News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020

So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.

Olivier Theatre 

Following a sell-out run at Rose Theatre Kingston, the acclaimed two-part adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by April De Angelis is reworked for the Olivier stage by Melly Still (Coram Boy). When the most important person in her life goes missing without a trace, Lenu Greco, now a celebrated author, begins to recall a relationship of more than 60 years.  Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 15 new productions for 2019 and 2020”

Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker

“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”

In light of Roman Tragedies reminding us of the vast potential of what Shakespeare can be rather than the tendency towards the ‘proper’ readings of his work that we tend to get here in the UK (vast generalisations I know, but can you really argue against it…), it’s gratifying to see directors, and venues, taking the opportunity to stretch those traditional notions. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, housed within Shakespeare’s Globe, isn’t the first place you’d think of to find such a production but in Ellen MacDougall’s interpretation of Othello, we have just that.

Text updated to the 21st century (dramaturgy by Joel Horwood), key characters regendered (Joanna Horton’s Cassio is an inspired move), a contemporary soundtrack that interpolates Lana Del Rey, it is enough to make any purist shiver and you kinda feel that’s the point. MacDougall refocuses the play on masculinity in crisis but it is also tempting to think that on a larger scale, there’s a smidgen of Emma Rice’s shaking of the branches of theatrical orthodoxy at play here too. With the post of Artistic Director of the Globe being advertised again, we can only hope such invention remains. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker”

Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith

“You don’t get that quality of dance at Sadler’s Wells”
There’s something wonderfully political about the Lyric Hammersmith’s pantomime Aladdin this year. Not just in Joel Horwood’s script, which packs in the requisite Trump and Brexit jokes, plus a cleverly worked visual gag for Article 50, and has the land of Fulhammerboosh ruled over by the Emperor One Per Cent. But in almost every aspect of Ellen McDougall’s production, there’s the kind of astute decision-making that has made her a director to watch and whets the appetite even more for her forthcoming Artistic Directorship of the Gate Theatre.
So the first character we meet is Abanazer, played with lip-smacking relish by Vikki Stone as a cross between Mrs Overall and Grotbag, who pretty much steals the show. And our Aladdin is no clueless US import but rather Lyric regular Karl Queensborough, notching up his eighth performance at a venue where he was nurtured by their youth programme. And casting Malinda Parris as the genie not only releases her sensational powerhouse vocal but also further shows up how questionable Disney’s Aladdin’s gender politics are over at the Prince Edward Theatre.
Thus through these choices, this Aladdin feels refreshed and revitalised, an entirely appropriate piece of family entertainment for 2016. And it does this without ever losing sight of all of the traditional aspects of pantomime that we’ve come to love and expect. So there’s some fantastically saucy humour from James Doherty’s Widow Twankey which (should) fly over the kids’ heads along with the sweets thrown out, there’s tons of audience participation led by Arthur McBain’s excellently sensitive Wishy Washy, and an unflagging atmosphere of fun that never drops.
With a sprightly soundtrack featuring rewritten lyrics to some of the year’s pop hits, an impressively staged magic carpet ride, singalongs and snowfalls, Aladdin is undoubtedly a hit. But it is that it’s a hit very much on the Lyric Hammersmith’s own terms that is most remarkable, along with the message it is passing onto the next generation. You may not necessarily agree with its empire-abolishing politics (with a big P) but the politics (with a small p) of teaching our kids that girls can be genies too, that hard work pays off, that the magic of great theatre lies in the imagination, are irrefutable. Exciting and entertaining, this truly is panto for the 21st century.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th January
Originally written for LondonTheatre1

Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

“I’ve got nothing to look forward to”

There’s something rather apt about members of the Bugsy Malone graduating onto other productions at the Lyric Hammersmith, emphasising the ensemble feel that has taken over the building under Sean Holmes’ stewardship. And in Max Gill (a sensational Fat Sam) and Sophia Decaro (the Tallulah I didn’t see), there’re two young talents deservedly getting the chance to explore a wider range of teenage experience in Holmes’ production of Simon Stephens’ 2001 play Herons.

A brutal look at teen violence and cycles of revenge, it’s a play that’s marked by a truly shocking scene of rape, the haunting sound of which is still echoing in my mind now. Set on the Limehouse Cut, a canal in London’s East End, the ugly desolation and desperation of this world is clear from the off, a world where 14 year old Billy spends his time hiding from bullies and fishing for whatever small fry he can. Though when he becomes the catch of the day, the extent of its viciousness is exposed. Continue reading “Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith”

Not-a-Review: Secret Theatre show 5

“I just called to say I…”

And so Secret Theatre continues, on their fifth production now which has been devised by themselves and has a shorter run than usual as it will apparently be going to Edinburgh. So press reviews have been scrapped for this one, which may also have been motivated by the devised nature of the show, something which the UK mainstream critics automatically seem to react against. That said, I wasn’t much of a fan at all of A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts and its highly experimental structure. 

