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: Parents’ Evening, Jermyn Street

A two-hander full of game-playing – Parents’ Evening is an intriguing new play at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“This isn’t a game”

Bathsheba Doran’s Parents’ Evening starts off in the aftermath of a fraught game of Cluedo, quality family degenerating into chaos because a father can’t lose gracefully to his daughter. Or perhaps it’s the daughter who needs to learn to dial back on the crowing. Either way, mum’s home now and she’s smoothed over the waters and there needs to be an even keel because tonight is that all-too-familiar spot check for kids – parents’ evening.

But though it is their 10-year-old who is nominally under the microscope, a shock revelation from a teacher shatters the uneasy peace. And the playing field turns into something akin to high-stakes Jenga as the couple start to tear each other apart in a risky blame game, each upping the ante in a desperate attempt to diagnose the suspected malaise. It is a deceptively slight play, one which lures you in and then is unafraid to change the rules. Continue reading “Review: Parents’ Evening, Jermyn Street”

Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street

Excellent creative work makes About Leo, the debut play from Alice Allemano a real success at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“I have never, in my life, for one moment, been anyone’s muse. I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist”

What does a woman have to do to be appreciated on her own merits? Be a leading surrealist painter? Be a founding member of the women’s movement in the country where she lives? Write several successful books?  Leonora Carrington may not be the best known of names but she deserves more than being known someone who had an affair with Max Ernst.

Such is the set-up for Alice Allemano’s impressive debut play About Leo. Wannabe journalist Eliza Prentice rocks up at Carrington’s Mexico City residence in order to secure an interview for a retrospective of Ernst’s work but is soon disabused of the notion that she was a mere ‘muse’. And over a long night, as tea turns into tequila, stories of love and loss and art and aspiration reveal a hugely fascinating figure.  Continue reading “Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Dog Beneath The Skin, Jermyn Street Theatre

Who knew that fascists could rhyme? WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood tackle inter-war Europe in The Dog Beneath The Skin at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London.

“Places sometimes look different when one comes back to them”

Proud Haddock’s production of Mrs Orwell was quite the success last year, earning a deserved transfer from the Old Red Lion to the Southwark Playhouse. And they continue their ethos of celebrating “unearthed stories from classical playwrights” with this revival of WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood’s 1935 play The Dog Beneath The Skin which rounds off the Jermyn Street Theatre’s Scandal season.

Mixing an almost fairytale-like quest with a stark warning to guard for the rise of fascism, it’s a fascinatingly drawn play. And Jimmy Walters’ production leans heavily into its curiosity with voiceover segments, drag cabarets and multiple songs (by Jeremy Warmsley) accompanying the lyrical twist of the rhyming couplets threaded throughout the script. With cleverly expressive movement work from Ste Clough, all this strangeness has a compelling quality to it. Continue reading “Review: The Dog Beneath The Skin, Jermyn Street Theatre”

Review: Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street

“Modern art is never an answer, it is a question”

Woman Before A Glass may be a one-woman show but what a woman it reveals to us. Peggy Guggenheim was born into one of the wealthiest New York socialite families at the dawn of the twentieth century and during a most unconventional lifetime, became a mainstay of the modern art scene. The art, and artists, that she collected made her Venetian palazzo one of the hottest spots to be seen and it is there that we visit her for the three key scenes of this play by Lanie Robertson.

The first is introduced with a wonderfully clever conceit – searching for an outfit to wear for an interview, she sifts through a pile of couture gowns, reminiscing about them all and thus giving us an instant insight into her existence – a strained relationship with her family both immediate and extended, an apparently insatiable sexual appetite, and a genuine love for the collection, protection and encouragement of the modern artists that she gathered around her. Plus she has a nifty way with a cocktail shaker. Continue reading “Review: Woman Before A Glass, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Frogs, Jermyn Street

“Gods of the theatre, smile on us”

No matter the star quality of the names associated with The Frogs – Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver were in the original student company who performed it in a Yale swimming pool in 1974, Nathan Lane was one of the co-writers who expanded it for a Broadway run in 2004 – but there’s no escaping the fact that it is one of Sondheim’s rarely performed musicals. It’s a descriptor that rightly causes a deal of trepidation – more often than not there’s a good reason that works collect dust on the shelf and the hunt for worthy rediscoveries only rarely turns up a diamond.

