Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National

Mother Courage and her Children sees Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner reunited once again at the National Theatre as part of the Travelex £10 season. Brecht’s play of a woman who is determined to make a profit from the war that surrounds her, even as that same war takes her children from her one by one, has been freshly translated by Tony Kushner and Warner has utilised the vast space of the Olivier to great effect to create something quite unique.

It is a fairly lengthy beast, the first half alone is two hours long, but neither I nor my companion felt that it dragged at all, I found the songs kept it quite pacey, and felt much the same during the second half (a mere hour long). There wasn’t that high a level of dropout after the interval which was quite nice to see and there was a strong reception for the players at the end. Much has been made of the introduction of Duke Special and his band but I have to say I thought by and large it worked. Personally, I was not as keen on the rockier numbers, despite Shaw gamely rocking out, but was genuinely moved by some of the slower numbers, especially when he was duetting with other characters. Continue reading “Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National”

Review: Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the latest film adaptation to hit London’s West End, taking up residence in the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Not having seen the film, I had to be informed that this adaptation is actually much closer to the original Truman Capote novella than the Hollywood version, so namely there is much less coyness about how the leads make their money and the timeframe is restored back to 1943. A young writer, Fred, makes his way to New York City where he meets Holly Golightly “a charming, vivacious and utterly elusive good-time girl” who lives in his building and we follow their developing relationship for a year, in the shadow of World War II and her need for a rich sugar daddy.

Events did not start off well by the first main scene seriously evoking the recent corpse of Too Close To The Sun with some pointlessly fast revolving sets, followed by a metal lampshade that lost control and clanged endlessly against a bit of the set, and then by a cringeworthy dance routine which left most of my party helpless with the giggles. This triple threat should have warned us to leave then and there: the evening did not get any better. Continue reading “Review: Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre

Ending this year’s run of shows at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is a revival of the Jerry Herman musical Hello, Dolly! It is a classic piece, and its presentation here is respectful of that and delivers a straight up rendition mercifully free of irony. Hello, Dolly! is not for people who claim that they don’t like musicals. It is old-school Broadway singing and dancing through and through and about as much fun on a stage as you could imagine: there is no place for cynicism here.

Admittedly, I did not see it in the heights of summer when one might expect a slightly better chance of sunshine, but one did start to question the methods of the Open Air Theatre on rainy days, as the stagehands were made to work extremely hard, wiping down the stage diligently four times in 45 minutes before the actual start of the show. One began to feel so sorry for them as it seemed every time they finished a new shower would begin. Fortunately, the sheer joy of the production meant that the conditions were soon forgotten.

Continue reading “Review: Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Shawl, Arcola

With the lure of an Oscar-nominated actress and within walking distance of my flat, it did not take much to convince me to go and see The Shawl, a short but punchy play by American playwright David Mamet. The venue was the Arcola Theatre, the innovative Hackney venue which is pioneering a wide range of sustainable activities including the attempt to become the world’s first carbon neutral theatre.

The play is about a conman-like psychic John, played by Matthew Marsh, who is attempting to fleece Miss A out of a large inheritance, whilst teaching his young protégé Charles the tricks of his trade. Miss A has her own agenda in visiting the psychic though and Charles is less interested in real learning than just making a quick buck. Over four short acts, the issues of trust and betrayal in the shadow of greed are examined and the question is asked “is there such thing as an honest charlatan?” Continue reading “Review: The Shawl, Arcola”

Review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith

Marking the beginning of Sean Holmes’ artistic directorship of the Lyric Hammersmith, Punk Rock is a new play written by Simon Stephens. It looks at the experiences of seven teenagers as they negotiate their final years of private school in Stockport, with the pressure of imminent mock exams looming on top of their regular adolescent trials and tribulations. The punk rock of the title is limited to short bursts which mark the scene changes, which i have to say was a blessing for me!

