Review: All About Eve, Noël Coward Theatre

Ivo van Hove’s take on All About Eve ticks all my boxes at the Noël Coward Theatre, great work from Gillian Anderson, Lily James and a stellar Monica Dolan

“I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut”

This isn’t the production to change people’s mind about Ivo van Hove. His style is so thoroughly ingrained, his team of collaborators so deeply embedded, that you couldn’t play a drinking game watching one of his shows and stay standing. Live video feed, drink! Backstage people wandering round, drink! A moody slow rise, drink! But what you also get is an amazing calibre of actor throwing themselves headlong into the work, ever-innovative ways of using theatrical space, and the kind of emotional intensity that remains rare. Drink drink drink!

Now that we’re comfortably sloshed, I can tell you that I loved All About Eve (and I only had one G&T, honest). You’ll have to look elsewhere for critiques on how good an adaptation of Joseph L Mankiewicz’s film of the same name and Mary Orr’s play The Wisdom of Eve it is, I ain’t seen either and wanted to go into this sight unseen. What I can talk about is the startling insight offered by the actress’s-eye view, projected onto screens from a camera built into a dressing room mirror. About Gillian Anderson’s titanic performance. About Sheila Reid’s welcome return to the stage. About Monica fucking Dolan. Continue reading “Review: All About Eve, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre

This Sell A Door tour of the excellent puppet musical Avenue Q shows just how well it is standing the test of time

“You should be much more careful when you’re talking about the sensitive subject of race”

I do love Avenue Q. It was one of the first musicals that I fell in love with after moving to London, tracking it throughout its West End-theatre hopping run with multiple visits (a recap can be found here) and then popping in here and there to catch the occasional touring version. And it is a show to which my reactions have shifted: 13 years ago when I first saw it, its quarter-life crisis was directly recognisable; a little way down the line now, I’m the one saying ‘these kids are so much younger than me’ about this youthful company!

Premiering in 2003, the show – music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty – benefited hugely from coming into life in a slightly more innocent pre-social media time, a moment when Generation X didn’t face half as much opprobrium as millennia are forced to shoulder nowadays. And revisiting the show now, as this Sell A Door production kicks off a major UK tour scheduled to last most of the year, it is just lovely to be reminded of simpler times, of such uncomplicated good feeling. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Sexy Lamp, VAULT Festival

Katie Arnstein’s Sexy Lamp emerges as probably the best thing I’ve seen at the VAULT Festival so far – she really is one to watch

“His story is as unresolved as any female character’s in a Michael Bay film”

Katie Arnstein’s Bicycles and Fish was one of the highlights of last year’s VAULT festival for me, so I couldn’t but approach her new show Sexy Lamp  with just a touch of raised expectations. So it is with pleasure that I can report I gave my first standing o of this year, accompanied by many others (in fact, the first I’ve seen at the VAULT so far).

Arnstein’s style is of the deceptively gentle confessional. She’ll lure you in with Love Actually-style handwritten signs, catchy tunes from her ukulele and a wonderfully wry sense of humour. But then she’ll clobber you over the head with searingly honest insight and brutal anecdotal evidence from the front line – in this case, of trying to become an actor in an industry that too often leaves women interchangeable with, well, sexy lamps. Continue reading “Review: Sexy Lamp, VAULT Festival”

Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, VAULT Festival

You will never hear Keanu Reeves the same way again, Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is a hilarious highlight of the VAULT Festival

“I don’t do maths, just cheekbones”

The more you think about it, Cate Blanchett probably is the mortal enemy of Tilda Swinton. Such are the thoughts that will run through your mind as you ponder the many and varied delights of Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, the kind of extended comedy sketch that really shouldn’t work but turns out to be second-Oscar-winningly good.

Byron Lane’s play is the kind of thing that defies description, or rather description fails to do it justice. I could say bubble-wrap coat but that’s nothing compared to the swishiness of it in real life, Similarly, the wearing of lace tablecloths and scarves…both moments of inspired comedy and that’s just scratching the surface of Tilda’s outfit.   Continue reading “Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, VAULT Festival”

Review: Bleach, VAULT Festival

An arrestingly forthright show about life as a rent boy, Bleach proves one of the VAULT Festival’s more compellingly acted one-man show

“Do I look like a piece of meat to you”

Truth be told, there’s not the hugest amount of originality to Dan Ireland-Reeves’ Bleach  – the literal ins and outs of an aspiring rent boy feel two-a-penny (though maybe that speaks more to the kind of plays I pick to see…) – but what does set it apart is the fierce commitment with which he performs his monologue, and the unsparing complicity he demands from us as his audience.

