Review: Guys and Dolls, Crucible

Robert Hastie’s production of Guys and Dolls brings all kind of Christmas cheer at the Crucible Theatre

“Call it dumb, call it clever
Ah, but you can get odds forever”

There’s a touch of the predictable about going for a classic like Guys and Dolls as your Christmas musical, but can you blame Sheffield Theatres when its a stone-cold classic like this. And even if I’ve seen it fair few times in recent years (Royal Exchange, West End, Chichester), its joyous spirit is one which is hard to resist.

And that spirit is in fine evidence in Robert Hastie’s exuberant production at the Crucible. In Kadiff Kirwan’s highly personable Sky Masterson and Alex Young’s pleasingly self-assured Sarah Brown, and Martin Marquez’s Nathan Detroit and Natalie Casey’s Miss Adelaide, it has a cracking central quartet who have no problem in whisking us away from our troubles, if only for a couple of hours. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Crucible”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

South West London Law Centres, a charity that provides specialist legal advice in social welfare law for people who cannot afford to pay privately for a lawyer, are holding a comedy fundraiser event, Jokes For Justice, on February 23rd 2017 at The Bedford Pub, Balham. Nish Kumar, Jonny and The Baptists and Sophie Willan will be performing on the night to help raise funds to continue their work across South West London. After the devastating legal aid cuts of 2013, our income has been slashed by over 40% and ten other Law Centres have already closed down – funds are desperately needed to support access to justice for those most in need within our communities.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Albion, Bush Theatre

“They killed your sister. They took over your karaoke night”

Chris Thompson had a big success with his first play Carthage at the Finborough Theatre which was a… WHY WHY WHY DELILAH. And now his follow-up play Albion has opened at the Bush…. SWING IT SHAKE IT MOVE IT MAKE IT WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE. It’s a bit of a challenging work as it plays with traditional structure to incorporate the fine art of karaoke as a storytelling device…HERE COMES THE HOTSTEPPER, MURDERER…(well, sometimes, and then sometimes it is just karaoke)…NAA NANANANAA NANANANAA NANANAA NANANAA NANANANAAA into its tale of how an extremist right-wing group takes root in an East End boozer.

In an interview about the show, dramaturg Rob Drummer speaks of how “the rise of the far right needs to be understood now more than ever” but it is never abundantly clear how this chosen format is an appropriate or effective one to enable such understanding. As you can see from the opening paragraph, it can be a little disarming to have characters break out into song in the middle of conversations, especially when there is a tenuous link at best but more frustrating is the lack of consistency in the way in which music is used. The interpolation of ‘The Rose’ into a key scene is a genuinely moving moment and with its verses scattered through the company, ‘Seven Nation Army’ becomes a brutally effective rallying call. Continue reading “Review: Albion, Bush Theatre”

Review: In The Next Room, or the vibrator play, St James Theatre

“Your mouth is dry, and you lick your lips, and your face makes an ugly expression…”

Even its very title seems designed to shock – In The Next Room, or the vibrator play – but truth is that Sarah Ruhl’s play, seen in Bath last year, does little to hit the spot or indeed do much to arouse much attention. A lengthy exploration of the arrival of portable electronic devices for the treatment of women’s…hysteria, Ruhl eschews the chance of delving into the ins and outs of medicine of the time, the elusiveness of genuine understanding of female biology, or the quivering anticipation of the explosive social change on the horizon, and plumps instead for a bog-standard sex farce based on marital relations.

And for all that it is filled with the moans and groans of female (and male) “paroxysms” – Flora Montgomery’s Mrs Daldry charged with the thankless tasks of producing the vast majority of them – it is a curiously sexless enterprise. The focus remains instead on the disappointments of the marital bed, as Jason Hughes’ Dr Givings – the inventor of the new-fangled device – finds more satisfaction in treating his increasingly eager patients than connecting with his own wife, Natalie Casey’s pinched Catherine, and Mrs Daldry is happier with her doctor than has ever been with her own husband.

