Thoughts on a visit to the Bridge Theatre

Good things come to those who wait! I hadn’t booked for Young Marx at the brand new Bridge Theatre for a couple of reasons. I was still hoping that I might get a response to my email to the PR and despite a cast that includes the splendid Nancy Carroll and the delicious Oliver Chris alongside lead Rory Kinnear, Richard Bean just really isn’t my cup of tea. ‘Don’t you love farce?’ Not much my dear…
So when an email popped into my inbox offering a sneak preview of the show and an opportunity to be the first ever audience in the theatre for a pre-preview test run of the new venue and its facilities, then I knew it was meant to be. Turns out I do love a farce, at £7.50 a ticket.

First things first, the foyer is extremely spacious and rather beautifully lit. So whilst there were hefty queues at the box office and the bar, there was still plenty of room to mill about, some seats available and a wide enough staircase that when we finally started going down to the stalls, it wasn’t too much of a crush. 

Drink prices are pretty much as per any theatre bar, £7.50 for a G&T. The much-vaunted St John madeleines were really not cheap (although to be honest, who knows what the going rate for gourmet madeleines is?!) At £9 for 12 though, it does feel like a deliberate attempt to brand the theatre as upper reaches of upmarket and you wonder what implications that has for access, and particularly for the perception of access from those new audiences theatres long to attract.

Weirdly, the toilets also feel a touch out of place. Very smart and spacious, though I can’t comment on the ladies, posh handwash and individual handtowels point to a more luxurious experience than you’ll be used to in most London theatres – it’ll be interesting to see if these last.
And whilst I appreciate the efforts being made to be inclusive, I don’t really understand how this can be a male toilet, and a gender neutral toilet at the same time. Surely it’d be better to go all the way…?
Inside, the theatre certainly boasts an impressive auditorium. In its current end-on configuration, it is somehow reminiscent of both the Olivier and the Dorfman at the same time. And something the seating plan doesn’t show you, there’s a considerable rake on the floor (also worth bearing in mind for accessibility issues if you’re sitting anywhere near the front).  

Seats are comfortable, plenty of legroom (in row C of the stalls at least), sightlines are fine and neither of us had any issue there. There doesn’t seem to be a second entrance/exit into the stalls though, so there’s little chance of a quick escape – getting out at the interval and at the end took an age as we had to wait for most of the stalls to empty before we could leave.

But as the auditorium has been designed to be entirely flexible, these are issues that won’t affect every show. And given how phenomenally quickly the building has been constructed, it is a remarkable achievement of which Nicks Hytner and Starr should rightly be proud.

Nick Hytner welcoming us to the theatre
As for the show itself, this was the very first pre-preview so I ain’t going to comment on it, apart from to say if you like Richard Bean plays, then you’re most likely in safe hands.

So a fun evening all round and I’m glad I got to experience the theatre this way for the first time, with its own sort of buzz. I’m still not entirely convinced that what London needs is another new theatre, especially one that feels so directly in competition with the National but who knows, maybe this will be a good thing, a kick up the arse for the theatre ecology on the South Bank, in London, maybe even in the UK as a whole. Welcome to the Bridge!

Full cast announced for Young Marx

1850, and Europe’s most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho. Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.

Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures. His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway. But there’s still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx.

Rory Kinnear plays Marx and Oliver Chris, Engels. The production reunites the creative team behind Richard Bean’s smash hit One Man, Two Guvnors, with direction by Nicholas Hytner, design by Mark Thompson, music by Grant Olding, sound by Paul Arditti and lighting by Mark Henderson.
And joining Kinnear and Chris is Nancy Carroll (Jenny von Westphalen), Laura Elphinstone (Nym), Eben Figueiredo (Schramm), Nicholas Burns (Willich), Tony Jayawardena (Gert “Doc” Schmidt), Miltos Yerolemou (Barthélemy), Duncan Wisbey (Fleece/Darwin), Scott Karim (Grabiner/ Singe), Alana Ramsey (Mrs Mullett), Sophie Russell (Librarian), Fode Simbo (Peter), William Troughton (Constable Crimp) and Joseph Wilkins (Sergeant Savage).
And in an interesting move to collaborate with what seems like a major new competitor, National Theatre Live will be broadcast Young Marx on 7 December.

