Family theatre in August

A rare summer in the city for me means I can take in some of the family shows on in the West End right now – Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical, The Scarecrow’s Wedding, Where is Peter Rabbit? and Monstersaurus 

“Microscopic Bobby was my wife”

Photo © TheOtherRichard

The world of Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical (suitable for 7yrs+) as imagined by director Amy Hodge and designer Georgia Lowe is a fantastically bizarre one, full of warm and witty touches that shoud delight children and adults alike. Tiny gingerbread professors, menacing sunflowers, dancing doughnuts, a rainforest of umbrellas, it is an impressive and inventive take on imaginative world-building that perfectly suits Andy Stanton’s storytelling.

All things told, it is a fairly slight tale – bears, beers, butchers, you know the usual, but there’s just such a sense of fun about the whole proceedings. The cast revel in non-sequiturs aplenty (Helena Lymbery, Steve Furst and Gary Wilmot particularly impress), Jim Fortune’s eclectic score builds in post-modern layers that further pique the interest, and the show even manages to sneak in some pretty powerful messaging among all the madness. Recommended. Continue reading “Family theatre in August”

Casting news aplenty!

I round up some of the recent casting news, including Queen Margaret at the Royal Exchange, Wasted at the Southwark Playhouse, Measure for Measure at the Donmar and The Woods at the Royal Court.

Shakespeare wrote more lines for Queen Margaret than he did for King Lear yet we know very little of her. Jeanie O’Hare re-acquaints us with one of Shakespeare’s major but rarely performed characters in her new play Queen Margaret. In a production that draws on original language from Shakespeare, director Elizabeth Freestone and Jade Anouka as Margaret, retell an iconic moment in British History through the eyes of the extraordinary Margaret of Anjou. This captivating exploration of The Wars of the Roses seen through the eyes of this astonishing, dangerous and thrilling woman opens the Royal Exchange’s Autumn Winter 2018/19 Season.

Anouka is joined by Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward/Rutland), Lorraine Bruce (York), Samuel Edward-Cook (Suffolk/Clifford), Dexter Flanders (Edward IV), Helena Lymbery (Hume), Lucy Mangan (Joan of Arc), Roger Morlidge (Gloucester), Kwami Odoom (Somerset/Richard), Bridgitta Roy (Warwick) and Max Runham (Henry VI). Continue reading “Casting news aplenty!”

Review: Pity, Royal Court

What happens when whack-a-doodle becomes wearying – find out in Pity at the Royal Court

“What happens next is verging on the ridiculous”

Things start off well at Rory Mullarkey’s Pity. We’re directed to the rear of the Royal Court, enter through the back and get to walk over the stage with tombolas, ice-creams and brass bands all around (I’d happily listen to the Fulham Brass Band’s version of ‘Hello, Dolly’ all day). Chloe Lamford’s design certainly looks a treat in all its cartoon-comic brightness but ultimately, is indicative of a real issue with Sam Pritchard’s production.

“You need to turn your attentions to different people”

For Mullarkey’s play is concerned with violence – paradigm-shifting, society-shattering violence and the way that the British might very well respond to it. And as he suggests that we’d react to the collapse of civiliisation by making a cup of tea, you can’t help but wonder, really? On the one hand, everything here is telling you not to take things so seriously. On the other, communities across the world are being ripped apart in actual conflicts. It’s a tension that never satisfactorily resolves here.  Continue reading “Review: Pity, Royal Court”

TV Review: Doctor Foster Series 2

“How does this end Simon?”

In some ways, you can’t blame ’em for trying to replicate the extraordinary success of the first series of Doctor Foster, quality drama that fast became a rare appointment-to-view fixture  with a rare return to weekly instalments.  And given that writer Mike Bartlett is known for his prolific nature, that a second series quickly came into the offing was no great surprise.

But it can be hard to recapture the magic and though all of the key players have returned – most notably warring ex-couple Suranne Jones’ Gemma and Bertie Carvel’s Simon – this set of five episodes has really suffered from a lack of raison d’être. Waves of vicious revenge percolate throughout but with no discernible driving narrative beyond that, it proved far less engaging. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Foster Series 2”

Review: Queer Theatre – Neaptide, National

#1 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“My God, I wanted three daughters like the Brontes and I ended up with a family fit for a Channel Four documentary”

There was a special currency for Sarah Daniels’ Neaptide being the opening play in the #ntQueer season as this 1986 drama was actually the first by a living female playwright at the National Theatre – an astonishing fact all told. And it is perhaps sadly predictable that Daniels now finds herself somewhat neglected as a writer, despite being prolific in the 80s and 90s.

