20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National

“It’s not about the word, it’s the context in which it’s used and who uses it”

A much welcome reprise for this extraordinary production of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles, a co-production with Fuel & West Yorkshire Playhouse which sold out its initial run at the Dorfman in the summer (here’s my review from then) and has already sold out this return engagement which brings back the original cast, ahead of a wee international tour when four new players, David Ajao, Bayo Gbadamosi, Martins Imhangbe and Tuwaine Barrett, will step in for Anthony Welsh, Fisayo Akinade, Hammed Animashaun and Simon Manyonda.

That it is sold out shouldn’t stop you from trying to get tickets – there’s Friday Rush and there’s refreshing this page in case of returns, and boy is it worth it. Bijan Sheibani’s production does that magnificent thing of genuinely transforming the theatre into someplace else, someplace special, and the energy that crackles through every single minute of the performance – which starts from the moment you walk into the auditorium, this is definitely a show to be early for – is charged with the significance of these stories being told. Continue reading “Re-review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National”

Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre

“Men, sometimes…I don’t know”

The hugely convivial pre-show entertainment for Barber Shop Chronicles is such good fun that I thought to myself I could easily just watch this for an hour. As it turned out, press night delays meant that it was extended by about thirty minutes, during which you really got to appreciate how quietly radical it is. In designer Rae Smith’s hands, the Dorfman has been transformed into a barbershop in the round, into which we’re volubly greeted by the cast and if you’re lucky, you get to sit in the barber’s chair and “get your hair popped” while you wait for the show to start. What I really loved though was the way in which the company so enthusiastically greeted friends, family, loved ones, shattering conventions and fourth walls alike, setting the tone for a truly joyous experience.

Crafted by Inua Ellams, Barber Shop Chronicles puts black masculinity in all its multiplicities under the spotlight. by examining the crucial role that barber shop plays in their communities. From Peckham to Lagos, Johannesburg to Accra with Harare and Kampala inbetween, we’re treated to a glimpse into a world that is more, so much more, than just a place to get an “aerodynamic” haircut. It’s a place to find chat, companionship, chargers, to confess to deeper truths than might otherwise be acknowledged in the outside world, even to find surrogate father figures and positive male role models. Across these six countries, we eavesdrop on these conversations and in gaining an appreciation for the diversity in the African diaspora, Ellams also traces the common threads. Continue reading “Review: Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre”

Review: The Hudsucker Proxy, Nuffield

“I wasn’t expecting all this hoopla…”

It’s not been the easiest of births for The Hudsucker Proxy – an incident in the dress rehearsal left two actors hospitalised, fortunately both have now been discharged and are recuperating at home, and the decision was made to forge ahead with the show, recasting where necessary. The show is certainly an interesting prospect – a co-production between Nuffield and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse in association with Complicite, and the first ever theatrical adaptation of a Coen Brothers film too – and its doors are now finally open in Southampton, ahead of a trip to Liverpool and then an international tour in the near future.

And you can see it succeeding. The show uncovers realms of theatrical influences in the Coen Brothers’ work but also adds in much of its own, to create a dizzying screwball comedy that is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It would be churlish to give too much away but there are some inspired moments of staging in Simon Dormandy and Toby Sedgwick’s staging, especially concerning the window of the 44th floor office in which much of the drama is set. The physical work here is explicit too, the company relying on their own bodies as much as Dick Bird’s magnificent art deco-inflected set design to create constantly imaginative sequences. Continue reading “Review: The Hudsucker Proxy, Nuffield”

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic

“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”

There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.

The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.

Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic”

DVD Review: Tipping the Velvet

“You seem so very gay and bold”

I didn’t watch this 2002 television adaptation of Sarah Waters’ debut novel Tipping the Velvet nor had I read the book so this was all unchartered territory for me. I vaguely remembered a bit of a Daily Mail-style hoohah so I was a little surprised at the relative tameness of the first episode but then after getting through the second, I can see why an eyebrow might have been raised – I doubt I’ll see Anna Chancellor in quite the same light! Andrew Davies’ had the unenviable task of condensing Water’s seven year story of sexual and self-discovery into a three hour television script and manages the job fairly well, though with a rip-roaring pace that doesn’t always quite allow the story enough time to breathe.

The story centres on Nancy Astley, a young woman who works as an oyster-girl in her father’s Whitstable restaurant but who lacks a certain fulfilment in her life as a relationship with a local boy is failing to make her weak at the knees. What does capture her attention though is the arrival of a male impersonator Kitty Butler whose performances leave her transfixed and ultimately open up a whole new world for Nan, but a world that is full of as much heartbreak as love, as much pain as pleasure, as she finds herself on the stage, on the street, on a leash, on her knees, on an incredible journey. Continue reading “DVD Review: Tipping the Velvet”