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”

RSC release new Cymbeline trailer

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s more rarely performed plays and it is a thought that seems to have struck several artistic directors as 2016 has seen three major productions announced. Dominic Dromgoole included it in his outgoing season of late plays at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (my review here), Emma Rice is transforming it into Imogen at the Globe later this autumn, and Melly Still is currently tackling the play for the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 15th October.

The RSC’s production will then transfer to London’s Barbican for a limited season from 31st October until 17th December 2016 so you have no excuse not to do a compare and contrast exercise between the Globe and the RSC’s approaches to the romance, power, jealousy, love and reconciliation of this surprising play. A trailer for Still’s contemporary adaptation can be found below and all ticket information for both Stratford and London can be found here.

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I am a spirit of no common rate”

The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

 “This bodes some strange eruption to our state”

It shouldn’t be newsworthy in this day and age but it is impossible to ignore and important to recognise this does mark the first time that a black actor has played the title role in Hamlet at the RSC in the 50+ years since its founding. The task falls to 25-year-old Paapa Essiedu (last seen at the Royal Court but most memorable from the Finborough’s Black Jesus) in Simon Godwin’s production, which relocates the play to West Africa.

It is an interpretation full of bold choices – opening at Hamlet’s Wittenberg graduation ceremony whose celebratory mood is shattered by his father’s funeral cortège scything through the stage – and largely successful, underpinned by Essiedu’s assuredly capricious performance of impulsive exuberance. This Hamlet is a lover not a fighter, an artist rather than a soldier, youthfully funny but full of a student’s swagger rather than lived-in experience. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”

Review: Brave New World, Royal and Derngate

“Everyone belongs to everyone else”

Depictions of dystopian near-future worlds are two-a-penny these days so what makes Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World so striking is that it was written in 1932. Its foretelling of a society dominated by technology, loveless sex and capitalist greed has obvious resonance today and so it makes sense for a stage adaptation, co-produced by Northampton’s Royal and Derngate and The Touring Consortium Theatre Company. Dawn King, she of the excellent Foxfinder, discreetly reshapes the narrative to its new form but doesn’t actually interfere too much with the source material.

Creatively, director James Dacre has gathered an excellent team around him who deliver great results in Naomi Dawson’s impressive retro-futuristic design Original music by These New Puritans mixes with George Dennis’ icy sound design to provide a vivid soundscape, and Colin Grenfell’s lighting complements Keith Skretch’s video work to create a strong visual aesthetic that probably errs to high-end contemporary rather than all-out futuristic, its targeted advertisements, corporate shininess and civil liberties-impinging data collection already a reality.  Continue reading “Review: Brave New World, Royal and Derngate”

Review: Julius Caesar, Noël Coward Theatre

“Men may construe things after their fashion clean from the purpose of the things themselves”

I hadn’t originally intended to take in Gregory Doran’s all-black version of Julius Caesar for the RSC, not for any particular reason than just that it didn’t really appeal. It seemed that my instincts had paid off when it was announced that, with a rather odd sense of timing, the production would be filmed in Stratford-upon-Avon and shown on television before it made its transfer to London’s Noël Coward Theatre and then on to a UK tour. But upon watching this televised version which mixed location shooting with action filmed on-stage, I was utterly seduced by Doran’s reinterpretation which sees the play relocated into some unspecified modern African dictatorship.

Most of what I said about the production in my review of the film still holds true so I won’t repeat myself too much. Having been spoiled by the intimacy that television cameras provided, it was a little difficult to readjust expectations in light of being seated in the rear stalls. Missing so much of the detailing, and indeed the clarity of much of the text in a couple of heavily-accented places, meant that I never felt quite as connected to the action as I had previously been, an interesting thing to discover given that the live experience is the one that is always trumpeted. Michael Vale’s crumbling set design did look impressive though, with its looming statue an ever-present reminder of the seeming inevitability of oppressive leadership.

Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Noël Coward Theatre”

TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4

“Men, at some times, are masters of their fate”

In the near-overwhelming deluge of Shakespeare love on the BBC which is about to reach its crescendo with the debut of the Hollow Crown season, the decision to film and broadcast the RSC’s current production of Julius Caesar seems a rather perverse one. The show, an all-black adaptation relocated to an unspecified modern African state by director Gregory Doran, has yet to complete its Stratford-upon-Avon run and will embark on a major UK tour including a residency in the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to present it on our televisions – I only hope this does not impact on ticket sales (though given it played on BBC4, one does wonder what viewing figures were actually like…).

Of course, watching a play on screen is not the same as watching it live and though this starts with the opening scene recorded at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the first transition cleverly moves us into location filming and so the production gains a filmic quality which makes use of varied locations, including a return to the RST, direct addresses to camera, ‘found’ cellphone footage and voiceovers to really translate the theatrical interpretation into something new for the screen, as opposed to simply replicating it. The relocation is a simple, yet powerfully effective one, the overthrowing of a military dictator by less than honourable types is something which will seemingly always have currency in the modern world, but more importantly the concept is worn lightly with little shoe-horning necessary to make it work. Instead it flows beautifully and naturally to great effect. Continue reading “TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4”

Review: Drive Ride Walk, Greenwich Theatre

“I can’t believe I’m falling again”

Drive Ride Walk is a piece of new musical theatre from Filament Theatre by Osnat Schmool, developed from a two-song 10-minute sketch into this hour-long show which combines 9-person acapella singing with physical theatre about commuting in London. It follows three different journeys through the capital: a cyclist winding her way through the traffic who has a chance encounter with a handsome pedestrian, a newly-qualified driver taking friends for a drive and a group of commuters who have to deal with an unexpected change to their daily routine.

It is very loosely structured and freeform in its nature, both in terms of its story-telling and the music itself and so to be honest, it proved to be quite a trying experience in all. Schmool’s score is rather flat, accompanied occasionally by cello and accordion but mainly eschewing songs for densely-packed vocal lines and murkily repeated phrases which resembled nothing so much as vocal doodling rather than bursting with musicality. My reaction to it reminded me of how I felt about John Adams’ I Was Looking At The Ceiling… in that whatever it is about certain kinds of music that appeals to some just flies right over my head. I just couldn’t see what they were trying to achieve here and though it was only an hour, it felt much longer.

It didn’t help that there was little sense of meaningful plot or character progression presented to us. There’s a lot of little glimpses into the daily lives of our group of protagonists and the hints of interesting stories suggested, Jon-Paul Hevey’s flirty stranger and Stuart King’s call centre worker promised some interest, but none of them are really pursued to any depth which left me frustrated about what could have been. And whilst it accurately portrays the mundanity of travelling around a busy city, by not providing anything more of substance, it doesn’t offer any reason to care about what is happening.

Things were exacerbated by the use of movement which was too rarely amusing, the etiquette (or lack thereof) of packed tubes and crowded zebra-crossings was wryly observed although hardly anything new, and too often painfully laboured. Whilst there was nothing to match the infamous simulation of sex through watering cans, the sequence in which the quote at the top was repeated and demonstrated by, you’ve guessed it, everyone falling over and over again and again in the stagiest of manners drove me to distraction.

The ensemble of nine were enthusiastic and delivered a tightly knit performance but that wasn’t enough to win me over with a show which really did feel like a work-in-progress rather than a fully-fledged work. Even the way in which the local choir was co-opted into some scenes felt like a wasted opportunity as they were barely used at all (although perhaps understandable if they are using a new choir local to each venue they visit). It is a bit mean but I cannot resist the bad pun: sadly this a show to drive, ride or walk right past.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 26th February then playing Stratford Circus and Jackson’s Lane.