Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

This review marks a momentous occasion as it features the first appearance of Aunty Jean, one of my most faithful theatre companions, despite living nearly 200 miles from me in Wigan. We try to see at least one thing every time she visits whether for pleasure or work, but it has been a while since she has been down so Oliver marked her first 2009 London theatrical trip.

Fortunately it was well worth it, as this show did not disappoint on any level (and many levels it did have!). The sets for this show were truly awe-inspiring: Fagin’s underground lair was cleverly constructed; the depth of the alleyway for the street scenes was huge so it gave a great sense of scale to the proceedings, one which has been sadly lacking in many large recent productions, cost-cutting I guess, and the lighting from scene to scene could not have been more different, yet still highly effective. This all combined to give great energy and movement to the show, which scarcely needs it due to the highly familiar and zippy score. Continue reading “Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Re-review: Duet for One (times two), Almeida

Despite already having seen this production when it first opened, you can read my thoughts here, when I was asked if I wanted to see Duet for One again with another friend, I did not hesitate to say yes. And I was glad to see that I enjoyed it just as much as the first time, such is the strength of the acting on display. I was pleased to see that the play will be transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre so that many more people will be able to see it, but I do wonder how much will be lost given that it will be transferring from the intimate space of the Almeida to a larger theatre. I have never actually seen a play that has transferred in both of its venues, and I wonder how many people actually have! Anyway, previews for the new run start on May 7th, and I would definitely recommend trying to go if you have not already.

PS: I know I am the only person who reads this, but I do apologise for not having posted for a couple of weeks. I promise to be better at posting regularly!

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (again), Adelphi

If there was going to be any play or musical that appeared twice on this blog, it had to be Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. As clearly explained in my first entry, this is probably my favourite musical (certainly in my top three) and so when I was offered a free ticket to the press night of the relaunch with Gareth Gates in the title role, there was no chance of me resisting!

Gareth Gates has been slotted into the gap left by Lee Mead with seemingly no major changes that I could ascertain. The only real difference that I could see was due to Gates’ relative youth, and also his youthful appearance. He plays the early scenes with Jacob and the brothers as more of an obnoxious brat, which kind of makes sense in terms of driving them to “fratricide” and so in this way his youth worked for him. The other time it was noticeably different was in the reunion scene when Joseph plants the golden cup. As Gareth Gates sings “Benjamin, you nasty youth…”, it was hard to suppress a smile as the actor playing Benjamin looks a good few years older than him. Continue reading “Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (again), Adelphi”

Review: Dancing at Lughnasa, Old Vic

Still utilising the in-the-round format introduced for The Norman Conquests, the Old Vic now hosts the first revival of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa. Telling the story of five unmarried sisters living in rural Ireland, the play is actually narrated from the memories of a seven-year-old Michael, the illegitimate son of the youngest sister, now grown up: a framing device which initially proves very effective. The play looks at the struggles faced by the women to subsist in increasingly uncertain economic times, exacerbated by their unwell brother recently returned from Africa and Michael’s father’s unexpected visit to their cottage.

The five actresses playing the sisters have a great chemistry, and I longed for more scenes with all five of them simultaneously on the stage, but Simone Kirby as Rosie is given much less stage time than the others. Niamh Cusack came close to stealing the show for me, she effortlessly showed the great strength in her character who assumes the responsibility of keeping spirits high in the household, whether it be through cooking (she displays some great bread-making skills on-stage), through her melodic singing, or just her joie-de-vivre. Her scenes with Michelle Fairley’s more matriarchal Kate were spine-tingling as their frustrations at their ever-worsening situation threaten to take over, but they can’t allow their feelings to explode as they have the rest of the family to think about. Continue reading “Review: Dancing at Lughnasa, Old Vic”

Review: Burnt By The Sun, National Theatre

The latest play to open at the National Theatre is Burnt By The Sun, a story set in Russia, in the days just before Stalin did bad things in the Great Purge, of a revolutionary and his wife and family whose tranquil repose is rocked by the return of a former lover of the wife. The play was based on a film which won the best Foreign Language Oscar and the Grand Prize at Cannes, but I have to admit to not being familiar with it at all.

This play exemplifies for me one of the key strengths of the National Theatre does best: putting together high quality ensemble casts and allowing them to create the necessary atmosphere and feelings in which the play can unfold. Whereas it may feel that not an awful lot actually happens in the first half, I was swept up in the genuine camaraderie of the ensemble, especially in the group scenes around the table and the time simply flew by. Stephanie Jacob deserves a special mention for her comic turn as Mokhova the help, but all the actors really deliver here and set the scene for the events of Act 2.

