News: Meet the new Matildas!

 

(C) Helen Maybanks

 
For me, one of the more pleasing recent success stories in theatreland has been the enduring success of Matilda The Musical. The cut-throat world of the West End has claimed many a high profile victim but the Royal Shakespeare Company’s multi award-winning production has gone from strength to strength at the Cambridge Theatre, where it is currently booking until 17th December.

>With that in mind and appropriately enough for World Book Day, the show has announced that Lilian Hardy, Emma Moore and Éva-Marie Saffrey will join Abbie Vena the title role of Matilda from 14th March. And to mark the arrival of the show’s new young actresses, a video has been released today of the four girls learning acrobatic tricks, to add to their already immense skill set, with their fellow cast member Craige Els, who plays Miss Trunchbull.

 

 
And if you needed any further convincing to go and see the show, here’s my reviews of the original Stratford production, the original cast recording (available to buy here), the original West End run, the original Broadway cast recording, and my 2015 revisit to the Cambridge.

 

Production images – Manuel Harlan

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 2

“You believe in laws but there are only lechers”

For some reason or other, I stopped watching the second series of Ripper Street midway through and it’s taken me until now to finally finish it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s more likely to do with running out of time to watch it on the iPlayer or something but anyhoo, I’ve managed it now. My review of Series 1 (which I thoroughly appreciated) is over here and I have to say that that enjoyment has continued, even if I do have a few reservations about its female voices.

It’s a shame that in a crime procedural led by three men, two of the leading supporting female characters did not return for this second series. DI Reid’s wife and kind-of-mistress (Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu) are both MIA, losing all the work done to establish them, and though Leanne Best is introduced as a local politician who can’t help but flirt with Reid (he’s played by Matthew Macfadyen after all), the overall weight of the series does thus feel a little unbalanced.

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Re-review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre

“Please don’t cry, dry your eyes, wipe away your tears”

Despite naming it my show of the year in 2011 (or maybe because of that), I’ve not been back to see Matilda the Musical since it opened at the Cambridge Theatre four years ago. I had such the perfect emotional journey with the show that I just didn’t want to alter that experience by going back and risking it being something of a disappointment, especially with such impossibly high standards to live up to from that amazing original cast and Bertie Carvel’s iconic Mrs Trunchbull.

Four years is long enough though I think, and when the opportunity to revisit the show presented itself, I accepted the offer with just a little trepidation. Those nerves were quickly dispelled, even as soon as entering the theatre to witness the infectious enthusiasm of an audience of all ages, and the reassuring sight of Rob Howell’s design with its multi-coloured letters strewn across the set. And as Laurie Perkins’ orchestra launched into the familiar strains of ‘Miracle’, my heart leapt and I wondered how I had left it this long. Continue reading “Re-review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre”

Winners of the 2015 What’s On Stage Awards

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II (25%)
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge (5%)
Richard Armitage – The Crucible (11%)
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love (5%)
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus (20%)

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain (17%)
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire (17%)
Helen McCrory – Medea (7%)
Imelda Staunton – Good People (12%)
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love (7%)

Continue reading “Winners of the 2015 What’s On Stage Awards”

2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II 
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge 
Richard Armitage – The Crucible 
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love 
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus 

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain 
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Helen McCrory – Medea 
Imelda Staunton – Good People 
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love 

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Radio review: Missing in Action, Radio 4

Clare Lizzimore and Sam Troughton clearly have an affinity for working with each, having recently collaborated on Mike Bartlett’s Bull (which she directed) and the Royal Court’s Mint (which she wrote). So it seems only natural that the pair should reunite for her debut radio play Missing In Action. A busy work week means this is going up too late for you to still hear it (radio programmes remain on the iPlayer for a week) so I’ll keep it brief but sweet enough that they’ll hopefully replay it soon.

Perhaps bravely – with the war commemorations this year – but certainly wisely, Missing In Action focuses on the dark aftermath of conflict, the yawning abyss that soldiers can feel on their return from war to a world that has continued without them and to which they feel singularly ill-equipped. The play starts off with Natalie scarcely believing her eyes that the husband who had been declared missing in action in Helmand Province is shopping in a local supermarket. He doesn’t know who she is, says that he is someone else, but something is triggered and a painful process is initiated which sweeps up all around him. Continue reading “Radio review: Missing in Action, Radio 4”

Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange

“It’s not exactly Roman Holiday, is it?”

Victoria Wood’s That Day We Sang premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 and it fair near captured my heart with its archetypal northern charm and its determination to find the special in the mundane. I wrote about the show back then but Sarah Frankcom’s production for the Royal Exchange features a reworked and recast version of this play with songs which has proven to be a canny choice indeed for the Manchester venue’s festive offering.

The show tells the story of how a group of Mancunian schoolchildren ended up performing with the Hallé Orchestra in 1929 on a Purcell recording and also the results of a get-together 40 years later for a Granada TV documentary. The two strands interweave and overlap as two of the choir engage in a putative romance after the reunion, the aspirations of their younger selves contrasted with the drabness of the older and the potential spark ignited after the long-awaited meeting. Continue reading “Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange”

Film Review: Anna Karenina

 

”I’d rather live life wishing I hadn’t rather than wishing I had”

Today I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Joe Wright’s new film, Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role, which is certain to be divisive with its unique approach. Tom Stoppard has been employed to distil Tolstoy’s weighty tome into something more manageable and his adaptation clocks in at a shade over 2 hours. Remaining largely faithful to the novel, Stoppard’s focus is on exploring different kinds of love, and so whilst the focus is mainly on Anna herself as she negotiates the tumultuous affair with a young cavalryman that sets her against her husband and the might of Russian society, he also ensures that the subplot featuring the agrarian Levin’s attempts to woo the object of his affections is kept in to provide a neat counterpoint.

Presented with a classic of literature and wanting to avoid predictability as far as period dramas are concerned, Wright’s main conceit has been to reconceptualise the whole thing in a deeply theatrical manner, literally. He treats the story as a piece of theatre, sometimes being played out in front of an audience, sometimes as backstage drama, but always with a defined fluidity and through-line. This exceedingly stylised and highly choreographed approach has a huge cinematic sweep which I adored, but it does soon calm down into something more measured and at key moments, it opens out with some breath-taking transformations.  Continue reading “Film Review: Anna Karenina”

Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre

“We have seen better days”

Relevance. From the moment that Timon of Athens was announced as part of the upcoming season at the National Theatre with its look-alike poster image, it was clear that this would be a production straining for resonance in the modern world. This is nothing new of course – the recent Antigone opened with an evocation of the capture of Bin Laden, the RSC have relocated Julius Caesar in a modern-day African dictatorship, numerous Comedies of Errors have touched on people-trafficking – but in his quest to update this neglected Shakespeare problem play for our times, Nicholas Hytner seems to have suffered very much from square peg round hole syndrome. Aspects of this production may well improve as the preview period progresses, my problems with it ran much deeper.

Timon starts the play as a major player on the London social scene, showering the city and his acolytes with his financial largesse and a dubious open door policy. But such cultural and personal philanthropism comes at a serious price when it emerges that Timon is in fact bankrupt and when he turns to those who he has lavished with money and gifts, they turn their back on him and offer no help. He exacts a stinking revenge on them during a feast and then retires from society to become a bag lady. Even then, an unexpected discovery means that he cannot truly escape his former life but his influence is channelled into a darker stream of action as civil unrest is steadily growing. Continue reading “Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre”

Review: Antigone, National Theatre

“When things must be, they will be”

Though the prospect of a different kind of Greek tragedy is one that is dominating our headlines at the moment, the ancient Greek kind remain an enduring presence in our theatres. Sophocles’ Antigone is the latest to re-emerge at the National Theatre with director Polly Findlay using Don Taylor’s version of the play, originally done for the BBC in the 1980s. Her production locates this version of Thebes somewhere in the North of England in the late 1970s (at least that’s when I reckoned but others in the group were less sure) in which Jodie Whittaker and Christopher Eccleston take the leading roles.

Thebes has been wracked by civil war and turmoil and in the aftermath of a particularly bloody struggle between the two brothers fighting over the throne, Creon seizes control and becomes king. To stamp his authority on the city, Creon opts to bury one brother but leaves the body of the other more rebellious one to rot outside on the battlefield. This horrifies Antigone, sister to the men and niece to Creon, and despite a royal decree forbidding anyone to touch his body on the pain of death, she sets about doing what she thinks is right. Continue reading “Review: Antigone, National Theatre”