Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

Review: Tina the Musical, Aldwych Theatre

Adrienne Warren absolutely shines in Tina the Musical at the Aldwych Theatre, though the bio-musical form has its limitations here

“It gets bigger baby, and heaven knows”

Mamma Mia has a lot to answer for. The jukebox musical is clearly the legacy project that people are looking to once music stars have retired or disbanded (or not even then, in some cases). But whether they take a fictional route (a la Viva Forever or Son of a Preacher Man) or go bio-musical (a la All Or Nothing), it really isn’t easy to make it work that well. 

Newly opened at the Aldwych Theatre, Tina the Musical has the credentials to make you hope it can do just that. Directed by Mamma Mia’s Phyllida Lloyd, written by Olivier winner Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, and with the almighty back catalogue of Tina Turner to call on, there’s a thrilling sense of energy here which is perfectly encapsulated in the star-making performance of  a fricking amazing Adrienne Warren. Continue reading “Review: Tina the Musical, Aldwych Theatre”

Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep

“Let’s get together and feel all right”

There’s much to enjoy in One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, not least the joyous celebration of some of the most enduringly famous music in the world. And writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah does a decent job at balancing the populist demands of a jukebox musical with something more dramatically satisfying. The result has been a sell-out success for the Birmingham Rep and I only just managed to squeak this into the schedule before it closes at the weekend,

Using 20 or so of Marley’s songs, Kwei-Armah takes us through an eventful few years in the singer’s life as the success of his artistry launches him from an accomplished reggae musician to international icon, pushing his concerns from simply getting records out to matters of national diplomacy as he finds himself intertwined in Jamaican politics. He also has internal conflicts with his band and a turbulent personal life to deal with, as well as converting to Rastafarianism. Continue reading “Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep”

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I am a spirit of no common rate”

The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Tomorrow, Above the Arts

“Nothing that bad is going to happen tonight”

They say you should never go back but sometimes it’s just too hard to resist. I really enjoyed Samuel Evans’ Tomorrow when it played at the White Bear Theatre last year (review here) and so was pleased to hear that it was receiving a new run in the studio of Above the Arts Theatre. The play has been revamped and rejigged, and mostly recast (oddly enough, I just saw Natey Jones – who starred last time round – this weekend in Don Quixote for the RSC!) for this production and so I was intrigued to see how it would fare on this second viewing.

And I think it holds up well. Evans’ dystopian set-up suggests some kind of sci-fi epic but what we actually get is something powerfully, domestically, intimate. The world is on the precipice of something momentous as in the midst of apocalyptic happenings, including the sudden death of David Cameron, a “perfect tomorrow” has been predicted, when all will change – though no-one knows exactly how. And to celebrate, Clive has decide to host a party in his Elephant & Castle tower block flat, he’s even bought in some of those breaded prawns that everyone loves. Continue reading “Review: Tomorrow, Above the Arts”

Review: Don Quixote, Swan

“We are all gathering dust here, none of us have much to do”

It’s a tough job being an actor junkie. Even whilst trying to cut down on the amount of theatre I see, I find it immensely hard to turn down the opportunity to watch long-admired actors in the flesh, hence dragging myself to see A Christmas Carol for Jim Broadbent, overriding my Pinter-averse instincts to book for Timothy Spall in The Caretaker, and heading to Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Threlfall return to the RSC, over 35 years since he was last there.

Drawing him back is a new adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote by poet James Fenton (pulling the focus a bit in marking the 400th anniversary of someone else’s death) that is filled with mayhem and music and madness and melancholy. Determined to translate the world of chivalry of which he has read so much, Don Quixote sets out on his own quest to become a wandering knight, carrying out acts of derring-do with his hapless squire but finding that fictional romantic ideal increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote, Swan”

Review: Tomorrow, White Bear

“Sit down, have a sausage roll”

What if the sun didn’t come out tomorrow? In Samuel Evans’ dystopian miniature, that’s a distinct possibility as a series of global apocalyptic happenings – as rather neatly surmised in a news broadcast that is playing as we enter the theatre – have led to tomorrow being declared as the end of the world and the beginning of, well, something new. Or so the people gathered in Clive’s front room on the 15th floor of an Elephant and Castle tower block hope.

Whistlestop Theatre’s production of Tomorrow at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington hinges on two key aspects here and delivers strongly on both – a thought-provoking approach to the genre that forces a fresh appraisal, and the kind of hyper-localism that money just can’t buy. There’s something hugely appropriate about being able to see where a play is set (more or less) from the front door of the venue, especially when writing and direction combine as effectively and sensitively as they do here. Continue reading “Review: Tomorrow, White Bear”