Review: Anna Bella Eema, Arcola Theatre

The strange but spellbinding Anna Bella Eema makes for an intriguing trip to the Arcola Theatre

“Outside is a state of mind”

A queer little thing indeed, this. Described as a “part ghost story, part fairytale, part coming-of-age fantasy”, that still doesn’t come anywhere close to encapsulating the experience of Lisa D’Amour’s striking play Anna Bella Eema.

Music melds into mellifluous prose, sound effects slide into strange speech, Jessica Lazar’s production builds up an eerily compelling soundscape through Chris Sidorfsky’s original freeform score and Tom Foskett–Barnes’ sound design and from there, locates its entirely individual place in the world. Continue reading “Review: Anna Bella Eema, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Lyric Hammersmith

The inimitable Kneehigh retool The Beggar’s Opera in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), now playing at the Lyric Hammersmith

“What is the world coming to?”

Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) was well received 5 years ago and so they’ve opted to revive it for a UK tour. Carl Grose’s reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has evergreen reference points with its corrupt political classes and mercenary business types and adorned with Charles Hazelwood’s songs, it makes for a striking experience on stage.

Macheath, the Peachums and the Lockits are all present and correct though in this more modern setting, Macheath is a contract killer who Mrs Peachum employs to bump off her husband’s political rival. He also kills his dog and that’s just in the opening scene. From there, there’s a raucous ride through a society turned entirely toxic by nastiness and greed and probably the puppets too. Continue reading “Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Brief Encounter, Empire Cinema Haymarket

Perfect for the ‘incurably romantic’, Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter is a glorious piece of theatre at the Empire Cinema Haymarket

This is my whole world and it’s enough, or rather it was until a few weeks ago”

How we change over a decade. When Kneehigh’s Brief Encounter was first announced to take over the cinema on Haymarket, I went to maybe one play a month and was the proud owner of a Cineworld card, so was disgruntled that my West End film options were being curtailed. I did not see the show.

Fast forward 10 years, I can’t remember the last film I saw in a picturehouse, the cinema has been taken over by Empire, and director/adaptor Emma Rice has had quite the ride herself over the last few years. So who can blame her for returning to happier times, happier memories, in reviving this much-loved production. Continue reading “Review: Brief Encounter, Empire Cinema Haymarket”

2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic
Billie Piper – The Effect, Headlong at the National, Cottesloe
Hattie Morahan – A Doll’s House at the Young Vic
Jill Halfpenny – Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Wyndham’s
Julie Walters – The Last of the Haussmans at the National, Lyttelton
Sally Hawkins – Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs & Duke of York’s

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss at Hampstead
Adrian Lester – Red Velvet at the Tricycle
David Haig – The Madness of George III at the Apollo
David Suchet – Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National, Cottesloe
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night & Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe & the Apollo Continue reading “2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre

“It’s the little lies that get you into trouble”

Aged 36, the widowed Agatha Posket feared for her re-marriage prospects so when the genial Aeneas Posket, the magistrate for the Mulberry Street Police Court, arrived on the scene, she lopped 5 years off her age and promptly became Mrs Posket. The only trouble is her 19 year old son Cis whom she tells the world is actually 14 in order to make her fib fly. The farcical trials that follow as he continues to act as a 19 year old and the arrival of his godfather threatens to undo the whole deception make up the plot of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rather delightful play The Magistrate, which takes up residence at the Olivier as the National’s Christmas offering in place of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Nancy Carroll is simply sensational as Agatha, an actress in full control of her considerable gift and razor-sharp throughout. Whether layering in real pathos in lamenting the lot of a middle-aged widow, working in genuine comedy whilst extemporising wildly as chaos surrounds her or managing to make the spitting out of some bread into a moment of sheer genius, she is never less than unmissable. And she supported excellent by Joshua McGuire as her son Cis, who has a wonderful physicality and gleeful sense of timing in his teenage rampaging and Jonathan Coy’s family friend Colonel Lukyn who is pretty much scene-stealingly fantastic, a true master of comic acting which fully deserves the mid-show round of applause he received. Continue reading “Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre”

Review: Soho Cinders, Soho Theatre

“It’s hard to tell the gay guys from the straight”

Technically speaking, Soho Cinders is a new musical. But given that some of the songs were first premiered at a Stiles + Drewe concert and subsequently released on CD and that the musical itself received a concert presentation late last year, it feels more like the return of an old friend. Though in the way that you can’t always control when friends come back into your life, this fable-like gay retelling of the Cinderella story was booked into the Soho Theatre in the middle of the summer.

