Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

This regional UK premiere of Once the musical should see you falling slowly towards Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in order to book your tickets!

“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice”

I’d forgotten just how much I like Once. I saw it a couple of times in its 2013-15 West End incarnation (review #1, review #2) and its atypical subtlety was a big hit for me, particularly in the gentle mood cultivated by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music and lyrics. The fact that it isn’t a brassy balls-out West End musical might explain why it has taken a little time for its regional premiere to emerge but mercifully, that time has now come.

For that, we have co-producers Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich to thank. And director Peter Rowe’s actor-musician production slips into the groove perfectly, as warm and comforting as a pint of Guinness or three in your favourite old man’s pub – and occasionally just as rowdy as well. With Enda Walsh’s book taken from John Carney’s original film, its bittersweetly romantic tone feels perfect as autumn descends. Continue reading “Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Lazarus, King’s Cross

“A man lost in time”

It’s no secret that I’m a big Ivo van Hove fan, I’ve been to New York and Amsterdam several times to see his work as regular readers will know, so booking for his latest show to hit London – Lazarus – was a no-brainer. At the same time though, I have to say that the music of David Bowie has played little part in my life, so a musical continuing the story of his 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth and based on his songs doesn’t actually carry the same appeal that I might normally have with a van Hove show.

Of course, the shock news of Bowie’s passing as the show opened in New York this past winter lends Lazarus an especial charge, featuring as it does songs from his later albums and songs that were written for this project, among some of the last he ever penned. To an outsider though, it makes for strange experience with a strong sense of mood prevailing over a defined narrative progression, Enda Walsh co-writing a book with Bowie that is labyrinthine in its own fractured, hallucinatory way. Continue reading “Review: Lazarus, King’s Cross”

Review: The Twits, Royal Court

“It means, Mrs Twit, we’re going to have some fun” 

Truth be told, I wasn’t really a fan of The Twits when I was a kid – the tales of worm spaghetti grossed my sensitive little soul out and I was much more at home reading about the delirious pleasure of the mixing of George’s Marvellous Medicine. So the news of the latest Roald Dahl adaptation to hit a London stage wasn’t one that necessarily filled me with the greatest of glee, especially since this version of The Twits is coming to the Royal Court via a “mischievous adaptation” courtesy of Enda Walsh, a playwright with whom I’ve had mixed experiences, and director John Tiffany.

And predictably, it is a curious confection that they’ve cooked up alongside the plate of wormy spaghetti which sent shivers down my spine once again. Aimed at “brave 8 year olds and their families”, it makes little concession to being a traditional family show and mines a rather dark and twisted approach – one suspects Mr Dahl might well have approved – but one which didn’t always seem to connect with the youngsters in the audience at this final preview before press night. The first half in particular saw mostly fitful adult laughter in a tale that is rather stark in its cruelty and political leanings. Continue reading “Review: The Twits, Royal Court”

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”

Review: Ballyturk, National Theatre

“It feels like we might be less than we were in a place we don’t know now”

Set in “no time, no place”, with characters merely named 1,2, and 3, and doing marvellous things with yellow jumpers, talc, 7 inch records and a pile of chocolate bourbons and pink wafers, you’ll understand that Ballyturk really is the type of show you need to see to truly understand. Enda Walsh directs his own play fresh from premiering it in Galway this summer and it is a breathless delight, although through the piercing humour, one catches glimpses of an absolute bleakness.

I could talk about Kate Prince’s energetic choreography which calls to mind a hyped-up Morecambe and Wise, or the endless surprises hidden in Jamie Vartan’s design which capitalises on the height and depth of the Lyttelton Theatre, the powerfully evocative compositions from Teho Teardo which combines 80s delights like ABC and Yazoo with moodier self-penned work and the extraordinary textures of Helen Atkinson’s sound design which brings the town of Ballyturk to life. Continue reading “Review: Ballyturk, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)

“We can get him online”

After watching The Nether at the Royal Court, a chat with a colleague about other plays that effectively depict the internet threw up Enda Walsh’s Chatroom which played at the National Theatre a few years back (and featured both Doctor Who (Matt Smith) and Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) in its cast. It was slightly before my time of insane theatre-going so I was glad to see that I could catch a film version, adapted by Walsh himself and directed by Japanese maestro Hideo Nakata.

The story concerns five teenagers in various states of unhappiness who find succour in online chatrooms. Disillusioned model Eva, anti-depressant taker Jim, unhappy daughter Emily and inappropriately flirtatious Mo are swept up by highly-functioning sociopath and self-harmer William in a room he’s created called Chelsea Teens! At first they just talk smack about those they don’t like but William soon manipulates them into acting on their feelings, with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)”

Review: Misterman, National Theatre

“Do you know what I’d do if I didn’t have my senses?”

There’s something to be said for a set design that can take your breath away at a theatre that one has visited many, many times, and Jamie Vartan has achieved it here with his cavernous transformation of the Lyttelton’s stage for Enda Walsh’s Misterman. It’s an effect to take in for yourselves as the safety curtain descends, so I won’t ‘spoil’ it, but it really is excellently done. And given that Walsh has written a one-man show, for friend and previous collaborator Cillian Murphy, it is a brave move but one that largely pays off as Murphy produces a performance that more than fills the space.

Thomas Magill is a disturbed young man from the small Irish town of Inishfree who is seeking sanctuary in an isolated warehouse for reasons unknown. Hyped up on vast amounts of Fanta and Jammie Dodgers that literally fall from the sky, he’s a would-be preacher who sees angels, a tortured soul who can’t deal with real life, a storyteller who takes us through the assorted characters of the local villagers whose morality, or lack thereof, he is determined to correct, as it emerges he’s telling us about the events of a particular single day. Continue reading “Review: Misterman, National Theatre”

Review: Penelope, Hampstead Theatre

“How dare you bring the world into this”

Enda Walsh’s Penelope is a modern reimagining and refocusing of Homer’s Odyssey, taking as its main subject the wife of Odysseus who, whilst waiting for her husband to return, was entertained by over 100 suitors whom she kept at bay for over 20 years. Walsh picks up the story on the day before Odysseus returns, with the last four remaining men kept in a disused swimming pool next to Penelope’s palatial home, desperate for one last chance to win her hand.

Densely poetic, the language is chillingly beautiful at times, none more so than with Niall Buggy’s hoarsely intonated speech about the ‘real’ world. Each actor though is given the opportunity to shine as they each plead for Penelope’s hand, all too aware of the fast-approaching consequences of Odysseus’ return and unable to hide the desperation they all feel. Walsh depicts the senselessness of pursuing competition recklessly to the end, taking aim at perceived notions of masculinity and by extension, the state of Ireland today. Continue reading “Review: Penelope, Hampstead Theatre”