Review: You Stupid Darkness!, Southwark Playhouse

With its focus on the small things, Sam Steiner’s play You Stupid Darkness! is a delicate but delicious thing at the Southwark Playhouse

“I’ll go and get a Jaffa Cake”

The world outside is going to shit and all you can rely on is the kind word of a gentle soul, if any still exist. So far so 2020, but this is also the set-up of Sam Steiner’s warmly inclusive You Stupid Darkness!, a Paines Plough and Theatre Royal Plymouth production seen on the south coast last year and now making its bow at the Southwark Playhouse.

Something apocalyptic has happened, society seems to be on the edge of collapsing and the shops are beginning to run out of doughnuts. Despite this catastrophic breakdown, volunteers still come once a week to answer the phones at Brightline, listening patiently to outpourings of woe from strangers, offering the hope of connection – a hope they come to rely on just as much. Continue reading “Review: You Stupid Darkness!, Southwark Playhouse”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 

 

The race to declare the most exciting show for 2018 has well and truly been declared by Complicite with Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a new production based on the award-winning novel by Max Porter. Directed by Enda Walsh and starring Cillian Murphy, it is a moving story of a widower and his young sons which becomes a profound meditation on love, loss and living.
 
And if only dates for Galway and Dublin have been announced thus far , a glance at the co-producers – the Barbican, Cork Opera House, Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Playhouse, St Ann’s Warehouse and Warwick Arts Centre – gives a little hope that we might not have to travel the Irish Sea if we don’t want to (although don’t quote me on that!)

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Dick Whittington, Lyric Hammersmith


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“Are you fond of cake?
‘Definitely, I’m northern’”

How come there haven’t been any pantomime reviews on here this year?
I’m not going to go to any pantos this year.

Oh yes you are.
Oh no I’m not. Well, maybe one or two. This one is written by Tom Wells after all.

He’s behind you.
No he isn’t, he was sat in the stalls last night though and we were in the circle.

DICK!
Pardon me,

(thigh slap) DICK!
Oh I see, the panto was Dick Whittington and that was the audience had to shout whenever Andy Rush came on stage, fnarr fnarr.

Keep it clean please, that’s my job. BAPS!
Yes, that was the dame’s name. Stewart Wright wasn’t half bad actually – his Beyoncé…Knowles joke is still making giggle at the thought of it.

Dick Whittington has a cat doesn’t he?
Yes. And some other friends – trainee fairy Bauble and a budding London mayoral candidate called Sooz

So not exactly traditional then?
No, but that in itself has become the new tradition at the Lyric Hammersmith and after something of a shaky beginning last year, Wells feels very much at home here. DICK!

Oh, let it go.
Actually no, they didn’t perform that despite going to the North Pole. There’s a good mix of new and classic pop though.

Did they have sweets?
Not for people in the circle.

Did it snow?
Not on people in the circle.

 
Did you enjoy being in the circle?
I did actually – safe from audience interaction and far away enough to get some real satisfaction from bellowing DICK! And BAPS! without traumatising too many children.

Would you recommend it?
I surely would. Freed from the baggage of star casting, you get the real sense of company camaraderie here bolstered by a cracking young supporting ensemble. There’s a genuine sense of real fun, a healthy dollop of barely-disguised smut, plenty of Wellsian touches to make it unmistakeably his work (truly, Hull becoming City of Culture in 2017 is the world’s gift to him), and there’s a Bon Jovi singalong.

DICK!
DICK! indeed.

Running time: 2 hour 20 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 3rd January

Re-review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Bush

“Do you know why I’m doing this?
‘Cos the lesbians said you were bossy’”

In a close-run thing, Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts ended up in second place on my list of favourite shows of 2013, its undeniable warmth and unfettered romance proving a hugely winning combination and one which I’d already been to see three times – twice earlier in 2013 at Watford and once as it started its run at the Bush, the final stop on its tour. The joy it brought me even on that third trip meant that when a potential trip to the final show of the run of this Paines Plough, Watford Palace Theatre and Hull Truck Theatre production was mooted, I could not resist.

And once again, the show filled my heart to bursting with its utter loveliness, making me laugh, cry, shiver and sigh all over again. Review #1 can be read here, re-reviews #2 and #3 here, and that’s about it really. I’m so glad I went to see it one more time, I’m gutted that I can’t see it again and I look forward to the first revival wherever it may take place, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be making a trip to see it. Thank you to all involved in making such a wonderful piece of theatre that will stay with me forever. 

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 4th January

fosterIAN awards 2013

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMarianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen CornerMichelle Terry, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron
Best Actor in a PlayPhilip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for GoalpostsAl Weaver, The PrideBrian Cox, The Weir
Hugo Koolschijn, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Benedict Wong, Chimerica
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayLinda Bassett, RootsDeborah Findlay, CoriolanusAnna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Hadewych Minis, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)
Best Actress in a MusicalRosalie Craig, The Light PrincessCynthia Erivo, The Color PurpleZrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Anita Dobson, Carnival of the Animals
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music
Best Actor in a MusicalKyle Scatliff, Scottsboro Boys Declan Bennett, Once the musicalDavid Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalLeigh Zimmerman, A Chorus LineNicola Hughes, The Color PurpleAmy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalKit Orton, The Hired ManMichael Matus, The Sound of MusicBen Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line

2013 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Pearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe)
Taking on as famous a role as Nick Bottom has plenty of pitfalls, but Pearce Quigley fearlessly took up the challenge in Dominic Dromgoole’s revelatory and riotous production at the Globe and delivered a wittily sardonic Bottom that made him one of the most comic parts of one of the funniest productions of the year.

