Full list of 2018 UK Theatre Awards winners

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour and celebrate outstanding achievements in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have just announced the winners for the 2018 awards, which include a well-deserved Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre for Maxine Peake – take a look at her acceptance speech here. 

Continue reading “Full list of 2018 UK Theatre Awards winners”

Review: One Hand Tied Behind Us, Old Vic

A stirring and compelling evening of monologues exploring women’s rights – Maxine Peake curates One Hand Tied Behind Us at the Old Vic Theatre in London

“No cause can be won between dinner and tea, and most of us who were married had to work with one hand tied behind us”

That quote comes from English suffragette Hannah Mitchell, from The Hard Way Up: The Autobiography of a Suffragette, and provided the titular inspiration for One Hand Tied Behind Us, an evening of monologues at the Old Vic curated by Maxine Peake and conceived by Matthew Warchus. 

Using the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act as a springboard – and acknowledging that while it granted the first women in Britain the right to vote, many more remained disenfranchised – five writers were commissioned to respond to the anniversary, to take stock of the journey so far, where we are now, how much further there still is to go. Continue reading “Review: One Hand Tied Behind Us, Old Vic”

News: Old Vic bicentenary ambassadors announced

How do you mark a significant birthday? My parents are currently (jointly) turning 140 and are celebrating the occasion with a six month program of events, peaking with an all-day party happening very soon. But if you’re the Old Vic and you’re turning 200, you open your contacts and see who is free.

Turns out a fair few people are, and so their list currently includes Nikki Amuka-Bird, Sheila Atim, John Boyega, Cate Blanchett, Bertie Carvel, Kim Cattrall, Lily Cole, Alan Cumming, Judi Dench, Michelle Dockery, Rupert Everett, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, David Harewood, Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones, Cush Jumbo, Ben Kingsley, Pearl Mackie, Helen McCrory, Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy, Anika Noni Rose, Maxine Peake, Mark Rylance, Andrew Scott, Tom Stoppard, Stanley Tucci and Julie Walters.

Continue reading “News: Old Vic bicentenary ambassadors announced”

2016 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Juliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary Stuart
It couldn’t really be anyone else could it. Mary Stuart was my play of the year and the stellar combination of Stevenson and Williams was a huge part in that, a pair of extraordinary performances (or should that be a quartet…) that burst with life from the circular stage of the Almeida. I’ve seen it twice and I’m definitely thinking about going again.

Honourable mention: Uzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The Maids
As murderous sisters Claire and Solange, I simply adored this pairing and am a little surprised they – and the production – haven’t received more love in the end-of-year lists and awards season. Fiercely uncompromising with every sweep of the broom, I couldn’t split them if I tried either.

Gemma Arterton, Nell Gwynn
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Harriet Walter, The Tempest

Kirsty Bushell/Ruth Wilson, Hedda Gabler/Hedda Gabler, Lesley Manville, Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Billie Piper, Yerma

Best Actress in a Musical

Jenna Russell, Grey Gardens
One of the first shows I saw in 2016 and from the moment Russell opened the second act with the hysterical ‘The Revolutionary Costume for Today’, I knew that this category was a lockdown. Her casting in as Michelle Fowler in Eastenders came as a surprise and I can’t help but be gutted that we’ve lost her to the world of television but hopefully it won’t be too long before she’s gracing our stages once more. STAUNCH!

Honourable mention: Clare Burt, Flowers for Mrs Harris
Whereas the likes of Amber Riley gets notices for belting the house down, there’s an entirely different skill-set being masterfully used by the likes of Burt that is equally emotionally devastating. A performance full of gorgeous restraint and natural charm that hopefully we’ll get to see again.

