10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: The House They Grew Up In, Minerva

“This is not only your street with only your stories”

It’s always fascinating to get the opportunity to follow a playwright’s development in real time and so it has been with Deborah Bruce. From Godchild downstairs at the Hampstead (yes, a play written by a woman there!) to The Distance at the Orange Tree, later revived by Sheffield, and now to a Headlong co-production with Chichester, this is clearly a writer moving in the right direction.

The House They Grew Up In is a difficult play to watch though, a drama focused on reclusive siblings Daniel and Peppy whose hermit-like existence in their South-East London home sees them surrounded by the accumulated detritus of everything they’ve ever owned. The arrival of the inquisitive boy from next door, seeking refuge from his own problems, threatens the equilibrium they’ve constructed though, exposing it to severe outside scrutiny like never before. Continue reading “Review: The House They Grew Up In, Minerva”

TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4

“Calm, methodical, Sunday fucking best”

There’s no two ways about it, Paul Abbott’s latest TV series has been an absolute triumph. Channel 4’s No Offence has kept me properly gripped over the last eight weeks and I’m delighted that a second series has already been commissioned as its enthralling mixture of comedy drama and police procedural has been irresistible from its opening five minutes with all its squashed-head shenanigans through to its thrilling finale which kept us on tenterhooks right til its final minutes.

Whence such success? A perfect storm of inspired casting and pin-sharp writing from Abbott and his team. Joanna Scanlan’s DI Viv Deering reinvigorates the stereotypical police boss to create a career-best character for Scanlan, her fierce loyalty played straight but her dry one-liners making the most of her comic genius. Elaine Cassidy’s DC Dinah Kowalska, the eager young copper on whom the focus settles most often, Alexandra Roach’s earnest but quick-learning DS Joy Freer completing the leads. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4”

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

Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Bush

“Remember thinking: I am quite an average man. Never thought I’d feel…”

A third visit to this play for me – Jumpers for Goalposts may have just opened at the Bush Theatre this week but this Paines Plough, Hull Truck and Watford Palace Theatre production premiered earlier this year in Watford where it utterly stole my heart and tempted me back for seconds despite the short run. Since then it has toured the UK and now ends up in the West London venue where writer Tom Wells had such success a couple of years ago with The Kitchen Sink. And in those intervening months, assisted by the intimacy of the Bush, the play has grown into something even better, even more affecting in its charming lo-fi way.

My original review says much of what I still think of the play, but I don’t think one can understate the importance of this piece of writing. The trials and tribulations of Barely Athletic, the five-a-side football team at the heart of the play are strongly, vividly portrayed, but as entirely recognisable experiences that might befall you or I. And as three of the five happen to be gay men, it holds a particular resonance for me – has a playwright ever evoked the reality of the aftermath of being gay-bashed so effectively, the mundanity of actually just having to get on with everyday life rather than focusing on the intense drama of the crime itself. Continue reading “Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Bush”

Re-review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace

“If you don’t have a go, you definitely won’t score”

One can re-read a book and re-watch a film on DVD at leisure, but the window for revisiting pieces of theatre, especially those on limited runs, is much narrower and it is a different kind of decision to make. It’s not every play that I want to see again – sometimes the best nights are ones that I don’t want to try and repeat for fear that they won’t live up to expectations – but on occasion, I leave the theatre just knowing that I have to make a return trip. It’s not something I always act on and that way leads regret – I really wish I’d gone back to Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink at the Bush Theatre so when I fell head over heels for his latest play Jumpers for Goalposts, I was determined not to make the same mistake again.

My original review can be read here and given that it was less than two weeks ago, there’s not a huge amount more to say about how much I loved it. But what made me want to come back was the detail of the writing, every scene is so rich in comic detail that it was easy to miss some absolute crackers first time round. And since James Grieve’s production is so very effective at generating the intimate banter-filled environment of this group of five people pulled together to play in the Hull Gay and Lesbian five-a-side football tournament, I found real joy in just sitting and listening these characters bounce off of each other. Continue reading “Re-review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace”

Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace Theatre

“Next season, we’re aiming for third”

Some might cite Tom Wells’ new play Jumpers for Goalposts for its slightly fantastical air and lack of serious dramatic tension, but that would be to entirely miss the point of its warm-hearted yet clear-sighted pleasures. The play follows a predominantly gay five-a-side football team –Barely United – in Hull, scraped together from a selection of misfits and gradually unwinds to reveal their reasons for signing up and the impact that being part of this team has on their lives. But though it is gentle rather than grand, it is a hugely affecting and uplifting piece of theatre that feels vitally important from a writer who genuinely can find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

In previous plays such as the tender Me, As A Penguin and the glorious The Kitchen Sink, Wells has demonstrated a gift for exploring the challenges of young gay life outside of the big cities and a serious talent for understated but highly comic writing and both are brought to bear here with great effect. Beardy Geoff splits his time between seducing the opposition and coming up with a song to win a talent show; head coach Viv wants to score revenge on the Lesbian Rovers team that kicked her out but also offer some respite to her grieving brother-in-law; and Danny, struggling to get through his coaching qualification, is entirely distracted by new arrival Luke, a painfully shy librarian. Continue reading “Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace Theatre”