2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

An interesting set of nominations have been announced for the 2018 Laurence Olivier Awards. Perhaps predictably, the headline grabbers are Hamilton with their record 13 nominations, and The Ferryman which received 8. I’m pleased to see Follies and Angels in America represent a strong showing for the National with 10 and 6 respectively, and also lovely to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie close behind with 5. Beyond delighted for The Revlon Girl too, my play of the year.

Naturally, not everything can get nominated and for me, it was most disappointing to see Barber Shop Chronicles miss out on any recognition. And with Hamilton crowding out the musicals categories, there was sadly no room for The Grinning Man, Romantics Anonymous and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (although I’m unsure of the Menier’s eligibility with regards to SOLT). And I think Victoria Hamilton (Albion). Philip Quast (Follies) and Louis Maskell and Julian Bleach (The Grinning Man)  are entitled to be a bit miffed.

How do you feel about these nominations? And what do you think should have been nominated instead?

Continue reading “2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

2018 What’s On Stage Award nominations


It’s that time of year again and getting in early with the announcement of their nominees is What’s on Stage. Voted for by the public, they’re often skewed a little towards the bigger ‘names’ but this year’s set of nominations are relatively controversy-free. There’s something a little odd about the way that regional theatre has its own separate category but its actors appear in the main ones – I feel like regional theatre productions should either be considered entirely in or out, rather than this halfway house.

Naturally, big shows rule the roost – 42nd Street and Bat out of Hell lead the lists with 8 nominations apiece – and they’ve even found a way to shoehorn in Hamilton by nominating it for the two new categories of Best Cast Recording (which somehow includes Les Mis??) and Best Show Poster, thus being able to get round it not actually being open yet and grabbing the requisite headlines once it does, inevitably, win.

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Andrew Scott, Hamlet
Bryan Cranston, Network
David Tennant, Don Juan in Soho
Martin Freeman, Labour of Love

Eve Best, Love in Idleness
Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Olivia Colman, Mosquitoes
Natalie Dormer, Venus in Fur
Tamsin Greig, Labour of Love Continue reading “2018 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre

“Darling, shall we dance?”
Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn’t cover last time, suffice to say it’s just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton’s icy bitterness in ‘Losing My Mind’! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

Review: Follies, National Theatre

“All things beautiful must die”

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer’s set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley’s musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a ‘huh?’ from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).
Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman’s (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke’s production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch.
Follies is set in the decrepit surroundings of the Weismann Theatre in 1971. Scheduled to be demolished the very next day, a party is being held for the performers who once graced its stages but as present company reunite and reminisce over champagne, ghosts of the past haunt their every move. And what Cooke does is to remind us that we’re all surrounded by memories, the might-have-beens and the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, it’s how we deal with them that differentiates us. And for long-suffering couples Buddy and Sally, Phyllis and Ben, it’s almost too much. 
The doubling device is achingly beautiful and threaded so assuredly into the production it seems a no-brainer. So as the 11 showgirls being celebrated make their entrance in ‘Beautiful Girls’ in the present day, we also see their past selves mirroring their movements, making their own arrivals in their own time. The glorious tap routines and kickline of ‘Who’s That Woman’ sees 7 of them hoofing it magnificently with their respective young’uns. And in the case of Josephine Barstow’s Heidi, there’s emotional interaction, a duet (with Alison Langer) on a simply exquisite ‘One More Kiss’, a gorgeous making of peace with the past.
For our central quartet though, things are much more tangled. Past and present frequently collide as Sally’s long-held passion for Ben bursts free with shattering consequences for all concerned, cutting through any notions of faded showbiz grandeur. Imelda Staunton invests her contained ‘Losing My Mind’ with so much psychological damage it breaks the heart, Philip Quast’s Ben is no less shattering as his swaggering Ben steadily loses his composure, and Janie Dee (getting to show off how great a dancer she is) is dry as a bone throughout and cold as ice in a brilliantly furious ‘Could I Leave You?’.
I could go on listing the things I loved – Tracie Bennett’s stunning reinterpretation of ‘I’m Still Here’, Di Botcher’s adorable take on ‘Broadway Baby’, Fred Haig, Adam Rhys-Charles, Zizi Strallen and Alex Young as the younger quartet…but I’ll stop and encourage you to get booking while you still can. There are still some slight weaknesses inherent in Follies itself – its sprawling dramatis personae some of whom we barely meet, the leap of faith you have to take as the show ruptures into its final third – but played without an interval as it is here by Cooke, you can’t help but be carried along a gorgeous wave of marabou, melancholy and musical theatre at its best. 
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November
Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.