Queer Theatre – a round-up

“There’s nowt so queer as folk”
Only about a week behind schedule, I wanted to round up my thoughts about the National’s Queer Theatre season – links to the reviews of the 5 readings I attended below the cut – and try a formulate a bit of a response to this piece by Alice Saville for Exeunt which rather took aim at the season alongside the Old Vic’s Queers (also I just want to point out too that there are two writers of colour involved – Tarell Alvin McCraney and Keith Jarrett). As a member of the ‘majority’ within this minority, I tread warily and aim to do sowith love and respect. 
It feels important to recognise what the NT (and the Old Vic) were trying to achieve though. Queer Theatre looked “at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience through a series of rehearsed readings, exhibitions, talks and screenings” and if only one looked at lesbian women, two of the readings were written by women. Several of the post-show discussions at the NT talked specifically about this issue but in acknowledging it, also quite rightly pointed out that there just isn’t the historical body of work to draw from when it comes to wider LGBT+ representation. That’s where the talks and screenings came into their own, able to provide some of that alternative focus.
(c) James Bellorini
And from my position of relative privilege, it did feel that we were getting some diversity in the stories being told – a viewpoint from the 1920s, a historical look at gay life under the Nazis, the uniqueness (not to mention the charisma, nerve and talent) of NY drag ball culture, as well as modern-day London gays. There’s no doubt that we do need to recognise the dearth of the representation of the full LGBT+ spectrum in the theatrical canon but it is hard not to feel that we also need to be allowed to celebrate what has been achieved as well, without guilt.

Hopefully, by the next time an anniversary comes around, we’ll be celebrating plays such as Rotterdam and Jess and Joe Forever pushing the (theatrical) trans narrative forward, even marking the achievements of the innovative queer theatremakers that Saville fetes. But to dismiss the raw emotion of Martin Sherman’s Bent as “calcified”, to deny the opportunity for audiences to bask, even if just for a little while on Pride weekend itself“in the warm glow of retrospective tolerance” feels like too strident a move – we can celebrate the past, recognising its warts and all, and look to the future all at the same time.

(1986), by Sarah Daniels
Directed By Sarah Frankcom
Wig Out (2008), by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Certain Young Men (1999), by Peter Gill
Directed by Peter Gill
Bent (1979), by Martin Sherman
Directed by Stephen Daldry
The Drag (1927), by Mae West 
Directed by Polly Stenham

Review: Queer Theatre – Certain Young Men, National

#3 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“Well join the radical wing of the movement where to be really queer you have, as it were, to nail your foreskin to the transgressive mast. Literally it seems, on occasion.”

I have to admit to not necessarily being the greatest fan of Peter Gill’s writing and seeing a reading of one of his plays after having partaken of a little of the Pride festivities on Saturday afternoon was definitely not one of my wiser moves. But I wanted the complete set of these readings and so I sat down for 2009’s Certain Young Men regardless.
Following the lives of four gay couples and told predominantly in duologues, it had the slight sense of yet another version of La Ronde as established pairings disintegrate and new ones reform. It is more complex than that, as it seeks to present varied and various forms of gay personalities and relationships, resisting the easy definition of a gay community to present a heterogenous grouping of homosexual men with multiple and conflicting desires.
Whether it was the staging with its row of empty chairs, the theatrical word games that characterises one of the key couplings (Billy Howle and Lorne MacFadyen here) which needed more than it got here, or the gin I’d consumed, the play rarely gripped me in this form. I enjoyed Jonathan Bailey and Ben Batt’s relationship angst the most and Oliver Chris and Toby Wharton sold their own troubles well but whilst this was certainly the place to see it, it wasn’t the right time for me.

Photos: James Bellorini

Cast for the 1998 Almeida production directed by Peter Gill
Sean Chapman
Danny Dyer
Andrew Lancel
John Light
Alec Newman
Jeremy Northam
Peter Sullivan
Andrew Woodall

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things – Pride special!

