July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

fosterIAN awards 2018

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayLeah Harvey, Clare Perkins & Vinette Robinson, EmiliaSarah Gordy, JellyfishPatsy Ferran, Summer and Smoke
Marieke Heebink, Oedipus
Elinor Lawless, To Have To Shoot Irishmen
Carey Mulligan, Girls and Boys
Sarah Niles, Leave Taking
Best Actor in a Play
Kyle Soller, The InheritanceHans Kesting, OedipusPaapa Essiedu, The Convert
Ben Batt, The York Realist
Ian Bonar, Jellyfish
Richard Harrington, Home I'm Darling
Shubnam Saraf, An Adventure
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayCecilia Noble, Nine NightMartha Plimpton, SweatAdjoa Andoh, Leave Taking
Eva Feiler, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Watermill)
Penny Layden, Jellyfish
Lashana Lynch, ear for eye
Charity Wakefield, Emilia
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPaul Hilton, The InheritanceForbes Masson, Summer and SmokeLouis Bernard, Much Ado About Nothing (Antic Disposition)
Demetri Goritsas, ear for eye
Wil Johnson, Leave Taking
Nicky Priest, Jellyfish
Sam Troughton, Stories
Best Actress in a MusicalRosalie Craig, CompanyKaisa Hammarlund, Fun HomeBonnie Langford, 42nd Street
Eva Noblezada, Hadestown
Caroline O'Connor, The Rink
Gemma Sutton, The Rink
Adrienne Warren, Tina the Musical
Best Actor in a MusicalSteven Miller, Sunshine on LeithAndrew Finnigan, DripPaul-James Corrigan, Sunshine on Leith
Arinzé Kene, Misty
Michael Mather, Mythic
Leon Scott, Midnight
Zubin Varla, Fun Home
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Patti LuPone, CompanyAmber Gray, HadestownNaana Agyei-Ampadu, Caroline or Change
Vivien Carter, Sweet Charity (Watermill)
Genevieve McCarthy, Mythic
Hilary McLean, Sunshine on Leith
Seyi Omooba, Christina Modestou & Renée Lamb, Little Shop of Horrors
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJonathan Bailey, CompanyPatrick Page & André de Shields, HadestownAlex Cardall, Sweet Charity (Watermill)
Alex James Ellison, The Secret Garden Albion
Richard Fleeshman, Company
Matt Willis, Little Shop of Horrors

2018 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Cecilia Noble, Nine Night
A peach of a role for this most characterful of performers, Noble fits Aunt Maggie so well the part could have been written for her. And as with Nine Night at large, the beauty is in the simultaneous specificity and universality of the character. Though rooted entirely in Jamaican traditions, she’s also the archetype of the opinionated elderly relative that is recognisable no matter where you come from and Noble imbues her with just enough heart to go along with the hilarity. 

Honourable mention: Martha Plimpton, Sweat
A late but indisputable arrival, the ferocity with which Plimpton permeates her performance makes an already excellent production into something unmissable. Obviously it helps that she’s an iconic figure from my childhood movie days but seriously, do what you can to see her at the Donmar.

Adjoa Andoh, Leave Taking
Eva Feiler, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Watermill)
Penny Layden, Jellyfish
Lashana Lynch, ear for eye
Charity Wakefield, Emilia

8-10
Lucy Cohu, The Height of the Storm; Sylvestra Le Touzel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; Kayla Meikle, Dance Nation

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Patti LuPone, Company
A triumphant return to the West End stage for this most iconic of performers whose every mmm-hmm turns another theatregoer into a homosexual. Every time I’ve seen the show, her interpretation of ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ has brought different colours and textures – and check the moment when her eyes pin down Bobbie with “the girls who just watch”. Plus she does furniture-shuffling choreography like a real trouper – a privilege to watch (and watch again).

Honourable mention: Amber Gray, Hadestown
I’d thought LuPone would walk this category but the elemental force with which Gray blew onto the Olivier stage had me in raptures as her every move and utterance had me absolutely gripped. Is there any way we can keep her in the UK or entice her back as soon as possible please.

Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Caroline or Change
Vivien Carter, Sweet Charity (Watermill)
Genevieve McCarthy, Mythic
Hilary MacLean, Sunshine on Leith
Seyi Omooba, Christina Modestou & Renée Lamb, Little Shop of Horrors

8-10
Cherelle Skeete, Fun Home; Susannah van den Berg, Once; Vicky Vox, Little Shop of Horrors

Review: Jellyfish, Bush

Almost impossibly tender and true, Ben Weatherill’s Jellyfish is a minor-key masterpiece at the Bush Theatre

“Do you think there will be people like us around for ever?”

I know a little something of what it is to be treated differently in this world. Whenever I took an exam at school, college, even university, I would be given extra time, usually an hour, because that was what disabled students got. Regardless of the fact that my only concern was being able to communicate effectively in big echoey halls – I’m deaf y’see – one category fit us all for the differently-abled… And that does something to you no matter how confident you are, to be shunted off to the special room even by the most well-meaning of souls and God knows I had some amazing teachers who provided invaluable help.

That feeling of being considered ‘different’ came flooding back to me while watching Ben Weatherill’s achingly beautiful play Jellyfish in the studio space at the Bush Theatre. It’s a feeling that dominates Kelly’s life. At 27, she’s convinced of her own independence and a burgeoning relationship with the slightly older Neil promises much. Kelly has Down’s Syndrome and lives with her mother Agnes though, a mother who has provided unerringly constant care for her daughter and can’t conceive that this could ever be a healthy relationship. She means well, so very well, but at what cost? Does the help she offers square with the needs of a young woman yearning for sexual maturity. Continue reading “Review: Jellyfish, Bush”

Review: Macbeth, National Theatre

Rory Kinnear as Macbeth, Beatrice Scirocchi as Witch and Anna-Maria Nabirye as Witch in Macbeth at the National Theatre (c) Brinkhoff Mögenburg 1002-1006

A whole lot of post-apocalyptic hurly-burly and sadly not much more besides – the National Theatre’s Macbeth really is something of a red-trousered disappointment 

“You have displaced the mirth”

Brexit has ruined Britain. The war of the Scottish Secession has laid ruin to much of the land north of Hadrian’s Wall. The lawless society that has resulted is a place where people once again use plastic bags willy-nilly (for tidying up after beheadings, as party hats – take your pick), where no-one has a mobile phone (presumably because roaming charges have been re-introduced), where the Look at my fucking red trousers meme has translated into despotic rule.

Such is the world of Rufus Norris’ Macbeth which is set ‘now, after a civil war’, hence my slight embellishment of said setting. I should add that I thought of much of this while watching the production, an indication of the level of engagement that it managed to exert. It wasn’t always thus – a bloody prologue is viscerally and effectively done and the entrance of the witches has a genuine chill to its strangeness. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, National Theatre”

Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse

“We’re privileged to welcome you here”

Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.

For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year’s news because we’re not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from. Continue reading “Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Lorax, Old Vic

If Dr Seuss stories are what makes you tick,

Then this Christmastime you should hit the Old Vic.
The Lorax adapted by scribe David Greig
is so damn delightful for tickets you’ll beg.

Director Max Webster has served up a treat
with such charm no panto could ever compete.
A show for all ages, it’s also a musical,
I had my doubts but it’s something quite beautiful.

A magic tale that’s pro-environmental
hits corporate greed in a manner not gentle.
It’s clever and prescient (dates from ‘71),
pertinent as ever, these fights still not won.

Charlie Fink’s music may not sound like Dvořák
but it’s perfect for a show that is based on The Lorax.
He’s also the frontman of Noah and the Whale,
so diverse his songwriting but perfect to scale.

Girl-group style lawyers and rock-based tree-chopping,
there’re also some fast ones that’ll have your feet bopping.
Fink’s score is eclectic but enthusiastic,
while MD Phil Bateman makes it sound fantastic.

The cast is quite special, with two men named Simon.
While they are quite different,both sparkle like diamonds.
Paisley Day’s Once-ler is a fab green faux-villain,
he’s quite sympathetic though trees he be killing.

Now Lipkin’s a man who does love a good puppet
(to be scared of such things that would make you a muppet).
Helped by Laura Cubitt and the ace Ben Thompson,
the Lorax becomes a magnificent frontman.

He’s funny and grouchy, compassionate and wise,
it’s hard to be unmoved by such poignant eyes.
I also loved Richard Katz and Penny Layden
and hot pink La Barrie’s a bouncing good maiden.

Choreographer McOnie comma Drew,
makes dancing look elegant, beautiful too.
The set design’s cleverly done by Rob Howell,
it certainly hasn’t been done with a trowel.

The Lorax is moving and mighty good fun,
the interval sketch is hilariously done.
So book now while you can and don’t make a fuss,
this show is just perfect for ages six plus.

Review: Everyman, National Theatre

“It seems every man has had enough of me”

Starting quite literally with the Fall of Man, Carol Ann Duffy’s contemporary verse adaptation of medieval morality play Everyman sees Rufus Norris direct his first production since taking up the reins of Artistic Director at the National Theatre and finds him in a rather provocative mood. Through 100 minutes of boldly imagined drama, it’s hard not to feel that there’s an element of grabbing this institution by the lapels and giving it a good old shake. Not so much in establishing a definitive vision for the future per se but more in establishing just how wide its parameters will be. 

Norris and designer Ian MacNeil work cleverly within the constraints of the Travelex budget to provide impactful moments with – variously – Tal Rosner’s video wall, a powerful wind machine, William Lyons’ music which combines shawms with Sharon D Clarke most effectively and bags of rubbish. Javier De Frutos makes a significant contribution too as choreographer and movement director, the wordless opening sequence of a coke-and-Donna-Summer-fuelled birthday party makes for a bold beginning. Continue reading “Review: Everyman, National Theatre”

Review: Edward II, National Theatre

“I will have Gaveston, and you shall know what danger ’tis to stand against your king”

Now this is what I want my National Theatre to be like – creative, bold, fresh, fearless. There’s no pretending that Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Marlowe’s Edward II is flawless perfection, its modern ambition sprawls over the Olivier’s vast stage and up onto the walls as screens either side relay live video footage, but the energy at hand from both cast and creatives is wonderfully galvanising and points defiantly towards the possibilities of the future when Nicholas Hytner finally stands down in a couple of years. Traditionalists may balk, especially in some of the more challenging sections of the first half but for this institution to thrive, it has to be allowed to experiment and expand its remit and that ought to be supported by all. 

Under the cruel yoke of his father, Edward suffered his lover Gaveston to be exiled but on ascending to the throne to become Edward II, he restores him to England and lavishes him with jewels and titles. But their overt hedonism riles up the powerful barons of the realm as they take up the cause of his neglected queen Isabella in an audacious power-grab, setting up the kind of conflict that leaves no-one unscathed. John Heffernan ascends to his first major London lead role with all of the subtlety and aching depth that has long made him a favourite around these parts. His Edward is a capricious fidget, pathetically desperate to please Kyle Soller’s cockily assured Gaveston and their headlong lustful passion is one that you believe he would fight tooth and nail for, yet he also possesses an innate grace under pressure – his abdication speech is profoundly moving, the desperation of his exile near-impossible to watch. Continue reading “Review: Edward II, National Theatre”

Review: Table, National Theatre

“I have a world map on my door.
‘We’ll see if we can find Lichfield on it later’.”

As the Cottesloe becomes the Dorfman, among other changes, the National Theatre has erected a temporary space called The Shed to keep a third working venue in their complex and opening the programme there, is this original play Table by Tanya Ronder. A family saga that stretches across several generations from 19thcentury Staffordshire to modern day London, taking in trips to hippy communes and East African missions, and with a rather gentle grace, it explores the way in which the actions of our parents impact on the people we become and how easy it is to irrevocably hurt the ones we love.

It’s a densely told story, made more complex by a fracturing of the timeline which sees the focus constantly shifting between time periods, and it may take some getting used to. Rufus Norris marshals his deeply talented cast of nine, who cover thirty characters across six generations of the Best family, with a highly engaging playfulness but it does take a little time for the key pieces to come into focus and for the play to really coalesce into something affecting. But when it does get there, and it was the second half for me, its gentle energy and reflective charm make for a winning combination. Continue reading “Review: Table, National Theatre”