The 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Shortlist announced

Proper award season is starting to kick into gear now with the reveal of the shortlist for the 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards and an uncharacteristically strong set of nominations that will surprise a fair few. I had little love for Sweet Charity so I’d’ve bumped its nod for something else but generally speaking, I’m loving the love for Dorfman shows and the Royal Court and I hate the reminder that there’s a couple of things I mistakenly decided not to see (Out of Water, …kylie jenner)

BEST ACTOR in partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group
K. Todd Freeman Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Francis Guinan Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Tom Hiddleston Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre
Wendell Pierce Death of a Salesman, Young Vic & Piccadilly
Andrew Scott Present Laughter, Old Vic

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS in partnership with Christian Louboutin
Hayley Atwell Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s
Cecilia Noble Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman) & Faith, Hope and Charity, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Dame Maggie Smith A German Life, Bridge
Juliet Stevenson The Doctor, Almeida
Anjana Vasan A Doll’s House, Lyric Hammersmith Continue reading “The 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Shortlist announced”

Review: A Partnership, Theatre503

Rory Thomas-Howes’ two-hander A Partnership takes an incisive look at modern gay relationships at the Theatre503

“I don’t know why I thought tonight would be any different”

Playing out over an hour of real time, Rory Thomas-Howes’ two-hander A Partnership takes an incisive look at modern gay relationships and asks big questions about what they could and should like, now that so many battles over equality have been won. Now that the gays can have a ‘normal’ life, what might that look like?

For Zach, it means breakfast islands, posh toastie makers and a Nutribullet. For Ally, it means being able to hold his boyfriend’s hand in the pub on a work do, maybe even give him a kiss. And as the pair of them return to their new flat to wait out the hour before Ally’s 30th birthday starts, the faultlines in their five-year relationship begin to buckle. Continue reading “Review: A Partnership, Theatre503”

Review: In Event of Moone Disaster, Theatre503

“If an alien came and said they’d whisk you away a thousand billion miles, to a different planet, but you’d never come back, would you go?”

There’s something rather delicious about the winner of the Theatre503’s International Playwriting Award hailing from Sunderland but a Mackem Andrew Thompson is, and what a winner In Event of Moone Disaster proves to be. The title derives from the interesting tidbit that speechwriters at the time had to prepare for the Moon landing going wrong and though the play uses space travel as a springboard to examine three generations of a family whose destiny seems somehow tied up there in the stars.

So we encounter Sylvia on the night of the Moon landing, in awe of the possibilities it heralds; we meet Neil and Julie in the present day trying to conceive; and in 2055, Sylvia’s granddaughter is preparing to become the first person to walk on Mars. And as we see how past actions influence future possibilities, a more pressing journey of gender equality emerges as the main theme in this feminist sci-fi epic (with heart). What does the freedom to ‘have it all’ actually look like, has what we’re willing to sacrifice changed over the years, have we even progressed but at all?  Continue reading “Review: In Event of Moone Disaster, Theatre503”

Review: boom, Theatre503

“It’s not just about the sound
It’s about the event
A radical change in the state of things”

Though the quote above is taken from the play boom, it could also be about the epithet ‘fag’ which is casually and cruelly used a couple of times throughout. It’s not used in a hugely dramatic way which is almost worse, as it goes entirely unchallenged, part of a normalisation of the language which I find hard to accept, knowing only too well the vitriolic power it has when it is wielded against you. 

It proved a rude awakening in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s play but also one that was entirely unnecessary as its utterance doesn’t bring anything substantive to the character, rather it just smacks of a lazy shortcut to characterisation. And it is perhaps symptomatic of a play that isn’t entirely clear about its own identity, despite a strong production here at the Theatre503 from director Katherine Nesbitt. Continue reading “Review: boom, Theatre503”

Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503

“They kicked us out
And knocked our house down
And shipped us here to the arse end of nowhere”

I learned to swim in Skelmersdale, known as Skem to anyone who has ever been there. A couple of miles from the village where I was born, the drive to the Nye Bevan Swimming Pool was always a fascinating one visually due to the whims of the 1960s town planners who designated the place a ‘new town’ – sheets of grey concrete dominated the architecture and the roads were full of roundabouts after roundabouts, barely a traffic light to be seen among the network of subways. It was also a strange feeling though, as it was crossing the invisible borderline from Woollyback territory (your more typical Lancastrian accent) into the land of the Scousers (the inimitable sound of Merseyside).

