Review: The Observer, National

My latest trip to the National Theatre took me to The Observer which is premiering at the Cottesloe Theatre (although strictly speaking it was a preview). I had not intended to see this play but I was seduced by the offer of cheap tickets, and I was extremely glad that I did since it gave me what I think is the strongest acting performance I have seen so far this year.

Anna Chancellor is quite simply astonishing, she’s on stage for practically the whole thing and is entirely believable as Fiona, the brittle, uptight observer of an election in an unspecified African country (though the parallels are clearly drawn with the recent Zimbabwean election). The play follows the processes around the first democratic elections in this country and how the impartial monitoring committee that Fiona works for interacts with the situation that they find themselves in. With her translator aiding her, Fiona finds herself drawn closer and closer to crossing the boundaries imposed by her position, as she realises the potential influence that she has on the election result. Chancellor plays this awakening, this blossoming so astutely, it is a thing of wonder to watch, and one is just swept up in the journey that Fiona is forced to take. Continue reading “Review: The Observer, National”

Review: Les Misérables, Queens

As May is my birthday month, and this year brings with it a particular milestone (30!), I decided that I would treat myself to as many shows as I could manage, and I could not imagine not managing to squeeze in at least one of the long-running musicals that form the bedrock of much of London’s theatreland. Having already seen Joseph twice this year, my thoughts turned to Les Misérables, and lastminute.com duly obliged with some half-price tickets. Les Mis is up there with Joseph in terms of having seen many, many productions, I think this was show number 11 for me, and yet I never tire of it.

Based on the Victor Hugo novel by Alain Boublil, and with music by Claude-Michael Schonberg, it follows the lives and loves of a group of characters on the fringes of society in revolutionary France, les misérables or the unfortunates. The number of characters may seem quite bewildering, but their stories incresingly intertwine, and the beauty of the play is that it deftly moves from the personal to the political and back again, thereby keeping the interest fresh and covering so many different aspects of human emotion as we flick from intimate love stories to revolutionaries preparing for battle to personal quests for revenge time and time again. Continue reading “Review: Les Misérables, Queens”

Review: The Last Five Years, Duchess

The Last Five Years is part of a mini-season of musicals being put on the Notes From New York company at the Duchess Theatre, and is a revival from last year’s gala performances at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Julie Atherton, most recently seen returning to Avenue Q, plays Cathy, an aspiring actress, and Paul Spicer is newly-published author Jamie and they play this two-hander about the progression of their couple’s relationship over five years.

However, the stories of the two characters are told differently yet concurrently, with Jamie recounting the relationship from beginning to end, and Cathy starting at the end of the relationship and working back to their first meeting. This means that the characters only actually share one duet as their stories intersect at the midpoint which might seem a little odd, but this is a crucial element of the show as it allows the characters to present their differing perceptions of the relationship. Continue reading “Review: The Last Five Years, Duchess”

Review: F**king Men, King’s Head

Thanks to the folks at whatsonstage.com, I got free tickets to F**king Men at the King’s Head theatre in Islington, a place I have been to several times and to be honest, usually find quite overpriced. So free tickets meant that I had no problem in trotting along to this play by Joe DiPietro, despite my reservations about both fringe theatre and gay theatre.

Firstly, whilst I do recognise that there is much good work being done in fringe theatres across London, I was quite badly burned on several occasions last year by some terrible experiences, and the main problem that I have is that their tickets are not sufficiently cheap for me to be forgiving. When somewhere like the National Theatre regularly has £10 tickets available, I find asking for £15 or £20 somewhat hard to stomach, especially when one is not assured of the quality. Continue reading “Review: F**king Men, King’s Head”

63rd Tony Award nominations

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

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Hope Davis – God of Carnage as Annette
Jane Fonda – 33 Variations as Katherine Brandt
Marcia Gay Harden – God of Carnage as Veronica
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 nominations”

Finalists of 2009 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year

Aaron Lee Lambert (Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama) 
Hara Yannas (LAMDA) 
Cynthia Erivo (RADA) 
Brett Lee Roberts (Birmingham School of Acting) 
Lisa Lynch (Mountview Academy) 
James Smoker (Honourable mention) (Royal Academy of Music) 
Oliver McCarthy (University of Sheffield) 
Francesca Leyland (Arts Educational) 
Alyn Hawke (Arts Educational) 
Amy Payne (Guildhall School) 
Michael Peavoy (winner) (RADA) 
Laura Harrison (Central School) 

​Host: Rosemary Ashe
Judges: Edward Seckerson (Chair), David Babani, Richard Balcombe, Kim Criswell, Stuart Piper

Review: His Dark Materials Part I & Part II, Lowry

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit straight off that the production of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre ranks as my ultimate top theatrical experience ever. I am a massive fan of the books, and could not believe how well Nicholas Wright translated the three novels into two such wonderful, moving plays. Having travelled to Bath to see the youth production at the Theatre Royal there a couple of years ago, I was easily convinced to see the new Birmingham Repertory touring production at the Lowry Theatre in Salford, especially as it was so close to my parental home. So my mother and father, Aunty Jean and I settled in for the same day double bill, Part I at 2pm and Part II at 7.30pm, a little bum-numbingly daunting I’ll admit, but the only way to get the full impact of this theatrical wonder.
 
So much happens in the books and so whilst a lot is lost in the condensing of the action, this is largely to the benefit of the plays as the pacing is kept quite high, with many rapid scene changes which means that you really do have to listen carefully or else you could lose the thread quite quickly if you’re hugely familiar with the plot. That said, I was with two people who had not read the books and they had no problem following the action.

Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part I & Part II, Lowry”

Review: Time And The Conways, National Theatre

This week saw a visit to the Lyttleton at the National Theatre for the first preview of J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways. Starting off in 1919 at a birthday party, we meet the Conways, a rich family infused with hope for the future: the Great War is over, the sons have returned home safely and potential love matches abound for the numerous sisters. This act is sumptuously mounted, the costumes are fantastic and the company do a great job of introducing a sense of real decadence and loucheness, exuding the confidence that their upper-class lives safely back in place after the wartime turmoil. Francesca Annis as the mother of the family excels here, ruling her roost with a witty demeanour, as does Faye Castelow as the youngest daughter, a bubble of positive energy in primrose yellow. Annis also dealt extremely well with her scarf becoming attached to one of her daughter’s rings for over a minute!

Act II then skips 20 years into the future to see how the passage of time has affected the Conways. With this leap forward, all the actors are called on to really deliver sufficiently nuanced performances to convey the passage of time, and with the aid of some impressive make-up, they pretty much all succeed in this. Lydia Leonard and Hattie Morahan in particular stood out for me, both of them reaching deep to show the frustrations that inter-war life has imposed on them. That said, the acting all-around was of a high quality, although some nerves were in evidence with a couple of fluffed lines (something I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed at the National before).

The final act then returns to where we left off at the end of Act I and we see the culmination of the storylines that started, but with the knowledge of how they will ultimately turn out, 20 years later.

Continue reading “Review: Time And The Conways, National Theatre”

Nominations for the 2009 Drama Desk Awards

Outstanding Play:

Annie Baker, Body Awareness
Gina Gionfriddo, Becky Shaw
Neil LaBute, reasons to be pretty
Lynn Nottage, Ruined
Michael Weller, Fifty Words
Craig Wright, Lady

Outstanding Musical:

9 to 5
Billy Elliot The Musical
Fela!
Liza’s at the Palace….
Shrek The Musical
The Story of My Life

Outstanding Revival of a Play:

Blithe Spirit
Exit the King
Mary Stuart
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Outstanding Revival of a Musical:

Enter Laughing The Musical
Hair
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Outstanding Actor in a Play:

Simon Russell Beale,The Winter’s Tale
Reed Birney, Blasted
Raúl Esparza, Speed-The-Plow
Bill Irwin, Waiting for Godot
Daniel Radcliffe, Equus
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, reasons to be pretty

Outstanding Actress in a Play:

Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Ruined
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Elizabeth Marvel, Fifty Words
Jan Maxwell, Scenes From an Execution
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Actor in a Musical:

James Barbour, A Tale of Two Cities
Daniel Breaker, Shrek The Musical
Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Josh Grisetti, Enter Laughing The Musical
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!
Will Swenson, Hair

Outstanding Actress in a Musical:

Stephanie J. Block, 9 to 5
Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Megan Hilty, 9 to 5
Allison Janney, 9 to 5
Karen Murphy, My Vaudeville Man!

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play:

Brian d’Arcy James, Port Authority
Jeremy Davidson, Back Back Back
Peter Friedman, Body Awareness
Ethan Hawke, The Winter’s Tale
Pablo Schreiber, reasons to be pretty (Off-Broadway)
Jeremy Shamos, Animals Out of Paper

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play:

Rebecca Hall, The Cherry Orchard
Zoe Kazan, The Seagull
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Andrea Martin, Exit the King
Carey Mulligan, The Seagull
Condola Rashad, Ruined

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical:

Hunter Foster, Happiness
Demond Green, The Toxic Avenger
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5
Bryce Ryness, Hair
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical:

Farah Alvin, The Marvelous Wonderettes
Christina Bianco, Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Nancy Opel, The Toxic Avenger
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey

Outstanding Director of a Play:

Sarah Benson, Blasted
Michael Blakemore, Blithe Spirit
Garry Hynes, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Terry Kinney, reasons to be pretty
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Kate Whoriskey, Ruined

Outstanding Director of a Musical:

Walter Bobbie, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot The Musical
Joe Mantello, 9 to 5
Jason Moore, Shrek The Musical
Diane Paulus, Hair
Stuart Ross, Enter Laughing The Musical

Outstanding Choreography:

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot The Musical
Bill T. Jones, Fela!
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Shonn Wiley, My Vaudeville Man!

Outstanding Music:

Neil Bartram,The Story of My Life
Zina Goldrich, Dear Edwina
Elton John, Billy Elliot The Musical
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5
Stephen Sondheim, Road Show
Jeanine Tesori, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Lyrics:

Neil Bartram, The Story of My Life
Jason Robert Brown, 13
Marcy Heisler, Dear Edwina
David Lindsay-Abaire, Shrek The Musical
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5
Stephen Sondheim, Road Show

Outstanding Book of a Musical:

Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis, This Beautiful City
Joe DiPietro, The Toxic Avenger
Lee Hall, Billy Elliot The Musical
Brian Hill, The Story of My Life
David Lindsay-Abaire, Shrek The Musical
Patricia Resnick, 9 to 5

Outstanding Orchestrations:

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Bruce Coughlin, 9 to 5
Aaron Johnson and Antibalas, Fela!
Edward B. Kessel, A Tale of Two Cities
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot The Musical
Danny Troob, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Music in a Play:

Mark Bennett, The Cherry Orchard
Mark Bennett, The Winter’s Tale
Dominic Kanza, Ruined
DJ Rekha, Rafta, Rafta…
Richard Woodbury, Desire Under the Elms
Gary Yershon, The Norman Conquests

Outstanding Set Design of a Play:

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
David Korins, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Neil Patel, Fifty Words
Walt Spangler, Desire Under the Elms

Outstanding Set Design of a Musical:

Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Anna Louizos, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Thomas Lynch, Happiness
Scott Pask, 9 to 5
Scott Pask, Hair
Basil Twist, Arias With a Twist

Outstanding Costume Design:

Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
William Ivey Long, 9 to 5
Michael McDonald, Hair
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Carrie Robbins, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play:

Marcus Doshi, Hamlet (Theatre for a New Audience)
David Hersey, Equus
Ben Kato, Washing Machine
R. Lee Kennedy, Bury the Dead
Paul Pyant, The Winter’s Tale
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical:

Kevin Adams, Hair
Jules Fisher and Kenneth Posner, 9 to 5
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot The Musical
Jason Lyons, Clay
Sinéad McKenna, Improbable Frequency
Richard Pilbrow, A Tale of Two Cities

Outstanding Sound Design:

Acme Sound Partners, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot The Musical
Gregory Clarke, Equus
John Gromada, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself)
André J. Pluess, 33 Variations
John H. Shivers, 9 to 5

Outstanding Solo Performance:

Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me
Frank Blocker, Southern Gothic Novel
Michael Laurence, Krapp, 39
Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse
Matt Sax, Clay
Campbell Scott, The Atheist

Unique Theatrical Experience:

Absinthe (2008 Edition)
Arias With a Twist
Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words
Désir
Soul of Shaolin
Surrender

Review: Tusk Tusk, Royal Court

One of the most hyped new playwrights in the country, Polly Stenham had a lot of expectation weighing on her with her follow-up to That Face, but with Tusk Tusk she has delivered a play, that whilst superficially looks to tread similar ground, is most definitely its own beast. The play opens with three kids, 7, 14 and 15 nearly 16 in their living room surrounded by unopened packing cases, living in gay abandon, sleeping during the daytime, staying awake all night and surviving on Chinese takeaways and crisps. These scenes are cracking, with sparkling dialogue between the three and a real sense of fun and camaraderie is built up very quickly. However, as the days go by, the mystery and unease at the situation increases as one realises that all has not been well with the mother for whom they are waiting.

Given that the three leads are each making their stage debuts, their performances are nothing short of extraordinary. Toby Regbo as Eliot and Bel Powley as Maggie both exude a wonderful wittiness and cockiness, often belying their young ages, but also in their different ways, show the damage that their situation has done to them. Eliot as the oldest has to deal with the stresses of becoming the de facto head of the household, whilst Maggie has the weight of a terrible secret to bear, and the pair of them show these nuances with a deftness of touch which would indicate that they should have no problem secuing future work on the stage. The youngest, Finn played by Finn Bennett is also heartbreakingly good, to the point where I was genuinely worried for his welfare at the interval! Continue reading “Review: Tusk Tusk, Royal Court”