2017 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon
It is great news indeed that this Orange Tree production will be gaining further life in 2018 with a transfer to the National Theatre in the summer. I really hope that as much of the original cast comes with it, especially Nwosu who anchored the complex ideas of the show with confidence and clear-sighted integrity. 

Honourable mention: Andrew Scott, Hamlet

In the parlance de nos jours, Scott managed that most difficult of things to really make this most-well-known of roles his own, his collaboration with Rob Icke breathing a conversationally, contemporary life into the part that was utterly mesmerising.

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Gary Lilburn, Trestle
Ian McKellen, King Lear
Cyril Nri, Barber Shop Chronicles

Sam Troughton, Beginning

Bryan Cranston, Network; Conleth Hill, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; James McArdle, Angels in America

Best Actor in a Musical

Giles Terera, Hamilton
In the midst of all the hype and expectation that was the first preview, and in a production that had no right to be that polished and on-point, there was no doubt in my mind about who the star of the evening was. Terera’s Burr feels very much his own creation and delivers a well-deserved push into the limelight for this most charismatic of performers – I suspect this won’t be his first award.

Honourable mention: Scott Hunter/Andy Coxon, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Hitting the right time and place, I first saw Yank! in the afternoon of London Pride and a happier, gayer Clowns I could not have been. And at its heart is the epic, tragic romance of Stu and Mitch, brought to beautiful life by Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon respectively.

John McCrea, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Philip Quast, Follies
Michael Rouse, Superhero

Jamael Westman, Hamilton
Alastair Brookshaw, A Little Night Music; Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris; Dominic Marsh, Romantics Anonymous

Review: The Exorcist, Phoenix

After a premiere in Birmingham last year…

Sean Mathias’ production of The Exorcist has resurfaced in the West End just in time for Hallowe’en in the hope of recreating the chills and thrills of the 1973 movie, despite the fact that it is notoriously difficult to get horror right in the theatre.

We saw a preview and there may have been wine involved, hence the gif mood-board presented here rather than your fully-fleshed review. So…

See Jenny Seagrove in a collection of saucily modern outfits

Appreciate Adam Garcia’s Father Damien in his boxing scenes

Wonder whether a pre-recorded Ian McKellen is really the best fit for the demon

Marvel at how Ben Hart’s illusions recreate many of the iconic moments from the film…

But wonder too at how the biggest effect is achieved right at the start with barely any effort at all

And for the love of God, don’t buy tickets at the front and on the sides!

Don’t take your kids – there’s a (perhaps overly cautious) 18+ age guidance note

And do as we did and take advantage of the late night show (9pm start) on a Friday, which allows enough time to get sufficiently warmed up…

…and you might well have a screamer of a time

In all honesty, it really ain’t that scary, something so ingrained in the cultural memory could scarcely hope to continue to shock. But in its best moments, The Exorcist is high camp and thus gloriously, enjoyably silly. Plus it will most likely make you jump one way or another.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 10th March

Review: King Lear, Minerva

“He hath always but slightly, known himself”

As I wrote when the full cast was first announced, “the world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting”. And now that the time has come to trek over to Chichester Festival Theatre to catch Ian McKellen revisiting a role he has already been most renowned for playing, you’re left in awe once again at the luxuries casting director Anne McNulty has brought to bear in Jonathan Munby’s modern-dress and modern-spirited production.
Chief among them is Sinéad Cusack’s Kent. It’s a casting decision that deserves the emphasis for Chichester has long been a venue where female representation has struggled across the board and though it is still early days yet for Daniel Evans’ tenure here, any steps are welcome. Tamara Lawrance as Cordelia is another example and a powerful contrast too. Where Cusack brings all her experience to bear as a superbly nuanced Kent (whose disguising gains real resonance), Lawrance brings a freshness of spirit to her most compassionate reading of Lear’s youngest daughter.
Dervla Kirwan and the superlative Kirsty Bushell once again make me wish that the play were in fact called Goneril and Regan, such is the biting glee of the latter’s vindictiveness, set against the chilling froideur of the former who clearly sees herself entirely as a queen-in-waiting. Jonathan Bailey’s troubled Edgar and Damien Molony’s manipulative Edmund pique all sorts of interests and I was also impressed with Michael Matus’s vivid take on Oswald.
And at the heart of them all, and truly a part of an ensemble rather than its leading light, is McKellen’s breathtaking take on Lear. A role he has played before, a play he has acted in several times, there’s a clear sense of him relishing the (relative) intimacy of the Minerva as he inhabits every breath of the mental fragility afflicting his monarch. As carpet turns to chalk, crowns to knotted handkerchiefs, you feel every year of Lear’s (and McKellen’s) age as his disintegration leads to belated insight. Tremendous and tragic, thoughtful and thorough, a profoundly excellent piece of theatre.  
Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 28th October

