Review: Pieces of String, Mercury Theatre online

Finally, a show I haven’t seen before being streamed! And what a beauty Pieces of String turned out to be. 

“Sometimes it’s good to remember
‘Sometimes it’s good to forget'”

For all that I’ve been recommending many of online theatre options to all and sundry, I haven’t actually partaken in many of them myself. In many cases, it has been shows I’ve seen before that are being featured and there’s an element of not wanting to sully their memory there; there’s also a sadness that theatregoing as we knew it might not be returning for the longest time.

But then Colchester’s Mercury Theatre came up with the VE Day treat I was actually waiting for, a showing of their 2018 hit musical Pieces of String. I had a ticket for this, and a train ticket come to think of it but for the life of me, I can’ remember why I ended up not making it, so this rare opportunity to finally see a show that I hadn’t seen and wanted to see was much welcomed. Continue reading “Review: Pieces of String, Mercury Theatre online”

Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

Review: A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer, National

“Fingers crossed
Make a wish
What gruesome game of chance is this?
Cross your chest
Count 1 in 3
And pray it doesn’t grow in me”

A musical about cancer? As unlikely as it might seem, A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer isn’t even the first one that I’ve seen. That dubious honour goes to Happy Ending, one of the most misjudged shows I saw last year, but fortunately this Complicite and National Theatre co-production in association with HOME Manchester rejoices in a much stronger pedigree, a collaboration between performance artist Bryony Kimmings (book and lyrics), Brian Lobel (book) and Tom Parkinson (music).

A Pacifist’s Guide… posits itself as “an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of ordinary life and death” and this it does by collating varying stories of people diagnosed with cancer into a single hospital waiting room, watched over by Emma, a single mother waiting for some tests or suspected bone cancer to be conducted on her baby son. And over the course of a long night, we hear their tales of living with the disease, the trials of having to deal with other people’s reactions to it, the wells of emotion it taps into. Continue reading “Review: A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer, National”

Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion

“Learning to let go”

Just a quickie for this one-off – a fundraiser for the Make A Difference Trust of this late 1980s song cycle inspired by the AIDS memorial quilt. The original London production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens actually transferred to the Criterion – where tonight’s show was – from the King’s Head but it’s a little difficult to see how this production with its nearly 50-strong company could ever have been scaled down to fit into that Islington pub theatre. But given how the show is made up of individual songs and monologues, each inspired by a different panel on the quilt representing the life of someone who has died from HIV/AIDS, its inherent flexibility shows how it can take whatever form is needed.

Here, Stephen Whitson’s production takes on a new 21st century version of the book by Bill Russell, the updating of which has mixed results. Contemporary references clang a little awkwardly but there’s more of a problem in that neither the fast-moving world of medical advancements nor the changing nature of the epidemic itself are really reflected – the show is already a period piece in so many ways that it perhaps would be better to leave it that way rather than trying to chase a relevance that would be better served by a completely separate part two. Continue reading “Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion”

Review: Dara, National Theatre

“I am Muslim, but my humanness is shared with anyone and everyone. If we choose to love one special person, does it mean that they are the only person worth loving? ‘To you, your religion, to me, mine’. ‘There is no obligation in religion’ – straight from the Quran. We cannot force our religion upon others.”

For all the gnashing of teeth about how ‘national’ Rufus Norris’ newly announced debut season as AD at the NT is or isn’t, there’s actually something much more significant happening right now as part of Nicholas Hytner’s finale. The press attention may be on Tom Stoppard’s return to the stage but over in the Lyttelton, the first South Asian play to run at this South Bank venue is doing that most idealised of theatrical practices – reaching out and engaging with new audiences.

I saw a late preview of Shahid Nadeem’s Dara and I was blown away at how mixed a crowd I was taking my seat with – there’s undoubtedly a more sophisticated debate to be had about people wanting to see stories they can directly connect with rather than being more adventurous but still, it felt like a significant enough matter that I wanted to make mention of. And as critics will be seeing the show with a more than likely traditional press night audience, it isn’t something they’ll necessarily pick up on. Continue reading “Review: Dara, National Theatre”

Review: The Infidel, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“I’ve got some money in ISAs, 
But none of it goes to ISIS”

With songs about fatwas, foreskins and fundamentalism amongst many others, it is clear that this musical adaptation of 2010 film The Infidel has no truck with the easily offended and rightly so. Initially one may be a little disarmed by the frankness with which the opening number makes the simple but telling point that Muslims are real people too but the warm encouragement to laugh along with them soon becomes irresistible as the wickedly observed sense of humour in David Baddiel’s book and lyrics overcomes any lingering reservations.