Another way of looking at it is that you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince and if this isn’t an outright amphibian, it’s also by no means royalty. Loosely based on a 405 BC play by Aristophanes but sending up Greek comedy at the same, we follow Michael Matus’ Dionysos and his slave Xanthias, played by George Rae, as they journey to Hades to find someone who can “enlighten the easily misled and coerced masses of Earth”. They light on George Bernard Shaw as a saviour but Shakespeare has something to say about it, as do Herakles, Charon, Pluto and a chorus of frogs… Continue reading “Review: The Frogs, Jermyn Street”

Review: I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road, Jermyn Street

“I’ll find my way again
And I will sing my song”

Written in 1978 by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, it’s a little bit depressing that I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road still has the resonance that it does nearly 40 years later. The show may not have been seen in the UK for nearly 40 years but its commentary on how the music business – indeed culture at large, even society as a whole – treats middle-aged women remains as incisive as it surely ever has done.

Heather Jones is a pop singer who has just turned 39 and is on the cusp of launching a refreshed act in front of a bunch of music biz luminaries in a New York cabaret club. The only problem is, her manager Joe isn’t keen on her new image, her new sound, her new lyrical honesty, he wants the safe, same old same old, unthreatening Heather back because he doesn’t believe he can sell a mature woman as a commercial prospect. Continue reading “Review: I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road, Jermyn Street”

Review: Off The Kings Road, Jermyn Street

“I am so lonely…”

Academy Award-nominated stars are appearing in the unlikeliest of places off-West End at the moment, but the key is to work out the connection. Fatal Attraction’s Anne Archer will soon be appearing at the Park in The Trial of Jane Fonda, which just happens to be written by her husband, and Jeff Bridges is now to be found at the Jermyn Street Theatre in Off The Kings Road, as a favour to his friend Neil Koenigsberg, a Hollywood publicist, manager, producer and first-time playwright.

To be clear, it’s an “e-appearance” from Bridges, via the medium of pre-recorded Skype interactions but the point still holds, it’s all about the connections. And you might wonder if those connections helped this production into theatres, for it isn’t necessarily the strongest piece of writing from Koenigsberg. Even with a company of just five, Off The Kings Road is too filled with uninspired stock characters whose hackneyed dialogue give them little chance to escape stereotype. Continue reading “Review: Off The Kings Road, Jermyn Street”

Review: See What I Wanna See, Jermyn Street

“I only told you the truth…”

After directing its European amateur premiere back in 2006, Adam Lenson now presents the London debut of Michael John LaChiusa’s See What I Wanna See at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Formally challenging and musically experimental, this modern musical is based on three short stories by Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, all circling around the elusive nature of truth and how faith and deception can shift and skew its perspective.

Set in Medieval Japan, the opening tale of Kesa and Morito is split in two, acting as a prologue to both acts as a pair of lovers come to the end of a tumultuous relationship. R Shomon fast-forwards to a film noir version of 1951 New York where a murder has been committed but multiple versions of what happened are muddying the picture. And in Gloryday, a disillusioned priest in 2002 New York sees a hoax snowball way out of his control.  Continue reading “Review: See What I Wanna See, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Return of the Soldier, Jermyn Street Theatre

“War is hell
Why rebel
You can’t change things on your own”

There’s something simply exquisite about The Return of the Soldier, an intimate chamber musical tucked away into the Jermyn Street Theatre that might just be one of the best things I’ve seen this year. Granted, it may contain a checklist of some of my favourite things – the experience of women in wartime, a score for piano and cello, Laura Pitt-Pulford – but they combine into something above and beyond, a powerful meditation on the psychological effects of war on those not at the front, a valuable reminder in a year that commemorates the start of the First World War that the impact of war ripples through all levels of society.

Tim Sanders’ book adapts Rebecca West’s novel from 1918, a piece of literature that emerged directly from the author’s experience during wartime, to give us characters – but particularly women – with rich emotional lives. Captain Christopher Baldry has returned from the frontline with shellshock and instead of falling into the arms of his upper-class wife Kitty, his memory has obliterated her and so it is the earthier charms of early love Margaret that he craves. She’s stuck in an unfulfilling marriage herself so is faced with conflict when asked to help cure his amnesia, knowing full well that to do so will end her nostalgic fling.

Continue reading “Review: The Return of the Soldier, Jermyn Street Theatre”