Casting for Chichester’s King Lear announced

“Reason not the need”

The world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting (all credit to casting director Anne McNulty here). Jonathan Munby’s production had already announced Ian McKellen as part of the ensemble (teasing an interesting casting breakdown that didn’t actually come to anything) but that’s a small niggle in what is otherwise some excellent news.

  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Dervla Kirwan, Kirsty Bushell and Tamara Lawrance as Goneril, Regan and Cordelia
  • Jonathan Bailey and Damien Molony as Edgar and Edmund
  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Michael Matus (Oswald), Dominic Mafham (Albany) and Patrick Robinson (Cornwall) in there as well
  • Danny Webb as Gloucester
  • Did I mention Sinéad Cusack as Kent?
  • I can take or leave Phil Daniels as the Fool but he may well surprise.

Tickets are all sold out so you might want to monitor regularly for returns or hope for the transfer which one suspects is already in the making.

Review: Queer Theatre – Bent, National

#4 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
“I love you… What’s wrong with that?”
Perhaps one of the better known of these plays but still a new one to me, I really wasn’t prepared for the emotional trauma of Martin Sherman’s Bent whether I was hungover to fuck or not. Harrowing is barely the word to describe this dramatisation of the way in which the Nazis persecuted gay men in Germany before and during World War II and with this reading, directed by Stephen Daldry, taking place on Pride weekend, its impact was all the more emotional. 
Russell Tovey (continuing his graduation into a properly fine actor) and George Mackay took on the lovers Max and Rudy, their coming together in the hedonism of Weimar Berlin shattered by the dawning of the Night of the Long Knives, the realisation of just how insidious the Third Reich is, and the astonishing lengths that people will go to in order to protect themselves at the expense of all they hold dear.
The second act shift to the concentration camp at Dachau provides an unexpected ray of something that could be called sunshine in the face of such adversity but obviously that turns traumatic too, especially in the hands of Paapa Essiedu here. Sterling support came from Simon Russell Beale, Giles Terera, a rare stage appearance for Pip Torrens…and the brilliance of Sherman’s writing sang through as clearly as it would have done in a full fledged production, the visuals more than made up for by the commitment of a director and cast determined to ensure that the play’s message of the endurance of the human spirit is as true today as it ever was, more so even.

Cast for the 1979 Royal Court production directed by Robert Chetwyn
Jeremy Arnold
Peter Cellier
John Francis
Richard Gale
Ken Shorter
Haydn Wood
Tom Bell
Ian McKellen
Andy Roberts
Gregory Martyn
Jeff Rawle
Roger Dean
Simon Shepherd

Figures of Speech, a major new digital project by the Almeida

Ever pioneers in pushing the boundaries of theatrical enterprise (to wit, the durational readings of The Iliad and The Odyssey), the Almeida Theatre has launched Figures of Speech, a major new digital film project interrogating the vitality of speech, rhetoric, and what visionary leadership sounds like. Conceived by Rupert Goold and directed by Anthony Almeida, Figures of Speech will, deep breath, “place history’s greatest speeches centre stage through a series of films read by a network of actors and young leaders released online, building a tapestry of dynamic voices and ideas from across the world as a dramatic response to social crisis”. 

