An assortment of October theatre news

Full casting has been announced for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch’s upcoming production of Misfits, an innovative new hybrid of live theatre and digital content, playing 12-22 November 2020. Bookers will purchase a ticket which will allow them the choice of watching the show be performed live onstage in front of a socially
distanced audience or streamed to their homes, right up until the day of the show.

Misfits intertwines four inspirational tales of Essex resilience to make an unmissable world premiere by four of the region’s most exciting playwrights: Anne Odeke, Guleraana Mir, Kenny Emson and Sadie Hasler and will be co-directed by QTH Artistic Director Douglas Rintoul and Emma Baggott. The cast is Anne Odeke, who is also writing part of the piece, Gemma Salter, Mona Goodwin and Thomas Coombes. Continue reading “An assortment of October theatre news”

Review: The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call, National Theatre

Any opportunity to see Lesley Manville on stage should be taken but The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call proves close to a trial at the National Theatre

“We’re alive now only in the sense that moss and lichen are alive”

There’s no two ways about it – Tony Kushner’s new version of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call is a punishing evening on the buttocks. Thank the Lord (or the donors) for the relative comfort of the seating at the National Theatre but unless you’re a fan of Lesley Manville (and what right-thinking individual isn’t), it could well prove punishing on your patience too. 

Manville really is superb. She’s Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world who has returned to her dilapidated hometown with an intriguing proposition for the townsfolk. She’ll donate an incredible, life-changing amount of money for everyone if they’ll carry out a brutal act of vengeance on the man whose actions forced her to leave the place as a pregnant teenager. And she rises to the challenge, displaying a mesmerising stage presence that is startling in its power. Continue reading “Review: The Visit or The Old Lady Comes to Call, National Theatre”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:3

“Sorry I go a bit weird and wonky sometimes”

On the third day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…three cheating lovers

The Entire History of You
is the final part of the first series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and finds itself somewhere in the middle of the preceding two episodes in terms of its sci-fi/reality interface. Here, future technology has advanced so that people have ‘grains’ implanted that record memories and allow them to played back whenever but the story it is used to tell is an all-too-familiar one of human jealousy.

Toby Keggell’s Liam is an unhappy lawyer whose miserable state of mind after a difficult work appraisal leads him to suspect his wife, Jodie Whittaker’s Ffion, of having an affair with a former lover called Jonas, a suave Tom Cullen. It played out eerily effectively, especially in the look on people’s faces when ‘recalling’ but never really took flight into as superlative a piece of television as episodes one or two. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:3”

Review: The Secret Garden, King’s Head

“For in the earth, the charm’s at work”

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story The Secret Garden was first made into a musical in the early 1990s with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon but despite an RSC production in 2000, it remains a rarely-performed work. Aria Entertainment and Knockhardy Productions are seeking to redress that with a concert version playing Sunday and Mondays at the King’s Head Theatre Pub. The story focuses on Mary Lennox, the sole survivor of a cholera attack in her home of the British Raj who unceremoniously shipped back to her closest remaining relative, a disinterested uncle who lives in a vast stately home in Yorkshire. Initially ill-tempered and stubborn, she finds her calling in the restoration of a neglected garden which awakens not only her own good nature but the ailing spirit of her uncle and her sickly cousin Colin 

Although billed as an intimate concert, the reality of Matthew Gould’s production is closer to a semi-staged performance, a choice that has both its benefits and drawbacks. It allows a company of 18 to be utilised effectively, flowing around the small stage space and giving full voice to the sweeping harmonies of Simon’s score. But it also unnecessarily complicates matters as it introduces more elements of the show without their full context, meaning the relationships between the characters aren’t always clear, the nuances of the shifting time periods are lost, the budgetary constraints highlighted.

Which is a shame as when the focus is on the music, The Secret Garden really is an excellent production. Simon’s compositions have a graceful drama and a playful humour, akin to some of Howard Goodall’s work, and they are played exquisitely by David Keefe’s four strong band, wind instruments and cello combining beautifully. And there is excellent singing onstage too, across the board. From the earthy Yorkshire humour of Rachael McCormick’s Martha and Jordan Lee Davies’ Dickon – both names to watch out for – to the experience lent by returning original RSC cast members Amanda Goldthorpe-Hall and Freddie Davies, a vivid sense of emotion comes across from the inhabitants of the Yorkshire manor, elevating this children’s tale into something genuinely stirring.

Zoë Curlett’s Lily haunts the show with a benevolent presence and a crystalline vocal – the use of ghosts and spirits really is a fascinating part of the show, Mona Goodwin’s Ayah also impresses – and as her still-grieving widower, Alexander Evans is highly affecting with a hushed vocal wracked with guilt and pain. And in the roles of Mary and Colin which are alternated, Ana Martin and Zac Donovan came pretty close to stealing the show. Donovan’s wide-eyed charm is just lovely to watch, but there is something exceptional in Martin’s performance that makes me sure that we will be seeing much more of this actress in the future. Mary is a challenging role, onstage for large swathes of the show during which she undergoes a considerable emotional journey but Martin took it all in her stride with a confidence and professionalism that belies her 13 years. Of particular note was the way in which she sang with her various duetting partners, always closely working with them and the ensemble around her, demonstrating an impressive maturity that will surely stand her in good stead for the future.

Minor misgivings about the semi-staging aside, this production of The Secret Garden really does offer a remarkable opportunity to hear an excellent, if somewhat neglected, piece of musical theatre, delivered to an excellent standard. What one might miss in narrative clarity is more than made up for by the exhilaration of hearing such a large, un-miked company in beautiful harmony at close quarters.

Booking until 17th March

Originally written for The Public Reviews