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My theatre 'StOlivier' awards 2017

Step aside best actor/actress/play etc this is what was noteworthy for me in theatre land, in 2017.

Menagerie award The Ferryman was an award winning play in many way but for me it deserve an extra gong for fur and feathers - a cute little rabbit and a goose both made scene stealing appearances. Babies? Schmabies. Real, live animals on stage are the thing.

Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre
Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre

Event theatre and star studded audience award Ivo Van Hove's  six hour Roman Tragedies at the Barbican was an event for many reasons not least for allowing audience members to wander onto the stage between scenes and perch wherever they could get a seat. Photos, without flash, and tweeting (see exhibit A) were also encouraged. It also attracted probably the most thespy audience I've seen so far: Simon Stephens, Rupert Goold and Kate Fleetwood, Kyle Soler and Pheobe Fox, John Heffernan, Angus Wright, Jamie Lloyd, Ruth Wilson, Ian McDiarmid, Jonjo O’Neill, Jeremy Herrin and Leo Bill.

Best kiss When Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly's characters kissed in The Ferryman, Royal Court it was so charged with years of repressed feelings it took my breath away and broke my heart a little bit.

Best spit - Not since I (probably) gave an award to the cast of Richard III for all spitting on Ralph Fiennes has their been a gobbing incident worthy of note but step forward Jasmine Hyde who spat so spectacularly on Harry Melling during Jam, Finborough Theatre.

Hottie of the month kinda lives on...these were my particular favourites in 2017: Theo James, Andrew Garfield, Douglas Booth and James Norton but if I had to choose one it would be Theo because I'm such a huge fan and it was the first time I've seen him on stage.

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10 plays I'm really looking forward to seeing in London 2018

Julius Caesar, Bridge TheatrePrompted by the Daily Telegraph's rather uninspiring and quite frankly lazy list of upcoming theatre treats - three plays which have already opened? Oh come on - here's my list of what I'm already really excited about seeing in the first half of 2018*.

1. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Theatre - Patsy Ferran, I love Patsy Ferran and this is the first of two plays she's doing in 2018 and it's a solo piece *insert big smile here*

2. Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre - Ben Whishaw playing Brutus alongside David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley and the chance to mingle with the Roman mob? Already booked to see it twice.

3. The Brothers Size, Young Vic - Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney who also penned Oscar best picture winner Moonlight (which I loved) and starring Sope Dirisu who was brilliant in One Night In Miami at the Donmar and the RSC's Coriolanus.

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Review: Mystery and connection in the lyrical Fishskin Trousers, Park Theatre

Brett Brown  Jessica Carroll & Eva Traynor (l-r) in Fishskin Trousers at Park Theatre. Photo by David Gill 5068
L-R Brett Brown, Jessica Carroll & Eva Traynor in Fishskin Trousers at Park Theatre. Photo by David Gill

Three stories that transcend the 12th to 21st century all connected by a place: Orford Ness, a wild island on the Suffolk coast. Mab (Jessica Carroll) tells of her encounter with a wild man who is hauled in by local fishermen in their net. Then fast forward to the 1970s where Ben (Brett Brown) is an Australian scientist who has been brought in to solve a problem with the radars on the island that are monitoring Russian activity. Mog's (Eva Traynor) story is set in the 21st century, she returns to the place she grew up hoping that it will help her solve a moral dilemma.

Each story is delivered as segments of monologue but as the three narratives progress they slowly entwine so that three very different stories that seemingly share only place find other connections.

Mab is a bit of an outsider but she is a sharp commentator on the people and events of the village. Ben is a nerd, for whom Orford Ness is an escape from his university campus life and Mog feels adrift, has strained relationships and low self esteem all of which lead her back to the place where she last felt connected and content.

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That was August in London (and Stratford) theatre-land with a bit of a Hamlet theme

Tom Hiddleston as Hamlet, photo Johan Persson

* The lucky charms came out in August as it was announced that Tom Hiddleston would play Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh, for a limited run at RADA as a fund raiser for the drama school. The lucky charms were for the ticket ballot, the only way to see the production. My stars were aligned or at least @PolyG’s were. Can’t wait. (Production photos here on What's On Stage.)

* And while we are on the topic of Hamlet, Andrew Scott/Robert Icke's amazing production is due to be broadcast by BBC 2 next year. It opened at the Almeida earlier this year before transferring to the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre and has set the bar high for Hamlets, so no pressure Tom/Ken.

* Another Hamlet related bit of news (kinda), Jonathan Slinger - a former RSC Hamlet  -  has been cast in Trouble in Mind at the Print Rooms at the Coronet.

* Stan-fav and RSC regular, Jasper Britton, is starring in a new Howard Brenton play, The Blinding Light, at the Jermyn Street Theatre from September 6.

* And still with the RSC, if you fancy a unique souvenir of a favourite production get down to Stratford on Sep 23 for the company's costume sale.

