10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

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

10 questions for 10 years – Matthew Parker

As the Hope Theatre’s outgoing AD prepares for his final season and new adventures, Matthew Parker takes a little time to answer Ten Questions for Ten Years

It is no mean feat to transform a fringe theatre into a must-see venue but that’s what Mr Parker has done so successfully over the last few years at the Hope. Both as a director (Her Aching Heart and Steel Magnolias being particular highlights) and as an artistic director (his programming really has been reliably delightful), he has flourished and consequently, I’ve kept on going back even on Arsenal matchdays…  
Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Matthew Parker”

Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre

Neil Austin’s lighting design in Rosmersholm at the Duke of York’s Theatre is a thing of beauty and Hayley Atwell is excellent but Ibsen is still Ibsen…

“You see, this is what happens when the general public becomes engaged in politics — they get duped into voting against their own interests”

Chances are if Helen McCrory can’t make me like a play, then few others will be able too either. I first saw Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm with Anthony Page’s production for the Almeida which was…eek…more than 10 years ago now. It didn’t click with me then and in the assured hands of Ian Rickson here, it still leaves me cold. 

You do have to admire the bravado of producer Sonia Friedman, opening a play like this cold into the West End without resorting to any hint of stunt casting.And creatively, this is a triumph. Neil Austin’s hauntingly perfect lighting of Rae Smith’s austerely grand designs is a thing of pure beauty as it evolves throughout the show. Continue reading “Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre”

Re-review: People, Places and Things, Wyndham’s

“I want to live vividly”

There’s something rather apposite about the rush to label Denise Gough’s performance in People, Places and Things as the greatest since Mark Rylance’s in Jerusalem, as as heretical as it may be to say it, I was no real fan of the latter. And whilst there is a huge amount to admire in Gough’s epic efforts in a behemoth of a role, my reaction to the play on seeing it a second time was magnify what I felt were its flaws, leaving me bemused at the number of 5 star notices and hyperbole-filled writing.

My original review can be found here and in its new home at the Wyndham’s, I felt much the same. Duncan Macmillan’s writing lapses towards the painfully poetic far too often when trying to engage with the realities of addiction and it still feels baggy, the group scenes linger past their welcome and the repetitiveness goes too far, a fair bit could be cut and nothing lost. But what do I do know? It fascinates me endlessly when I end up outside the zeitgeist this way and interestingly for me, no-one else’s reviews have convinced me of what I’m apparently missing. Still, I’d recommend you go along to make up your mind and to see what should be, by any rights, the ascendance of Denise Gough to a well-deserved star status. 

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th June

Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre

“You can’t do karaoke unless you’re part of the group”

Oh expectation, you fickle thing – so easily built up and yet so easily dashed. Headlong’s last visit to the National Theatre saw Lucy Prebble’s The Effect brought to powerfully moving life and recently revived so devastatingly effectively in Sheffield, it was still fresh in my mind. So perhaps foolishly, Duncan MacMillan’s People, Places and Things had a lot to live up in my mind but sometimes that’s what happens when you’re a theatre addict – you just have admit that you’re powerless over theatre and that your life has become unmanageable.

Entering a 12-step program is all well and good but how to identify the exact nature of the wrongs, defects of character and shortcomings that help on the way to recovery? How to make amends to the people who have been harmed? Here’s where this tortured analogy will die a death as I can’t make it work, and it is turning out a little harsh against this production. That said, I really wasn’t a fan despite some sterling work from Denise Gough and spotted at least three people making a run for it before we broke for the interval.  Continue reading “Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre”

Review: 1984, Headlong at Richmond Theatre

 

 
“You may as well say goodbye”

For a novel written in 1949, it is remarkable how much of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 has seeped into our consciousness. Not just in the phrases we have adopted – Big Brother, thought crime, Room 101, double speak – but also in the world it depicts, of constant surveillance, of the all-controlling state, of the erosion of individual liberties. From Wikileaks to Edward Snowden, David Miranda’s detention even to Paul Dacre’s indignation, the consequences of going up against the establishment, in whatever form, are never far from the headlines and it is clear that Headlong’s audacious re-interpretation of 1984 is an apposite choice.

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation takes an unusual starting point – the epilogue-like Appendix which offers a whole new level of complication to the narrative of the novel – and uses it to present a dual layer of storytelling. Winston Smith’s trials at the hands of Big Brother as he rebels against the totalitarian state for whom he works are contextualised by a futuristic scenario in which a book group are reading about the trials of Winston Smith. We slide between the two timeframes – as Winston thinks a thought, the book group discuss it – each inextricably linked with the other as we watch this single man, this tiny act of rebellion, being obliterated. Continue reading “Review: 1984, Headlong at Richmond Theatre”

Review: The Forbidden, Radio 4

“Candyman…candyman…”

Just a quickie for this as I hadn’t intended to blog it but it has lingered long in the memory to merit a recommendation. Clive Barker’s 1985 novella formed the inspiration for the 1992 horror film Candyman but Duncan MacMillan’s modernised adaptation of The Forbidden for Radio 4 takes it back to its British roots, finding the modern-day creepiness inherent in rundown council estates populated by riot-happy hordes. Helen’s sleep is frequently disturbed by a recurring nightmare that takes her back to a basement in her old home and a mysterious unidentified presence always alongside her. As she moves into a new place which is in the same area with her ever-patient husband Trevor, she sets about trying to get to the bottom of her dreams but is unprepared for the truth that is buried deep in her subconscious.

And Polly Thomas’ production is superbly effective at generating the spine-chilling atmosphere that moves from the paranoid wonderings of a stressed woman to something altogether more sinister, aided immeasurably by John Coxon’s (of Spiritualised) original score and the choice to record on location which brings the right level of authenticity. Nadine Marshall strikes the right notes as Helen, blindly unaware of the danger she is in as she determinedly explores the mysteries of her past and the threat she poses to her current happiness as she neglects those around her, Michael Begley’s Trevor in particular. Fenella Woolgar is great as two supporting roles as is Danny Lee Wynter’s Archie and all in all, it was a cracking piece of radio drama – just don’t listen to it last thing at night!