Review: The Twilight Zone, Almeida Theatre - sinister and silly fun

It doesn't really matter if you aren't familiar with the 1950s/60s American TV series The Twilight Zone you'll soon get a feel for what it was like when you watch this stage version at the Almeida Theatre.

OK, so there will be some references you'll miss but if  you want to do a teeny bit of prep just watch this video clip of the The Twilight Zone TV series intro sequence.

The Twilight Zone Almeida TheatreI don't know if the way the play is structured mirrors the TV series or not (I never watched it) but what you get is a series of individual stories that are broken up into different sized chunks and then weaved together.

The effect it to have several stories running simultaneously, often breaking off at a cliff hanger, to move onto another, then another before coming back to continue a particular story.

There are recurring motifs, images and skits (for want of a better word) that link everything together.

Even the set is a mixture of other-worldliness and 60's TV.  It resembles the inside of a box - or an old fashioned TV - painted to look like a star-studded night sky.

Sets for different stories are wheeled in place or carried with an exaggerated flourish from behind panels which open at the sides.

These also allow the cast to slip on and off stage sometimes unseen in what feels like the human equivalent of a slight of hand trick.

Sets, costumes, props are all period in keeping with the TV series - even the performances - and this is part of what makes it fun. There are some suitably dodgy 60s style wigs for instance.

Stories range from a mysterious extra passenger on a bus journey that has been interrupted by bad weather to a child that has gone missing from her room but can still be heard calling out for her parents.

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Review: Cell Mates, Hampstead Theatre's slow starting cold war thriller

Cell Mates Hampstead TheatreOverheard some people arguing at the interval as to whether Cell Mates would get any better. The detractor won and they left but they should have stayed because it did get a lot better.

Simon Gray's cold war comedy thriller is based loosely on real events surrounding double agent George Blake who was imprisoned for 42 years but escaped with the help of a petty criminal Sean Bourke whom he met at Wormwood Scrubs.

The first two acts focus on George (Geoffrey Streatfeild) and Sean (Emmet Byrne) meeting, striking up a sort of friendship and then the immediate aftermath of the escape.

Gray chooses to focus more on the relationship between the two men rather which left me curious about the breakout. 

But it also left me curious about their relationship as I wasn't wholly convinced why Sean was helping George.

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Review: The 12 things I liked about A Christmas Carol, Old Vic Theatre

Bbbefb41-c505-48e0-82ed-5983143b4bf4As someone who can mildly be described as not being a Christmas person the fact that I came out of the Old Vic after watching A Christmas Carol with a spring in my step, whistling Christmas carols is an achievement. So, in a faintly Christmassy style here are 12 things I liked, in no particular order and prefaced with a spoiler alert.

1. The lights

I've heard it described as a 'constellation' and that is wholly appropriate description for the multitude of old fashioned lamps hanging above the stage that cuts through the centre of the auditorium. Firstly there something festive and cosy about them but also lamps feature in various sizes and guises throughout the play.

2. Scrooges hair

A combination of bed-head and looking like he'd been unconsciously pulling at it while counting his money it was perfect for Rhys Ifans' Scrooge. It worked really well with his slightly dishevelled look that said 'I don't waste  money or time on fripperies such as smart clothing and grooming'.

3. Scroogey Scrooge

He looks upon charity with utter scorn but more than that, so long has he been like this, he doesn't even notice or consider it wrong - or does he? Given how his family persist with him, there are hints of a past, of a different man and Rhys Ifans plays it to perfection...

4. Happy Scrooge

...as he does the Scrooge that has seen the light and is desperate to make up for his uncharitable ways. He displays the sort of joy that could only come with rediscovery, he wears it like an old favourite coat found at the back of the wardrobe after many years. It bursts out of him and is really infectious.

5. Bells

Nothing says Christmas like the sound of tinkling hand bells, particularly when snatches of Christmas Carols are played by the cast building up to a lovely ensemble finale.