2017 marks 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 was an Act of Parliament that decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men.

50 years later the lives of queer people are perceived to be very different – equal age of consent, equality law and equal marriage are all heralded as progressive markers in LGBTQIA* equality but has the UK become a queer friendly nation or are homophobic prejudices just as prevalent?

Belonging is a public debate with poncy performance chaired by Scottee. Together with a committee of prominent queers he will explore where queer people sit in our society. A boozy, loose-tongued version of Question Time with less middle aged, middle class white men. Come and mouth off on the eve of London Pride.

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah
Lady Phyll is the co-founder and director of UK Black Pride, head of political campaigns and equality at PCS Union and a QTIPOC Activist.

Shon Faye

Shon Faye is a sexual and theological schemer, according to one biography. She is a journalist, writer, artist and comedienne based in Bristol. She is a contributor to Dazed and Novara Media on LGBT issues and trans feminism, has written for the Guardian, the Independent and VICE and appeared on BBC Newsnight and BBC Three. She currently has a film on exhibition at the Queer British Art exhibition at the Tate.

Chardine Taylor Stone

Chardine is an award winning cultural producer, feminist, writer & activist, as well as the founder of Black Girls Picnic, a trans-inclusive, global movement in collective self care to celebrate all the beauty that is Black Womanhood.

Travis Alabanza

Travis Alabanza is a performance artist, theatre maker, poet and writer that works and survives in London. Their multidisciplinary practice uses a combination of poetry, theatre, sounscapes, projection and bodyfocussed performance art to scream about their survival as a Black, trans, gender-non-conforming person in the UK. 
Plus other guests TBC

Zeal is the first ever improv festival to officially run as part of Pride In London! Zeal: The Pride Improv Festival is a week-long event taking part in venues across the city from 1-7 July offering a diverse mix of improvised entertainment to celebrate the LGBTQIA community.

Featuring improvised games, comedy, theatre, musicals, drag acts, stand-up and cabaret from both queer improvisers and those who support the community, the festival showcases a mix of established acts, fresh young talent and brand new teams, formed especially for this year’s event! There will also be opportunities for the audience to get up on stage and give it a go in friendly and supportive jam sessions, as well as chances to learn the basics of improv and improve existing skills through the Zeal workshops.

Taking place in collaboration with seven improv schools across London, the festival is an opportunity to see bold, exciting and unique shows that will never be seen again! These acts are made up on the spot and every show and every night will be completely different!

Acts include Music Box, who perform an entire improvised musical based on words from the audience, regular Proud Cabaret host Luke Meredith, and improv duo Breaking & Entering, as well as brand new drag king act The Bareback Kings, improvised songs and conversation from Phil Lunn Is… A Cabaret Singer, and The Lemonade Brigade, an all-gay improv team assembled especially for the festival!

And casting is now complete for the National’s #QueerTheatre season.

Bent by Martin Sherman, directed by Stephen Daldry, Sunday 9 July, 2.30pm

  • George Mackay, 
  • Simon Russell Beale, 
  • Giles Terera, 
  • Pip Torrens, 
  • Paapa Essiedu, 
  • John Pfumojena
  • Adrian Grove. 
(More to be announced soon)

Certain Young Men written and directed by Peter Gill, Sat 8 July, 7.30pm

  • Jonathan Bailey (Andrew), 
  • Ben Batt (Tony), 
  • Oliver Chris (David), 
  • Billy Howle (Michael),
  • Lorne MacFadyen (Stewart), 
  • Stephen Rashbrook (stage direction), 
  • Brian Vernel (Terry) 
  • Toby Wharton (Christopher).
Neaptide by Sarah Daniels, directed by Sarah Frankcom, Thursday 6 July, 7.30pm

  • Ronke Adekoluejo (Val)
  • Adjoa Andoh (Beatrice)
  • Simon Armstrong (Sid & Cyril)
  • Thomas Arnold (Colin & Roger)
  • Maureen Beattie (Joyce)
  • Morfydd Clark (Poppy & Terri)
  • Karla Crome (Diane)
  • Helena Lymbery (Anette & Marion)
  • Sarah Niles (Linda) 
  • Jessica Raine (Claire).
Wig Out! written and directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Friday 7 July, 7.30pm

