Review: The Chalk Garden, Donmar Warehouse

The Chalk Garden is a 1955 play by Enid Bagnold, revived here by Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse and featuring a top-notch cast, not least of two women who are surely dames-in-waiting.
The plot starts with Mrs St Maugham’s attempt to employ a governess for her unruly granddaughter Laurel. Miss Madrigal is the successful applicant and brings with her, into this quirky English household, not least a wealth of knowledge about how to make things grow in the chalky soil of the garden. As Laurel and Miss Madrigal come to know more about each other, secrets begin to unfold and realisations occur as to how what needs to change in order to make everything right.


It is sheer theatrical delight watching this cast, Tyzack and Wilton are just note-perfect throughout. Tyzack is witty, candid, uniquely eccentric and Wilton is mesmerising as a woman possessed of a serene calm and quiet steeliness which equips for most tasks in hand. With these two luminary talents onstage, one might have forgiven the rest of the ensemble for wilting a little but they really don’t, they flourish. Felicity Jones is just right as the psychologically disturbed Laurel, Jamie Glover’s manservant cannot hide his own psychological damage from years in jail as a conscientious objector and Clifford Rose’s judge is also nicely played.
To be sure, it does feel like an old-fashioned play and the ending reflects that completely, but there’s something strangely soothing about the message it conveys that fits this production perfectly. The detailing of the period set is brilliant, full of atmospheric detail and combined with the excellent acting, makes this a certain hit for the Donmar.

Review: The Lady From Dubuque, Theatre Royal Haymarket

When Edward Albee’s 1980 play The Lady From Dubuque opened on Broadway, it lasted for just 12 performances. So I imagine they are hoping for a little more success with this production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket featuring a largely American cast, augmented by our very own Dame Maggie Smith. It is a much more challenging work than say Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but director Anhony Page is clearly up for the challenge.

The play starts at a strained party in Connecticut at which three couples have been playing 20 Questions with increasing rancour. It ends when Jo, the hostess who we find out is dying of cancer, can no longer bear her pain. Afterwards, a mysterious woman, the “lady from Dubuque”, who insists she is the mother of the hostess, arrives with a companion and raises more difficult questions. Continue reading “Review: The Lady From Dubuque, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre

Based on a well respected (although I’d never heard of it, let alone seen it) film, A Matter of Life and Death sees Cornish theatre company Kneehigh take the cavernous Olivier theatre by storm with a highly inventive and physical reinterpretation of this story. Peter, a World War II pilot is shot down whilst on a mission but doesn’t die because the angel sent to collect him gets lost in the fog. Instead, he meets and falls in love with June, the radio operator who tried to help him down. Peter is then forced to plead his case in the court of Heaven to see how his future will play out.

As the romantic leads, both Tristan Sturrock as Peter and Lyndsey Marshal as June seemed a little overwhelmed by the production, not really able to give us much of a sense of the relationship between the two and too often required to do something gymnastic or wacky instead of focusing on the emotion of the moment. In the more light-hearted characters, like Douglas Hodge’s Frank and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s gymnastic Conductor, there’s more freedom and opportunity for fun, but by and large this wasn’t a production about strong acting. Continue reading “Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre”

Review: On The Town, Coliseum

I can’t honestly tell you what it was that attracted me by buy tickets for On The Town at the Coliseum: the chance to make my first trip to this venue, the cheap balcony seats, Leonard Bernstein’s name or maybe it was just the hot guy in a sailors uniform on the poster, but I have never been so glad to take a punt on something unknown as I was here. This is proper old-school Broadway musical entertainment at its dazzling best, perhaps unsurprising given Bernstein’s pedigree. The combination of a huge ensemble with a full orchestra means the total personnel involved is over 100 which is mightily impressive and lends an epic scale to the set pieces and Stephen Mears’ excellently choreographed routines. And it was all the more so considering I wasn’t expecting any of it!

We’re in 1944 and three sailors have just 24 hours of leave to kill in New York and they decide to use it on looking for a girl. It is a simple premise, but one given wonderful life here as the guys variously drink in the sights of the city, sample its cultural delights, chase some skirt but also keep an eye out for romance too. All fun and games but this production never loses sight of the fact that we’re smack in the middle of World War II and that the solace these men are looking for is a strictly temporary measure and so there’s a real bittersweet kick to proceedings that lends a real depth to the show. Continue reading “Review: On The Town, Coliseum”

Review: The Letter, Wyndhams

Based on a real life scandal, Somerset Maugham’s The Letter takes place in the house of a plantation owner, Robert Crosbie, and his wife Leslie in the British colony of Malaya in the 1920s. With her husband away on business, Leslie claims that she shot a mutual friend, Geoff Hammond, in self-defence, following an attempted rape, and the play focuses on the steps taken by the wife’s lawyer to convince the court of her innocence. Matters are complicated somewhat following the discovery of an incriminating letter which throws doubt on her innocence and her lawyer is forced to make a huge decision in order to save her.


