News: Paines Plough announces their 2018 programme

As Paines Plough’s 2017 Roundabout season of Brad Birch’s Black Mountain, Elinor Cook’s Out Of Love and Sarah McDonald-Hughes’ How To Be A Kid – co-produced with the Orange Tree Theatre and Theatr Clwyd – arrives in London (running until 3rd March), news of their 2018 programme has now been announced.

Roundabout 2018 features world premieres from Georgia Christou (How To Spot An Alien), Simon Longman (Island Town) and Vinay Patel (Sticks and Stones) in co-production with Theatr Clywd and after opening there in Wales, will tour to  touring to The Lowry (Salford), Brewery Arts Centre (Kendal), Lighthouse (Poole), Theatre Royal Margate, Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, Appetite (Stoke-on-Trent), Darlington Theatre Town and Luton Culture. Continue reading “News: Paines Plough announces their 2018 programme”

The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

New play
Gypsy Queen by Rob Ward, Hope Mill
How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris, Royal Exchange
Narcissist in the Mirror by Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Home

Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM
La Cenerentola, Opera North, the Lowry
The Little Greats, Opera North, the Lowry
The Snow Maiden, Opera North, the Lowry

Karen Henthorn, Spring and Port Wine, Oldham Coliseum
Lisa Dwyer Hogg, People, Places and Things, Home
Nina Hoss, Returning to Reims, Manchester International Festival
Janet Suzman, Rose, Home Continue reading “The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Full cast announced for Michael Boyd’s The Cherry Orchard

Cherry Orchard Bristol Old Vic with Kirsty Bushell and Jude Owusu

Full casting for Michael Boyd’s much anticipated production of The Cherry Orchard is announced today as rehearsals begin for the Bristol Old Vic and Royal Exchange Theatre co-production. Rory Mullarkey’s brand-new translation will be directed by Boyd, celebrated former Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Having studied Russian and trained as a director in Moscow, extraordinarily, he will be directing Chekhov – the literary love of his life – for the first time. Continue reading “Full cast announced for Michael Boyd’s The Cherry Orchard”

Review: Elf, Lowry

The Lowry Theatre's 2017/8 production of Christmas show Elf

“Make it Sparklejollytwinklejingley”

First things first, it’s a really poor show on behalf of those in charge of this production at the Lowry that there was no announcement or any mention of the fact that the understudy for the main part was on. Not for any sniffy reason about wanting to see Ben Forster but rather that it denied Colin Burnicle his spot in the limelight on the first occasion that he got to play the role of Buddy the Elf.

I don’t think Burnicle will mind me saying he had an understandably slightly nervy beginning but he soon settled into the green felt boots of Buddy, working a slightly more frantic Jim Carrey-esque vibe than one might expect from a role originated on screen by Will Ferrell but it was one that worked. And he connected well with former Atomic Kitten Liz McLarnon as his putative love interest Juvie, as under-developed a part it is.

Elf premiered in the UK a couple of years ago and when it made it to the West End’s Dominion, I saw it (review here) and I have to say that its rather old-school charms won me over. So I was happy to revisit it en famille this winter with three-quarters of its leading cast still intact – Forster joined by Joe McGann as Walter and Jessica Martin as Emily once again – and the latter two clearly having a ball once again.

Of the newer cast members, Lori Haley Fox is hilarious as charismatic office worker Deb and Graham Lappin does well as the Store Manager but Brookside’s Louis Emerick didn’t quite nail his comic timing as the narrating Santa Claus. And Morgan Young’s direction suffers from an over-long first half (a good 80 minutes) with perhaps too much of the festive magic packed into the second half, though properly magic it is with snowfalls and sleigh rides to wonder at. Good fun but hardly essential.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 14th January


Review: Little Women the Musical, Hope Mill

“Somethings are meant to be”

Finally made my first trip to the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester’s fringe powerhouse which has been firing transfers down to London with quite the regularity. I wanted to experience the theatre for itself though and having heard great things about Little Women the Musical, didn’t want to miss out in case this is the one that doesn’t actually make its way south (although it should, it really should!).
With a book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, this musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved novel is a wonderful piece of adaptation. Streamlining plot whilst simultaneously enriching character, it translates the travails of the four March sisters into a warm and witty couple of hours and naturally makes you cry just as much it gladdens the heart.
Bronagh Lagan’s production brims with playful inventiveness, much aided by Nik Corrall’s design, but the ace up its sleeve is its casting (big credit to casting director Jane Deitch). Between them, Amie Giselle-Ward’s Jo, Katie Marie-Carter’s Amy, Cathy Read’s Beth and Jemima Watling’s Meg make up a beautiful affecting quartet, respecting the characters as written but imbuing them with fresh energy too.
So Giselle-Ward is unafraid to push Jo right to the limits of her frankly often intolerable behaviour, and locates a real pathos in learning to deal with the consequences of her impulsiveness, a beautiful study in the complexities of discovering your true self. It makes you quite understand Marie-Carter’s Amy is so spiteful and why Read’s excellent Beth has learned to become quite the peacemaker. Meanwhile Watling’s Meg is a step removed as the eldest, especially once her swoon-worthy connection with Joel Harper-Jackson’s Mr Brooke is made.
They’re ably assisted by a tuneful and emotionally direct score from Howland (well musically directed by Rickey Long from the piano with an all-female string quartet) and considered lyrics from Dickstein that pay perfect tribute to the source material. Jo’s Act 1 closer ‘Astonishing’ is a belter of a tune in which Giselle-Ward soars and her duet with Read’s Beth, when she, you know…does what Beth does, is wonderfully played and consequently a huge tear jerker. I also adored Tony Stansfield’s Mr Laurence as Beth melts his heart with the chirpiness of ‘Off To Massachusetts’. Lovely stuff all round and underscored with the kind of feminist message that never grows old.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Anthony Robling
Booking until 16th December

Review: Guys and Dolls, Royal Exchange

“The passengers were bound to resist”


Michael Buffong’s reinterpretation of Guys and Dolls, a co-production between the Royal Exchange and Talawa Theatre, is just that, a bold re-envisioning of the classic musical that consequently comes up with something different. That’s the point. So it may take a second to recalibrate, to adjust to these portrayals of familiar characters but in doing so you get to embrace something fresh and new and really rather exciting.

