Review: A Sentimental Journey, Wilton’s Music Hall

“You’re not going into that whole load of hooey are you…”

To anyone who has read this blog for a bit, it will come as no surprise that one of my favourite venues in London is Wilton’s Music Hall: a striking historical wonder in the East End, one of the most atmospheric places in the city and one that is sadly in need of much support and funding. I’ve tried to do my part by attending everything there since I discovered it late last year (Edmond and The Waste Land, both remarkable), and the latest play to be put on there is A Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day.

It does what it says on the tin, tells the story of 1950s sweetheart Doris Day, who can lay claim to being one of the most successful box-office stars of all time, and how behind the carefully cultivated wholesome image lay a life of frustration, unhappiness, debt and a whole load of marital shenanigans. The story is accompanied throughout by many of Day’s famous songs, played fabulously by a quartet on stage under the excellent musical direction of Jo Stewart and sung by all the actors. Continue reading “Review: A Sentimental Journey, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Review: You May Go Now – A Marriage Play, Finborough

“You will get off the bus and go to some sort of dining establishment and make eyes. Someone will find you.”

You May Go Now – A Marriage Play, written by US playwright Bekah Brunstetter takes up the Sunday/Monday slot at the Finborough theatre for the next three weeks, and is the first time that this play has been performed in Europe. Things open with Dottie teaching her daughter Betty how to be the perfect 1950s housewife, today’s lesson is baking and icing a cake. The kitchen set is carefully dressed with a great eye for period detail but it soon becomes clear that all is most definitely not what it seems under the surface. Betty has been a virtual prisoner, allowed no contact with the outside world, yet Dottie then throws her out into that world on her 18th birthday to find herself a husband. The next scene then flips the scenario on its head as Dottie becomes a modern-day woman, with a depressed husband, struggling to complete a novel: or does she? When Betty returns from the bus stop, and is followed by a mysterious boy called Phillip, it is clear things are about to change.

It is darkly funny, with lots of sparky dialogue especially around the largely unaware Betty, and the story itself is engaging and suspenseful once one has gotten a handle on the wilfully obscure structure. But there were also elements that didn’t work: the hints of child abuse were most disconcerting but then swiftly abandoned and left unexplored. And it was never apparent to me why Dottie was trying to get rid of Betty in the first place, the act that sets up the whole play. Continue reading “Review: You May Go Now – A Marriage Play, Finborough”

Review: Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi, Union Theatre

“For tonight if we dream, the world will dream along with us”

Phil Wilmott is clearly a master at directing large casts in tiny spaces and combined with Andrew Wright’s amazingly precise choreography, conjures more energy and life in the intimate space of the Union Theatre on a shoestring here with Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi than I saw at any point during that other show that I saw at another Adelphi recently. A Christmas Carol also by Wilmott and also produced by MokitaGrit, filled me with a whole Santa’s sackful of festive cheer and they are obviously doing something right as this show filled me with the joys of spring, even on this bitterly cold March evening.

A huge success with its run in Liverpool, picking up some big awards along the way, this is the London premiere although the programme talks ominously of this being the final chance to see the show. It’s an old-fashioned love story, albeit one set in two different timezones, set against the backdrop of the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool, a venue that capitalised on its location as a major transatlantic port in providing an ideal stopping point for Hollywood stars en route to more glamorous locations. We follow Jo and Neil in the present day as he tries to tempt her into backpacking round Japan with him and Alice and Thompson in the 1920s and 30s with their on-off romance being constantly challenged by events and circumstances seemingly out of their control. Continue reading “Review: Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi, Union Theatre”

Review: A Day at the Racists, Finborough

“People aren’t out and out racist any more, not like they used to be”

It’s been a bit of a political weekend for me, what with Moonfleece and A Day at the Racists, a new play by Anders Lustgarten premiering at the Finborough, both looking at the encroachment of the British National Party in East London and how this rise in fascist politics could have happened. But where as Moonfleece let the politics form a backdrop to a different story, A Day at the Racists is not afraid to show its teeth and really examine what motivates people to considering the BNP as a serious political option.

Set in Dagenham, dyed-in-the-wool Old Labour stalwart Peter is struggling to deal with the disillusionment of his daily life. This is highlighted by his son Mark’s inability to get regular work and to secure a council flat for him and his daughter, whilst Pete perceives that the immigrants in the area are having their needs met first. When a local BNP campaigner’s message, a smartly dressed British Asian woman at that, resonates strongly with him, he falls for the rebranding and the renewed sense of purpose given to him as she employs Pete as her campaign manager. Sucked into this murky world, Pete is forced to face the conflict between his new politics and old, between new relationships and his multicultural old friends and family, all the while dealing with his ultimate sense of betrayal by a country he has worked so hard for. Continue reading “Review: A Day at the Racists, Finborough”

Review: Moonfleece, Rich Mix

“Don’t heckle a heckler, educate through reasonable debate”

I had certain expectations of Moonfleece, largely influenced by the fact that the BNP had roundly denounced the play even before it had opened at Bethnal Green’s Rich Mix, which is virtually a recommendation in itself, and the opening scenes seemed to confirm them with a group of young men, all members of a far-right political party, converging on an abandoned East London tower block and attempting to turf out a mixed-race squatter. But as the tale unfolds, it becomes apparent that this is a tale of secrets and lies, of bonds between families and friends, and the way in which these can be manipulated to support an ideology, however extreme: the politics is in the background rather than the forefront.

