Review: Queer Theatre – Bent, National

 

#4 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
 
“I love you… What’s wrong with that?”
 
Perhaps one of the better known of these plays but still a new one to me, I really wasn’t prepared for the emotional trauma of Martin Sherman’s Bent whether I was hungover to fuck or not. Harrowing is barely the word to describe this dramatisation of the way in which the Nazis persecuted gay men in Germany before and during World War II and with this reading, directed by Stephen Daldry, taking place on Pride weekend, its impact was all the more emotional. 
 
Russell Tovey (continuing his graduation into a properly fine actor) and George Mackay took on the lovers Max and Rudy, their coming together in the hedonism of Weimar Berlin shattered by the dawning of the Night of the Long Knives, the realisation of just how insidious the Third Reich is, and the astonishing lengths that people will go to in order to protect themselves at the expense of all they hold dear.

Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Bent, National”

National Theatre unveils Queer Theatre event series

Not content with reviving the landmark drama Angels in America, the National Theatre will mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales by staging its first Queer Theatre event series from 6th – 10th July 2017.

A group of world class actors and directors will look at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings and post-show discussions in the Lyttelton Theatre. And looking at the list of readings announced below, it’s good to see a diversity of sexualities being represented and I hope that the rest of the programme continues to explore LBT+ lives as well as the G. Continue reading “National Theatre unveils Queer Theatre event series”

Re-review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward

“Everyone loves a bit of filth” 

I really enjoyed Mrs Henderson Presents when I saw it last year in Bath, it came 13th out of all the shows I saw in 2015, so I was most delighted to hear that it would be transferring into the West End. It managed the journey with its main cast almost entirely intact, Tracie Bennett, Ian Bartholomew and Emma Williams all there, just Mark Hadfield dipping out to (re)join The Painkiller and replaced by Jamie Foreman, and its opening at the Noël Coward Theatre has been largely very well received. 

And second time around, it pleased me just as much as the first. Terry Johnson’s direction of this ineffably British show (as with Andy Capp, playing the spoons is up there with the Union Jack) and from my memory, I don’t think that much has significantly changed (though I’ve seen a lot in the intervening 7 months…). That means that the shonky narrator/compere role is still there, which still wears thin quickly, but it also means that its generosity of spirit and warmth of heart is very much present.  Continue reading “Re-review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward”

Review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Theatre Royal Bath

“Where’s that damn woman?”

That woman is of course Laura Henderson, a rich widow who in 1937 decides to save the Windmill Theatre from closure and together with Jewish entrepreneur Vivian Van Damm, introduces a continuous variety revue called Revudeville. And seeking to keep their nose ahead of their competitors, nudity is added to the bill, a la Moulin Rouge though unprecedented in the UK, but the censorship battles with the Lord Chamberlain’s office pales into insignificance once war breaks out and the theatre becomes a landmark, refusing to close even as London is battered by the Blitz. 

Terry Johnson’s book for Mrs Henderson Presents wisely adapts Martin Sherman’s screenplay from the film of the same name to create a more tightly encapsulated world centred on the backstage lives of the theatre folk. It dives straight into the main story from the outset and switches things about just enough to keep anyone familiar with the film on their toes. And George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s score dances around the period beautifully, pastiche songs evoking the 30s spirit perfectly with a smattering of vaudevillean fun here and driving musical theatre anthems there, always remaining tuneful.  Continue reading “Review: Mrs Henderson Presents, Theatre Royal Bath”

DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents

 “I’m bored with widowhood”

As the aristocratic Lady Conway, Thelma Barlow’s amusing run through the options open to a rich widow of nearly 70 sets up Mrs Henderson Presents succinctly in its opening moments – Laura Henderson pricks her thumb trying embroidery as a hobby and bristles at the snobbery of the ladies who run charities for the deserving and so is left to spend money as she sees fit, alighting on the derelict Windmill Theatre which she purchases in a moment of inspiration as she passes in her car. Martin Sherman’s script is based on the true story of this woman who became an unlikely theatrical impresario and in director Stephen Frears’ hands, Judi Dench delivers a heart-warmingly cracking performance at the centre of a lovely film.

