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April 2017

May 2017

Coming soon: My picks from London's fringe theatre

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Pop Up Opera: Il Matrimonio Segreto

Miller revival After a critically acclaimed sell-out run at the Finborough Theatre, Phil Willmott’s new production of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy transfers to the King’s Head Theatre. In this forgotten masterpiece about Jewish registration in Nazi-occupied France, Miller’s play seems closer than ever to today’s world of “Extreme Vetting” and religious persecution. King’s Head Theatre, Islington, 7-25 June, 2.15pm/7pm 85 minutes.

Crime and punishment Death row in America. Men sit in isolated dungeons awaiting execution. An investigator works tirelessly to save them. She will not let men go to their deaths without a fight. The Enchanted highlights issues around capital punishment, child abuse, and the self-perpetuating cycle of violence corrupting the US penitentiary. Bunker Theatre, Borough, 6-17 June, 3/7.30pm, 90 minutes

Comedy adaptation Jekyll and Hyde meets Blackadder via Monty Python, with just a hint of Spike Milligan. Let Them Call It Mischief's comedy is set against the backdrop of Victorian London complete with Cholera and everything. Jekyll and Hyde, Pleasance Theatre, Islington, 22 May – 03 Jun, 5pm/7.30pm.

Fringe opera The Pop Up opera team is taking the rarely-seen opera from the late eighteenth century, Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage) on the road this summer around their usual eclectic mix of venues. It tells the tale of a rich Italian businessman as he attempts to marry off one of his daughters to a mad English toff with disastrous results. Various venues in London and beyond from 18 May to 30 July. For full tour dates: http://popupopera.co.uk/ (If you’ve not seen an opera before or are unsure whether it is for you, then Pop Up Opera is a great introduction.)

Noir thriller Chummy explores the mind of a serial killer in the moments before his first murder. Desperate to control himself, the mysterious psychopath 'Chummy' pleads with private investigator Jackie Straker to stop him killing in a new stage play by BAFTA winner John Foster. White Bear Theatre, Kennington, 23 May - 10 June, 3pm/4pm/7.30pm


Review: Rising stars in Othello, Wilton's Music Hall

Abraham Popoola Othello  Ghazwan Alsafadi Montano and Christopher Bianchi Duke of Venice Gratiano Othello Photo credit The Other Richard
Abraham Popoola Othello Ghazwan Alsafadi Montano and Christopher Bianchi Duke of Venice Gratiano. Photo: The Other Richard

Othello (Abraham Popoola) and Desdemona (Norah Lopez Holden) are getting married in secret. It’s a Muslim ceremony and Desdemona has learned the Arabic vows. Once the ceremony is over Othello swaps his Muslim prayer beads for a crucifix in a symbol of his public vs private self and an inner conflict to come.

His Othello has a presence from the outset. In a brilliantly nuanced performance he is a noble warrior – a leader who has earned respect – and a man bowled over by passion and love and not afraid to show it. Norah Lopez Holden is a young, spirited, fun and witty Desdemona who has captured his heart. There is an ease and playfulness in their relationship which makes the early lines that hint of what is to come land all the harder.

Speeding the lovers on their way to tragedy is Mark Lockyer’s superb Iago. It is a performance that exudes from every eyebrow twitch, gesture and look – even when he has his back to you (it is staged in the round) his body language speaks volumes. And yet this Iago isn’t played as comedy villain, a Machiavellian rubbing his hands together with glee; I’ve seen actors play Iago's lines for laughs, Lockyer plays them straight, any mirth contained in them is entirely on the audience to find.

Norah Lopez Holden Desdemona stf OTHELLO Photo Credit The Other Richard (3)
Norah Lopez Holden Desdemona. Photo Credit The Other Richard

His Iago is reasonable and contained, convincingly earnest, his true feelings burst out of him in private temper, soothed only by plotting. With those he is trying to dupe he comes across as quite ordinary and trustworthy which makes him so effective - and so dangerous.  While Iago can contain his true feelings in public, Othello can't. His public displays of affection towards Desdemona are easily channelled into pride, self doubt and jealousy. As comfortable as he is with his affection for Desdemona it, ironically, is his Achilles heel in his battle for self control.

Continue reading "Review: Rising stars in Othello, Wilton's Music Hall" »


Review: John Boyega in Woyzeck, Old Vic Theatre

4487I'm going to preface this piece by pointing out that I saw a preview performance and given the nature of the production there may be an element of tightening up. Of course in prefacing this way I'm hinting that I had problems and I did, some may be resolved before the official opening next week, some might not but as this was the performance I paid to see, I can only write about my experience and impressions of the play as it was performed.

