Review: New Views – Rehearsed Readings

The National Theatre’s New Views playwriting competition for 14 to 19-year-olds throws up some real winners in its shortlist.

This year’s New Views programme saw the National Theatre engage with 74 schools across the UK, offering workshops with writers like Luke Barnes, Dawn King, Winsome Pinnock and Chino Odimba to help 14 to 19-year olds learn about writing plays. Over 300 plays were then submitted and 10 shortlisted. The winning play – If We Were Older – is receiving a full production and the other 9 are getting the rehearsed reading treatment, some of which I was able to catch.

I really enjoyed It’s More Than Okay Levi by Robert Lazarus (Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Hertfordshire) – crying at plays about Alzheimer’s is my jam (the kind of emotional torture I like to put myself through…) and even in the reduced circumstances of this reading, I have to say there was a tear or two prickling away. Continue reading “Review: New Views – Rehearsed Readings”

Review: Drip, Bush

“Dive, dive, dive right in

Dive, dive, dive, dive, dive right in…”
On the one hand, I think I’d like to see Tom Wells really surprise us with something completely different. But on the other, he does what he does so bloody well that I kinda never want him to stop. Drip sees him playing with form, as it is a one-man musical but thematically, we’re once again in the world he has explored so affectingly in plays such as Me As A Penguin, The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts
Our protagonist is Liam, a 15 year old from South Shields who has moved to Hull cos his mum is seeing a guy named Barry who lives there. Making fast friends with Caz, the ‘other queer student’ at school, he throws himself into helping her with the annual project prize presentation that she is so desperate to win. Only thing is, she’s planning Hull’s first synchronised swimming team and Liam can’t swim… 
Drip is presented as a musical being performed by Liam as part of a school assembly, a device which works well in stringing together short scenes that take us through his past year since moving to Hull. And these vignettes mean that there’s mahoosive room for Wells to fill his book and lyrics with the kind of wry observational humour that he does so well, particularly as it relates to the awkwardness of being an adolescent gay kid.
Working out if a crush on trainee lifeguard Josh might turn into anything, deciding whether synchronised swimming is too – well – camp even for them, figuring out how friendships can be mended even after the biggest of strains, trying to make Spiderman proud of you… At just an hour long, Drip is short and incredibly sweet, delivered perfectly by Andrew Finnigan with his guitar, full of hesitations and self-doubt that is perfectly pitched.
Matthew Robins’ songwriting is necessarily simplistic – these are songs that Liam has written in his bedroom after all – and an additional reason for that becomes apparent later on, but there’s a heartfelt tenderness to them that works. And Jane Fallowfield’s direction encourages a playful naturalism that is impossible to resist, especially in the gentle audience participation that raises a chuckle throughout. Created as a Script Club production in partnership with Boundless Theatre, Drip is another feather in the cap for Wells & co and is definitely one to look out for if and when it returns (it must return right?!). 

Review: Queer Theatre – Neaptide, National

#1 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“My God, I wanted three daughters like the Brontes and I ended up with a family fit for a Channel Four documentary”

There was a special currency for Sarah Daniels’ Neaptide being the opening play in the #ntQueer season as this 1986 drama was actually the first by a living female playwright at the National Theatre – an astonishing fact all told. And it is perhaps sadly predictable that Daniels now finds herself somewhat neglected as a writer, despite being prolific in the 80s and 90s.

Neaptide proved a strong choice too, a powerful exploration of the extent to which lesbian prejudice permeated society and institutions even as late as this, and indeed how little we’ve moved on – in some ways. Daniels presents us with three generations of lesbians and explores how they deal with working or studying at the same school when a scandal threatens to upturn all of their lives.

Teacher Claire isn’t out but is involved in a bitter custody battle with her unscrupulous ex, the judgement from the court likely to be more favourable if the secret is kept, but the treatment of gay students at her school disquiets her, very much to her cost as it turns out. Jessica Raine was ideally cast as Claire, deeply empathetic and thoroughly invested in the role even from her chair.

Maureen Beattie as her well-meaning mother got the lion’s share of the laughs and a superb Adjoa Andoh as Claire’s boss brought real stature to the reading, which you imagine Sarah Frankcom could well turn into a full production given the response it got here. Neaptide may show its age just a little but with its cutting humour and sharp insights, it was the perfect opener to this season.

Photos: James Bellorini

Cast for the 1986 NT production directed by John Burgess
Annette Pollard; Florrie – Jeanne Watts
Beatrice Grimble – Janet Whiteside
Claire – Jessica Turner
Diane; Clerk of the Court – Miranda Foster
Doctor; Sid; Cyril Barrett – Anthony Douse
Jean – Sheila Kelley
Justin – John Sinclair
Lawrence – Michael Bray
Linda Fellows – Theresa Watson
Marion Landsdowne – Anna Keaveney
Nurse; Terri – Jacquetta May
Poppy – Lucy Speed
Sid Junior – Mark Bellamy
Spencer – Rubin Patino
T/O Walter – Andrew Rigby
Val – Catherine Neilson
Walter – Richard Lawrence
Younger Doctor; Colin; Barrister – Peter Attard