Ruhl takes a long time to say very little and though Laurence Boswell’s production has inspired moments of sprightliness, they are too far between. That said, Ed Bennett is great casting as a liberated artist keen to experience what all the fuss is about, Sarah Woodward is criminally under-employed as a nursing assistant and Madeline Appiah finds the rare moments of genuine insight as the wet-nurse who has to try and keep the wheels on the Givings’ family harmony. But it’s not particularly clever, or sexy or shocking, one should look elsewhere for satisfaction. I like the idea of Tuesday matinees though.


Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 4th January

Winners of the 2013 What’s On Stage Awards

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic
Billie Piper – The Effect, Headlong at the National, Cottesloe
Hattie Morahan – A Doll’s House at the Young Vic
Jill Halfpenny – Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Wyndham’s
Julie Walters – The Last of the Haussmans at the National, Lyttelton
Sally Hawkins – Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs & Duke of York’s

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss at Hampstead
Adrian Lester – Red Velvet at the Tricycle
David Haig – The Madness of George III at the Apollo
David Suchet – Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National, Cottesloe
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night & Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe & the Apollo Continue reading “Winners of the 2013 What’s On Stage Awards”

2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic
Billie Piper – The Effect, Headlong at the National, Cottesloe
Hattie Morahan – A Doll’s House at the Young Vic
Jill Halfpenny – Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Wyndham’s
Julie Walters – The Last of the Haussmans at the National, Lyttelton
Sally Hawkins – Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs & Duke of York’s

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss at Hampstead
Adrian Lester – Red Velvet at the Tricycle
David Haig – The Madness of George III at the Apollo
David Suchet – Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National, Cottesloe
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night & Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe & the Apollo Continue reading “2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: 9 to 5 The Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

“It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”

With a score that incorporates both songs from her back catalogue and newly penned numbers by Dolly Parton and a book from Patricia Resnick, one of the co-writers of the film on which it based which also featured Parton’s screen debut, there was little danger of 9 to 5 The Musical ever veering too far from the template which saw it become a cinematic success. But though its crowd-pleasing adherence to the film brings a definite feel-good factor, which is best characterised by the effervescent opening rendition of the title song, it also imposes limits on just how successful a piece of musical theatre it can be.  

It’s 1979 and the office of Consolidated Companies, typical of most workplaces at the time, is a bearpit for the female of the species. But the tide is changing and as three women in this particular environment come together in the face of sexist adversity and an inadvertent deployment of some rat poison, an alternative way of running the company springs to mind and suggests that the future might not be so grim after all.  Continue reading “Review: 9 to 5 The Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Re-review: Abigail’s Party, Wyndhams

“Our nation’s culture. Not something you can actually read, of course.”

There’s something mildly amusing about the above quote, which refers to Shakespeare by the way, given the Bardathon currently going on at the Globe and beyond and it is one that I didn’t pick up the first time I saw Abigail’s Party. I’d never seen it before despite the Alison Steadman version being a cult classic and so the whole show was a revelation to me, especially in how dark it was given I’d assumed it was more of a comedy. That original review from this production’s original run at the Menier Chocolate Factory can be read here but it has now made the leap into the West End at the Wyndhams where it will run for the summer after it sold out at the Menier.

I don’t really have much more to add about the show second time round, except to say that the Wyndhams is a great fit for it, the sense of intimacy is still there as Beverly’s living room occupies a letterbox set on the larger stage and has brought with it all the beautifully observed period details. Performances remain sharp across the board, Natalie Casey really is excellent as the gin-soaked Ange, Andy Nyman oozes unreconstructed machismo as Laurence and Jill Halfpenny sweeps all before her as the acidic Beverly. Continue reading “Re-review: Abigail’s Party, Wyndhams”

Review: Abigail’s Party, Menier Chocolate Factory

“We’ve got whiskey, gin, vodka, whatever you like”

Whisper it quietly, but I’ve never actually seen Abigail’s Party. I came to Mike Leigh rather late and carrying so much cultural baggage and expectation with it, it’s never been a film I’ve felt a particular inclination to take in. So when the Menier Chocolate Factory announced it was producing a revival of the play, it didn’t really register on my radar of things that I needed to see. But excellent word-of-mouth and general expressions of shock that I’d never seen it before encouraged me to book a ticket when a chance visit to the theatre’s website offered up a return for sale.

Jill Halfpenny takes on Beverly, the role iconically made famous by Alison Steadman (I know that much at least) and though it is her outrageous ‘fantasticness’ that forms a large part of the play and the excruciating comedy it contains, it remains thoroughly a Mike Leigh piece at heart. So painful marital discord abounds and if the prevailing tone is comedic, it is piercingly dark and cutting. For someone watching it for the first time, I didn’t find it half as funny as nearly everyone around me. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: The Invisible Man, Menier Chocolate Factory

“There’s something wrong with this…”

The Invisible Man is the Menier Chocolate Factory’s winter offering this year, following on from a healthy run of transfers including Sweet Charity, A Little Night Music and La Cage aux Folles. The main plot is taken from HG Wells’ story of a strange man swathed in bandages who arrives at a small village pub to take a room. It emerges that he is a scientist and a victim of an experiment gone wrong that has rendered him invisible and is seeking peace and quiet in order to come up with a cure. But the nosy villagers drive him mad and he snaps, seeking world domination instead. It has the makings of a chilling sci-fi story but wrapped up in an Edwardian music hall setting as it is here by Ken Hill, with Pierrot-based clown songs creating a vaudevillian mood as the ‘players’ perform the story as above, but full of a broad nudge-nudge-wink-wink bawdiness.

The music hall framing just seemed like an excuse to shoehorn in a song or two, as if the Menier couldn’t quite put on a Christmas show that didn’t feature singing, but it was a laboured device that grated with me every time it reappeared as it served to further diminish the impact of Wells’ story. Tonally, it remained at this broad, slapstick, pratfall-heavy level throughout which I must admit raised the rare chuckle but mostly left me cold. Because there was no attempt to give the storytelling any depth, I just didn’t care about anything even when the characters were the only people preventing society from collapsing entirely (I think) and with no variety in there, it just gets so damn repetitive: there’s only so much people pretending to be punched and bum tweaks that one can take.

And though Paul Kieve’s illusions were proficiently done for a fringe venue, none of them were so spectacular in the end (though I am not sure what would have actually impressed me) and they also suffered from repetition and a lack of variety. John Gordon Sinclair’s voice was the most effective tool that this production had, along with his eerie presence on the stage (his face not revealed until the bitter end) but even the chilling aspects here were negated by an over-reliance on ostensibly spooky music which quickly grew tiresome.


But when you have quality in your cast, it can’t help but occasionally shine through and there were moments here something more was hinted at. Jo Stone-Fewings as the local aristocrat with hidden depths and Geraldine Fitzgerald as a pipe-smoking Scottish schoolteacher had a great connection together with their burgeoning relationship, Christopher Godwin was nicely droll as a jack-of-all-trades and Maria Friedman’s bawdy hostess was also well-pitched. But there was also hamminess, sometimes just about ok as in Gerard Carey’s camp vicar, but Natalie Casey’s dim maid was a screechy mess which had me cringing and I didn’t react well to Gary Wilmot’s faux bonhomie and his constant breaking of the fourth wall to remind us, as if we could forget, of the music hall setting.

It was a bit of a random decision for me to go to see The Invisible Man. I had tickets for much earlier in the run but managed to offload them to a friend so I could attend another engagement and the feedback that they and others gave led me to think I had dodged a bullet somewhat. But it is easy to have an opinion that isn’t backed up and so in some respects I am glad that I took the time to see this for myself, even if it was to confirm reports of a painfully unfunny turkey.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 13th February