Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”

Review: Shit-faced Showtime – Oliver with a Twist, Leicester Square Theatre

My first time getting Shit-faced…Shit-faced Showtime’s Oliver with a Twist is raucous if unfocused affair at the Leicester Square Theatre

“You’re a rather high-breasted boy”

Just a quick write-up for my first time getting shit-faced… Shit-faced Showtime’s USP is that they perform shows with a whopper of a wildcard, one of their company getting “genuinely inebriated” beforehand and then being encouraged to drink more as the performance goes on. It’s an intriguing set-up and one which has proved endlessly flexible (they’ve just announced Hamlet as their new summer production).  

Their current show at Leicester Square Theatre is Oliver with a Twist, which I caught last week early in its run and I have to say, though I was sceptical to start with, it won me over with the beery-breath charm and close-to-the-knuckle humour that Alan McHale’s Artful Dodger brought to proceedings. Perhaps inevitably, initially it felt there was an element of the performatively drunk but as the hour progressed, it was impossible to resist the chaos he wrought as Fagin was renamed Vegan, Oliver’s body shape was called into question and wayward dogs threatened to derail all. Continue reading “Review: Shit-faced Showtime – Oliver with a Twist, Leicester Square Theatre”

Review: Cry Havoc, Park Theatre

Cry Havoc proves a rather slight look at contemporary international gay relationships at the Park Theatre

“I threw up in the back of a taxi once in Chipping Sodbury”

I wanted to love Cry Havoc but it didn’t quite do it for me. Set in present-day Cairo, Egyptian Mohammed is being comforted by his lover Nicholas, a British academic after being imprisoned and tortured by the authorities for his sexuality. Their relationship is of course a secret but as Mohammed’s family and community turn against him, Nick is determined to ‘save’ him.

But it isn’t just as simple as upping sticks to the UK and playwright Tom Coash attempts to portray the worlds of difference between gay life in these two spheres. Nick is the embodiment of Western liberalism and Mohammed is the firebrand revolutionary who wants to provoke change from within. With such a cultural divide between them, does love stand a chance? Continue reading “Review: Cry Havoc, Park Theatre”

Review: Macbeth, Watermill

As good as the effort is here at the Watermill, I can’t help but feel it is time to give the Macbeths a rest – it ain’t all that as a play!

“What’s done is done”

Circumstances prevailed against me getting to see the Watermill’s Macbeth before its final day so I’m cheating by just firing up a mini-review. Truth be told, I only really booked for Paul Hart’s production on the strength of his track record in re-imagining Shakespeare so successfully – I had no real desire to see this particular play again, so soon after two major disappointments at the National and the RSC.

And as inventive the approach is here – music suffused throughout, an ensemble always split 50:50, adventurous creatives onhand – I can’t help but feel that Macbeth is oversold as a play. Any (if not all) attempts to update it seem doomed to some kind of failure as it really does resist modernisation. Billy Postlethwaite does a decent job as the Scottish king but I think I’ll be resisting seeing this play again anytime soon.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Pamela Raith
Macbeth is booking at the Watermill Theatre until 30th March

Review: Emilia, Vaudeville Theatre

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia transfers to the Vaudeville Theatre with all of its feminist fire and fun intact

“There’s a woman on the stage”

Is there anything currently on the London stage that is more gracefully eloquent than the moment that the transformative power of grief is writ large at a crucial point a third of the way into Emilia. It’s a rare moment of beautiful subtlety in a play that is more often considerably bolder in its sentiment but it’s also a mark of just how nuanced Nicole Charles’ production and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s writing is, even while some tie themselves in knots trying to square its historical and feminist credentials.  

A transfer from Shakespeare’s Globe last summer (officially the 13th best show of the year doncha know) where its short run caught fire, its all-female and wonderfully diverse cast and creative team mean that all three of the Strand’s major playhouses currently have work written by women in them (I wonder when this last happened). And while that ought not to be noteworthy, god knows it still is and it all ties up rather neatly with Lloyd Malcolm’s writing. For though this is a play about a historical woman, it is also a play about all women. Continue reading “Review: Emilia, Vaudeville Theatre”

Yet-another-re-review: Company, Gielgud Theatre

Just the one more trip to see the glorious Company at the Gielgud Theatre before it sadly depart

“You can’t stay in your thirties forever”

I went back, again. Well I had to, at least while the above quote is still true for me for a couple more months. There’s not much left to say about Company that I haven’t said already here, or here, or here and it remains an absolute pleasure to watch, a show I could sit through time and time again even more so than I have already. It will be very much missed.

