My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

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: Downstate, National Theatre

Frequently shocking in its daring and detail, Bruce Norris’ Downstate is a tough watch at the National Theatre

As if life isn’t hard enough without us being deliberately hurtful and cruel to each other”

Yeesh! Bruce Norris’ Downstate arrives at the National Theatre as a co-production with Steppenwolf Theatre Company and as you might expect from this award-winning agent provocateur, this play about paedophilia and rehabilitation is frequently shocking in its daring and detail.

Norris asks the question what should society do with those who have been found guilty of sex crimes against minors but having raised the unconscionable spectre of such people, proceeds to try and make us care for them, disaggregating the individual stories from the amorphous, horrific whole. Continue reading “Review: Downstate, National Theatre”

News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference

All sorts of goodies were announced today for the upcoming slate of productions at the National Theatre, including Small Island, Peter Gynt, and Top Girls 

Olivier Theatre

Small Island, a new play adapted by Helen Edmundson from Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning bestselling novel, will open in the Olivier Theatre in May. Directed by Rufus Norris, the play journeys from Jamaica to Britain through the Second World War to 1948, the year the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Small Island follows the intricately connected stories of Hortense, newly arrived in London, landlady Queenie and servicemen Gilbert and Bernard. Hope and humanity meet stubborn reality as, with epic sweep, the play uncovers the tangled history of Jamaica and the UK. Hundreds of tickets for every performance available at £15. Small Island will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as part of NT Live. Continue reading “News from the National Theatre Autumn 2018 Press Conference”

Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar

“Any suggestion of a correlation between the leader of a certain nation and the homicidal gangsters we depict is something that the management must strictly disavow”

There’s something special in the timelessness of some pieces of theatre, their themes and arguments as relevant to audiences today as they were when they were written years, decades, even centuries ago. Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui falls into the middle category, written in 1941 as an allegorical response to his nation’s fall to Nazism, and was magisterially revived at Chichester a few years back.

For their own new production, the Donmar Warehouse has turned to Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park, The Low Road) who doesn’t quite trust the material in the same way, updating it in the most heavy-handed of manners by directly substituting Trump for Hitler. It’s an arresting move and indubitably pertinent in the way in which it expounds on the exploitation of a particularly toxic brand of populist politics. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar”

Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre

“Some would say change is inevitable”

It was fascinating to go back to Bruce Norris’ multi-award-winning play Clybourne Park more than five years after its London debut both at the Royal Court and then in the West End, particularly since I’d finally gotten round to seeing the play that it riffs on in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Daniel Buckroyd’s Made in Colchester production originated at the Mercury there last month and pleasingly will tour the UK throughout May, significantly extending the reach of this sharp comedy/

Clybourne Park is the Chicago suburb to which Hansberry’s Younger family intend to move in her 1959 play, its residents committee reacting by trying to buy them off to preserve what they call their ‘common background’ when what they mean is its all-white racial make-up. Norris explores both sides of this by setting his first half in the house the Youngers are trying to buy in 1959 but then skipping forward 50 years after the interval to reveal a changed neighbourhood, riven by the same problems. Continue reading “Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre”

Nominations for the 2014 Drama Desk Awards

Outstanding Play
Nell Benjamin, The Explorers Club 
Steven Levenson, Core Values
Conor McPherson, The Night Alive 
Richard Nelson, Regular Singing
Bruce Norris, Domesticated
Robert Schenkkan, All The Way
John Patrick Shanley, Outside Mullingar 

Outstanding Musical
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder 
Aladdin
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Fun Home

Love’s Labour’s Lost
Rocky
The Bridges of Madison County
Continue reading “Nominations for the 2014 Drama Desk Awards”

Review: The Low Road, Royal Court

“You do compete for the good opinion of society, do you not?”

*This review is a bit spoilerific so don’t read on if you don’t want aspects of the play, and others, to be revealed to you* 

When people ask me to describe the plot of a play, I almost always end it with “…and then the aliens arrive” because that’s the way my mind works and generally speaking, it’s a safe assumption that the playwright won’t have gone there. So imagine my surprise when they actually arrived in the second act of Salad Days, it was like all my Christmases at once and because of the daffy silliness of the whole shebang, it was able to pull it off. Working in similarly offbeat surprises into straight drama is perhaps a more difficult job though and one which arguably has to work harder to make a success of it.

The scope of Bruce Norris’ new play The Low Road would seem to preclude the need for such an approach. A sprawlingly epic trawl through the growth of our (western) economic system told through the fable-like tale of Jim, an entrepreneurial young man roaming through an 18th century America whose single-minded financial knowledge and ambition prefigures the capitalist mind-set that is so familiar to us today. A post-interval modern-day interlude draws explicit parallels and connections between the actions and attitudes of now and then to reinforce its main thesis about the triumph of individualism. Oh, and there’s an epilogue. Continue reading “Review: The Low Road, Royal Court”

Review: Purple Heart, Gate Theatre

“Why would I need to hurt myself?”

The scabrous humour of Bruce Norris’ last play Clybourne Park was a huge success seeing a West End transfer from the Royal Court and a clean sweep of drama awards on both sides of the Atlantic. He returns to the Royal Court very soon with The Low Road but the Gate Theatre has mounted a revival of his 2002 play Purple Heart. Set in an anonymous Midwestern city, a family struggles to rebuild their lives after the death of Gene, a soldier in the Vietnam War, the impact of such a terrible loss affecting his mother, his wife and his son in different ways.

Norris dissects the complexity of grief on the different members of this family with his customary excoriating insight, challenging what society deems to be the correct emotional responses with the unconventional Carla. Rejecting the conventional tropes of mourning, the generic platitudes and proffered casseroles from oppressively well-meaning neighbours, she lounges in her dressing gown, swigging as much booze as she can. But there’s little escape at home – her son Thor is acting out on his increasingly violent imagination and mother-in-law Grace is relentless with her forced good cheer barely masking a concern or propriety. It is takes the arrival of a stranger at the door, a veteran with his own agenda and a box of doughnuts, to really shake up the broken dynamic of this family. Continue reading “Review: Purple Heart, Gate Theatre”

Re-Review: Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s

“That’s not the joke I was thinking of…”

Maintaining an excellent record of transfers for the Royal Court, Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park is the latest play to make the leap from Sloane Square to the West End, in this case the Wyndham’s Theatre. Robert Innes Hopkins’ design seems to have transferred almost exactly as it was at the Royal Court, seemingly at the same size and still undergoing such a great transformation in the interval. All but two of the original cast have transferred with the show, directed by Dominic Cooke, which has already won Best Show plaudits from the Evening Standard, South Bank Sky Arts and the Critics Circle and looks set to continue that success.

I saw the show early in its run at the Royal Court and though not originally intending to revisit the show, the opportunity arose and I became quite intrigued by the idea of seeing the production again in a new home. The play takes a dual look at racial prejudice in America, starting in 1959 as a white family try to sell their house in a white neighbourhood to a black family despite pressure from the locals, then switching to 2009 where the tables are turned as the demographic of the area has switched completely and it is the black community resisting the ideas of a white couple who want to buy the same house. It looks at how people rarely say exactly what they mean, especially where race is concerned and though things would seem to have improved by 2009, the events of the second half show us that that progress could be seen to be quite superficial. Continue reading “Re-Review: Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s”