Review: The Crucible, Gielgud

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible about the witchcraft trials that took place in Salem in the seventeenth century but at a time when America was gripped in the McCarthyite Communist hunt of the 1950s so much of its message was an attack on the contemporary situation thinly disguised with the veneer of historical parallel. This RSC production which has transferred to the West End after a very successful run is directed by Dominic Cooke.

A group of drunken women dancing naked in the woods late one night starts off rumours of witch-craft and devil-worshipping in the little village of Salem and so begins the witch hunt that ultimately leads to the torture and the execution of innocent men and women as hysteria takes over some and cold political survival dominates the elite’s response even at the expense of human life. It’s quite grim, but its power comes from the resonance that it still has today with the political situation in the USA. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Gielgud”

Review: Hay Fever, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Set in the country house of the Bliss family, Hay Fever is a comedy of bad manners and terribly bad behaviour, laced with Noël Coward’s cutting wit, set over a weekend from hell. In the cavernous Theatre Royal Haymarket, a strong cast is headed up by Dame Judi Dench as Judith Bliss.

Theatrical has-been Judith has not been taking to early retirement well and is hankering after a return to the stage as she’s had enough of her family. The play starts off with the family inviting various guests to stay for the weekend: Judith invites a fan, her husband has a ‘muse’ coming to visit and her son and daughter also invite a friend to stay, only trouble is, no-one has told anyone else they’re inviting anyone. Continue reading “Review: Hay Fever, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Apollo

At three hours long with two intervals and some of the most vicious interplay on the stage, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is perhaps not for the faint-hearted. With an all-American cast headed by Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin, there is probably no more bruising experience currently in the West End, but it is well worth the effort.

Edward Albee’s 1962 play centres around George and Martha, an unhappily married couple for 23 years, who after an evening out invite a newly married couple who work in the same university department as George back to theirs for drinks. But when they start to fight in front of their guests, the poisonous atmosphere envelops all of them and really lays bare how much of a battle marriage can become. She drinks too much and enjoys the fighting, but George is equally complicit as this is the only kind of interaction that gets their juices flowing these days. Continue reading “Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Apollo”

Review: And Then There Were None, Gielgud

There has been something a little snobbish about the reaction to And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s first appearance on the West End (the ever-long-running The Mousetrap notwithstanding) for quite some time. For all people’s talk that it is ‘just another Agatha Christie’, it is somewhat undermined by this above fact that her work is largely never revived in London and as for the dismissive assertions that it is just perfect for Middle England, I find that a horrendous attitude. There’s room enough for all kinds of theatre in London, and for people to like some or all of those kinds as they see fit: the idea that because something might be popular, it loses any artistic value is a perilous one and shockingly naïve given the economic realities of mounting West End shows.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, this is a new version of this show by Kevin Elyot who, according to my companion, has actually done very little updating or modernising in the end, instead relying on Christie’s intelligently intricate plotting and a very solid cast, to deliver the twists and shocks of this murder mystery set on an island. Opening with ten strangers sat around a dinner table, invited by a mysterious man Mr U N Owen, who are then picked off one by one according to the words of the nursery rhyme from which the title is taken.

But it is no ordinary whodunit as it emerges that these are no ordinary everyday citizens and what is happening here is more about the exacting of justice on those who have avoided it. Thus there’s a double set of revelations as we discover who these people really are, followed up by their demise, and the atmosphere is suitably taut as a drum in the glorious Art Deco decorated set and there’s plenty of shocks and thrills, not least from the ever-present storm, to keep the audience constantly jumping out of their seats.

Everyone in the cast was great: the women edged it for me with Tara Fitzgerald giving good jolly-hockey-sticks as a games teacher and Gemma Jones’ utterly chilling righteous Miss Brent as the standout performances of the night, though Anthony Howell, Sam Crane and Richard Clothier kept up the men’s side well. I don’t want to say too much more as I’ll get dangerously close to giving important things away! Yes, there’s elements of Christie’s work that will always feel familiar due to its ubiquity on our television screens, but it does not take much to realise that there is a greater depth and nuance to her work here that ought to begin to change the mind of the most hardened sceptic.

Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse

A study of memory and identity and how truth is often just relative, Luigi Pirandello’s As You Desire Me is one of his lesser performed works, but presented in a new adaptation by Hugh Whitemore and directed by Jonathan Kent, it has quite the casting coup with both Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins as part of the company.

We first meet Scott Thomas as Elma, a singer in a sleazy 1930s Berlin night-club and living in a sado-masochistic relationship with a man Salter and his lesbian daughter Mop who is also attracted to her. A man appears and tells her that she is, in fact Lucia, the wife of an Italian aristocrat. She was the victim of an appalling assault during the First World War and, as a result, lost her memory. But when she goes to Italy to pursue this dream new life, she finds unexpected problems and disappointments. Continue reading “Review: As You Desire Me, Playhouse”

Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre

From where preconceptions come I am not entirely sure, but I’ve never been a fan of Ibsen’s plays even when they come as highly recommended as this production of Pillars of the Community at the National Theatre. The play marks the centenary of Ibsen’s death and is apparently one of his lesser performed works, something that doesn’t always inspire the greatest of confidences.

The play centres around Karsten Bernick, an avaricious and deceitful man who has climbed the greasy pole to become something of a bigwig in his small Norwegian town and managed to create an allure of benevolence and good standing in the community. But skeletons in the closet have a way of re-emerging and when two members of his extended family, who know all of his dirty secrets, return from America, Bernick is challenged to discover just how far he is willing to go to protect his reputation and continue to ignore his conscience. Continue reading “Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre”

Review: A Few Good Men, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Perhaps better known for the Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson starring film, A Few Good Men was originally a 1989 play written by Aaron Sorkin, but is being revived here at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Rob Lowe making a rare stage foray in the role played by Cruise in the film.

It is a courtroom drama set in Washington DC, revolving around the trial of two US Marines who have been charged with the murder of a fellow Marine at a naval base and the tribulations of their lawyers as he prepares a case to defend his clients but comes close to unmasking a high-level conspiracy which threatens to unravel all their work. Continue reading “Review: A Few Good Men, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: As You Like It, Wyndhams

William Shakespeare’s As You Like It has been given quite the makeover here at the Wyndhams Theatre in a new production. The action has been relocated to 1940s France which makes for a great visual aesthetic with the appropriate costumery and scenery (I loved the Parisian café), and a strong Gallic flavour to the music that permeates this entire production, with newly composed ballads by Tim Sutton livened by some onstage accordion action from Lisa-Lee Leslie.

A large ensemble play, it broadly speaks of redemption and resolution after conflict and suffering and is stuffed full of squabbling brothers, dukes, cross-dressing women, lovesick men and quadruple weddings in the Forest of Arden, falling under the pastoral comedy genre but with hints of darkness in there too which suit this post-WWII setting. But David Lan’s production has focused mainly on the burgeoning relationship between Rosalind and Orlando, desperate to be together but forced apart by her banishment from court. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Wyndhams”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly

Though the big draw for this Donmar production of Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in the West End was Ewan McGregor, I was actually much more excited to see Jane Krakowski on stage. As the ditzy receptionist Elaine in Ally McBeal, she frequently stole the show for me and having displayed her vocal talents on the TV too, I was very much excited to see her. I hadn’t actually seen the show (or the film for that matter) before but it really was one of those where I discovered that I knew far more of the songs than I realised.

Set in 1950s New York, Nathan Detroit is an organiser of gambling tournaments whose long-suffering showgirl fiancée Miss Adelaide is determined to finally get him up the aisle. Sky Masterton is a gambler who is bet that he can’t get a woman of Detroit’s choosing to have dinner with him in Havana, but when he chooses missionary Sarah Brown, the unexpected happens for all of them. But the show is probably best known for Frank Loesser’s songs, a genuinely classic score full of amazing numbers. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly”

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”