  • Tarell Alvin-McCraney (Rey Rey)
  • Arun Blair-Mangat (directions)
  • Tunji Kasim (Eric)
  • Alexia Khadime (Fate)
  • Kadiff Kirwan (Ms Nina)
  • Abiona Omonua (Faith)
  • Jonjo O’Neill(Serena)
  • Tom Rhys-Harries (Loki)
  • Ukweli Roach (Lucian) 
  • Cat Simmons (Fay) 
  • Craig Stein (Venus).
The Drag by Mae West, directed by Polly Stenham, Monday 10 July, 7.30pm

  • Fisayo Akinade
  • Arun Blair-Mangat
  • Niamh Cusack
  • Richard Dempsey
  • Sacha Dhawan
  • Tom Edden
  • Adetomiwa Edun
  • Jodie McNee
  • Cyril Nri
  • Sule Rimi 
  • Adrian Scarborough. 
(More to be announced soon)

TV Review: King Charles III, BBC2

“I ask no less than power to achieve my will in fair exchange for total service to the state”

Uneasy lies the head that waits for the crown. Mike Barlett’s King Charles III was a deserved award-winning success when it took the Almeida by storm in 2014, transferring into the West End and then Broadway, later touring the UK and Australia too. Its success lay in the conception of a Shakespearean future history play, written in verse but set in a world recognisably our own, where Prince George is nonchalantly eating croissants, Queen Elizabeth II has just passed and before he has even been crowned, Charles finds himself in a constitutional crisis of his own making. A bold but welcome move from the BBC to commission a version then.

Directed as it was onstage by Rupert Goold and adapted by Bartlett (the narrative has been telescoped down by over an hour), it re-emerges as a powerful, pacy drama, a fascinating look into how the relationship between monarchy and government could so easily shift at a time of transition, anchored by an achingly nuanced performance from Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role. The ache is of course deepened by the actor’s death last month but that sadness shouldn’t overshadow the quality of his work here, masterful in his command of the verse, mesmerising as a man trapped by history. Continue reading “TV Review: King Charles III, BBC2”

Bridge Theatre new season – excited by new writing or disappointed by lack of diversity?

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr have announced the opening programme for their The Bridge Theatre venture – the 900-seat commercial venue near to Tower Bridge which marks their re-entry into the London theatre landscape. The first three productions, all booking now, are:

  • Young Marx – Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s new play about German philosopher Karl Heinrich Marx which will star Rory Kinnear in the title role alongside Oliver Chris as Engels. Directed by Nicholas Hytner it will have designs by Mark Thompson and music by Grant Olding;
  • This will be followed by Julius Caesar directed by Hytner in promenade, starring
    Ben Whishaw (Bakkhai, Skyfall) as Brutus, David Calder as Caesar, Michelle Fairley as Cassius and David Morrissey as Mark Antony;
  • a new play from Barney Norris called Nightfall, directed by Laurie Sansom.
Further ahead from Summer ’18, we can expect:
  • a new play by Lucinda Coxon based on the novel Alys, Always by Harriet Lane;
  • a new play by Nina Raine about JS Bach, played by Simon Russell Beale; 
  • flatpack, a new play by John Hodge; 
  • The Black Cloud, a new play by Sam Holcroft from the novel by Fred Hoyle; 
  • Carmen Havana, a version of Bizet’s opera by Lucy Prebble with choreography by Miguel Altunaga and directed by Nicholas Hytner.
The focus on new writing is something exciting, all but one of these are new works. And if we count them altogether, there’s pleasing gender parity in their number. And that’s good enough to get luminaries like Sarah Crompton and Michael Billington fawning over the season ahead.
But looking at all those playwrights, there’s not a person of colour among them. And delving into the cast and creatives of the opening three shows, all of them are being directed by white men. Furthermore, of the headline casting announced, six out of seven of them are white men. We can cling to Michelle Fairley’s cross-casting as Cassius as a sole beacon of hope but let’s not forget that Robert Hastie is already doing this much better and bolder in Sheffield.
There’s no doubting that there’s a number of issues intertwined here but once again, a big commercial theatrical season is being launched on the back of safe, safe decisions. I don’t deny the harsh realities of the commercial world but it is just so dispiriting to see how little is being done to address these issues by the people who can affect them, whether Messrs Hytner and Starr, or Branagh and Grandage in previous years.

