Review: Piaf, Donmar Warehouse

I’m not one for standing ovations really, a show has to be beyond superb and really move me before I get on my feet, so imagine my surprise as I found myself standing and cheering before Elena Roger had even finished her final note of ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’! This is a truly amazing production of a show that I would bet the house on winning at least one Best Actress award for Ms Roger by the end of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Piaf.

A reworking of Pam Gems’ 1978 play which sketches the tragic and tragically short life of French street singer Edith Piaf, it doesn’t actually feature too much by the way of biographical detail as it places the songs for which she is so rightly famous full square and centre. And this is why it is such a success. Continue reading “Review: Piaf, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Avenue Q with Daniel Boys, Noël Coward

As you may be able to intuit from its regular appearance here, I have become more than a little obsessed with Avenue Q over the past couple of years as it fast became one of my favourite musicals and probably the best new musical I’ve seen full stop. I’ve taken many people, friends and family alike, to see it to near universal acclaim and the soundtrack is often on my iPod, although it has particularly been the London cast that has won my heart.

Change always encroaches though and a major overhaul of the cast meant that this visit, the first for a while, was filled with a little trepidation at how these changes would affect the show that has become so dear to me. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q with Daniel Boys, Noël Coward”

Review: The Revenger’s Tragedy, National Theatre

The Revenger’s Tragedy is a Jacobean revenge play of dubious authorship but these day, attributed to Thomas Middleton. It is set in a decadent Italian court full of moral decay but in Melly Still’s new production here at the Olivier auditorium in the National Theatre, it has taken on a whole new lease of life.

The story is full of backstabbing intrigue and intricate plotting which required a lot of attention. Vindice is our hero of sorts, but he is determined to be revenged on the Duke, as whilst he’s seemingly a fine upstanding type, actually raped and pillaged the fiancée of Vindice a few years back. His home life is a little eventful too, his Duchess is a narcissistic, sexually voracious, hedonist who is lusting after her husband’s bastard son; and their other sons are a motley crew of bad’uns. One of them, the handsome Lussurioso, has decided to buy a lovely young woman from her mother, but she turns out to be the sister of Vindice. Thus, the scene is set for a strange mix of tragedy and comedy as we hurtle to the oh so very bloody climax. Continue reading “Review: The Revenger’s Tragedy, National Theatre”

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking, National Theatre

Based on the memoir of the same name by Joan Didion, recounting a year in the life of the author after the sudden death of her husband and during which her daughter was also taken seriously ill and eventually died, The Year of Magical Thinking is a searching examination of grief and the mourning process

It is painful and at times oddly emotionless: this is mainly due to the analytical nature of the writing. This is no self-indulgent exercise in wallowing but rather a detached examination of the effects of grief. Only occasionally do glimpses of the grieving widow escape, and they are all the more effective for their rarity. Continue reading “Review: The Year of Magical Thinking, National Theatre”

Review: Rosmersholm, Almeida

Rosmersholm is one of Ibsen’s lesser performed plays and is presented at the Almeida Theatre in a new version here by Mike Poulton. It is also notable for marking the return to the stage of the wonderful Helen McCrory, an Islington local, and one of my favourite actresses.

Rosmer, a former pastor, is oppressed by a whole series of factors: his conservative ancestry, guilt over his wife’s suicide and loss of religious faith. But, aided by his companion, Rebecca West, he believes he can set out on a new path of missionary idealism. This, however, turns out to be a fantasy as he is not strong in his new path, society turns against him and his new democratic ideals, his closeness to West makes them become a subject of scandal, and as Rebecca has her own demons too, sets them on a path where the weight of the past threatens everything.

Continue reading “Review: Rosmersholm, Almeida”

Review: random, Royal Court

debbie tucker green’s one-woman show random is a 50 minute tale of an everyday black family whose lives are torn apart by a random act with tragic consequences. Performed by Nadine Marshall on the Royal Court’s main stage, she holds the attention effortlessly with a stunning performance of great intensity.

Marshall takes us through all the family members, Brother, Sister, Mum and Dad, in a witty opening sequence full of domestic idiosyncracies, finding much humour in the mundane and fleshing out all four characters well before tragedy hits and the ugly spectre of knife crime rears its head. From here, Sister comes to the fore as the voice of grief, stricken with emotion at the brutality of the crime the injustice of the world that keeps on turning despite their loss. Continue reading “Review: random, Royal Court”

Review: His Dark Materials, Theatre Royal Bath Young People’s Theatre

Established as probably my favourite theatrical experience ever when it played the National Theatre, when I heard that the Young People’s Theatre company at the Theatre Royal Bath were putting on a production thanks to the Guardian’s Guide, tickets were booked to take in the day’s entertainment. The translation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy into two plays is one of the most sympathetic adaptations of literature to theatre I can remember and they are amongst my favourite books, yet the way in which they’ve been edited really works, slicing out the more obtuse threads of the final novel and focusing on the harrowing journey that the young protagonists have to make.

