My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

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20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

10 questions for 10 years – Ross McGregor

The only interview (so far) to feature the phrase ‘horse race sex scene’, have a read of Ross McGregor’s 10 questions for 10 years

Frankenstein to The White Rose to Taro to The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde. Trying to pick my favourite Arrows & Traps show is like picking your favourite child (always the middle one!) and naturally in choosing Anna Karenina with its waltzing romanticism, I went wrong đŸ˜‰ In any case, I enjoyed getting to know their artistic director Ross McGregor a little better here.

“Your favourite?! Well, thank you very much. The one I didn’t write, haha. My favourite memory is the look on my movement director’s face (Will Pinchin) when I told him I needed him to choreograph a horse race at a derby, that was simultaneously a sex scene. And watching him slowly make a note that read: “horse race sex scene”, and underline it, and not ask me why. In my defence, it was in the script. And thanks to Will’s enormous talent, and the cast’s incredible efforts, the scene was an absolute highlight of the piece, and I was very proud of the team when they showed it to me.”

  • Where were you 10 years ago?

    I was in Norwich, working for a different theatre company that specialised in regional touring. We did classics and more than our fair share of seat-filler fodder (Godber, Coward, Aykbourn, etc.). Looking back at that time is strange as we were touring nationally but didn’t really have much of a sense of planning or patience. We definitely tried to run before we could walk, which is why the theatre company ultimately failed to flourish. It seemed an easier time, but I guess everything does when you’re in your twenties. I remember the Norfolk winds though, eeesh that place is cold.

    Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Ross McGregor”

Review: The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ queer noir take on The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde is a contemporary adaptation that speaks to the ages at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“It’s verging on the apocalyptic”

Well if you’re going to do the classics, you might as well do them like this! Ross McGregor’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella updates The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde to the 2020 US presidential election but it also infuses the story with an undeniable air of menace and queerness that at once feels contemporary and entirely respectful of the source.

McGregor has taken clear inspiration from ‘Mayor Pete’ for his version of Henry Jekyll, an energetic young senator from Indiana who, in light of Trump’s impeachment, dares to dream of rescuing the Oval Office. Against a backdrop of seemingly never-ending school shootings, his platform is a vociferously anti-gun one but as investigative journalist Gabrielle joins his team, she discovers there’s more than just a skeleton in the closet… 
Continue reading “Review: The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde, Brockley Jack”

10 questions for 10 years – Christopher Tester

Actor and voiceover artist Christopher Tester takes a thoughtful trip through his 10 questions

With his indecently listenable voice, Christopher Tester is the kind of actor who makes you sit up when he starts talking and I’ve enjoyed many of his performances over the last few years. Up at the top though is probably The Picture of John Gray.

“In many ways it was the ideal fringe experience – beautiful new writing, with a generous and talented company, which felt like it was really offering something important in a room above a pub. I think it sits up there with The White Rose as a show that prompted a huge response from its audience which I was very aware of while performing it. And the fact that it was based on little known real characters gave it an extra weight – a feeling that these people’s lives were resonating beyond their own time. It also gave me a scene where I just had to pour my guts out a little bit, and however much it’s “never about you”, that I had that opportunity coupled with writing deft enough to (hopefully) avoid indulgence was pretty special. You do it because you want to offer your heart.
And maybe kiss an actor as pretty as Patrick Walsh McBride.”

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Review: TARO, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ TARO is a beautiful tribute to a historical figure we have sorely neglected, playing now at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“In the lens it looks different”

If TARO is to be Arrows & Traps’ final production, then it’s a hell of a high note to go out on. Bringing together so much of what has made them an enjoyable and enlightening company to follow, it’s a swansong to be proud of as the #FemaleFirsts season turns its attentions to Gerda Taro, a pioneering photojournalist whose distinction as the first female war photographer killed in action proves to be far from the most interesting thing about her.

Born Gerda Pohorylle in Stuttgart 1910, the rise of Nazism splintered her Jewish family as she, her brother and her parents were forcibly ejected to different countries. Finding herself in Paris, a chance encounter with fellow refugee Endre Freidmann sparked an interest in photography which they then parlayed into careers in war photography that revolutionised the genre. Their work covering the Spanish Civil War was the fateful making of them. Continue reading “Review: TARO, Brockley Jack”

Review: Gentleman Jack, Brockley Jack

Arrows & Traps’ #FemaleFirsts season kicks off with the striking Anne Lister biography Gentleman Jack at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“This is Paris
This is England
And this is Yorkshire!”

The temptation with biographies – particularly of those of trailblazing figures – can be to treat them with the kind of reverence that smooths away rough edges, excusing behaviour that would otherwise be questionable and questioned. So it is pleasing to see that Ross McGregor’s new play Gentleman Jack respects its subject enough to give a full picture of their life.

That subject is Anne Lister, a nineteenth century Yorkshirewoman whose determination to buck societal convention earned her the sobriquet of the “first modern lesbian”. Her daring lay more than just in her open sexuality though; as an heiress and landowner, she redefined expectations of what women could achieve society as she and her partner sought to break into the mining industry.

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20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack

An imaginative take on a familiar tale – Arrows & Traps’ Dracula is good Hallowe’en fare at the Brockley Jack Theatre

“I am counting down the days until we get to Whitby”

On National Coming Out day, there’s something rather delicious about the first act climax of Dracula being set to a haunting remix of Britney’s ‘Toxic’. He may be fangs-deep in Lucy and longing to make Mina his countess but we all saw how taken he was by Jonathan as he set up for a shave. Love is love is love, right, or should that be a vein is a vein is a vein… 

Arrows & Traps have turned their hand to horror before, with a fearlessly inventive take on Frankenstein which lit up the Brockley Jack last year. So adaptor/director Ross McGregor turning to Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula makes sense, not least as at offers ample opportunity to refresh its rather dustily antiquated take on gender. Continue reading “Review: Dracula, Brockley Jack”

Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack

Arrows and Traps hit the mark once more with the deeply moving The White Rose at the Brockley Jack Theatre

Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg? Wollt ihr ihn, wenn nötig, totaler und radikaler, als wir ihn uns heute überhaupt erst vorstellen können?”* 

How do we make the choice to resist? At what point do we decide that enough is enough in the creeping erosion of our democracy? When former foreign secretaries rip up ministerial codes or chief whips ignore Commons voting conventions? When presidents attack their own FBI and defend despots? Some 250,000 bodies may have thronged the streets of London last week to register their disapproval of the US Commander in Chief but what happens when the ‘other side’ has won, when the act of peaceful protest becomes civil disobedience.

It is into such a world that The White Rose throws us. It is 1943 and having insinuated their way into every level of German society and instituted a systemic indoctrination of much of the population, the Nazis have been in power for a decade. But the tectonic shifts of World War II have finally started to fall in the Allies’ favour and finding safety in like-minded numbers, students of the University of Munich have coalesced into an underground movement, publishing anti-Nazi leaflets and distributing them across the Fatherland. Could such amazing courage go unpunished? Continue reading “Review: The White Rose, Brockley Jack”