I bring you this insight into the early years of Clowns because Years of Sunlight, a new play by Michael McLean, is set in Skem and whilst it had an undeniable nostalgic charge (I’m almost certainly the only reviewer there who got excited at the sight of the ‘Connie’, or Concourse shopping centre in a video clip), the play also had the unexpected result of making me think of the place in a new light. This particular ‘new town’ was designed to rehouse the overspill population from the poorer parts of Liverpool but the forced creation of new communities is rarely so simple as that, and it is this impact that McLean explores here, by following the thread of a 30 year friendship. Continue reading “Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503”

Review: Acts of Defiance – The Festival, Theatre503

“I’m in a cop car
I got here by accident
I think”

Produced by Mama Quilla and Theatre503, Acts of Defiance is a multidisciplinary festival which is “an explosive examination of female dissidence and a shameless celebration of global female defiance”. Film, spoken word, community-based work sit alongside a programme of six short plays, curated by Kay Adshead, which fold in a world of influences – feminism, diversity, sexuality, race, motherhood – to their tales of defiance, all accompanied to brilliant effect by Rosie Bergonzi’s percussion, evoking both the freeing beauty of dancing in a gay club to the fear of being caught in urban nightmare with the beat of her drum.

Once the cast found their feet, opening playlet The Nightclub by Chloe Todd Fordham proved to be one of the most quietly affecting. Directed with graceful economy by Rachel Valentine Smith, the tales of three disparate American women – an 85 year old recent widow, a middle-aged mother estranged from her daughter, a young Muslim (Marlene Sidaway, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Karlina Grace-Paseda respectively) – all searching for something different yet fatefully entwined together. Continue reading “Review: Acts of Defiance – The Festival, Theatre503”

Review: Screens, Theatre503

“I’m a second generation immigrant, the generation that makes it or breaks it”

In its opening quarter, Stephen Laughton’s Screens manages to be that rare thing indeed, a play that actually comes close to capturing the way in which technology has utterly transformed both our everyday behaviour and interpersonal relationships. Georgia Lowe’s smartly spare design allows for Richard Williamson and Dan English’s projections to take us through Al’s faltering first steps into gay online dating on Grindr, Ayşe’s hashtag-heavy documentation of her teenage strife on Instagram and crucially, a peek into their mother Emine’s inbox on her brand-new smartphone
It’s an ingenious route into the lives, both online and off, of this British Turkish Cypriot family living in Harlow but we soon come to see that Laughton’s scope is wider, much wider, than this, as he folds in issues of the immigrant experience, splintered cultural identity, homophobia, post-Brexit racial antagonism and much more besides. Thus Screens becomes a highly ambitious piece of writing about the difficulties in finding your self when personal and political circumstances are in such flux. 
So Emine’s world is shattered by the dual revelation of a family secret and the murder of her cat, Al’s insistence on meeting a nice guy (ie blocking anyone who sends him a dick pic) leads to the best worst date I think I’ve ever seen, and Ayşe’s frustrations threaten to boil over. What Cressida Brown’s production shows us effectively is the ease with which we present different facets of ourselves to get what we want, even whilst professing to search for a singular sense of self. This is brutally and effectively shown not just through the Cypriot conflict but also in a British society that feels on a precipice.
At just 70 minutes, there’s a slight sense of abruptness as Laughton winds up to a hurried climax where I’d’ve happily taken a second half to further explore this fascinating interconnected tangle with its arrestingly hyper-modern references (the first play to feature Pokémon Go perhaps?). And it helps that it is powerfully performed by its five-strong company and particularly Declan Perring and Nadia Hynes as the siblings who don’t know how to work out their anger about feeling like they don’t know who they are. 
Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Pank Sethi
Booking until 3rd September

