News: amazing cast announced for the Young Vic’s The New Tomorrow

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic, today announces the cast of The New Tomorrowa weekend of pop-up performances celebrating the Young Vic’s 50th birthday. The New Tomorrow – the first piece of live theatre at the Young Vic since the pandemic closed UK theatres in March – will interrogate the change that has come and is coming, and what the next 50 years might hold.

Ronkẹ Adékọluẹ́jọ́, Adjoa Andoh, Matthew Dunster, Paapa Essiedu, Martina Laird, Anoushka Lucas and Sophie Stone will perform short works from writers and artists Jade Anouka, Marina Carr, Jasmine Lee-Jones, Ruth Madeley, Amy Ng, Stef Smith, Jack Thorne, Isobel Waller-Bridge and Steve Waters, directed by Young Vic Genesis Fellow and Associate Director Jennifer Tang. The performance will be hosted by Kwame Kwei-Armah, and also feature speeches from activists Shahidha Bari and Tom Gill, with Kwame Kwei-Armah Jr. as DJ. Continue reading “News: amazing cast announced for the Young Vic’s The New Tomorrow”

Film Review: Been So Long (2018)

A fatally muddled tone means Been So Long ends up less than the sum of its parts, despite glorious lead performances from Arinzé Kene and Michaela Coel

“People don’t want inclusivity mate, they want exclusivity. And something for the gluten-intolerant”

I really wanted to like Been So Long, and can imagine it having worked well on the stage (it played the Young Vic in 2009) but something has definitely been lost in translation with this screen adaptation here. It is mildly curious as the film is written by Ché Walker, scribe of the original play and the subsequent stage musical, but maybe this was a step too far?

One of the main problems for me is that crucial issue of tone. As a love story set in contemporary Camden, and in which Camden plays a central role, there’s a tendency towards gritty naturalism, particularly in showing the home lives of its protagonists, new ex-con Raymond (Arinzé Kene) and single mum of a disabled daughter Simone (Michaela Coel). Continue reading “Film Review: Been So Long (2018)”

2018 Vault Festival – what to see

On the one hand, that the Vault Festival has expanded to over 300 shows running over 8 weeks is fantastic news for the emerging theatremakers that it supports. On the other, it means making the choice about what to see, even tackling the catalogue alone can feel somewhat daunting. It has taken me a wee while to get round to delving into it myself, but as the festival is set to open this week, here’s some of my top tips for each week.

Week 1

Tomorrow Creeps – repurposed Shakespeare via the medium of Kate Bush? Hell, yes.
Tumulus – it’s not a festival unless there’s a chemsex show
Great Again – likewise a Trump-bashing musical 


Week 2

Double Infemnity – gender-flipping noir crime antics in a one-woman show? Whyever the hell not!
Gypsy Queen – gays and boxing, sometimes I’m an easy sell…
Gun – I’ll be trying to catch more comedy than I usually do this year, and this western-inspired show very much seems as good a place to start as any


Week 3

Think of England – love, lust and swing dancing in wartime Waterloo – TICK!
Be Prepared – I’m a fan of writer/performer Ian Bonar so definitely looking forward to this one
Douze – Eurovision pop comedy musical fun, nuff said


Week 4

YOU – a thought-provoking look at adoption, drawing on some deeply personal narratives
STUD – gays and football, a combination that usually works wonders for me!
Elsa – a chirpy sounding piece of reflective musical comedy


Week 5

Sparks – Jessica Butcher is a name that people in the know rave about, Anoushka Lucas is a name I have raved about, together they ought to come up with something special
Conquest – a debut show from PearShaped and one which promises to tackle contemporary feminism with real fearlessness
Still We Dream… – I don’t see much dance but something about this piques my attention, animalistic movement in non-traditional spaces


Week 6

TESTOSTERONE – experimental work pushing the trans narrative forward, one for the Daily Mail-reading person in your life…
Das Fest – in many ways what the Vault Festival is for, for me, to see the type of thing I would never normally book for (as in Philipp Oberlohr’s show last year Das Spiel) and be delighted and not a little freaked out!
The Strongbox – Stephanie Jacob is having a low-key moment, her play Again opens at Trafalgar Studios 2 next month and its final week will overlap with another piece of new writing from her, I suspect they’ll both be worth catching


