Review: ‘Master Harold’…and the boys, National Theatre

‘Master Harold’…and the boys proves nothing less than a modern classic at the National Theatre, not least in Lucian Msamati’s spectacular performance

“Things will change, you wait and see. One day somebody is going to get up and give history a kick up the backside and get it going again”

At a moment where a Tory Home Secretary chillingly grins while declaring an end to ‘freedom of movement’, the idea of reckoning with one’s legacy carries an extra pungency. That any of us might be able to do with even just a hint of Athol Fugard’s self-reflective elegance as in his 1982 play ‘Master Harold’…and the boys, is something to think about whether your last name is Patel, Pietersen or Parker.

Master Harold... is set in 1950, in apartheid-era South Africa, and is situated somewhere in the realm of semi-autobiography. Running in real-time on a rainy afternoon in Port Elizabeth, gangly teenager Hally is hiding out from his parents and hanging with their familiy’s two servants Sam and Willie.  They’ve got their mind on the upcoming ballroom dancing championship but as their young master goes through the emotional wringer, the limits of their friendship become all too brutally apparent. Continue reading “Review: ‘Master Harold’…and the boys, National Theatre”

Review: Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre

Annie Jenkins’ impeccably acted Karaoke Play proves quietly devastating at the Bunker Theatre

“I’ve got a fucking funny story
It’s me”

What’s your go-to karaoke track? Mine is ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This’, both the Dusty Springfield and the Pet Shop Boys parts natch, though it takes some doing to get the mike in my hand. But much as they’re easily derided, karaoke nights can offer moments of real insight into something of what our aspirational society has become, hardwired as they are into communities through their local pubs. And it is this rich seam of potential that Annie Jenkins mines with her new play Karaoke Play, directed superbly by Lucy Grace McCann. 

A canny piece of programming at the Bunker Theatre sees this Sunday/Monday show take full advantage of Zoe Hurwitz’s exceptional, hyper-realistic set design for main show We Anchor in Hope. It helps that Karaoke Play is set in a hostelry too but more than that, the informality of the pub chair seating peels back another level of artifice to allow a directness that is sometimes startling. And as Jenkins’ play weaves together 4 interconnected monologues that edge towards the deeply confessional, this sense of being in your local conjures up something subtly magical.
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Review: Two Ladies, Bridge Theatre

A pleasure to see Zoë Wanamaker and Zrinka Cvitešić onstage but they deserve a much better play than Two Ladies at the Bridge Theatre

“I could wipe the floor with the whole fucking lot of them”

You might well cross your arms and look as grumpy as Zoë Wanamaker here. Ultimately, Nancy Harris’ new play Two Ladies proves to be symptomatic of the Bridge Theatre as a whole – brimming with quality and superficially appealing but frustrating in the end and one really is left questioning what is being brought to London’s theatre ecology here.

On the one hand,it is great that plays putting women front and centre like this are being produced in such a high profile way. And as this pair of presidential first ladies, Wanamaker and Zrinka Cvitešić (a welcome returnee after Once) both bring a powerful sense of personality to the stage as their unique political perspective is given room to flourish. Continue reading “Review: Two Ladies, Bridge Theatre”

Review: The Open, The Space

Too often, new dystopian play The Open feels emotionally closed at The Space Arts Centre

“Just because things got bad doesn’t mean they couldn’t be good again”

With so much uncertainty surrounding what a post-Brexit Britain might actually look like (and with no sign of any clarity arriving anytime soon), the fertile imaginations of writers will have to do. And in the case of Florence Bell (directing her own play here too), it is a dystopian viewpoint in the shadow of Trump that persists in The Open

It’s 2050 and the orange cheeto has bought Britain, converting it into The Great British Golf Course. Citizens have become golf caddies, entertaining the rich and famous, and any attempt at resistance is met with the severest punishment. Even so, migrant worker Jana wants to rebel against the authoritarian status quo and draws friends Arthur and Patrick into her orbit, despite the danger.
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Dance Review: Outwitting the Devil / Heartbeat of Home

A rare foray into the world of dance saw me catch the highly atmospheric Outwitting the Devil from the Akram Khan Company and Heartbeat of Home at the Piccadilly Theatre

I’m not necessarily known for my dance reviews but that’s mostly because I do find it a little difficult to write about, trapped in a vicious circle of not considering myself to have enough relevant experience to write about it in a meaningful way, and thus never booking in to see it, thus never gaining that experience… Over the last weeks though, circumstance has conspired to get me to see the Akram Khan Company in Amsterdam and Heartbeat of Home much closer to home and so, I’m practically a dance critic now. Severrrrrn…

On the precipice of retirement, Khan has decided to focus his considerable talent (Binoche! Kylie!) on choreography, “dancing [his] ideas through the bodies of others” as he so eloquently puts it and the first fruit of this stage of his career is Outwitting the Devil. Inspired by a fragment from the 4,000 year old Epic of Gilgamesh, it is a powerfully evocative if thematically vague piece for six dancers and while I found it largely very impressive, I was grateful to have programme notes to give it some narrative structure. Continue reading “Dance Review: Outwitting the Devil / Heartbeat of Home”

Review: Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre

Out of the Forest Theatre’s Call Me Fury comes highly recommended from me at the Hope Theatre

“It begins with a girl…”

In the space of just three shows, Out of the Forest Theatre have indisputably become a no-questions-asked do-what-you-can must-see company for me and so by extension, for you too. Bury The Hatchet (2018’s 7th best show as I’m sure you’ll recall) and On Your Head Be It whetted the appetite last year and now it is the turn of Call Me Fury to weave its theatrical magic at the Hope Theatre.