Moving the show from Times Square to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in 1939 allows Buffong to employ an all-black cast, infuse Frank Loesser’s score with jazz and gospel (new orchestrations by Simon Hale) and introduce a vibrant choreographic vision (by Kenrick Sandy) that draws on several decades of dance history. The result is less-concept heavy than you might expect and often, explosively good fun.

So though it a Broadway fantasy, THE Broadway fantasy some might say, notes of realism percolate throughout. Ashley Zhangazha’s cocky demeanour as Sky is underlaid with nerviness that exposes it as bravado rather than god-like suaveness and Lucy Vandi’s Miss Adelaide is played for real pathos rather than easy comedy, perhaps appropriately for a woman who has clung on, seemingly hopelessly, to an engagement for 12 years.

It all means we engage more with these characters as people rather than archetypes – the heart genuinely warms as laughter escapes from Vandi in finally discovering the depths of Nathan’s love for her. And Zhangazha just makes you invest that much more in Sky and Sarah’s relationship as he peels back the cocksure persona to reveal a man you’d quite happily to go Havana with but actually stay there.
Ray Fearon is brilliant as a physically imposing Detroit and a sweet-voiced Abiona Omonua does her best with Sarah, who’s apparently a bit of wet blanket wherever she’s set. In the talented company, Danielle Kassaraté draws the eye as a smooth Angie the Ox, Fela Lufadeju pops with character as Benny and the too-charismatic-for-words Ako Mitchell is a delight as he leads them all in a joyous ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat’.

Soutra Gilmour’s design successfully makes the transfer from Times Square, even if the neon signage isn’t quite as salubrious but the rainbow brights of her costumes keep us from ever getting too gritty. And it is a balance that the production as a whole gets right – Lord knows we won’t have to wait too long for the next traditional version of Guys and Dolls to appear so we should be welcoming this level of innovation, this opportunity for actors of colour to put roles like this on their CV, with bemoaning what the show ‘should’ be.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 3rd February


Review: Klein Zielen, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

“En de ziel begreep dat dat kleine stukje genoeg was”


Completing a trilogy of Louis Couperus adaptations for Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Klein Zielen (Small Souls) is the kind of magisterial theatre on which reputations – such as Ivo van Hove’s – are sustained. Couperus is a Dutch writer with a kind of Rattigan-like status as his work is revived here and Klein Zielen is no exception, a study of a family living under the same roof but shattered by the neuroses and traumas of the past that haunt every moment of their existence. 
This is about as lo-fi as van Hove gets, just the one video insert betraying any technological leanings, recalling the stark intensity of A View From The Bridge. And here again, you see the razor precision that he instils in his company and the way they relate to each other, interact with each other. As they each move around the wide open space of the Rabozaal carpeted in a ginormous rug, so much is said about their relationships in the juxtapositions they create.

Continue reading “Review: Klein Zielen, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam”

Review: Uit het leven van marionetten, Rotterdamse Schouwburg

“In de stilte hoor je de waarheid”
In the name of maximising my time in the Netherlands, I’ve seen a fair few productions in Dutch without any linguistic assistance. Thursday night shows at the Stadschouwberg Amsterdam are regularly surtitled in English but I always want to see more. In the case of plays like Blood Wedding and The Maids, I’ve been able to get away with since I know them; with others, like A Bride in the Morning, it’s been more of a challenge. 
And so it was with Uit het leven van marionetten (From the life of the marionettes), the fifth Ingmar Bergman adaptation from Toneelgroep Amsterdam, helmed by film director Nanouk Leopold in her stage debut. I’d hoped to watch the film in advance but I couldn’t track it down in time and so went into the Schouwburg in Rotterdam armed with just a flimsy synopsis and an overwhelming admiration for a company that included the rather fab Eelco Smits.

Continue reading “Review: Uit het leven van marionetten, Rotterdamse Schouwburg”

TV Review: Doctor Foster Series 2

“How does this end Simon?”

In some ways, you can’t blame ’em for trying to replicate the extraordinary success of the first series of Doctor Foster, quality drama that fast became a rare appointment-to-view fixture  with a rare return to weekly instalments.  And given that writer Mike Bartlett is known for his prolific nature, that a second series quickly came into the offing was no great surprise.

But it can be hard to recapture the magic and though all of the key players have returned – most notably warring ex-couple Suranne Jones’ Gemma and Bertie Carvel’s Simon – this set of five episodes has really suffered from a lack of raison d’être. Waves of vicious revenge percolate throughout but with no discernible driving narrative beyond that, it proved far less engaging.

Not even the presence of a veritable treasure trove of theatrical luminaries – Victoria Hamilton, Adam James, Thusitha Jayasundera, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Siân Brooke to name but a few – could rescue the show from the dullness of retreading old ground and a wearying sense of not giving a shit about anyone here, particularly in the interminable longueurs of the final episode.