Review: Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic

Gorgeous chocolate-based musical Romantics Anonymous works another coup de foudre as it briefly returns to the Bristol Old Vic before a US tour

“What if we try and take a chance?
Whit if we simply shift our stance?
I’ll admit that just the thought of change terrifies me too.
But what if we try something new?”

In this remounting, Romantics Anonymous proves that rare thing – a show that can survive losing Joanna Riding from its cast. It’s a good couple of years since this musical adaptation of the French-Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes took the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse by storm and in the meantime, it has reached an almost mythic status among its devotees calling for a revival. This might not be what they had in mind but it’ll certainly do for now.

Wise Children and Plush Theatricals are taking the show on the road in the US, so this short opening stop at the Bristol Old Vic feels like a bit of a treat. For its new outing, Romantics Anonymous has been spruced up a bit – composer Michael Kooman and lyricist Christopher Dimond have added a couple of new songs and director and book writer Emma Rice has rejigged here and there too, whilst necessarily recasting some of her ensemble. Continue reading “Review: Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…

“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”

I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end. Continue reading “Film Review: Peterloo (2018)”

Review: Rutherford and Son, National Theatre

A superb cast including Roger Allam elevates a fine production of Rutherford and Son at the National Theatre

“There’s not a scrap of love in the whole house”

It’s grim up north. I can say this as an absent son of t’other side of the Watford Gap. But in Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son,  it really is tough-going. Roger Allam’s mightily bearded Rutherford is a ferociously brutal industrialist from the north-east of England who is fierce at home as in the glassworks he runs but down a generation, there’s a growing tendency towards not putting up with such levels of grimness. 

One of his sons bogged off to London and has come back with a working class wife and child, the other wants to find God in Blackpool and his daughter has pretty much been the downtrodden whipping boy for 30-odd years. But it is the beginning of the twentieth century and change is afoot – political and personal, societal and sexual and writ large in the generational struggle here, it can be powerfully affecting. Continue reading “Review: Rutherford and Son, National Theatre”

Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

Follies 2019 remains the show that I need right now

“I’m so glad I came”

Just a quickie for this revisit to Follies, which remains as perfect a piece of musical theatre as I could hope for. I loved it then but I really love it now, Joanna Riding is just heartbreakingly perfect as Sally, she really brings something to the role that somehow eluded Imelda Staunton (for me at least), Alexander Hanson is superb in tracing Ben’s tragic fall, and Janie Dee and Peter Forbes maintain their stellar work as Phyllis and Buddy (seriously, Dee is a proper showstopper).

And as is surely appropriate in Dominic Cooke’s production, ghosts of the past interplay with what we’re seeing from top to bottom. It was great to see Dame Felicity Lott as Heidi, a different but no less affecting proposition than Dame Josephine Barstow (there truly ain’t nothing like a…). And the young talents of Gemma Sutton, Ian McIntosh, Harry Hepple and Christine Tucker are eloquently elegant as the younger incarnations of the central quartet. Continue reading “Re-review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre

The Olivier Award-winning Follies returns to the National Theatre in richer, deeper, more resonant form and just blows me away

“It’s the cat’s pyjamas”

Like the ghosts of their younger selves that haunt the characters in Follies so beautifully in this production, for those who were lucky enough to catch its superlative Olivier Award-winning 2017 run, so too do our memories interplay with what we’re seeing, inducing some soul-shiveringly exceptional moments that are almost metatheatrical in the feelings they provoke. 

The tingle of anticipation is never far away but the show somehow feels richer, deeper, more resonant in the note of melancholy it strikes as it exposes nostalgia for the rose-tinted self-delusion it so often becomes. Janie Dee’s Phyllis somehow feels more desolate, especially in her bitterly brilliant ‘Could I Leave You’; Tracie Bennett scorches the roof once more in ‘I’m Still Here’ in what feels like a more internal performance now; we’re all at least a year older… Continue reading “Review: Follies 2019, National Theatre”

Review: Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory

 
“I’m not nice, I’m just right”

Fiasco Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s evergreen Into the Woods was a big success over in the US and its actor-muso ethos seems ideally suited for this transfer to the Menier Chocolate Factory. It’s also an approach that pays dividends with the material, Sondheim and James Lapine’s interrogation of the world of fairy tales and what happy ever after really means.

Stripped back and doubled up, Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld’s fully actor-musician production makes a virtue of the communal spirit and really makes you notice how much of an ensemble show it really is. Not just in how each of the storybook characters get their chance to shine (or not, as the case may be) but in the relationships, of both family and friends, with which we surround ourselves, just to save us from those moments in the woods. Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: The Saints, Nuffield Playing Field

“It’s quite clearly not just a game or we wouldn’t be this upset about it would we”
 
In lieu of anyone having written a play about Wigan Athletic (although maybe there is one to come from somewhere…), I had to make do with Luke Barnes’ The Saints for my theatrical footie fix, journeying down to Southampton on a beautiful summer’s day. The weather was key as the Nuffield have created a pop-up theatre in Guildhall Square for the Art at the Heart Festival and as you can see from the pics below, it takes the form of a mini football stadium, leaving the audience exposed to the elements on its terraces but fortunately a morning rain shower soon changed to blazing sun in time for the starting whistle and a really rather enjoyable piece of theatre.
 
Kenny Glynn is a lifelong Southampton FC supporter and that life has been one full of hardship and challenges, not least in supporting the Saints through thick and thin, and in a brilliantly conceived first half, we see exactly how that life has played out. We witness the early death of his father at Kenny’s first trip to the Dell, the development of his mother’s chronic illness which made him her live-in carer, the trials being a Sunday League footballer and not a very good one at that, and the woes of being a teenager in love with a girl who barely knows he exists. Alongside this runs a potted history of the club, Kenny unable to dissociate the key events of his life from what was happening on and off the field.

Matthew Dunster’s production is brilliantly energetic – a keen young company of eight multi-role effortlessly, stripping in and out of tracksuits and other costumes at the drop of a hat, and wheeling around the components of Anna Fleischle’s inventive design to keep the pace constantly high. And in Cary Crankson’s wonderful central performance as Kenny, there’s such an appealing likeability that it is impossible not to get swept up in the dramas of his life as he slowly learns that you need to play the cards life has dealt (guided in this respect by a canny guardian angel by the name of Matt Le Tissier, well, it’s God dressed up as him…) and making the FA Cup final isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.

Continue reading “Review: The Saints, Nuffield Playing Field”