Georg Buchner's original play, which he started writing in the 1830s and never completed, isn't one I'm familiar with. In this version by Jack Thorne for the Old Vic, the action has moved from provincial Germany to 1980s cold war Berlin. Orphan Frank Woyzeck (Voy-tzeck) is a British soldier who is living in a cheap flat above an abattoir with his Catholic girlfriend Marie (Sarah Greene) with whom he has a baby. Money is tight - military digs are out of the equation as they aren't married - and Frank volunteers to take part in drug trial to earn extra so they can move somewhere better.

At the start we find him a gentle soul, devoted to Marie but it is a devotion that grows increasingly obsessive. He isn't much liked among his military colleagues after an incident on a previous tour in Belfast and as the play unfolds we learn more of that and his past.

One of the key problems with the play, for me, is that the moment Frank signs up for the drug trials I could see the rest of the story mapped out and it felt like it took too long to get there. Frank becomes increasingly unwell, mentally and physically and it takes its toll on his relationships. The more unstable he becomes the more he clings to Marie and the more their relationship becomes a crutch. 

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Review: Family fun, friction and fear in Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, Royal Court

FERRYMAN_Feb17_RoyalCourt_2500x1000-900x600Jez Butterworth's last play, The River, I described as the 'difficult second album' after the stellar success of Jerusalem - obviously it wasn't his second play but you know what I was getting at. I also, with an inadvertent sense of premonition described it as 'palate cleanser before the next big course'. The Ferryman is certainly that big course and not just because it's 3 hours and 15 minutes long and has a cast of 22 (including a baby) but because it is a delicious feast of a play.

The Carney family live on a farm, it's summer and they are about to get the harvest in. It's a happy time, a time of celebration where everyone comes together, working hard during the day, revelling in the evenings. It is a time of traditions that has birthed happy memories for the three generations of the family. But this is 1981 Northern Ireland, hunger strikers are dying in the Maze and the Good Friday agreement is still 17 years away. The spectre of The Troubles looms large and not just in the memories of past events. 

Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) is head of the family and father of seven children with his sickly wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly). Quinn's sister in law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) and son Oisin (Rob Malone) also live at the farm as does his Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy), a fervent Nationalist, his gentle, story-telling Uncle Patrick (Des McAleer) and dementia-riddled Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan) who has brief moments of lucid recollection described by the family as 'visits'.

What Jez Butterworth has written is a piece rich in personality, humour, passion, tension, politics and history and director Sam Mendes has taken a brilliant script and cast and turned it into a superb  tragi-comedy thriller.

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Review: Phina Oruche's Identity Crisis, Ovalhouse

Phina Oruche - Identity Crisis (1)Phina Oruche is telling us about the flat she lived in on the Aylesbury Estate in South London that, years after she left, was used to portray a drugs den in a BBC drama. At the time she was working as a model, leaving her less than glamourous home for glitzy photo shoots. It illustrates well the theme of her semi-autobiographical, self penned piece Identity Crisis.

She grew up through Toxteth-riots era Liverpool, self-determination over coming shyness to pursue a modelling career that took her to Paris catwalks, hob-nobbing with the likes of Naomi Campbell, to big brand campaigns in New York and magazine front covers. From there she became a successful actress, then writer and columnist but all the time something was gnawing at her: 'Who am I?'

A family tragedy - which opens the piece - sparked the soul searching and using nine characters of different ages, genders and ethnicity she explores identity - not just how you see yourself but how others see you.

Continue reading "Review: Phina Oruche's Identity Crisis, Ovalhouse" »


Coming soon: My picks from London's fringe theatre

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The Magic Flute, King's Head Theatre

Generation rent - When four friends decide to save money for a deposit by living in a one bedroom flat together for a year which will they sacrifice first – the friendship, the relationship or the dream of buying their own property? Deposit by Matt Hartley is at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 11 May - 10 June, 2.45/3.15/7.45pm.

Love and sex - You want me to have full penetrative sex with your son, right? I just wanted to, you know, check. Punts is a new play by Sarah Page about a young man's sexual awakening and its effect on those who orchestrated it. Theatre503, Battersea 31 May - 24 June, 3pm/7.45pm, 80 minutes.

Incoming Festival - A Younger Theatre and New Diorama Theatre will be showcasing the best young theatre producers from around the country - 20 shows over 10 days, June 2-11. All tickets £5 and details are on the New Diorama’s website.

Social satire The Ugly One explores the dangers of living in a society with oppressive beauty standards. It tells the story of Lette, a talented engineer who is labelled as ugly and goes to extreme lengths to change his appearance. PARK90, Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, 1-24 June, 3.15/7.45pm

Comedy - Fourteen years ago, during break, Elizabeth lost her mother. She was sixteen. Two days later, she started her period. Ouch. Today, a celebrated Egyptologist, Professor Niccoll is Guest of Honour at her old school Alumni event. She has decided to use the platform to promote her new book: MUMMY or the Art of Saying Goodbye. She knows everything about death. She thinks.  MUMMY, The Crazy Coqs, Soho, May 23-25, 7.15pm, 60 mins

Pub opera Transposed to the South American Jungle, Charles Court Opera’s production of The Magic Flute is full puppetry, magic and witty surprises. King’s Head Theatre, Islington, 4 May - 3 June, 3/7pm, suitable for all ages.


