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”

Review: Three Sisters, National Theatre

Inua Ellams’ relocation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters to the Biafran Civil War proves devastatingly effective at the National Theatre

“I don’t understand all this suffering…when we die we will find out but I wish we knew now”

A cracking cast heralds the return of Uncle Vanya to the West End early next year but even with Conor McPherson and Ian Rickson on adaptation and directorial duties respectively, it’s hard to get too excited about what – on the face of it – looks to be a fairly conventional interpretation (I could well be proven wrong, and hope I am…). For me, there’s something much more appealing, and thrilling, about people willing to grab Chekhov by the scruff of the neck and yank him way out of the familiar. Robert Icke and Simon McBurney replanting The Cherry Orchard in the Netherlands, or Inua Ellams and Nadia Fall relocating Three Sisters to 1960s Nigeria.

In the latter case, the result is a challenging but exhilarating reworking, set against the backdrop of the Biafran Civil War but retaining much of the Chekhovian structure, so that we feel the weight of all the tragedy that has to come. The skill of Ellams’ writing – this is dubbed a new play, after Chekhov – is knowing when to dovetail with his source material and when to allow his own choices to flourish, bringing with them a raft of glinting surprises that break through the familiarity (that some of us have). Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, National Theatre”

Review: My White Best Friend, Bunker Theatre

My White Best Friend (and even more letters left unsaid) sees the Bunker Theatre start the process of going out in a blaze of glory

“It’s all we can do to listen”

There’s a couple of months before the Bunker Theatre closes its doors but it does seem a rather wonderful f*** you to bring back their inordinately successful mini-festival and sell out every night before the run even started. Developers may gain from taking over this space but as evidenced here in this kind of forward-thinking, thought-provoking production, London’s theatre ecology stands to lose a lot.  

Co-curated by Rachel De-Lahay and Milli Bhatia (who also directs), My White Best Friend (and even more letters left unsaid) is a raucous piece of gig theatre, centred on a provocation to a range of cracking writers to write letters “that say the unsaid to the people that matter most”. Those letters are then read to a standing audience, sight unseen by different actors every night. And there’s a DJ-led afterparty too, even on a Monday night! Continue reading “Review: My White Best Friend, Bunker Theatre”

Nominations for the 2019 Black British Theatre Awards

Creatives Group

BEST DIRECTOR FOR A PLAY OR MUSICAL
Lynette Linton; Sweat: Gielgud Theatre
Roy Alexander Weise; Nine Night: National Theatre
Nancy Medina; The Half God of Rainfall: Kiln Theatre

BEST PRODUCER
Tobi Kyeremateng; Babylon Festival: Bush Theatre

BEST CHOREOGRAPHER 
SPONSORED BY HARLEQUIN FLOORS
Rachael Nanayonjo; Sleeping Beauty: Theatre Royal Stratford East
Alesandra Seutin; Boy Breaking Glass: Sadlers Wells
Shelley Maxwell; Equus: Theatre Royal Stratford East Continue reading “Nominations for the 2019 Black British Theatre Awards”

News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020

So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.

Olivier Theatre 

Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years.  Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

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”

Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National

“It’s not about the word, it’s the context in which it’s used and who uses it”

A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer (here’s my review from then) and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.

That it is sold out shouldn’t stop you from trying to get tickets – there’s Friday Rush and there’s refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani’s production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance – which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for – is charged with the significance of these stories being told. Continue reading “Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National”

Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre

“Men, sometimes…I don’t know”

The hugely convivial pre-show entertainment for Barber Shop Chronicles is such good fun that I thought to myself I could easily just watch this for an hour. As it turned out, press night delays meant that it was extended by about thirty minutes, during which you really got to appreciate how quietly radical it is. In designer Rae Smith’s hands, the Dorfman has been transformed into a barbershop in the round, into which we’re volubly greeted by the cast and if you’re lucky, you get to sit in the barber’s chair and “get your hair popped” while you wait for the show to start. What I really loved though was the way in which the company so enthusiastically greeted friends, family, loved ones, shattering conventions and fourth walls alike, setting the tone for a truly joyous experience.

Crafted by Inua Ellams, Barber Shop Chronicles puts black masculinity in all its multiplicities under the spotlight. by examining the crucial role that barber shop plays in their communities. From Peckham to Lagos, Johannesburg to Accra with Harare and Kampala inbetween, we’re treated to a glimpse into a world that is more, so much more, than just a place to get an “aerodynamic” haircut. It’s a place to find chat, companionship, chargers, to confess to deeper truths than might otherwise be acknowledged in the outside world, even to find surrogate father figures and positive male role models. Across these six countries, we eavesdrop on these conversations and in gaining an appreciation for the diversity in the African diaspora, Ellams also traces the common threads. Continue reading “Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre”