Review: Cart Macabre, Old Vic Tunnels

“Keep your hands inside the cart…”

Two years in the making, Living Structures’ immersive theatre show Cart Macabre takes over the Old Vic Tunnels for December and it is thanks to the lovely, ever-hard-working Jake at A Younger Theatre (a highly recommended site) who let me know about this show in good time to grab tickets before they quickly sold out. Mining a similar furrow to shows like You Me Bum Bum Train, it mixes the concepts of theatre and installation to create something unique, in this case, a nightmarish ghost train ride through the cavernous space under Waterloo.

After emptying our pockets and being given personalised luggage labels, we’re wheeled off into the dark, one by one, on individual flat wheelbarrows by silent cast members dressed in sailors’ uniforms: it’s a slightly unnerving and highly effective beginning as we’re then guided onto carts in the pitch black as a haunting voice fill the air and splits into a multitude of harmonies. Somewhat disorientated, the four-person carts then start to move and the journey begins. Continue reading “Review: Cart Macabre, Old Vic Tunnels”

2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Zoe Wanamaker – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Helen McCrory – The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar Warehouse 
Jenny Jules – Ruined at the Almeida
Kim Cattrall – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Nancy Carroll – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Tracie Bennett – End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
David Suchet – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Benedict Cumberbatch – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Matthew Macfadyen – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Rory Kinnear – Hamlet at the National, Olivier & Measure for Measure at the Almeida
Simon Russell Beale – Deathtrap at the Noel Coward & London Assurance at the National, Olivier 
Toby Stephens – The Real Thing at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Dick Whittington and his Cat, Lyric Hammersmith

“We just need someone to run London”

Dick Whittington and his Cat is the Lyric Hammersmith’s choice of pantomime this year with its ageless tale of a young boy making his way to London to find his fortune. Updating the story slightly to include all sorts of modern references and something of a street sensibility, it does a great job of observing the golden rule of pantomime of keeping its audience engaged and ensuring that the humour contained within hits on all levels, amusing young and old alike, working in slapstick, sight gags, silliness and a fair old bit of smut in Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s excellent script.

There’s a steady flow of musical numbers, mainly up-to-the-minute pop songs like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State of Mind’, Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’ and Glee’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ featuring lyrical changes to make them London- and Hammersmith –specific. The best of them though is the genuinely funny take on Lady GaGa’s ‘Bad Romance’ by King Rat, Bad Rodent, which both excellently comic and creepy and it is nice to see the amount of effort that has gone into adapting all these songs in an integrated way into the show, rather than making them simple karaoke numbers. Continue reading “Review: Dick Whittington and his Cat, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: A Christmas Carol, Theatre Delicatessen

“You will be haunted Ebenezer, three times”

In what is the penultimate production that will take place at Theatre Delicatessen’s temporary home at the former headquarters of Uzbekistan Airways before it is converted into apartments (what else…), this interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by Pete Wrench, is a co-production between .dash and tacit theatre.

On arrival, steaming mugs of mulled wine and mince pies welcome you into the offices of Scrooge & Marley’s Financial Solutions, although care should taken when taking your seat as the two additional rows that span the length of the room on the right hand side offer quite limited views. On the one hand, I’m pleased that so many tickets have been sold that this additional seating is necessary but on the other, the view, especially from those seats nearer the front, is so restricted as the stage in Scrooge’s office is so narrow and deep that much was missed as this was where we ended up.

Dickens’ tale has been modernised somewhat, references to the DWP and the current deficit abound and Bob Cratchit’s role in the office is to keep pedalling a bike which generates the electricity for the organisation. But much of the language used is quite faithful to the original text, creating a strange tension between the traditional and the innovative which is never quite resolved due to the lack of a clear creative vision for this production.

The innovation of having Marley appear on a bank of old TVs in the office was highly effective but I couldn’t quite see the connection within this interpretation: just why did Scrooge have so many screens in his office as he works in Financial Solutions rather than in the surveillance business and the ghostly images that appeared intermittently throughout the rest of the show were too indistinct to really make an impact. It would have been nice to have seen more use of video technology given its initial effectiveness and how it would have brought more originality to the storytelling.

