The 2018 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Shortlist announced

The clocks have gone back and so it’s time to start reflecting on the year gone by. And first out of the gate in terms of the major theatre awards, the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards have released their shortlist. Winners to be announced on Sunday 18th November at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London.

The expansion to five nominees feels like a good thing, making the lists feel a little less random, but I remain piqued at the differentiation between best actor/actress in a play and best musical performance, not least since it means no-one from Hamilton or Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is up for an individual nod, and Patti LuPone and Jonny Bailey end up robbed!

But that’s the joy of these things, they’re entirely subjective even when your panel consists of Henry Hitchings, Baz Bamigboye, Mark Lawson, Sarah Crompton and Matt Wolf. And I’m liking the love for Nine Night and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, wondering whether I should have made the effort to see Translations, and pondering whether I should be re-booking for Caroline or Change


BEST ACTOR in partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group
Bryan Cranston Network, National Theatre (Lyttelton)
Ralph Fiennes Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre (Olivier)
Ian McKellen King Lear, Minerva Chichester & Duke of York’s
Colin Morgan Translations, National Theatre (Olivier)
Kyle Soller The Inheritance, Young Vic & Noël Coward Theatre

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS in partnership with Christian Louboutin
Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy Barton, Bridge Theatre
Carey Mulligan Girls and Boys, Royal Court
Cecilia Noble Nine Night, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Sophie Okonedo Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre (Olivier)
Lia Williams The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar Warehouse Continue reading “The 2018 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Shortlist announced”

Nominees for The Stage Debut Awards 2018

The Joe Allen Best West End Debut
Mohammad Amiri for The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre
Ashley Banjo for Dick Whittington at the London Palladium
Bryan Cranston for Network at the National Theatre
Michelle Greenidge for Nine Night at the National Theatre
John McCrea for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre
Kelli O’Hara for The King and I at the London Palladium
Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy for The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre
Lucie Shorthouse for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre
Aidan Turner for The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre
Adrienne Warren for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical at the Aldwych Theatre

Best Actress In A Play Sponsored by Audible
Kitty Archer for One for Sorrow at the Royal Court, London
Gemma Dobson for Rita, Sue and Bob Too at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Lorna Fitzgerald for The Shadow Factory at NST City, Southampton
Grainne O’Mahony for The Elephant Man at Bristol Old Vic

Best Actor In A Play  Sponsored by Audible
Seb Carrington for Summer and Smoke at the Almeida Theatre, London
Akshay Sharan for The Reluctant Fundamentalist at the Yard Theatre, London
Chris Walley for The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre, London
Alex Wilson for The Elephant Man at Bristol Old Vic Theatre

Best Actor In A Musical  Sponsored by Encore Radio
Will Carey for It’s Only Life at the Union Theatre, London
Louis Gaunt for Oklahoma! at Grange Park Opera, West Horsley
Toby Miles for Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre, London
Simon Oskarsson for Return to the Forbidden Planet at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London

Best Actress In A Musical Sponsored by R&H Theatricals Europe
Teleri Hughes for Spring Awakening at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
Eleanor Kane for Fun Home at the Young Vic, London
Rebecca Mendoza for Hairspray, on tour
Amara Okereke for Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre, London

Best Director  Sponsored by Smith & Williamson
Iwan Lewis for One Minute at the Barn Theatre, Cirencester
Alexandra Moxon for Wreck at Nottingham Playhouse
Oscar Pearce for Great Apes at the Arcola Theatre, London
Katy Rudd for The Almighty Sometimes at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

Best Designer Sponsored by Robe Lighting
Basia Binkowska for Devil with the Blue Dress at the Bunker Theatre, London
Khadija Raza for Hijabi Monologues, Spun, and Mixtape, at the Bush Theatre, London, the Arcola Theatre, London and the Royal Exchange, Manchester
Fin Redshaw for Pieces of String and Love Me Now at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester and the Tristan Bates Theatre, London
Jasmine Swan for HyemThe Passing of the Third Floor BackHanna and The Sleeper at Theatre503, London, the Finborough Theatre, London, the Arcola Theatre, London, and Rialto Theatre, Brighton

Best Composer or Lyricist Sponsored by Trafalgar Entertainment Group
Gus Gowland for Pieces of String at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Kate Marlais for Abandon at the Lyric Hammersmith, London
Matt Winkworth for The Assassination of Katie Hopkins at Theatr Clwyd, Mold

Best Writer  Sponsored by InterTalent Rights Group
Georgia Christou for Yous Two at Hampstead Theatre, London
Kendall Feaver for The Almighty Sometimes at the Royal Exchange, Manchester
Natasha Gordon for Nine Night at the National Theatre, London
Andrew Thompson for In Event of Moone Disaster at Theatre503, London
Joe White for Mayfly at the Orange Tree Theatre, London

Review: Nine Night, National Theatre

Ferociously funny and blisteringly intense in its depiction of a Jamaican family dealing with grief, Nine Night is a surefire success for the National Theatre – book now!

