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
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

10 questions for 10 years – James Graham

Playwright James Graham may have had two plays in the  West End at the same time but can he handle ten questions from me?!

Though he’s arguably now best known as a purveyor of politically heavyweight substance, I was lucky enough to catch a couple of James Graham’s earlier works, where I pretty much fell in love with him there and then. Most notably in The Man, where we had the privilege of him performing his own work – to this day, hearing both ‘Ben’ and the Black Beauty theme song bring this beautiful play to mind and an artful tear to the eye. Revival soon please.

It’s a time he remembers well too:

“I have tons of fond memories! And stomach churning fears. Taking it on the road around the UK was a real privilege – to get to speak your own text while staring at the whites of the eyes of the audience. Horrifying and fun.”

Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – James Graham”

The Jamie Lloyd Company announces cast for charity gala to celebrate Harold Pinter’s birthday

– Tom Hiddleston, Kristin Scott Thomas, Kit Harington, Simon Russell Beale, Indira Varma, Zawe Ashton and many more announced

–   Happy Birthday, Harold will take place on what would have been the Nobel Prize winning playwright’s 88th birthday on October 10th

–   Charity event will raise money for Amnesty International and Chance to Shine

–   Tickets are on sale now

Continue reading “The Jamie Lloyd Company announces cast for charity gala to celebrate Harold Pinter’s birthday”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

2016 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Juliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary Stuart
It couldn’t really be anyone else could it. Mary Stuart was my play of the year and the stellar combination of Stevenson and Williams was a huge part in that, a pair of extraordinary performances (or should that be a quartet…) that burst with life from the circular stage of the Almeida. I’ve seen it twice and I’m definitely thinking about going again.

Honourable mention: Uzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The Maids
As murderous sisters Claire and Solange, I simply adored this pairing and am a little surprised they – and the production – haven’t received more love in the end-of-year lists and awards season. Fiercely uncompromising with every sweep of the broom, I couldn’t split them if I tried either.

Gemma Arterton, Nell Gwynn
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Harriet Walter, The Tempest

8-10
Kirsty Bushell/Ruth Wilson, Hedda Gabler/Hedda Gabler, Lesley Manville, Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Billie Piper, Yerma

 

Best Actress in a Musical

Jenna Russell, Grey Gardens
One of the first shows I saw in 2016 and from the moment Russell opened the second act with the hysterical ‘The Revolutionary Costume for Today’, I knew that this category was a lockdown. Her casting in as Michelle Fowler in Eastenders came as a surprise and I can’t help but be gutted that we’ve lost her to the world of television but hopefully it won’t be too long before she’s gracing our stages once more. STAUNCH!

Honourable mention: Clare Burt, Flowers for Mrs Harris
Whereas the likes of Amber Riley gets notices for belting the house down, there’s an entirely different skill-set being masterfully used by the likes of Burt that is equally emotionally devastating. A performance full of gorgeous restraint and natural charm that hopefully we’ll get to see again.

Samantha Barks, The Last 5 Years
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity
Cassidy Janson, Beautiful
Landi Oshinowo, I’m Getting My Act Together…

8-10
Beverley Knight, The Bodyguard; Anoushka Lucas, Jesus Christ Superstar; Scarlett Strallen, She Loves Me

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #5

“When we are born, we cry”

Entries #1, #2, #3 and #4 – and here’s number 5. 

Actually taking Lear to the White Cliffs of Dover seems like a good enough reason to mount the entire Complete Walk project if you ask me, and director Bill Buckhurst doesn’t disappoint. Belaris Free Festival’s interpretation gets a wee whirl before we move to Kent where Kenneth Cranham’s disoriented monarch comes across powerfully in jerky jump-cuts and voiceover and then ultimately powerful soliloquy. Skipping to the end of the play, Joseph Marcell then takes on Lear for a sensationally powerful reunion with Zawe Ashton’s deeply considered Cordelia.


I must confess I do find it hard to get excited about King John and despite a huge affection for the much-missed Trystan Gravelle, I saw nothing here to change my mind. Filmed at Northampton’s Holy Sepulchre church, with inserts that acted almost as a Shakespearean documentary in covering the death of Shakespeare’s son at the time of writing the play, this one just didn’t do it for me I’m afraid.


Philip Cumbus’ anguished Clarence in his cell; Prasanna Puwanarajah and Paul Ready giving subtly comic life to the murderers on his way to him; Clare Higgins’ Margaret looming ominously in the shadows, Michelle Terry’s (for yes, she directs too!) take on Richard III uses all the shadowy sinister atmosphere of the Tower of London to capture the mood of the play rather successfully. It is contrasted with a silent film version which is amusing to watch at first but spookily effective in the end in the way it portrays Richard’s climactic dream. (NB: click on the title for the full clip.) 

Shakespeare Solos – Part 3

“Who in the lusty stealth of nature take
More composition and fierce quality”

It might seem curious timing for the Guardian to release the third and final set of their Shakespeare solos a good couple of weeks after the hullabaloo of #Shakespeare400 but if you look at the television schedules, you do see the attempts not to overload people with content. The second iteration of The Hollow Crown only starts this weekend and Russell T Davies’ take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream won’t be with us until the end of the month.

Still, these final five videos feel a little bereft of inspiration for me, featuring as they do two excerpts from the same play (The Merchant of Venice) and two actresses currently starring in the same play (The Maids). One of those, Zawe Ashton, does give us one of the highlights of the entire series with a beautifully mournful take on Jacques’ Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It but it’s hard not to wish that some of the casting choices had been equally as inventive. Continue reading “Shakespeare Solos – Part 3”

Review: The Maids, Trafalgar Studios

“You don’t know what I am capable of” 

Relocated to a contemporary USA and with two women of colour playing the servants, Jamie Lloyd’s version of Jean Genet’s The Maids becomes just as much about race as it does about class and incredibly powerfully so. The ‘otherness’, the ‘difference’ of which sisters Solange and Claire speak as they twist themselves into increasingly sadomasochistic games thus plays at an additional level and at the point when their socialite employer Madam casually, cruelly, asks Claire “which one are you, you both look the same to me”, it lands with an absolute gut-punch. 

Loosely based on the real-life story of sisters Léa and Christine Papin who murdered their employer’s wife and daughter in 1933, years of servitude have similarly done for Uzo Aduba’s Solange and Zawe Ashton’s Claire. Whilst their mistress is out, they play vicious divertissements of dress-up in her couture gowns, roleplaying both her and each other in scenarios that end in violent death. And as eventually becomes apparent in the vibrant and salty language of Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton’s translation, what we’re actually witnessing is less a game than a rehearsal for the real thing.  Continue reading “Review: The Maids, Trafalgar Studios”

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: Splendour, Donmar Warehouse

“If there’s a seam, tell her it’s usually where the anus was.”

An early play from Abi Morgan, Splendour premiered at Edinburgh in 2000 but is only now receiving its London debut at the Donmar Warehouse as part of a season of works by living playwrights. Directed by Robert Hastie who works such wonders on the all-male My Night With Reg, it also marks a nice rebalance with its all-female cast delivering four sensational performances as Morgan replays a single scene four times to allow us into the mind of each of the characters.

They’re in an unidentified dictatorship – perhaps redolent of somewhere in Eastern Europe, perhaps not – and as we come to realise, it is in its final days. And in the presidential palace, beautifully realised by Peter McKintosh, the president’s wife and her best friend are waiting increasingly apprehensively with a photojournalist and her interpreter. As time restarts and replays, Morgan expertly layers up a gripping story whilst exploring the fascinating inner lives of these women. Continue reading “Review: Splendour, Donmar Warehouse”