Review: Albion, Almeida

“The fantasy that brings the reality into being”

 As Mike Bartlett’s profile grows and grows, one can’t help but fear that his TV successes will lead to movie commissions but for the moment, he’s not forgotten where he started and with Albion, there’s a ferocious reminder of how theatrically skilled he is. Additionally, there’s one of the performances of the year from Victoria Hamilton so I’d hotfoot it to the Almeida now, there’s no guarantee this one will transfer.

Successful businesswoman Audrey has her world rocked when her son is killed on duty in the Middle East and so she decides to retreat to the countryside, rural Oxfordshire to be precise, where she buys the neglected home of her uncle, along with its once-impressive garden. But what first seems like a fun restoration project snowballs into chaos as her increasingly ambitious plans threaten to push everyone close to her away. Continue reading “Review: Albion, Almeida”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

Review: Dick Whittington, Lyric Hammersmith


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“Are you fond of cake?
‘Definitely, I’m northern’”

How come there haven’t been any pantomime reviews on here this year?
I’m not going to go to any pantos this year.
Oh yes you are.
Oh no I’m not. Well, maybe one or two. This one is written by Tom Wells after all.
He’s behind you.
No he isn’t, he was sat in the stalls last night though and we were in the circle.
DICK!
Pardon me,

(thigh slap) DICK!
Oh I see, the panto was Dick Whittington and that was the audience had to shout whenever Andy Rush came on stage, fnarr fnarr.
Keep it clean please, that’s my job. BAPS!
Yes, that was the dame’s name. Stewart Wright wasn’t half bad actually – his Beyoncé…Knowles joke is still making giggle at the thought of it.
Dick Whittington has a cat doesn’t he?
Yes. And some other friends – trainee fairy Bauble and a budding London mayoral candidate called Sooz
So not exactly traditional then?
No, but that in itself has become the new tradition at the Lyric Hammersmith and after something of a shaky beginning last year, Wells feels very much at home here. DICK!
Oh, let it go.
Actually no, they didn’t perform that despite going to the North Pole. There’s a good mix of new and classic pop though.
Did they have sweets?
Not for people in the circle.
Did it snow?
Not on people in the circle.
 
Did you enjoy being in the circle?
I did actually – safe from audience interaction and far away enough to get some real satisfaction from bellowing DICK! And BAPS! without traumatising too many children.
Would you recommend it?
I surely would. Freed from the baggage of star casting, you get the real sense of company camaraderie here bolstered by a cracking young supporting ensemble. There’s a genuine sense of real fun, a healthy dollop of barely-disguised smut, plenty of Wellsian touches to make it unmistakeably his work (truly, Hull becoming City of Culture in 2017 is the world’s gift to him), and there’s a Bon Jovi singalong.
DICK!
DICK! indeed.
Running time: 2 hour 20 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 3rd January

Review: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre

“I’m the son of a son of a son of a collier’s son, the last in a long line”

So this is actually a review of a preview, although it was not intended to be. Beth Steel’s Wonderland was meant to open on Thursday but had to delay it until next week due to “ensure the safety of the cast” which may seem a little dramatic but once you enter the Hampstead Theatre’s main auditorium, it soon becomes clear that this was no idle claim. The theatre has gone into the round again and this time, Ashley Martin Davis’ awe-inspiring design has carved out a 3-storey high pit shaft that operates at three levels. Even the act of walking to your seat (if you’re on the stage) becomes precarious as high-heeled shoes must be removed and if you don’t like heights, I wouldn’t look down…!

