Review: Anna Bella Eema, Arcola Theatre

The strange but spellbinding Anna Bella Eema makes for an intriguing trip to the Arcola Theatre

“Outside is a state of mind”

A queer little thing indeed, this. Described as a “part ghost story, part fairytale, part coming-of-age fantasy”, that still doesn’t come anywhere close to encapsulating the experience of Lisa D’Amour’s striking play Anna Bella Eema.

Music melds into mellifluous prose, sound effects slide into strange speech, Jessica Lazar’s production builds up an eerily compelling soundscape through Chris Sidorfsky’s original freeform score and Tom Foskett–Barnes’ sound design and from there, locates its entirely individual place in the world. Continue reading “Review: Anna Bella Eema, Arcola Theatre”

July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

Nominees for the 8th annual Mousetrap Awards

BEST FEMALE PERFORMER AWARD:
Marisha Wallace as Effie in Dreamgirls
Natalie Kassanga, as Diana Ross in Motown the Musical
Patsy Ferran as Alma in Summer and Smoke
Jodie Steele as Chandler in Heathers

BEST MALE PERFORMER AWARD:
Jonny Labey, as Scott in Strictly Ballroom
John Pfumojena, as Okot in The Jungle
Kyle Soller, as Eric Glass in The Inheritance
John McCrea, as Jamie in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie Continue reading “Nominees for the 8th annual Mousetrap Awards”

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”

Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Lie down madam and legs apart
Now brace yourself for this may smart”

Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne played a well-received run at the RSC the winter before last and it has now transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a summer season. It contains two excellent performances from Romola Garai as Sarah Churchill (stepping into the role created by Natasha McElhone) and Emma Cunniffe as the titular monarch and you can read my four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets right here.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible

“Sometimes you’ve got to grab life by the balls
You take those balls and tuck ’em between your legs”

We should be talking about Sheffield, and how its place in the fragile ecosystem of British musical theatre has only become more and more invaluable. Nurturing shows like Flowers For Mrs Harris and This Is My Family into existence and taking pride in their understated nature, the venue has also been incubating new writing talent. Well, new to musical theatre at least, for Dan Gillespie Sells is the lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling and Tom MacRae has written several episodes of Doctor Who and sitcom Threesome. And inspired by a BBC3 documentary, a meeting with director Jonathan Butterell and a fairy godmother-like intervention from Michael Ball, the result is brand spanking new musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

And what a joy it is, a breath of feel-good fresh air that can’t help but leave you feeling fabulous. With career advice flying by unheeded, all 16-year-old Jamie is really bothered about as his school-time comes to an end is whether he will attend the school prom as his drag persona Mimi Me or not. And rather brilliantly, the writing hones in on Jamie just as a young man – yes he’s queer and a kween but he’s also a person still finding out the extent of his identity and how to relate to a wider world that isn’t necessarily always set against him. It’s a refreshing take on LGBT+ storytelling, and a sorely needed one, tipping its hat to the tales of coming out and battling against intolerance that have gone before and then finding its own space to parse the consequences of being this fierce in the real world. Continue reading “Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible”

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 Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales

“I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri”

In terms of first world problems, being constantly distracted by fellow audience member Kate Winslet probably ranks fairly highly but it is symbolic of the utter randomness that can accompany a gala performance. I was lucky enough to attend the opening night of The Book of Mormon which meant that in the haze of A-list to Z-list celebrities, the battle to get into the theatre, the newspaper reviews that had already been published and a thousand and one opinion pieces of one of the cannier marketing campaigns of recent times, it was difficult to separate out just what I really thought of the show itself. 

With the show not exactly being the cheapest – premium tickets have now apparently broken the £200 mark for Saturday nights – it hasn’t been easy to find the optimum opportunity to go back (or taken my chances on their lottery). Until now that is, when a rare deal popped into my Twitter feed courtesy of @BargainTheatre and a £40 ticket on the end of row B in the stalls saw me making the trip once again to the Prince of Wales theatre, unencumbered by expectation or excitement and much more able to take in Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s show on its own merits.  Continue reading “Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales”