Review: Dear Evan Hansen, Noël Coward Theatre

There’s much to like about Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre, not least a brilliant lead performance from Sam Tutty

“Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?”

After seeing Dear Evan Hansen, you realise that its title can be taken two ways. It’s the salutation on a letter that precipitates a world of trouble for the awkward teenager and those around him as per Steven Levenson’s effectively contemporary book. But it also ultimately emerges as an affectionate form of address, troublingly so as the show latterly pulls its punches around some of the harder-hitting topics that it raises.

High-school senior Evan’s life is crippled by social anxiety. His hard-working single mum barely has time for him, he’s got no mates to speak of, and his therapist keeps setting him homework. Then when one of his classmates Connor Murphy dies by suicide, a chink of light unexpectedly cracks through his depression, as an unlikely chain of events leads him to claiming that they were best friends in order to emotionally support the grieving family. Continue reading “Review: Dear Evan Hansen, Noël Coward Theatre”

June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: High Society, Old Vic

“Not bad for a 35 year old”

Kevin Spacey’s swansong as artistic director at the Old Vic doesn’t open officially until next week but I only have a handful of days left for the above quote to remain pertinent to myself so I’m writing up High Society now – the usual disclaimers about previews apply. Maria Friedman’s directorial debut was the highly critically acclaimed Merrily We Roll Along so it makes sense for her to return to the world of musical theatre with this Cole Porter classic, given added spin here as the venue remains in the round.

It’s a funny old piece though, Arthur Kopit’s book is based on Philip Barry’s 1939 play The Philadelphia Story and follows the trials of Tracy Lord (I didn’t know they had Tracys in the 1930s), a rich socialite about to get married who suddenly finds herself with three suitors – her dull fiancé, a charismatic tabloid journalist and her dashing ex-husband. As the pre-wedding parties start and the champagne flows liberally, there’s decisions to be made and some of Porter’s finest songs to be sung but little real fizz, to start with at least. Continue reading “Review: High Society, Old Vic”

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Dancing, Richmond Theatre

“But if at last we’re able to smile
We’ll prove it was all worth while”
 
And what would you know, they saved for the best for last. It wasn’t just the end of 10 hours in a theatre that made me happy, I really did prefer this final part of Tonight at 8.30.
 

Dancing
Family Portrait, Hands Across The Sea and Shadow Play

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Dinner, Richmond Theatre

“This can’t last. This misery can’t last….Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness or despair”

Seeing the three parts of Tonight at 8.30 on the same day left me shattered so I am ducking out of full reviews for them and just ranking them in order of preference.

Dinner
Ways and Means, Fumed Oak, and Still Life

Silver medal for Dinner – Still Life (better known as the inspiration for Brief Encounter) is among the highlights of the whole thing but Fumed Oak is one of the weakest with its gender politics too much of its time.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Tonight at 8.30 – Cocktails, Richmond Theatre

 “We’re not tight and we’re not too bright “

Boxset viewing in now de rigueur in the Netflix age so it is only natural that theatre should follow suit. The 3 James plays at the National can be (and will be) viewed on the same day and so too can the three parts of Noël Coward’s Tonight at 8.30, touring the UK after a run at the Nuffield. Blanche McIntyre’s production for ETT can also be seen in three separate chunks but the impact of the triple bill really helps the 9 plays feed off of each other and highlight the strength of the ensemble (and also pull you through the dips in quality that inevitably come with so much writing from one author).

Cocktails
We Were Dancing, The Astonished Heart and Red Peppers

Probably gets the bronze medal as my least favourite of the three parts.

Running time: 2 hours
Booking until 14th June, then touring to Oxford Playhouse, The Lowry, Cambridge Arts, Theatre Royal Brighton and Hall for Cornwall in Truro
Photo: Mark Douet

Review: Company, Southwark Playhouse

“Everything’s different, nothing’s changed, only maybe slightly rearranged”

Marking the first ever musical to play at the Southwark Playhouse, Stephen Sondheim’s Company is one of the few shows that didn’t receive an airing in London last year (aside from the Donmar concert version) but receives a fringe production here from Mokitagrit, who are riding high on the recent success of Double Falsehood which is now transferring to the New Players Theatre for a brief extended run. It contains some of Sondheim’s greatest songs, but with its tricksy structure and book by George Furth, I have found it a difficult show to love.

The story centres on eternal singleton Bobby who is just about to turn 35. He is juggling three girlfriends and the 5 sets of married couples that make up his best friends are keen for him to settle down, but as the show progresses through a series of vignettes that look at each couple in turn, we see that each couple has their own story, their own take on marriage and their exhortations for Bobby to give up his bachelorhood masks issues in their own lives. Continue reading “Review: Company, Southwark Playhouse”