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”

Review: Avenue Q Lurvefest, Delfont Room

Continuing the massive love-in that I have for Avenue Q, when I heard about this late night cabaret show by the cast on Valentine’s Day at the Delfont Room, I had no doubt in my mind about booking. And it was well worth it as it turned out to be a brilliant and hugely amusing night, full of great singing. It played as a total assortment of things, with cast members mixing up serious heartfelt renditions of songs with personal meaning to witty interpretations of songs from other songs, both solo and in groups and of course some serious puppet play as the more furry characters from Avenue Q also took time out of their busy schedules to give us a number or 3.

I didn’t take notes as we were stood up for the show and it was the kind of night where I just wanted to soak it all up and enjoy it with my partner for once. It may not have been the most romantic way to spend Valentine’s, although I don’t think we ever thought it would be as it was frequently hysterical. So this is more a recollection of highlights from the evening than a full review. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q Lurvefest, Delfont Room”

Review: Thérèse Raquin, National Theatre

Thérèse Raquin was originally a novel by Emile Zola but he adapted it into a play himself, though the version that is being put on here by Marianne Elliott at the National Theatre is one by Nicholas Wright, who worked absolute wonders translating Philip Pullman’s epic His Dark Materials trilogy into one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. The story follows the doomed antics of a couple embroiled in an adulterous affair and the devastating consequences of not being able to live with what they’ve done.

Maybe it was a consequence of not knowing the novel rather than it being a weakness of the play, but I didn’t like the fact that we entered the story at the mid-point, so that the love triangle had already mostly played out with Thérèse already tumbled for Laurent and Grivet cuckolded. I wanted to see more of this build-up to get a better sense of the characters and their motivations: as it was, I didn’t really believe in the erotic drive between the lovers, nor saw the side to the husband that forced such a dark decision as the one they carried out. Having to accept all this as a fait accompli and making the focus of the play the moral reaction to their dastardly deed felt slightly skewiff to me and this I didn’t much care for it, or them. Continue reading “Review: Thérèse Raquin, National Theatre”

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, The Lowry

Having seen and loved Acorn Antiques The Musical when it played in London, despite a few misgivings about the first half, I was keen to ensure that we saw the touring version when it was announced and it fit in well with my Christmas plans to go and see it at the Lowry in Salford. Victoria Wood had obviously taken the (somewhat harsh) reviews to heart though as she has performed some major surgery on the show and the whole conceit of the first half has been removed: we open straight into Manchesterford and the goings-on at the antique shop.
Some of the songs from that original first half have been shoehorned into the story, the tap number is great fun though a bit of a stretch having the am-dram society rehearsing in the shop and other ones shifted around a bit. It still made me laugh, but I must admit to not finding it quite as funny as I did the first time round. And I suppose this is largely to do with the fact that this is a new cast that has been put together for this tour, which features none of the main principles.

And I know it shouldn’t matter, the strength of the show should mean that any good actors can take us through it, but so much of the pleasure of the original was seeing the famous, familiar faces from the TV show reprising their roles, in particular Celia Imrie and Julie Walters, the latter’s Mrs O being so intertwined with herself that I found it impossible to imagine anyone else ever being able to perform the role. And I think that is what the producers also thought as Ria Jones who takes on the role here plays it as close to Walters as possible, which is probably for the best as she can really pull it off. I was less convinced by Sara Crowe’s Miss Babs and Teddy Kempner’s Clifford, but Lisa Peace’s Miss Berta and Beverly Rudd’s Mimi were good fun.

Expectations are often a killer and I think I let them get the better of me here, working myself into a state of excitement that was always unlikely to be matched. Though as the dvd of the original cast is now available, I might add that to my Christmas present list and see if it really was as good as I remembered first time round.

Review: The Seafarer, National Theatre

Directed and written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson making his National Theatre debut here, The Seafarer is not normally the type of play I would go and see, but the offer of a spare ticket and a few gin and tonics won me over to making a wee trip to the Cottesloe at the National Theatre before heading home for Christmas.