“When yuh get to Heaven, yuh see, God will deal wid yuh”

Grief is universal, but the world of Natasha Gordon’s debut play Nine Night is entirely specific. When Gloria, the grandmother of a Jamaican family passes away, her London home becomes the focus of the Nine Night ceremony, wherein the local community and family of the deceased gather to mourn the passing but also to celebrate the life with love, laughter and no small amount of rum.

But nine days of a wake can take its toll on a family under strain and here, Gordon sets up an archetypal family drama. The sibling resentful of being the one who shouldered the burden of caring, the sibling who wants to sell the house quick because of money troubles, the other half-sibling who got left behind… Plus the ever-present remnants of the older generation who never stop fussing, and a secret pregnancy to deal with, tensions just keep rising.   Continue reading “Review: Nine Night, National Theatre”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3

“There’s a line. It’s called right and wrong and I know which side my duty lies”

Well, that’s what you call a series finale! After the brilliant fake-out of Danny Waldron not being the new Tony Gates or Lindsay Denton, Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty took us further than we ever could have dared into the murky world of police corruption, weaving together story strands from all three series into an overarching conspiracy thriller that has to rank as one of the televisual highlights of the year so far.

My Episode 1 review can be found here and I won’t say much more here than to recommend you buy the DVD boxset now.


TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3 Episode 1

“We’re all in this together. Best way”

 The first two series of Line of Duty have been an unqualified success for BBC2 and Jed Mercurio and so this third series has definitely been much anticipated chez Clowns, even if I’m not Daniel Mays’ biggest fan, he being trailed as the actor to take on the Lennie James/Keeley Hawes role as the Big Bad for this series. I should warn you now that spoilers will abound in this review of the first episode!

First off, I loved it. Resisting the temptation to feckle too much, Mercurio presents a very smart spin on the familiar world of AC-12 and its attempts to snuff out corruption in the police force. This time round, we’re left in no doubt as to whether the cop did it, the taut opening sequence sees May’s Sergeant Danny Waldron lead his armed response unit on an op which ends with him shooting the suspect in the head three times execution-style and then coercing his colleagues into a cover-up. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3 Episode 1”

Review: Luce, Southwark Playhouse

“There’s a space between truth and deception that isn’t a lie”

Even in the handful of years since JC Lee (who has since gone on to write for television shows Looking, Girls and How To Get Away With Murder) initially wrote Luce in 2012, our worldview when it comes to terrorism has shifted considerably. Atrocities such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the attacks on Paris have focused fear anew about threats from both within and without our borders but it is the former on which Lee alights here. Luce was adopted at age 7 from an unspecified African country and raised by all-American couple Amy and Peter into a high-school hero complete with academic prospects and sporting prowess, so his teacher Harriet Carter is then perturbed to find cracks in the veneer.

An assignment in support of a right-wing terrorist flags her attention (no need for the Prevent strategy in the US…) and a surreptitious search of his locker reveals a stash of illegal fireworks. But conscious of the PR implications of besmirching the name of the school’s star student and problematising the perfect ideal of integration that he represents, she calls in his parents under the radar and begins a series of prevarications and half-measures to dealing with the problem. For despite his circumstances, Luce is still just a teenage boy, dealing with all of the pressures that young men face at such a critical juncture in their lives, and the perils in treating him differently soon become all too real.

In Simon Dormandy’s excellent, detailed, production, Luce acknowledges the difficulties that society has here. Jargonistic language has been evolved to let people feel better about being seen to be doing something – Harriet mentions that the school has “given him a toolkit”, Facebook-friendly Amy talks of the need to “change their parenting frequency” – but Lee never loses sight of the truth that it comes down to the decisions that we make. Harriet’s choice to treat this locker infringement differently to that of Luce’s pot-smoking friend – his scholarship dreams now in ruins – is crucial, the powerful conflict skilfully evoked by Natasha Gordon; Amy opting to forge on with blinkered determination a testament to her force of will, if not her judgement, a striking turn from a fully committed Mel Giedroyc . 

And at the heart of the maelstrom is Luce himself, his intelligence wielded as a weapon as he exploits the language of those who would accuse him for his own means, keeping everyone – including the audience – very much on their toes as to whether he’s malicious or misunderstood. Martins Imhangbe delivers a chilling performance of physical presence and psychological depth that is simply delicious in its unpredictability. There’s good support from Nigel Whitmey as his somewhat bemused father and a short but superb contribution from Elizabeth Tan as a schoolmate, her story a further investigation into the nefarious practices of teenage boys but also the problems in conflicting narratives.

