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”

Review: Private Lives, Vaudeville

“I believe in being kind to everyone, giving money to old beggar women and being as gay as possible”

I have been known to stop many a party in its tracks, anyone who has witnessed my karaoke turn on No More Tears (Enough is Enough) will attest to that, and when recently asked at a do whether I was an Amanda or an Elyot and I didn’t know what I was being asked, the collective jaw of the party dropped. For I have never seen Private Lives before, but fortuitously for my reputation that evening, I could say that I did have tickets for the new production arriving in London, after a short run in Bath.

Noël Coward’s play is about a couple, Elyot and Amanda who hate each other intensely yet love each other passionately and so divorced. Chance conspires to bring them together again though, as they both celebrate their honeymoons with new partners in adjacent rooms in the same French hotel. And despite all their history, they launch headfirst into a new affair, regardless of the situation. And it is all very funny.  Continue reading “Review: Private Lives, Vaudeville”

Review: Henry V, Southwark Playhouse

“I am glad thou canst speak speak no better english, for if thou couldst, thou wouldst find me such a plain king”
 

Ooh, this whingeing thing is hard to shake… After my exploits at the Adelphi on Monday, I had to take a couple of days downtime from the theatre to recover and reassess the world in the light of love having actually died a death right in front of me. To try and restore my customary mood, a trip was made to Henry V at the Southwark Playhouse. A company of seven actors act out the radically edited play, covering several characters each, using, and I quote “striking physical imagery, innovative movement sequences and direct contact with the audience” to “reimagine [this as] a life-sized board game. What could possibly go wrong?

One is given a pass along with your ticket which allocates one to either the English or the French army: this governs where one sits in the theatre and there’s a little playing along too, as we’re exhorted to rise when the King first arrives and it’s all jolly fun initially. The floor is covered with a large scale map of England and France, and the seating is arranged around all four sides, creating the stage, or game-board in the middle. This is where Shakespeare’s play of fast-maturing Henry V’s attempts to conquer France, culminating in the famous battle of Agincourt, is told by our players in a really quite bizarre fashion. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi

“Beneath this mask I wear, there’s nothing of me”

I hadn’t originally intended to get a ticket to see Phantom: Love Never Dies, being appalled at the ticket prices when it was announced, but when the National Lottery gods smiled on me and I got four numbers and £64 (the price of a middle stalls tickets plus booking fee) I decided to take the plunge to see if indeed love never dies or whether I needed a defibrillator in my manbag.

It has been billed as a stand-alone story, ie not a sequel despite the strapline being ‘the story continues’… and most of the main characters being taken from Phantom of the Opera, the only new addition amongst the leads is Gustave, Christine’s 10 year old son. The action here takes place ten years after the events of Phantom, the masked man having fled to New York and set up a fairground/freakshow at Coney Island called Phantasmaland. Madame Giry and daughter Meg travelled with him, Meg being one of the performers in the show and looking to make it big in showbusiness through being showcased here.

However, Phantom anonymously invites Christine Daaé to come and sing at this prestigious new venue, an offer she is forced to accept as husband Raoul is now a heavy gambler, and a drunk. So they arrive in New York with son Gustave, and it soon becomes apparent that there’s more than just singing on the menu, as secrets and lies from the past rear their head, long-suppressed feelings rise to the fore and frustrated ambitions boil over with shocking results. Continue reading “Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi”

Review: A Life in Three Acts, Soho Theatre

“You need to see the jewel in its setting”

A Life in Three Acts with Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill has returned to the Soho Theatre, but in a significantly different format to before, evidently in advance of taking the show over to New York. The three acts, previously performed separately, have now been condensed into one two hour show, where legendary drag queen Bourne recounts a series of stories and anecdotes from his highly eventful life.

And what a life he has led: we skim through his childhood in Hackney with an abusive father, his development as an actor, most notably at the Old Vic where he starred with Ian McKellen in Edward II, to the forefront of the fight for gay rights. It was here at the gay liberation meetings that he found himself, or rather found his new persona Bette, which was to shape the rest of his life both with a substitute family in a drag commune in Notting Hill commune and then onto his groundbreaking Bloolips cabaret company that took London and New York by storm. Continue reading “Review: A Life in Three Acts, Soho Theatre”

Review: Measure for Measure, Almeida

“Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it?”

First things first: this has a double revolve, a double revolve people!! Two bits that move independently from each other! And a table that rises up from the ground! And now breathe… So, from the Shakespeare play I know the best, to one which I’ve never seen before in two days. Measure for Measure sees one of the largest casts ever at at the Almeida, 17 if you’re wondering, and I caught a preview last night.

Set in a Vienna which is riven with sexual depravity and political misdeeds, the Duke of the city decides to leave it in the hands of his hardline deputy Angelo, whilst remaining about incognito in order to see how he fares in restoring order. He disguises himself as a friar where he encounters the highly religious Isabella, who is faced with the prospect of sacrificing her virginity in order to save her brother’s life, that brother having been sentenced to death by Angelo for getting a girl pregnant before they were married. There is then all sorts of gameplaying that ensues, both political and personal, as we rush headlong to the conclusion which may or may not include lots of weddings. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Almeida”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rose Theatre Kingston

“Is there no play to ease the anguish of a torturing hour?”

She’s back!! I’m referring of course to Aunty Jean who popped down for the evening for some dinner and a little theatrical amusement. The play in question was A Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring a reunited Peter Hall directing and Judi Dench as Titania, 40 years on since their last collaboration in these two roles. “The wisest aunt” casually regaled me with her (not sad) tales of seeing Peter Hall’s redefining production of this self-same play and McKellen and Dench in Macbeth as we sipped some vile pinot grigio at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, anticipating the treats in store and giggling at the warning of the use of ‘haze’ in the performance.

The conceit is that Dench is actually playing Elizabeth I, as she does in a brief wordless prologue where she opens a performance of a play, who then materialises as Titania in the same dress. It’s an interesting take which works almost entirely due to the warmth radiating from her performance. The scenes when she is bewitched are just delightful, her coos and chuckles with her paramour display all the ecstasy of a lust-fuelled passion simply through the strength of her verse-reading. She also displays some considerable stamina: at one point laying slumbering with her neck in a most awkward position for such a long time, and let us not forget she is 75 now, that I did worry for her joints: I don’t think I could have stayed that still for that long, at least without falling asleep!

Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Serenading Louie, Donmar Warehouse

“I don’t think I was in love with him then, but I’m in love with him then…now”

Serenading Louie by American writer Lanford Wilson is the latest play to hit the Donmar Warehouse. Set in 1970s Chicago, it’s a tale of two college friends who are now in their 30s, struggling to maintain their dreams in the face of marriages and jobs that haven’t necessarily lived up to their expectations.

As one would expect from the Donmar, the acting is first-rate. I particularly loved Geraldine Somerville’s sparky Mary, possessed of the best lines in the show (careful if you attend a dinner party with her!) the most poignant of all being the one at the top of the review, the delivery of which is almost worth the entry price alone. And Jason O’Mara as her husband Alex was a minefield of emotion just bubbling under in a tightly restrained performance which also impressed. Jason Butler Harner and Charlotte Emerson have less interesting (and more annoying) parts but both did well. Continue reading “Review: Serenading Louie, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Heldenplatz, Arcola

“There are more Nazis in Vienna now than in ’38”

Continuing the mini German-language season at the Arcola, Heldenplatz is an uncompromising difficult play which has had a troubled existence, especially in playwright Thomas Bernhard’s native Austria. Named for the square in Vienna where Adolf Hitler declared the Anschluβ that annexed Austria to Nazi Germany and marked the beginning of the territorial aggrandisement that led to World War II, this is an excoriating look at the Austrian national character and just how prevalent right-wing sensibilities were in 1938 and persist even in the modern day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this outraged many Austrians who felt Bernhard was sullying the reputation of their nation, confronting as it does some uncomfortable truths.

The play is set in 1988 and the Schuster family and household are reeling from the death of its patriarch. As they prepare for the funeral, and then join for one final meal in his apartment afterwards, these Jewish intellectuals who fled the country once, they have found that little has changed for them: pervasive hatred and anti-Semitic prejudice still abound and they struggle to find their place in a society shorn of illusion. Continue reading “Review: Heldenplatz, Arcola”

Review: Ghosts, Duchess Theatre

“You do not question the received wisdom”

Ghosts, or Ghostsssss as it seems to be called in this production (this was an early preview), marks the directorial debut of Iain Glen, who also stars here alongside Lesley Sharp. Shocking beyond belief when originally performed in the nineteenth century as one of the first plays to mention syphilis (the ghost of the title) and a damning indictment of Victorian morality: today it has lost this scandalous aspect so the focus necessarily becomes more on the devastating effect of keeping damaging secrets and how the sins of the father are revisited on his son.

The play centres around Mrs Alving (Lesley Sharp), a embittered widow whose husband was a notorious philanderer yet Victorian wisdom and the advice of her spiritual advisor Pastor Manders (Iain Glen) dictated that she stay by his side regardless, despite society knowing full well what he was like. The return of her son Osvald (Harry Treadaway) who she sent to Paris to escape the corruption of his father marks the possibility of a new beginning but it seems history is doomed to repeat itself as those ghosts keep on whispering. Continue reading “Review: Ghosts, Duchess Theatre”