Review: Operation Black Antler, Southbank Centre

Daring and detailed, Operation Black Antler is a powerfully thought-provoking piece of immersive theatre booking out of the Southbank Centre

“Let’s go for a deep swim”

When a company sticks the term ‘immersive’ on its marketing copy, it can too often be a wishy-washy attempt to lure its audience in without really making them engage on any meaningful level. There’s no danger of that with Blast Theory and Hydrocracker’s Operation Black Antler though, as your undercover police mission to infiltrate a suspect protest group means you have to get right in there, really challenging yourself to see how far you can, or should, go in the name of national security.

So much of the thrill of the event comes from the unknown (is it time for more You Me Bum Bum Train yet?) so no spoilers here, but I will say that there’s something shockingly effective about the set-up, the ease with which one can slip into someone else’s shoes and adopt a voice full of abhorrent messaging, ostensibly for the greater good. You can choose how much or how little you engage with the process but let’s face it, no-one is booking an immersive show to embrace your retiring wallflower side! Continue reading “Review: Operation Black Antler, Southbank Centre”

Review: Operation Black Antler, Home

“Get a drink, stay calm, assess the room”

The heart sinks a little bit when you get a reviewing assignment which ends with the request not to reveal too much about the production. You Me Bum Bum Train is the perfect example (especially as it was my entry into the world of immersive theatre) and looking back on it, from first to second to third time around, it is clearly a skill I had to learn (and am still learning).

Which is all by means of building up to [not] talking about Operation Black Antler, a Blast Theory and Hydrocracker production running out of Manchester’s Home. In select groups, we’re thrown into the world of undercover surveillance on the streets of Manchester where we’re to “question the morality of state-sanctioned spying” – basically like an episode of Spooks if it were written by Paul Abbott and made by Channel 4.  Continue reading “Review: Operation Black Antler, Home”

Review: Amédée, Birmingham Rep

“Looks like the show is over”

It’s always a bit of risk, booking a show you don’t know to see a particular actor and I have to say I got my fingers burnt here with Amédée. In the glorious Jumpers for Goalposts, Jamie Samuel (along with Philip Duguid-McQuillan) both stole and broke my heart, and he further pummelled it in 2015 in Plastic Figurines, to affirm his status as one of those actors I’d happily travel to see.

So the notion of popping up to Birmingham Rep’s studio theatre was fine, combining it as I did with a trip to Stratford, but I should have paid more attention to what I was actually booking. For Eugène Ionesco’s Amédée falls into that category of ‘rarely performed’ works and the man adapting it here, Sean Foley, is someone with whom I decidedly share no funny bones at all (cf The Painkiller).  Continue reading “Review: Amédée, Birmingham Rep”

Re-review: Plastic Figurines, New Diorama

“Mum told me that there was something in his brain that was different”

Not got a huge amount more to say about the heart-breakingly beautiful Plastic Figurines that I didn’t say in my review from 2015 when I ranked it in my top ten plays of the years. Ella Carmen Greenhill’s play, produced by Box of Tricks, returned for another run at the New Diorama, retaining Jamie Samuel as autistic Mikey but switching in Vanessa Schofield as his older sister Rose who is forced to leave university to become his carer after a family tragedy. I loved it all over again and I’d recommend you go along but it’s closed now!

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Richard Davenport
Booking until 22nd October

fosterIAN awards 2015

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayLia Williams, Oresteia Letitia Wright, EclipsedThusitha Jayasundera, My Eyes Went Dark
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, hang
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nell Gwynn
Lara Rossi, Octagon
Best Actor in a Play
John Heffernan, Oppenheimer David Morrissey, HangmenChiwetel Ejiofor, Everyman
Jamie Samuel, Plastic Figurines
Eelco Smits, Glazen Speelgoed
Angus Wright, Oresteia
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayDaisy Haggard, You For Me For You T’Nia Miller, EclipsedPriyanga Burford, The Effect
Estella Daniels, Octagon
Rosalind Eleazor, Plaques and Tangles
Sally Rogers, Hangmen
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayJohn Simm, The Homecoming David Moorst, Violence and SonHarm Duco Schut, Glazen Speelgoed
Johnny Flynn, Hangmen
James Garnon, As You Like It (Globe)
David Sturzaker, Nell Gwynn
Best Actress in a MusicalNatalie Dew, Bend It Like Beckham Katie Brayben, BeautifulTracie Bennett, Mrs Henderson Presents
Jennifer Harding, The Clockmaker's Daughter
Debbie Kurup, Anything Goes
Kelly Price, Little Shop of Horrors
Best Actor in a MusicalGiles Terera, Pure Imagination Matt Henry, Kinky BootsIan Bartholomew, Mrs Henderson Presents
Killian Donnelly, Kinky Boots
Scott Garnham, Grand Hotel
Alex Gaumond, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalEmma Williams, Mrs Henderson Presents Amy Lennox, Kinky BootsAnita Dobson, Follies
Anna Francolini, wonder.land
Lauren Samuels, Bend It Like Beckham
Lorna Want, Beautiful
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalEmmanuel Kojo, Show Boat Ako Mitchell, Little Shop of HorrorsMatthew Malthouse, Mrs Henderson Presents
Ian McIntosh, Beautiful
Jamie Parker, High Society
George Rae, Grand Hotel

2015 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

John Heffernan, Oppenheimer
Many are the ways in which I love Heffernan but the increasingly regularity with which he is scoring leading roles in interesting plays has to be chief among them, as for the many friends who have followed his career for a while now. And as the father of the atomic bomb here, he did not disappoint, bringing his customary diligence and intelligence to bear with the many conflicts of this fascinating character. 

