Review: Shadowlands, Wyndhams

To be honest, I had to be somewhat dragged to see this show. I remember the film Shadowlands being out at the cinema and along with The Remains of the Day (also featuring Anthony Hopkins) neither one appealed to my teenaged self and that mentality remained with me even as this adaptation of William Nicholson’s play arrived at the Wyndhams Theatre. And boy am I glad that I allowed myself to be persuaded. I absolutely loved it and ended up crying bucketloads for almost the entire second half!

For the few who don’t know the plot, it concerns classic English novelist CS Lewis and his late-developing romance with American poet Joy Gresham, its an unexpected relationship for both of them, starting as a correspondence and then blooms into marriage. However Lewis’ Christian faith is severely tested when Joy is diagnosed with terminal cancer and everything he believed in is turned on its head.

As the central couple, Charles Dance and Janie Dee are simply resplendent, utterly convincing in the portrayal of their relationship. Dee captures the strength of character of this feisty woman which hides a certain loneliness that she ultimately fills and Dance is just mesmerising with a quietly powerful and striking turn as a man who every certainty in life is changed, firstly for the better and then for the worse with a heartbreaking intensity. The play also has fun in showing the repressed nature of so many men of the era, especially in the cloistered lives of Oxford dons, typified by John Standing’s gruff professor and Richard Durden’s buttoned-up brother of Lewis.

So an unexpected delight and one of the most moving things I’ve seen all year: highly recommended.

Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward

I suppose I’m getting close to groupie status now, but what can I say, I really love this show! Again, not a huge amount to report in how Avenue Q remains a completely guilt-free feel-good pleasure and still as funny as ever, look in the archive for more in-depth writing. It was, however, pleasing to see that whilst Clare Foster was covering for Julie Atherton, I really didn’t mind too much and ended up being quite impressed by her performance. The debutants in the cast didn’t fare quite as well for me.

Making her professional stage debut in the role of Christmas Eve, Jennifer Tanarez is having something of a baptism of fire and she does look a little overwhelmed. Her nerves were far too apparent, resulting in her missing too many comedic notes but as her accent is completely garbled and unfocused, she fails to capture the lyrical dexterity and emotion needed to really deliver ‘The More You Ruv Someone’ effectively and that song is the key to Christmas Eve. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, Noël Coward”

Review: Awake and Sing!, Almeida

Directed by Michael Attenborough who is clearly looking to throw the light on lesser known playwrights here in the UK, Clifford Odets is regarded as a modern great and as important as Eugene O’Neill in the development of modern drama yet arguably remains relatively unknown here.

Awake and Sing is set in the Depression era and following the fortunes of a Jewish family living in the Bronx, it centres around the huge matriarchal figure of Bessie, played by no other than Rizzo herself, Stockard Channing. She keeps her family close around her but they are a motley crew: her husband is a depressed failure, her father is a revolutionary dreamer, her son is disillusioned with life and her daughter has got herself knocked up. In economically incredibly difficult times, Bessie has to make tough decisions to secure the future she desires for everyone, even if it means over-riding their own wishes and desires. Continue reading “Review: Awake and Sing!, Almeida”

Review: The Enchantment, National Theatre

Does context make a difference? Not knowing anything about Victoria Benedictsson, the Swedish writer of The Enchantment, would leave you thinking that this is just another tale of Nordic emotional angst, the doom and gloom we know from the likes of Strindberg and Ibsen. But there’s much more to it than that: Benedictsson herself had a scandalous affair with a critic which ended badly in him rejecting her both sexually and artistically and she consequently committed suicide just months after completing this play in 1888. Her story then formed the inspiration for both aforementioned writers: the seeds of both Miss Julie and Hedda Gabler could be said to arise from here.

The Enchantment is probably best described as semi-autobigraphical, clearly heavily informed by her own experiences but not a strict representation thereof. Caddish sculptor Gustave Alland captures the heart and mind of Louise Strandberg whilst she is recuperating in her brother’s Parisian art studio. She tries to forget him by fleeing back to her native Sweden and a life of domestic drudgery, but temptation is strong and she returns to surrender to an utterly unsuitable affair that cannot end happily. Continue reading “Review: The Enchantment, National Theatre”

Review: Les Misérables, Queens Theatre

No matter how many times I see this show, it never fails to move me: I just love it. It is like Teflon and I will not hear anything bad said about it: a great position for a wannabe reviewer I’m sure but hey, it’s my blog! On its revolving drum set, Les Misérables tells a story of romance and revenge set against the backdrop of the French revolution, two men pursue a vendetta over decades whilst revolutionaries fall in love and die in battle. And boy is it dark, one sometimes forgets just how dark it gets with death never far from any of the characters, making it compulsive viewing.
As a musical, I think it is one of the most rousing that there is. The ensemble numbers are just huge, and there’s so many of them that I get goosebumps virtually every 10 minutes. Do You Hear The People Sing, Red & Black, Look Down and possibly the best song in a musical ever, One Day More, all of them winners. And then there’s the solos, so many of them unfortunately famous as talent audition staples, but in their right context I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own are beautifully moving and Bring Him Home, when performed well as it is here, is a thing of falsetto wonder.