Losing my mind over Losing My Mind – 10 top interpretations of the Sondheim classic

“Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor”

With the National’s highly anticipated production of Follies (Dominic Cooke directing a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, lest you forget) about to start previews in a week’s time, I thought I’d listen to about a hundred different versions of perhaps its most famous song – ‘Losing My Mind’ – and try and decide on a top ten, with the assumption of course that whatever Imelda Staunton will do with the song will be completely, utterly, life-changingly extraordinary (no pressure Meldz).

1 Marin Mazzie

I may as well start off being controversial but this is my absolute favourite version of the song. Taken from Sondheim’s 80th birthday party filmed live at Avery Fisher Hall, New York City in March 2010, it is just spell-binding. The purity of her performance, the way she lets her voice crack towards the end, those two tear-jerking breaths as the song finishes, sheer perfection. Also, find yourself someone who looks at you the way Donna Murphy looks at Mazzie at 4.07 #lifegoals

2 Barbara Cook

A choice made all the more poignant by Cook’s passing last week, this rendition comes from the 1985 recording at the Lincoln Centre where she played Sally in a staged concert. Cook manages the not-inconsiderable feat of making her impassioned interpretation seem entirely effortless, her shimmering soprano flowing with beautiful emotion.

3 Julia McKenzie

London’s original Sally, McKenzie played the role at the Shaftesbury Theatre and was nominated for an Olivier (losing to Nichola McAuliffe for Kiss Me Kate). The fullness of her tone creates a much richer sound to the song which is, well, just lovely. Check out this live version too.

4 Liza Minnelli

The Pet Shop Boys.
Those dance moves.
What more could you ask for? I either want to walk down the aisle to this or have it played as my coffin goes into the flames.

5 Maria Friedman

Friedman is surely one of our finest interpreters of Sondheim’s work but I don’t think she has ever had the opportunity to play Sally. Fortunately for us, she has tackled this song in concert and here she nails it, with the brilliant Jason Carr on piano.

6 Tim Curry

A rare male version (for this list at least). You might find stronger voices but none with this much charisma oozing from every line.

7 Charlotte Page

Taken from the 2013 Opéra de Toulon production, which was conveniently recorded for posterity, the relatively unheralded Page offers up some powerhouse emotion which is thrillingly melodramatic (plus David Charles Abell’s band sound amazing here).

8 Jeremy Jordan

A much freer interpretation than most of the others and in Jordan’s delectable hands, it is dreamy indeed.

9 Ute Lemper

Ute’s version from her City of Strangers album also makes it on for the audacity of Bruno Fontaine’s jazz arrangement, perfectly suited to the inimitable voice of this most superlative of interpreters.

10 Bernadette Peters

Love her or hate her, Peters’ relationship with Sondheim is unquestionable and the way in which she wrestles with the song here in compelling, especially in the anger of the final lines which suddenly dissipates into something exquisitely heavenly with its floated final note.