Samantha Barks, The Last 5 Years
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity
Cassidy Janson, Beautiful
Landi Oshinowo, I’m Getting My Act Together…

Beverley Knight, The Bodyguard; Anoushka Lucas, Jesus Christ Superstar; Scarlett Strallen, She Loves Me

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Royal Exchange

“I don’t want realism, I want magic”

The thing is, if you’re going into a Sarah Frankcom/Maxine Peake collaboration with any notion of it being traditional, then more fool you. The pair have worked together several times (notably on The Skriker and Hamlet) and are clearly interested in advancing their creative vision, undoubtedly a feminist one but equally excitingly, an utterly adventurous one. So to label their take on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire gimmicky is reductive, to bemoan its lack of specificity narrow-minded, to characterise its colour-blind casting thus a fucking disgrace. FYI Cavendish, if the actress playing Stella had been white, they still wouldn’t have been “related”, it’s called imagination.
Having got that off my chest, I should say that this is a remarkably intense Streetcar and it is one that requires dedication throughout its 3 hours+ running time, Frankcom’s key conceit taking its time to play out as Peake charts Blanche DuBois’ startling decline in the New Orleans abode of her sister Stella and her virile but violent husband Stanley. Uprooted from any over-riding sense of particular time and space, Fly Davis’ design has a strangeness that takes some getting used to, its expressionistic flourishes framing some stunning imagery. And this increasingly hallucinatory atmosphere is played up by the presence of Creole figures that haunt Blanche, floating around the edge of her consciousness more and more as her anxieties increase.
Peake makes her Blanche a harder, flinter woman than perhaps you might have seen before, a choice which has interesting dividends. It makes her a more striking figure to begin with, real grit mixed in with her Southern charm but it also mutes some of her innate tragedy which, dare I say it, is perhaps a little overplayed as the walls cave in at the end. But she is such a charismatic performer and one so attuned with the idiosyncracies of this space that you’re rarely not left in awe at her work. Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s pragmatic Stella and Ben Batt’s combustable Stanley connect perfectly with each other in their exclusionary amour fou and spark effectively off of Peake as she shows us just how Blanche’s demons intoxicate her from within. Stirring stuff.

Running time: 3 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 15th October

TV Review: Russell T Davies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“What visions have I seen”

When the RSC announced their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, surtitling it ‘A Play for the Nation’ as it tours the UK, working with amateur theatre groups across the land, they probably weren’t expecting it to be a play for the nation because somebody would be putting on another production of it every couple of weeks. Or maybe they were, it is one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays – indeed it is among my favourites as the first I ever read – and so why wouldn’t Filter bring it back to the Lyric Hammersmith, the Reversed Shakespeare Company put their own spin on it, Emma Rice opened her tenure at the Globe with it, and the Southwark Playhouse open their own version of it with Go People early next week…

For those outside of the London theatre bubble though, the opportunity to see a televised version of the play, adapted by Russell T Davies’ gay agenda and directed by David Kerr, won’t have felt like overkill. And there was much to commend in a reimagining of the play which dabbled in just a fair few changes for the most part and then decided to rip up the rulebook in a jubilant final ten minutes that will doubtless seize the headlines and rile the purists among us but regardless, managed to remain unerringly faithful to exactly how you would imagine Davies’ Dream might play out (Flute/soldier fanfic please!).

Athens has been remade as a modern fascist dictatorship with John Hannah’s Theseus treating Eleanor Matsuura’s Hippolyta as a prisoner of war, all gussied up like Hannibal Lecter in his straitjacket. From then, it all felt familiar but still freshly remade. The 80s-style make-up of the fairies led by an exemplary Maxine Peake as Titania and Nonso Anozie as Oberon; a bumptious set of Rude Mechanicals led by Elaine Paige’s Mistress Quince (including that cackle) and including Matt Lucas, Bernard Cribbins and Richard Wilson in their number; a youthful, almost schoolmate-playful, quartet of lovers. 

What pleased me the most though was the impressive amount of diversity in the cast and the complete ease with which it was essayed. None of the casting decisions felt gratuitous, the changes made felt dramatically secure (I LOVED the trolling of the Demetrius/Lysander fakeout) for the most part. And anything that gives prominent airtime to the likes of current Hamlet Paapa Essiedu (a more likeable Demetrius than usual) and theatrical upcomer Kate Kennedy (as an very good Helena) is a win for me. Yes, things were lost in the compression down to 90 minutes – I would have liked more of Hiran Abeysekera’s Puck and possibly less dancing at the end… – but such is the nature of TV adaptation, it’s always going to be different.

My one real criticism came with the sound. As has been the case with a fair few episodes of Doctor Who, the over-insistence of Murray Gold’s score, not just in the sound balance but in the placement of it too, felt extremely heavy-handed. Not just providing emotional cues where they were scarcely needed (trust your audiences directors, Shakespeare has done the work for you!), it also masked some lovely line readings – Anozie’s tremulous emotion whilst describing “oxlips and nodding violets”, Fisayo Akinade’s genuinely emotional Thisbe, this is poetry made to be celebrated, not half-heard over a swelling orchestra.

For all the gravitas of the Shakespeare Live celebration, I was glad to see that the BBC also decided to celebrate the light-hearted side of the playwright too, hopefully showing a younger, new audience that there’s nothing to be frightened of when it comes to Shakespearean language (and I’d urge them to go along to the Globe’s Dream for a contrast and compare exercise, as well as a rollicking good time too). And seriously, if you were roused to complain about a lesbian butterfly kiss, having just sat through fairy/donkey sex, just have a think about where your life has gone wrong. 


Watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream on BBC iPlayer here.

DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)

“A man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one’”
One of the main problems with the countless thinkpieces about the filming of live theatre is that they are almost always written by people who have ample opportunity to see the plays live. To talk about losing the innately unique quality of theatre unfolding before you is all too easy when you’re seeing shows pretty much every day of the week; when your own opportunities to see theatre, especially the bigger productions that tend to get filmed, are limited due to any kind of accessibility concern, it becomes a whole ‘nother ball game.

Which is a slight digression from how I intended to start this, by saying that I wonder how much of a difference it makes if you’ve seen a production live and then on screen. I’ve not done the double, as it were, on many plays, I’ve tended just to use DVD as a way to catch up on things I missed and so was a little hesitant about whether to include Sarah Frankcom’s production of Hamlet for the Royal Exchange in this collection. But boy am I glad I did, for I enjoyed immensely, possibly even more than I did at the theatre!

Margaret Williams’ direction for the screen is astutely done, capturing much of the intimacy of the in-the-round staging but also throwing in some interesting camera angles and perspectives, the bird’s-eye view being particularly well deployed for an anguished scream or two. And the intensity of Maxine Peake’s sweet Prince is magnified magnificently, her crisp accent a mastery of vocal control which contrasts sharply with the emotional roar that comes from Hamlet’s unravelling here, I was surprised at just how deeply moved I was whilst watching.
Frankcom’s strength comes from her determination to make her best Hamlet, rather than the definitive one (which is perhaps where I felt Branagh fell down a little). Barbara Marten’s emotive Gertrude, Gillian Bevan’s officious Polonia, Claire Benedict’s achingly good Player King, Michelle Butterly’s poignant Gravedigger, Thomas Arnold’s steadfast Horatio, there’s so many strong performances in this ensemble that the soul simply has to be stirred. The cleverness of Amanda Stoodley’s design choices also come to the fore again and again, making this probably the Hamlet I’ve enjoyed the most, certainly on screen and quite possibly on stage too. 

DVD Review: The Falling

“What’s a man I’ve never met got to do with all of this?”

Having cast an eye over the reviews for Carol Morley’s The Falling, I was interested to see how well it has been received by real cinephiles, their writing suffused with cinematic references to the likes of Lucrecia Martel and Lucile Hadžihalilović, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Wicker Man. I was interested because the film really turned me off, despite containing many things that I love – not least a cast with Monica Dolan and Maxine Peake and a score by Tracey Thorn, late of Everything But The Girl.

