum. Continue reading “Review: Deposit, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs

“I’m not trying to justify it…that’s the fucking point”

The next couple of shows programmed at the Hampstead Downstairs are two shows that have previously done well – Deposit and Alligators, which interestingly have press nights scheduled, contrary to the usual practice there. For the moment though, it is the thought-provoking and morally complex Diminished – Sam Hoare’s debut play – that is occupying the experimental space.

In Polly Sullivan’s starkly uncompromising arena, designed in the round and directed by Tom Attenborough, we first witness a psychiatric session between the high-functioning Mary and her clearly intrigued doctor. They banter almost flirtatiously, dancing around diagnoses and discussions, as we edge closer to the revelation that she’s being held in a secure facility after the death of her severely disabled young daughter. Continue reading “Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Scarlett, Hampstead Downstairs

“Don’t you want to come home?”

Colette Kane’s I Know How I Feel About Eve played at the Hampstead Downstairs space in 2013 and she now returns there with Scarlett, another of her plays destined to only be reviewed by the odd blogger due to the no press policy there. I’d be interested to see if it will be open to the critical community when it moves to co-producing partner Theatre Clwyd next month as the rationale behind excluding press – to create “a unique experience” – has always felt slightly odd.

Be that as it may, Scarlett offers a sadly all-too-rare opportunity at the Hampstead to see a play that is written, directed and exclusively stars women, something they should be happy to be publicising. We first meet its London-based title character on a weekend away to Wales which has extended into something longer, exactly how long is unsure but she’s been looking at properties in the local estate agent and has found a dilapidated chapel and is ready to buy. Continue reading “Review: Scarlett, Hampstead Downstairs”