* Elsewhere, Samantha Bond and Richard Dreyfus have been cast in the Florian Zeller's play The Lie at Menier Chocolate Factory from September 14.

* Michelle Dockery has been widely reported as joining Brian Cranston in the Ivo Van Hove directed Network although there is nothing on the National Theatre website, as yet, to reflect this.

* The amazing Rachael Stirling has been cast in Labour of Love - and so has Tamsin Greig who is replacing Sarah Lancashire who has pulled out of the production. It opens for previews at the Noel Coward Theatre at the end of September.

* And this is particularly lovely casting news, Oliver Chris and Nancy Carroll will join Rory Kinnear in Young Marx, the inaugural production at the new Bridge Theatre which opens on October 18.

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Review: Shock jock and celebrity in Talk Radio, Old Red Lion

Talk Radio  Matthew Jure (courtesy Cameron Harle) 4
Talk Radio: Matthew Jure, courtesy Cameron Harle

I'm of the generation that remembers The James Whale Radio Show, his confrontational style with phone in guests and the way he put the phone down on callers he didn't like or grew impatient with. It was sport to try and get on the show and say something rude before getting cut off. In Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio - getting its London premiere after 30 years - Barry Champlain (Matthew Jure) is a Cleveland shock jock in the same vein.

He's intelligent, knowledgeable with whip crack wit and retorts. He plays devil's advocate with dizzying contrariness fuelled by drink and lines of cocaine. He loathes his fans almost as much as he loathes himself and treats those around him with equal contempt.

On the eve of his show getting syndicated we watch him through the glass of the (brilliantly realised) radio studio. The show runs at lightning speed rattling through callers that represent the underbelly of hate and prejudice through to the inane, odd and tedious, and yet simultaneously we watch the slow motion car crash that is Champlain heading for self destruct.

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Review: The Catastrophists, White Bear Theatre

The Catastrophists, White Bear Theatre

When Jack Stanley was writing The Catastrophists he couldn't have known that Donald Trump would have been threatening 'fire and fury' on North Korea but it certainly adds an edge to this play about a posh middle class couple having dinner with a couple from the commune next door that is preparing for the end of the world.

Raf (Elizabeth Donnelly) and Harry (Alexander Stutt) have bought a second home in the Cotswolds using money they inherited but, drunk one night, Harry pees on Claudia (Patsy Blower) and Peter's (Edmund Dehn's) yurt. Inviting them over to dinner is Raf and Harry's way of saying sorry.

It opens with an argument between Raf and Harry about whether they should serve crisps or flat bread and guacamole as pre dinner nibbles. Raf believes the latter shows effort, Harry, rather astonishingly given his character, has never heard of guacamole and champions crisps. Raf gets her way and then when their guests arrives full blown social awkwardness pursues - you know the overly insensitive comments that expose social stereotypes, that type of thing. Some in the audience chuckled away others were stony-faced.

Claudia and Peter are, initially, what you'd expect of two people who've dropped out of city jobs to live off the land in a commune but as the play progresses there is something not quite platonic about their ideals and ambitions for their community. We'll gloss over questions about what they actually live on given that they admit the soil isn't any good, they can't grow anything and they slaughtered the one pig they had several years ago. 

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Fringe review: Did The Wasp at the Jermyn Street Theatre have a sting in its tail?

Lisa Gorgin and Selina Giles in The Wasp. Photo by Andreas Grieger

The Wasp didn't get off on the right foot for me. It immediately falls into easy stereotypes of the working and middle classes and struggled to pull attention away from that until much later in the play.

We are introduced to two women who are meeting in a cafe, they are former school friends who haven't seen each other for 20 years. Carla (Lisa Gorgin) is common sounding, casual clothes, hair Croydon facelift style, pregnant with her fifth, smoking, works in Morrison's and is strapped for cash. She drinks builders tea and chews gum.

Heather (Selina Giles) is smartly dressed, professional looking, neat conventional hair, middle class accent and obviously reasonably well off. She 'rescues' a latte and later drinks camomile tea to be 'good'.

The stereotypes don't stop with appearances. Carla, we learn, had a physically abusive father and takes it out on people at school, people like Heather who comes from a loving, stable home. Naturally.

Where the play gets a little more interesting is in the proposal that Heather has for Carla. At first it seems outlandish and unbelievable but it's a narrative to stick with because it comes good in the way writer Morgan Lloyd Malcolm unpacks the history between, and of, these two women and how that is shaping the terms of their reunion. And the pay off does have a little sting.

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Review: Dancing and dialect in Disco Pigs, Trafalgar Studios 2

Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch(c) Alex Brenner  no usage without credit  Disco Pigs @ Trafalgar Studios dir John Haidar (_DSC0188)
Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch in Disco Pigs, Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Alex Brenner.

Pig (Colin Campbell) and Runt's (Evanna Lynch) heads are poking through two slits in a black curtain, recreating their simultaneous births which cemented their friendship.

Their description of the fateful events is ripe, vivid and amusing. It's told in a mixture of Cork dialect (comedian Tommy Tiernan describes it as sounding like a tinker trying to speak French) and words of their own making - you have to listen carefully, a bit like tuning your ear to Shakespeare and I certainly didn't get every word.

Fast forward 17 years to where we find these two tight friends cocooned in their own world of fun and havoc. You get bare brush strokes of what home life is like, it is their friendship which is the fuller portrait. They are isolated, fiercely loyal with their own language be it verbal or physical.

They just want to be left alone to re-enact TV shows or prowl the town taking what they want and lashing out when they don't get it. They are childish, silly, fun-seekers hankering after a fantasy disco but don't be fooled, these are feral teenagers with a nasty bite.

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My favourite plays of 2017...so far #midyearreview #theatre

via GIPHY 

2017 is already the year that brought us Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman and my introduction to playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and it's only six months in. There are a further nine plays I couldn't not include in my 'best of so far' list and that was with the bar set very high. I've still got Angels in America, Ben Whishaw in Against, Rory Kinnear in Young Marx and the awarding winning Oslo to come later this year, among many others potential theatre treats - the end of year list is already looking tricky to narrow down.

Anyway, here's what I've enjoyed the most in 2017 so far. Feel free to agree/disagree...

(In no particular order, because that would be too traumatic to do.)

1. Amadeus, National Theatre  This was supposed to be a 2016 play but I gave up my ticket for the early part of the run because of work pressures, good words from @PolyG made me rebook for January and I'm so glad I did. It was a play that unexpectedly floored me. It's returning next year and yes I've got a ticket.

2. Out Their On Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Fringe theatre kicked off in fine style with this brilliantly warm, funny, odd, dark, misfit comedy that was the antidote to everything disturbing that was going on the world at the time. It transferred to Trafalgar Studios 2 and I got to enjoy it all over again.

3. Hamlet, Almeida  I've seen a lot of Hamlet's and there is usually something new in each but Andrew Scott's prince in Robert Icke's production made me look at the play with completely new eyes. Sorry Sherlock but this was a battle that Moriarty definitely won. It's transferred to the West End.

4. An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre  Was tipped off about American playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and this is the first of his plays I've seen. It's a play I could write reams and reams about and reminded me why I love going to the theatre. Gloria, another of his plays is currently on at Hampstead Theatre, it didn't quite make this list but it is still really good.

5. Rotterdam, Arts Theatre  This was in my 'best of' list last year but after a stint off Broadway it's come back to London to the bigger Arts Theatre. It made me laugh, it made me gasp and it made me cry - all that even though I've seen it before and knew exactly what was coming. That's why it's back on the list. It's on until 15 July.

6. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic  It's possibly the only Tom Stoppard play I really like and this was a great production that was lively, entertaining, profound and melancholic . There was a brilliant rapport between the two leads - Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire - and David Haig as The Player was worth the ticket price alone.

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Review: Dirty Work (The Late Shift), Battersea Arts Centre

2_Dirty Work (The Late Shift)_Forced Entertianment_please credit Tim Etchells
Dirty Work (The Late Shift) Forced Entertainment. Photo Tim Etchells

The Battersea Arts Centre's performance space is simply dressed: two chairs framed by red stage curtain, draped in a way that has become a symbol of the theatre. Towards the back is a desk, with an old record player and a stack of discs - the sound desk for the duration - operated by Terry O'Connor dressed as if she's playing in an orchestra. Performers Robin Arthur and Cathy Naden are similarly attired - a turquoise silk shirt and burgundy silk dress.

When their performance starts it is incongruous to their attire and the setting: No theatrical flourishes or drama, deadpan, letting the dialogue be the performance. Taking it in turns at a consistent pace it describes a performance of sorts or rather a series of acts and events.

They are linked thematically, rather than through discernible narrative, around death, disaster and failure. From the small, almost insignificant to the tragic and horrific. There are ridiculous deaths, resonant of contenders for a Darwin award that raise laughs and chuckles as do some of the smaller failures, some worthy of a sit-com skit or sketch, some not even that significant.

At the other end of the spectrum is the tragic and gruesome. Nothing is milked, it is delivered in just the same tone, letting the audience picture it, but it nonetheless raises the odd gasp or makes the squeamish squirm.

It illustrates the ordinary and extraordinariness of human life, its fragility, weakness, ridiculousness and theatricality - you can't help thinking: 'All the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players'.

At first it is engaging, gripping even but, and this may actually be a criticism of myself, after a while I found my mind wandering. There was something relentless in the plodding pace, something soporific in the rhythm and the words started losing their purchase and washing over me. Was it me or was it, at 75 minutes just a little too long?

It is a meaty piece of writing and I can't imagine it being performed in a way that is better and has more impact but ultimately it didn't hold my interest for the duration so I'm giving it three stars. It's at BAC until Jul 1.