Rehearsal photos: Donmar Warehouse's Welcome Home, Captain Fox! (with the lovely Rory Keenan)

Looking forward to this one, it's a comedy based on a 1930's French play but in this version the action is moved to cold war era America. A soldier, missing presumed dead, returns home but is he really Captain Fox?  Lots of sitting and leaning going on in the rehearsal pics...but doesn't Rory Keenan look cute? Cast also includes Michelle Asante, Barnaby Kay, Katherine Kingsley, Trevor Laird, Sian Thomas, Danny Webb, Fenella Woolgar and Daniel York.

Welcome Home, Captain Fox! previews at the Donmar from Feb 18 and the first tranche of £10 Barclays Front Row tickets go on sale on Monday at 10am.

Photos are by Manuel Harlan, click on the thumbnails for bigger versions.

 

  • Barnaby Kay (George Fox) in rehearsals for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Daniel York (Man in a White Coat and Uncle Job) in rehearsal for Welcome Home Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Danny Webb (Mr De Wit Dupont-Dufort) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Fenella Woolgar (Valerie) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Katherine Kingsley (Mrs Marcee Dupont-Dufort) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Michelle Asante (Juliette) in rehearsals for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan (2)
  • Rory Keenan (Gene) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Sian Thomas (Mrs Fox) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan (2)
  • Trevor Laird (James) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
Trevor Laird (James) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan

 


Review: Moving on from the past in Weald, Finborough Theatre

(c) Alex Brenner, no usage without credit; Weald (Snuffbox) @ Finborough Theatre 6
David Crellin and Dan Parr as Sam and Jim in Weald, Finborough Theatre. Photo courtesy of Alex Brenner

Daniel Foxsmith's play Weald is set on a livery yard in rural England. Jim (Dan Parr) has returned there looking for work after six years away and Sam (David Crellin) reluctantly agrees. His reluctance speaks silently of past trouble between the two and Foxsmith's play slowly unravels their history. But there is more to it than that.

 Sam is steady and methodical but grumpy, there is an underlying toxic mix of betrayal and regret which gradually comes to the surface. Jim is full of youthful exuberance, a whirlwind in Sam's quiet routine, but it is an emotional ruse to hide or deny his true feelings.

Ironically Jim needs the stability of the work with the horses in order to move forward, while his return seems to push Sam deeper into the past. There is also bitter irony in that what Sam wanted most in his life but couldn't have, Jim achieves by accident and doesn't really appreciate or not initially at least.

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Review: Adrian Lester returns as Ira Aldridge in the excellent Red Velvet, Garrick Theatre

Red Velvet (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company) Adrian Lester (Ira) Credit Johan Persson_00737.jpg
Adrian Lester is Ira Aldridge. Photo Johan Persson

Four years after it was first performed at the Tricycle Theatre Lolita Chakrabati's play about 19th century black actor Ira Aldridge gets its West End opening. Adrian Lester reprises his role as Ira, who finds himself standing in for the famous Edmund Kean to play Othello in Covent Garden.

The narrative arc is bookended by two scenes in which we see Ira as an old man; grumpy and irascible but still much in demand as a performer. Fame has given him a diva-ish attitude. A visit by a young Polish journalist hints at events surrounding his Othello performance that are obviously painful to recall. And it is those events from his early career that form the heart of the play.

It is a multi-layered story. Ira is no doubt a creative actor, dedicated and driven to succeed to the point where it blinds his judgement with almost tragic consequences. But this is also a story about culture and racism. At the time the play is set the campaign to end slavery is in full swing and while there are those in the Othello acting company who support abolition (others don't), liberal attitudes are tested when Ira turns up. The vicious strength of prejudice at the time is revealed in the reviews of the production. It isn't an easy part of the play to watch.

The role of theatre in society is also explored. When Ira turns up there is much discussion among the company about whether the audience is ready for such 'realism'. Once again the company fall into two camps those that think theatre should reflect true life and those that think it shouldn't be quite so 'provocative' when people just want to be entertained. It is here that director Indhu Rubasingham really brings out the humour of the piece, the acting style of the 19th century 'actors' is somewhat different to what we are used to and Ira further rattles some cages by suggesting a different approach.

Ira's story is a fascinating one and it is easy to think that attitudes towards black performers have moved on by some great distance and yet, with all the controversy surrounding the Oscar's white-dominated nominee list, it still has some resonance today.

Red Velvet is funny, shocking and moving and Adrian Lester gives a gripping performance. If you didn't catch it at the Tricycle then go and see it.

It's 2 hours and 15 minutes long including an interval and is getting five stars from me.