Vocally, Cassie Compton was stunning as Eponine, really making the most of her ensemble parts as well as the solos, On My Own is of course excellent but even her small but vital contributions to One Day More were brilliant. Melanie La Barrie as a pouting, bawdy Mme Thénardier is a comic delight but I was a little underwhelmed by Watson and Baruwa as Marius and Enjolras, not sure what it was but they weren’t convincing me.
But this is Valjean’s show as John Owen-Jones simply owns it with a vocally superb performance and massive stage presence which is all the more remarkable considering how many times he must have played this part by now. Playing off him as Javert is Hans Peter Janssens who more than holds his own with his stern looks and voice, perfect for his rigid approach to applying the law.
I don’t imagine that any review of Les Misérables would change peoples’ minds about seeing this show. It is such a part of the everyday consciousness that you’ll know by now whether you like it or not, and whether you’d spend money to see it. For my own part, I think it continues to satisfy with its evergreen moments of broad comedy, heartbreaking tragedy and life-affirming fidelity.

Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Ambassadors

Starting off at the Menier Chocolate Factory and transferring to the West End at the Duke of York’s, Little Shop of Horrors now has its third home in London at the Ambassadors and I have finally gotten round to seeing it. And boy am I glad that I did.

It is a very sweetly composed story, straddling that not-so-well-trodden boundary between sci-fi and romance. Seymour, a down-on-his-luck orphan just scraping by in grim urban Skid Row, finds a special plant which happens to appear during a solar eclipse and suddenly everything in his life starts to improve. The flower shop where he works becomes more successful, he sees a way to rescue the girl he loves from afar from a violent relationship, but as always, there’s a downside to all of this and in this case, it is that the plant is a living, carnivorous one with a particular yen for human blood. Continue reading “Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Ambassadors”

Review: The Hothouse, National Theatre

Pinter is one of those playwrights who I know I ought to like but I’ve never really got it with his plays, never had that light-bulb moment that made me see what others do in him. So quite why I let myself get talked into going to The Hothouse, a play he wrote in 1958 but didn’t get produced until 1980, I do not really know.

It is set in an undetermined institution, somewhere between mental institution and convalescent home I think, which is run by a staff who have more problems than those at Holby City and Casualty combined. When the governor decides to try and solve some of the problems when Christmas Day sees one inmate dying and another giving birth, it sets in chain a set of events that reveals how rotten each member of the staff is, no-one ends up being free from blame and an increasingly sinister tone leads to a bitter ending. Continue reading “Review: The Hothouse, National Theatre”

Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre

With Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw took the well-known story of Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl eventually sainted, who led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years War and was repaid for her trouble by being declared a witch and burnt at the stake since she believed that she was being guided by the voice of God in her head, and created an all-too-human story filling in the gaps in the history with tales of conflicting institutions, personality clashes and a keen sense of humour of what her life must have been like.

The play is remarkably even-handed in that it presents all sides of the argument and never really comes down on the side of either Joan or her oppressors. There are no goodies and baddies here, just a girl who believes God is speaking to her and the machinery of Church and State who will do anything to ensure their power remains stable: Shaw’s message is that uncontrolled individualism threatens the established order and is rarely tolerated. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre”

Review: The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder, National Theatre

The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder is a new play by Matt Charman, playing at the National Theatre and looking at whether polygamy is a valid or possible lifestyle choice in the middle of suburbia. Set in a regular house in Lewisham, Pinder and his wife Esther have not been able to have children, so he divorced her and married Fay who delivered a son, Vincent. However Esther didn’t move out and realising he was onto something here, Pinder repeats the trick twice more, filling his house with wives and children. But this alternative lifestyle has its downsides and two new arrivals threaten to upset the delicate balancing act.

Whilst an unbelievable concept, especially given Lamb’s average Joe looks and demeanour, Charman does well at spinning the web that holds them altogether. Sorcha Cusack’s childless earth mother who rather enjoys having a flock to tend over; Clare Holman’s Fay who masks her unease by drinking and sleeping around whilst fretting over her gangly awkward son (Adam Gillen, who is bizarrely brilliant); Martina Laird’s Lydia who was essentially just after a sperm donor. Enter Carla Henry’s Rowena, a heavily pregnant and emotionally and physically battered teenager who is welcomed into the strange state of affairs. This all kind of works and is surprisingly well executed. Continue reading “Review: The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder, National Theatre”

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.