Top five plays of June

Here are my top 5 plays for the month of June (not counting second views of things):

1. Arcadia
2. Sister Act
3. Phedre
4. The Cherry Orchard
5. Carrie’s War

and the top 10 (+5) plays of the year so far, seeing (La Cage again made me reconsider its position):

1. When The Rain Stops Falling
2. La Cage Aux Folles
3. The Pieta
4. Arcadia
5. A Doll’s House
6. Duet For One
7. Sister Act
8. The Last Five Years
9. Burnt By The Sun
10. Parlour Song

11. All’s Well That Ends Well
12. The Observer
13. Dancing At Lughnasa
14. Phedre
15. Time and the Conways

Review: Carrie’s War, Apollo

From the Nina Bawden book of the same name, Carrie’s War is the latest play to open at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Telling the story of a sister and brother who are evacuated to Wales during the Second World War, they get swept up in a Gothic world of ghosts, curses, and skulls and when the intrigues of the family with whom they are billeted spill into their lives, decisions are made which haunt Carrie well into adulthood.

It is quite a gentle production, but I do not mean that in a patronising way. It really reminded me of the kind of dramas one used to get on a Sunday afternoon on the BBC, like Tom’s Midnight Garden, Moondial and The Railway Children. This is enhanced by the fact that the 15 characters are played by just 9 actors, so there is a little exaggeration of characterisation, especially with the local yokel types, but not to any negative effect. Continue reading “Review: Carrie’s War, Apollo”

Review: Sister Act, Palladium

I am nothing if not contrary, and whilst weighty fare such as Lantana features in my Top 5 films, Sister Act is also up there amongst my all-time favourites. I have seen it numerous, numerous times and absolutely adore it, so I had mixed feelings when I heard that it was being made into a musical and arriving at the Palladium. My fears were then heightened when I found out that the songs from the film would not be featured in the show, and so I was quite sceptical as I approached the theatre.

Sister Act The Musical first came into being in the States in 2006 and has been developed since then, with the book being written by multi-Oscar-winning songwriter, Alan Menken. The story is still fairly similar to the film, lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier is placed in a witness protection programme after witnessing her hoodlum boyfriend shooting someone, and so she finds herself in hiding in a convent, disguised as a nun. Her only connection to the sisters with whom she is sequestered is through music, and she inspires the choir to hgh levels of success, but in doing so threatens to ruin her cover, and the safety of the nuns, as she has a contract out on her head. Continue reading “Review: Sister Act, Palladium”

Review: Arcadia, Duke of York’s

Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia first played at the National Theatre in 1993, and this is the first revival of it since then. It takes place in a country house in England, but in two different time periods: the early 1800s and modern-day 1989. It is an extremely difficult play to try and summarise but I will try and give it a shot.

In 1809, a precocious teenager, Thomasina, is studying with her tutor, Septimus Hodge who is a colleague of the poet Lord Byron, and it is apparent that her knowledge is vastly superior to his, especially in the field of mathematics where her musings show her to be well ahead of her time. In 1989, a writer is looking into the life of a hermit who apparently lived in the grounds of the stately home, when a visiting academic stops by looking for help with his investigations into a period of Byron’s life about which little is known. Painstakingly, and with the help of the current residents of the house, including Valentine Coverley who is a student of advanced mathematical biology, pieces of evidence are recovered and we slowly begin to find out what really happened nearly 200 years ago.

Continue reading “Review: Arcadia, Duke of York’s”

Re-review: When The Rain Stops Falling, Almeida

Believing that it was quite likely that I would love When The Rain Stops Falling as already covered in my original review, I had already booked a second set of tickets to see it on the evening when a post-show Q&A was also scheduled. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to see this play again. Knowing the story meant that some of the emotional impact was lost, but for me this was a benefit since it had affected me so deeply last time and now I was able to focus on other aspects of the play. This knowledge also meant that one could make a much greater appreciation of the structure of the play and how intricately worked the plot is, echoing through the different locations and timezones, and recognising how some of the later events are presaged in earlier scenes.

Performance-wise, I still think that this is one of the strongest ensembles I have ever seen on a stage: there isn’t a single weak link in the cast and each actor delivers performances of such intensity which is all the more admirable when one considers how relatively short most of the scenes are a we flit around the timezones. On second viewing though, I think Phoebe Nicholls and Lisa Dillon possibly edge it as the older and younger incarnations respectively of Elizabeth York. Through some subtle mannerisms and the lightest of touches, they leave the watcher with no doubt that we are watching versions of the same character, yet fully flesh out their roles so that they remain sufficiently distinct. Leah Purcell and Naomi Bentley also manage this same level of synchronicity between their incarnations of Gabrielle York without resorting to ham-fisted imitation and I look forward to the opportunity to see all of these actors again. Continue reading “Re-review: When The Rain Stops Falling, Almeida”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Bridge Project at the Old Vic

Accompanying The Cherry Orchard as part of the Bridge Project’s first run of plays which arrived at the Old Vic last month, is The Winter’s Tale, often considered one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’.