It helps that lead character Mahmud Nasir is so wonderfully, whole-heartedly appealing in a cracking performance from Kev Orkian as a typical everyman cab driver who swears, enjoys a beer and yeah, happens to be Muslim. This relaxed, modern approach to Islam extends to his family – Mina Anwar’s fantastic Saamiya and newly-engaged son Rashid, the highly likeable Gary Wood – but Mahmud is thrown a curveball when going through the effects of his deceased mother, he discovers adoption papers that indicate he was actually born Solly Shimshillewitz to Jewish parents. Continue reading “Review: The Infidel, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Saturday afternoon music treats

Last week’s post proved surprisingly popular so here’s another one for you. You can find below Gary Wood revisiting A Chorus Line with ‘What I Did For Love’, a preview from The Pajama Game with Michael Xavier & Joanna Riding singing ‘Hey There’, Shayne Ward & Louise Dearman giving their take on ‘Falling Slowly’ from Once, Angela Lansbury showing why her reputation is as it is with a lovely rendition of ‘Beauty & The Beast’ (though it still doesn’t excuse the applause on entry and standing o’s), and a clip of ‘I Can’t Sing’ which is mainly fascinating to those who have seen the show as it shows the amount of tinkering there has been. Continue reading “Saturday afternoon music treats”

fosterIAN awards 2013

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMarianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen CornerMichelle Terry, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron
Best Actor in a PlayPhilip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for GoalpostsAl Weaver, The PrideBrian Cox, The Weir
Hugo Koolschijn, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Benedict Wong, Chimerica
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayLinda Bassett, RootsDeborah Findlay, CoriolanusAnna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Hadewych Minis, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)
Best Actress in a MusicalRosalie Craig, The Light PrincessCynthia Erivo, The Color PurpleZrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Anita Dobson, Carnival of the Animals
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music
Best Actor in a MusicalKyle Scatliff, Scottsboro Boys Declan Bennett, Once the musicalDavid Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalLeigh Zimmerman, A Chorus LineNicola Hughes, The Color PurpleAmy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalKit Orton, The Hired ManMichael Matus, The Sound of MusicBen Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line

2013 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Pearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe)
Taking on as famous a role as Nick Bottom has plenty of pitfalls, but Pearce Quigley fearlessly took up the challenge in Dominic Dromgoole’s revelatory and riotous production at the Globe and delivered a wittily sardonic Bottom that made him one of the most comic parts of one of the funniest productions of the year.

Honourable mention: Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Due to the randomness of the design of the first act, it was pure chance that my first encounter at Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Scenes from a Marriage was with Fernhout and Hadewych Minis’ version of Johan and Marianne. But from the very first moments, his intensity sucked us right in whilst the twinkle in his eye (plus his predilection for mingling in amongst the audience) made him a hugely magnetic presence.

Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)

7-10

Toby Jones, Circle Mirror Transformation; Eric Kofi Abrefa, The Amen Corner; Peter McDonald, The Weir; Kyle Soller, Edward II

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Kit Orton, The Hired Man
Though his rugged charms are undeniable, Orton more than earned his place here in the delightful actor-musician production of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man that graced Colchester and Leicester. A compellingly masculine presence as the flirtatious Jackson and beautifully-voiced throughout, he also revealed himself to be a dab hand on the fiddle, demonstrating all the strings to his bow. 

Honourable mention: Michael Matus, The Sound of Music
Across a sterling ensemble, Matus’ huge geniality as fixer Max Detweiler was a highlight in the Open Air Theatre’s excellent The Sound of Music, his avuncular charm a pleasure to watch and a great way to subtly reinvent the role for himself.

Ben Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, The Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line

7-10

Stephen Ashfield, The Book of Mormon; Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys; Clive Rowe, The Light Princess; Jon Trenchard, Fiddler on the Roof

Christmas music 2013

A Very West End Christmas

A rather special project, A Very West End Christmas has gathered up a group of nearly 50 musical theatre performers to record an EP of 5 Christmas classics for a number of charitable causes – Great Ormond Street’s Giggin’ for Good, West End Fests for CRY UK and The Band Aid Charitable Trust. It’s a steal at £3.95 for the EP and with some seriously great talent onboard, assembled by co-producers Kris Rawlinson and Darren Bell, it’s a mostly very good listen.

The strongest numbers are, a little perversely, actually the ones which don’t feature the full choir. Michael Xavier croons perfectly through ‘The Christmas Song’ (although it is sad that there is no accompanying video of him roasting his chestnuts…), Chloe Hart and Jeremy Hart have lots of fun in a swinging ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, and there’s an interesting arrangement of’ O Holy Night’ featuring Sabrina Aloueche, Jodie Jacobs and Katie Payne (though that song will always belong to Hannah Waddingham for me).  Continue reading “Christmas music 2013”