Review: Screwed, Theatre503

“What’s your life plan?”
Unless you’re a friend of Nigel Farage, it’s hard not to feel that we’re all screwed at the moment. But Kathryn O’Reilly’s play for Theatre503 has a slightly different perspective, looking at a particular part of Broken Britain with a bleak sense of despair. Screwed opens with 30-somethings Luce and Charlene battling through an epic hangover while they try to get away with doing as little as possible in their dead-end factory job, screwing fixings onto pieces of metal hosing.
It’s no one-off though – the entirety of their existence is taken up getting from one drunken night out to the next, trying to score as much cocktails and cock as they can, snorting poppers and necking miniatures along the way. Rocking up late to work and relying on caffeine pills to get through the day, they’re barely holding it together but their self-destructive behaviour seems to know no bounds – it’s only the intervention of others in their lives that disrupts the flow of vodka.
Eloise Joseph’s Luce and Samantha Robinson’s Charlene are a fearsomely cracking double act and O’Reilly has a brilliant ear for the visceral venality of their chat in all its swaggering hollowness. For though they shout the loudest, drink the most and shag themselves silly, there’s nothing more to their lives, nor do they know how to look for it even if they wanted. A crucial moment comes midway when putative love interest Paulo, an appealing Stephen Myott-Meadows, asks Charlene what her life plan is, her lack of comprehension, never mind aspiration, one of the play’s most tragic aspects.
Tragedy of a more physical nature also occurs late on, leading the play to a strangely hurried conclusion, and one is which is pretty much unremittingly bleak, almost too much so for us to really engage. There’s a strange decision to make Luce’s father a trans gay man, Derek Elroy’s Doris is well-delineated but there’s a slight element of discomfort in the notion that this may have shaped Luce’s (lack of) development. And the under-explored nature of Charlene’s condition felt like a missed opportunity to flesh out the character – though there patently is such viciousness in the world, such relentless brutality onstage can begin to feel punishing.
Sarah Meadows’ production does well to mitigate this though, in the abstract sweep of Catherine Morgan’s design. Emphasising the structural shifts in O’Reilly’s writing produces some gorgeous passages of overlapping dialogue that press pause on the overbearing naturalism and Jamie Platt’s lighting choices similarly move around a more liminal space than the plotting might lead us to believe. A bolshy, brutal bit of theatre.
Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 23rd July

Review: We Wait In Joyful Hope, Theatre503

“My God’s out there. That’s why I go out in that van. Each night I sit behind the wheel and, believe me, I pray. But with the engine running and the headlights on”

Brian Mullin’s first play as part of the 503Five Writer-in-Residence scheme is We Wait In Joyful Hope, directly inspired by his aunt, a nun who helped to found a successful NY women’s shelter. Thus the central character here is a nun who helped to found a women’s shelter, in New Jersey though, where it has been helping people for over 30 years. They say write about what you know but in this case, it does feel occasionally that Mullin could have done with a bit of distance to really make the drama work.

For Sister Bernie D’Amato is an absolutely cracking character, played with intelligent and varied depth by Maggie McCarthy, but the play around her doesn’t quite match up. D’Amato is battling the spectre of gentrification as property buyers are wrecking the community, the patriarchy of the church hierarchy against whom she’s always had to fight and her own failing health too. But in among all this, Mullin rarely ventures out to deal with any of these larger themes on which he touches, there’s little that’s truly dramatic. Continue reading “Review: We Wait In Joyful Hope, Theatre503”

Review: A Secret Life, Theatre503 at Wandsworth Arts Fringe

“Do you know what goes on in my head? Do I know what goes on in yours? Maybe it’s not what either of us expect…”

What an unexpectedly, tenderly beautiful thing this turned out to be. Too often, words like ‘immersive’ and ‘innovative’ are thrown out too easily by theatre marketing teams so my intrigued hopes were adjusted accordingly by the potential of this piece of ‘digital promenade’ theatre as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe. But what playwright Tamara Micner and Baseless Fabric Theatre have done here shines with a subtle but sparkling freshness as it actually delivers what it promised.

A Secret Life arose from a series of interviews with people aged 65+ in the Merton and Wandsworth area about their recollections of being a teenager. These memories and experiences were edited and reshaped into a single narrative of a couple called Audrey and Fred, and then played through headphones on apps (created by NetStronghold) on our smartphones as groups of around 15 people follow Audrey on a walk through Battersea Park and its environs. Continue reading “Review: A Secret Life, Theatre503 at Wandsworth Arts Fringe”