The finalists of The Offies 2018

The finalists of the The Offies 2018 have been announced and as ever, there’s much of interest there, in the choices made and the breadth of Off West End theatre celebrated. Play-wise, I’m delighted at the love for The Revlon Girl and An Octoroon here, nice to see the Bunker’s Eyes Closed Ears Covered rewarded too, plus Will Pinchin’s work in Frankenstein.
 
With the musicals, I’m not down with the love for Promises Promises, an ill-judged revival that added nothing to the conversation (and even less in these #MeToo times) and I’m disappointed that none of the boys of Yank! were recognised. The rest of the Southwark Playhouse’s spectacular year does get the appropriate plaudits though, with Superhero, The Life and Working all getting multiple nominations.
 
And lastly, at times it can seem like all you have to do is sing in your bathroom and you get an Offie nomination 😉 so it is interesting to see how the numbers break down, albeit somewhat vaguely. These 80 or so finalists have apparently been whittled down from over 350 nominations from over 190 shows – there’s clearly just a lot of Offies love to share. Should you wish to join in said sharing at the IRL award ceremony on Sunday 4th March at The Albany, Deptford, you can buy tickets here.

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Review: Low Level Panic, Orange Tree

“When am I going to wake up and be different?”

How far we’ve come since the 1980s. Or have we? That’s the thread going through Chelsea Walker’s production of Clare McIntyre’s 1988 play Low Level Panic, an insight into the lives of three housemates in their 20s. Dialogue heavy but conversationally acute, we eavesdrop on these women in their bathroom, sharing confidences, fantasies, stories of what it is like to be a woman in a society that continually objectifies their sex.

It may be nearly 30 years old but there’s a sinking awfulness about how recognisable so much of this is. Sexual politics in the workplace, internalised self-loathing, the effects of porn, the looming spectre of sexual assault, McIntyre covers a wide range of issues but approaches them with the complexity they deserve – her protagonists’ reactions to them are nuanced and varied and in Sophie Melville, Katherine Pearce and Samantha Pearl’s performances, deeply compelling. Continue reading “Review: Low Level Panic, Orange Tree”

Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre

“How is a woman to have a husband when all the men belong to their mothers?”

You have to respect the huge ambition behind Husbands and Sons, Marianne Elliott and Ben Power’s adaptation of three DH Lawrence plays which sees each of them run simultaneously in the round in the Dorfman. It manages this by taking the Holroyds from The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, the Gascoignes from The Daughter-in-Law and the Lamberts from A Collier’s Friday Night and imagining them living on the same street in the East Midlands village of Eastwood. And spread over three weeks in October 1911, the interlocked, if not intersecting, dramas of their lives play out, dominated by the long shadow of the pit. 

Initially it’s a dizzying affair, as the eye and the ear deals with the three separate domestic establishments. Bunny Christie’s design takes a visual cue from the Lars von Trier film Dogville with the fully furnished houses demarcated by white lines on the floor and labelled by name, doors (and coats, weirdly) are mimed with accompanying sound effects. And with a nod to the fixedness of this arrangement, ticket-holders in the pit swap seats at the interval, getting to sit in the corresponding place on the other side of the auditorium, offering an alternative perspective on the goings-on. Continue reading “Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre”

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

Review: Secret Theatre 4, Lyric Hammersmith

 “You clandestine peasant.
‘You curdled cock’”

Much of the buzz about Secret Theatre was the fact that audiences are kept in the dark about what it is they are booking for, placing their trust in the hands of an adventurous company looking to shake up the way theatre is created and commodified in this country. It makes for an entertaining evening, especially at the start as one waits to find out where in the theatre we’re going to be, and what delights are in store.

As it was, I got to the end of Show 4 without having worked out much to be honest. The post-show information told me it was a play named Glitterland, an adaptation of John Webster’s The White Devil by Hayley Squires but not being a play I am familiar with, that proved of little assistance. In a densely woven plot, the striking aesthetic of the company – directed here by Ellen McDougall – takes you a long way but not quite far enough into a satisfying dramatic experience.  Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre 4, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith

“Your last meal – what would it be?” 

Where shows #1 and #2 of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season maintained complete radio silence about their content (even if certain critics weren’t able to hold off revealing titles at the interval…), it seems that the efforts of keeping things mysterious have gotten a little too much. Secrets are still thrillingly in store for other aspects of the show but clues are being offered for #3 right up front on the website, strongly hinting that the death penalty is something to do with the production.

And so it proves, Caroline Bird’s new play Chamber Piece is an unremittingly dark piece of writing, set in a near-future where capital punishment has been reintroduced to Britain. But Bird wants to look at what happens when it goes wrong, as we witness an execution that doesn’t follow through and the ethical and practical mess that emerges in the aftermath. Can the state try again to kill someone for whom they have a death warrant? Should they? Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith

“You must think us a right rough bunch of people”

How long can you keep a secret? How long should you keep a secret? As it turns out, critics were tweeting the title of the Lyric Hammersmith’s ‘Secret Theatre Show 2’ as soon as they could get their phones on in the interval, unleashing a flurry of outraged blogs and tweets which argued both sides of the toss – it was either like Christmas being ruined or one of the least important parts of the whole experience. That experience is Secret Theatre, an ambitious 8 month programme launched by the Lyric’s Sean Holmes which has pulled together an ensemble of 20 creatives who will produce 7 shows over the period. But the key is that the titles are kept from us, no programmes are for sale on arrival and so technically you take your place in the auditorium, which is mid-renovation, not knowing what the curtain will rise upon.

A quick scoot around the internet will reveal the titles of Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2 which have now opened but in the spirit of the whole affair – after all as we leave, we are urged “Shhh. Keep the secret…” – this review won’t spill the beans too much. We live in a spoiler-saturated society now when it comes to much of our popular culture and so whilst it may not be to everyone’s taste, the unique thrill of knowing nothing in advance is one to savour. It also leads to the intriguing question of when recognition of what play is being performed will come, indeed if at all for it could be a piece of new writing, experienced theatregoers should be fine but new audiences have the opportunity to possibly experience some of the greatest writing of last century as if it were a brand new play and that is what is genuinely exciting about this enterprise. Continue reading “Review: Secret Theatre Show 1 and Secret Theatre Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Port, National Theatre

“It’s Stockport, it’s England”

He’s here, he’s there, Simon Stephens is everywhere. Between a prolific rate of new writing, adaptations of other texts and revivals of his older work, Stephens has been a remarkably constant presence on our stages for the past year or so and now it is the turn of the National Theatre to get in on the act as Marianne Elliott revives his 2002 play Port. Set in his native Stockport, it visits Racheal at roughly two-yearly intervals from the ages of 11 through to 24, as she grows up in a rough world. 

A victim of domestic violence, her mother leaves the family; a juvenile delinquent with a taste for robbing, her younger brother just can’t keep out of trouble; disillusioned with his lot, her father is still present but has checked out emotionally; against all of this Racheal plots to escape the narrow world of Stockport through hard work, through marriage, through whatever it takes but of course, life is never that easy as cold reality comes a-knocking at the door every time. Continue reading “Review: Port, National Theatre”