Using the Salem Witch Trials as a jumping-off point, writer Sasha Wilson and director and collaborator Hannah Hauer-King attempt no less than a complete recasting of the history we think we know and the societal behaviours to which we’ve unflinchingly clung. The result is a bracing history lesson cum TED talk cum musical odyssey that gives an insistent voice to those whom historians have chosen not to record. Continue reading “Review: Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre”

Review: Ordinary Days, Cockpit Theatre

SLAM. theatre give a warm account of Adam Gwon’s amiable musical Ordinary Days at the Cockpit Theatre

“I’ll bring the red, you bring the white
That way I’ll still get drunk, you’ll still be right”

Having been around a bit, I love the fact that the first time I saw Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days at the Trafalgar Studios in 2011, it just happened to feature such actors as Alexia Khadime, Daniel Boys and the glorious Julie Atherton in the cast. I also caught a stirring version a couple of years ago from Streetlights, People!, proving it is a musical that endures and so I was interested to see SLAM. theatre’s interpretation over at the Cockpit Theatre.

At first glance, Ordinary Days appears just that, a simple four-hander about love and life in New York. But pay a little attention, peel back a layer or two, and there’s something much more nuanced here about the loneliness that can accompany metropolitan living, whether looking for romance or friendship, as the emotional distance we use to try and protect ourselves can sometimes end up isolating us. And also how art galleries aren’t necessarily all that… đŸ˜‰ Continue reading “Review: Ordinary Days, Cockpit Theatre”

Review: Big the Musical, Dominion Theatre

Big doesn’t always mean better, size does matter, it’s not how big it is it’s what you do with it – whatever the pun, Big the Musical is a severe disappointment at the Dominion Theatre

“I want my room,
I want my bed.
I want my mom,
I want to go home”

A crucial moment in Big the Musical sees Zoltar the fortune-telling machine say “make your wish, make your wish…” and I think my wish is that one day the Dominion Theatre will find a show that properly suits it, and that can fill it – once again, this is not the one. Director/choreographer Morgan Young’s production of the classic 1980s movie initially looks swish – Simon Higlett’s design dominated by an impressive curved HD video wall but a raft of questionable decisions mitigate against it, almost at every step. 

You can see the thinking behind the casting – a Strictly winner, someone off Corrie, a member of Girls Aloud even – but they just don’t feel like the best people for the roles by any stretch. Jay McGuiness doesn’t exude anywhere near the requisite amiability and charisma to be this kind of leading man and whilst he’s technically right there with the dancing – the Act 1 closer is brilliantly choreographed by Young – but there’s no emotion carrying through with it, near fatal when you’ve got Tom Hanks to live up to. Continue reading “Review: Big the Musical, Dominion Theatre”

Review: Anna Bella Eema, Arcola Theatre

The strange but spellbinding Anna Bella Eema makes for an intriguing trip to the Arcola Theatre

“Outside is a state of mind”

A queer little thing indeed, this. Described as a “part ghost story, part fairytale, part coming-of-age fantasy”, that still doesn’t come anywhere close to encapsulating the experience of Lisa D’Amour’s striking play Anna Bella Eema.

Music melds into mellifluous prose, sound effects slide into strange speech, Jessica Lazar’s production builds up an eerily compelling soundscape through Chris Sidorfsky’s original freeform score and Tom Foskett–Barnes’ sound design and from there, locates its entirely individual place in the world. Continue reading “Review: Anna Bella Eema, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Conspiracy, New Diorama Theatre

Barrel Organ’s emotionally open Conspiracy puts the conspiracy theorists under the spotlight at the New Diorama Theatre

“Take it away from the carpeted area”

The world of conspiracy theories is an easy one to mock but though Barrel Organ’s Conspiracy runs the gamut from Area 51 to Princess Diana’s death via Elvis, JFK and the moon landing, there’s something much more sophisticated, and sympathetic, at work here. Rather, the focus is on the people who buy into those theories, those develop and defend them so avidly, and the cost that pursuing ‘truth’ has on both themselves and their relationships.

The jumping off point of Jack Perkins’ text is the iconic 1932 photograph ‘Lunch Atop A Skyscraper’ – you know, the one from Act 2 of Heartbeat of Home – and to begin with, the amiable trio of Rose Wardlaw, Azan Ahmed and Shannon Hayes take us on a beguiling journey through their meticulous research into all the problems they’ve found. Dates that don’t match up, names that can’t be found, clouds doing the wrong thing, lunchboxes that don’t convince…gotta be a fake right? Continue reading “Review: Conspiracy, New Diorama Theatre”