Dick Bird’s intelligent design strips back superfluous detail to focus us entirely on the relationships here and mirrored panels on the back wall reflect back on how difficult it is to know whether what we’re seeing and hearing is the truth. A fascinating piece of drama for our times and a playwright to look out for, assuming he’s not now lost to the world of television.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 2nd April

Review: Untitled Matriarch Play (Or Seven Sisters), Royal Court

“Be the change you want to see in this world”

As we get closer to the end of the weekly rep season, I’d love to be able to say that the over-arching conceit of the whole affair has been revealed in a moment of stunning clarity, but instead it just trundles on as a bold experiment which has had just as many misses as it has had hits. Play number five – Nikole Beckwith’s Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters) – was closer to the former than the latter for me – a decent concept but one besmirched by an over-extended, over-worked stab at something interesting that rarely comes off.

The play begins in Nowheresville USA with Siobhan Redmond’s Lorraine gathering her ageing mother and her four-strong brood of daughters to reveal that she is going to have another baby, and this time it will be a boy. This comes as something of a surprise as Lorraine is 54, so she is employing a surrogate in the form of Angela Terence’s Sera, but her decision awakens a whole host of dissatisfactions in these women as the situation highlights the frustrations they all hold.

And when Beckwith focuses on this, she mainly succeeds. The fractious sibling relationships are a delight to behold – Debbie Chazen’s bumbag-wearing Karen fearing she’s over the hill (at 35) as the oldest, Natasha Gordon’s Mimi the most outwardly self-possessed yet still insecure about so much, and Laura Elphinstone’s Claire a neurotic, typical middle-child, forever ‘not being told anything’. Oh and the always-ignored baby of the family, Farzana Dua Elahe’s Beckah. All single and childless, their mother’s choice forces them to confront the state of their lives and how they all feel out of sorts with each other and the world around them.

But the playwright isn’t satisfied with this, and so introduces a deconstructive note of fourth-wall-breaking which blights some of the monologues that are sprinkled throughout the play and in one case, stops it dead with a bizarre excursion into the auditorium. Combined with a flabbiness about the script that means it drags on for considerably longer than it really needs to, Vicki Featherstone’s production struggled to maintain its bright start and ultimately left me disappointed. Anna Calder-Marshall’s drily perceptive Grandma Sylvie gets many of the best lines and there’s a piñata that has to be seen to be believed, but it just isn’t enough.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 13th July

Review: Death Tax, Royal Court

“You’ve made up, in your head, a whole story about it”

Round two for the Royal Court’s six-week weekly rep sees Lucas Hnath’s Death Tax getting the intensive treatment of being put together in just a week, for a short run in the downstairs theatre. An ambitious project to be sure and one which got off to a challenging start last week with The President Has Come To See You, but this feels like firmer territory both in terms of stronger writing and a surer grasp from the company on the material. It may be as simple as the fact that I saw the first play earlier in the week than the second but the rough and ready approach seems better suited here.

Maxine is an 80 year old resident of a Florida nursing home and she thinks the world is out to get her, convinced that her daughter has paid her nurse to speed up her demise in order to beat a change in inheritance tax law. So she makes the nurse a counter-offer, a big pay-out if she stays alive until after the deadline. But with her health declining, all bets are off as to whether she will make it, assisted or otherwise, and Hnath shrewdly probes the motivations that push us to make the kind of morally questionable decisions that his characters face.

This he does through a carefully constructed series of scenes which constantly test our preconceptions and assumptions as what we know is turned on its head and each viewpoint given a fully realised turn on the soapbox. There’s a strong gift for dialogue here and a fascinating insight into human nature that is serviced well by the plot – Hnath’s head clearly brimming with ideas, perhaps overly so where the last scene and its big curveball are concerned.

But John Tiffany’s production felt punchy and strong and has been cast extremely well from within the company. Anna Calder-Marshall, having a richly prolific year thus far, is excellent as Maxine and Siobhan Redmond makes a convincing daughter with her enigmatic motives. And Natasha Gordon as the nurse Tina also excels at playing the shades of grey between right and wrong, dragging in her kindly doctor ex/doormat into her scheme, Sam Troughton in rather adorable form. 

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 22nd June

Review: The Low Road, Royal Court

“You do compete for the good opinion of society, do you not?”

*This review is a bit spoilerific so don’t read on if you don’t want aspects of the play, and others, to be revealed to you* 

When people ask me to describe the plot of a play, I almost always end it with “…and then the aliens arrive” because that’s the way my mind works and generally speaking, it’s a safe assumption that the playwright won’t have gone there. So imagine my surprise when they actually arrived in the second act of Salad Days, it was like all my Christmases at once and because of the daffy silliness of the whole shebang, it was able to pull it off. Working in similarly offbeat surprises into straight drama is perhaps a more difficult job though and one which arguably has to work harder to make a success of it.