Neaptide proved a strong choice too, a powerful exploration of the extent to which lesbian prejudice permeated society and institutions even as late as this, and indeed how little we’ve moved on – in some ways. Daniels presents us with three generations of lesbians and explores how they deal with working or studying at the same school when a scandal threatens to upturn all of their lives. Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Neaptide, National”

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace – totes spoiler free!

“It’s because you love him too much”

So a slightly odd position to be in, as we saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 nearly 7 weeks ago at their first previews. And with the #keepthesecrets campaign already in full force then, I didn’t write up a review, opting instead for this preview of sorts. And even now, I’m loathe to write too much about it, for it really is the kind of play, and production, that benefits from the multiple elements of surprise contained within.

And it really is packed full of them, from all aspects. Based on an original new story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Thorne’s play revels in the richness and full depth of the Harry Potter universe to the point where the named cast are described as playing “roles include…” so as not to spoil what’s to come. This does have the knock-on effect of making this a play not really suitable for newcomers but I can’t imagine too many of them will have booked! Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace – totes spoiler free!”

Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace

“How is that even possible?!”

Well it’s finally here, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 have landed at the Palace Theatre in a blaze of insane publicity and media coverage desperate for a touch of that JK Rowling magic to drive web traffic. In some ways, I’m no different (hence this post!) but in one crucial way I do have the advantage – I’m one of the lucky audience members who has now seen both shows, along with the one and only scene-stealing appearance of Sprocket the owl.

It’s no secret that Rowling is asking people to #KeepTheSecrets and there’s always an interesting tension about whether or not one should observe an embargo when you’ve paid for your ticket (a whole £10 per show too, we weren’t going crazy!). So for now, I’m leaving you with this little collection of teasers about some of my favourite things from the show and be warned, they do increase in mild spoilerishness (mostly about staging, the final E is the one to avoid if you’re not sure…forgive me JK!). Continue reading “Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace”

TV Review: Doctor Foster, BBC1

“It’s just once you have the thought…”

I was late to my appointment with Doctor Foster, only getting round to watching episode 1 on Monday but I loved it so much (how could I not when the opening subtitle is “belt buckle being undone” and Bertie Carvel soon strips to his boxers) that I mainlined the next three so that I could watch the finale with the rest of the world. Written by noted playwright Mike Bartlett (King Charles III, Cock, Love Love Love amongst many others), it’s a fierce revenge drama anchored by a cracking performance from Suranne Jones as the titular medic with the errant husband.

From the moment she discovers a long blonde hair on her husband’s scarf, the scene is set for an almighty showdown but Bartlett’s skill is in stretching that moment tantalisingly over the entire series. Secret after secret tumbles out of the closet as she pulls at the thread but almost as destructive as his conduct (and Carvel is brilliantly craven as the slippery Simon) is the behaviour it unleashes in Gemma, her forthright determination cutting swathes through her employment prospects, her friends and neighbours and even her relationship with their 11-year-old son Tom. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Foster, BBC1”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Treasure Island, National Theatre

“Thanks for all the pies and adventures”

The big family-oriented show at the National Theatre this winter is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (though as it runs in rep right through to April, one hopes Spring will have sprung by then) which has been adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery. But whilst Polly Findlay’s production has some very definite plus points, not least in an inspired design by Lizzie Clachan which utilises so much of the Olivier’s potential, it doesn’t quite have the full shiver-me-timbers factor to make it an undoubted success.

Clachan frames the theatre’s large revolving drum with a set of lowering curved ribs which suggest all kinds of mystical maritime adventures – the frame of a trusty ship, the ribcage of a giant whale, the quivering trees of a strange island. Deep in the revolve is where the real treasure is though, a warren of cabins that reflect the social hierarchy of the time and later on the maze of tunnels in which the gold can be found. Combined with the sensational starry skyscape up above, Bruno Poet’s lighting looking stunning, this is the National doing what it does so well. Continue reading “Review: Treasure Island, National Theatre”