  • The Kenneth Branagh season (2015-6) – 5 plays initially, all written and directed by white men; 5 people in opening publicity shot, 2 women including Dame Judi Dench
  • The Michael Grandage season (2012-13) – 5 plays all written and directed by white men; 7 people in opening publicity shot, 2 women including Dame Judi Dench
  • The Donmar in the West End season (2008-09) – 4 plays all directed by white men and all but one written by white men; 4 people in opening publicity, 1 woman who was Dame Judi Dench!

Some thoughts
– Magnificent as she is, Dench is far from our only star actress but without the requisite support, how is anyone else supposed to join her above-the-title as it were.
– Same with any actors of colour 
– If you’re going to focus on new writing, how do commissioning decisions remain so stubbornly white as well? Delving into (white) history won’t help.
– And how the f*ck is the status quo ever going to be challenged if the commentary acquiesces so easily – the race to label this season as “thrilling” or “mouth-watering” leaves little room to call into question the age-old biases that are once again being reinforced here.
It’s hard not to feel a little disillusioned by this all. Attitudes don’t change overnight, they need to be persuaded, and yet the opportunities to change minds remain few and far-between. So the commercial imperative to keep programming ‘safe’ remains intact and so the vicious cycle repeats itself ad nauseam. The power and influence that the two ‘Nicks’ wield is an awesome thing in the world of UK theatre, I just wish it was being used here in a more creative and forward-thinking way.

News (and photos): National Theatre gala (plus actors in suits!)

The National Theatre last night hosted its biennial fundraising gala, Up Next, raising over a million pounds to support access to the arts for children and young people across the country. I think they forgot to invite me though… 😜


Performances commissioned especially for the event included a new piece by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, alongside performances by Sir Lenny Henry, Anne-Marie Duff and hundreds of talented young people from across London.

Continue reading “News (and photos): National Theatre gala (plus actors in suits!)”

Review: Twelfth Night, National

“A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man”

There’s nowt so queer as folk, at least not in Simon Godwin’s version of Illyria here. A gender-swapped Malvolia longs after her mistress Olivia, hipster-fop Sir Andrew Aguecheek is entirely smitten by a flirtatious Toby Belch, Antonio follows up his snog with Sebastian by inviting him to a rendez-vous at local drag bar The Elephant. And that’s before we’ve even dealt with the sexual confusion that Shakespeare himself engineered in Twelfth Night, as shipwreck survivor Viola disguises herself as her presumed drowned twin brother and wreaks havoc on the libidos of Olivia and Orsino alike.

It’s a mark of the success of Godwin’s production that it wears this all so lightly. It’s a modern-dress version for a modern sensibility (if not for the audience member who gasped audibly at the first gay kiss) and one that is rooted in a real sense of playfulness, as an expertly cast ensemble just have a huge amount of fun with it. Phoebe Fox’s delicious Olivia, who gives new life to the phrase ‘dance like nobody’s watching’; Oliver Chris’ Chelsea playboy of an Orsino, in the throes of a mid-life crisis having just turned 40; Tim McMullan’s swaggeringly confident Sir Toby ever accompanied by Niky Wardley’s spirited Maria and the comic masterpiece that is Daniel Rigby’s Sir Andrew. 