That kind of connection is vital to the success of a one-man-show, to create the kind of atmospheric storytelling that pulls the audience into the palm of their hand and then dares them to look away. And that’s what’s on offer here with the story of Tyler – a young lad from the sticks who moves to London and, tired of scratching a living as a waiter in Chinatown, hops over Shaftesbury Avenue to become a rent boy in Soho, as you do. Continue reading “Review: Bleach, VAULT Festival”

Review: The Good Landlord, VAULT Festival

Strong performances elevate Michael Ross’ play The Good Landlord at the VAULT Festival

“We can see Big fucking Ben from the kitchen window and its only £400 a month”

Michael Ross’ The Good Landlord opens with Tom and Ed at a flat viewing that feels too good to be true – amazing central location, a pittance of a rent, and a benevolent landlord determined to make this kind of London living affordable for recent graduates. “What’s the catch” they jokingly ask the letting agent and sure enough one emerges, as security cameras have been installed throughout the property and won’t ever been turned off.

Thus the scene is set to tackle the growing surveillance state and London’s housing crisis, particularly for renters, and Cat Robey’s production is a fresh and occasionally funny take on this. Maximillian Davey’s introverted Tom recoils from every potential move captured on camera and Rupert Sadler’s wildly gregarious Ed pretty much revels in it, lapping up the perceived attention as if it is the audition of a lifetime. Continue reading “Review: The Good Landlord, VAULT Festival”

Review: The Half Moon Shania, VAULT Festival

Burnt Lemon Theatre’s The Half Moon Shania is a riotous piece of gig theatre at the VAULT Festival

“Let’s go girls”

It’s 1999 and punk band The G-Stringz aren’t just out to party, rumour has it there’s a rep from Diamond Records in the audience and maybe, just maybe this is their big break. Burnt Lemon Theatre’s The Half Moon Shania, written by Cara Baldwin, weaves together past and present as tales of the band’s formation mix in with what impact it has had on their lives so far, all soundtracked by a raucous gig.

An ambitious work, it taps into the festival spirit well – the show did well in Edinburgh last year – as the band constantly spills off the stage to smash the fourth wall, even trying to encourage a mosh pit at one point. And Hannah Benson’s astute direction teases out just the right energy from Baldwin and her castmates Freya Parks and Catherine Davies. Continue reading “Review: The Half Moon Shania, VAULT Festival”

Review: A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival

For all its funeral-based shenanigans, there’s something warmly, beautifully, life-affirming here in the interactive A Wake in Progress at the VAULT Festival

“When it comes to it, I will be remembered in the most romantic, bullshit way possible…”

This is the story of Henry. Except it won’t be when you see A Wake in Progress, as the finer details of this Fine Mess & Leila Sykes production are improvised every night, using audience suggestions to shape the action and flesh out back stories around a young person diagnosed with a terminal illness and given just months to live.

Joel Samuels’ script sees our protagonist opting to stop treatment and get on with the business of living the life that remains, and some of the more powerful moments here come in the interactions with loved ones and family who can’t comprehend such a choice. There’s also some pretty punchy stuff around the language of death, our tendency towards euphemism instead of facing the truth head on. Continue reading “Review: A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival”

Review: We’ve Got Each Other, VAULT Festival

A one-man Bon Jovi musical in the mind…Paul O’Donnell’s We’ve Got Each Other has no right to be as funny as this, a highlight of the VAULT Festival so far

“Well that was fun
And that’s all it needs to be”

When Paul O’Donnell grows up, I’m pretty sure he’ll age into The Drowsy Chaperone’s Man in Chair, And now I’ve got my niche musical reference out of the way, we can turn to the plethora of injokes and satirical jabs that are scattered throughout his inspired one-man all singing, all dancing Bon Jovi musical spectacular We’ve Got Each Other

Well it would be a spectacle, except he hasn’t quite got the budget to mount the whole thing. So he’s talking us through it, asking us to use the power of our imagination to fill in the gaps as he narrates the story to us under the glow of an IKEA floorlamp (cos he can’t afford a follow-spot…). It’s a ridiculously, almost criminally simple set-up, but one which pays huge dividends in its generosity of spirit and in O’Donnell’s pitch-perfect delivery. Continue reading “Review: We’ve Got Each Other, VAULT Festival”

Review: ManCoin, VAULT Festival

Felix Legge’s ManCoin proves a  chilling reminder of how shallow wokeness can be, playing at the VAULT Festival now

“I’m one of the good guys, remember that”

#notallmen right? Felix Legge’s play ManCoin puts the case that, well, it really could be, it really probably is. Guy White wears his wokeness like a badge, his every statement parsed to align with liberal sensibilities, his new cryptocurrency designed to reward those who carry out good deeds. Right on man!  

But peek beneath the proffered bleeding heart and a shell of fragile masculinity becomes apparent, revealed in all its ugliness when Guy has a fight with his girlfriend Polly and a drunken snafu positions him at the forefront of the men’s rights movement. From there, his persecution complex runs wild, showing just how deep – or otherwise – self-proclaimed wokeness is. Continue reading “Review: ManCoin, VAULT Festival”