Tom Daplyn’s Scrooge is excellent at the miserly curmudgeon, relishing in the grumpiness and anger that drives him, which makes it all the more surprising that this production has him come to his grand realisation practically after the first visitation, rendering the second and third somewhat redundant. Jonathon Saunders works hard as all three ghosts, his Christmas Yet To Come being the most effective with its stilts and long sweeping black cloak creating a sinister figure; Jonathan Wittaker is an appealing Bob and the most handsome, bequiffed Tom Ross-Williams does well as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. But in this awkward playing space, too much is lost with Scrooge’s back turned to us for too long at crucial moments, too many characters sat on a level with the audience and so swallowed up in the crowd and despite being trailed as a promenade production, there was little use of the space other than up front save for entrances and exits.

I did like much of the design aesthetic, with its mix of the modern and the Victorian and creatively, with its sound, lighting and video, this promised to be an intriguing evening. But without an equally inventive approach to the text and the way it is presented, or for that matter adequate attention to the needs of its audience, this Christmas Carol has missed a trick in order to make it stand out from the crowd.

Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: free cast sheet available
Booking until 24th December
Note: avoid sitting on the right hand side!!

Review: King Lear, Donmar Warehouse

 “The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say”
 
So what ought I say? Well, this is actually my first time seeing King Lear, it was never a play I studied at school, college or university and it was never been one that I’ve ever really wanted to see. Consequently, I’ve managed to avoid it and its story but when Sir Derek Jacobi was announced in the role in a Donmar Warehouse production directed once again by Michael Grandage, the lure of seeing this play, oft regarded as one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, finally proved too great and so I booked for the first of three previews and it was well I decided when I did as this has become one of the hot tickets of the winter.

It was actually a genuine pleasure seeing such a play without knowing the plot, I was gripped in a way I’ve rarely been whilst watching Shakespeare as an adult and this tale of murder, malice, love, families, avarice, maiming, madness, deceit, remorse and so much death surprised me time and time again with its examination of human frailties. For those of you (and I don’t imagine there are many) who don’t know the plot, Lear is the aged King of Britain who chooses to abdicate and divide his kingdom into three to share amongst his daughters. But when the youngest refuses to make a public declaration of love and the Earl of Kent defends her, both are banished from the kingdom, leaving the older two daughters to inherit with their husbands and thus the seeds of treachery and revenge are planted as their ambition grows, throwing Lear’s world into chaos and threatening his very sanity. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Season’s Greetings, National Theatre

“Now we don’t want to start Christmas like this, do we?”

Slotting into rep in the Lyttelton for the next few months is Marianne Elliott’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings, a play set during the festive period but by no means your average cheery Christmas show. Set in 1980 in the home of Neville and Belinda Bunker, this show shines a light on what happens when a group of nine people gather on Christmas Eve to spend the next few days together in festive harmony. The veneer of civility is soon shattered as we come to see that the various relationships, between friends, family, would-be lovers, husbands and wives, are all under huge strain and as events unfold spurred on by the arrival of a newcomer, home truths are exposed and the misery of human existence confronted.

It isn’t a comedy per se, rather a play with many farcical elements which come from the interactions between this group of people thrown together for Christmas as they tiptoe around fragile egos, unspoken truths, rampant libidos and frustrated ambitions. But it is also somewhat grim in its outlook: unhappy marriages, lack of career fulfilment, sexual frustrations are all themes that emerge time and time again, making for an uneasy mix. As an early preview, performances were impressive across the board but the pacing of the first act in particular needs a lot of work. With three scenes to Act II’s two, it is naturally somewhat longer but began to feel interminably long: around 15 people near me didn’t return after the interval, which was a shame as it did sharpen up quite a lot. Continue reading “Review: Season’s Greetings, National Theatre”

Review: My Dad’s A Birdman, Young Vic

“I don’t need you to be a birdman, I just need you to be my dad”

Written by David Almond and with music by the Pet Shop Boys, My Dad’s A Birdman is the Christmas offering at the Young Vic this year, suitable I’d say for children from the age of 5 upwards. Set in a house on Lark Lane somewhere on Tyneside, young girl Lizzie Crow lives with her dad Jackie, who is obsessed with becoming the Human Birdman. Auntie Doreen who lives nearby, tries to keep things in order, cooking dumplings for everyone and making sure Lizzie does her homework, but when The Great Human Bird Competition comes into town, all attention turns to who will be able to fly right across the river Tyne and win the big prize.