6. Snow

So giddy did this production make the audience that when it started snowing on the stalls there was a spontaneous applause. It was a magical moment, that added to the Christmassy feel. There was also a very cleverly done snowball fight in which 'thrown' snowballs looked like they were exploding on contact.

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That was November in London (and beyond) theatre land or Martin McDonagh month

 

Beginning-image-1000x572
Beginning, National Theatre

You wait ages then two Martin McDonagh plays come along...

 

* The Bridge Theatre announced a new play by McDonagh, The Very Very Very Dark Matter which opens in October 2018 and not only that it stars Jim Broadbent.

* Before that, in June, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is being revived by Michael Grandage at the Noel Coward Theatre from June starring Poldark's Aidan Turner.

* Grandage is also reviving John Logan's play Red which he originally directed at the Donmar. Alfred Molina returns as artist Mark Rothko while Alfred Enoch will play his assistant Ken. It is at the Wyndhams from May and is really good although I'll always be grateful I saw it in a small theatre.

* Elsewhere, Paines Plough is transferring three of its Edinburgh hits - Black Mountain, How To Be A Kid and Out Of Love - to run in rep at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond from Jan. And for those who do this sort of thing, you can see all three plays in one day.

* Carey Mulligan returns to the stage in Dennis Kelly’s Girls and Boys at the Royal Court from February next year.

* The fabulous play Beginning transfers from the Dorfman to the Ambassadors theatre from January.

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Review: Ups and downs of La Soiree, Aldwych Theatre

The beautiful Aldwych Theatre is hosting a winter season of La Soirée giving the cabaret/circus show a Moulin Rouge-style setting including on stage cafe-style chairs and tables. But where Moulin Rouge is suggestive and saucy, La Soirée sometimes leaves nothing to the imagination and occasionally pushes the boundaries of good taste - you have been warned.

There is plenty to enjoy and entertain including some vertigo-inducing acrobatics (but don't sit too far back in the stalls or you'll miss some of it). It is the feats of dexterity, strength and balance - and some of the puppetry - which make this a mesmerising and exciting show to watch. Some of it you may have seen before but there is plenty of stuff you won't have, for example former gymnasts Leon and Klondi defy gravity with jaw-dropping balances at seemingly impossible angles and Michelle Clark's hula hoop act was especially clever and spell-binding to watch.

It was also the first time I'd seen Mallakhamb which was performed on a thick pole (a bit of post show googling revealed it's an ancient Indian gymnastics-type sport).  The two performers climb up and down the pole sometimes using only their legs to hold themselves in seemingly impossible positions or to catch themselves as they drop. They sometimes synchronise there movements, balances and holds or combine into even more complex feats. It was electrifying to watch and drew gasps from the audience.

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Review: Albion, Almeida Theatre

XALBION.jpg.pagespeed.icSat down to watch Albion with a mixture of expectations. A theatre loving friend said they'd left at the interval but Victoria Hamilton and Luke Thallon were both shortlisted for Evening Standard Theatre awards. Now, I don't believe there is too much inference to be drawn from award nominations but I was, nonetheless, encouraged.

And the verdict? Well I definitely didn't want to leave at the interval and Victoria Hamilton and Luke Thallon were very good.

Victoria Hamilton plays Audrey who has just moved from London to a big house in the country. The gardens were once something and she wants to restore them to their former glory. She is obsessed with restoring them to their former glory but that isn't really what the play is about, its about a woman who is adrift, grieving the death of her soldier son James and trying to find an anchor.

She has her patient and self deprecating second husband Paul in tow (a completely lovable Nicholas Rowe) and her university student daughter Zara (Charlotte Hope) who is not happy to be displaced into the country. Also tagging along is Anna (Vinette Robinson) who is James' grief-stricken girlfriend and Audrey's famous writer friend Katherine (Helen Schlesinger).

The house comes with furniture, Matthew (Christopher Fairbank) the gardener and his wife Cheryl (Margo Leicester) who is the cleaner and a neighbour's son, Gabriel (Luke Thallon), who cleans the windows and quickly develops an awkward crush on Zara.

