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June 2016
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August 2016

July 2016

Review: Theatre in the dark with CUT, The Vaults, Waterloo

Hannah Morris in CUT at The Vaults, Waterloo

Hannah Norris starts Duncan Graham's play CUT with smiley pre-flight style safety announcement.  There are going to be a complete blackouts so there are things we should and shouldn't do. 

Blackout is an accurate description. It is so dark you can't tell the difference between having your eyes open or closed. The only points of reference are sound and you can't hear Hannah Norris move so you don't know where she is going to be when the lights come back on. With the sound of trains rumbling above your head, you feel the weight of the space in the darkness, you feel contained.

I thought it would be unnerving, perhaps a bit scary. I don't like the dark (light pollution is my friend) but here I wasn't scared at all. It was something else but I'll come onto that.

In between the dark spells you get snatches of stories. An air hostess is stalked, there is a house and a woman with scissors and two children inflicting cruelty onto a fish they've caught. There are objects or aspects in each that connect them. There is a nastiness. Are they one person's story? Is part of someone's imagination? 

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Review: RSC's The Alchemist, Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon

The Alchemist production photos_ May 2016_2016_Photo by Helen Maybanks _c_ RSC_194712
Mark Lockyer (Subtle) and Ken Nwosu (Face) in The Alchemist. Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Every time a character mentions the philosopher's stone in The Alchemist I can't help but think of Harry Potter. If you don't know the play but know the Potter series then you'll understand why the very idea of the stone's existence gets the characters in The Alchemist excited (and avaricious).

In Ben Jonson's play Subtle (Mark Lockyer), a conman, tricks a rich gentleman and some Anabaptists into believing that he can produce the stone. It is one method that he and his fellow tricksters - Face (Ken Nwosu), a butler and Dol Common (Siobhan McSweeney) a prostitute - use to embezzle money from unsuspecting acquaintances. The house where Face works is the front for their business while his master is out of London avoiding the plague.

The charlatan and his partners have also tricked a gambler into believing they can get him a lucky charm from the fairy queen and a shopkeeper that Subtle can advise on the most propitious design and layout for his new tobacco shop. Of course there is one debunker of 'the alchemist's' powers in the form of Surly who sets about trying to expose him as a thief.

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Review: Mike Bartlett's Wild, Hampstead Theatre

Caoilfhionn Dunne (Woman) and Jack Farthing (Andrew) in Wild at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey (5)
Caoilfhionn Dunne (Woman) and Jack Farthing (Andrew) in Wild at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

Andrew (Jack Farthing) is alone in a nondescript hotel room. He's done something big, something which takes him from sitting in KFC with his girlfriend one week to hiding out in a hotel in Moscow the next. Sound familiar? It should, Mike Bartlett's new play at Hampstead Theatre was inspired by Edward Snowden, whistle blower and revealer of secrets that the powers that be never wanted revealed.

A woman arrives (Caoilfhionn Dunne) who may or may not be there to help him. Her identity and purpose is an enigma. There are hints that she is from a Wiki-type company - there are references to 'him' which imply Julian Assange - she is also calculated and manipulative. One moment she is his friend, one moment not. She teases, jokes, is personal, aloof and she claims to know more about Andrew than he knows about himself. There is something about her that is disquieting.

After she has left a man (John Mackay) turns up and from what he say, Andrew thinks he's also from Wiki but he claims not to know who the woman is. He is also difficult to make out giving chocolate with one hand while blackmailing with the other - never has someone opening a bag been quite so tense.

Bartlett's play is unnerving. It puts you in the shoes of Andrew, has you groping around for the truth of the situation, questioning who and what information you can trust. In a recent interview on Radio 4's Front Row he drew parallels with the recent EU referendum - how could people make an informed choice when they didn't know who or what to believe, when you can't put your trust in the people in power who can you trust?

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Rev Stan's 10 best plays of 2016 so far

4267324_ee18d61bbe_mSo we have reached the half way point of the year which is a good time to reflect on what I've really enjoyed or what has made its mark so far.  In case you were wondering, I've seen 50 plays (not including repeat visits) and the quality has been high. There has also been a good variety of things to see - some particularly good comedies - and some great fringe productions. The second half of the year holds a lot of promise which could make my end of year list trickier than usual.

1. A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Young Vic  A powerful and emotional 90 minute solo performance by Aoife Duffin.

2. The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre, New York Not every play Ben Whishaw is in makes it onto my best of lists (honest). The Old Vic's production of The Crucible in 2014 with Richard Armitage playing John Procter was cracking so this had a lot to live up to and director Ivo Van Hove's very different production including the against-type casting of Mr W as Procter ticked a whole series of different boxes.

3. Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon  Possibly the best Hamlet I've seen, so far and I've seen quite a few.

4. Kings of War, Barbican Theatre Four and a half hours of Shakespeare performed in Dutch with English subtitles - I wasn't sure at first but by the end I was utterly gripped.

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That was June in London theatre-land

So June was the month when I properly trod the boards ie I didn't just walk across a stage to get to my seat, I interacted with actual, real live actors. It was the beginning and end of my glittering stage career, go out on a high is my philosophy. It was also the month I said goodbye to Kit Harington in his pants. Yep I went to see Dr Faustus for a third time - there were a couple of £15 front row seats calling to me. Jamie Lloyd said in an Q&A afterwards that despite what you think of the production you'd never be bored - and he was right. Plus it was fun noticing the little changes and nuances from show to show.

But there was plenty of other stuff going in London's theatre-land not least a raft of exciting casting announcements:

* Stan fav Jasper Britton was cast in the West End production of The Libertine.

* The National Theatre's production of Angels in America is shaping up to be possibly the most exciting cast for 2017. Joining Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough and Russell Tovey is James McArdle. Loved him in the James plays.

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