The company is made up of young people (thankfully there’s no 30 year olds dressing up embarassingly as schoolboys) with a combination of some experienced actors and some debutantes. This definitely adds to the freshness of the production, which is handsomely mounted, the library set looking very convincing. The action opens with new girl Lily meeting the somewhat kooky Will who is keen to impress the newcomer but finds his plans skewered by the arrival of other schoolmates into the library. Continue reading “Review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Three More Sleepless Nights, National

This short play by Caryl Churchill ran prior to productions of Phèdre in the Lyttleton Theatre and with cheap ticket prices, proved a welcome addition to the regular programme. Three More Sleepless Nights looks at the fragility of relationships through the eyes of two all-too-human couples in three short acts. I’d viewed this primarily as an opportunity to see some great acting talent, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself engrossed in the travails of these couples as soon as the curtain had risen.

Ian Hart (eagerly anticipated by me at least in the forthcoming Speaking in Tongues) and Lindsey Coulson have great chemistry in their opening scene as a long-married long-suffering couple, Frank and Margaret, who argue constantly about his drinking and infidelity and her frustrations. They both give as good as they take and the scene is filled with sharply observed overlapping dialogue which was often very funny. Continue reading “Review: Three More Sleepless Nights, National”

Top 5 Plays of July

Here are my top 5 plays for the month of July (somewhat belated due to a lovely holiday!):


1. A Streetcar Named Desire
2. Hamlet
3. Frank’s Closet
4. Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray
5. Waiting for Godot

and my top 20 plays of the year so far:


1. When The Rain Stops Falling
2. La Cage Aux Folles
3. A Streetcar Named Desire
4. Arcadia
5. A Doll’s House
6. The Pietà
7. Duet For One
8. Hamlet
9. Sister Act
10. The Last Five Years


11. Burnt By The Sun
12. Parlour Song
13. All’s Well That Ends Well
14. The Cherry Orchard
15. The Observer
16. Dancing At Lughnasa
17. Frank’s Closet
18. Phèdre
19. Time & The Conways
20. Carrie’s War

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar

Maintaining its recent history of strong female-centred drama, the Donmar’s latest production is A Streetcar Named Desire and the star name this time round is Rachel Weisz, although she is ably supported by some strong upcoming talent. Not being a fan of old films, I had no idea of the story and I think this added considerably to my enjoyment.

 

It tells the story of Blanche DuBois, a figure with a tragic past, who turns up unannounced at her sister Stella’s apartment in 1940s New Orleans. The apartment is very small but Blanche’s personality is most certainly not, and so the pressures on Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski build up, as they struggle to wade through Blanche’s smokescreens and ascertain the real reasons for the unexpected visit. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar”

Review: Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray

Just a quick review for this as it was a couple of weeks ago, and the run has now finished, plus there’s lots of lovely pics I wanted to post too! Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray returned to Sadler’s Wells after premiering in Edinburgh last summer, with largely the same cast. Taking Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray as its source material, this dance drama updates the action to modern times, so that Dorian is now a beautiful model who becomes an ‘It boy’ who takes the London fashion scene by storm, the portrait becomes a giant advertising billboard and there are a couple of characters who have switched gender.

I generally do not go to much dance and so cannot comment with much authority on the finer points of the quality of the choreography, but I can say that I found it most entertaining. The combination of the at times classical dancing between pairs and the modern, almost pop video-like group dances worked very well, and there was a surprising amount of humour worked into the dance as well. My lack of dance knowledge perhaps made me focus more on the storytelling, and I find it incredible how well the piece did in relating the action with not a word being said. The only area that needed a little clarity for me was with the doppelganger: I wasn’t sure whether he was a real character that had appeared on the scene or meant to just be an alter ego of Dorian himself. Continue reading “Review: Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray”

Review: Frank’s Closet, Wilton’s Music Hall

I’m not always the biggest fan of fringe theatre: often I find it overpriced and undercooked in terms of quality, but I do try to give some things a chance, as I did with Frank’s Closet, at the instigation of a dear friend last Thursday. Unfortunately the show has now closed and does not currently have future plans, but I loved it so much, I still had to write about it on here.

A new musical written by Stuart Wood, it features Frank, who on the eve of his wedding, has been set the challenge of clearing out his closet which is full of rare dresses which belonged to some of the greatest divas of our time. Each dress has a story (or song) to tell and Frank is helped to revisit elements of his past by a procession of divas who help him to fully understand the gravity of the commitment he is about to undertake, and whether indeed this is the right commitment for him to take. Continue reading “Review: Frank’s Closet, Wilton’s Music Hall”