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Review: Desire and identity in The Butch Monologues #SohoTheatre

The Butch Monologues (c) Christa Holka (2)
The Butch Monologues (c) Christa Holka

The Butch Monologues is many voices in many stories, more than 50 personal experiences in fact, told in just 60 minutes and that is part of its power. Some of the stories are just a few sentences, some last a minute or so but all have been collected by writer Laura Bridgeman from interviews with butches, masculine women and transmen across the world. 

Each is read out by one of five performers - some are professional actors, some not - and explore desire, sexuality and identity. The sheer variety of voices demonstrates the complexity of the subject, the scope of human feeling and experience. There are some horror stories - the operations required after using horse bandages to bind breasts and less than supportive bosses - but there is also a great deal of humour and warmth.

The tales cover everything from childhood discoveries and parental reactions to first time experiences and bedroom preferences. There is friendship, rejection, bonding, bondage and suit buying in such a colourful array of narratives that challenge stereotypes and champion humanity.

There is much to take away from The Butch Monologues but for me what resonated most was the road to self knowledge and understanding. Despite some difficult journeys in many of the stories there was a self confidence, a power from feeling comfortable in your skin and that you aren't alone and that was liberating and enlightening. I'm giving it five stars and you can catch it at the Soho Theatre Upstairs until November 25.


Quick review: RSC's muscular and angry Coriolanus, Barbican Theatre

Coriolanus production photos_ 2017_2017_Photo by Helen Maybanks _c_ RSC_231764
RSC's Coriolanus 2017. Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Two military leaders clash on stage. There is nothing delicate or seemingly choreographed, rather sparks fly from the machete-style swords as they make contact with flinch-inducing force. It is powerful, ferocious fight with a genuine sense of danger - certainly from the front row anyway.

This is Coriolanus (Sope Dirisu) and Aufidius (James Corrigan) in pivotal battle that will shape much of what follows. It isn’t a battle merely of physical might and swordsmanship, it's a fight for respect and honour.

Sope Dirisu's, Coriolanus is a formidable presence - you certainly don’t doubt his exploits and achievements in battle even without appearing smeared in the blood of those he’s reportedly slain. There is also no doubting his stubborn pride which leads to his downfall - that and his equally formidable mother Volumnia's (Haydn Gwynne) ambitions for him. So stubborn is he that it is only when you see him struggle with his emotions when his family visit him to plea for Rome that you know he has a chink in his armour, that it is an armour moulded over many years.

When his death comes, the method of his demise is ignoble for the warrior that he is but in that there is an element of tragedy.

This is a muscular, angry production and I'm not going to lie and say I got all the nuances of the plot but it certainly held my attention. I'm giving it four stars. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the RSC's Rome season over the next couple of months

 

 


Quick review: The brilliant Beginning, National Theatre

Beginning-2160x2160-sfw-50Still catching up post hols, hence the quick review but I loved this play. It's set at the end of Laura's (Justine Mitchell) flat-warming party when all the guests have left apart from one: Danny (Sam Troughton). She's confidence, sassy; he uses slightly laddish humour to try and mask his nerves. For an hour and forty minutes the two talk, drink and make fish finger sandwiches.

Do they have more in common than initial appearances would suggest, is this the start of something and what is that 'something'?

It's a play that slowly unwraps the layers of two characters through their interactions and exchanges like a pass the parcel present and it is done in a way that is smart, wry, funny and moving. David Eldridge's play avoids cliches and stereotypes giving us two very human and identifiable characters whose life experiences and dilemmas are fresh and contemporary.

Performed with seemingly effortless skill I was gripped, I laughed out loud a lot and I may have had a tear in my eye. And if that isn't enough the soundtrack is great and there is a superb dance scene. I'm so glad this has got a transfer into the West End: From January 15 it is at the Ambassadors Theatre in Covent Garden.