The scope of Bruce Norris’ new play The Low Road would seem to preclude the need for such an approach. A sprawlingly epic trawl through the growth of our (western) economic system told through the fable-like tale of Jim, an entrepreneurial young man roaming through an 18th century America whose single-minded financial knowledge and ambition prefigures the capitalist mind-set that is so familiar to us today. A post-interval modern-day interlude draws explicit parallels and connections between the actions and attitudes of now and then to reinforce its main thesis about the triumph of individualism. Oh, and there’s an epilogue.

My previous experience of Norris’ writing (limited to Clybourne Park and Purple Heart) has seen him conceive tensely coiled dramas spilling out of the domestic sphere but this is altogether grander and is somewhat reminiscent of the jump in Mike Bartlett’s work (comparing say, Cock to 13) both in the expansion of his viewpoint but also in the bagginess that has accompanied his arguments in the leap. For this is a overlong piece and one which rarely justifies the length of its set pieces – most often interminable discussions on some element of economic or financial theory over various dinner tables – or indeed its excursions into the unconventional.

It is clear from the off that the playwright is toying with the form a little, assisted by Dominic Cooke, directing what is his swansong as he prepares to leave the Artistic Directorship of this theatre. The first figure we see is Bill Paterson who takes on the role of noted economist Adam Smith who is the narrator of the story; Brechtian captions are carried across the stage to move us from location to location as the pieces of Tom Pye’s deconstructed design are pieced and repieced together; the G8-style panel discussion sees an entirely different shift in tone as the already hard-working ensemble take on yet another role in the giddy whirl of characters populating this world.

But it feels largely overindulgent and somewhat ineffective for all the effort it expends. The arguments of the play, as already mentioned, are extremely drawn out, killing any sense of pace that might be built up and little sense of purpose ever really emerges from the writing. The sharp edge of his wit never really comes through and instead some scenes are laced with almost Tarantino-esque levels of provocation over race or disability which bait audiences rather than helping them to explore these issues. 

Casting-wise lot will hinge on one’s own opinion of Johnny Flynn as he plays the main protagonist Jim with a whiny truculence and petulance (albeit an amusingly anachronistic profanity) that I found extremely hard to watch – not all of it felt like acting… And though there is good work all around him – the ever-reliable Ian Gelder and John Ramm, a resolute Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, an impassioned Ellie Kendrick and a genuinely hilarious Elizabeth Berrington “did anyone have the halibut?” – the constituent parts never coalesce into a satisfying whole. Those hoping for smooth passage along The Low Road may find a rocky path instead, but this should not diminish the many and considerable achievements that have characterised Cooke’s tenure at this theatre.

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)

Playtext cost: £3
Booking until 11th May       

Review: Red Velvet, Tricycle

“It’s like being at a crosswords”

Indhu Rubasingham keeps it in the family with her opening salvo as Artistic Director at the Tricycle as Lolita Chakrabarti’s first play Red Velvet features her husband Adrian Lester in the main role. But her tale of the experiences of Ira Aldridge, a nineteenth-century African-American actor who caused shockwaves with his performances, offers an intriguing preview of sorts as Lester will be taking on the role of Othello for the National Theatre next year.

For Aldridge was a Shakespearean actor of some renown who toured Europe with many productions and the opening of the play sees him preparing to take on the role of King Lear in a Polish theatre. He’s being interviewed by a journalist about the key moment in his career though, a disastrous attempt to take on the role of Othello which was received with horrific racism (a man blacking up to take on the role was infinitely more preferable) and distaste from nearly all around.

It is a horrendously fascinating subject: Aldridge stepped in for an ailing Edmund Kean at a time when slavery was still a booming trade and the proposed Abolition of Slavery Act was causing rioting in the streets. And inside the theatre there’s unrest too as no-one is happy about a black man taking on the role, least of all Kean’s son Charles who had his own eye on the role as it would have meant playing opposite his wife Ellen as Desdemona.

Performance-wise, Red Velvet is undoubtedly excellent. Lester simmers with frustrated rage as the older Eldridge and brims with magnetic charisma as the younger, capturing the more expansive acting style of the time with enough brio to suggest the innate strength of the actor beneath. Ryan Kiggell’s Charles is a richly comic picture of entitled pomposity abd I loved Charlotte Lucas’ Ellen, especially in her charged scenes as Desdemona.

But I had more problems with Chakrabarti’s writing. Her use of language is frequently anachronistic here, constantly jarring the attention from the nineteenth century setting. Whether this is intentional (an attempt to draw parallels to modern society) or not (perhaps just first-time niggles), it feels misguided and thus worked oddly counter to the interests of the play, as far as I saw it anyway.  

Running time: 2 hours 20

Booking until 24th November