For Dad, who has already built himself a nest and a pair of wings, it is the perfect opportunity to get closer to his dream of flying and by the time the competition starts with a great big ramp being constructed in Giles Cadle’s simple design, there’s a brilliant scene with several people trying, and failing, to make it across in all sorts of manners, all introduced by the organising Mr Poop who might just be a little more bonkers than everyone else. Lizzie seizes the chance to get closer to her father but has to deal first with the interferences of Auntie Doreen and headmaster Mr Mint. Continue reading “Review: My Dad’s A Birdman, Young Vic”

Review: Black Watch, Barbican

“You’ve got to know what we’re fighting for, otherwise there’s no point…”

Returning to the Barbican after a highly acclaimed run in 2008, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch is in the midst of an international tour of UK and US cities with a brand new cast. Based on interviews conducted by playwright Gregory Burke with former soldiers who served in the recent conflict in Iraq, the show examines what it is to be a soldier in the modern age and what comes after. As we shift between the pool room back in Fife where they’re being interviewed by a journalist and the war zone with its armoured vehicles, makeshift shacks and lookout points, the complex truth of delivering modern warfare is exposed. And though it is set right in the middle of the war on terror, it studiously avoids moralising or coming down on one side or the other, allowing reasoned arguments on both sides.

Creatively, it combines several elements to create a piece of visceral physical theatre that lingers in the memory and is clearly one of the main reasons for its continuing success: Gareth Fry’s ear-splitting sounds never let us forget the constant presence of danger in the field; Davey Anderson’s use of music allows for a reflective melancholy to be interspersed amongst scenes and Steven Hoggett’s stylised movement provides a striking beauty whether to rituals, battles, even the changing of seats in a pub, using the reconfigured space of the Barbican’s main theatre most effectively. Continue reading “Review: Black Watch, Barbican”

Christmas Music Review: Kristin Chenoweth’s A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas & Christmas in New York

It’s CHRIIIIST-MAAAS! Well not really, but in honour of Advent starting and all of the snow in London, I’d thought I’d write about two of my favourite Christmas albums with musical theatre connections. 

There are certain performers who I really do want to see live at least once in my life and somewhere near the top of that list is Kristin Chenoweth (so any producers reading, get her over here pronto, please), not least because she seems so fricking adorable in everything I’ve ever seen her in and I would just die if she tugged my hair like she does at 5:18 in this clip of her and Idina Menzel performing ‘For Good’. So I’ve had to make do with her TV shows, YouTube clips and her CDs, the Christmas one of which, A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas, became a fast favourite when it was released a couple of years ago.

The best track, and if you only download one I’d make it this one, is a gorgeous version of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’. Building slowly with an angelic vocal, enhanced by the insertion of the Gloria refrain from ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’, it is sweet and perfect and often on repeat play on stressful December commutes. ‘What Child Is This’, to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’, both staples of US Christmas albums are both well-performed but a slowed version of ‘The Christmas Waltz’ is really lovely and the medley of ‘Sleep Well Little Children’/’What A Wonderful World’ is another flawless wonder. Continue reading “Christmas Music Review: Kristin Chenoweth’s A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas & Christmas in New York”

Review: Midsummer [a play with songs], Tricycle

“Love will break your heart…”

Midsummer [a play with songs] is a 2008 show that started life at the Edinburgh Festival but has managed to translate that into genuine success with a successful London run at the Soho Theatre, taking it the USA and other productions opening worldwide. This original team returns to London for a residency in another theatre known for its lack of reserved seating, the Tricycle, ahead of going to Australia. 

The tale of a crazy weekend in Edinburgh told from two perspectives: Bob, a petty criminal and Helena, a divorce lawyer, both 35 and thrown together in unlikely circumstances, it crystallises so many concerns of the 30-somethings who suddenly come to realise that middle age cannot be escaped and the person who they thought they were going to be is looking right back at them in the mirror. And in creating this lovely picture of two people connecting despite their differences, it portrays a beautifully realistic acceptance of the realities of finding a partner rather than the heady idealistic romanticised view so often seen elsewhere. Continue reading “Review: Midsummer [a play with songs], Tricycle”