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 22nd May then going to Edinburgh

Short Film Review: #5

The Reward
THE REWARD from Sentinel Productions on Vimeo.
Written by Joel Horwood, The Reward definitely ranks as top amongst this bunch of shorts.  Gorgeously filmed by Lucy Patrick Ward, its opening shots set up its two main characters perfectly: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s numbed woman having just lost her father, and Anatol Yusef’s gym instructor working out the pain of the loss of his beloved dog on his hapless aerobics class. When fate throws the pair together, their meeting seems charged with almost unmanageable emotion, but what Horwood conjures is a moment of powerful but truthful cathartic release that is just beautiful. Waller-Bridge is fantastic (I want to see her in more modern roles on the stage soon) and Yusef also convinces in suggesting his pain lies more than just in the loss of a pet. Watch it now!


Harry, Henry and the Prostitute

Fans of Charlie Cox’s hairy chest (and there are many of you, I know what search terms lead people here!) will be particularly pleased with this film, in which two flatmates hire a prostitute for the night, but end up in a spot of bother with her pimp when it turns out they haven’t got the money to pay her. Harry Ter Haar has written a nerdish but convincing connection of banterish friendship which is played extremely well by Charlie Cox and Ben Rees-Evans which makes it a pleasure to watch even though the story itself is perhaps a little undistinguished. Theo Davies’ production has a nice sense of humour though, which not even a random appearance from Fearne Cotton can undo, 


Little Larry

A cutely observed short which is up for the Virgin Media Shorts competition at the moment. Barely two minutes long, Andrew Lee Potts’ film speaks to the child inside all of us, the part that can never quite believe we’re actually an adult, and with some sharp editing, pulls together an impressively sweeping vista which wraps up to a lovely sweet ending.

Mourning Rules

Also up for the Virgin Media Shorts, is Mourning Rules, a rather witty, dark, comedic tale of a professional mourner demonstrating the tricks of her trade to her sister. Written by Dan Castella, Olivia Poulet and Monserrat Lombard, and starring the middle name, it is dizzyingly manic and I loved the way it finished on an unapologetic loopy note.

Out There
Written by Mike Walden and directed by Edward McGown, Out There puts a dark spin on a family’s move to rural France. Graham and Caroline’s relationship is already strained and suffers even more so as his tutoring of an attractive young local girl provides an outlet for his wandering hands. She in turn looks to the friendly neighbour Jean-Luc but the rules for women are different to those for men in Graham’s mind with severe consequences. It’s not quite as compelling as it could be though McGown generates a strong sense of atmosphere and teases out strong performances from his leads – Lucy Russell’s frustrated wife who understandably jumps at Tom Mison’s bearded French-accented woodsman and Jamie Foreman, a malevolent bulldog in human form.

Domestics
” style=”font-size: 11pt; “>
Last up is Rob Curry’s Domestics, a two-hander about a couple’s very stormy relationship which is tipped over the edge with the purchase of the wrong flavour of ice-cream. It’s not particularly unique or flashy, but there’s something quite neat about the way it shifts between perspectives, testing the viewer to challenge what we are seeing – is it memory, wish-fulfilment, the future? Maimie McCoy and John Lightbody gamely battle out the conflict as they each push each other as far as they can go, and beyond.

Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith

“Well, wasn’t that Christmassy!”

The Hackney Empire currently has the reputation of the must-see pantomime in London but the Lyric Hammersmith has been crafting its own little niche in the market and I’d happily wager that with Aladdin this year they have truly come up with the goods and I doubt that this panto will be bettered this year. Co-writers Steve Marmion, Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, returning from last year’s Dick Whittington along with much of the same crew and cast, continue to reinvigorate the form by working in a fresh contemporary vibe whilst never losing sight of what makes a panto work. There’s nothing old-fashioned about this trip to Ha-Maa-Smiitt (say it with an East Asian accent…) where the dastardly Abanazar is plotting to take over the kingdom, whilst unassuming, sweet-nicking Aladdin daydreams of a better life with the Princess Karen until he is thrust into action to save the day.

The script is punchy with a few neat topical references and absolutely chock-ablock with jokes which work on all levels (I was relieved to see the kids in front us perplexed as to why we were laughing so much as Widow Twanky departed on a washing machine) I was laughing out loud throughout the entire show, especially with the physical humour. But it is also a visual treat: Tom Scutt’s costume and set design is sunny and bright, Mark Smith has come up with some interesting choreography and with the magic carpet sequence, there is pure awe-inspiring theatrical magic at work. It would be unfair to say more about it but rest assured it is worth the ticket price alone. Continue reading “Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Dick Whittington and his Cat, Lyric Hammersmith

“We just need someone to run London”

Dick Whittington and his Cat is the Lyric Hammersmith’s choice of pantomime this year with its ageless tale of a young boy making his way to London to find his fortune. Updating the story slightly to include all sorts of modern references and something of a street sensibility, it does a great job of observing the golden rule of pantomime of keeping its audience engaged and ensuring that the humour contained within hits on all levels, amusing young and old alike, working in slapstick, sight gags, silliness and a fair old bit of smut in Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s excellent script.

There’s a steady flow of musical numbers, mainly up-to-the-minute pop songs like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State of Mind’, Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’ and Glee’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ featuring lyrical changes to make them London- and Hammersmith –specific. The best of them though is the genuinely funny take on Lady GaGa’s ‘Bad Romance’ by King Rat, Bad Rodent, which both excellently comic and creepy and it is nice to see the amount of effort that has gone into adapting all these songs in an integrated way into the show, rather than making them simple karaoke numbers. Continue reading “Review: Dick Whittington and his Cat, Lyric Hammersmith”