Tamsin Greig’s schoolmarmish Malvolia is another unalloyed pleasure. Precisely, witheringly, spoken and perfectly put-together with her sharp Louise Brooks bob, her explosion of delight in the letter scene and the later attempted seduction is wonderfully, unexpectedly zany and in the wider context of this Illyria, undercuts too much thought of lesbian stereotyping. And if Tamara Lawrance doesn’t have quite as much funny business to do as Viola, it is still an assured and quietly moving performance that builds up to the tenderness of her eventual reunion with Daniel Ezra’s Sebastian, as well as loading a tacit racial dimension into the mistaken identities device. 
Soutra Gilmour’s revolving ziggurat unfolds like pages of a pop-up book to reveal beautifully sumptuous designs, David Marsland’s stage management team deserving a real shout-out here for the seamless transitions, and Michael Bruce’s original compositions are evocatively realised under Dan Jackson’s musical direction, Hannah Lawrence’s breathtaking skill on an array of woodwind instruments coming close to stealing the show more than once. And though Godwin’s production extends to a full three hours, it never sags, a lightness of touch and cheekiness of wit (one suspects Emma Rice would love the acknowledgement that no-one knows what the hell a box-tree is).
And for all the fun, there’s still a deal of melancholy to be found as we wind towards the end – Doon Mackichan’s Feste is a mournful troubadour for all her glittery footwear, Fox suggests her Olivia isn’t necessarily as happy as all that to discover that who she loves is not who she has married, and Greig spares us nothing of Malvolia’s post-torture trauma, desolately accusing the audience as much as anyone for what has befallen her. Gloriously well done.
Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
Booking until 13th May
Twelfth Night will be broadcast by NT Live on Thursday 6 April 2017. 

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Somewhat appropriately in the week following International Men’s Day with its theme this year of male suicide, two shows tackling the subject open in London. Ella Hickson’s Boys gets a short revival at the LOST Theatre (read my review of the 2012 Soho Theatre production) and new musical Catch Me, written by Arnoud Breitbarth and Christian Czornyj, slots into the Above the Arts Theatre – I’ll be ‘catching’ it later in the week so watch this space for a review.

Some interesting casting news coming out of the National Theatre’s Winter Season. Joining Tamsin Greig as Malvolia in Simon Godwin’s take on Twelfth Night is the delicious Oliver Chris (Orsino) and the equally lovely Phoebe Fox (Olivia), along with Daniel Ezra (Sebastian) , Tamara Lawrance (Viola), Doon Mackichan (Feste) and Daniel Rigby (Sir Andrew Aguecheek).Also, Kate Fleetwood will be leading the cast of Lindsey Ferrentino’s Ugly Lies the Bone.

I’m resisting the urge to feel festive but if you want to indulge a little early, take a listen to the lovely ‘Poles Apart’ from Another Night Before Christmas, the festive offering at the Bridge House Theatre SE20. Starring George Maguire and Rachael Wooding and written by Sean Grennan (book and lyrics) and Leah Okimoto (music), it’s shaping up to be a promising musical.

Hot off the heels of yet another hit 2016 Edinburgh Fringe performance and sell out shows across the UK, Morgan and West take great pleasure in announcing A (sort of) Christmas Carol Magic Show at Festival Square Theatre, Edinburgh running from December 1st to January 7th 2017 as part of Underbelly’s Christmas programme.

Following the spectacular success of its debut performance of Roger and Hammerstein’s State Fair, the London Musical Theatre Orchestra is delighted to announce its much anticipated Christmas concert; the hit Broadway musical A Christmas Carol with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens. The concert will take place on 19th December at the Lyceum Theatre and casting news is expected very soon.

NextUp, a brand new stand up comedy-focused online videoon-demand platform launched earlier this week, hosting a wealth of recorded live stand-up content for those who love comedy and want more to see than a trip to their local comedy club can offer. NextUp has an online mix of new and established comedy names with stand up performances past and present giving audiences access to recorded shows that are no longer on tour as well as new shows recorded from the likes of Tony Law // Lou Sanders // Richard Herring // Alfie Brown // Luisa Omielan // Simon Munnery // Fern Brady // Lloyd Langford // Brendon Burns // Tim Renkow // Pat Cahill // Ben Target // John Hastings // Miles Jupp // Ian D Montfort // Sean Hughes // Marcel Lucont

I’m loving the Theatre Lives series of interviews by Digital Theatre and The Stage and the latest instalment with Julie Walters is a classic.