Honourable mention: Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Due to the randomness of the design of the first act, it was pure chance that my first encounter at Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Scenes from a Marriage was with Fernhout and Hadewych Minis’ version of Johan and Marianne. But from the very first moments, his intensity sucked us right in whilst the twinkle in his eye (plus his predilection for mingling in amongst the audience) made him a hugely magnetic presence.

Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)

7-10

Toby Jones, Circle Mirror Transformation; Eric Kofi Abrefa, The Amen Corner; Peter McDonald, The Weir; Kyle Soller, Edward II

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Kit Orton, The Hired Man
Though his rugged charms are undeniable, Orton more than earned his place here in the delightful actor-musician production of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man that graced Colchester and Leicester. A compellingly masculine presence as the flirtatious Jackson and beautifully-voiced throughout, he also revealed himself to be a dab hand on the fiddle, demonstrating all the strings to his bow. 

Honourable mention: Michael Matus, The Sound of Music
Across a sterling ensemble, Matus’ huge geniality as fixer Max Detweiler was a highlight in the Open Air Theatre’s excellent The Sound of Music, his avuncular charm a pleasure to watch and a great way to subtly reinvent the role for himself.

Ben Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, The Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line

7-10

Stephen Ashfield, The Book of Mormon; Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys; Clive Rowe, The Light Princess; Jon Trenchard, Fiddler on the Roof

Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Bush

“Remember thinking: I am quite an average man. Never thought I’d feel…”

A third visit to this play for me – Jumpers for Goalposts may have just opened at the Bush Theatre this week but this Paines Plough, Hull Truck and Watford Palace Theatre production premiered earlier this year in Watford where it utterly stole my heart and tempted me back for seconds despite the short run. Since then it has toured the UK and now ends up in the West London venue where writer Tom Wells had such success a couple of years ago with The Kitchen Sink. And in those intervening months, assisted by the intimacy of the Bush, the play has grown into something even better, even more affecting in its charming lo-fi way.

My original review says much of what I still think of the play, but I don’t think one can understate the importance of this piece of writing. The trials and tribulations of Barely Athletic, the five-a-side football team at the heart of the play are strongly, vividly portrayed, but as entirely recognisable experiences that might befall you or I. And as three of the five happen to be gay men, it holds a particular resonance for me – has a playwright ever evoked the reality of the aftermath of being gay-bashed so effectively, the mundanity of actually just having to get on with everyday life rather than focusing on the intense drama of the crime itself. Continue reading “Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Bush”

Re-review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace

“If you don’t have a go, you definitely won’t score”

One can re-read a book and re-watch a film on DVD at leisure, but the window for revisiting pieces of theatre, especially those on limited runs, is much narrower and it is a different kind of decision to make. It’s not every play that I want to see again – sometimes the best nights are ones that I don’t want to try and repeat for fear that they won’t live up to expectations – but on occasion, I leave the theatre just knowing that I have to make a return trip. It’s not something I always act on and that way leads regret – I really wish I’d gone back to Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink at the Bush Theatre so when I fell head over heels for his latest play Jumpers for Goalposts, I was determined not to make the same mistake again.

My original review can be read here and given that it was less than two weeks ago, there’s not a huge amount more to say about how much I loved it. But what made me want to come back was the detail of the writing, every scene is so rich in comic detail that it was easy to miss some absolute crackers first time round. And since James Grieve’s production is so very effective at generating the intimate banter-filled environment of this group of five people pulled together to play in the Hull Gay and Lesbian five-a-side football tournament, I found real joy in just sitting and listening these characters bounce off of each other. Continue reading “Re-review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace”

Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace Theatre

“Next season, we’re aiming for third”

Some might cite Tom Wells’ new play Jumpers for Goalposts for its slightly fantastical air and lack of serious dramatic tension, but that would be to entirely miss the point of its warm-hearted yet clear-sighted pleasures. The play follows a predominantly gay five-a-side football team –Barely United – in Hull, scraped together from a selection of misfits and gradually unwinds to reveal their reasons for signing up and the impact that being part of this team has on their lives. But though it is gentle rather than grand, it is a hugely affecting and uplifting piece of theatre that feels vitally important from a writer who genuinely can find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

In previous plays such as the tender Me, As A Penguin and the glorious The Kitchen Sink, Wells has demonstrated a gift for exploring the challenges of young gay life outside of the big cities and a serious talent for understated but highly comic writing and both are brought to bear here with great effect. Beardy Geoff splits his time between seducing the opposition and coming up with a song to win a talent show; head coach Viv wants to score revenge on the Lesbian Rovers team that kicked her out but also offer some respite to her grieving brother-in-law; and Danny, struggling to get through his coaching qualification, is entirely distracted by new arrival Luke, a painfully shy librarian. Continue reading “Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace Theatre”