Photos: Ivan Kyncl

Review: Queer Theatre – Wig Out, National

#2 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings


Where one night can leave you legendary

Or a subsidiary”

The world has changed just a little in the decade or so since Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote Wig Out. McCraney is now an Oscar-winning writer after the phenomenal success of Moonlight (based on one of his unproduced plays) and RuPaul has dragged drag into the mainstream by its charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. So to see the play now is an entirely different prospect than its 2008 production at the Royal Court and an interesting example of how cultural touchstones shift.
Wig Out feels intimately connected to Paris Is Burning (if you’ve not seen it, to Netflix with you now) in its focus on ball culture in the black and Latino gay communities of New York and we get to see it fully turned out as the House of Light take on their rivals in the House of Diabolique. The ball scene is an unalloyed pleasure as outré performance follows outré performance (Craig Stein and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith took the honours for the night) and really make you want to see a fully fledged production.
The play as a whole did feel perhaps just a little insubstantial though. It throws in ideas of gender fluidity (a putative romance involves the gender non-conforming character), misogyny within the gay community, the passing-on of legacies, but none of them felt particularly thoroughly explored – I wonder how much of that came from the staging as opposed to the writing though. Tunji Kasim and Kadiff Kirwan’s couple-in-the-making really stood out, Ukweli Roach is possibly the handsomest guy alive even when he’s being a rotter, and Alexia Khadime, Abiona Omonua and Cat Simmons need to do everything together as their chemistry as the part-narrating part-performing Fates was fierce as hell. 

Cast for the 2008 Royal Court production directed by Dominic Cooke
Holly Quin-Ankrah
Kate Gillespie
Jessika Williams
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
Alex Lanipekun
Kevin Harvey
Drew Caiden
Danny Sapani
Craig Stein
Leon Lopez
Billy Carter

Review: Queer Theatre – Certain Young Men, National

#3 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“Well join the radical wing of the movement where to be really queer you have, as it were, to nail your foreskin to the transgressive mast. Literally it seems, on occasion.”

I have to admit to not necessarily being the greatest fan of Peter Gill’s writing and seeing a reading of one of his plays after having partaken of a little of the Pride festivities on Saturday afternoon was definitely not one of my wiser moves. But I wanted the complete set of these readings and so I sat down for 2009’s Certain Young Men regardless.
Following the lives of four gay couples and told predominantly in duologues, it had the slight sense of yet another version of La Ronde as established pairings disintegrate and new ones reform. It is more complex than that, as it seeks to present varied and various forms of gay personalities and relationships, resisting the easy definition of a gay community to present a heterogenous grouping of homosexual men with multiple and conflicting desires.
Whether it was the staging with its row of empty chairs, the theatrical word games that characterises one of the key couplings (Billy Howle and Lorne MacFadyen here) which needed more than it got here, or the gin I’d consumed, the play rarely gripped me in this form. I enjoyed Jonathan Bailey and Ben Batt’s relationship angst the most and Oliver Chris and Toby Wharton sold their own troubles well but whilst this was certainly the place to see it, it wasn’t the right time for me.

Photos: James Bellorini

Cast for the 1998 Almeida production directed by Peter Gill
Sean Chapman
Danny Dyer
Andrew Lancel
John Light
Alec Newman
Jeremy Northam
Peter Sullivan
Andrew Woodall

Review: Queer Theatre – Bent, National

#4 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
“I love you… What’s wrong with that?”
Perhaps one of the better known of these plays but still a new one to me, I really wasn’t prepared for the emotional trauma of Martin Sherman’s Bent whether I was hungover to fuck or not. Harrowing is barely the word to describe this dramatisation of the way in which the Nazis persecuted gay men in Germany before and during World War II and with this reading, directed by Stephen Daldry, taking place on Pride weekend, its impact was all the more emotional. 
Russell Tovey (continuing his graduation into a properly fine actor) and George Mackay took on the lovers Max and Rudy, their coming together in the hedonism of Weimar Berlin shattered by the dawning of the Night of the Long Knives, the realisation of just how insidious the Third Reich is, and the astonishing lengths that people will go to in order to protect themselves at the expense of all they hold dear.
The second act shift to the concentration camp at Dachau provides an unexpected ray of something that could be called sunshine in the face of such adversity but obviously that turns traumatic too, especially in the hands of Paapa Essiedu here. Sterling support came from Simon Russell Beale, Giles Terera, a rare stage appearance for Pip Torrens…and the brilliance of Sherman’s writing sang through as clearly as it would have done in a full fledged production, the visuals more than made up for by the commitment of a director and cast determined to ensure that the play’s message of the endurance of the human spirit is as true today as it ever was, more so even.