The first suite of films, being released on a day-by-day basis from today, features speeches delivered by American politician Harvey Milk spoken by Ian McKellen; Nelson Mandela spoken by Lucian Msamati; Virginia Woolf spoken by Fiona Shaw; AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser spoken by Nicola Walker; and Labour Party Politician Neil Kinnock spoken by Ashley Walters. And throughout the year, the Almeida will release more of these films, accompanied by additional material exploring the speeches, the context within which they were first delivered and the choice to revive them in 2017. 

The site will feature guest-authored articles and filmed reactions from each speech’s performer alongside an audience made up of people from local communities that have direct connections to the themes explored. To complement each speech, inspiring young leaders aged 15 – 25 from across London have been invited to respond to Figures of Speech and deliver a speech of their own, crafted through an Almeida Participation programme, inviting previously unheard voices to share the platform. 

Which I’m sure you’ll agree sounds rather quite exciting indeed, a fresh way at looking at politics and leadership in these tumultuous times, and exploring something of the changing nature of what it means to be an orator in the 21st century. And as a treat for you – yes, you! – you can find snippets of some of the forthcoming films below. 

All Figures of Speech material is available at speech.almeida.co.uk 

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.
Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.
The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time. 

Episodes, in order of preference

Asylum of the Daleks
Cold War
The Name of the Doctor
The Power of Three
The Crimson Horror
The Angels Take Manhattan
The Snowmen
The Day of the Doctor
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
The Time of the Doctor
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The Bells of Saint John
Nightmare in Silver
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
The Rings of Akhaten
A Town Called Mercy

Top 5 guest spots

1 Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling – together on screen for the first time
2 There’s not much Jessica Raine does that I don’t love and she’s great in Hide
3 Liam Cunningham/David Warner
4 Riann Steele’s Nefertiti
5 Neve McIntosh/Catrin Stewart/Dan Starkey – the Paternoster Gang deserve a shoutout because they really do work well together

Saddest death

Not really any tragic demises that caught my attention – Matt Smith’s farewell speech is probably the moment that moved me the most

Most wasted guest actor

Lots of far too small guest appearances (Tessa Peake-Jones for one) but Jade Anouka’s blink-and-miss-it waitress is a real missed opportunity to utilise such a great actor.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

Either everything in this series makes complete sense or else I’ve stopped caring… Oh I know, that conference call thing. Just no.

Gay agenda rating

A – Vastra and Jenny’s relationship is proudly out in the air, David Warner hits on the Doctor, and Clara is (at least) bi-curious

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

“Tale as old as time”


It’s taken me a little time to get round to writing this review, which is rarely a good sign, as I was struggling for anything entirely constructive to say about this film. The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast was Disney close to its best but these days, nothing is left alone if it has even the merest hint of cash cow about it. So it has previously hit the stage as a musical and following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it now has a cinematic live-action remake.
Which is all fine and good but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And at no point does Bill Condon’s film ever convince us that the world needed this version of Beauty and the Beast, there’s rarely any sense of it bringing something new and insightful to the story. Plus the contortions it (and star Emma Watson) has had to make to try and convince of its feminist credentials scarcely seem worth it in the final analysis.
For though some effort has been made to make this Belle a more modern girl (it is her rather than her father who is the inventor in the family), Watson’s interpretation lacks the vibrancy to make her character really sing. And not being a singer by any stretch, she’s not able to sufficiently build on the characterisation through the music – ‘Belle’ is an altogether pleasant number but it could do with being more vivacious, especially when the green-screen hits and a blankness appears in Watson’s eyes.
Dan Stevens’ Beast isn’t allowed to be sufficiently violent or ugly to be a real antagonist but even if he really is beautiful on the inside, there’s no way to spin their relationship – which begins as captor/captive – in a convincingly positive light. He sounds lovely in ‘Evermore’ though. It’s all part of the problem of trying to make what was an animated world of imagination and possibility into something needlessly photo-realistic.
Lumière the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the pendulum clock (Ian McKellen), and Garderobe the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) are all amusingly done but in their CGI rendering, draw attention to their artificiality rather than their magic, which seems to me to miss the point. They do get a lovely moment in one of Alan Menken’s new songs – Days in the Sun – and musically as a whole, the film does sound great.
And in the only two performances that seem to be having any fun, Luke Evans and Josh Gad stand out as Gaston and his manservant Le Fou (such hoohah about a blink-and-miss-it ‘gay’ moment). Maybe that’s the key, just to disengage the brain and try to have fun with this. Though why you’d want to when you can just as easily pop on the animated flick is beyond me. And try as she might, Emma Thompson is no Angela Lansbury. (Listen to the soundtrack instead).