Honourable mention: David Morrissey, Hangmen
The perfect exemplar for Martin McDonagh’s portrait of mixed-up masculinity in ’60s Oldham, Morrissey’s former-hangman-turned-pub-landlord was at the same time a blistering paean to the past and a scorching reminder to let go thereof.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Everyman
Jamie Samuel, Plastic Figurines
Eelco Smits, Glazen Speelgoed
Angus Wright, Oresteia

7-10

Ron Cook, The Homecoming; Jason Hughes, Violence and Son; Cal MacAninch, My Eyes Went Dark; Henry Pettigrew, The Effect

Best Actor in a Musical

Giles Terera, Pure Imagination

These awards are about the moments that live strongest in my mind and for me, Terera sweeping me (and the rest of the audience, I suppose!) up into a world of pure imagination and candy bars is right there at the top. Rumours of him heading up a Sammy Davis Jnr musical abound but on this evidence, he should be aiming for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory itself.

Honourable mention: Matt Henry, Kinky Boots
Derided in some parts as reality show stunt casting when first announced, Henry silenced the doubters and then some with an astonishingly assured performance as Lola, the drag queen taking most of Northampton – and herself – on quite the journey.

Ian Bartholomew, Mrs Henderson Presents
Killian Donnelly, Kinky Boots
Scott Garnham, Grand Hotel
Alex Gaumond, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

7-10

Dean John-Wilson, Songs For A New World; Alan McHale, The Clockmaker’s Daughter; Haydn Oakley, The Smallest Show on Earth; Simon Paisley Day, The Lorax

Review: Plastic Figurines, New Diorama

“I love him
I love him so much but
Sometimes I…”

One day, Jamie Samuel will appear in a play that doesn’t make me cry, but today is not that day. Along with co-star Remmie Milner in Ella Carmen Greenhill’s play Plastic Figurines, he exerted as persistent and powerful a hold on my tear ducts as he did in the glorious Jumpers for Goalposts as this quietly devastating piece of new writing unfolds its fractured narrative with all the bruised authenticity and honesty of the most intimate diary.

That feeling is appropriate too as though the play is fictional, it is inspired by elements of Greenhill’s own life as you can feel that in every jab and joke of the complicated sibling relationship here, and in the sensitive, nuanced depiction of autism on which the plot hinges. After their mother is diagnosed with terminal leukaemia, Rose has to leave university life in Edinburgh to return to the family home to look after teenage brother Mikey. Continue reading “Review: Plastic Figurines, New Diorama”

2014 Offie Award Winners

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Leanne Best for The Match Box at The Tricycle 
Lucy Ellinson for Grounded at The Gate
Vicki Lee Taylor for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever at The Union
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho

Best Male
Joe Armstrong for The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room
James Cooney for Bottleneck at Soho
Michael Pennington for Dances of Death at The Gate
Jamie Samuel for Jumpers for Goalposts at The Bush

Best New Play
Bottleneck by Luke Barnes at Soho
Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Wells at The Bush
The Match Box by Frank McGuinness at The Tricycle Continue reading “2014 Offie Award Winners”

2014 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Leanne Best for The Match Box at The Tricycle 
Lucy Ellinson for Grounded at The Gate
Vicki Lee Taylor for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever at The Union
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho

Best Male
Joe Armstrong for The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room
James Cooney for Bottleneck at Soho
Michael Pennington for Dances of Death at The Gate
Jamie Samuel for Jumpers for Goalposts at The Bush

Best New Play
Bottleneck by Luke Barnes at Soho
Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Wells at The Bush
The Match Box by Frank McGuinness at The Tricycle Continue reading “2014 Offie Award Finalists”

Re-review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Bush

“Do you know why I’m doing this?
‘Cos the lesbians said you were bossy’”

In a close-run thing, Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts ended up in second place on my list of favourite shows of 2013, its undeniable warmth and unfettered romance proving a hugely winning combination and one which I’d already been to see three times – twice earlier in 2013 at Watford and once as it started its run at the Bush, the final stop on its tour. The joy it brought me even on that third trip meant that when a potential trip to the final show of the run of this Paines Plough, Watford Palace Theatre and Hull Truck Theatre production was mooted, I could not resist.

And once again, the show filled my heart to bursting with its utter loveliness, making me laugh, cry, shiver and sigh all over again. Review #1 can be read here, re-reviews #2 and #3 here, and that’s about it really. I’m so glad I went to see it one more time, I’m gutted that I can’t see it again and I look forward to the first revival wherever it may take place, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be making a trip to see it. Thank you to all involved in making such a wonderful piece of theatre that will stay with me forever. 

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 4th January