Even without the magnificent set that utilised the drum of the Olivier Theatre to its full extent, this is an ambitious project for any theatre to take on, never mind a youth group but they have risen to the challenge pulling together a cast of over 150 10-18 year olds with more than 300 costumes and 100 puppets created especially for this production. The story takes us on a thrilling journey with Lyra and Will, 12 year old kids who live in parallel worlds who are thrown together by destiny on a huge quest which takes them from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the frozen wastes of the North to the darkest of all places as they both search for something precious to their hearts, facing a range of challenges: rebellious angels, soul-eating spectres, child-catching Gobblers and the armoured bears and witch-clans of the Arctic. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials, Theatre Royal Bath Young People’s Theatre”

Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Almeida

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a play by American Stephen Adly Guirgis, receiving its UK premiere here at the Almeida in a co-production with Headlong, who are run by Rupert Goold who is the director. The play centres on a trial testing the guilt of Judas, ostensibly set in Purgatory which looks and sounds a lot like a downtown seedy part of New York today. An array of witnesses from all points in history and the Bible are summoned to argue the toss, but as they’ve all been reincarnated as foul-mouthed typical New Yorkers, they are stripped of the protective aura that history and reputation has accorded them and we see everything from a whole new perspective.

It is certainly a different way of looking at things but it has been so well written and I feel the key to its success is in its no-holds-barred approach to telling it like it is whilst maintaining a sense of decorum. Adly Guirgis is often irreverent but also respectful with it, making it all the funnier when Mother Teresa is hauled all over the coals for opposing Vatican reforms that condemned anti-Semitism and Sigmund Freud’s testimony is discredited due to his raging cocaine addiction. Continue reading “Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Almeida”

Review: Small Change, Donmar Warehouse

Partly based on his own experiences as a boy in Cardiff, Small Change is one of Peter Gill’s earlier plays, revived here at the Donmar Warehouse. It covers the efforts of two boys in 1950s Cardiff to remove themselves from their mothers’ apron strings, but also with the complex relationship between the two, struggling to grasp their true feelings for each other in a world where homosexuality is incomprehensible and illegal. But as it is a memory play, we also see the characters later in life and the action flits around the timeline showing how the past and present are inextricably linked and indeed their impact on the future.
The extremely simple staging, just four chairs at random angles, a floating shelf on a brick wall at the back and an unadorned red raked stage means that the focus is squarely on the prose which is heavily poetical. But whilst there is no doubting the quality of the acting onstage and the obvious emotion invested in the depiction of unresolved homosexual yearning and the drudgery of housewifery, it rarely fully captivated the attention as it is just so very lyrical and Gill’s writing often veers to the elliptical and obtuse.

This is partly due to the structure: the play constantly shifts around in time with repeated lines and recurring motifs echoing around but instead of being moving, I found myself getting increasingly irritated with the repetition. And there seemed something a little artificial about the evocation of working class language, a romanticism which was a little too rose-tinted for my liking.
The acting is predictably strong, led by the incomparable Sue Johnston with her stoic and strong Mrs Harte contrasted with Lindsey Coulson’s much more nervous and despairing Mrs Driscoll, struggling under the weight of a large family and brutal husband. Matt Ryan and Luke Evans had a lovely chemistry as the two boys who never quite managed to chase the dream of love between the two, each following their own paths. On the one hand it was nice not to see full-blown ‘pretending to be children’ acting from these two but equally, the subtlety with which it was played meant that it was never abundantly clear just when we were in the storyline.
Dull and uninvolving feels too harsh a description for this production given the strength of the acting, but I would struggle to recommend this to people as it ended up being quite a difficult play to like.

Review: God of Carnage, Gielgud

Yasmin Reza’s new play, God of Carnage presented here in a translation by Christopher Hampton, mines her familiar territory of social hypocrisy in skillfully dissecting the mutual disdain of two middle class couples. And as a four-hander, it has pulled together a truly heavyweight cast that is most impressive.

Michel and his terribly socially aware wife Véronique, are hosting an uncomfortable little tea party for another couple, Alain and Annette. The connection between the two couples is the assault by the visitors’ 11-year-old son Ferdinand who, following a verbal insult, took a bamboo stick to the hosts’ slightly younger Bruno removing two teeth. There’s a few cagey attempts to resolve the situation peacefully but as the meeting goes on, serious tensions emerge, hackles are raised and the behaviour of all concerned degenerates into the simply outrageous. Continue reading “Review: God of Carnage, Gielgud”