Set in 1969, The Falling concerns an outbreak of what we now call mass psychogenic illness, aka hysterical fainting at an English girls’ school. At the heart of it are best friends Lydia and Abbie, the latter’s exploration of her sexuality (namely by sleeping with the former’s brother) sparking an intensification of feeling which leads to tragedy. And as a result, an epidemic of fainting spells sweeps the school, affecting even staff, unleashing its own torrent of private truths about Lydia’s family circumstances. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Falling”

The 2015 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Actor In A Leading Role
Colin Connor in A View From The Bridge at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Rob Edwards in An Enemy Of The People at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Jonjo O’Neill in The Crucible at the Royal Exchange
Sam Swann in Pomona at the Royal Exchange

Actress In A Leading Role
Scarlett Brookes in Educating Rita at Oldham Coliseum
Barbara Drennan in A View From The Bridge and The Family Way at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Kathryn Hunter in Kafka’s Monkey at HOME
Maxine Peake in The Skriker at the Royal Exchange

Actor In A Supporting Role
David Birrell in An Enemy Of The People at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Ben Porter in Boeing Boeing at Oldham Coliseum
David Nabil Stuart in A View From The Bridge at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Tim Steed in The Crucible at the Royal Exchange

Actress In A Supporting Role
Natasha Davidson in A View From The Bridge at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Lauren Drummond in The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Anna Wheatley in The Family Way at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Ria Zmitrowicz in The Crucible at the Royal Exchange

Actor in a Visiting Production
Joe Armstrong in Constellations at The Lowry
Michael Ball in Mack and Mabel at the Opera House
Finetime Fontayne in King Lear at The Lowry
Dominic Marsh in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other Love Songs) at HOME

Actress in a Visiting Production
Louise Brealey in Constellations at The Lowry
Debbie Kurup in Anything Goes at the Opera House
Lucy O’Byrne in The Sound of Music at The Lowry
Sophie Thompson in Guys And Dolls at the Palace Theatre

Performance in a Studio Production
Alex Austin in Yen at the Royal Exchange Studio
Carla Langley in Cuddles at the Royal Exchange Studio
Sian Reese-Williams in Lungs at The Roundabout at The Lowry
Abdul Salis in Lungs at The Roundabout at The Lowry

Performance in a Fringe Production
Ben Bland in Grass at Mumps shop, Oldham
Heather Carroll in Raw at Joshua Brooks
Colin Connor in Mr. Smith at the Kings Arms, Salford
Jeni Howarth-Williams in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Kings Arms, Salford

Dreamers at Oldham Coliseum
Noises Off at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Lord of the Flies at The Lowry
Street Scene at the Royal Northern College Of Music

Educating Rita, directed by Iqbal Khan at Oldham Coliseum
An Enemy of the People, directed by David Thacker at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Rites, directed by Cora Bissett and Yusra Warsama at Contact
A View From The Bridge, directed by David Thacker at Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Visiting Production
Beryl from West Yorkshire Playhouse at The Lowry
Constellations from the Royal Court Theatre at The Lowry
John from DV8 Physical Theatre at The Lowry
Twelve Angry Men from Bill Kenwright at The Lowry

Studio Production
Cuddles at the Royal Exchange Studio
Light at the Lowry Studio
Lungs at The Roundabout at The Lowry
So Here We Are at the Royal Exchange Studio

Fringe Production
Mr. Smith at the Kings Arms, Salford
Parents Without Children at the Three Minute Theatre
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Kings Arms, Salford
We Are The Multitude at 24:7 Theatre Festival

Anything Goes at the Opera House
The Bodyguard – The Musical at the Palace Theatre
Guys And Dolls at the Palace Theatre
Mack & Mabel at the Opera House