Cinderella here is Robbie, a law student who works as an escort on the side and his Prince Charming is James Prince, a bisexual candidate in the London Mayoral race with whom he has been carrying out a clandestine affair. Anthony Drewe and Elliot Davis’ book retains much that will be recognised, like ugly stepsisters, but has also taken a bit of a spin on things, Buttons has become Velcro, the carriage becomes a Boris bike and the story has generally been modernised to cover the world of politics and sex scandals. Continue reading “Review: Soho Cinders, Soho Theatre”

Review: Soho Cinders, Queens Theatre

“Wishing for the normal kind of dream,
Trouble is they’re harder than they seem”

Soho Cinders is a Stiles + Drewe show which has long been in development, 11 years since the original concept was devised, during which they’ve worked on Mary Poppins, the sadly departed Betty Blue Eyes and their new show Soapdish. But all the while, this modern-day gay retelling (of sorts) of the Cinderella tale has been burbling away, some of the songs were previewed at the A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe concert in 2008 and subsequently released on CD – one in particular, ‘(They Don’t Make) Glass Slippers’ becoming a favourite amongst young male singers, Gareth Gates being my particular favourite rendition. Having the book retweaked one more time by Elliot Davis, Stiles + Drewe decided to launch the show in a one-off concert version at the Queen’s Theatre, in an evening in support of, and maintaining their long-standing connection with, the Teenage Cancer Trust, following last year’s concert at Wilton’s Music Hall.

Our Cinderella is Robbie, a young Londoner who works as an escort in order to fund his way through law school so he can contest his mother’s will which apparently left her coffee shop to his wicked stepsisters. Our prince is James Prince, a prospective London mayoral candidate, who has a glamorous fiancée but as it turns out, has been conducting a secret affair with Robbie, although unaware of his other activities. When they are flung together unexpectedly at a fundraising party, secrets tumble out, truths are exposed and though no shoes are left behind (it’s a phone instead), the fairytale ending does not necessarily seem guaranteed. Continue reading “Review: Soho Cinders, Queens Theatre”

Review: The Beggar’s Opera, Open Air Theatre

“You will always be a vulgar slut”

The Beggar’s Opera written by John Gay in 1728 was the first example of the ballad opera, perhaps the forerunner to today’s jukebox musicals in folding in pre-existing tunes to a satirical narrative that poked fun at the ever-popular Italian operas that were all the rage. Gay set his play in amongst the lowlifes of society, our main protagonist Macheath is a highwayman and raging lothario and the slowly twisting plot follows his shenanigans as he gets married to Polly Peachum, despite having gotten Lucy Lockit pregnant, unaware that the parents of both are part of a corrupt justice system that would happily see him hang so that his reputed fortune would come to them. Lucy Bailey directs this production which takes place in the elegant Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.

The overall impact is somewhat underwhelming though, the score not really proving to be melodically distinct enough, nor the story witty or moving enough to really crackle with life. For 2 hours 40 minutes, there is very little to the plot and much of the running time is taken over by the 69 songs that are sung throughout the show. Though mostly sung well, these rarely progress the action but rather arrest the flow and as the vast majority of them fall neatly into the English folk ballad category, there’s a gnawing sense of repetition that sets in. And even when there is no singing, there’s little vibrancy or energy on stage, movement director Maxine Doyle of Punchdrunk has introduced a rather sluggish pace and Bailey’s direction does not draw out enough of the comedy from the productions or her performers. Continue reading “Review: The Beggar’s Opera, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Into the Woods, Open Air Theatre

“This was just a moment in the woods…”

The final show in this year’s season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is yet another entry into Stephen Sondheim’s anniversary calendar with a production of Into The Woods. And what a well-suited choice as the multi-level set sits in the real trees and bushes around the auditorium, swaying in the wind, leaves beginning to fall and providing the perfect backdrop for the show.

Told by a narrator, here a young boy (Ethan Beer last night), the story mixes together characters from many familiar fairytales all living their stories as we know them, in their various searches for happiness, wealth, fulfilment, all their hearts’ desires and reaches the conclusions we have come to know as the characters secure their happy endings. However, this only takes us to the interval and the second half takes a decidedly darker turn as Sondheim and Lepine investigate what happens after ‘happy ever after’ and the dangers in having your wishes granted. Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, The Lowry

Having seen and loved Acorn Antiques The Musical when it played in London, despite a few misgivings about the first half, I was keen to ensure that we saw the touring version when it was announced and it fit in well with my Christmas plans to go and see it at the Lowry in Salford. Victoria Wood had obviously taken the (somewhat harsh) reviews to heart though as she has performed some major surgery on the show and the whole conceit of the first half has been removed: we open straight into Manchesterford and the goings-on at the antique shop.
Some of the songs from that original first half have been shoehorned into the story, the tap number is great fun though a bit of a stretch having the am-dram society rehearsing in the shop and other ones shifted around a bit. It still made me laugh, but I must admit to not finding it quite as funny as I did the first time round. And I suppose this is largely to do with the fact that this is a new cast that has been put together for this tour, which features none of the main principles.

And I know it shouldn’t matter, the strength of the show should mean that any good actors can take us through it, but so much of the pleasure of the original was seeing the famous, familiar faces from the TV show reprising their roles, in particular Celia Imrie and Julie Walters, the latter’s Mrs O being so intertwined with herself that I found it impossible to imagine anyone else ever being able to perform the role. And I think that is what the producers also thought as Ria Jones who takes on the role here plays it as close to Walters as possible, which is probably for the best as she can really pull it off. I was less convinced by Sara Crowe’s Miss Babs and Teddy Kempner’s Clifford, but Lisa Peace’s Miss Berta and Beverly Rudd’s Mimi were good fun.

Expectations are often a killer and I think I let them get the better of me here, working myself into a state of excitement that was always unlikely to be matched. Though as the dvd of the original cast is now available, I might add that to my Christmas present list and see if it really was as good as I remembered first time round.