The 2018 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Shortlist announced

The clocks have gone back and so it’s time to start reflecting on the year gone by. And first out of the gate in terms of the major theatre awards, the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards have released their shortlist. Winners to be announced on Sunday 18th November at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London.

The expansion to five nominees feels like a good thing, making the lists feel a little less random, but I remain piqued at the differentiation between best actor/actress in a play and best musical performance, not least since it means no-one from Hamilton or Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is up for an individual nod, and Patti LuPone and Jonny Bailey end up robbed!

But that’s the joy of these things, they’re entirely subjective even when your panel consists of Henry Hitchings, Baz Bamigboye, Mark Lawson, Sarah Crompton and Matt Wolf. And I’m liking the love for Nine Night and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, wondering whether I should have made the effort to see Translations, and pondering whether I should be re-booking for Caroline or Change

EVENING STANDARD THEATRE AWARDS 2018 – SHORTLIST

BEST ACTOR in partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group
Bryan Cranston Network, National Theatre (Lyttelton)
Ralph Fiennes Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre (Olivier)
Ian McKellen King Lear, Minerva Chichester & Duke of York’s
Colin Morgan Translations, National Theatre (Olivier)
Kyle Soller The Inheritance, Young Vic & Noël Coward Theatre

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS in partnership with Christian Louboutin
Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy Barton, Bridge Theatre
Carey Mulligan Girls and Boys, Royal Court
Cecilia Noble Nine Night, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Sophie Okonedo Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre (Olivier)
Lia Williams The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar Warehouse Continue reading “The 2018 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Shortlist announced”

Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar

Featuring the prime of the most excellent Lia Williams, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an undoubted success for the Donmar Warehouse

“Miss Mackay thinks to intimidate me with quarter-hours”

Everyone has that teacher that they never forget. Sometimes it’s because they were brilliant, sometimes it’s because they bent the rules, sometimes it’s because they were so bloody-minded that they remain so unforgettable. For the selected few pupils of Edinburgh’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls who found themselves in the orbit of the entirely charismatic Miss Jean Brodie, it’s all three reasons at the same time that are destined to make her such an iconic figure in their schooling.

Based on the novel by Muriel Sparks, David Harrower’s new stage adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie not only marks the 100th anniversary year of Spark’s birth but provides a scorchingly fantastic opportunity for Lia Williams to inhabit the title role so fully as to sit proudly aside Maggie Smith’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1969 film. It’s a stunning piece of acting – elevated by stunning wig and costume work – that captures so much of that beguiling power that a teacher can possess. Continue reading “Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar”

Review: Orca, Southwark Playhouse

“One girl, against the happiness of the whole village. Can you not see it has to be done?”

The Papatango prize has unearthed some fascinating new writing over the last few years, Luke Owen’s Unscorched, Louise Monaghan’s Pack and Dawn King’s Foxfinder to name just a few, and it is to the last play there that this year’s winner bears some thematic similarity. Mining a vein of dystopian folklore clearly gets you far in this competition and Matt Grinter’s Orca proves itself an interesting winner.

Directed by Alice Hamilton at the Southwark Playhouse, Orca works best as a skin-crawling pseudo-thriller, the ominous weight of something terribly wrong weighing down this community. On a remote island, an isolated village goes through the same ritual they’ve carried out for years – selecting a young girl to enact a mock sacrifice to disperse the orca pods who decimate the fishing stocks on which the community relies so heavily. Continue reading “Review: Orca, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: buckets, Orange Tree

“What we want – and you know this, but I’ll say it again – what we need is lists. People like lists. They share lists”

One of the more difficult jobs that Paul Miller has had, dealing with the loss of Arts Council England funding aside, is in bridging the gap between the old and the new at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre. As the incoming Artistic Director, his debut season has more than doubled the number of first-time visitors to this in-the-round space – fuelled by buzz-worthy successes like Pomona, soon to be revived at the National – but Miller has also kept a keen eye on existing audiences, making sure that the shift in programming, with a wide range of new writers and directors, hasn’t come at their expense but rather just widened the remit of this venue.

And it is tempting to see buckets , the latest production there, as something of a bridge – Rania Jumaily is the Orange Tree’s Resident Director and first-time (full-length) writer Adam Barnard started as a trainee director here back in 2003 but together, they’ve come up with a subtly forward-thinking piece of theatre. Initial impressions are a little reminiscent of a Gap advert with the company of six draped in shades of blue and white and flowers scattered around a stage dominated by a stainless steel slide but in the midst of James Turner’s innocuous-seeming set, an intriguing mode of storytelling emerges. Continue reading “Review: buckets, Orange Tree”

Re-review: The James Plays, National Theatre

“The wheel will turn. The wheel always turns. The wheel will turn around again.”

One of the joys of a boxset is that they can be watched over and over again so when I equated the joy of seeing all three of The James Plays on the same day as below 

 I kind of knew in the back of my mind that I would be trying my damnedest to get to the second of the two three-show-days in order to get that experience again whilst the opportunity was there. 

And since I’m clearly in credit with the theatrical karma gods at the moment, a ticket made its way into my grateful hands and I was able to go through the whole 10 and a half hour rollercoaster ride through this vibrantly realised cross-section of under-explored Scottish history. As ever, it was great to be able to revisit such interesting plays – original reviews can be read here James I – The Key Will Keep The LockJames II – Day of The Innocents and James III – The True Mirror – especially now there’s a little more distance from the Scottish referendum which coloured much of the coverage of the plays. There isn’t too much more to say about them aside from I hope they are absorbed into the theatrical culture and emerge again soon somehow, somewhere.

Review: James III – The True Mirror (plus overview of the trilogy), National Theatre

“Scotland herself doesn’t know what kind of nation she is half the time but I’ve learned that there’s no sense being frightened of what you don’t know”

If the world of James III – The True Mirror is what Scottish independence might have actually looked like, then I reckon the Yeses might have had it. Pithy remark aside, the costume work is spectacular here, conjuring up a modern classic look for the Scots that is to die for and which also serves as a visual cue into this production, the final of Rona Munro’s James Plays which abandons its medieval setting for this notional updating. Seeing it as the final part of the marathon trilogy day, it was a brilliant shift in tone and the pre-show entertainment (simply not to be missed) just adds to the sparkling invention as pop songs get the ceilidh treatment from Alasdair MacRae.

Though the play may be entitled James III, the reality is that this slice of the Stewart monarchy was indubitably shared with his wife Margaret of Denmark. The third king of his name was a capricious fellow indeed, the self-confessed “sparkle before the dark”, a rebellious dandy concerned far more with the trappings of monarchy than the minutiae of ruling, most amusingly evidenced by his procurement of a choir to accompany him at all times. By contrast, his pragmatic wife (“from a rational nation with reasonable people” lest you forget!) looks after the treasury, pets the furrowed brow of the privy council and generally rules the roost. Of course she does, she’s Sarah Lund! Continue reading “Review: James III – The True Mirror (plus overview of the trilogy), National Theatre”

Review: James II – Day of The Innocents, National Theatre

“You’re a great-great-great-grandson of the Bruce. Like me. You could be King.”

On first sight, it may seem that James II – Day of The Innocents is the weakest of The James Plays. On a personal note, it is blighted with blasted puppets which is rarely a good thing for me and more generally, the structure of the first half is more challenging than anything else across the trilogy. But on reflection and on reading the play, it isn’t that difficult to follow and across the broader sweep of the three dramas, there’s something admirable in the determination of writer Rona Munro and director Laurie Sansom to stamp a different identity on each one and ensure that whilst seeing them all would be great, it is far from necessary.

As with his father, assassinated by some disgruntled noblemen, the young James II finds himself a prisoner for much of his early life, this time held captive by Scotsmen though, who use the young monarch to legitimise their dominance of the privy council. Through a series of fever dreams, flashbacks are played out with nightmarish intensity by the puppets whilst concurrently we see their effects on a haunted young man. Much of the success of these scenes lies with the listeners – Blythe Duff’s imprisoned Isabella and Sarah Higgins’ compassionate Meg – who anchor the fantasia of this first half and gently hint at the forthcoming trials that James must face. Continue reading “Review: James II – Day of The Innocents, National Theatre”

Review: James I – The Key Will Keep The Lock, National Theatre

“I am the King of Scots. In 18 years I never forgot that”

The first of The James Plays – a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre (of Great Britain) – James I – The Key Will Keep The Lock sets the tone for this Scottish history trilogy brilliantly. Rona Munro guides us in with the recognisable figure of Henry V of England but then unleashing upon us the little-known and little-explored early Stewart kings and the maelstrom of conflict that was the Scottish court.

The reason we meet Henry V (a wonderfully belligerent Jamie Sives) is that for 18 years he kept James Stewart a prisoner, humiliating him at every opportunity, and it is only after Henry’s death that James was able to negotiate a release to return to his own kingdom, albeit one that barely recognised or wanted him. From these inauspicious beginnings, we then see how he sets about ruling with an iron fist, finding that the only way to dominate the murderous noblemen is join right in the skulduggery. Continue reading “Review: James I – The Key Will Keep The Lock, National Theatre”