News: My White Best Friend goes online via the Royal Court

Writer Rachel De-Lahay and director Milli Bhatia have commissioned ten writers to pen letters that say the unsaid, for a new, online version of their festival My White Best Friend (and Other Letters Left Unsaid).

Produced by Tobi Kyeremateng with support by the Royal Court Theatre, the online festival will run over a week with a pre-recorded letter by Rachel De-Lahay read each night alongside two letters by some of the most exciting voices in the UK read live. Continue reading “News: My White Best Friend goes online via the Royal Court”

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: 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”

10 questions for 10 years – David Ralf

The Bunker Theatre may have announced its impending closure but its executive director Dave Ralf certainly has a lot to say! 

  • Where were you 10 years ago?

    Ten years ago, 2009, I was in my second year at university, writing an essay on John Donne’s poetry and desperately trying to impress my professors because I’d seriously slacked off the previous few weeks while rehearsing the first play that I’d written. I learned that year that directing your own work is a bad idea as a new playwright – frankly it’s probably not the best idea at any stage. The following year, I learned that directing theatre was not my calling at all – I couldn’t make myself care about the pictures on the stage, and only listened to the voices. Many years later, I’d find a good fit for that instinct: directing the radio dramas for Hotel Europe, which I made with Isley Lynn, David Loumgair and Philipp Ehmann and five extremely talented writers. But back in 2009, I was learning the jobs I wasn’t best suited for, concentrating on what I could offer and give to the theatre world I was then immersed in – and writing and producing had the edge over acting or directing.

    Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – David Ralf”

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”

TV Review: Kiri

With a cast including Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, how could Kiri be anything but good

“Stick a flake in it before you try and sell it to the tabloids will you”

Airing on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year, Jack Thorne’s Kiri was billed as a continuation of his National Treasure brand  (I managed one episode of that first series…). But any fears I had of not liking it were assuaged by a cast led by Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, plus this far down the line, I’d heard enough good things about it to finally get round to watching. 

Set in Bristol, Kiri follows the abduction of a young black girl – Kiri – in the foster care system, as she is allowed a meeting with her birth grandparents in advance of her adoption by a white middle-class family. Her social worker Miriam has arranged this unorthodox meeting and sure enough, the proverbial hits the fan when she gets a phone call to say she has gone missing. Continue reading “TV Review: Kiri”

Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian

“I believe in being open to all cultures”

There’s something a little perversely ironic about Tim Price’s PPE being one of the more effective microplays (SHORT FILMS!) of the Royal Court and Guardian collaboration given how it is a wordless piece. Directed by Hamish Pirie with movement choreographed by the excellent Ann Yee, it plays off the trademark physical gestures that politicians have become known for using as an emollient to the relentlessly grim messages that they’ve had to deliver in recent years. David Annen, Cyril Nri and Eileen Walsh do a cracking job as leaders of different parties and just through physical expression, manage to hypnotise and hoodwink a whole host of supernumeraries standing in for the too-willing electorate. It’s not a world entirely without hope but it’s a powerful indictment of how much of contemporary politics is stagecraft that we just lap up.

Chloë Moss’ Devil In The Detail focuses on the world of fashion, something that director Christopher Haydon laughingly admits to knowing little of but as a multi-million pound enterprise, there’s much more to it than just knowing which handbag is currently de rigueur. Moss picks up on the way that fashion can be used to bolster a person’s mood and self-belief – as Pippa Bennett-Warner and Vanessa Kirby’s characters get ready for award shows in the atelier of a hot designer – but also how the world of fashionistas can wield it as a vicious weapon as Lucy Ellinson’s killer stylist (such lipstick, so colour, many wow!) corrects the assumptions they’ve made, casually dishing out humiliation and obsequiousness which shatters the mood that playing dress-up had cultivated between the pair. Continue reading “Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian”

Review: Circles, Tricycle

“If you’re just circling and I’m trekking all the way to Bourneville, we can just chill innit”

Split between the top deck of the Number 11 bus and the front room of a regular terrace house, Rachel De-lahay’s Circles comes to the Tricycle after a well-received run at the Birmingham Rep Theatre. Tightly coiled into 70 minutes and two interlocking narratives, it is a fierce shot in the arm that reminds us just how easily people get sucked into cycles of violence and how incredibly difficult it can be to break out of them.

Until recently, the number 11 bus service in Birmingham was the longest in Europe and to do a full circuit at just under two and a half hours was considered a rite of passage. 15 year old Demi uses it as an escape from the drudgery of her home life but a meeting with equally teenaged Malachi – his cocky swagger barely hiding his true marshmallow self – offers something different from the same routine. But for all the sweet romance that seems to build up as a connection of sorts is formed between the pair, is it all as innocuous as it seems? Continue reading “Review: Circles, Tricycle”

Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court

There’s something special about being allowed to take part in something unique and though Unusual Unions actually took place twice on the same day, it still counts as a one off in my book. Part of the Royal Court’s convention-busting The Big Idea stream of work, this was a collection of 5 short plays all responding to the ideas raised by Abi Morgan in her main house show The Mistress Contract, taking place in unexpected nooks and crannies of the theatre in wonderfully small groups.

From dressing rooms to stairwells, the space under the stage to meeting rooms with a view, it was a brilliant way of exploring a building which isn’t normally so open (Wilton’s Music Hall’s promenade version of Edmund fulfilled a similar purpose). And even if the subject matter seemed to veer off what one might have expected, given the sexual nature of Morgan’s play, it was still compelling stuff looking at the ways in which we connect (or not) with those around us.  Continue reading “Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court”