Review: Quiz, Noël Coward

Whether you get to make your West End debut or not, James Graham’s Quiz is great fun at the Noël Coward Theatre

“It’s a 50:50 – guilty or not-guilty”

It’s taken me a little while to get around to seeing James Graham’s Quiz but it proved more than worth it as this particular matinée was undoubtedly enhanced by the West End debut of…me and my Aunty Jean! Treading the boards of the Noël Coward Theatre was an unexpected bonus to a highly enjoyable afternoon, and I look forward to the next role that Mr Graham creates for me…

But back to the matter at hand. Transferring over from Chichester, Quiz takes a cock-eyed look at the world of light entertainment, and the way in which ‘constructed reality’ has bled into the larger narrative not just of our television, but of our society. Using the ‘coughing major’ scandal of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as a jump-off point, we dive into meaty notions of truth and justice in a media-dominated age. Continue reading “Review: Quiz, Noël Coward”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

© Trevor Leighton
Given how she’s doing such amazing work in Follies at the minute, it’s kinda gobsmacking to discover that Janie Dee has not one but two cabaret shows lined up for the beginning of October. Returning to Live at Zédel, fans have the pick of Janie Dee at the BBC – album launch or Janie Dee – Off the Record… or you can do both on the same night for a couple of dates if you’re that way inclined! I’m seriously tempted!


One of the highlights of Bat out of Hell was Sharon Sexton’s pneumatic performance so I’m gutted that I can’t make Sucked, which is trailed as a sitcom-style musical comedy and features Sexton with Riona O’Connor. Move quickly though, one of their two shows has already sold out.


Theatre Royal Bath has announced full casting for Christmas Eve, which today begins rehearsals. Niamh Cusack will play philosophy professor Judith and Patrick Baladi will play police officer Thomas. The new thriller is the latest play from multi-award winning writer Daniel Kehlmann and will be directed by Laurence Boswell, in a translation by Christopher Hampton. The production will run at the Ustinov Studio from Thursday 19 October to Saturday 18 November.


On Christmas Eve 2017, a philosophy professor is on her way to celebrate Christmas when she is bundled into police headquarters and an interrogation room. Opposite her the senior officer is cynical, smart and relentless. Played out in real time, two powerful antagonists are pitted head to head against each other. Both think they are saving their country but only one of them will win…


The London Horror Festival is back for a 7th terrifying year to thrill and chill audiences for 3 jam packed weeks this Halloween season. The UK’s original and largest festival of live horror performance returns to the Old Red Lion Theatre following the great success of 2016.
With official sponsorship from Hobgoblin, ‘the unofficial beer of Halloween’, and horror artist Jessica F. Holt, this annual celebration of the horror genre is going strong and 2017 is their biggest line-up yet with an eclectic programme of 23 different shows on offer.
The London Horror Festival works to promote new and innovative work in the arts, support London fringe theatre and is dedicated to providing a platform for artists and companies working in the horror genre. This year promises a mix of theatre, puppetry, cabaret, spoken word, body horror, clowning and comedy, featuring satanic cults, mummies, zombies, ghosts, vampires and the bodies of Frankenstein!
Shows to look forward to include 5 star horror comedy Curse of the Mummy from Last Chance Saloon, fresh from their Edinburgh triumph, fellow 5 star fringe successes The Twins Macabre, The Underground Clown Club returning with the 5 star Knock Knock followed by their new show Who’s There?, and reworkings of classic tales including a comic adaptation H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth by Hidden Basement Productions and a gender-switched version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven by critically-acclaimed Evcol Entertainment.
For something different after dark, stay up late for an exclusive midnight performance of Felix Le Freak’s Shockbuster Video presented by the folks behind the wildly popular PopHorror cabaret club nights, then party the night away with their very own DJ until 3am.



Not content with taking over two-thirds of the theatres on St Martins Lane (with Ink and Labour of Love), James Graham’s reach is also stretching out to the regions. His new play Quiz, which opens at Chichester Festival Theatre in November, has now had its cast revealed.

Gavin Spokes plays Charles Ingram, the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? fraudster and Stephanie Street joins him as his wife Diana. The company is completed by Nadia Albina, Paul Bazely, Keir Charles, Greg Haiste, Mark Meadows, Henry Pettigrew, Jay Villiers, Lizzie Winkler and Sarah Woodward.

Directed by CFT’s artistic director Daniel Evans, Quiz will have designs by Robert Jones, with lighting by Tim Lutkin, music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham, video by Tim Reid and movement by Naomi Said. Quiz plays in the Minerva Theatre from 10 November to 9 December.

Dispatches from the Vaults #2

“I didn’t think you all look the same”

I saw Tim Foley’s Astronauts of Hartlepool at the end of a long weekend and truth be told, I was just too tired to enjoy it properly. I’d love to read it and see it again, and then probably read it again, to get a fuller appreciation of how complex its hour. Layers upon layers are built up by Foley in his political sci-fi epic (Battlestar Galactica (the remake) as done by BBC3) in which Sophie Steer’s Aidan encounters multiple versions of Rakhee Thakrar’s dimension-hopping Nadia. They always meet in Hartlepool but all is not what it seems, even for the Brexit-voting North-East and Foley intelligently works in a deep critique of where we’ve let our country get to as well as keeping the tone admirably light. I just need to be less tired so I can concentrate more, sorry y’all.