2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Palace
Elegy – Donmar Warehouse
The Flick – National Theatre Dorfman
One Night in Miami – Donmar Warehouse

Best New Musical
Groundhog Day – The Old Vic
Dreamgirls – Savoy
The Girls – Phoenix
School of Rock – New London

Best Revival 
Yerma – Young Vic
The Glass Menagerie – Duke of York’s
This House – Garrick
Travesties – Apollo Continue reading “2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

CD Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

“How could anyone be gloomy and depressed?

We’ll make you shout ‘encore!'”
The live action remake of Beauty and the Beast will be arriving in cinemas on 17th March but should you be so inclined, you can listen to the film’s soundtrack here on YouTube, other digital platforms or buy the album from wherever it is that records are sold near you. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s music and lyrics will be intensely familiar to fans of the original Disney film but after director Bill Condon decided not to include any of the songs that were written for the musical with Tim Rice, Menken composed a number of new songs for this film which ought to pique the interest of any right-thinking musicals fan.
None of the old-school classic feel of the music has been lost in this recording, which was a great relief to me, and its new twists on these old songs are certainly interesting. I really enjoyed Josh Gad and Luke Evans’ freshly comic take on ‘Gaston’ and though Emma Watson is no out-and-out singer, she gives a sweetly decent account of herself. Emma Thompson has perhaps a trickier job in tackling the iconic legacy of Angela Lansbury’s Mrs Potts, her accent choice is somewhat distracting but once you’re accustomed to it, the lushness of the orchestrations make the title track spine-tingling and ‘Be My Guest’ is immense fun as Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Ian McKellen chip in too.
Of the new songs, ‘Days in the Sun’ is my favourite, a tender lullaby that grows into a wistful lament for the lives of the staff as were. Menken intertwines gorgeous vocal lines and gives Audra McDonald’s thrilling soprano the opportunity to unfurl majestically (she also gets a shine to shine in the aria inserted into the overture). ‘How Does A Moment Last Forever’ is an exquisite instant Disney classic, sung first by Kevin Kline and then by Watson in her standout musical moment. And Dan Stevens emerges as a surprisingly strong singer in the Beast’s song ‘Evermore’ which lyrically suggests an intriguing emotional reconfiguration of the film’s romantic dynamic. 
And of course, no Disney soundtrack is complete without mainstream popstars tackling at least some of the songs and here, the new Beauty and the Beast outdoes itself. Céline Dion is famous singing the original pop version of the title track with Peabo Bryson but here she is brought back to sing How Does A Moment Last Forever and it is simply the perfect match. Employing the kind of restraint that brings out the real beauty in her voice, she simply soars here, no more so than in the passage of vocalise (from about 1.38) where she wordlessly echoes the piano motif and angels descend from heaven (or something…I’m a fan, I can’t help it!). 
It’s a gorgeous subtlety that is sadly lacking on the remake of the title track by Ariana Grande and John Legend which indulges her in pointless adlibs before the first line has even been sung. The arrangement sounds horrendously cheap and they feel mismatched tbqh, much as I do like his soulful commitment. John Groban gives us his version of ‘Evermore’ with no surprises to round out the standard edition, where the deluxe set offers demos of the five new pieces and Menken’s score on a second disc for the complete experience. It might be a little soon to call this a classic addition to the Disney canon but I wouldn’t bet against it!