Review: Silly, fun and poignant Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road, Trafalgar Studios 2

I finished my review of Keith Stevenson's Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd when it was on in January, at the White Bear, by saying I hoped it got a transfer so more people could see it. Hey presto, here it is at Trafalgar Studios 2 for another run, so is it as good as I remember? Well the answer is a big fat yes.

It's set in a grubby motel room - "trip advisor classes it as other" - where Mountain Dew and vodka drinking JD (Keith Stevenson) lives. He does odd jobs for the lascivious, string-vest wearing, red-neck motel owner Flip (Michael Wade) and acts as consoler to fiery, crack head artist Marlene (Melanie Gray) when her wasted poet boyfriend Tommy (Alex Ferns - the only cast change) is being unfaithful. 

Into this walks Mitch (Robert Moloney) a hyperhidrosis sufferer who's lost his job in the local spork factory, been dumped by his girlfriend and had his car burned out by local reform school girls. He's answered JD's ad for a room to rent - or at least that is what he thinks is on offer.

The scene is set for a madcap 70 minutes but this is an exceptional piece not just for the very funny one liners but the clever way Stevenson surprises and wrong foots. His characters are wonderfully drawn so as to surprise, scare and amuse over the course of line of dialogue. When you've finished laughing you are left with warm fuzzy glow and a wish to spend more time with them, perhaps. 

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd manages to be silly and poignant but essentially is a hugely entertaining play about being nice to each other. At the end JD says: "There shouldn't be a name for the right way to treat people, it should be normal." And he is right. 

It's getting five stars from me, again, and you can see it at the Trafalgar Studios 2* until June 3.

* The Trafalgar Studios 2 has been rearranged so that the seating is raked so that is faces the performance space on one side, not wrapped around three sides as it normally is (the same set up as the White Bear if you saw the play there).


That was April in London theatre-land - cast announcements, transfers and thesp spots

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Jam, Finborough Theatre

* Incoming from Broadway is new play Oslo about the Oslo Peace accords which will have a short run at the National Theatre in September before transferring into the West End

* Bertie Carvel is back at the Almeida, this time he's been cast with Richard Coyle in the new James Graham play Ink which is set on Fleet Street in the 1960s. Bertie is playing Rupert Murdoch and Richard is playing Larry Lamb.

* Stan fave Forbes Masson (loved him as the devil in Dr Faustus) will appear in Terror, Lyric Hammersmith which opens in June. The play is set around a court case and the audience gets to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

* The new Bridge Theatre's first season was announced which naturally generated a lot of excitement because Ben Whishaw is playing Brutus in a promenade performance of Julius Caesar, alongside David Morrissey as Mark Anthony and Michelle Fairley as Cassius. There were other gems in the season announcement too, Rory Kinnear is taking the lead in a new Richard Bean play Young Marx alongside Oliver Chris. (I wrote a piece on the new season and ticketing.)

Continue reading "That was April in London theatre-land - cast announcements, transfers and thesp spots" »


Review: Nuclear War, Royal Court - or plays and plots

379322_770_previewI'm a huge fan of Simon Stephens but I'm not a huge fan of this particular piece of work. His plays can be poetic and lyrical but in Nuclear War he's forged into new territory, collaborating with movement director Imogen Knight for a piece in which the dialogue is interpreted by movement. The result is a 45 minute piece of abstract and odd ideas and abstract and odd dialogue around a woman venturing outside her home.

Watching it was the mental equivalent of chasing the tail of a kite as it swoops through the air, desperately trying to grasp some meaning or coherence or understanding or even just feel something about what was going on in front of me. It's described on the Royal Court website as a 'series of suggestions on desire, death and time' but I'm not sure which of those three, eating oranges through a pair of tights would actually fall under.

The Guardian's two star review online has a handful of comments one of which says: "Film and TV are generally expected to have a plot. Theatre gets a free pass. Even as someone who loves theatre, I've never understood why." And I must admit that I agree. I don't want to be spoon fed - some TV and film is terrible for 'Basil Exposition' - and I'm all for metaphor and symbolism, being challenged and interpretation but I do want a little bit of something, a piece of tail to grasp.

Recently I saw Nina Raine's new play Consent at the National Theatre and to put it simply, it was an interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking story really well told and its been a while since a new piece of theatre successfully ticked all those boxes. It reminded me of why I go to the theatre and what I enjoy about theatre. Nuclear War made me think about what I could have been doing instead. It left me unmoved and grateful it was only 45 minutes long. I'm giving it one star.