Starting off in Sicilia, the play follows childhood friends Leontes and Polixenes, Kings of Sicilia and Bohemia respectively, as Leontes allows his jealousy and paranoia over his pregnant wife to take over. Imprisoning his wife and ordering the murder of his friend, Leontes pushes everyone to the edge to destructive effect, even sending his newborn daughter to her death, a fate from which she is thankfully spared. The second act then jumps ahead 16 years in time to Bohemia, where we see a young couple falling in love and their peculiar parentages equip them with the power to heal the terrible events of the past. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Bridge Project at the Old Vic”

Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

Visit number two for me to La Cage aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre for a number of reasons. My first trip earlier this year was an absolute hoot but perhaps a little more wine-soaked than was advisable, I wanted to surprise Aunty Jean with a fun night out (as opposed to the previously advertised Aunt Dan & Lemon) and finally I wanted to see Philip Quast and Roger Allam as I had heard great things about their performances. I saw Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson in the main roles last time, and could not imagine them being bettered, such was the quality of their ‘turns’.

However I am pleased to say that Allam and Quast were equal to the task, and I think I might even actually have preferred these two. The key to this musical is that it is actually the sweetest love story between Albin and Georges and so the relationship between the two has to be spot on and I think this is where they edge it this time. There’s such a great sense of shared romance onstage and the two actors are so comfortable with each other, you can really believe that they have spent a lifetime together.

Continue reading “Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse”

Review: Phèdre, National

In surely one of the most anticipated theatrical events of the year, Dame Helen Mirren returns to the stage for the first time in five years, to the Lyttleton at the National Theatre. Phèdre was written by Jean Racine back in the seventeenth century, and this production uses a translation by the late Ted Hughes in his typical free verse style. As it is my second Dame in three weeks, my companion for the evening was once again Aunty Jean, and this review was greatly helped by our post-play discussion over a nice cool G&T.

It is a quintessential Greek tragedy: the queen Phèdre lusts after her stepson, and in the absence of her husband Theseus for several months and the dubious advice of her nurse, eventually succumbs to her desire. Unsurpisingly, the revelation is not well received and then matters are made immeasurably worse by the return of Theseus. In her desperation to conceal her illicit attraction, Phèdre then makes a terrible accusation which sets in motion a chain of disastrous events. Continue reading “Review: Phèdre, National”

63rd Tony Award winners

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Geoffrey Rush – Exit the King as King Berenger
Jeff Daniels – God of Carnage as Alan
Raúl Esparza – Speed-the-Plow as Charlie Fox
James Gandolfini – God of Carnage as Michael
Thomas Sadoski – reasons to be pretty as Greg

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Marcia Gay Harden – God of Carnage as Veronica
Hope Davis – God of Carnage as Annette
Jane Fonda – 33 Variations as Katherine Brandt
Janet McTeer – Mary Stuart as Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter – Mary Stuart as Elizabeth I

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish – Billy Elliot the Musical as Billy Elliot
Gavin Creel – Hair as Claude
Brian d’Arcy James – Shrek the Musical as Shrek
Constantine Maroulis – Rock of Ages as Drew
J. Robert Spencer – Next to Normal as Dan Continue reading “63rd Tony Award winners”

Review: The Cherry Orchard, Bridge Project at the Old Vic

The Bridge Project is a rather ambitious venture: an Anglo-American theatre company formed specially for three years and performing 2 plays a year in repertoire, touring across a number of venues over the world. With Sam Mendes as director, it has attracted a very strong group of actors, who have already formed a cracking ensemble, and I had my first experience with them this week in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic, the final stop in this first year of the Project.
 

The play has a new translation by Tom Stoppard, but given this is the first time I have seen it, I cannot really comment on its merits or otherwise, but the lovely lady sat next to me reassured me it was much more comic than than the last time she had seen it. It tells the story of the return of an aristocratic Russian lady, Ranevskaya, and her family to their hereditary estate since it is being sold off to pay for the mortgage. They are presented with different ways in which the estate could be saved and kept in the family, but the family do nothing and events overtake them as it emerges that their social status no longer affords them the protection that it used to. Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard, Bridge Project at the Old Vic”