The meeting has been called by Curtis, the stepson of a Nick Griffin-like fascist political leader, in the tower block that was his former family home as he is being haunted by the memories and ghost of his older brother. He has asked his ex Sarah to bring a psychic friend Nina in order to conduct a séance to try and get to the bottom of things, but with her arrival comes a diverse group of her friends, including a gay student journalist, and a strident Indian best friend. Curtis is then forced to confront the major emotional crises of his life, namely the deaths of his father and brother and the circumstances that have led to him adhering to his stepfather’s party and its bigoted credo, throwing up the differences in his current friends, also party members, and the more liberal grouping of friends from his old life, surrounding his ex-girlfriend. And then there’s the squatters with a gift for storytelling, who has a story of particular significance to Curtis. Continue reading “Review: Moonfleece, Rich Mix”

Review: Lord Arthur’s Bed, King’s Head

“Being in drag is just a bit of harmless fun”

Perhaps catering to its audience a little too much, Lord Arthur’s Bed arrives at the King’s Head theatre pub promising “nudity and scenes of gay sex”. Given the intimate space one might expect a few of the beige mac brigade showing up, but there is much more to this play than titillation, indeed there’s only one point where these two facets actually coincide very briefly.

Newly civil-partnered Donald and Jim discover that their apartment has an extraordinary history, and decide to re-enact this story for us. It was previously inhabited by Lord Arthur Clinton and his wife Stella back in 1868: all was not was it seemed though as when Stella and her friend Fanny were arrested at the theatre, they were revealed to actually be Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, they were both cross-dressers. A scandalous trial then ensued which shocked the nation, yet it has not achieved the same infamy as Oscar Wilde’s similar legal exploits which happened 25 years later. Set against this tale, is the relationship of Donald and Jim themselves, and we flick between the two narratives throughout the action. Continue reading “Review: Lord Arthur’s Bed, King’s Head”

Review: London Assurance, National Theatre

“I didn’t imagine I’d ever find the countryside so amusing”

Dion Boucicault’s 1844 play, London Assurance, the latest National Theatre production is a rip-roaring, farcical romp of a show that should leave even the most depressed Phantom of the Opera fan with a smile on their face. With a quality all-star ensemble: Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, Richard Briers, Michelle Terry, Paul Ready, all hamming it up for all they are worth, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Sir Harcourt Courtly, a London socialite travels up to Gloucestershire, determined to procure himself a much younger wife-to-be, heiress Grace Harkaway, yet once there his head is turned by her cousin, Lady Gay Spanker, a forthright horse-riding fox-hunting Amazon of a woman. To further complicate matters, Sir Harcourt’s son Charles is also there, in disguise hiding from his creditors, and has fallen for Grace. Sensing the opportunity for merriment, Charles’ friend Richard Dazzle then colludes with Lady Gay to toy with the bumptious Sir Harcourt and lead him astray. Continue reading “Review: London Assurance, National Theatre”

Review: Sweet Nothings, Young Vic

“Stop moping, stop brooding…”

Sweet Nothings is David Harrower’s take on Arthur Schnitzler’s Liebelei (Tom Stoppard previously created a version called Dalliance in 1986) and is described as a sex tragedy on the Young Vic’s website. Well, there’s no sex but plenty of tragedy, though perhaps not in the way they intended.

Rather predictably, there’s pandemonium with the seating arrangements. They’re still unreserved as usual with the Young Vic, but it is set up in a horseshoe with benches that are reminiscent of a lecture theatre, but they’re extremely narrow so it is hard to pass people once they’ve sat down. And human nature being what it is, means people always fill these rows from the aisle inwards, meaning that it is a very arduous task to get everyone seated and there’s much huffing and puffing as people are asked to move along to allow everyone in the theatre. I know it is a thankless job, but the ushers need to much firmer with people from the outset, otherwise every evening will suffer a delayed start and much grumpiness. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Nothings, Young Vic”

Review: Disconnect, Royal Court

“What you do in your cubicle is of utmost importance to the world economy”

Currently playing upstairs at the Royal Court is Disconnect by Anupama Chandrasekhar. It follows a team of 3 call centre operatives in Chennai, India as they chase debtors in Illinois, USA in the vain hope of meeting their sky-high targets. They take on American identities to try and collect credit card payments from unwilling debtors, but harassed by their new supervisor, himself suffering from a demotion, they are forced to play more by the rules, resulting in poorer performances, in turn forcing severe consequences for the team.

It’s clever, fast-paced, comic and very much of our time. It juxtaposes the role played by the developing world in picking up the pieces of the global recession, of course mainly caused by the Western world, with the continued aspiration for this way of life, despite it being exposed as unsustainable on a constant basis with every call that is made. But it is also an office drama, and its strength lie here in the depictions of the highly-competitive, target-driven environment in which camaraderies are forged and dreams chased. Continue reading “Review: Disconnect, Royal Court”

Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?”

Due to a number of reasons (mainly bad reviews from friends, vitriolic reviews from critics and the ticket prices) I never quite managed to getting round to seeing Wicked despite really wanting to see Idina Menzel who reprised her Broadway role initially, and it’s always been fairly near the bottom of my list of shows to get round to seeing. But with the Get Into London Theatre offer available on good seats (£60 tickets for £35, offer now expired), I finally bit the bullet and booked at the Apollo Victoria.

Purporting to tell the hidden story behind The Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of two girls, Elphaba and Galinda, who meet at sorcery school and follows their tumultuous relationship as they grow up. For they become respectively, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and their complex friendship is tested with rivalries over love and their opposing personalities and viewpoints. And whereas the story begins well before Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, much of what we see sheds interesting new light on events as we know them. Continue reading “Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria”