Review: X, Royal Court

“You’re asking me all these questions and they’re all,
And it’s not – 
It doesn’t mean anything”

True story – every time someone raves about Pomona, a new fan of Miss Saigon is born. The determination to force a new world order from the unlikely starting spot of the Orange Tree Theatre has meant that Alistair McDowall now has that unfortunate albatross of hype firmly attached to his neck and thus his new play X, opening at the Royal Court, comes burdened – a little unfairly – with the weight of expectation.

And I have to say for me, it’s hard to tell whether they’ll be met or not. Perhaps predictably, X is a curious, slippery beast that wilfully toys with notions of audience satisfaction, in that it really doesn’t care whether you ‘get’ it or not. Set on Pluto, the crew of a small research base have lost contact with Earth and are left waiting. For what exactly, they don’t know. And after two and a half hours or so of Vicky Featherstone’s production, neither do we. Continue reading “Review: X, Royal Court”

The 2015 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Actor
Kenneth Cranham, The Father, Ustinov Bath, Tricycle Theatre & Wyndham’s Theatre
Ralph Fiennes, Man And Superman, National Theatre’s Lyttelton
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios
Simon Russell Beale, Temple, Donmar Warehouse

Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things, National Theatre’s Dorfman
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 , Noël Coward Theatre
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare’s Globe
Lia Williams, Oresteia, Almeida Theatre & Trafalgar Studios Continue reading “The 2015 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

2015 Offie Award Winners

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Linda Bassett for Visitors at The Bush and the Arcola Theatre
Laura Jane Matthewson for Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse 
Shannon Tarbet for The Edge Of Our Bodies at The Gate

Best Supporting Female
Leila Crerar for Martine at Finborough Theatre
Vicki Lee Taylor for Carousel at Arcola Theatre
Thea Jo Wolfe for Singing In The Rain at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Best Male
Patrick O’Kane for Quietly at Soho Theatre
Harry Lloyd for Notes From Underground at The Print Room, Coronet
Robin Soans For Visitors at the Bush and Arcola Theatre Continue reading “2015 Offie Award Winners”

2015 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Linda Bassett for Visitors at The Bush and the Arcola Theatre
Laura Jane Matthewson for Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse 
Shannon Tarbet for The Edge Of Our Bodies at The Gate

Best Supporting Female
Leila Crerar for Martine at Finborough Theatre
Vicki Lee Taylor for Carousel at Arcola Theatre
Thea Jo Wolfe for Singing In The Rain at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Best Male
Patrick O’Kane for Quietly at Soho Theatre
Harry Lloyd for Notes From Underground at The Print Room, Coronet
Robin Soans For Visitors at the Bush and Arcola Theatre Continue reading “2015 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre

“This isn’t conversation. It’s just you telling me about your dick”

Paul Miller’s reign at the Orange Tree looked to be an interesting one from the moment he announced his debut season as Artistic Director, mixing the classic revivals for which the Richmond venue has long been known with a more cutting edge approach to its new writing policy, inviting new directors too to open up the theatre to new eyes. But not even he can have anticipated the veritable Twitterstorm of good publicity that flew up among online reviewers when Alistair McDowell’s Pomona opened last month.

Continue reading “Review: Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre”

The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd, Royal Exchange
Kenneth Branagh, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Nigel Cooke, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange
Paul Webster, Sugar Daddies, Oldham Coliseum
Jack Wilkinson, David Copperfield, Oldham Coliseum

Best Actress
Marianne Benedict, Chicago, Oldham Coliseum
Cush Jumbo, A Doll’s House, Royal Exchange
Gillian Kearney, Educating Rita, Library at The Lowry
Alex Kingston, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Maxine Peake, Masque Of Anarchy, Manchester International Festival, Albert Hall
Shannon Tarbet, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: Talk Show, Royal Court

“I am sure you can all tell we’re going to have a great show tonight”

‘The show must go on’. Rarely can the oft-glibly offered aphorism have possessed such poignant resonance as at the Royal Court over the past week. Alistair McDowell’s Talk Show should have marked the end of the hugely ambitious weekly rep season, with a company of fourteen actors working their way through six new plays with just a week’s rehearsal for each. But instead, the news that company member Paul Bhattacharjee had gone missing during rehearsals, being followed by the discovery of his body a week later cast the most tragic sheen over the show.

The company opted to continue, initially recasting his (relatively small) role and then dedicating the remainder of the run to him. An incredibly tough decision at the best of times but sitting through the play and realising it touched so deeply on the emotional inarticulacy of generations of men, to the point where suicide becomes a viable option, there’s an almost incomprehensible poignancy about the determination to honour a colleague’s memory.

In many ways, Talk Show felt like the best of the weekly rep plays. McDowall has three generations of the same family living in a cramped house – 20-something graduate Sam is jobless and centres his energies on his nightly internet chat show, usual audience 6; his father Bill is also unemployed and unable to secure even the most menial jobs and so they both live with his father Ron, a gently wise figure who has seen it all before. Into this scenario tumbles Jonah, Bill’s brother who went AWOL after an emotional breakdown and his return merely focuses the desperation of this whole household.

And he does this through some powerfully emotive writing. There’s a huge amount of humour but constantly underlaid with darker notes: Ryan Sampson’s Sam is a near comic genius as the wisecracking host interviewing people like the guy from the fried chicken place down the street yet never feels more than three heartbeats from the deepest sadness, a young man unable to comprehend why he’s not been able to find his place in the world. And Jonjo O’Neill’s Jonah has a unique take on the world that is bleakly hilarious but again, the fiercely burning intensity within reminds us of the kind of pain that can never heal.

Ferdy Roberts’ taciturn Bill epitomises the stoic, suffering silence that characterises so much of the interactions between these men, with a painfully observed understatement. And it is this that strikes home the hardest, the knowledge that even the people we live with and are closest to can hide the deepest feelings in their soul and find it impossible to share the pain, to look for help, to cope. In Talk Show, dramatic license allows for an intervention and the tiniest glimmer of hope; in real life, we’re reminded that things are rarely that easily resolved. 

Caroline Steinbeis’ assured direction maintained a strong focus, allowing for the comic beats to hit as hard as the emotional ones, and the appearance of a six foot python provided some light relief as the inquisitive reptile decided that it was more interested in burrowing inside Lee Armstrong’s shirt than performing on the Sloane Square stage. McDowall’s writing shows much promise and it is not hard to see this particular play gaining some kind of further life whether here or elsewhere and it deserves it, the opportunity to shine on its own merits. For this particular production will live in the memory for tragically wrong reasons – the visible emotion at the curtain call, the horrendous period of uncertainty after Bhattacharjee’s disappearance played out in uncomfortably public view, and the untimely death of a much-treasured actor who had so much more to give.

Running time: 80 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 20th July