Review: Hogarth’s Progress, Rose Theatre Kingston

The reliance on an all-white cast to tell Hogarth’s Progress is another mis-step from a Rose Theatre Kingston who should know better

“We’ve all had our share of bad reviews”

The oft-misquoted George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and taking a glance at Nick Dear’s Hogarth’s Progress, you can’t help but feel it is most apposite for the folks at the Rose Theatre Kingston. Once again, they’re tackling a slice of English history in a multi-play format and once again, they’re doing it with a lily-white cast – diversity be damned! 

It’s a bit exhausting to go over the same arguments but they still hold true. The notion of historical verisimilitude holds no water, not least because Dear has talked about employing dramatic licence with history itself, but because once again we’re not talking about German actresses being employed to play Queen Caroline (it is Susannah Harker, with an accent). We’re talking about directors not trusting that audiences will accept actors of colour in such roles, but also not doing enough to challenge such audience-held perceptions. Continue reading “Review: Hogarth’s Progress, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Foul Pages, Hope

Foul Pages, Hope Theatre, London Fringe, Shakespeare,

Having a gay old time of it with Shakespeare and his company in Foul Pages at the Hope Theatre, London.

“We’re going to get it up the arse by the new King of England…’
Thank God we rehearsed.

It is easy to slip into reverence with artistic representations of William Shakespeare, such is his storied reputation but pleasingly, there’s little of that on display here in Robin Hooper’s Foul Pages. Imagining the man behind the myth, Hooper presents the Bard as a hard-working theatre professional, beset by controversies, split loyalties and tough decisions – the Vicky Featherstone of his day if you will.

His Rita, Sue… moment comes as a result of needing to secure the patronage of new king James I, not just for his own career prospects but to save the imprisoned Sir Walter Raleigh, a close personal friend of his collaborator the Countess of Pembroke. But to please the king is to disappoint some of his actors and in the Wiltshire estate where they’re all sequestered whilst London is riddled with plague, the consequences of puncturing actors’ egos become all too real. Continue reading “Review: Foul Pages, Hope”

Review: Tumulus, VAULT Festival

“I’ve never had a lover die on me before”

Chemsex is one of those subjects that always seems to pop up at festivals and sure enough, in week 1 of the VAULT we find a new play on the very subject by Christopher Adams. But with a sparkingly fresh and darkly witty take and some intelligent and imaginative direction from Matt Steinberg, Tumulus emerges as a cracking piece of theatre, a “chilling queer noir” that entertains as much as it elucidates.

Anthony is well and truly addicted to the chemsex scene in London. He’s holding down his job as an assistant curator at the British Museum just about fine, though that promotion always seems to elude him, as his evenings and weekends are taken up with chasing the next amazing high, the next unmissable party, the next insatiable guy. This high-functioning addict has his certainties shaken though when his one of his latest hook-ups turns up dead on Hampstead Heath. Continue reading “Review: Tumulus, VAULT Festival”

2018 Vault Festival – what to see

On the one hand, that the Vault Festival has expanded to over 300 shows running over 8 weeks is fantastic news for the emerging theatremakers that it supports. On the other, it means making the choice about what to see, even tackling the catalogue alone can feel somewhat daunting. It has taken me a wee while to get round to delving into it myself, but as the festival is set to open this week, here’s some of my top tips for each week.

Week 1

Tomorrow Creeps – repurposed Shakespeare via the medium of Kate Bush? Hell, yes.
Tumulus – it’s not a festival unless there’s a chemsex show
Great Again – likewise a Trump-bashing musical 


Week 2

Double Infemnity – gender-flipping noir crime antics in a one-woman show? Whyever the hell not!
Gypsy Queen – gays and boxing, sometimes I’m an easy sell…
Gun – I’ll be trying to catch more comedy than I usually do this year, and this western-inspired show very much seems as good a place to start as any


Week 3

Think of England – love, lust and swing dancing in wartime Waterloo – TICK!
Be Prepared – I’m a fan of writer/performer Ian Bonar so definitely looking forward to this one
Douze – Eurovision pop comedy musical fun, nuff said


Week 4

YOU – a thought-provoking look at adoption, drawing on some deeply personal narratives
STUD – gays and football, a combination that usually works wonders for me!
Elsa – a chirpy sounding piece of reflective musical comedy


Week 5

Sparks – Jessica Butcher is a name that people in the know rave about, Anoushka Lucas is a name I have raved about, together they ought to come up with something special
Conquest – a debut show from PearShaped and one which promises to tackle contemporary feminism with real fearlessness
Still We Dream… – I don’t see much dance but something about this piques my attention, animalistic movement in non-traditional spaces


Week 6

TESTOSTERONE – experimental work pushing the trans narrative forward, one for the Daily Mail-reading person in your life…
Das Fest – in many ways what the Vault Festival is for, for me, to see the type of thing I would never normally book for (as in Philipp Oberlohr’s show last year Das Spiel) and be delighted and not a little freaked out!
The Strongbox – Stephanie Jacob is having a low-key moment, her play Again opens at Trafalgar Studios 2 next month and its final week will overlap with another piece of new writing from her, I suspect they’ll both be worth catching


Week 7

Fuck Marry Kill – a work-in-progress from Vera Chok and Amy Mason which uses the game show format to challenge the patriarchy
Bury the Hatchet – the tale of Lizzie Borden is one of enduring fascination and Out of the Forest are no exception here, using bluegrass, nursery rhyme and horror to retell and reexamine this story
Unburied – a folk horror mystery that just seems most intriguing


Week 8

THINGS THAT DO NOT C(O)UNT – I loved No Offence’s torn apart at the Hope last year, so I’m much intrigued by this new work
The Dirty Thirty – an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 shows in 1 hour – I’m sold!
Tom and Bunny Save The World – another company I’m a big fan of, Fat Rascal, present a zombie comedy musical that is sure to shake up gender lines as much as apocalyptic survival methods

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

2017 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Radisson Blu Edwardian
Ian Hallard for The Boys in the Band
Ian McKellen for No Man’s Land
Jamie Parker for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child 
Kenneth Branagh for The Entertainer
Ralph Fiennes for Richard III

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Live at Zédel 
Billie Piper for Yerma 
Helen McCrory for The Deep Blue Sea
Lily James for Romeo and Juliet
Michelle Terry for Henry V
Pixie Lott for Breakfast at Tiffany’s Continue reading “2017 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: The Boys in the Band, Park

“You show me a happy homosexual, and I’ll show you a gay corpse”

It’s been almost 20 years since the last major revival of Mart Crowley’s 1968 play The Boys in the Band, a piece of writing that pre-dated the Stonewall riots and gay rights movement and indeed helped to inspire them, so there’s no doubting the importance of the play in the theatrical canon, gay or otherwise. As a piece of drama though, it’s hard not to feel that time has caught up with it somewhat, even in Adam Penfold’s expertly cast production for the Park Theatre.

In his Manhattan apartment, Michael has gathered several of his friends to help celebrate the birthday of their mutual acquaintance Harold. His best laid plans are set awry by the arrival of an uninvited guest, Michael’s former college roommate Alan to whom he has never come out. Trying to hide this amount of gayness proves an impossibility, especially given the amount of alcohol being poured, paving the way for an evening of increasing bitterness and bitchiness with the commencement of the party games. Continue reading “Review: The Boys in the Band, Park”

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”