20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

August theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw in August.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, aka the Sheridan Smith show
Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”

Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending may not be his greatest play but Tamara Harvey’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory proves most affecting in the end

“What on earth can you do on this earth but catch at whatever comes near you, with both your fingers, until your fingers are broken?”

Any project that tempts Hattie Morahan back onto the stage has to be worth checking out (qv Anatomy of a Suicide, A Doll’s House, but maybe let’s not mention The Dark Earth and the Light Sky). Orpheus Descending, a Menier Chocolate Factory & Theatr Clwyd co-production directed by Tamara Harvey, proves no exception, bolstered by the presence of the ever-excellent Jemima Rooper in the cast, plus a brooding Seth Numrich.

Orpheus… is something of a minor Tennessee Williams work (one I didn’t much enjoy when I saw it at the Royal Exchange a few years ago) but one which feels stronger here. Navigating the stifling heat and social strictures of smalltown Deep South in the 1950s, Lady seeks escape from her loveless marriage and small-minded neighbours. And in the arrival of handsome drifter Val Xavier, it seems she might have found it – doesn’t it? Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Winners of the 2019 Olivier Awards

Each to their own, eh?!

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
WINNER – Jonathan Bailey for Company at Gielgud Theatre

Clive Carter for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre
Richard Fleeshman for Company at Gielgud Theatre
Robert Hands for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
WINNER – Patti LuPone for Company at Gielgud Theatre

Ruthie Ann Miles for The King And I at The London Palladium
“The Queens” – Aimie Atkinson, Alexia McIntosh, Millie O’Connell, Natalie Paris, Maiya Quansah-Breed and Jarneia Richard-Noel – for Six at Arts Theatre
Rachel Tucker for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre Continue reading “Winners of the 2019 Olivier Awards”

Re-review: Summer and Smoke, Duke of York’s

The Almeida’s Summer and Smoke transfers into the West End at the Duke of York’s Theatre to great success. And Patsy Ferran is a star.

“Reaching up to something beyond attainment…”

The Almeida’s Summer and Smoke was a huge hit in the spring so it was little surprise to hear a West End transfer was on the cards (especially compared to, say, The Twilight Zone…). And it has transplanted to the Duke of York’s in fine shape, Tom Scutt’s set losing none of its invitingly curved intimacy as it replicates the bare bricks of the N1 venue.

And Rebecca Frecknall’s production has lost none of its charge, mainly through retaining the electric chemistry between its leads – an exceptional Patsy Ferran as Alma and Matthew Needham as John. The complex emotional connection between their characters is the heart of the play and the stark simplicity of the staging reflects that from the outset. Continue reading “Re-review: Summer and Smoke, Duke of York’s”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, NST City Southampton

Chelsea Walker helms a blistering update of A Streetcar Named Desire in a co-production between Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Theatr Clwyd and English Touring Theatre 

“You can’t beat on a woman and then call her back”

If Blanche DuBois were around today, then of course her go-to tunes would be the likes of Madonna and Blondie, and a glitterball would take the place of her colourful paper lantern. And as the strains of ‘Material Girl’ gets most everyone up and dancing at the end of a fateful poker night, Chelsea Walker’s contemporary take on this Tennessee Williams classic finds its happy place.

Of course, it’s A Streetcar Named Desire so that happy place lasts for a moment of seconds before Patrick Knowles’ brutish Stanley reasserts himself. And what Walker’s clever updating does is to not let itself get bogged down in minor textual incongruities, but to firmly locate its troubling sexual dynamics in the gender politics of right now.  Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, NST City Southampton”

Review: Summer and Smoke, Almeida

A rarely performed Tennessee Williams emerges as a real gift in the form of Rebecca Frecknall’s Summer and Smoke at the Almeida

“I’m more afraid of your soul than you’re afraid of my body”

When ‘director’s theatre’ looks and feels like this, it’s hard to believe that anyone would take against it. Director Rebecca Frecknall, aided by designer Tom Scutt, throws out the rulebook when it comes to Tennessee Williams, and comes up with something beautiful, something that genuinely feels like Williams for a contemporary age.

It helps that Summer and Smoke is relatively unheralded among his vast canon. And that the Almeida under Rupert Goold is as close as you’ll come to a director’s theatre. But the key is Frecknall’s vision of a world unmoored from the turn-of-the-century Mississippi setting and relocated to somewhere altogether more elemental.  Continue reading “Review: Summer and Smoke, Almeida”

Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Young Vic at the Apollo

“The human animal is a beast that dies but the fact that he’s dying don’t give him pity for others”

Whatever the reasons behind the decision to open Benedict Andrews’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof directly into the West End, a first for the Young Vic, you can’t help suspect that it has been informed by the extraordinary success of their 2014 collaboration on A Streetcar Named Desire. Equally, it is tempting to feel the play would be better off on The Cut, the better for its intimacy to really sizzle.

There’s certainly the attempt to raise the temperature – Andrews has his leads Jack O’Connell and Sienna Miller in various states of undress for large swathes of the play – but for all the skin exposed, there’s little sexuality between Tennessee Williams’ central couple, the reasons for which are painstakingly revealed later on. And ultimately it is a disconnect that reads better than it plays. Continue reading “Review: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Young Vic at the Apollo”

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre

“‘I think that hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding”

There’s something a little depressingly predictable about my inability to resist a neat bit of star casting – Marcia Gay Harden’s long-in-the-making UK theatrical debut being the guilty party here. It’s depressing because Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth is a play I wasn’t much of a fan of the one time I saw it before and the heart wasn’t beating any faster at the prospect of sitting through it once again.

And maybe there’s an element of self-defeating prophecy at work because I was bored rigid by Jonathan Kent’s production here for Chichester Festival Theatre. A quiet audience (never seen the upper seats curtained off like that before) sweltered in the stifling atmosphere but sadly, there was no heat being generated on the stage of Anthony Ward’s distractingly-conceived design. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Re-review: The Glass Menagerie / Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

“Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested”

“It’s an honour just to be nominated…” Come award season, these words are often heard but you do have to wonder what it feels like to be the only member of a four person ensemble that isn’t up for an Olivier Award. Such is the fate for Michael Esper in The Glass Menagerie just now, as Cherry Jones, Kate O’Flynn and Brian J Smith all find themselves deservedly up for acting prizes on Sunday while he’s had to put his game face on. Continue reading “Re-review: The Glass Menagerie / Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf”