2019 What’s On Stage Award nominations

As we move towards the year end, so award season gets into full swing and What’s On Stage have now revealed their nominations celebrating everyone who works in theatre apart from sound designers and musical directors. As ever, these awards tend to work around which fanbase can weaponise the strongest and so there’s lots of love for shows which might not necessarily be troubling many other shortlists…

Still, am liking the recognition for Milly Thomas and Dust, Es Devlin’s luminous set work for Girls & Boys, and Six and The Grinning Man getting into the cast recording category (though can’t quite work out how Come From Away fits into there as well…). And it’s a bit sad that the way their eligibility period works means that Hamilton comes up against Company, making the supporting actress/actor categories ridiculously difficult to choose between.

You can vote here until 31st January, and winners will be announced on 3rd March.

Continue reading “2019 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre

Katharine Parkinson is simply superb in Laura Wade’s excellent new play Home, I’m Darling at the National Theatre

“That’s what a feminist looks like?”

What price a domestic goddess? When the chance of voluntary redundancy came up, finance worker Judy took it and with her husband Johnny, chose to indulge their mutual passion for all things 1950s by becoming a period-perfect housewife. She’s soon whipping up devilled eggs and chocolate chiffon cakes to have dinner on the table when he gets in, running his baths, pouring his drinks, getting his slippers, an idyllic picture of what marriage used to be like.

But pictures can conceal the truth and as Judy decants supermarket-bought milk into glass bottles, shoves letters into the cupboard under the sink and fixes a rictus grin on her face, it isn’t clear that picture-perfect doesn’t exist. Such is the world of Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling, a co-production between Theatr Clywd and the National Theatre, which probes incisively away at domestic politics, female choice and the wisdom of gin and lime. Continue reading “Review: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre”

Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud

Just a couple of weeks left to catch The Ferryman at the Gielgud Theatre, and it remains entirely worth it

“That is what it takes. Thatis the cost of freedom. The price is unimaginable. And here is a man who knows that. And is willing to pay it.”

Time is so, so relative in theatres isn’t it – the mere thought of a running time that exceeds three hours can send chills running down the spine. But sometimes it is a 70 minute show that can feel like a cruel eternity and in the arms of a brilliant play, you barely even notice the hours passing by, even with Edwardian-levels of leg-room available to you. 

With just a couple of weeks left to catch The Ferryman in the West End and the chance to see Rosalie Craig in a non-musical role for once, the offer to return to the Gielgud was one I couldn’t refuse. And though it is the third time I’ve seen the show, it remains a phenomenal piece of theatre in which Jez Butterworth manages that not-inconsiderable feat of making time fly. Continue reading “Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud”

Review: The Trial, Young Vic

“Innocent men like you are found guilty all the time”

The joy of my own blog (even if I can’t seem to release myself from the self-imposed tyranny of mentioning at least something about every show I see) is that I can write what I want. And on leaving the Young Vic on the penultimate day of the The Trial’s run, the prevailing opinion was ‘well that was a trial’ and ‘Kate O’Flynn wasn’t half bad’. And so that’s your lot. 

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Booking until 22nd August

Review: Eldorado, Arcola

“I don’t know anything about lobsters”

Sadly not a sequel to the escapades of Pilar and Marcus, this Eldorado is the UK premiere of Marius von Mayenburg’s 2004 play, translated by Maja Zade. It is also the first production by new theatre company Mongrel Thumb and it makes for an ambitiously bold opening statement, albeit one that is likely to have as many detractors as it does fans. von Mayenburg’s work is inscrutably European in feel (Fireface at the Young Vic is my other experience of him) and Simon Dormandy’s production can only do so much to open it up.

Which means audiences at the Arcola will have to be, well, a little less British, a bit more adventurous in accepting von Mayenburg’s version of the world. His El Dorado is a modern day urban sprawl in which property is king, so much so that even though war is raging close by, investors are excited at the potential for building on the battlefields left behind. The rush for colonisation can’t hide the cultural malaise of a society on the edge of despair though, unhappiness manifesting itself in the strangest and most pervasive of ways – lobsters, cupboards, forests, piano lids. Continue reading “Review: Eldorado, Arcola”

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba (Radio 2014/ DVD 1991)

 “To be born a woman is the worst punishment” 

The ominous funeral bell tolling throughout the opening of this Radio 3 version of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba is a brilliant scene setter, and a telling reminder that so much of the world of this play is actually only ever heard making it ideal for radio adaptation. Fearsome matriarch Bernarda Alba has declared eight years of mourning after the death of her second husband and orders her daughters to remain barricaded inside the family home with her. The younger women bristle at the restraint, especially as the sounds of the world beyond their gate let them know what they’re missing, and the family trait for stubbornness proves enduringly tragic. 

Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata’s translation sacrifices little of Lorca’s striking poetic imagery but impressively manages to keep a convincing colloquiality to the speech. It helps of course to have a strong cast – Siân Thomas’ Bernarda prickles with venom, Brigit Forsyth’s kindly housekeeper Poncia is achingly good and Kate Coogan and Elaine Cassidy as the oldest and youngest daughters battle excellently for the hand of a man and more importantly, for the freedom it represents.  Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba (Radio 2014/ DVD 1991)”

Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4

“The only thing is to grin and bear it”

Timing is everything and the anti-war message of Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play For Services Rendered failed to gain any purchase on contemporary audiences, making it something of a failure. But listening to Lu Kemp’s adaptation for Radio 4, it strikes as an extraordinarily prescient piece of work, more so given the eventual declaration and devastation of the Second World War, and it surely due for a substantial theatrical revival. As it is, this version will more than do for now as its tale of how the impact of the First World War lingered perniciously on in the lives of the nation is embodied in the trials of the Ardsley family and their friends.

Leonard and Charlotte Ardsley have four children and though superficially their lives in the Kent countryside are going well, there’s much trauma and difficulty just beneath the surface. Only son Sydney was blinded in the war and sister Eva has devoted herself entirely to his care, much to the expense of her own situation and youngest daughter Lois also finds herself unmarried due to the lack of prospects. Ethel is the one that did manage to secure herself a husband but the upheaval of wartime blinded her to his eminent lack of suitability and now in peacetime, she is left to repent at leisure. With so much bubbling away as the social order decays, it isn’t long before changes start to force themselves upon this group. Continue reading “Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4”

Review: Passion Play, Duke of York’s

“That’s what men want to hear…pornography”

The trio of recent major Peter Nicholls revivals is completed with this West End run of Passion Play. But where Privates on Parade and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg thoroughly charmed me with their insights into his back catalogue, this play felt much less like a vibrant piece of interesting theatre and more of a dated portrayal of marriage and infidelity which, despite its technical innovation, emerges as an awkward example of middle-aged male wish fulfilment (credit to @pcchan1981 for coming up with the phrase!). This is somewhat compounded by the direction of David Leveaux which brings a lascivious, almost voyeuristic sheen that feels way too retrogressive for this day and age.

Which is a shame, as there is much to enjoy here as well, not least in the sumptuous luxury of Zoë Wanamaker and Samantha Bond playing the outer and inner voices of the same character. That woman is Eleanor, who finds her marriage of 25 years to James, Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton taking on the two sides of this man, challenged by the arrival of the seductive and much younger Kate. And through the device of the alter egos, we see how the corrosive onset of infidelity affects this couple both publicly in their interactions but also privately as their innermost thoughts are given voice. Continue reading “Review: Passion Play, Duke of York’s”

DVD Review: Half Broken Things

“It seemed to me the only solution…”

Based on the Silver Dagger winning novel by Morag Joss, Half Broken Things was a psychological drama shown on ITV in 2007 and deemed worthy of my attention, as ever, due to the presence of such luminaries as Penelope Wilton and Sinéad Matthews in the cast. And in Alan Whiting’s adaptation, these talents are put to good use in in what is far from a conventional crime drama but rather an intriguingly drawn character study that sits in a grey area of morality and toys most effectively with our preconceptions.

Wilton plays Jean, a professional house-sitter whom life has passed by rather and even this one thing of hers is soon to be gone as enforced retirement looms large on the horizon after one final job looking after an idyllic mansion on the edges of a quiet village. All that changes when she gets an unexpected visit though as heavily pregnant Steph (Matthews) and new boyfriend (and petty criminal on the side) Michael (Mays) rock up on the run from her violent ex. Intending to scam Jean, instead a bond is built between the trio when Steph gives birth and the unlikeliest of surrogate families is born as the older lady insists that they stay in the house with her. Continue reading “DVD Review: Half Broken Things”

DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke

“I mean to have that ruby”

The Ruby from the Smoke is the first in a series of four books featuring adventuring lead character Sally Lockhart. Here a mysterious message received from her father just before he drowned in the South China Seas sets her on a dangerous journey which starts with a man dying in front of her very eyes at the mere mention of what is contained within. She is then drawn into a mystery involving the opium trade, the fabled Ruby of Agrapur and even secrets from her own family history as her life is under constant peril from the dastardly Mrs Holland.

This was one of those things that I pretty much knew I was going to love from the moment I heard about it, but it certainly does help that I do really like the actress that Billie Piper has become. There’s an inner strength to her as well as a richly warm quality that is highly endearing and ideally suited to this modern figure of a woman, challenging Victorian notions of womanhood as she strives to uncover the truth. And Pullman writes extremely well for his female characters, something carried over in Adrian Hodges’ screenplay, as Hayley Atwell’s Rosa makes a sterling ally for Sally and as the evil Mrs Holland, Julie Walters makes a convincing villain. Obviously casting against type, it is an astonishingly effective performance, exuding huge malevolence and full of spine-chilling touches – the false teeth in particular – it’s a vein of work she ought to pursue a little more. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke”