2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations

The nominations for the 20th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards have been announced and I have a thought or two #justiceforAnneHathaway

As a publicly nominated affair, the What’s On Stage Awards always throw up an interesting set of nominations, as fanbases engage alongside theatregoers to produce an idiosyncratic reflection on the year. This year though, the nominees for the nine creative categories (Choreography, Costume Design, Direction, Graphic Design, Lighting Design, Musical Direction, Set Design, Sound Design and Video Design) have been decided by an independent panel of industry experts appointed, which has resulted in some pleasing inclusions for the likes of Equus and Small Island

Acting-wise, the focus does land a little heavily on the more famous names (plus ça change) and that Supporting Actress in a Musical category is super-crowded (the Dear Evan Hansen mothers would have been a shoo-in for me there). My only real point of issue comes with the categorisation for the & Juliet players – are you really going to nominate Oliver Tompsett as a lead and then put Cassidy Janson in the supporting category? Did you not see the show, or get any of its message at all?!

Voting for the winners is open now and closes on 27th January 2020, with the winners being revealed at a ceremony on 1st March 2020.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Edwardian Hotels

Tom Hiddleston – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Andrew Scott – Present Laughter – The Old Vic
Matt Smith – Lungs – The Old Vic
Wendell Pierce – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Laurie Kynaston – The Son – Kiln Theatre / Duke of York’s Theatre

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Tonic Theatre

Claire Foy – Lungs – The Old Vic
Zawe Ashton – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Hayley Atwell – Rosmersholm – Duke of York’s Theatre
Sharon D Clarke – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Juliet Stevenson – The Doctor – Almeida Theatre Continue reading “2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Lungs, Old Vic Theatre

Claire Foy and Matt Smith excel in a welcome revival of Duncan Macmillan’s climate change/relationship drama Lungs at the Old Vic Theatre

“Let’s get home and drink some gin and pretend I never said anything'”

Well, who’d’ve thought it? A chance to see the second best play of 2012 once again with some real luxury casting this time around. Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs toured the UK as part of one of Paines Plough’s Roundabout seasons (and marked the moment Kate O’Flynn properly burst into my consciousness) and now it has resurfaced at the Old Vic, starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, who are obviously at a loose end now that The Crown has forced them to regenerate into Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies. Have a read of my 5 star review for Offical Theatre here.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Lungs is booking at the Old Vic Theatre until 9th November

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Review: Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

“Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more”

What is it that makes a hit? Jamie Lloyd’s Macbeth, the first show in his Trafalgar Transformed residency at the Trafalgar Studios, has rapidly become one of the hottest tickets in town, selling out nearly all of its shows and inspiring epic levels of queuing for the dayseats.  And the audience it has drawn, at this show at least, felt significantly younger than one would usually see at a West End house. So something has clearly worked in the marketing of Shakespeare’s tragedy to make it the kind of success that they most likely hadn’t dared dream of. In light of that, it seems almost immaterial that I predominantly found it a disappointing production.  

It was a fascinating experience to see the reactions of fresher eyes to a play whose ubiquity, arguably, does not necessarily correlate with its quality. For all its noble brutality and visceral poetry, it can be something of a hard ask in its later stages, no more so than in Act 4 Scene 3 which is the stuff of theatrical nightmares, yet it remains popular. And in Lloyd’s production with its Kensington Gore-splattered imagining of a near-future dystopian Scotland (the consequence of independence…?) and frequent bold strokes especially in Soutra Gilmour’s design which cleverly opens out, it clearly connected with its teenage audience from their frequent audible reactions.

But for me, much of it underwhelmed. My major problem was with the clarity of the verse-speaking, not with the Scots accent before I’m labelled a Sassenach, but in the establishment of a speaking style that replaced subtlety and rhythm with speed and volume. Throw in the gas masks of the weird sisters and I was left extremely glad that it was a text I was familiar with. The overall impression is one which evokes a spiralling inevitability to the end but so much is lost on the journey as the richness of Shakespeare’s words is plundered.

James McAvoy (returning to a role he has acted on television before) brings an undeniable energy to Macbeth himself but in most effective in the rare moments where the BPM is reduced to allow something profound to grow out of this interpretation. He lacks any chemistry with Claire Foy’s Lady Macbeth though, her delivery being one which really rankled with me, which undermines one of the strongest motors of the plot and as with many modernisations, the removal of nobility from the set-up – this Macbeth always feels like a fighting terrorist – somehow lessens its impact. 

There’s good work from Forbes Masson as Banquo, Hugh Ross as Duncan and Allison Mackenzie’s Lady Macduff – I still remain unsure about Jamie Ballard’s Macduff but I think that’s as much to do with my own preconceptions about the character. And ultimately that’s what I was left thinking, about how much we carry expectation into productions of play that we’ve seen so many times. Whilst I’d rather they hadn’t laughed so much at the darker moments, it was pleasing to see theatre connect with a younger audience even as my jaded blogger’s pencil dismissed it as uninspired. It’s a good job I only have two more Macbeths (so far) in the calendar ahead… 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 27th April

Review: Ding Dong the Wicked, Royal Court

“What’s happening out there?”

At just 20 minutes long, Ding Dong the Wicked is a new Caryl Churchill playlet that can be seen at various afternoon and late evening slots as it fits around her other show downstairs at the Royal Court, Love and Information. The two are not connected so do not need to be seen in tandem, just consider it a Brucie bonus for Churchill fans, a cadeau de Caryl if you will.

In a living room, a family prepares for the sending of one of its sons to war. They drink vodka, too much; patriotic jingoism is spouted blindly as battles rage on television screens; troubled familial dynamics are hinted at with squabbling aplenty and furtive affairs emerging. Then ten minutes later, we move to another country where things seem the same, but different. Continue reading “Review: Ding Dong the Wicked, Royal Court”

Review: Love Love Love, Royal Court

“We never intended to be in this domestic situation”

Though it matters to few people, I’m never quite sure when to label something a re-review or not when I’ve previously seen the show albeit in a different incarnation. I first saw Mike Bartlett’s Love Love Love in November 2010 when Paines Plough took it on a small UK tour and I made the trip to Manchester to take in my first experience of the studio space at the Royal Exchange to be blown away by the show, which came 4th out of 270-odd plays for me that year. It toured again last year, though I was so fond of the original cast that I decided not to see it again and even when the Royal Court announced that it would play in the main house, I resisted for the longest time until I was offered a ticket for the final performance by a friend who offered me gin.

My original review can be read here and I’m not going to rehash what’s in there as the play remained substantially the same (plus the run has now finished), so I will confine myself to just a few remarks (for once) about the differences in productions, which have also come from conversations with others. The most significant change was in the casting of the two leads Kenneth and Sandra: I saw John Heffernan and Daniela Denby-Ashe who were probably closest in age to the first act and so the progression of their ageing across the three acts felt most natural. Here, Ben Miles and Victoria Hamilton are most at home in the middle act, which means they had to act down quite considerably in the first act which I found to be really rather distracting. The flipside to that of course was a greater authority later on, especially from the superlative Hamilton. Continue reading “Review: Love Love Love, Royal Court”