Theatre hottie of the month: January (2016)

2016 has kicked off in fine style with a close run competition between Alex Hassell and Sam Marks who were in the RSC's King and Country cycle at the Barbican.

Now Alex was a runner up last year but he was on my phwoar list the year before for the same role (Prince Hal). And while I'd love to honour Alex again, he's going to have to work a bit harder because I want to give January's honour to Sam. Now he was also in Henry IV and appeared slightly dressed but he's not winning for that. He's winning for Richard II and in particular a scene with David Tennant when the two share a very long kiss.

I already know that Sam is no stranger to the gym but there was something in that kiss that spoke a thousand words and was, well, just hot.

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Sam Marks and David Tennant in Richard II. Photo: Keith Pattison

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That was January in London theatre - news, views and celeb spots

Doctor Faustus poster image no detailsStart of what might become a thing, let me know what you think:

* RSC finished their annual winter residency at the Barbican with the RII-HV tetralogy, four plays in three days for those with the stamina, and a triumphant return to the role of Richard II from David Tennant.

* Game of Throne’s star (and hottie) Kit Harington was rumoured then confirmed as taking the lead in Jamie Lloyd’s production of Dr Faustus. Flagged as a 'return' to the West End I was more surprised that I'd forgotten I'd seen him in War Horse and Posh (I've even dug out the production pictures for Posh and I still can't remember him in it, sorry Kit). But a debate was sparked by Harington casually mentioning in an interview that a woman would be playing Mephistopheles, now who could/should that be?

The Libertine Portrait Photo Credit Johan Persson (2).jpg
The Libertine, photo: Johan Persson

* The Vault Festival kicked off and if you haven’t yet been to the cavernous warren under Waterloo Station it is worth it for the atmosphere alone - it’s like discovering some secret theatre society.

* Hot on the heels of the Kit announcement, Dominic Cooper graced headlines with the announcement that he is to star in The Libertine. I still have the image in my head of him looking rather hot in combat trousers and a black vest in Phedre at the National back in 2009.

* Ralph Fiennes proved himself a man of no short play once again (does he have it in his contract that he doesn't get out of bed for anything with a run time under two and a half hours?). An early preview of The Master Builder at the Old Vic ran to more than 3 hours - the two intervals were quite long, presumably because they were having problems with the set change so I'm sure this will come down to nearer the  2 hrs 45 running time advertised on the website.

* Missed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the National this week which I’m already regretting going by the enthusiastic tweets I've seen. I’m blaming The Master Builder, such a late night at the beginning of the week, I was just too tired to sit through another 2hr 45 play.

Celeb spot corner: Leo Bill, Robert Lindsay and Gary Lineker (what a handsome man he is) watching Herons at the Lyric. And not quite theatre but I’m mentioning it because I’m a bit of a fan girl: Natalie Dormer at the Digital Theatre screening of True West, she's a very pretty lady.

...And three things I'm particularly excited about seeing in February: Uncle Vanya at the Almeida, Rupert Goold seems very excited about it if his tweets are anything to go by; Hand To God just because it's got Harry Melling and a hand puppet in it and it sounds a bit mental and Complicite's Encounter at the Barbican because it's Simon McBurney.


Drum roll...my overall theatre hottie of 2015 was...

Wow this was much, much harder than I thought, hence why it's taken me to the end of January to decide.  They are all so, well...and Bertie Carvel made hottie of the month twice...but it's not him. Sorry Bertie.

I've chosen Peter Rykov, from Cheek By Jowl's Russian Measure For Measure (which also made my favourite theatre list). The reason is I still remember the feeling, the slightly breathless/giggly feeling I had at the end of the play. And also, of all my hotties from 2015 he's the one I'm least likely to see on stage again so I think I should honour him while I can. Here's his hottie entry and the rest of the hotties from 2015.

Peter-Rykov.-Photo-Johan-Persson
Peter Rykov in Measure for Measure. Photo Johan Persson.

Review: Three boys go to war in Pink Mist, Bush Theatre

Phil Dunster in Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet.JPGPhil Dunster in Pink Mist at Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Mark Douet

It is curious that Owen Sheers has chosen to have three boys going to war in Pink Mist. His play is a contemporary story of the psychological and physical impact of being a British soldier in the Afghan war but coupled with his poetic writing style it has a fairytale quality albeit more in the vein of Grimm rather than Disney.