Cast for the 1979 Royal Court production directed by Robert Chetwyn
Jeremy Arnold
Peter Cellier
John Francis
Richard Gale
Ken Shorter
Haydn Wood
Tom Bell
Ian McKellen
Andy Roberts
Gregory Martyn
Jeff Rawle
Roger Dean
Simon Shepherd

Review: Queer Theatre – The Drag, National

#5 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
Last but by no means least in this queer season is the one play written by a straight person and perhaps the queerest of the lot. Mae West wrote The Drag in 1927 where its frankness about gay lives (and once again, drag ball culture!) scandalised its out-of-town Connecticut and New Jersey audiences so that it never made it to Broadway. But Polly Stenham has opted to revive it for this reading and to introduce it to a new (Alaska Thunderfuck-literate) crowd. 
To be brutally honest, it isn’t the greatest play in the world, but what it does do is hold a fascinating mirror to early 20th century attitudes and how tolerance and intolerance existed side by side, then as now; the safe spaces gay men find in order to be their extravagantly true selves equally as timeless. And closet cases in marriages remain a sad truth, if not quite as dramatic as the son of a homophobic judge married to the daughter of a gay conversion therapist that we get here!

West revels in the scandal that the outing of her protagonist at one of his regular gay soirees causes, but she’s also sensitive to the realities that gay men – many of whom she was friends with, advocate for, employer of – faced in the world that scarce treated her much better. Stenham has a real ear for West’s caustic wit (Tom Edden definitely slaying here) and you can see a) why she picked the play and b) how she could well turn this into a full production worth seeing. 


National Theatre unveils Queer Theatre event series

Not content with reviving the landmark drama Angels in America, the National Theatre will mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales by staging its first Queer Theatre event series from 6th – 10th July 2017.
A group of world class actors and directors will look at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings and post-show discussions in the Lyttelton Theatre. And looking at the list of readings announced below, it’s good to see a diversity of sexualities being represented and I hope that the rest of the programme continues to explore LBT+ lives as well as the G.
Launching the initiative, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney said of directing a rehearsed reading of his play Wig Out!:

“I feel grateful to be returning to the UK and reading this piece. As we continue better to understand ourselves and how we perform in the world I hope this investigation back into the ‘ball scene’ will be as exciting as it is important. #Alllove&Allpride.”

Director Stephen Daldry said: 

“As a teenager Bent was the first play I ever saw on the London stage. Amazingly at a theatre I went on to be the director of. It was a devastating experience for a young gay man from a small market town in Somerset. I can honestly say the experience changed my life. The play went on to take London by storm. I am thrilled and honoured to direct a rehearsed reading of Martin Sherman’s explosive play to mark this important anniversary.”

The NT’s Queer Theatre event series is hosted in partnership with Pride in London and includes:

Neaptide by Sarah Daniels (1986), Thursday 6th July 7.30pm

Directed By Sarah Frankcom

Neaptide was the National Theatre’s first full-length play by a female playwright. It presents a ferocious but funny account of the public and private battles of a lesbian mother in the 1980s, alongside the ancient myth of Demeter & Persephone. Having recently come out to her family, Claire now faces a bitter custody battle and uncertainty over her teaching career.

Wig Out! by Tarell Alvin McCraney (2008), Friday 7th July 7.30pm

Directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Witness the fiercest battle in New York as the House Of Light compete with the House Of Diabolique for drag family supremacy at the Cinderella Ball. When Eric meets Wilson, it’s a good old-fashioned boy meets boy fairytale. However, when Wilson reveals his drag alter-ego Nina, questions of masculinity and gender come to the fore. In the tradition of Paris Is Burning, this big, bold and riotous play looks at gender, drag and fabulousness.

Certain Young Men by Peter Gill (1999), Saturday 8th July 7.30pm

Directed by Peter Gill

‘To be really queer you have to have someone nail your foreskin to a piece of wood and generally kick up a bit of a fuss.’ As the new millennium approaches, four gay couples illuminate the differences within the ‘gay community’. Is gay life defined by living in coupled suburban bliss or chasing casual sex?

Bent by Martin Sherman (1979), Sunday 9th July 2.30pm

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Following Nazi Germany’s Night Of The Long Knives in 1934, gay lovers Max and Rudy are taken away to Dachau by the Gestapo. Desperate to avoid the dreaded Pink Triangle, Max claims to be Jewish. In amongst the horrors of the Camp, he meets Horst who wears his Pink Triangle with pride.

The Drag by Mae West (1927), Monday 10th July 7.30pm

Directed by Polly Stenham

The play that scandalised 1920s New York follows respected, married socialite Rolly. Son of a homophobic judge and married to the daughter of an eminent gay conversion therapist, Rolly is keen to keep his homosexual tendencies under wraps. However, when he decides to host a drag ball in his drawing room, events soon spiral out of control. One of the first plays to shed light on gay counter-culture, Mae West’s rarely performed comedy was banned after ten performances.
The Queer Theatre event series will coincide with the 2017 Pride weekend and tickets will be on sale from Friday 5th May, tickets include entry to each post-show discussion.
For more information on the Queer Theatre event series, click here.

Not-a-review: Four Weddings in a Funeral reading, Hampstead

It is slightly terrifying to think that it is 23 years since Four Weddings and a Funeral was released – the world will insist on reminding me I’m getting older… And though I don’t think I’ve actually seen it in about 20 years, the prospect of a reading of the film as part of the Hampstead Theatre Festival had quite the allure. Mainly because of John Heffernan and Jemima Rooper in the cast if we’re being honest, and they were worth it, but I’m low on time so I’m leaving it at that.