1984 from Northern Ballet at the Palace Theatre
Flex’N Manchester for Manchester International Festival at Old Granada Studios
Lest We Forget from English National Ballet at the Palace Theatre
Tree Of Codes for Manchester International Festival at the Opera House

Cosi Fan Tutte at Clonter Opera Theatre
Giovanna d’Arco for Buxton Festival at Buxton Opera House
The Marriage of Figaro from Opera North at The Lowry
A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Royal Northern College Of Music

Inkheart at HOME
Moominland Midwinter at Waterside Arts Centre, Sale
The Oresteia at HOME
Tree Of Codes at the Opera House

New Play
Beryl by Maxine Peake at The Lowry
Nirbhaya by Yael Farber at Oldham Coliseum and Contact
The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch at the Royal Exchange
So Here We Are by Luke Norris at the Royal Exchange Studio

Special Entertainment
Inala – A Zulu Ballet, at the Palace Theatre
Ultima Vez, at The Lowry
Bridging the Gap, The Gap Theatre Project at Halle St. Peters
Moominland Midwinter, at Waterside Arts Centre, Sale

Youth Panel Award
On The Town, from RNCM Youth Perform at the Royal Northern College of Music
The Shrine of Everyday Things, from Contact Young Company at Contact
TaY Talks, from Truth about Youth at the Royal Exchange
The Wardrobe, from Octagon Youth Theatre at Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Review: Into The Woods, Royal Exchange

“Let the moment go, don’t forget it for a moment though”

As with Shakespeare, plenty of people have strong ideas about how Sondheim ‘should’ be done, so I’m always interested to see a director striking out a little to establish their own vision. Inspiration often comes from the local surroundings – memorably so with Into the Woods at the Open Air Theatre a few years back and intriguingly so with Matthew Xia’s production of the same show for the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Taking Sondheim and James Lapine’s conflation of well-known fairytales and their unseen epilogues and relocating it to a contemporary here and now, this enchanted forest may have lost a little of the overtly magical but gains plenty in an evocation of Mancunian community spirit.

It may not have been the most precisely sung version of the show I’ve ever seen but the depth of performance here with all its colour and heart more than made up for it, rooting these characters perfectly in Xia’s landscape. ‘Agony’ has indeed been camper but Marc Elliott and Michael Peavoy’s modern-day Princes make you listen to the intricacy of the lyrical references like never before, Gillian Bevan’s Witch – a woman truly released from her curse – grows in impressive vocal stature throughout the show, and Natasha Cottriall (who in the interests of full disclosure, is my mother’s cousin’s wife’s sister’s daughter) brings real pathos as well as petulance to her Little Red Ridinghood.

And at the heart of the show, there’s a beautiful account of the Baker and the Baker’s Wife from Alex Gaumond and Amy Ellen Richardson. Always the most normal of the characters with their struggles in the show, this pair heighten their everyman quality to hugely affecting effect – Gaumond’s schlub battling to come into his duties as husband and father and Richardson, as his harried partner, revelling delightfully in the attentions of a randy prince (and in those breeches, who wouldn’t?!). Rounding out the leading players, David Moorst caps off a brilliant year with a dopily charismatic take on Jack, a born comedian in his interactions with Rachel Goodwin’s Milky White puppet and strong of voice too.

Even with the fantastical dialled down, Xia doesn’t skimp on the theatrical with Amelia Cavallo’s acrobatic Cinderella’s mother and some neat work from illusionist Chris Fisher to capture the imagination, Maxine Peake’s voice booming through the theatre as the Giant and Jason Pennycooke’s movement complementing the bold sound of Sean Green’s excellent musical direction. Jenny Tiramani’s design might perhaps have done a little more to transform this in-the-round space but there’s no denying the cumulative power of the communal spirit of cast and creative here, and if you can remain dry-eyed during the emotive quartet ‘No One is Alone’ into the rousing reunion of the finale, there’s clearly something Grimm about you.

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)

Booking until 16th January