Not-a-review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Wiltshire Creative

I should have been going to Salisbury this weekend to see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Wiltshire Creative so what to do instead? Read about it and the ways to help the theatres involved

“Dashed hopes and good intentions…”

I’ve long been a fan of David Mercatali’s directing (find an interview with him here) so I was determined to fit in a visit to his production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a co-production between Bristol’s Tobacco Factory and Wiltshire Creative (the Salisbury Playhouse as was).

That didn’t happen as my trip was scheduled towards the end of the second half of the run but in some small mercy, the production did get most of the way through its Bristol leg which means there’s all sorts to read about it, which the Tobacco Factory has kindly collated here.

By comparison, the Brit-heavy Broadway revival, starring Laurie Metcalf, Rupert Everett, Russell Tovey and Patsy Ferran barely managed a week of previews before having to close. 

For the Tobacco Factory
You can follow the theatre on Twitter here
You can look at ways of supporting the theatre via this page here

For Wiltshire Creative
You can follow the theatre on Twitter here
You can look at ways of supporting the theatre via this page here

And there’s a trailer 

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending may not be his greatest play but Tamara Harvey’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory proves most affecting in the end

“What on earth can you do on this earth but catch at whatever comes near you, with both your fingers, until your fingers are broken?”

Any project that tempts Hattie Morahan back onto the stage has to be worth checking out (qv Anatomy of a Suicide, A Doll’s House, but maybe let’s not mention The Dark Earth and the Light Sky). Orpheus Descending, a Menier Chocolate Factory & Theatr Clwyd co-production directed by Tamara Harvey, proves no exception, bolstered by the presence of the ever-excellent Jemima Rooper in the cast, plus a brooding Seth Numrich.

Orpheus… is something of a minor Tennessee Williams work (one I didn’t much enjoy when I saw it at the Royal Exchange a few years ago) but one which feels stronger here. Navigating the stifling heat and social strictures of smalltown Deep South in the 1950s, Lady seeks escape from her loveless marriage and small-minded neighbours. And in the arrival of handsome drifter Val Xavier, it seems she might have found it – doesn’t it? Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory”

TV Review: Kiri

With a cast including Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, how could Kiri be anything but good

“Stick a flake in it before you try and sell it to the tabloids will you”

Airing on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year, Jack Thorne’s Kiri was billed as a continuation of his National Treasure brand  (I managed one episode of that first series…). But any fears I had of not liking it were assuaged by a cast led by Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, plus this far down the line, I’d heard enough good things about it to finally get round to watching. 

Set in Bristol, Kiri follows the abduction of a young black girl – Kiri – in the foster care system, as she is allowed a meeting with her birth grandparents in advance of her adoption by a white middle-class family. Her social worker Miriam has arranged this unorthodox meeting and sure enough, the proverbial hits the fan when she gets a phone call to say she has gone missing. Continue reading “TV Review: Kiri”

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre

Some of the beauty of Flowers for Mrs Harris gets lost at Chichester Festival Theatre but it remains a striking new musical

“It’s a work of art… something not real, made to make you feel”

I had much love for Flowers for Mrs Harris when it premiered in Sheffield a couple of years ago, and so I was delighted to see Daniel Evans deciding to revive it at his new abode over in Chichester. My only cavil came with the placing of this most heartfelt musical in the vast space of the Festival Theatre rather than the intimacy of the Minerva where it might perhaps have been better served.

So much of the beauty of the show (book by Rachel Wagstaff from Paul Gallico’s novel, music & lyrics by Richard Taylor) comes from the fact that it isn’t a bells and whistles epic. It is something far more subtle that truly celebrates the ordinary in extraordinary, as Clare Burt’s charlady Ada Harris dares to dream of owning a Christian Dior dress and in working to achieve that dream, illuminates the lives of those around her.

Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Quiz, Noël Coward

Whether you get to make your West End debut or not, James Graham’s Quiz is great fun at the Noël Coward Theatre

“It’s a 50:50 – guilty or not-guilty”

It’s taken me a little while to get around to seeing James Graham’s Quiz but it proved more than worth it as this particular matinée was undoubtedly enhanced by the West End debut of…me and my Aunty Jean! Treading the boards of the Noël Coward Theatre was an unexpected bonus to a highly enjoyable afternoon, and I look forward to the next role that Mr Graham creates for me…

But back to the matter at hand. Transferring over from Chichester, Quiz takes a cock-eyed look at the world of light entertainment, and the way in which ‘constructed reality’ has bled into the larger narrative not just of our television, but of our society. Using the ‘coughing major’ scandal of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as a jump-off point, we dive into meaty notions of truth and justice in a media-dominated age. Continue reading “Review: Quiz, Noël Coward”

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible

“There is more to life than you ever knew, than you ever dreamed,”

Sheffield feels the right place for Flowers for Mrs Harris to come into bloom, its delicately understated charm and musicality making this a world away from the brash, cut-throat commercialism of West End musicals. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see this show come down to the capital, for it does deserve such wider attention, but rather to celebrate the creation and nurturing of musical theatre from all parts of the country, a recognition of a theatrical ecology that thrives far beyond the M25.

Daniel Evans’ artistic directorship of Sheffield Theatres, which ends with this production, has been a key part of that over the last few years and it is pleasing to see that his presence in the overall picture will continue as he departs for Chichester Festival Theatre. As for now, we get a gorgeous piece of unmistakably British musical theatre that is as heart-warming and tear-jerking as they come, a tenderly sentimental exploration of far-fetched dreams and earthily real friendships. Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible”

Review: King John, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Mad world! mad kings! mad composition!”

One of the terms most overused by reviewers and publicity writers alike is “timely revival” and this production of King John is no different, coinciding with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta as it has processed on a mini-candelit-tour of Temple Church and Holy Sepulchre Church Northampton ahead of this run at the Globe. But Shakespeare dropped the ball here with this play, it is no surprise in the watching that it is one of his lesser-performed works and though James Dacre’s production has its bright spots, it can’t cover all of its inherent weaknesses.

Dacre heavily plays up the religious aspects of the play and whilst you can see the logic for the sacred venues and the atmosphere that the candlelight would have created, it’s less easy to see how it works as well at a sunny matinée in the open air on Bankside. Jonathan Fensom’s design imposes a red cross of a stage into the space and fills it with monks, but religion is only part of the story of John’s travails and weighting the emphasis so heavily here doesn’t seem to make a huge deal of dramatic sense (though I freely admit to not knowing the play at all well). Continue reading “Review: King John, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Re-review: Urinetown, Apollo

“When a young girl has as many lines as I do, there’s still hope for dreams”

Though Urinetown’s run at the St James Theatre was very well-received (including here by yours truly), I have to profess to being a little surprised that a West End transfer was announced. The quirky nature of the show didn’t immediately seem to lend itself to one of the larger houses but without any mid-sized theatres in town, there’s no choice but to supersize when in reality, an extended run at the St James would have been ideal. It was sad to see the house so quiet for this midweek matinée and the run has now been shortened by a couple of weeks to allow My Night With Reg to move in so perhaps it was too hard a sell but Jamie Lloyd’s production certainly has much going for it. A few thoughts follow.

It’s nice to see a company supporting its own rather than parachuting in a ‘name’ for the sake of ticket sales and so Richard Fleeshman is replaced as the show’s hero Bobby Strong by Matthew Seadon-Young who has been there from the beginning. And likewise Julie Jupp and Alasdair Buchan will be stepping up to step into the shoes of Jenna Russell and Marc Elliott when they leave at the end of November – it’s a natural and brilliant progression route and it something that should definitely be encouraged. (Naturally the show isn’t immune to economic realities and so it is Phill Jupitus who will be coming in for Simon Paisley Day, an interesting choice but as I’ve never seen him on stage one I’m a little unsure about.) Continue reading “Re-review: Urinetown, Apollo”

Review: Richard III, Trafalgar Studios

“Now is the winter of our discontent”

Like an addict that really should know better, I held out from seeing Richard III for the longest time, safe in the informed knowledge that I most probably wouldn’t like it. But sure enough when a ticket became available for the final matinée performance, off I obediently trotted to that most uncomfortable of theatres Trafalgar Studios for the latest instalment in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season. And guess what, I didn’t like it.

Clearly my opinions had already been shaped by friends and colleagues reassuring me it really wouldn’t be my cup of tea but the lure of a good cast is always strong and in some respects, this was true. Gina McKee’s defiant Queen Elizabeth, Jo Stone-Fewing’s oleaginous Buckingham, Maggie Steed’s mad Queen Margaret all emerge with credit but in the title role, Martin Freeman is much more of a debit, offering up a decent enough performance but one lacking any real gravitas. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Trafalgar Studios”