Not-a-Review: ANNA, National Theatre

Created by playwright Ella Hickson (The Writer) and sound designers Ben and Max Ringham, ANNA is directed by Natalie Abrahami with real ingenuity, as individual audio headsets are used to give us a unique perspective on a play, directly from the viewpoint of Phoebe Fox’s Anna. It didn’t work for me.

Running time: 65 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
ANNA is booking at the National Theatre until 15th June

Review: Quiz, Noël Coward

Whether you get to make your West End debut or not, James Graham’s Quiz is great fun at the Noël Coward Theatre

“It’s a 50:50 – guilty or not-guilty”

It’s taken me a little while to get around to seeing James Graham’s Quiz but it proved more than worth it as this particular matinée was undoubtedly enhanced by the West End debut of…me and my Aunty Jean! Treading the boards of the Noël Coward Theatre was an unexpected bonus to a highly enjoyable afternoon, and I look forward to the next role that Mr Graham creates for me…

But back to the matter at hand. Transferring over from Chichester, Quiz takes a cock-eyed look at the world of light entertainment, and the way in which ‘constructed reality’ has bled into the larger narrative not just of our television, but of our society. Using the ‘coughing major’ scandal of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as a jump-off point, we dive into meaty notions of truth and justice in a media-dominated age. Continue reading “Review: Quiz, Noël Coward”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

© Trevor Leighton
Given how she’s doing such amazing work in Follies at the minute, it’s kinda gobsmacking to discover that Janie Dee has not one but two cabaret shows lined up for the beginning of October. Returning to Live at Zédel, fans have the pick of Janie Dee at the BBC – album launch or Janie Dee – Off the Record… or you can do both on the same night for a couple of dates if you’re that way inclined! I’m seriously tempted!


One of the highlights of Bat out of Hell was Sharon Sexton’s pneumatic performance so I’m gutted that I can’t make Sucked, which is trailed as a sitcom-style musical comedy and features Sexton with Riona O’Connor. Move quickly though, one of their two shows has already sold out.


Theatre Royal Bath has announced full casting for Christmas Eve, which today begins rehearsals. Niamh Cusack will play philosophy professor Judith and Patrick Baladi will play police officer Thomas. The new thriller is the latest play from multi-award winning writer Daniel Kehlmann and will be directed by Laurence Boswell, in a translation by Christopher Hampton. The production will run at the Ustinov Studio from Thursday 19 October to Saturday 18 November.


On Christmas Eve 2017, a philosophy professor is on her way to celebrate Christmas when she is bundled into police headquarters and an interrogation room. Opposite her the senior officer is cynical, smart and relentless. Played out in real time, two powerful antagonists are pitted head to head against each other. Both think they are saving their country but only one of them will win…


The London Horror Festival is back for a 7th terrifying year to thrill and chill audiences for 3 jam packed weeks this Halloween season. The UK’s original and largest festival of live horror performance returns to the Old Red Lion Theatre following the great success of 2016.
With official sponsorship from Hobgoblin, ‘the unofficial beer of Halloween’, and horror artist Jessica F. Holt, this annual celebration of the horror genre is going strong and 2017 is their biggest line-up yet with an eclectic programme of 23 different shows on offer.
The London Horror Festival works to promote new and innovative work in the arts, support London fringe theatre and is dedicated to providing a platform for artists and companies working in the horror genre. This year promises a mix of theatre, puppetry, cabaret, spoken word, body horror, clowning and comedy, featuring satanic cults, mummies, zombies, ghosts, vampires and the bodies of Frankenstein!
Shows to look forward to include 5 star horror comedy Curse of the Mummy from Last Chance Saloon, fresh from their Edinburgh triumph, fellow 5 star fringe successes The Twins Macabre, The Underground Clown Club returning with the 5 star Knock Knock followed by their new show Who’s There?, and reworkings of classic tales including a comic adaptation H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth by Hidden Basement Productions and a gender-switched version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven by critically-acclaimed Evcol Entertainment.
For something different after dark, stay up late for an exclusive midnight performance of Felix Le Freak’s Shockbuster Video presented by the folks behind the wildly popular PopHorror cabaret club nights, then party the night away with their very own DJ until 3am.



Not content with taking over two-thirds of the theatres on St Martins Lane (with Ink and Labour of Love), James Graham’s reach is also stretching out to the regions. His new play Quiz, which opens at Chichester Festival Theatre in November, has now had its cast revealed.

Gavin Spokes plays Charles Ingram, the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? fraudster and Stephanie Street joins him as his wife Diana. The company is completed by Nadia Albina, Paul Bazely, Keir Charles, Greg Haiste, Mark Meadows, Henry Pettigrew, Jay Villiers, Lizzie Winkler and Sarah Woodward.

Directed by CFT’s artistic director Daniel Evans, Quiz will have designs by Robert Jones, with lighting by Tim Lutkin, music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham, video by Tim Reid and movement by Naomi Said. Quiz plays in the Minerva Theatre from 10 November to 9 December.

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:3

“I’m a decent bloke really”

On the ninth day of Christmas,Black Mirror gave to me…a skin-crawlingly dark episode

Even now, at the point where I’m trying to second-guess every episode of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker is always two, three, four steps ahead of us. With co-writer William Bridges, Shut Up and Dance manages the trick of repeating the key theme of a previous instalment but twisting it just enough so that you never suspect and that the self-referencing doesn’t feel too cheeky a move. 
 

Alex Lawther’s Kenny is a regular teenager, enjoying jerking off to porn on his laptop and getting enraged when his sister borrows said laptop without asking. When he gets it back with a virus on it, he attempts to clean his system but in doing so, unwittingly lets in a hacker who has secretly recorded Kenny’s exertions on his webcam and is threatening to release the vid unless he does exactly as he’s told. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:3”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III

“The king’s name is a tower of strength”

The Hollow Crown reaches its climax with a solid and occasionally very strong Richard III which once again shimmers with quality and hints of artistic innovation. And for all the lauding of Benedict Cumberbatch’s starring role, it is pleasing to see Dominic Cooke and Ben Power give Sophie Okonedo’s excoriating Margaret of Anjou her due as one of the real pleasures of running these plays together is to trace her complete arc (for she’s the only character to appear in them all) and root her enmity – alongside that of so many others – in something most palpable.

Cooke’s direction also benefits from loosening its representational restraints, Richard III’s monologues and asides make this a different type of play and Cooke responds with a series of interesting choices (though the surfeit of nervy finger-tapping was a touch too much for me) making great use of both gloomy interiors and hauntingly effective exteriors. Playing so many scenes in woodlands was an inspired decision as it leant a real eeriness to proceedings, whether Margaret or Richard bursting from the bushes to disrupt the private mourning of Elizabeth or Anne. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III”

Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen

I don’t think being gay is that bad. I’ve had three erotic dreams about The One Show’s Matt Baker and I’ve really enjoyed them.”

Tom Wells’ Jonesy is currently running as part of nabokov’s Symphony as part of the Vault Festival, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it pop up as a Radio 4 Afternoon Drama, all the more so as Wells has adapted to fit the new medium. It is clearly a work that has a special relationship with sound for the writer – on stage, it is part of a trio of plays presented as a gig, live music augmenting the dramatic experience and on radio, it becomes a foray into the world of sound effects. 

The original story follows academic and asthmatic Withernsea lad Jamie Jones as he tries to emulate the sporting underdog movies he loves so much by passing GCSE PE but it is now told by Jonesy himself from the confines of the BBC Radio Drama Sound Department where he has secured some work experience. So the storytelling becomes a little meta with its references but also surreally enhanced by the breadth of effects at his fingertips, some of them not entirely appropriate for the task in hand but all of them used most wittily.  Continue reading “Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen”

Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming

“When blood is spilt, disputes between people, nations, religions become all but impossible to solve”

A complete Brucie bonus to start off the year was the unexpected announcement that Howard Brenton’s new play Drawing the Line – a sell-out success at the Hampstead – would have its final performance live-streamed on t’internet. I hadn’t booked for the show as something had to give over Christmas and New Year and so the chance to catch up with it for free, albeit on the screen of my laptop, was one I was glad to take.

The play is set in the final days of the empire, as the British are beating a hasty retreat from the subcontinent but are determined to partition the land, and its diverse people, into India and Pakistan. The job of, quite literally, drawing the line falls to archetypal Englishman and judge Cyril Radcliffe who is shipped off to somewhere he has never been before, to accomplish what turns out to be a fiendishly complex assignment.  Continue reading “Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming”

Review: The Djinns of Eidgah, Royal Court

“Gar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast”

Interesting art can transcend basic notions of comprehension, cutting deep to a visceral place of goosebumps and adrenalin rushes that crosses linguistic barriers, just listening to this recital of a piece of Sufi poetry moves me in an unexpectedly extraordinary way even after repeated listens. The above quote of another piece also by poet Amir Khusro (If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here) which prefaces Abhishek Majumdar’s complex Kashmir-set play The Djinns of Eidgah which provoked a similar reaction in me upstairs at the Royal Court.

Not that the play isn’t in English, but rather its reach is ambitiously grand and encompasses subjects that I would be a fool to profess any substantial knowledge of. Through the trials of young Kashmiri orphans Ashrafi and Bilal, Majumdar’s writing explores the state of being ‘inbetween’ – whether in the brutal, and ongoing, realities of being torn between India and Pakistan; or in the fable-like hinterland between life and death, explored through the Central Asian oral history tradition of dastaan and the legends of Amir Hamza. Reality and fantasy are intermingled, politics and people dissected, both head and heart engaged to create a melancholic minor masterpiece.  Continue reading “Review: The Djinns of Eidgah, Royal Court”

DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (2)

“I was meant to do the world a service”

Watching the 2003 adaptations of The Canterbury Tales may have gotten off to a shaky start on disc 1 but soon rallied to make the project seem a worthwhile one and so I tackled disc 2 with some gusto. Unfortunately these latter three stories also suffered from the same unevenness and ultimately threw up a big question about the efficacy of the whole thing. In Avie Luthra’s The Sea-Captain’s Tale, the story of a marriage in an Indian community gone sour gains a pungent power as Indira Varma’s manipulative Meena turns to her husband’s business partner when in something of a bind. She would have it that Om Puri’s older Jetender is an oppressive bully and that Nitin Ganatra’s Pushpinder is her only chance of happiness, but it is soon apparent that she will say and do anything to get her bills paid, her urges satisfied and her selfishness sated. It has a film noir-ish tendency which works well and Varma is always eminently watchable.

The Pardoner’s Tale, retooled by Tony Grounds, is much less successful though. An unwieldy tale of three ne’er-do-wells and their conman ways in a town that is reeling from the impact of a potential serial killer as another teenage girl disappears. As parents and friends intensify their search, the men plot ways to scam money for themselves and as a young woman falls into their circle, the two plot strands ostensibly weave closer. But it is clumsily done, the denouement an unsubtle hammer blow and the elements of the story far too disparate – Jonny Lee Miller as the lead character is vaguely interesting, but not enough to save it. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (2)”