Week 7

Fuck Marry Kill – a work-in-progress from Vera Chok and Amy Mason which uses the game show format to challenge the patriarchy
Bury the Hatchet – the tale of Lizzie Borden is one of enduring fascination and Out of the Forest are no exception here, using bluegrass, nursery rhyme and horror to retell and reexamine this story
Unburied – a folk horror mystery that just seems most intriguing


Week 8

THINGS THAT DO NOT C(O)UNT – I loved No Offence’s torn apart at the Hope last year, so I’m much intrigued by this new work
The Dirty Thirty – an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 shows in 1 hour – I’m sold!
Tom and Bunny Save The World – another company I’m a big fan of, Fat Rascal, present a zombie comedy musical that is sure to shake up gender lines as much as apocalyptic survival methods

Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

“I know your moustache…”

What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnits? Well if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles – blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.

But if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he’s directing himself, there’s a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn’t happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble. Continue reading “Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

“Could you ask as much from any other man?”

Andrew Lloyd Webber sure doesn’t make it easy – for his support of new musical theatre in taking over the St James Theatre to making a transatlantic dash to the House of Lords to vote in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor, it’s hard to know where to stand. His status in the British theatrical establishment remains largely unchallenged though and it is to the 46-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar that the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park have turned for their big summer musical, directed this year by Timothy Sheader. 

And how do you play a 70s rock opera for today? You bring onboard shit-hot creatives like Tom Scutt and Drew McOnie to reinvent it for 2016. Scutt’s design choices make a virtue of the timeless iron structure that edges the stage. The company arrive in luxury sportswear, its loose silhouettes and muted earth tones akin to a Kanye West fashion show with which McOnie’s contemporary choreography meshes perfectly. Later scenes feature the glitter-covered muscularity of something like a late night Brighton Pride, a smattering of Xerxes from the film 300 and all out Sink the Pink excess during the whipping sequence. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre”

Review: The Etienne Sisters, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“I can’t believe my own sister would come with this thievery and anarchy to my door…”

Just a couple of weeks ago, Matt Trueman penned a piece for What’s On Stage about the lack of experimentation in British musical theatre and so the arrival of The Etienne Sisters at the Theatre Royal Stratford East is right on cue. Renewing the creative partnership that produced last year’s smouldering Klook’s Last Stand, this new musical was written by Ché Walker with songs by Anoushka Lucas and additional songs contributed by Sheila Atim (who also starred in Klook’s…), it’s a fascinatingly freeform experiment in jazz virtuosity and soulful discovery.

Led by Nikki Yeoh’s stunning work from the piano, this “play with music” has that music stitched into its very existence, its narrative folds unwind as much from the singing as the speaking to give a thrilling sense of integration to this tale of family strife. Sisters Tree and Ree are mourning the death of their mother and the arrival of their half-sister Bo, who they haven’t spoken to in five years, brings even more disruption to a time of considerable emotional upheaval. But with trouble comes tenderness too, the weight of past history making up for present difficulties.  Continue reading “Review: The Etienne Sisters, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: Klook’s Last Stand, Park Theatre

“His smile’s like the sun 
I’m the bullet, he’s the gun”

Continuing programming that is eclectic to say the least, the Park Theatre continues to bamboozle audiences since opening last year and at the moment, has a couple of productions that are on the good side. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is doing great work in the larger space and Ché Walker’s Klook’s Last Stand brings an interesting slice of musical theatre to Finsbury Park, albeit one which is hamstrung by desperately predictable plotting.

Klook probably sits more in the play with songs category for Anoushka Lucas and Omar Lyefook’s score – performed brilliantly by Rio Kai throughout – is like the lifeblood of the piece, a blues-influenced jamming session that takes in poetry and spoken word as Ako Mitchell and Sheila Atim deliver knockout performances. Mitchell’s Klook is a reinvigorated ex-con and Atim’s younger Vinette a runaway would-be writer and the depiction of their new relationship and its intensity is just excellent. Continue reading “Review: Klook’s Last Stand, Park Theatre”