Continue reading “Review: Burnt By The Sun, National Theatre”

Review: Duet For One, Almeida

I feel I must confess that the last time I saw Juliet Stevenson on the stage, in The Seagull at the National Theatre, I left at the interval. This plays on my mind a lot, as I love her acting, but my feelings for Chekhov were stronger that evening and so after a swift gin and tonic, we made a swift exit. I am pleased to report however, that I managed to stay until the end of this play. A two-hander with Henry Goodman, Duet For One takes place as a series of therapy sessions between a concert violinist who is struggling to come to terms with a degenerative illness and her psychiatrist who is guiding her through her highly charged emotions. Continue reading “Review: Duet For One, Almeida”

Review: Plague Over England, Duchess Theatre

Nicholas De Jongh’s theatrical writing debut comes to the West End after a run on the fringe last year, and Plague Over England is a fine, thought-provoking piece of work. A look at attitudes to homosexuality during the 1950s, the play uses John Gielgud’s arrest for cottaging as a prism to see how the authorities dealt with the “moral plague” and how this affected the lives of a series of gay men. The set design is extraordinarily versatile with numerous changes throughout the play, evoking a vast range of different locations quite effectively and this is superbly bolstered by some fine ensemble acting, with many actors also doubling up.

I neglected to purchase a programme, so cannot name the actor who played the policeman, and this is meant to be a serious blog, but he is possessed of quite a fine set of abs. There was a collective gasp of appreciation when they were unveiled, almost enough to make me want to join a gym, but not quite! I mention the abs only because they featured in the best scene of the play with the pontificating of the railing homophobic Home Secretary counterpointed with the first coupling of the mis-matched copper and judge’s son. It is a wittily played vignette, my only caveat would be that it is only the young hunky members of the cast who seem to get it on, which slightly undermines the universality of the play in general. Continue reading “Review: Plague Over England, Duchess Theatre”

Review: Spring Awakening, Lyric Hammersmith

Spring Awakening comes to London from a successful run on Broadway, where it won 8 Tony awards and had great word-of-mouth buzz, several State-side friends had recommended it to me, saying if I loved Avenue Q, I would love this. Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the case, after hacking through the snow to Hammersmith.

Crucially for a musical, the tunes just aren’t memorable, and there didn’t seem to be the magical connection between the music and the lyrics necessary for this score to engage once the curtain had come down. If anything, it almost tries too hard, as exemplified by the song Totally F*****: the play seems so pleased with itself at this “shocking” material and yet it seems almost quaint that the over-use of an expletive is considered to be cutting-edge. Continue reading “Review: Spring Awakening, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Mrs Affleck, National Theatre

I have to be up-front, I hate Ibsen. In fact, I dislike most Nordic playwrights, yet I always want to give them a chance so time and time again I find myself praying that on the off-chance it will grab me this time. The Donmar’s West End Ivanov gave me my first enjoyable Chekhov experience, and so I had hopes for Mrs Affleck, a loose re-telling of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf. The play has been relocated to 1950s Britain, on the coast of Kent and tells the story of Rita Affleck, a housewife and mother who has been waiting for her husband’s return. When he does return, but with his half-sister in tow, the extent of Rita’s unhappiness with her lot in life is made manifest. When tragedy strikes, the fractures in these relationships are further magnified. Continue reading “Review: Mrs Affleck, National Theatre”

Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, National Theatre

I was pleased with myself when this play was announced because I paid attention in my piano lessons when I was 10 and I knew that the title was the mnemonic used for the notes of the treble clef (although I remembered it as football). Not being familiar with Every Good Boy Deserves Favour though, I found it quite a refreshing thing to watch, being something completely different to anything I had seen before. That said I am not sure if it was a complete success.

Joseph Millson plays a political dissenter locked up in a Soviet mental institution and shares a cell with another patient, played by Toby Jones, who believes he has a full orchestra in his head. The set-up with the orchestra being right there on stage is quite effective, and the sections where the characters interact with the orchestra were very funny, and the players played on very gamely in the face of some severe distractions. Where I felt this didn’t work however, was when the acting was just front-stage, the orchestra ended up being a distraction or vice versa. Continue reading “Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, National Theatre”