Bonus mentions

Speaking of final notes, Rebecca Caine’s here is a thing of real beauty. and I was lucky enough to see it live at this 80th birthday concert at the King’s Head.
Another version for which I have great affection as I heard it live, Ruthie Henshall played Sally at the Royal Albert Hall in 2015 and though this is rehearsal footage, her voice still sounds glorious.
And last but by no means least, Dorothy Collins‘ classic version from the first ever production of Follies in 1971 has the beauty of being the closest to Sondheim’s original vision. (and interestingly, you see just how strong the songwriting is that it has endured so strongly in the 40 plus years since it was written).
So over to you Imelda, what delights will you offer up…
(c) Johan Persson

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent.

Episodes, in order of preference

The Doctor’s Wife
The Girl Who Waited
The Impossible Astronaut 
Day of the Moon
The Rebel Flesh
The Wedding of River Song
A Christmas Carol
A Good Man Goes to War
Let’s Kill Hitler
The Almost People
Closing Time
The God Complex
The Curse of the Black Spot
Night Terrors

Top 5 guest spots

1 Suranne Jones’ Idris – I think this is one of my all-time favourite performances – idiosyncratic and unexpected, interesting and deeply moving, the farewell scene as Smith’s lips start to wobble is simply heart-breaking 

2 Mark Sheppard’s work as Canton Everett Delaware III is vividly done

3 Although only appearing in voice form as Interface, Imelda Staunton still brings enormous gravitas to a striking episode

4 I love Sarah Smart and so getting two distinct versions of her Jennifer in 

The Rebel Flesh/

The Almost People was a real bonus

5 As Madame Kovarian, Frances Barber was a delicious teasing presence as her brief cameos hinted at the series arc. That her character’s fully-fleshed appearance was ultimately a little underwhelming is best swept under the carpet.

Saddest death

Idris aside, Christina Chong’s Lorna Bucket

Most wasted guest actor

Daisy Haggard, if we had to suffer the return of James Corden’s Craig, the least they could have done was give her a decent role in the story too.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

What throws the TARDIS so off-kilter in The Rebel Flesh? A solar tsunami from our Sun you say? Oh, one of those old things

Gay agenda rating

A – Marriage equality is raised, gay marriage is shown and crime-fighting kick-ass inter-species lesbians are introduced

Re-review: The Glass Menagerie / Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

“Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested”

“It’s an honour just to be nominated…” Come award season, these words are often heard but you do have to wonder what it feels like to be the only member of a four person ensemble that isn’t up for an Olivier Award. Such is the fate for Michael Esper in The Glass Menagerie just now, as Cherry Jones, Kate O’Flynn and Brian J Smith all find themselves deservedly up for acting prizes on Sunday while he’s had to put his game face on.
Truth be told, his is the light that shines the least brightly in John Tiffany’s production, if only because the nominated trio are so brilliant. Here’s my original review and on second viewing, the textures and timelessness of the work really shines through. In the same way, and surely likely to figure heavily in next year’s Olivier nominations – if not eventual winners – are the company of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.
I also went back to the Harold Pinter this week and it is remarkable how fresh and pacey the production still feels on a second viewing, whipping through its three hours with quite the lick and absolutely no diminishing of its immense emotional power. Read my review from first time around and get yourself over to see the show (again, if appropriate) for classic theatre doesn’t get much better than this.

Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter

“Do you want me to say it’s funny, so you can contradict me and say it’s sad? Or do you want me to say it’s sad so you can turn around and say no, it’s funny”

The irony of the not unreasonable (don’t @ me) ‘no eating during the performance’ request blowing up around Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is that a far more egregious act is being waged in the bars of the Harold Pinter Theatre where no ice is served in drinks purchased after 7.20pm. Imagine paying theatre prices for a G&T with no ice…the tears of George and Martha just wouldn’t stand for it.
Not that there’s much they don’t stand for in Edward Albee’s excoriating play, receiving an exemplary production here from James Macdonald. Over late night drinks with an unsuspecting younger couple, George and Martha release themselves from the fustiness of East Coast academic life by drinking hard and playing harder, twisted games making the black comedy darken into abject despair as the state of the marriages here are laid bare, warts and all.
It’s a sensational piece of writing that barely seems to have aged since its 1962 debut, such is the sharpness of its caustic wit as Martha spouts forth her bitterness at life-plans gone awry and George’s morose demeanour gives way to no less wickedly pointed vitriol. And the more youthful visitors Nick and Honey’s apparently golden relationship is also exposed as already tarnished, its hollowness gleefully seized upon by their vengeful hosts as ever-flowing booze loosens lips and lowers inhibitions.
As Martha and George, Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill are in staggering good form. Her intense ferocity is mesmerising whether scything into her husband or slinkily grinding up against her handsome guest. And his more contained energy is a wonderful contrast, unpredictable and dangerous – even as they expertly hint at the depths of the twisted emotion that irrevocably connects them, they keep you constantly on the edge of your seat. 
Imogen Poots and Luke Treadaway support them well, her stage debut accomplished with great physicality as well as mordant humour and in the smart but sterile surroundings of Tom Pye’s set design, his aloofness fits in perfectly. It’s a hefty-enough running time but Macdonald ensures you never spend a moment watching the clock, like a slow-motion car crash, you can’t drag your eyes away for a moment from the majesty and tragedy of this play.
Running time: 3 hours (with 2 intervals)
Photos: Johan Persson
Booking until 27th May

Review: Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

“You take pleasure then in the message?”

The good bits of Much Ado About Nothing, when done well, are so very good indeed, that it is sometimes hard to remember that the play has its dodgier moments too, for me at least. And it is none more so evident than in Kenneth Branagh’s beautifully sun-kissed adaptation, filmed in the rolling hills of the Italian countryside. The scenes with Dogberry and the Watch are usually problematic for me and with the broad stylings of Michael Keaton and Ben Elton here, they become unusually painful.

Thank the heavens then for Branagh and Emma Thompson, at this point midway through their six-year marriage and simply perfectly suited as sparring paramours Benedick and Beatrice. They spark off each other beautifully, making us believe in their spontaneous wit and all-too-human fallibility and you could watch them for days. Thompson plays up Beatrice’s bruised heart superbly as once bitten, twice shy, she prowls around Branagh’s amusedly careworn Benedick, who eventually deepens into real grace once the stakes are raised.

Their chemistry more than makes up for the slightly anaemic performances of Robert Sean Leonard and Kate Beckinsale (making her film debut) as the lovelorn Claudio and Hero, and led by Richard Briers’ sprightly Leonato, there’s much fun to be had in his court, Brian Blessed and Phyllida Law flirting up a storm as Antonio and Ursula and Imelda Staunton’s magnificently buxom Margaret catching the eye too. Branagh’s slimmed-down text loses nothing in the telling and frequent collaborator Patrick Doyle’s music sets the scene well.

With Hollywood funding comes Hollywood casting though, and so we have Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington alongside Keaton, as Don John and Don Pedro. Washington acquits himself well with a sparkling charm and it’s probably for the best that Don John has little to say and much to glower about – one feels that everyone knows exactly why he’s been cast as his opening scene involves a lengthy oily massage and much shirtlessness. Still, when this Much Ado is good, it is among some of the best ever filmed Shakespeare. 

2016 Laurence Olivier Awards winners

Best New Play 
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh – Jerwood Downstairs, Royal Court / Wyndham’s
Farinelli and the King by Claire van Kampen – Duke of York’s
People, Places and Things by Duncan MacMillan – National Theatre Dorfman
The Father by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton – Wyndham’s

Best New Musical
Kinky Boots – Adelphi
Bend It Like Beckham – Phoenix
In the Heights – King’s Cross
Mrs Henderson Presents – Noël Coward

Best Revival 
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – National Theatre Lyttelton
Hamlet – Barbican
Les liaisons dangereuses – Donmar Warehouse
The Winter’s Tale – Garrick Continue reading “2016 Laurence Olivier Awards winners”