And I do think it really has gotten better as the run has progressed, performances deepened and matured, but also deliciously playful – I swear the magnificently brassy Patti Lupone has done something different every single time and it has been wonderful for it. It will be fascinating to see how Marianne Elliot’s production fares on Broadway and who, if anyone, transfers with it. Continue reading “Yet-another-re-review: Company, Gielgud Theatre”

Not-a-review: Shipwreck, Almeida

Who wants a play about Trump? Not me. Shipwreck proves a crashing bore at the Almeida

From across the room I saw the President, torchlight playing across his visage.
And the violins began, and the low rumble of the timpani.
I screamed. I ran.”

My fault really. On a day when the people were descending on London to march, my attempt to escape people talking/moaning about politics was kyboshed by picking a play which featured little else but people talking/moaning about politics. Anne Washburn’s Shipwreck just wasn’t the one for me, though it is cool she has two shows in town (even if it is the wrong one that got the transfer).

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Shipwreck is booking at the Almeida until 30th March

 

Review: The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory

Penelope Wilton almost, almost, makes it worth seeing a David Hare play with The Bay at Nice at the Menier Chocolate Factory

“I know what life is and what it cannot be”

Oh, British theatre and your ongoing obsession with David Hare. I’ve never really got it, never had that experience with one of his plays that made me go ‘oh that’s what they’re talking about’. Indeed, I only really booked for The Bay at Nice for the opportunity to see the Great British wonder that is Penelope Wilton in the intimacy of the Menier Chocolate Factory.

And such is her exceptional talent, that she almost makes this an unmissable event. Her Valentina Nrovka is a strikingly captivating presence, a former pupil of Matisse called to authenticate a painting that might be one of his. Having left post-war Paris for revolutionary Russia, her artistic career has taken a back seat and motherhood has not proved anywhere near as fulfilling. Continue reading “Review: The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Album Review: Joanna Forest – The Rhythm of Life

Classical-crossover artist Joanna Forest takes us through a day in the life of a child with her enchanting new album The Rhythm of Life

“Wave goodbye to cares of the day”

After becoming the first independent artist to go straight to Number 1 in the Official Classical Album Charts with a debut album The Rhythm of Life is classical-crossover soprano Joanna Forest’s follow-up record. And it takes the form of a concept album, taking us on a journey through the day in the life of a child, pulling together songs from a wide range of sources to remind us of how uplifting music can be, no matter our age.

As a theatre nerd, my eye was instantly drawn to the musical tracks and Sweet Charity’s ‘The Rhythm of Life’ is an unexpected success as it brims with irrepressible energy – a fascinating and urgent orchestral arrangement is bolstered with charismatic backing vocals and choirs and the whole production builds layer upon layer to become something really interesting and unlike any version you’d seen on a theatre stage. Continue reading “Album Review: Joanna Forest – The Rhythm of Life”

Review: Queer Trilogy, Drayton Arms

The Queer Trilogy of A Sticky Season, Minor Disruptions & Crystal Bollix presents The Bitch Ball proves something of a mixed bag at the Drayton Arms

“I am finally ready to learn”

Recent Mountview grads Jack Donald, Katie Paterson and Alexandra Christle have banded together to mount Queer Trilogy, a triple bill of shows at the Drayton Arms that probes interestingly at queer identities, how they’re shaped and formed by past and present but also complicated by the mere act of being. They’re further challenged by being bound together in this format which doesn’t necessarily suit them so well.

For they are three disparate, diverse pieces. Christie’s Crystal Bollix Presents The Bitch Ball is a drag act that delves into the social construct of the word bitch and how its continued cultural significance filters down to the individual. Through the use of lip-syncing and some very game audience participation, Bollix’s personality shines through but the piece doesn’t quite have the emotional resonance to achieve the depths it wants. Continue reading “Review: Queer Trilogy, Drayton Arms”