Set in the late 1930s, the story follows Laura as she and her theatre manager, Bob Hoskins’ cantankerous but inspired Vivian van Damm, set up a continuous variety revue called Revudeville and trying to keep ahead of a market full of copycats, they introduce still tableaux of female nudity into the show which becomes a roaring success. The onset of war casts a heavy shadow though and whilst the show continues, providing much needed entertainment and respite, as the bombs fall on London, the determination that the show must go on puts everyone in serious peril. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents”

Review: Passing By, Finborough

“You’d better show up.
‘Don’t worry I will, you’ve got my wine’”

Marking its first production in London in over 35 years, the Finborough has revived Martin Sherman’s 1972 play Passing By for a very limited run. Steven Webb’s Toby is a neurotic New Yorker, a complete klutz who’s making ends meet working in a wine shop as his artistic career stagnates. A chance encounter with former Olympic diver Simon, a lithe Alex Felton, in a cinema leads to a one-night stand but the fast-moving world of the big city, a rare spark of connection means their relationship develops into the potential for something more as something unique is shared. Exactly what is shared though is a little unexpected, with consequences that keep the pair together for some considerable time, and so what unfolds is a delicately gentle encounter between two souls each looking for something more.

On first appearance they are a totally mis-matched couple: Toby’s highly strung Woody Allen-esque persona rubs up, in more than one way, against the physical über-confidence of his far-hotter lover, but as they each begin to let their guard down, we see that even Simon has his own issues too. And over the course of the single act, Sherman has his characters dance ever closer to the possibilities of real connection through the comic haze of their enforced circumstances. Continue reading “Review: Passing By, Finborough”

Review: Onassis, Novello Theatre

“I knew he was a pirate, I didn’t know he was a gangster”

Onassis is a play by Martin Sherman based on material from the book Nemesis by Peter Evans, which was originally produced under the title Aristo at Chichester two years ago. It covers the last 12 years of the life of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis as he wooed and married Jackie Kennedy, flirted with Maria Callas, sailed on his yacht, made shady deals with the likes of the Palestinians which may or may not have been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Bobby Kennedy.

Robert Lindsay plays the central role who dominates everything whether in his personal life or his business affairs and consequently commands the stage almost entirely through the evening with his a foul-mouthed, twinkle-toed massively-larger-than-life performance that at times rises above the limitations of the material. As unfortunately Sherman has made little attempt to tell a story here, what we end up with is a torrent of information and an unchanging presentation of a rich man, even the most tragic of events have little emotional impact since there’s no extra dimension or depth to proceedings aside from an overused continuing reference to the Greek gods. Continue reading “Review: Onassis, Novello Theatre”

Review: Bent, Tabard

“I love you…what’s wrong with that?”

Andrew Keates’ production of Martin Sherman’s play Bent was a big success at the Landor Theatre earlier in the year and so its transfer to the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick makes sense. Both spaces share an intimacy that feels appropriate to the intense emotion of the play and Keates is clearly attuned to the full range of human experience that lovers Max and Rudy are forced to go through. In 1930s Berlin, the pair flee persecution after witnessing a murder but when the Nazis catch up with them, they’re shipped off to Dachau.

What follows is an exploration of just how viciously homosexuals were treated by the Nazi regime and a testament to the immense spirit shown by those who were unfortunate enough to be oppressed. This lends the Dachau scenes an air of slight unreality, almost of idealism, but it is one that is indubitably well-earned as these men search for the tiniest bit of tenderness, humanity, even love, in the most horrendous of surroundings. The brutality of Freya Groves’ design of barbed wire and swastikas never lets us forget where we are though.

Russell Morton as Max is simply superb, tracing the journey from carefree gay abandon to appalled helplessness , full of love and pain as the gravity of the situation slowly becomes apparent. Steven Butler’s Rudy is deliberately more grating, his giddy youthfulness unable to resist the rough, working class charms of David Flynn’s Horst in the camp, but we’re never in any doubt as to the private pain underneath the brash public persona. Bent is brutal but brilliant, this production serves it as well as any possibly could.