In a year that marks the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, Steel’s play instantly feels well-timed but cleverly, it is not the play you might be expecting. The presence of Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher loom large (how could they not) but the focus lies elsewhere, in the heart of a Nottinghamshire mining community that feels the effects of the strike, and its lingering aftermath, most keenly indeed. We join the play as two lads start their first day down the pit and are initiated into its unique working ways and its all-encompassing camaraderie, right at the moment that the government has decided to take on the miners as part of a schismatic ideological shift in workers’ rights. Continue reading “Review: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Pastoral, Soho Theatre

“They got me outside Habitat”

Thomas Eccleshare’s Pastoral came highly recommended to me, having transferred to the Soho Theatre after premiering at HighTide, but I have to say that this bleakly comic take on ecological catastrophe left me rather cold. All rational people know that whatever ever they offer you, [you] don’t feed the plants, but somebody seems to have ignored that and consequently this version of England is being taken over by the countryside. Hunting for an escape, a small group of people take shelter in a house as they struggle to adapt to their new circumstances but it soon becomes clear that Mother Nature is being a bitch tonight. 

That said, they’re closer to having a kiki than you might think. Eccleshare invests his characters with a mordant sense of humour from the off, primarily in Anna Calder-Marshall’s excellent Moll who rips through her dislikes with zero regard for political correctness. The arrival of a family unit seems to locate us further in single-room sitcom territory, especially as the tales that everyone tells of their disintegrating world are of unlikely sightings such as wild mushrooms growing in Subway, rabbits in Aldi and a babbling brook complete with herons and kingfishers breaking through outside of Nandos. Continue reading “Review: Pastoral, Soho Theatre”

Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith

“Well, wasn’t that Christmassy!”

The Hackney Empire currently has the reputation of the must-see pantomime in London but the Lyric Hammersmith has been crafting its own little niche in the market and I’d happily wager that with Aladdin this year they have truly come up with the goods and I doubt that this panto will be bettered this year. Co-writers Steve Marmion, Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, returning from last year’s Dick Whittington along with much of the same crew and cast, continue to reinvigorate the form by working in a fresh contemporary vibe whilst never losing sight of what makes a panto work. There’s nothing old-fashioned about this trip to Ha-Maa-Smiitt (say it with an East Asian accent…) where the dastardly Abanazar is plotting to take over the kingdom, whilst unassuming, sweet-nicking Aladdin daydreams of a better life with the Princess Karen until he is thrust into action to save the day.

The script is punchy with a few neat topical references and absolutely chock-ablock with jokes which work on all levels (I was relieved to see the kids in front us perplexed as to why we were laughing so much as Widow Twanky departed on a washing machine) I was laughing out loud throughout the entire show, especially with the physical humour. But it is also a visual treat: Tom Scutt’s costume and set design is sunny and bright, Mark Smith has come up with some interesting choreography and with the magic carpet sequence, there is pure awe-inspiring theatrical magic at work. It would be unfair to say more about it but rest assured it is worth the ticket price alone. Continue reading “Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: War Horse, New London Theatre

“Will you just shut up about your blimmin’ horse”

Those of you that know me, or have read a few reviews on here, will know that I have something of an aversion to puppets, specifically puppetry that tries to be realistic in its portrayal – Avenue Q’s fluffy monsters are fine in that respect – but something about the mimicry of ‘real life’ has never been something I have enjoyed watching and indeed freaks me out a little bit. Throw into the mix horses, an animal of which I am not keen, and it is perhaps unsurprising that I have never been to see War Horse. Nor had I ever intended to, but I made the mistake of saying that the only way I would go was if someone bought me a ticket for my birthday…and lo, guess what happened…

Adapted by Nick Stafford from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book, War Horse has been one of the biggest theatrical success stories of recent years: originally playing at the National Theatre in 2007, then returning for a revival the next year and then transferring into the West End in March 2009 where it has become one of the best selling shows in town, a genuine fixture at the tucked-away New London Theatre where its success shows no signs of abating, especially in the reflected glow of its award-winning sister production on Broadway. Quite why this is, I have to say still eludes me having seen the show, I couldn’t tell you what the magic ingredient is in here that has led to its enduring achievements aside from offering one of the most overly sentimental theatrical experiences possible. Continue reading “Review: War Horse, New London Theatre”