Aptly, the play is set on Christmas Eve in an anodyne suburb somewhere north of Dublin and focusing on the return of Sharkey, an alcoholic recently returned to live with (and look after) Richard, his suffering older brother who went blind after a drunken incident with a skip. Two of Richard’s hard-drinking buddies drop by for a game of poker, bringing with them the temptation of drinking and unhappy memories as one of them is now shacked up with Sharkey’s wife. They also bring the mysterious Mr Lockhart with them whose presence poses an altogether different challenge. Continue reading “Review: The Seafarer, National Theatre”

Review: Dirty Dancing, Aldwych

Much of the trumpeting around the arrival of the stage adaptation of the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing has been around its sensational advance box office takings, apparently the biggest in West End history. The film obviously holds a strong cachet amongst the 30-somethings who flocked to the cinema first time round, but I only hope that they emerge from the Aldwych theatre less appalled and dumb-founded than I that this has made it to the West End.

For those who aren’t aware, Dirty Dancing is a coming-of-age story, following the 17 year old Baby Houseman who is spending a family holiday in 1963 at a Butlins-type resort in upstate New York. She discovers love in the staff quarters there, her eye being particularly caught by the muscle-bound dance teacher Johnny. Continue reading “Review: Dirty Dancing, Aldwych”

Re-Review: Avenue Q again, Noël Coward Theatre

Well as predicted, we went back to Avenue Q which is close to being one of my favourite shows ever even after just the one viewing, with a new set of friends as I feel it is my duty to spread the word about this show. You can read what I thought about it on my earlier review, but it was interesting to note what I had neglected to mention first time round.

The Bad New Bears are close to being the funniest things in the show, a little too fond of the demon drink and getting people into trouble, they brighten up the already-bright stage with their YAYYY!!s no end. I loved the little bits that appear on the screens either side of the stage as well: I won’t give any of them away but they help with the clever allusion to this being an adult version of Sesame Street with its life lessons. Continue reading “Re-Review: Avenue Q again, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: The Seagull, National Theatre

I’m not hugely proud of it, but I feel I ought to be honest in telling you that we left this at the interval. Hence this review of Chekhov’s The Seagull is technically a review of the first half but wild horses could not have dragged us back into the Lyttelton at the National Theatre, no matter how much I love Juliet Stevenson. It is presented here in a new version by Martin Crimp, condensed and stripped of its location, so that it is now set in some unidentified locale, a non-specific netherland which was quite disorientating. And combined with Katie Mitchell’s highly individualistic approach to directing, it means that this is most definitely Chekhov with a twist.

And I didn’t like it. At all. So many of the directorial choices were just annoying: the tendency towards the naturalistic speaking style meant that far too many crucial lines were swallowed up, most criminally in Nina’s monologue; even when they were loud enough, the idea to have the domestic servants continually running across the stage throughout the scenes resulted in more distraction away from the clear delivery of lines; the dim lighting restricts how much of the actors’ faces you can see (on the one hand this forces you to watch their physical performance more, but on the other, for a lip-reader like me, it was a nightmare). Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, National Theatre”

Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward Theatre

From the moment the posters went up advertising Avenue Q as Sesame Street for adults, I have been eagerly anticipating its arrival at the Noël Coward Theatre. And as it turns out, that description could not be more apt.

It plays as a coming-of-age story for young adults, poking fun at but also addressing semi-seriously the issues of leaving university and entering the daily grind, the anxieties of finding someone to love and also being comfortable in one’s own skin. It is sexually explicit in the funniest possible way and occasionally foul-mouthed but that just adds to the charm and the sense of realism that drives the show forward, even though it is puppets we are dealing with. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: The Crucible, Gielgud

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible about the witchcraft trials that took place in Salem in the seventeenth century but at a time when America was gripped in the McCarthyite Communist hunt of the 1950s so much of its message was an attack on the contemporary situation thinly disguised with the veneer of historical parallel. This RSC production which has transferred to the West End after a very successful run is directed by Dominic Cooke.

A group of drunken women dancing naked in the woods late one night starts off rumours of witch-craft and devil-worshipping in the little village of Salem and so begins the witch hunt that ultimately leads to the torture and the execution of innocent men and women as hysteria takes over some and cold political survival dominates the elite’s response even at the expense of human life. It’s quite grim, but its power comes from the resonance that it still has today with the political situation in the USA. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Gielgud”