Three boys, three teenage friends from Bristol set off to make something of their lives; they could be three little pigs, three billy goats gruff or three bears going into the woods. There is Taff (Peter Edwards) who is a (very) young Dad and can't support his family, Hads (Alex Stedman) who is doing minimum-wage shop work and the narrator of the piece, Arthur (Phil Dunster), who is the first to sign up.  Arthur parks cars for a living and feels like he is going nowhere.

Their youth and naivete is ripe to be exploited by army recruiters. It wasn't so long ago they were playing war games in the school playground (the cry of 'Lets play war!' becomes a trope) but stuck in dead end jobs their mundane lives mapped out, playing war for real feels like an adventure they can't turn down and of course the money is better. Only their wife/family/girlfriend see the danger but they don't heed the warnings.

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Who should play the female Mephistopheles in Jamie Lloyd's Dr Faustus?

29937_fullSo it was officially confirmed today that Kit "Jon Snow" Harington is playing the lead in Jamie Lloyd's production of Dr Faustus at the Duke of York's in the Spring - snapped up tickets obviously. But what made it really interesting was an interview with Kit on the BBC website in which he said a woman would be playing Mephistopheles and the casting was yet to be announced.

My dream choice of actress for the role, and it ain't gonna happen but I can dream, would be Tilda Swinton but I'd also love Jade Anouka or Helen McCrory or Lisa Dillon. And then via Twitter came suggestions of Maxine Peake, Rachael Stirling, Vanessa Kirby, Kate Fleetwood, Lydia Wilson, Naomie Harris, Kirsty Bushell, Ruth Wilson and Gemma Chan (thanks @weez, @polyg, @oughttobeclowns), all great suggestions. Who have we missed?

Oh and you are welcome Jamie.

Dr Faustus runs at the Duke of York's Theatre from April 9 to June 4*

 

* Does this mean Kit won't be doing any Game of Thrones promotional work then because we all know he is definitely in the new series?


Review: Ralph Fiennes is The Master Builder, Old Vic

Cw-9693-mediumIbsen's The Master Builder is rather an odd play and it's interesting that the premise it is marketed on isn't actually the bit I enjoyed so much.

The story is that Halvard Solness (Ralph Fiennes), a naturally talented but untrained architect, has become a great success but is worried that his days as the master builder may be coming to an end. He fears that younger, more talented architects will come along, like Ragnar (Martin Hutson) who works in his office. A young woman Hilde Wangel (Sarah Snook) arrives one day claiming to have met Halvard 10 years previously, when he made advances on her together with some outlandish promises (think trolls and castles in the sky).

But that is part of the play that I didn't like so much. I couldn't make out if Hilde was delusional or calculated and I'm not sure if she is meant to be either (maybe it is David Hare's adapatation?). I think the trailer interview with Ralph Fiennes talking about the play being a psychological thriller doesn't help. Reading up on the play afterwards Halvard has been described as a middle-aged man showing off in front of a young woman and that I get. But, in his work practices Halvard doesn't so much flirt with youth as block it, he manipulates his young book-keeper Kaja's (Charlie Cameron) feelings for him in order to keep her fiance Ragnar from striking out on his own.

Hilde brings with her a slightly fantastical element, perhaps she represents a younger, freer, bolder Halvard before life experience and tragedy shaped him? You can't really take her at face value because she is quite fanciful which is why I question whether she is delusional. But then Halvard's wife and his doctor friend fear he might have his own mental issues.

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To use star ratings or not to use star ratings

5623485582_b245fe56ba_mThis is something I've been wrestling with for a while now, do I use star ratings on my reviews? I used to; several years ago I contributed reviews to an aggregation website so star ratings were required. When the website got shelved, I shelved the stars.

I don't like boiling down reviews to a number out of five. People can see the star rating and make a snap judgement without any context and three out of five might mean average to one person or good to another. Star ratings can often say as much about the reviewer as they can about the play. 'Of course so and so would give that five stars' or 'they never like that sort of production anyway'. Who hasn't scrolled through the different reviews of a much loved play and judged the critics by whether they agreed or disagreed? There is nothing wrong with that of course.

So why am I considering them again? The main reason is that I'm getting asked to review more and more. More than a third of the 100+ plays I saw last year were 'press' tickets and so I asked some theatre PR's what they thought about star ratings on reviews. The answer was that they are a double-edged sword but ultimately a really useful tool for marketing. 

If star ratings can help champion a brilliant piece of fringe theatre then that has to be a good thing, surely?

There is of course an element of ego. To have Rev Stan's Theatre blog name checked on the poster/website for a play would be pretty amazing - but quotes don't tend to get used without star ratings.

So I'm giving it a go and will review my starred reviews later in the year.

Star image by Melissa Petrie on Flickr and used under a creative commons license.