I imagine that Jenny Seagrove is aiming for impassive here as Leslie, but just comes across as wooden and completely devoid of emotion. It is as stiff a performance as I have ever seen, she never feels relaxed or comfortable on the stage and it was quite hard to watch. Matters are not helped by the plummy accents which permeate this production, but lend it the air of farce. Anthony Andrews was just dull as the lawyer who faces a dilemma and I didn’t give two hoots about him in the end. Jason Chan’s Chinese lawyer clerk does well to try and rise above the questionable racial stereotyping; Andrew Charleson’s blindly devoted husband is fine and Peter Sandys-Clarke’s British consul was nicely observed.



The scene changes were bizarre with a bamboo screen wheeling its way across the stage languidly and sapping any energy that might have been built up, with only the opium den scene providing any real interest. Altogether though, it is an unfortunately dull play, only the one vaguely thrilling moment at the very beginning, and it is riven with racial and sexual anachronisms and such a dated idea of stiff-upper-lipped British reserve which make it hard to swallow these days. But even with those edges smoothed, the play The Letter is just fundamentally dramatically unexciting and this production is therefore really not worth the effort.

Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Novello

Direct from Broadway and originally written as a skit for a stag party, The Drowsy Chaperone (a musical within a comedy it claims) comes to London delivering 90 minutes of huge amounts of fun, though not quite the Elaine Paige star vehicle one might have imagined.

The show itself has a relatively simple plot, following the wedding day of pampered starlet Janet Van De Graaff who is about to give up show business to marry the dashing Robert Martin on the estate of ditzy Mrs Tottendale. Making life a little difficult for them is an array of odds and sods each with their own agendas, Janet’s producer who wants to stop the wedding, the outrageous Adolpho, Janet’s gin-drinking titular chaperone and a whole load of others beside. But where the show stands out is having it all narrated by Man in Chair. Continue reading “Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Novello”

Review: Evita, Adelphi

I was adamant that I didn’t want to see this production of Evita for so long and I am not really sure why. But having announced its closure and with some good ticket deals floating around, I finally took the plunge and boy, was I wrong. Central to this revival of the 1978 Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice collaboration was the casting of the Argentinean Elena Roger to take on the title role of this rags to riches story of the second wife of Argentinean president Juan Perón, Eva Duarte, whose controversial rise to power captured the hearts of some, thoroughly alienated others but ensured her a lasting legacy as one of the most colourful political leaders.

From the opening number, I could feel something exciting happening, a certain energy on the stage, which then exploded in a joyous version of ‘Buenos Aires’ filled with ecstatic singing, tight Latin-inspired choreography and I just loved it, I was ready for giving a standing ovation from then on! The incorporation of a real Latin American feel into both the music and choreography gives the show a real injection of authenticity which lifts it into the stratosphere. Continue reading “Review: Evita, Adelphi”

Review: The Rose Tattoo, National Theatre

The Rose Tattoo, one of Tennessee Williams’ earlier plays, is a life-affirming tale of sexual passion, love, betrayal and dealing with loss. Sadly, the original director Steven Pimlott died earlier this year, meaning Nicholas Hytner had to take up the reins at the National Theatre, working with his friend’s notes and paying tribute to his memory in a most fitting way.

Set in the Sicilian community in New Orleans, the story follows Serafina della Rose, an exotic seamstress who when widowed struggles to balance cherishing his memory with actually living life. She locks herself away and this affects her daughter Rosa from enjoying life too, but when a buffoonish, tattooed truck driver arrives in town, something inside Serafina begins to stir which is good timing for Rosa as a hunky sailor named Jack catches her eye. Continue reading “Review: The Rose Tattoo, National Theatre”

Re-Review: Avenue Q again again! Noël Coward Theatre

So, up to my third trip to Avenue Q now with yet another group of people to whom I have raved about this show: I feel I ought to get some kind of commission at this rate. This will be a short piece as you can read my earlier two reviews which cover the production in much more depth.

The only notable change is the first major cast replacement with Ann Harada, who came over from the New York cast when this first opened, leaving the role of Christmas Eve to be replaced with Naoko Mori, who is perhaps most famous from her role in Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. Making a completely different visual impact and bringing a different comic sensibility to the part, Mori impressed despite perhaps not inspiring the same vocal confidence as Harada. Continue reading “Re-Review: Avenue Q again again! Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: The Man of Mode, National Theatre

The Man of Mode is a Restoration comedy of 1676 by George Etheredge, but has been given a thorough makeover here by Nicholas Hytner in a modern-day version which is playing in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre.

The story centres around the bed-hopping Dorimant, played here by an often shirtless, toned tattooed Tom Hardy who in a nutshell, is sleeping with Mrs Loveit, but in the midst of dumping her to sleep with Belinda, but also hunting after Harriet whom he wants to marry. So we follow Dorimant and his motley crew of followers and hangers-on from party to fashion shoot to opening in their world of wealth and celebrity. Played against this is the story of one of the followers Bellair, who is trying to escape an arranged marriage so he can pursue his true love (who his father also fancies), setting this in as Asian community as both stories wind their way to farcical ends. Continue reading “Review: The Man of Mode, National Theatre”