Borderland/Calais was formulated as a response to not just the closure of the Calais refugee camps but also the media coverage thereof, using verbatim theatre techniques to give voice to those disenfranchised, dehumanised, demonised even by being part of what could be called one of the great humanitarian crises of the 21st Century. Over the week of the run, the programme featured a range of guest performers, from Rudi Dharmalingam, Lucy Ellinson and Yusra Warsama, to Denise Gough and Vera Chok who I saw deliver Borderland, written by Prasanna Puwanarajah and Stephanie Street, and Inua Ellam who performed Calais, woven from the Twitter Feeds of the Help Refugees and the Refugee Info Bus by Maddy Costa. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #2”

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre

“The world doesn’t work in our favour”

Rufus Norris is set to take over the artistic directorship of the National Theatre in April next year but makes an admirably bold move in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Adapted by David Hare from the 2012 non-fiction work of the same name by Katherine Boo, who spent three years living, investigating and writing about life in the Indian slum of Annawadi which lies in the shadow of Mumbai airport, it’s sprawling and scrappy yet epic and enlightening as it elucidates something of what it means to be this far below the poverty line. It is rarely comfortable viewing but its unflinching and unsentimental approach feels essential.

Whether accurate or overemphasised, a strongly matriarchal societal structure emerges in this version of Annawadi as wives and mothers seize the initiative in the face of feckless husbands and sheer necessity. Which results in the pleasing preponderance of excellent female roles – Stephanie Street’s Sikh Asha is the fixer for the entire neighbourhood, putting work at the expense of even a special birthday party her kids have put on; Thusitha Jayasundera’s crippled Fatima is a cyclone of malevolent anger that dominates her household; and Meera Syal’s practical Zehrunisa looks set to secure her family’s future out of the slum with some canny deal-making. Continue reading “Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

2012 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
James Corden – One Man, Two Guvnors at the National, Lyttelton & Adelphi 
Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein at the National, Olivier 
Jude Law – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse 
Kevin Spacey – Richard III at the Old Vic 
David Tennant – Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndham’s
James Earl Jones – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s 

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Vanessa Redgrave – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s 
Eve Best – Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe 
Kristin Scott Thomas – Betrayal at the Comedy 
Ruth Wilson – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse 
Samantha Spiro – Chicken Soup with Barley at the Royal Court Downstairs
Tamsin Greig – Jumpy at the Royal Court Downstairs Continue reading “2012 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Nightwatchman, National Theatre

Forming the first half of Double Feature 2 is this debut play from Prasanna Puwanarajah. Puwanarajah has a lot he wants to get off his plate, several ideas bubbling under and consequently the end of result is that Nightwatchman is both overloaded – thematically its reach incorporates too many weighty issues for the running time – and undernourished – the format precludes any of them being dealt with in a satisfactory manner. Whether its talking about the travails of playing a minority sport like women’s cricket, delving into her own history as growing up ‘different’, in many senses of the word, in Salford, recounting the troubled history of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka or debating matters of identity and nationality in a multicultural world, flashes of insight constantly emerge, hinting at a playwright who does show promise.

But in flitting around such huge topics without really engaging with them beyond the superficial, there’s a sense of frustration that builds. A fair amount of knowledge is presumed of the audience member, my hazy recall of the recent geopolitics in the region didn’t help enough, and the jargon-filled cricket references mainly sailed on by. Worst of all though, is that is makes Abirami a largely unsympathetic protagonist. Every time the surface is scratched and the promise of something interesting to further develop is revealed, Puwanarajah ducks away and the attention diverted elsewhere. Stephanie Street battles gamely to bring life beyond the labels, to flesh out this character beyond being a simple vessel to spout words but she is fighting a losing battle against the material. It is a fine performance though. Continue reading “Review: Nightwatchman, National Theatre”

Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court

Court Shorts is part of the Royal Court’s Rough Cuts season, where works-in-progress and experimental pieces are performed in front of audiences as part of their development. Three plays were performed as rehearsed readings which were Permafrost by Brad Birch, Buried by Alia Bano and Hard Gravity by DC Jackson. This is just a quick recap of the plays for my reference really, as these aren’t being presented as things to review.

Brad Birch’s Royal Court debut, Permafrost, is a meditation on the grieving process set in a Northern town, charting the growing relationship between widowed Mary and Michael, a factory colleague of the deceased man, as she seeks a solace that he can’t quite provide and edging closer to a more meaningful connection as she seeks to maintain the link between them. James Macdonald directed this, stepping in at the last minute as Sam Taylor Wood had to withdraw due to prior commitments which was a shame as it would have been really interesting to see where she was thinking of taking the piece. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court”